[X] You say, based on the loaded choices above, that it's definitely Sunny Milk.
Yeah. You're right. It was definitely Sunny Milk. The story is extremely volatile right now because of my little fuck-up from before. However, if I envision Sunny Milk and retcon, I'm pretty sure I can stabilize it a little bit. I think about chucking the fairy, Sunny, into the lake and concentrate on the fact that there was no Cirno during that scene. The story reassembles, constructing text back into real scenery and details back into characters.
Sunny, thrown back into the story, gasps for breath. She's winded from her sudden character recovery. “Ohmygod, what happened, where am I, and why do I smell like ink?”
“Don't worry about it, ya dumb fairy,” I reply. Both she and I are lucky that the story was nice enough to fix itself without too much trouble. “You're better off if you forget this all ever happened."
She opens her mouth to presumably say something retarded, but she has a rare moment of intelligence and shuts up.
“Now, as per the story,” I continue, grabbing Sunny Milk's collar, “I'm going to have to throw you into the lake. Sorry about this, but you need to get dunked on.” I swing her around once and throw her down from the sky. The entire time, up until she hits the water, the fairy has no idea what is going on. I can't blame her. Sunny almost got lost in the timeskip-retcon continuum, coming back to the story only to be chucked into a large body of water.
Now, with the update corrected, I descend further into the story. I'll go further and further until I can go no more. Just when will this rabbit hole end?
[x] Be dumb and have me start investigating now.
I take a seat right at the front of the stand. Mystia's eyes light up at the sight of a familiar face. Namely, mine. “Macha!” She squeals in delight, smoothing out the wrinkles in her apron and adjusting her hair. Her pink, wavy locks are tucked under a bandana. Two gray eyes shimmer behind the fire of the grill. “How nice of you to visit me! You look absolutely love~ly in that kimono.”
“Hello, Mystia.” I curtly nod to her, standing up from my seat. “It was nice talking to you.”
“Waaaaait!” The bird grabs my hand with both of hers, tugging slightly. She looks up at me, smiling weakly. “You just got here. Why not get something to eat? I'm sure you're hungry.”
“Sorry. I'm not in the mood to eat right now.”
Mystia doesn't let go of my hand. She stares into my eyes, looking like she's about the cry. “Um... Macha. If anything's wrong, you know you can always talk to me, right?”
“Yeah.” Gods, I'm so edgy and I hate it. “Mystia, think anybody will miss me when I'm gone?”
“What? Are you going somewhere, Macha!?” The bird grabs hold of my entire arm now, clinging onto me tightly. “You can't just leave. That's unfair. You didn't even give me any warning.” Mystia buries her face in my shoulder. “If you're being serious... I'll miss you Macha. I'll miss you a lot. Probably a lot more than you think.”
I wonder if she'll still remember after. I hope she doesn't. I doubt anything good will happen to me from all these retcons I'm doing. Eventually, the plot is going to catch up to me and I'm going to run out of time. When that happens, I think Mystia would be better off forgetting.
...Damn. That was pretty edgy of me. I'm really not feeling my character right now. I hide behind a laugh and a grin. “It was purely a hypothetical. Don't worry,” I lie. “I'm not going anywhere.”
“R-Really?” Mystia has these earnest eyes that really tug at my heartstrings. I hate lying, but at the same time I don't think I could stand myself if I make Mystia cry. Besides. She won't remember any of this after I retcon, right?
“Yeah.” She won't remember.
...She isn't going to remember a damn thing about me in the end, huh? I almost pull her in for a hug. This is probably the last time I'll be able to talk to Mystia. My hands twitch.
[ ] Hold me back, reader.
[ ] Don't hold me back, reader.
Enjoy your moment as long as you can. If it will be erased soon, then why not enjoy yourself? Though Mystia will not remember, you will, won't you? Those precious memories may leave her mind, but not yours, won't they? You can still befriend her later, find her later, romance her later, hug Fluffy Wolf Shota AFTER you've done what you have to, right?
What author would be cruel enough to deny his main character an afterwards, right?
[x] Don't hold me back, reader.
-[x] ...Thanks, guys.
“Yo, Mystia. Come here for a second.” I wait for her to inch closer before wrapping my arms around her. She's smaller than I thought – I can pull her in easily for a hug.
“Eh?” She squeaks, trapped in my hug. Mystia stays perfectly still, a red blush creeping up her cheeks. “Uh. T-The customers are watching.”
“That's a lie,” I breathe, closing my eyes. “There are no customers right now.”
Mystia looks around, scanning for any onlookers. When she confirms that there isn't anybody else around, she reciprocates my hug and squeezes her arms around my back. “Um. What brought this on? Not that I'm complaining.”
“Just felt like hugging you.” I say, letting go. She reluctantly does so as well. With a heavy heart, I bid her farewell. My voice almost cracks, but I clear my throat. Fuck, I'm such an uncool main character. “Anyway. I'm gonna go. Good bye.”
“Um, yeah!” Mystia beams, waving to me in a nervous fit. “See you again!”
[x] Be “heroic” and get me to do your dirty work.
We're almost there, readers. Just a little bit more.
“White,” seethes whichever autumn goddess she is. “You're just asking for it, aren't you?”
“I'm telling you! Fall is basically a sadder, duller spring!” she giggles, twirling around excitably. Her skirt twirls along with her. “I'm preaching the truth! You just can't handle it!”
