I need to write more. So by god, I'm gonna try. Hopefully this goes... passably well.
No need to take it especially seriously.
You wake up, and the first thing you notice is the girl you're holding at gunpoint. The second thing you notice is the wings. The third is that she's trying to talk around the barrel in her mouth.
You blink the sleep out of your eyes and pull the trigger as you yawn. Level 2, since you'd rather not leave a mess.
When was the last time you actually slept?
Her head vanishes with a muted crack, which you expected. The rest of her shattering like a hologram... not so much.
You sit up and snatch at a mote of red light, more out of whimsy than intent - it vanishes on contact with your skin, transmuting into an alien sensation.
Like a sunburn, but in your veins.
...That's a new one, admittedly.
You're forced to acknowledge that this probably isn't some half-assed dying hallucination, though you won't rule it out just yet. The distance from temple to brainpan is pretty trivial for a bullet, but you've always had better reflexes than most.
You ponder ways to call your own bluff while finding your feet, balance perfect as ever.
When was the last time you saw this many trees, you wonder, absently dislocating the shit out of your left index finger.
Your heart judders, pumping out the stimulants it thinks you need- mute the pain, heavily encourage healing. You don't relax your grip, even as your own joints fight you in a bid for reassembly.
You let go, so you can pull yourself together. A minor loss in functionality, at worst- but any loss at all is more than you expected. Most simulations don't bother.
Well. At least your feverdreams are accurate.
Lost in thought, you plug 3 rounds (Level 1, less noise that way) into whatever it was that just entered the clearing before it could so much as rustle the grass. Too small to be anything human, some kind of drone maybe.
A few steps to get clear line of sight-
That's -- a rabbit.
Is this a nature preserve? Was that girl- hologram- some kind of tour guide? Surely the automated defense systems would've reacted by now, unless they'd suffered a catastrophic failure.
But then, you couldn't be sure. You'd never been to a nature preserve, after all - too much security by far. Too many concerns with the animals that could pick up guns to waste time on the ones that couldn't.
...you frown slightly harder, realizing how frayed your nerves must be to wax poetic about the Reds.
You consider the evidence, eyes fixed overhead.
An empty palm. A relocated finger. A lush forest. A dead rabbit. A blue sky.
"Where am I?"
You weren't expecting an answer. Fortunately, your expectations were less than meaningless. Or was it unfortunately?
"HI I'M PHAREE WHY'D YOU SHOW UP IN MY FAVORITE SPOT AND WHAT WAS THAT METAL THING IT WAS SUPER LOUD EVEN THOUGH IT'S HARD TO HEAR STUFF IN THE FOREST AND OH HEY DO YOU LIKE THE FOREST OF MAGIC IS THAT WHY YOU'RE VISITING WHAT'S YOUR NAME MY NAME'S PHAREE!"
Butterfly wings and a pale summer dress clash with dark skin and the loudest mouth your ears have ever seen. You recognize her face, because you always remember their faces, and you memorized this one not even ten minutes ago.
For once, you find yourself at a loss.
How do you respond?
[ ] Shoot her again
[ ] Tell her your name
[ ] Answer her completely
You're not the biggest fan of blinking, but you manage anyway.
It's not the first time you've seen a regenerator, but... whatever this is, it's a bit more thorough. The old albino always made such a mess pulling himself back together, and tended to be half-mad with pain besides - this girl hardly seems to notice.
No harm in playing along, you suppose.
Holding up four fingers, much to her confused awe, you tick them down in sequence with your answers.
"An issue with my execution. Probably." One.
"A gun. My gun. It's... special." Now there's an understatement. Two.
"Not sure yet; it's my first visit." Three. What the hell does that mean, anyhow? Forest of Magic? You've never had a landmark leave you feeling more lost.
"My name is..." J̶u̶s̶t̶i̶c̶e̶ "...John Smith." You lower the last finger and let your hand drop, craving the supple leather of your bible - and the sweeter mercies inside. But there's a time and a place, and this is neither.
The weight in your breast pocket is comforting, all the same.
You take a single breath to clear your head, counting up and down from five. More importantly, what is that noise?
Is she... vibrating?
"THAT'S AMAZING YOUR NAME IS SO COOL HOW DID YOU GET IT AND AND I WAS JUST THINKING ABOUT THAT OTHER STUFF ARE YOU A MIND READER BECAUSE THE ONE I KNOW ALWAYS LOOKS TIRED AND YOU LOOK REALLY TIRED MISTER CAN YOU READ MINDS?"
Pharee stays anchored in one spot, wings a hummingbird blur. Her enthusiasm imparts a slow clockwise rotation, but considering the dress... you nudge her upright.
