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File 150263746427.jpg - (287.10KB, 1664x1170, apres la pluie.jpg) [iqdb]
197641 No. 197641
Previous thread: >>190622


“I wonder if this is what it feels like to be a mother,” Aya said at long last. She had been relatively quiet for some time, offering only a terse shrug or half-mumbled reply whenever I said something. Part of it may have been a normal post-meal slump, that time when thoughts are weighed down by physical satisfaction. Part of it may have been real introspection. Perhaps, more likely, it had been a convenient way for her to setup whatever other point she wanted to make before the night was through.

I couldn’t tell what her deal really was. As the night wore on, I was less and less sure of her real thoughts and motivations. I briefly wondered if she thought the same about me, since I wasn’t really open either. At least, I tried not to be. I refrained from asking her about things I wanted to ask because I wasn’t sure if it’d be playing into her hand. At any rate, the timing was off.

I smiled, hoping to mask my true thoughts and went through the opening she left me, asking, “what do you mean?”

Aya sighed, leaned back in her chair and turned her eyes up to the ceiling, looking like she was staring through solid material at the stars. There was a pause. For better or worse, I found myself leaning in slightly, crossing my arms. “I have my doubts about if you’re ready,” she said, keeping her gaze fixed upwards.

“About tomorrow?” I asked the unnecessary.

“Yep. Going out into the wider world all by yourself isn’t easy. If you mess up, it won’t just be me that you have to worry about.”

“Even in the worst case scenario, I don’t think the elders would care that much about a single failing. That’s why we’re told about those stupid stories as kids, about the most important thing is learning from our mistakes,” I told her, not being able to help but remember one such story. Exiled from the tribe and forced to prove herself before being able to return… no one these days would stand for it.

“That’s not it at all,” Aya looked at me, eyes wide with something that could be interpreted as concern. It wasn’t very becoming of her. “You may get hurt or killed,” she stated bluntly, “there’s no getting around that risk. And it’s only fair that I’m forthright about that.”

“Just what are you having me do?” I didn’t allow her words to have an overt impact on me. Internally, I was still trying to decide if she was full of it or not.

“Good, at least you’re not saying that you’re not afraid,” she nodded and smiled weakly, adding, “overconfidence is a bad thing when facing the unknown.”

“Lesson learned, horrible fate avoided and whatever, but I asked you a question...”

“I suppose that the fact that you’re my charge has really gotten to me,” she said, “more than that, you’re like a fledgling and you’re leaving the nest on your own now.”

That was an answer to my first question not to my second one. But if I asked it again, I would probably get no closer to an answer. I chose to be flippant instead, “Well, it certainly has been interesting to see your maternal instinct at work these past few days. You inspire me to reach ever higher heights of filial piety.”

“You’ll appreciate my efforts when you’re older,” she said with a self-satisfied look. A good if annoying counter, all things considered.

“Right,” I shrugged, “and I’m sure that you’ll get over your dread as soon as I’m out through the door.”

“It doesn’t really matter if you believe me or not. I would like you to be careful, regardless. I won’t be around to help and you may find yourself in over your head at some point.” Aya crossed her arms, likely for effect, “sometimes the perfect solution isn’t worth the price you have to pay. Try to come back to me in once piece.”

“If I didn’t, you’d never let me live it down,” I said, smirking. “It’s a matter of pride. You know how pride is important to a tengu.”

She laughed, shaking her head and showing of a little smirk herself, “we could spend the rest of the night talking about pride and going back and forth pretty easily. Well… I’ve said my piece, so as much as I enjoy the idea I think it’s best if we move on. We’re getting up before sunrise.”

The thought of waking up before it was light out was enough to encourage my body into resting mode. We cleaned up and sorted up the few remaining things we had to get ready for the next day. Once the lights were put out, I exchanged a perfunctory ‘goodnight’ with Aya and lay still in my hammock.

I still hadn’t a clue what was going to happen the next day. But it didn’t bother me. I stayed awake for a short while, thinking, but I didn’t allow myself to get too lost in my thoughts. Somehow it felt more important to get a proper rest, particularly if we were getting up in only a few hours. So I closed my eyes and let my thoughts float away, leading me to a still sleep.