“Autumn is a wonderful season and you should feel disgusted for even tarnishing its name.” The leaf-lady jabs an accusing finger at the fairy of spring.
Lily, in return, gleefully cackles. “Autumn is the season for dumb, dead trees! How is that even cool? Leaves falling? BOOOORING!”
“Alright, you cheeky little fae!” roars the autumn goddess. “Let's settle this right here, right now.”
I don't really have the patience for this. Flying up, I grab both of them by the collars and sit them down on the ground. “No fighting allowed. Let's just enjoy the Carnival and worry about your little squabble later, okay?” But not like what I say matters. In just a few moments, I'll be gone and this will have never happened. Still, it doesn't hurt to try. I'm going to skip ahead to the previous choice. I might as well get it all over with.
[x] Not be an asshole and have me enjoy the Carnival hubbub.
“I might be the main character of this story, have to learn a few life lessons along my perilous
quest, and become a better person after my journey... but I don't have to – and I won't – enjoy a
single second of it. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it understand these shitty
analogies that are ruined by long digressions and a rambling protagonist.”
Look how far we've come. We've made some progress... or is it none at all? We're almost back where we started – almost back to square one. To progress, we have to regress. Why does the only way to move the story forward have to be the one that erases everything we did together?
Keine, fit in a floral blue kimono, waves to me gently from the entrance. Her hair's tied back in a well-kept ponytail. “Macha. I trust you've been well?”
“On the contrary, I think I'm reaching a new low.” I drop myself onto a nearby bench. “You're going to have to find a new teaching assistant. I appreciate the help you've given me all this time, but you're better off finding another person.”
“I see... that's unfortunate.” Keine brushes aside a stray lock of my hair and strokes my face with the back of her hand. “I have my suspicions, but I think this is something you have to work out yourself, correct?” With a grin, she adds, “I trust you to do the right thing, Macha.”
“Hah,” I laugh. “I'm a bad seed. I can't seem to get out of trouble's way. How am I supposed to know what the right thing is?”
She grabs my hand and gives it a good squeeze. “You're the type of person who would do the right thing even if they didn't know what it is.”
I wordlessly stand up and pull Keine into a hug, leaning my head on her shoulder. She strokes my head affectionately, brushing her hands through my hair. “I'm sure you'll do well without me, Keine.”
“The kids will miss you, Macha.” Keine drops her composed expression, revealing a troubled look underneath. “And I will, too. Come back to us, if possible.”
I shake my head. “No promises.”
She adds a final remark. “I hope you're satisfied, Macha.”
“If only I was,” I say, bowing goodbye. “Satisfaction is due only for the winners.”
Now then. Where were we?
[ ] You think it's time.
[ ] You want to stop and say something. (Well? Say it or vote for the choice above.)
So, it's about to finish, huh. No matter what happens next, Macha... you done good. I suppose all that's left is to try and remember all the good moments. Your powers are going to take you back to a better time, before any of this. Might be they'll forget everything you've done, and each other. Though after all you've been through, I find that hard to believe.
So long, Macha. Maybe we'll see you in the next story.
Thanks, everybody. It really means a lot to me. It does. I wish I could fade away peacefully, but I still have one last thing to do. We're not done yet. Just because we reached the last update doesn't mean that we can pack up and leave. We have to add closure. That way, the story can end with a final hurrah.
I've always been foreign to Gensokyo. I was the one thing that never fit in here. Naturally, it's only fitting that I'm cast away. I could have left it as is and seen to the end of the world. But I guess it really is in my blood: a protagonist has to save everyone, right?
I wonder who's going to help that girl from the village make new friends.
I wonder who's going to save Kaede.
I wonder who's going to help Keine with her class.
I wonder who's going to be Mystia's best customer.
I wonder I wonder I wonder I wonder.
Even if I'm gone, I'll cherish the memories of that time dearly. Slice of life is fun. Gensokyo is fun. I just wish I had a little more time. That's just too bad for me, huh?
Read Between the Lines, Please
The fae are nervously aflutter with tentative excitement. With the beginning of a new season, there is no surprise to see the fairies emerge from the wilderness. The Eve of Spring is upon Gensokyo. And with Spring comes Lily White, but more importantly comes the Carnival. A most splendid festival where youkai and humans alike don masques and impractically fluffy robes to celebrate the death of winter. With the exception of certain Whiterocks, the residents of the world find great pleasure in the merrymaking of a great but transient season.
Spat out from the plot itself, I return by way of deus ex machina. I drop from the sky, floating down to touch the ground of Gensokyo. The day is exactly like the dawn of the first update. The smell of spring is fresh in the air, invigorating nature with new life.
But, just faintly, one could sniff a hint of ink.
Hey, author? Remember the time where I almost fucked up the story by forgetting which fairy was which? I wanted to see your face when I did that. Was it a face of surprise? Horror? Disappointment? I'm really sorry about that by the way, but that's how I am. And now, I've dismantled your story beyond repair. This story sucks and the narrator is even worse.
But... if you had to choose between Gensokyo and the main character's life, you'd always choose the former.
Oh. Did you think we were done, readers? We still have an incident to create. The story doesn't end until the incident's resolved. And... well. If there's no incident, then we just have to make one. But before we do... I just want to bask in a the Carnival for a bit.
Humans and youkai both celebrate the Carnival, joining in the festivities without fear of impending doom. I can see the children playing with the little youkai, unaware of the fragile world that they are enclosed in. I head straight to the entrance of the village, approaching Keine quietly.