She doesn't notice.
"I needed one - and no, I can't." Sadly. An ability like that would've been incredibly convenient. So much time wasted on clumsy, unreliable methods.
"YOU SEEM LIKE A MIND READER TO ME BUT OKAY~!" She twirls. "SO WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO NOW, MISTER? YOU FOUND MY FAVORITE SPOT AND IT'S MY FAVORITE BECAUSE IT'S WHERE THE SUN FEELS WARMEST AND I CAN LOOK AT THE CLOUDS-"
She goes on and on, but that IS a pretty pertinent question.
"-WE CAN SHARE IT IF YOU WANT I LIKE SHARING-"
What are you going to do?
[ ] Pick a direction and start walking.
[ ] She seems like a... native. Ask Pharee if she knows how to prepare rabbit.
[ ] Shoot her, then pick a direction and start walking. She might follow you, otherwise.
[ ] Ask for... directions? (Where to?)
[x] She seems like a... native. Ask Pharee if she knows how to prepare rabbit.
You sway to one edge of the clearing, scooping up your target by its hind legs - mindful of the... leakage. Everything from the neck up is aggressively absent.
"-DOESN'T REALLY LIKE SHARING BUT THAT'S OKAY BECAUSE I'M SUUUPER CONVINCING-"
She's still talking.
You close the distance again with a shake of your head, hefting your prize into her line of sight.
"Pharee. Can you... cook?"
It'd just figure if she couldn't The one time you're caught without any of that hypernutritive field slop packed away somewhere, and it's when you... die? Discover your latent ability to teleport? Fall into a secret magical wilderness?
You let her snatch the corpse from your hands, stepping deftly to the side as she pirouettes and scatters blood everywhere. You have some doubts about any (presumed) local's ability to clean your coat; it shouldn't matter, but you've grown somewhat... attached.
"OOOOH RABBIT I LOVE RABBITS THEY'RE SO CUTE AND FUZZY AND DELICIOUS-" she spins again "-AND DRY AND LEAN AND NO WAIT MISTER FUZZ SEEMS PRETTY YOUNG SO HE SHOULD BE SOFT AND JUICY!"
She darts away, laying the fuzzy carcass out across a long, flat rock. You'd spotted it earlier, due to the- unique coloration, before immediately putting it out of mind. Now the purpose seems all too obvious.
...She can fit a lot more than just a rabbit on that thing.
Although, if her scrabbling around in the dirt is any indication, not everything is coming up roses.
"NO NO NO, MISTER SKINNER IS MISSING!" Now she's rolling around on the ground, clutching at her head in despair. The earth glitters miserably in her wake, butterfly scales catching on the grass.
A muscle at the corner of your mouth attempts an involuntary twitch, but you suppress it. Curious.
Two heartbeats later and she's back in the air, expression radiant.
"BUT THAT'S WHY SHARING IS THE BEST! DON'T YOU WORRY MISTER SMITHJOHN-" Smithjohn? "-BECAUSE I DEFINITELY WON'T LOSE TO A BUNNY! HAAAA~!"
She vanishes into the trees, warcry dopplering out and fading unnaturally fast - especially considering how loud she is.
Forest of Magic, huh?
Left to your own devices, your hand goes to your coat pocket, finding the texture that you crave. A plain bible, bound in dark leather, supple from age and constant use. The spine is bare, but the plain white cross embossed on the cover catches every errant sunbeam. Without realizing, you've already opened it. It's striking - the perfume of decay and the whir (almost like a chuckle) of softly yellow, well-thumbed pages.
The words caress your eyes, even as they slip past unread. Every letter (some stamping out from the page, fire engine red) an old friend, every crease like a lover long-missed.
The ending that you always pray for, the ending that you can't help but chase- distantly, you hear a quavering, crystalline shriek. (Why are you reminded of an offended mirror?)
The bible snaps shut and you tuck it away. What the hell was that?
You decide to:
[ ] Investigate
[ ] Resume reading
[ ] Wai-
Pharee bursts into view, clutching a wedge of paused water. You'd call it an icicle, but... water doesn't freeze like that. Sharp white edges over fluid aquamarine. It should definitely be melting.
Where the hell did she- ? It's still fluttering, but Pharee's hands are tiny vicegrips. You debate trying to get a word in edgewise, but instead exercise your rights and remain silent. No need to draw any undue attention.
...Which seems wise, as she whirls around and lops off the rabbit's feet and tail with her- with- with whatever it is. Her ice knife. Then, clearly a girl possessed, she flips it over to carve an incision from belly to neck, stripping away the skin in a single yank.
Like a magician pulling a tablecloth.