Aya tapped me on the shoulder to wake me up. She had a lamp on and was already fully dressed. I mumbled a ‘good morning’ and wasted no time in getting ready. I was about as energetic as could be expected under the circumstances—neither too sluggish nor raring to go. I got dressed quickly and checked over my things one last time before leaving.

“Here,” Aya handed me breakfast; a somewhat dry rice ball was the start of my day. I ate it quickly while taking a final look around the house to see if I was leaving anything behind.

“I’m ready,” I said after the check and set out to tighten the straps on my rucksack.

Aya seemed to be on the same level as me, enthusiasm-wise. She looked more serious than the previous evening but that was probably more the echoes of drowsiness than true sobriety. There were no papers to deliver so I was sure that she would rather still be in bed than escorting me away. After snuffing out the light, she stepped outside to wait for me.

I stretched and then put my kit onto my back. I had pretty much everything I needed there. I was leaving some things behind, things that would just weigh me down. I figured that if I needed to be out and about, maintaining my stamina was going to be important. Better to sacrifice a mild convenience for less fatigue.

It was still dark outside, starlight providing only faint illumination. There was a piece of long, dark cloth in Aya’s hand. “We’re flying,” she announced, and then beckoned me close, “you need to wear this.”

“Not an armband, I take it?” I asked.

“Sorry, but you can’t see where you’re going. Once you’re there you can take it off. Not up to me, don’t argue,” she said firmly, enough to convince me that she wasn’t playing around. There was little point in asking why I needed it at all when it was still dark out. It was about making sure instead of a immediate concern.

“How am I supposed to get there then? Doesn’t look like you’re going to carry me.”

“I’m going to hold your hand all the way,” she said, no trace of emotion in her voice. A missed opportunity for her ‘maternal’ instincts to show up again. “Here,” she started to place the blindfold on me, “stay still and we’ll be on our way.”

After she was done blinding me, Aya grabbed my hand as promised. Her hand was warm. The pre-dawn morning was chilly and a steady current of cool air pushed us from behind as we started flying. I couldn’t tell what direction we took, just that we were going high up into the sky for some reason. The only sounds I could hear was my own breathing and the soft flapping of the leathers from my rucksack.

We weren’t going too quickly and ended up flying for a long time. I felt the first rays of the sun eventually, after what was probably a very brief twilight. The slight temperature difference wasn’t enough to make it stop being cold right away, but it was an encouraging first sign.

Aya stopped, floating in place for a minute.

“Are we there yet?” I asked, grinning because I couldn’t help myself.

“Almost,” she replied, “just a little more to go.”

We climbed up some more and then started forward slowly, as if we were walking in the air instead of flying. Then, we stopped again. And started descending slowly until we were hovering, by my reckoning, very close to the ground.

“We’ve arrived,” she said, “I wish you luck. And hope to see you soon enough.”

“Just like that?” I asked, wondering if she was going to deign herself to explain anything in the end.

“Yeah,” she squeezed my hand with what could well have been genuine affection, or passed for it, “you take care of yourself now.”

“Alright, I’ll try,” I said, “but is there-?”

“It’s self-evident,” she cut me off, “listen I’ve got to get going, I’m not supposed to hang around.”

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that was almost an apology,” I smiled, imaging actual contrition plastered on her face. Didn’t suit her at all.

Aya let go of my hand and didn’t reply to my barb. Instead, she said quietly, “I’m going to go now, take off the blindfold only after I’ve left. Count to a hundred if you must.”

“I’m not going to count to a hundred,” I said, needlessly, certain that she also knew better. I reached for the blindfold. The knot in the back was annoyingly taught and groping around blind to loosen it seemed like a waste of time. I simply pulled the blindfold over my head, struggling for a brief moment as it clung on stubbornly.

Holding the blindfold in one hand, I ran my fingers through my hair. A basic display of vanity that couldn’t be helped, as I had inadvertently tousled it. Without a mirror I had to have faith that I did an adequate job at combing it. No one was around to see me do all that. Aya was long gone and the sky, now mostly bright with the sun off to the far distance, seemed empty.