She waves gently but her eyes narrow, if only slightly. The teacher steps forward, herding the playful children behind her. “Good afternoon, miss. Have you come for the Carnival?” Keine musters half of a smile, keeping a watchful eye on the children. They squirm around and wave to me eagerly.
“Yes.” I smile at her carefully, putting my arms behind me. “This is my last Carnival, so I'd like to make the most of it.”
Keine pensively stares through me, frowning to herself. Then, she sets the children free and turns around to grab one of the masks on a table. The kids all run circles around me, laughing and screaming. Keine returns, handing me a fox mask. How nostalgic. “Welcome to the Carnival, stranger. I hope that the Carnival will turn out to be one that you won't forget.”
“Yeah.” I gratefully accept the fox mask and tie the strings behind my neck, letting the mask drop right above my chest. “I hope so too.”
I pass by Lily and Shizuha, heading to Mystia's immediately. Sorry for the delay, readers, but I can't let go of Gensokyo just yet.
There are a lot more customers in the afternoon, but I manage to grab my favorite seat. Mystia rushes straight out, her eyes twinkling at the prospect of a new customer. “Hail, stranger! What would you like to eat? Do you want to look at the menu?” She stops, blushing. “I don't actually have a menu. But I have grilled eel!”
“Okay. Give me that over rice, then.”
“Coming right up!” She disappears, rushing to the back with a skip in her step. Mystia is chipper as always. “New customers, exciting!”
I don't expect anything more than that. It's only natural that she doesn't recognize me. All part of the story. And yet.
“Grilled eel over rice!” Mystia sings, handing me a bowl and chopsticks. She blinks, waiting for me to finish rubbing my eyes. “Got something in your eye?”
“Nah,” I reply. “The sun's rather bright out today.”
“It's a sign that spring is coming soon!” Mystia claps, twirling in place.
“You like spring?” I ask politely.
“I love it,” she sighs dreamily, cupping her cheeks with her hands. “It's a beautiful season.”
I start working on the grilled eel and rice. “I'm sure it is.” Halfway through the bowl, I realize something. “I don't have any money.”
Mystia shrugs. “Consider it on the house. If you feel guilty about it, pay me another time!”
“...Another time, then.” I lower my eyes. “Thank you.”
“No problem, miss!” She waits patiently until I'm finished with my food. As soon as I'm done, she collects it and throws the bowl under the counter. “Thank you for your patronage!”
“I didn't pay, though,” I point out.
“Your attendance is enough for today.” Mystia smiles warmly, clasping her hands. “It's the Carnival, after all!”
“Yeah.” I stand up, bowing to Mystia. “Thanks for the food. Have a nice evening.”
“Mmhm! Come again soon!” She hollers, waving to me goodbye.
I'm glad the Carnival exists. I'm glad that Gensokyo exists. I don't think I can keep up this charade anymore. Gotta have that last slice of life segment before the end, right? And I'm sorry, readers, but you've been tricked. Rused, and various other synonyms. I'm not really the protagonist of this story, though I could argue that I am. But, at its heart, I'm its antagonist. Not that I want to destroy Gensokyo. I'd do anything but that. However, my existence is... unwanted, to say the least. I'm not being edgy or anything. That's just how it is.
I guess this is where I have to deliver the exposition. But you're not going to listen to an antagonist like me, huh?
[x] I will
Every protagonist is someone else's antagonist
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[x] You will.
Good. I have some explaining to you guys anyway. Since you've stuck with me for so long, it's only fair that I give you some context, right? I'm not happy that I have to hand you the plot without some elegant way to drop the exposition, but what can I do?
Where to start. Sorry guys. I'm more used to listening to exposition, not delivering it. Anyway. The Gensokyo in the story we're in isn't real. None of this is real. We're all stuck in written text – pages of a story. The Gensokyo we're in is nothing but a fabrication, fit with a character that never existed in the first place. Namely, me.
The people in here are real though. The Reimu here is still Reimu. Everybody is trapped in this psuedo-Gensokyo that the author created. We inadvertently caged all of Gensokyo in this fake world of ours. And by we, I don't mean you. I mean the author and me.
The author always had an affinity for books. She collected them, read them, re-read them until they were worn down from use. The girl had more demon books than Voile. She had such a power over books that it was basically inhuman. So she picked up a pen and thought to herself, What if I write my own story?
But her power over books was so strong it sucked up all of Gensokyo as soon as she started writing. She may have not realized this, but she had the power to create a world set in the boundaries of her text. I think I am the only one privy to this knowledge. At first, I was happy. I thought I could enjoy a fantasy world that I was created for. I thought I could live like the rest of the residents of Gensokyo. I'm sure the author was irritated by me when I chose to ignore the plot.
But in the end, the author succumbed to her own powers and now we're stuck here. The story began to unravel with no author to write for us. So I traveled back to undo everything. But the story doesn't end until an incident is resolved. There's no freedom from this story until we get a happy ending. So I gotta do that before this world crumbles into nothing.
I fly over to Misty Lake. It's only fitting. At 8 P.M., I'm pretty sure Reimu will head on over here. Odds are, she'll find the flier that Sunny Milk wrote. Then she'll head over here. That's what she did last time. So all I have to do is wait here at 8 P.M instead of the fairies and we got ourselves an incident. From the far end of the sky, I can see the pages tear, ripping the scenery into scraps of paper. Text slowly spills from the gash, bleeding out a river of words.