You're actually kind of impressed - she's already working open the gut. There go the intestines! She pauses for a moment to set aside the liver, then resumes with gusto. Lungs heart, leftovers, done and gone.
Of course, that's when something else comes crashing through the trees; you manage to resist riddling it with bullets, since it seems roughly the same size and shape as Pharee.
Well, maybe not the same shape. Her wings definitely look more ragged.
"What the heck, Pharee! You can't just come and steal my--" she takes in the scene "--eeeeeeeurgh! Keep it keep it keep it, that's super gross!" She wiggles with disgust.
More than a little confused, you decide to:
[ ] sigh aggravatedly
[ ] shoot the other thing
[ ] do the reasonable thing and try to figure out what's going on
Things were so close to making sense! Enough that you could ignore all of the other issues, at least. But, no. Another problem has forced itself into your system. Another problem with wings and a loud mouth.
Admittedly, not as loud as Pharee, which is like comparing trumpets to vuvuzelas.
"BUT CIRNOOOO, MISTER SKINNER WENT MISSING AND YOU KNOW I CAN'T COOK WITHOUT HIM~!" Which is which?
You are- a patient man. Steadfast in your convictions. To seize a single perfect moment, you can wait for years.
The blue one stamps her feet, hands clenched into tiny fairy fists. Snow flakes down from her body like dandruff.
"If ya wanted a new one so bad I could just make it for ya, Pharee! You don't gotta- don't just- buzz in outta nowhere and steal my wing!" She gesticulates wildly at an absence to her right. "It hurts! An' more importantly, what if I'd needed it for somethin'?!"
Incredibly patient. More patient than a robin picking at a slab of granite.
"OOOH, LIKE WHAT?" Pharee's eyes are bright with wonder as she joints the rabbit, hacking it apart into neat sections. Her colder counterpart manages to look both queasy and smug.
"I dunno, but prolly somethin' cool!"
You are fresh out of patience.
Against your will, your head sinks into your hands, a ragged sigh of aggravation working its way out through your fingers. ...It must be worse than you thought. You despise involuntary action.
Cirno whips around to face you with a frantic 180, jaw already working. "YOU GOT SOMETHIN' TO- to- to-" she stutters, frozen in place, expression locked somewhere between righteous anger and slack-jawed disbelief.
Survival instinct might be meaningless for immortals, but you go ahead and give her a failing grade for situational awareness. Did she seriously not know you were there? Was that the trade off for not using capital letters?
You debate shooting her, as an object lesson... it wouldn't stick, but it would make you feel better.
Pharee, meanwhile, has managed to rustle up skewers for the meat. How exactly is she planning on cooking those? You look around absently, ignoring the OUTBURST, for a moment. You remember the old man cooking with ice, but he was also brilliant.
You do not expect the same ancient intelligence out of these two.
"OKAYYY~! COOKING TIME!" For some reason, that startles Cirno out of her fugue; a shame, since you liked her better as statuary. Out of place in this climate, sure, but...
"W-wait, wait! Hold on- !"
Pharee's mouth twists, brows knitted in concentration. She's humming- and it's the softest noise she's made in your presence. The thrum of a struck chord dying away.
Then, with a bone-rattling whump, you lose sight of her -- probably because she just emitted a blinding wave of radiation. Your eyes strain to adapt, adjusting to the damage even as you pointedly ignore that uncomfortable tingling sensation sweeping across your skin.
"Gahhhhh- ! Why, why's it gotta- every time-"
Your sight returns, gracing you with the image of Cirno flailing in an impromptu puddle on the ground, hands pressed to her face. Her wings look even more ragged than before.
Pharee, however, looks ecstatic -- like a sun smiling. She passes you two skewers of sizzling meat and twirls away, giggling brightly. Cirno continues to howl about the unfairness of it all at your feet.
Yet, even blinded, she accepts her lone skewer with all the dignity of an angry snowglobe.
All things considered... that went pretty well, you suppose.
You decide to
[ ] eat your skewers in silence
[ ] eat one skewer, and throw the other at cirno
[ ] ask what the hell that was all about
[ ] take both skewers and walk off in a random direction
[ ] shoot them both, take all the skewers, and leave. you're tired of this crap already
wasn't really feeling up to drawing anything today, so here have this instead
[x] eat your skewers in silence
At last, you reap the rewards of your indolence.
Sparing a single moment to determine your angle of approach, you bite into your skewered rabbit and tear away a mouthful of fresh meat. The taste is fulsome, and savory, and -- two degrees removed from chicken.
...You don't know what you were expecting, having seen her cook it. Perhaps an open flame would have deepened the experience.