I looked around. I tried to get my bearings. Mountains stretched out in the distance. Perhaps farther out than normal. Odd. I was used to seeing them much closer for, wherever you were in Gensokyo, you were basically surrounded by nearby mountains. Maybe it was a matter of perspective, I had been taken to some secret valley between foothills or something. Things only seemed to be far away.

Below me was a lightly wooded area. There was a small path that cut through trees and stretched up towards higher ground. The cold I felt before had more or less gone away. Thank goodness for that. I set down below on the path, feeling a little tired from all that flying. Aya certainly didn’t care to slow herself down much for me, though I’m certain that she’d tease me that she had gone as slowly as possible without then falling from the sky.

I slung my pack off my shoulder and to the ground. I wasn’t quite used to carrying much weight for extended periods of time. It felt good to take a brief break. Most importantly, it gave me a chance to examine the only clue I had on what to do next. I saw Aya stuff something into the pack when she thought I wasn’t looking. Probably her way of trying to teach me to always be on guard.

There was a copy of the latest edition of her paper in there. I skimmed through it quickly. The only thing of significance there was a small article with barely any column space. “Tengu Seen Roaming Beyond the Mountain,” it stated in its headline in extremely small print. The body was barely four sentences long. Didn’t say much, except that there had been sightings of a young tengu leaving the comfort of the mountain with an unknown purpose. But that there would be more on the story as it developed as, “It seems that this could be the prelude to something of real significance.”

Whether that simply meant that she had high hopes for me or that she knew something important that I didn’t, I wasn’t too sure. Didn’t really make a difference. Not like she’d tell me outright, anyhow. All that could be said for certain was that she was telling me to take things seriously. As if I didn’t know already…

Shaking my head, I rummaged some more in my rucksack. My instincts told me that the newspaper wasn’t the only thing that she had left me. A quick search proved those instincts correct, as I found an envelope and a note as well. “The lady of the land is expecting you, give her that invitation,” it said, warning at the end, “it’s for her eyes only!”

I very much doubted that I wasn’t supposed to open the envelope. That just sounded like something that she made up just to see if I’d do it or not. Still, I would rather err on the side of caution, if only to make a good first impression. If I got lost or was put in a weird situation, I’d revisit the decision. I put everything back with a smile on my face, ultimately thinking that all of that was her way of making it feel like she was still with me.

The hint in the note had only one reasonable explanation, I felt. I had to look for the biggest, most important house and I’d find whomever it was I was supposed to find. Or, if not house, cave. Or tallest tree. People in charge liked to lord over the rest, make sure they understand what the pecking order is really like at a glance. I was certain that if I followed the path I was on, I’d eventually reach her. Towards the sloping hill off in the distance, obviously, since that’d be the perfect place to watch over the rest of the surrounding land.

I began walking, not necessarily hurried about things. I decided against flying some more because the sky was eerily empty of birds or clouds. I’d stand out too much up there. Not that I couldn’t handle myself but something in the back of my mind kept me from feeling too confident. Aya was still too stupidly good at reading me—the bit about the invitation being private plus our previous conversation made me wonder if maybe there wasn’t something that’d get in my way before I got to her.

Once I got going, it became impossible to dismiss something which had been bothering me for some time.

It was too quiet

No, more than that, it was impossibly quiet.

No birds. No insects. No water. Nothing stirring, chittering or scurrying about. The leaves on the trees were absolutely still, no wind blowing on them and causing them to rustle. Only my footsteps made any noise and, even then, each footfall seemed stifled as if intimidated by oppressive silence. It wasn’t natural. Not in the least. Even in the quietest places there was the occasional water droplet or gust of wind, rhythmically thrumming against the ground itself.

I didn’t let the strange atmosphere overawe me into inaction. I carried on much as before, walking at a steady pace. My ears were pricked up, scanning for any other noise, any sign that I wasn’t the only thing around that was actually in motion. I hoped that I’d catch a glimpse of a sparrow or a rabbit, something to show me that I wasn’t all alone, but found nothing even after stopping to intently observe my surroundings.