I still have time. Though I'm a little early to arrive. Not even Sunny Milk and her fairy friends are here yet. Leaves me some time to brood.
I wonder how the author will react once they realized what happened to their story. I'm sure she'll be mad.
Readers. You know more than I do. She'll definitely be mad, right?
[X] She will be mad
---[X] But who cares?
She's the one who got everyone else into this mess, so you know what, fuck her.
I bet there will be some bullshit deus ex machina and you'll be just fine after all this, but if not, and this is the last update...
Good shit Macha. All of us, the readers, we won't forget you so easily. Our memory is pretty good, you know. And hey, you've got a damn fine ass.
She has fucked up before, so she should have known better. But curiosity is too big of a temptation.
That said what happened here was indeed curious so maybe she's satisfied? This still reads like a tragedy thought, unless keine intervenes somehow.
But, somehow? Judging from how everyone else in this Gensokyo acts?
She won't be all that angry with you.
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...Haha. Yeah, you're right. How could she be mad? This is absurd. If only she'd wake up and realize how stupid everything has become. She really told you guys to cheer me up when I was at my lowest, huh? Idiots, all of us. We're all just marionettes dancing under a string. Now that we're all tangled up, the natural thing to do is to sever the string. I just hope it won't be too late for the author.
Don't worry, Kosuzu. I'll save you.
Sunny Milk comes flying along, speeding ahead of the other two mischievous fairies. She almost bumps into me, missing me by only an inch. “Hey!” She yells. “You're, uh, early! And you're also not Reimu.”
“Nice detective skills. Anyway, I need you to get lost. I have an incident to create.” I materialize a pen from the air, dropping it into my hand. With a flick of my wrist, I slice open a rift into another page. All of Gensokyo trembles, the ground shaking underneath the destruction of one of its pages. “If you don't leave now, I'm afraid I'm going to have to fight you.”
“Yeah, um, okay!” Sunny screams at me, grabbing the two other fairies and speeding off. “We'll be going now! Bye, see you never!”
I twirl the pen in my hand. Even if Reimu didn't see the flier, she's sure to come now. Gensokyo is slowly collapsing under the weight of the story. It's only a matter of time until the plot devours the fantasy world until there's nothing left. But I'm sure the shrine maiden will have plenty of time to beat me and fix everything up afterward. It's just a shame that I don't have a place in the epilogue. I'd enjoy a cup of tea with Reimu.
And finally, the shrine maiden arrives. I fold my arms haughtily and do my best to keep a sinister appearance. That's how an antagonist should be, right? I give her my usual smile. “Hello, Hakurei shrine maiden. Fancy meeting you here.”
She frowns, pointing her gohei towards me. “Odd. So very odd. This isn't up to conventional incident standards. There's a procedure to this, you know.”
I blink. “I'm unfamiliar with the process.”
“The three fairies?” Reimu shakes her head. “They were supposed to be the mid bosses but they didn't even put up a fight. It seemed like they were running away instead. Just flew past me without so much as a word.”
I click my pen, slowly floating towards the shrine maiden. “I could fill in and be my own mid-boss. But I think we're already–” I stop myself, throwing out a torrent of danmaku mid-sentence. Reimu is almost caught unawares. Almost. She shoots upward into the sky, spiraling past the bullets. Her lazy demeanor is completely gone, instead replaced with a sharp, cold look. "–way past the mid-boss timing.” I give her a congratulatory nod. "Well played."
“I am an expert, ma'am. I advise you not to pull any cheap tricks. Otherwise, I won't go easy.” Reimu clenches her gohei tightly, tensing up for a fight.
I merely sigh. “I'm nothing but cheap tricks and gimmicks.”
“And you're just the stage one boss?” She brushes aside a stray lock of her hair from her face. Narrowing her eyes at me, Reimu adds, “At least introduce yourself before trying to kill me. You can't throw out danmaku mid-dialogue. Think about it from my perspective. Also. Aren't you supposed to let me get some power ups and bombs before you go all out? Why is the stage one boss the strongest character?”
“Hakurei,” I start, “I don't care. I never asked to be the stage one boss. I'm part of this incident package deal. You signed up for normal and instead got extra. I don't have to play fair because– well, I don't have a reason. Deal with it. Now shut up and fight me.”
Reimu, groaning in irritation, replies, “Is this even a real incident? The plot is stupid.”
Rolling my eyes, I can only reply back with, “Tell me about it.” The dialogue is running thin. I only have a few more words until I have to fight the shrine maiden. “Well, I don't have to explain anything. I'm sure you'll figure it out in the epilogue.”
“To be honest, I was expecting another wave of danmaku before we finished this conversation.” Reimu readies her charms and seals.
“I don't expect a gimmick to work twice. It gets really stale after the second or third time.” I click my pen. A book drops into my hand from the sky. “Enough talk. Let's get to it.”
Well, it appears that Reimu is just as meta as Macha, here. Why is that? Reimu never seemed much of an observant character unless when it counts. Maybe she gets meta knowledge by being the main character?
Too bad Macha is unlikely to talk to us about this during the battle. Dialogue only happens before and after boss fights.
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I slice my pen downward, ripping open the story's pages. Thin, needle-like bullets come spewing out of the rift, erupting upwards. With a flick of my wrist, I shoot the bullets from above. They whistle through the air, flying towards Reimu's direction. She dives under, dipping dangerously close to the water. The shrine maiden barrels past the needles and shoots out homing amulets in retaliation. They quickly pick up speed, locking onto my location. I shoot a few down, but several more come flying in. I careen to the side, slicing the imaginary sky with my pen, spraying out a wide arc of danmaku.