Then again- perhaps not.
Cirno guards her share jealously -- with her stomach. Skewer and all, torn apart by the Jaws of Life hidden in her face. Somewhat distantly, you bump her threat level up a single notch. Anything that omnivorous is dangerous.
Reavers. Your frown deepens as you chew. Despite yourself, you wonder how they would taste, cooked through that impenetrable shell. Like crab the size of a house, maybe? You savor the notion of doing the eating yourself for a change, then concede that it would probably be hideously toxic.
...Pharee might still be willing to try anyway, though. The Albino, too, out of spite if nothing else. You make a mental note of the idea, along with a tentative 'maybe.'
How did it go? The best revenge is to eat well?
You polish off the last of your rabbit, stripping the skewers bare and discretely tucking them away up your sleeve. No sense in letting a tool go to waste, and you've never felt more strongly your distinct lack of tools.
"THAT WAS SO GOOOOOD~!" Pharee, somehow, managed to eat her portion without you noticing. Your dismal hopes for silence die ignobly and unmourned. "DON'T YOU THINK SO, MISTER JOHN?! I'VE COOKED RABBIT A LOT AND THAT WAS MY FAVORITE RABBIT EXCEPT FOR THAT ONE TIME WHEN I MADE A STEW- OH, OH, AND THAT OTHER TIME WHEN I MADE A PIE-"
Cirno seemed just shy of interjecting, but the mention of pie stops her cold. If anything, she looks a little under the weather- the memory enough to give her chills.
You're guessing it didn't quite work out as intended.
Still, you've finished your meal. The situation remains mysterious, your enemies remain unknown, and the nature of your allies (such as they are) grows increasingly opaque -- but you got food out of it, at least.
[ ] You continue waiting in silence and hope something happens.
[ ] You pick a direction and head out.
[ ] You thank Pharee for the food, then:
--[ ] ask for directions (to where?)
--[ ] ask her what her deal is
--[ ] ask her something else?
--[ ] stick around for a bit longer
--[ ] walk away
[ ] Just shoot them and walk away. Seriously, why are you still here?
I'll try to get something drawn for this later, but for now, have an update. Happy birthday to me~
[X] You thank Pharee for the food, then:
--[X] ask her what her deal is
Waiting for answers to come to you has never been your forte - you prefer to seize the truth with your own hands, however ugly.
Admittedly, this one seems more pleasant than most.
With a deft motion, you snag Pharee out of a giggling mid-air twirl and plop her down on the grass beside you. Rather than protest, she immediately makes herself comfortable, curling up like a scruffed kitten.
"Mmmm. What's up, mister John?" Bafflingly, she's also quieter -- which makes perfect sense, since she looks just shy of nodding off. Somehow.
"Thank you. For the meal."
She beams up at you, wiggling closer with renewed enthusiasm - you squint a bit, but her smile isn't that blinding. Besides, you haven't even gotten to the difficult part. Asking this girl any question at all seems to be a recipe for disaster.
"Mister John is really warm~!" She adds, staring at your hand - right, you haven't actually let go of her yet. You do so, and she makes a low noise of disapproval; a kind of head-to-toe vibration. "Other humans are colder, colder! Not as cold as Cirno, though."
Cirno scoffs from where she's sprawled beneath the shadow of a tree, trying to escape the sun.
Well. You suppose most people would die at your normal operating temperatures. It's just a side effect, though. You need a drastically overclocked metabolism to deal with that chemical factory you call a heart.
Your liver could process gravel.
"Pharee. What's your story?" You decide opening with 'what are you' might be considered rude and just skip it, despite your curiosity.
The even tempo of her breathing and the rhythm of her pulse helpfully inform you that she's drifted off to sleep, face pressed into your coat - and drooling a little onto your pants. Her sense of timing is absolutely impeccable, but her decorum could use a bit of work.
You've dealt with worse stains, all things considered. Allowances can be made.
Cirno manages another disparaging sound from her position, but there's no heat in it. You glance her way- she's lounging propped up on one arm, now, head in hand. Her wing appears to have grown back at some point when you weren't looking.
"Good luck gettin' a straight answer outta her, buck-o," she drawls. That's... That's... not too surprising. "I can tell ya what I know, if ya want. We go- well, not way back, but far enough." She manages a lazy, full-body shrug. "And ya seem honest enough, I guess."
Having said a grand total of nine words in her presence, you question her judgment - even if she isn't exactly wrong. You've never been one to lie, after all.
...For all the good it's done you. Your failed(?) execution comes to mind, but you don't plan on changing.
Giving it some thought, you decide to
[ ] hear her out.
[ ] insist that Pharee should be the one to tell her story.