Maybe I was being ignored? That was one possibility. Not that likely. Everyone in Gensokyo was territorial to an extent, so it didn’t make sense that an interloper would be ignored. Another possibility was that I was being watched carefully but, if that was the case, the absolute quiet would be certain to put anyone on edge. So a surprise attack coming up didn’t seem likely.

I thought about taking to the sky again once I encountered steps. The path had widened, turned from compacted earth to paved stone and now led upwards a hill. I may have seen something just out of the corner of my eye. It was a pale blur, much smaller than a person. Not being able to find it after looking around some, I started to climb the stairs. More motion just behind me, quiet and fast. Nothing there when I turned around.

That was just the way it was going to be, I decided. If it wasn’t just my mind playing tricks on me, whatever it was wasn’t going to show itself right away. I may as well keep climbing, I figured.

Those things, if they were really there, made sure I never got a clear look at them. They seemed to appear a few more times as I went up the stairs but always out of my proper field of view. I was about halfway up the very long stairs when I decided that using my legs was a fool thing to do, after all. Climbing while flying would be way easier.

Going down stairs while flying was pretty easy, too. At least, the person zooming at me from the top made it look easy. The incredible speed at which they were barreling down on me barely gave me time to judge whether or not I needed to step out of the way. My tengu instincts told me to stand my ground like nothing was wrong, but I could imagine how someone not blessed with my confidence could find himself tensing up.

Ultimately, I was proven right. The person stopped just short of hitting me, halting on the step above me. It didn’t look like she was having a good day, a scowl contaminated her otherwise soft features, green eyes sharp as they scanned and (presumably) sized me up.

“Well met,” I said, raising my hand up casually. Something told me if I didn’t say anything she was likely to keep staring silently at me. I wasn’t sure if her glare was meant to intimidate me or she was was simply incapable of hiding how she felt.

“You’re not running away anymore?” she asked, voice firm but still remarkably girlish. It was a combination about as mismatched as the rest of her. She clutched a wooden sword with one hand, standing tense as if ready for the slightest sign of hostility from me. And yet, whatever sense of authority and power she intended to project was harshly undercut by her, well, daintiness.

Save for her short, above-the-shoulders, silver hair that looked slightly disheveled (perhaps intended to be provocative), everything else about her was delicate and close to doll-like. The black ribbon off to one side of the top of her head seemed a little disproportionate to her small frame and characteristics. It was twinned with another black ribbon fastidiously tied at the collar of her pale blouse. A dark green dress covered her otherwise, a vest-like portion on top let the blouse act as sleeves and collar and, at the bottom, it ended a little above the knee as a skirt. Several cutesy-looking white blobs adorned it near the hemline and one more was stamped on a breast pocket.

Those things were probably whatever hung floating just behind her. I’d never seen something like it before; an amorphous blob of translucent white that followed her like a trained pet. I wanted to take a closer look, see how something without appendages or a face could move make sense of the world, but I figured that it risked upsetting the girl more. I wasn’t in the mood to dodge swords, wooden or not.

“Why would I run away?” I asked and added, “I just got here. Wherever this is.”

“Hm,” the girl placed an arm akimbo, keeping the other one with the sword pointed at me. “So you weren’t up there just now?” she asked, not looking like she quite believed me.

“Nope. Been walking and climbing these stairs for a while. I have nothing to hide or reason to run away.”

“So you say...” she curled her lips momentarily, not hiding what her thought process might have been in the least. There was doubt in her next few words, but it seemed that she had chosen to believe me, “so what are you doing here?”

I wanted to tell her that I didn’t have the faintest idea. But I got the feeling, somehow, that that wouldn’t go down so well. Instead, I gave her the truth, or a prudent amount of it, stating, “I’m supposed to meet the lady of the land, she’s expecting me.”

“Lady of-?” the girl made a difficult expression, like she just tasted something extremely sour. “What is your business with her?” she asked, trying harder to sound even more intimidating.

“Well,” I paused to think.

The hell was her problem?