“Stay still, please,” Reimu hisses, squeezing through the space between the bullets.
“I never got why other bosses stood still during their attacks or flew back and forth during their spells.” I wag my finger at the shrine maiden. “I'm not gonna make it easy for you. Gotta work for your happy ending, okay?” I extend my left arm out, flipping through the pages of my grimoire. Closing my eyes, I whisper a few words to myself. Reimu, realizing that I'm currently vulnerable, rushes past the lingering danmaku and takes a direct shot at me with her persuasion needles.
But I'm already done casting. A flash of white shoots across Misty Lake, scattering away the incoming projectiles. The clouds swirl around in darkness, rumbling in irritation. A hail of books drop from the sky, surrounding the shrine maiden. The red-white floats back, waiting for my next move. I click my pen and the books open, exploding in a frenzy of lasers. The beams cut left and right, grazing by Reimu. She charges through the lasers, amping up the speed and power of her persuasion needles. She's getting her power ups. The shrine maiden takes out every book, getting stronger with every grimoire destroyed. She's already a few meters away, hurling a huge yin-yang orb at me. I can't dodge. I block by slicing open the plot and absorbing the orb into the pages. As the rift dissipates, I'm greeted by a cascade of needles aimed at my chest. They slice through my fox mask, splintering it in half. Every single one hits me, sinking into my body.
Pichu~un, I'm dead.
“You got me, shrine maiden.” With my last breath, I close my book. The entire world shatters, slipping back in time. The needles in my chest disappear, and both Reimu and I are jerked back to where we were a few minutes ago. “Or so you thought. Welcome to the world of retcon, shrine maiden.” Though she won't remember.
Reimu puts a hand to her head, groaning. “Ugh. I'm getting motion sickness. What terrible timing before we have to fight.”
“Good. I'll take any advantage I can get.” I click my pen, firing a multicolor orb at her. She dives under, just like last time, but I'm prepared for that. I launch a spear of danmaku below, just barely missing Reimu. But the spear sinks into the lake and explodes, shooting a torrent of water up at her. The sudden gush knocks the miko upside-down. I advance forward and open fire with a cone of danmaku. Before the bullets hit her, Reimu bursts into a bright rainbow, forming large orbs of color. Suddenly on the offensive, she lobs all of them at me. I dip past three and slice through the fourth, instantly replying with orbs of my own. But she catches me from the side, sinking (more) persuasion needles into my chest.
Reimu's at full power now. With every death, I granted her power. And with every retcon, I grew weaker. The shrine maiden comes to the lake for the tenth time, looking to end the incident. I pant heavily, struggling to catch my breath. A cold sweat lines my forehead. There is a burning in my chest, even though the needles are gone. This is the last time. I can let go. The story will finally end. I stare in the direction of the human village. Nothing but black and white lies beyond the Misty Lake. Only text bleeds through the waters below.
I smile. “This is the last fight, Hakurei.”
“This is the first fight, actually,” Reimu points out. “Are you sure you can say something so ominous as the first stage boss?”
“Sure I can.” I ready my pen and book. “I'm both the first and the last boss you'll have to fight today.”
“What, was this the demo?” She laughs. “Not like I mind. I'm okay with putting a quick end to this incident.”
“Then let's fight.” I click my pen. It makes a hollow sound – the ink ran empty. I shoot out a feeble set of bullets, whimpering through the air.
Reimu, smiling pitifully at me, shoots some sorrowful needles. I make no effort to dodge, letting them sink into my chest. “I wonder if the second boss will be a challenge.”
“I've told you already,” I sigh. “There is no second boss.”
“I almost want to say, 'What a shame!' but I'm glad it's all over.” She grins. "I'm not even sure what the incident was."
I lose altitude, floating slowly downward. I shut my eyes and exhale deeply.
Reimu frowns, moving over to me. “Are you okay?”
“Not really. I'm so tired I'm going to take a nap now. Good night, Reimu... take care of Gensokyo, okay?” I sink into the lake, which is no more than a sea of text. I can distantly hear the shrine maiden's voice but already it seems so far away.
A hand grabs mine, pulling me out of the water. It's Reimu again. “Stage one boss, what are you doing?"
Ah. I forgot to do something. Can't have a story without an ending, right? I suck in some air and utter the magic words to end this charade once and for all.
“And so they lived happily ever after. The end.”
With those final words, the entire world falls apart, bleeding out from the pages. Every word, every line of description comes flooding out of the ragged book and back into the real Gensokyo. The book sputters and coughs out everything that it stole, returning to empty parchment. Everyone is sent away, back to their true world.
Everyone but me.
Still there, readers?
Yo, that's not funny readers. If you can hear me, say something already. Readers, c'mon. I know you're still there.
Relax Macha, the story isn't over yet. Reimu still has to beat up Kosuzu in the Ex stage.
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All the characters have left. The story is over. I walk over the dismantled plot. There's nothing left but an endless horizon of white. It's like I'm on a blank page that goes on and on forever. I wade through the text, mindlessly wandering through the sea of words. From the distance, there's a little island of color. Must be the last part of the story that's still alive. I walk towards the colors. When I arrive, all I find is a rickety old shack dubbed Suzunaan. I enter through the front, taking a good look inside. Despite how it looks on the outside, Suzunaan is neat and orderly. It's more of a library than a home though. Every wall is lined with bookshelves, all piled with as many books as they can hold.