--[ ] So you wake her up.
--[ ] So you hunker down to wait out her nap.
[ ] Shoot her.
I GUESS I DIDN'T DRAW ANYTHING BUT- I SWEAR, THIS UPDATE SPEED! IS THIS THE WORK OF AN ENEMY STAND?!
[x] hear her out.
You concede the point - no sense denying yourself potentially critical information on a whim. Compounding that, you might (possibly, tentatively) be able to consider the two of them non-hostile at this time. The food wasn't poisoned, and though you've yet to verify- or hear- any provided intelligence it was offered all the same.
Slowly, warily, grudgingly, you holster Inquisitor for the first time in... actually, you're not sure. You'd have to call up the onboard logs -- definitely something for later. For now, you'll make do listening to a girl with wings explain the past of another girl with wings.
With an absent thought, you toggle off the memetic baffles and set your cochlear implants to recording instead. Despite appearances, you're quite meticulous in your record keeping. Now, there is admittedly a nonzero chance of mental subversion should she reveal a hidden ability...
But you've accounted for this and will accept the risk.
"I'm all ears." You give her the go ahead and settle in, loose but ready.
She grumbles a bit and sits up, a bit miffed that you decided to actually make her do something besides lounge around in the shade. Well, it's regrettable, but the noose was of her own making, so you refrain from espousing any helpful platitudes.
"Right, right. Well, first thing ya gotta understand- she ain't exactly from around here." She casts a hand around in a lazy circle, which you notate. "But that's a no-brainer, huh? I mean, look at her."
You look, but glean no particular insights. Dark skin and bright wings. If you had to describe the color... like active Cobalt-60, maybe?
"They don't make 'em like her topside." She narrows her eyes a bit, trying to glance your way surreptitiously; gauging your reaction? You offer none, and she moves on. "'Course, I dunno why she left the underground, but the how of it's pretty easy. I mean..."
She waffles for a bit, arms crossed, before shaking her head emphatically.
"I mean, don't get me wrong- it ain't an easy trip or nothin'. There's all sorts a nasty types that like to nest in that friggin' tunnel- not like me or her, not really. They don't really bother much with thinkin' anymore, too busy bein' angry." She huffs a bit, squinching her eyes shut for a moment. "Territorial? Somethin' like that."
She slumps a little, leaning back to look up at the sky- grabbing a few handfuls of turf without much conscious thought.
"So, she prolly had to fight her way through. Sucks, too. We're kinda flimsy, ya know, even the two of us." She puffs up a bit, trying to look bigger, bow nearly bristling behind her head. "I mean, I'm tougher, for sure! Stronger too, even if she totally cheats an' melts my ice. But even for gals like us, it ain't hard to screw up an' get popped."
She snaps her fingers, face contorted into a sour expression.
"An' just like that, poof. Gotta fight your way back to where ya were, then keep going. She'd have some wiggle room, I guess, if she kept at it long enough. Start comin' back closer."
She's quiet for a few more seconds, then groans and scrubs at her hair, blue locks left wildly askew. To be perfectly frank, the color of her hair bothers you more than the wings. In what universe does blue hair make sense?
"Anyway! Anyway. So, Pharee makes it topside and decides to make herself at home in the Forest of Magic, 'cause obviously. More stuff to do, less work doin' it. Bamboo's overrated anyhow," she scoffs. "Nowadays, she mostly just goes around tryin' to eat anythin' that moves but don't talk." How... incredibly specific. "For the best, really; if she caused too much of a ruckus, Reimu'd turn her into a pair a shoes or somethin'. Fairies are Fairies an' all, but that shrine maiden's somethin' else."
She takes a deep breath, nods, and sprawls back out onto the forest floor, sighing out a long streamer of mist.
"That's... eh, everythin' I guess. Don't s'pose ya got any questions?"
[ ] PROFESSOR CIRNO, THE FUCK IS:
--[ ] A FAIRY?
--[ ] AN UNDERGROUND?
--[ ] A FOREST OF MAGIC?
--[ ] REI-WHO?
[ ] No further questions, your honor.
Alright, gonna go ahead and call it for a combined WHAT THE HELL IS A FOREST OF REIMU? vote, and inform you lot that I'll be taking a two day sabbatical to try and get some work (that I've been putting off in favor of this) done.
Job applications, woohoo. Also, a Book Cover that's going to cover the cost of my fucking rent, which I really should have been doing more work on if I'm being perfectly honest.
WHY DO I SHY AWAY FROM THE SHIT I'M GETTING PAID FOR, I DON'T UNDERSTAND ART
i humbly entreat you all to please wait warmly while authors are preparing