I certainly didn’t feel like cooperating with her. Not with her attitude problem. I was moving past her whether she liked it or not.

[] Whatever it is, it’s private and none of her business.
[] Get the invitation, read it and find out.


And so, there is finally a new thread. There was a long delay but I hope you feel it was worth it. I'm not going to make excuses for taking so long as there are too many factors at play to be either concise or objective about it. Plus, you likely don't really care, anyhow. Regardless, let's keep on traveling together, towards more tenguness and fun!
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>> No. 197643
[X] Get the invitation, read it and find out.

My instincts are telling me being coy isn't too good a plan with the circumstances.

That, and I feel Aya's 'warning' was just a small prank on her part - leave some typical "don't open the message before delivering it!" and see if our young Tengu succumbs to formality over practicality. No point in an invitation if you don't use it for its purpose.
>> No. 197646
[X] Whatever it is, it’s private and none of her business.


Your instincts and response would be correct, if Youmou wasn't holding a wooden sword. As the situation stands, I highly doubt she's serving in any real political or protective capacity. I'd say her actions are a result of some arbitrary, self-imposed duty, combined with very poor social skills.

That, and I want to give Aya the benefit of the doubt for a long as reasonably possible.
>> No. 197647

Also, the invitation is probably for Yuyuko, not Hide. Delivering it open would immediately prove he isn't trustworthy.
>> No. 197649
File 150266840231.jpg - (111.95KB, 850x1360, never ever.jpg) [iqdb]
Man, it's obvious Aya cares about him. He's being a kid.

Now, the sensible question would be to tell her that it is an invitation from the Tengu and tell her that, if she wants to know the reason, we'd have to break the seal.
However, since we can't do write ins, just reading it is good enough.

They may not like him much for it, but that's how he is. And the other option is asking for a fight. Maybe that's the trial? I doubt it. But that'd explain why she is wearing a wooden sword.

Or, if this happens in the past, this means that we have a chance of beating her. Oh fuck, it, I'll vote the other option. I'd hate if this is part of the trial and we lose because some girl wanted to play gate keeper...!

Then again, maybe she is tired of being left out and just wanted an in on her mistress' business. And Teruyo said, somewhere, that romancing Touhous is always an option. And the other option is so disrespectful and confrontational.... oh fuck it, I don't know what to vote now. Both are good.

I'll go with...

[X] Get the invitation, read it and find out.
>> No. 197653
File 150270238576.jpg - (85.55KB, 652x1026, trying too hard ya dork.jpg) [iqdb]
Oh, hey, it's been such a long time since I last updated, that I may as well play devil's advocate mixed with sprinkles of word of god while I wait the inevitable few days for votes. More fun that way!

>No point in an invitation if you don't use it for its purpose.
Indeed they tend to have very specifically-designed purposes.

>serving in any real political or protective capacity
She's behaved rather consistently in the games and manga.

>it is an invitation from the Tengu
Is it?

>we can't do write ins
I spent about as long as it took me to write the first third of the update, thinking of the choices. Narrowed it down from four to three and then, finally, to two. Now you get to enjoy two very tengu-like ways to go about things. She's harassing you and neither choice is about humoring her! You'll be disappointed if you think you'll make her happy either way.

>Teruyo said, somewhere, that romancing Touhous is always an option.
I said something about the nature of relationships not necessarily pulling the greater plot in a direction, but I guess that's a not-untrue generalization.

Also, >wanting to romance a fucking dork
A ghost of a chance of that happening!
>> No. 197655
Okay, that's helpful.

If neither choice will help her, then he should just keep doing our job, regardless whose feathers we ruffle. That's the Tengu way.
Also I have a guess for the nature of the invitation... We'll see how it ends up.

[X] Whatever it is, it’s private and none of her business.
>> No. 197658
[X] Whatever it is, it’s private and none of her business.

Welcome back.
>> No. 197659
[x] Get the invitation, read it and find out.

>A ghost of a chance of that happening!