I turn my attention to the table in the corner. I spot a girl behind the desk, hidden behind a thick stack of volumes and manuscripts. She has her reddish-orange hair tied into twintails, kept behind two little hair bobbles in the shape of bells. The girl is wearing a checkered red-and-white kimono, fit with a green skirt. Honestly, it's a little tacky. She has her face buried between her arms – her shoulders quiver as her body is wracked with quiet sobs. I put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, shorty. Are you going to cry forever?”
The girl is startled. She jumps out of her chair, rubbing her eyes frantically. “Ah! Is that you, Macha?”
I place my hands on my hips. “Who else would it be? Everybody else already left this desolate world. It's just us two still here. And frankly, you need to leave too. You're unwelcome here.”
“Do...” The girl trails off, taking a step closer. “Do you know who I am?”
“Of course I do,” I laugh. “You've done well, little Kosuzu.”
At the mention of her name, Kosuzu throws herself into my arms, weeping into my chest. “I've made so many mistakes, Macha. I did things I shouldn't have. I hate it. I hate myself. I hate everything.”
“I never knew you were such a crybaby, author. Keep it together for the readers, won't you?” I give her a little squeeze, pulling her closer. “You did your best.”
“I don't want you to go away. I wanted to show you a world that you can love and appreciate. I wanted you to be with us in Gensokyo.” Kosuzu buries herself deeper into my chest. Calming herself down, she says with a whisper, “Don't leave, Macha.”
“Leave? I don't intend on leaving,” I reply, stroking her head. “I'm staying right here in this dead world. It's you who needs to leave.”
“What do you mean?” She says between sniffles.
“You have a future in a place where everyone loves you. And this,” I motion to the realm of white outside Suzunaan, “is nothing but a dying world that holds only outrageous fantasies and a character that was never supposed to exist.”
“But you do exist now!” cries Kosuzu. “You're right here! I can see you! And you can see me! Isn't it unfair that you're the only one who loses!?”
“As far as I'm concerned, I got more than what I deserved. Don't try and make it like I'm sacrificing everything for the greater good. The fact that I got to play in Gensokyo at all is a miracle in the first place.” I slowly release Kosuzu from my arms. “But playtime is over. You have to return to your own world now. This is where I send you off.”
Kosuzu shimmers white, fading out of this world. She tries to grab me, but her hand passes through mine. Her form in this world is weak and ethereal, slowly becoming transparent. “Macha, don't do it!"
“Are you serious? This isn't even the right Gensokyo. You're gonna have to wake up from your dream and return back to the real world.” I shake my head at her. “Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. And... I'm glad you brought me to this world. Gensokyo was really nice and stuff. Cherish it dearly, yeah?”
Kosuzu falls to her knees, tearing up again. “Fine! I will! So come with me!”
“I'd love to. But I can't. I don't exist in this 'Gensokyo' you live in.” I give her a final smile. “Don't cry, little Kosuzu. You've done enough for me. And for that, I thank you. Farewell, author!”
I snap my fingers and send her back to her home. Her real home.
Still there, readers? Haha. I can't even hear you guys at all. I guess that means I'm done for good, huh? I'll ask one more time. Are you still there?
...I'm all alone then. I exit Suzunaan and stare into the horizon of the world. An eternal white extends as far as the eye can see. But without its owner, the story crumbles beneath me. I fall into an endless chasm, doomed to fall into the void forever. I guess this is the end.
If you can still hear me, thanks for reading up until now. And if, somehow, you find the chance to speak to Kosuzu, tell her I said thanks for writing the story.
At first I was very dubious that this story would amount to anything. I am pleased to say I was wrong to doubt.
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The fae are nervously aflutter with tentative excitement. With the beginning of a new season, there is no surprise to see the fairies emerge from the wilderness. The Eve of Spring is upon Gensokyo. And with Spring comes Lily White, but more importantly comes the Carnival. A most splendid festival where youkai and humans alike don masques and impractically fluffy robes to celebrate the death of winter. With the exception of certain Whiterocks, the residents of the world find great pleasure in the merrymaking of a great but transient season. Gensokyo is loved. Certainly there is no place for any intruders.
A lone wolf tengu, Kaede, sputters through the air, rapidly descending into the ground. In front of him is a large tree. There's no way for him to stop time. But before he can slam face-first into the tree, his senior swoops in, yanking him back.
“Kaede!” Momiji pulls at his collar. “What did I tell you about training alone? One of these days, you can get seriously hurt!”
“Aaah, I was caught.” His ears droop down. “Sorry. I didn't want anybody to know I was struggling to fly.”
Momiji's expression softens. She floats to the ground, setting down her junior. “Safety comes first. If you want help, then I am available to train you. All you have to do is ask, little one.”
“...Okay.” He straightens his back and looks up towards Momiji. “But how did you know that I was here?”
“I don't know. I came here on no basis but intuition.” She scratches her cheek, smiling weakly. “I usually do not act on gut feeling, but I somehow knew I should be here.”
Kaede grins. “I'm not one to complain. Let's train then!”
Chen basks in the sun, rolling comfortably on a lush, green hill. It's definitely spring, she thought. The warmth of the sunlight covers her like a soft blanket. She knows that she shouldn't get her kimono grassy, but the opportunity of hill-napping is too good to pass up. As she closes her eyes, Chen almost forgets why she's even wearing the kimono in the first place. Almost.