All aboard the Yuyuko route, ship sails for the granary
>> No. 197660

I don't think doing a job without regard to whose feathers you're rustling is very Tengu-like at all. From the examples Teruyo gave here >>197000, feather rustling ranks pretty high on the list of considerations before acting in the name of glorious Tengu Nation.
>> No. 197661
Yeah but we are bothering a literal nobody. She hasn't presented herself in an official fashion, so ignoring her is part per course.

Of course, the real reason I'd that she's being fucking annoying. But keeping up appearances is also part of the culture.
>> No. 197663

Is it necessary for someone to present themselves in an official capacity in order to be taken seriously? Keep in mind the vast majority of tengu are no-name nobodies, and the ones who do hold status probably don't intermingle with non-tengu regularly. Thus, there isn't anything about this encounter that would be "par for the course" for anyone. It's situations like this that allow us to build Hide's image, rather than force him to adopt a fake or pretentious one.

Also, how is Youmou being annoying? Even if she doesn't present the right image to be a guard, saying she's acting in the capacity of a concerned citizen would more than justify challenging an intruder walking up the proverbial "Queen".
>> No. 197669
[X] Whatever it is, it’s private and none of her business.

I feel that it is odd that there is no option to simply state that we are here to deliver a message. That said messenger 101 is don't open the message.
>> No. 197678

Its because we aren't here to deliver a message. We're here as a calculated move on behalf of our estate. Including a black-and-white "correct" answer would cheapen both the premise of this story, and Teruyo as a CYoA author.
>> No. 197681
[X] Get the invitation, read it and find out.

I doubt she'd be able to rebut an invitation, not with words at least.
>> No. 197687
[X] Whatever it is, it’s private and none of her business.
Odds are this is all a big test and nothing of consequence actually rests on this 'mission'.

I don't wanna fold that quickly, you know? Even ignoring all practical considerations, you don't wanna acquiesce to the very first external demand that comes along.

So. Fuck off youmu.
>> No. 197688

I can respect this rational.
>> No. 197690
[X] Whatever it is, it’s private and none of her business.

Even if he reads it later. Feels kind of early for that.
>> No. 197692
File 15029210808.jpg - (377.89KB, 1000x898, nice pair.jpg) [iqdb]
Alright, calling it and going to write soon. Hopefully the update won't take very long, rough ETA 4 up to 48 hours, factors like being busy, tired and sobriety notwithstanding. More fun incoming so hold onto your silly hats!

Magicians wholly unrelated.
>> No. 197706
File 150300387574.jpg - (191.87KB, 650x919, instead there's a wooden sword.jpg) [iqdb]
She wore her impatience on her sleeve, gripping the hilt of her sword tight. The pale skin around her knuckles began to show flourishes of red underneath. It didn’t seem like she was too good at the niceties that lubricated and facilitated all exchanges with others. She watched my lips with interest as she bit her own, wordlessly attempting to coax the words out of me faster.

It was thoroughly amusing to watch. What else could a reasonable crow like myself do but to have a little fun at her expense?

“Hm… I-” I started to say something, mouthing something that sounded and looked coherent but was really a bunch of nonsense. I mumbled most of it for good measure.

“What was that?” she leaned in closer, her brow furrowing.

“It’s like I just said, I’m not in a habit of repeating myself,” I told her.

“I’ll have you repeat yourself if needed,” she countered, in no uncertain terms threatening me. The look in her eyes was, well, scary. Would intimidate a youkai made of lesser stuff. Tengu were sterner creatures, so I didn’t so much as blink.

“Oh dear, how rude,” I commented, feigning hurt with a melodramatic sigh. Additionally, I crossed my arms. I hoped that had the effect of looking like a disappointed parent. Had Aya to thank for that one, her earlier words were still fresh on my mind.

“You’re the one trespassing!” she snapped, already sounding exasperated.

“I’m doing no such thing. Like I said, I have business with the lady of the land,” I told her flatly, hoping that a sly smirk wasn’t showing on my face despite my best efforts. “Now are you going to keep me here all day? I ought to get going.”