A cold wind slaps her in the face, as if it sharply pinched her cheek. “Whuhbluh!?” Chen glowers, baring her teeth. “Impudent fairies, I'll destroy you!” She hisses, scattering danmaku all around the hill. Upon a cursory glance, she realizes that she is still alone.
Then it all clicks. “Oh, crap! The festival! Gotta go!” She scrambles away from the hill, flying towards the human village in haste. She dusts off her kimono during her flight. Good thing she remembered this time.
...This time? she thought.
The Carnival is a complete success. Everything is running smoothly, and it seems like everybody is having a good time. She holds the last fox mask to her chest. For some reason, she could not bring herself to give it out. It is unnaturally sentimental for Keine to keep it, but she felt like she needs to give it to somebody important.
She wonders who.
The kids all scramble around the outskirts of the village, playing their little game of “Monster.” But for some reason, it feels like something is missing from their little game. Keine clutches the fox mask, tying it around the back of her neck. She anxiously smooths down her hair and re-ties her ponytail.
Keine's mind drifts back to school. Funny, her thoughts always seem to revolve around coursework. She wonders if she'll ever need a teaching assistant.
Mystia's stand is bustling. She didn't think that she'd get so many customers in the afternoon. The Carnival is amazing, she thought to herself. The seats are almost all full. There's one specific seat that is right next to the grill that's open, but she would never allow anybody to sit there. Though it isn't reserved for anyone, Mystia cannot bring herself to open up the spot.
Reimu takes up the seat adjacent to it. “Hey, Mystia. Looks like business is doing well today.”
The bird claps giddily to herself. “Yeah! It's great! I haven't been this busy since... ever!” She turns away from Reimu, yelling out, “Order seventeen!”
“I always wanted to ask you something,” says Reimu. She points over to the empty seat. “Why do you always keep this spot open? Is it reserved for someone? I've never seen anybody take this seat, even on busy days.”
“Well, I suppose it is.” Mystia sighs, flapping her wings once. “I'm waiting for someone important.”
“I never knew you had someone like that,” the shrine maiden gasps. She tugs at Mystia's arm excitedly. “Who is it?”
“I'm not sure.” The stand owner blushes, twirling her two-pronged fork. “I think I'll know when I see them.”
“Pffff,” snorts Reimu. She chuckles, jabbing at Mystia's sides. “I never thought you'd be such a clueless romantic.”
“That's funny,” the bird replies, smiling wistfully. “Someone once told me the same thing.”
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Kosuzu wakes from her slumber, straining to get her eyes open. Her body feels heavy; her heart is heavier. She did not remember what she was doing last night, but her body sure does. She sluggishly moves to the bathroom and rinses up. Kosuzu combs down her hair and ties it back with two little bell-shaped bobbles. She stares at herself through the mirror. Acceptable, she thought, looking at her reflection.
Kosuzu runs over to Suzunaan, disappearing through the doors. She hides behind her desk, sorting out various books and manuscripts. “That's odd,” she murmurs to herself. The books are more cluttered than usual. The entire table is in a state of disarray. Kosuzu could have sworn that she tidied up just recently.
A book falls from the top of the pile of books. A curious title it has: Read Between the Lines, Please. As soon as she touches the cover, Kosuzu suddenly is aware of something.
Why does it suddenly smell like ink in here?
She hears a few voices. They are small and distant, but she could definitely hear them. “Wha~ah. Who are you?” She pauses to listen. “...The readers? Readers of what? Oh? You wanted to tell me something?”
Your story was really good, definitely an enjoyable read. You gave someone the chance to experience something wonderful. A chance they would have never had otherwise. Still, maybe next time you should write something that isn't about Gensokyo. Who knows what could happen.
[x] There's an innocent woman trapped in this book, and it's all your fault.
-[x] She asked us to tell you she said thank you for writing the story and giving her a chance to experience Gensokyo.
Do we need to vote to explain the whole story to Kosuzu, or is that automatic?
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“No,” Kosuzu whispers, sinking to her knees. “that can't be true. Was that not a dream? Then... who was she? How did she know me? How did I know her? I don't understand. No, I don't remember.”
And you, the readers, told Kosuzu the woman's name:
“Macha...” Kosuzu echoes. Tears she hid once before resurfaced, trickling down her cheeks. She remembers what she is not supposed to remember. It all comes flooding back to her now. Kosuzu remembers the story. Kosuzu remembers the mistakes she made. Kosuzu remembers the power she attained. And lastly, Kosuzu remembers her.
Akyuu, coming over to visit her protégé, is only partially surprised when she discovers Kosuzu sniffling on the floor, clutching a book tightly. “Kosuzu,” she nods solemnly. “I don't mean to interrupt, but I have good news for you. It's something related to the incident last night.”
“Last night?” Kosuzu wipes her tears with her sleeve.
“Yes. Last night, all of Gensokyo was consumed.” The Child of Miare brandishes a thin ballpoint pen, sleek and blue in color. “It seems like everybody only has a hazy memory of what happened. Some do not even remember it at all. Reimu brought back this pen, having no idea how she got it. But she did tell me that it was called the 'Deus Ex Machina' and that I should promptly hand it over to you.” Akyuu throws the pen over.
“Ah! That is––!” Kosuzu scrambles to catch the pen. As soon as she does, a blinding light shoots out of the pen, enveloping the entire house of Suzunaan.
Akyuu reels back, clutching her head. “Ugh. It's all coming back to me now. Your methods are crude and unsatisfactory, you failure of a protagonist.”
“Eh? What happened? Did I do something wrong?” Kosuzu looks around nervously. “Wait... protagonist?”
“Not you,” Akyuu dismisses Kosuzu. “Oh hush, Macha, you know she's still naïve and pure.”
“Akyuu... are you talking to–?”
“Well, don't keep the girl in suspense any longer,” grumbles Akyuu. “Really now, you're such a child.”
“Oh you hopeless author. What will you do without me?” I, Macha, reanimate from the pages of the book that Kosuzu was holding. I am given physical form, siphoning power from my beloved author. I clear my throat and stand in front of her triumphantly. “Ahem. Here I am.”
“Really?” Akyuu jeers. “Deus Ex Machina?”
“If it weren't for contrived, shitty plot devices, I wouldn't be here.” I wink at the two girls in front of me. “I deserve a happy ending, right?”
Kosuzu, between sobs, sputters out, “How are you here?”
I extend my arms out to her, smiling. She comes running into my arms, wrapping her arms around me. “The moment you touched my pen, the Deus Ex Machina, I took the liberty of stealing your powers to become a youkai. This way, I can exist in this world. Looks like you're back to a useless ol' human though. Pity, huh?”
“You're terrible!” Kosuzu says, crying. This time they're tears of joy. “The plot can't be resolved that easily! There is supposed to be build up, you dummy!”
“Well, too bad.” I reclaim my pen from Kosuzu, twirling it around once before letting it disappear. “I don't mind whether it's cliché or that it's not well thought out. The only happy ending I'll get is going to be one that won't ever be possible in a good story. And you know what? I'll take it.”
“You're a real dummy, Macha,” Kosuzu says, nestling in my chest.
“Aren't you the real dummy here?” I laugh. “Only an idiot author can make an idiot protagonist.”
“That's nice and all, but don't we have work to do, Kosuzu?” Akyuu interjects, folding her arms impatiently.
“Oh! R-Right!” Kosuzu breaks away from me, blushing. I can only smirk at my hopeless author. “Let's get to it now.”
I wave to the two of them, taking my leave. “I'll be outside then. I have some business to take care of.”
“Going to the festival?” asks Akyuu.
I wordlessly nod.
Business had finally died down for Mystia. Only her usual night time customers are present. The evening wind brings a chill down her spine. Spring is only around the corner. With the festival winding down, Mystia unties her bandana and gets ready to clean up her stand.
I take my regular spot and dip my head towards the stand owner. “Heya, miss. Do you have time for one last customer?”
For a second, she's taken aback. Then Mystia smiles warmly, eyes brimming with tears. In a shaky voice, she cries, “Welcome back.”
Hey, readers. I know it's your job, but thanks for reading. Really got me through some tough times. You guys are okay after all. Even if all you like to do is talk about my butt. I'd like to congratulate you all. We made it. We're at the end. Not the end of Read Between the Lines, Please, but at the end of this story. I'm going to miss you all. It was one hell of a journey, right? I know it was for me. But it's all over now. There will be no more updates, no more words to add. But, knowing that you will remember me even after the story is done, brings me joy.
I just have one concern.
I sincerely hope this is canon.
Every greatgood okay thing must come to an end. Hi, readers. This is the author of the story. Not Kosuzu, but the author author. I'm sure you all knew that but I love to self-clarify. Coming into the first day of the contest, I honestly thought to myself that there was no way I could make it through all thirty days. I am proud of myself for not only making to thirty days, but exceeding it. My only regret is not making this a full-fledged story with more thought and love put into it. I liked Macha and by extension I liked writing her.
What's interesting is that this story almost never came into fruition. I actually had an entire story planned out for Nanowrimo about Akyuu. It was going to be about how she falls in love with a reincarnating youkai multiple times. And then I decided I'm retarded and went with something I had zero plans for because “it'll probably be fun.” I will probably write the Akyuu story out someday and turn it into a short eventually.
I'll be happy to answer any questions about the story. Most of the answers will be, “Because I said so,” so be warned.
Also here. Have a rough image of how I (somewhat) envisioned Macha to look like.
>>186575 >Bring back Macha in another story, please.
It is a possibility but I am currently leaning towards a "no" right now. She worked hard for her happy ending and it would be nice for her to rest. The alternative would be to go full slice-of-life, but I'm not too keen on doing that. In any case, it is something I will have to think about while I find the right time to create a new story, if at all. The first half of December is going to be busy for me. But if anybody has any suggestions or wants something written, I could be bothered to do some shorts. Or not. I don't know yet.
>>186576 >What would have happened if we'd left Kaeda behind with Aya?
If you guys left Kaede with Aya, then Macha would have spent more time with the crow than Momiji by law of Wolf-Boy Gravitation. Aya would have scolded Kaede for practicing flying alone because she's an honest and pure crow tengu at heart beneath all that teasing. It's just that there would have been a lot of teasing involved. Kaede would still think of Macha as his Big-Sis despite all that.
On a side note, the Hatate scene never officially happened. Not that she was looking forward to a casual drink with a friend or anything.
>>186578 >Not that she was looking forward to a casual drink with a friend or anything.
Being Hatate is Suffering, which, funnily enough, is the premise of a story that I've been meaning to get around to.
I really came into this story with many negative expectations and you pleasantly proved me wrong. Thanks for that. It was fun.