It looked like that struck a nerve. She only had eyes for me. Mostly hostile eyes, but I saw some self-satisfaction mixed in at well. Probably because she had shown restraint by not trying to whack me on the head with her sword. Still, seemed like she couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing. “You’re the one being rude!” she protested weakly, “I asked you a simple question. Now are you going to answer or are we going to have to settle this in another way?”

“Fine, fine,” I rolled my eyes. Without skipping a beat I added, “I’ll answer your stupid question: it’s none of your business. My business is with the lady in charge and that’s clearly not you. So get out of my way!”

The last bit was delivered with my best impression of manly bravado. Being hotblooded was all the rage and it seemed like forcefulness was the only thing that she was liable to understand. I watched as the last bit of restraint in her eyes melted away. In a fraction of a second, she had made her decision.

“You brought this on yourself!” she exclaimed, thrusting that sword of hers at me.

Obviously, that was something that I had seen coming. I got out of the way with plenty of time to spare. She tried a followup slash but I was already taking to the air. That was the most sensible thing to do as fighting on stairs was something best left to the overconfident.

I dashed past her and the blob that hung around her and started to climb uphill as fast as I could. With the extra weight of my rucksack, there was no chance that I could continue to dodge her attacks. I didn’t know what her general skill level was but it would be safe to assume that she had at least put in a few hours of practice. The way she moved the wooden sword had been nearly effortless and if it hadn’t been expecting it, it would have certainly been impossible to dodge in time.

She also reacted quickly, turning and giving chase. I stole a glance backwards, seeing that the blob floating around her also matched her speed. She wasn’t quite as fast as I was, naturally. What sort of crow tengu would I be if someone wingless could keep up with me? Even with the weight of the stuff I was carrying I was a good deal faster than she was. That said, she didn’t make it easy to run away and if I slowed down, the distance between us would be closed immediately.

Really, I had no expectations of beating her in a fight. That wasn’t the point. I’d simply make my way to my destination and see whomever it was I was supposed to see. They were expecting me and, if they weren’t, the invitation would explain all. The girl was transparent in her motivations so, I gathered, if she was so concerned about what I planned to say or do, she was likely deferential to the person in charge. The face of the previous girl I upset popped up. That shrine maiden could do little but sputter when faced by the absolute authority of the goddesses.

There was one major blind spot in my logic: much of this was predicated upon the value of my invitation. If Aya had left me to flounder on my own, giving me something worthless, I would probably pay the price really quickly. That’s why part of me had wanted to open it up and read it. When it came to making decisions, the informed kind beat the improvisational kind every day of the week. All of that taken into consideration, I liked my odds.

These stairs go on forever!

Nearly as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the stairs ended. Even at my top speed it had taken me much longer than it seemed like it should have. I found a large building at the top, taking up most of the free space on the hill. Walls surrounded it and I scanned for an entrance. Finding one nearby, at the end of a paved path, I started for towards it. I wasn’t even really sure what the place was supposed to be, but that didn’t matter. Certainty that the person that I was looking for was in the center of the complex guided my actions.

The reality of having to land and deal with gates and doors proved complex enough to slow me down. I couldn’t just barge in through a window or a wall, that’d make a poor first impression. So I left myself vulnerable, open for a moment as I looked for a way to announce myself.

The girl virtually caught up, landing a short distance away, almost within sword’s reach.

I spun around, figuring that it would be easier to deal with her if I could see what she was doing. “Persistent, aren’t you?” I winked at her, finding that I had almost gone out of breath due to the sudden burst of action. I blamed the extra weight I wasn’t used to carrying around.

“I could say the same about you,” she smirked, clearly feeling triumphant. Though I could see that she was still ready to attack me, her posture a providing a firm platform for her to react as necessary, the emotion in her eye softened a little. Just slightly. It seemed like she didn’t think me capable of providing anything resembling an effective resistance.

“I’m glad we mutually admire each other so much,” I told her playfully, “maybe now you’ll realize that you have no authority to compel me to share what my business is about.”

“She always tells me that I don’t really understand how other people think,” the girl said, sighing, “and I guess she’s right about that. All I know is that you’re being troublesome for no real reason, being rude and aggressive when the situation doesn’t call for it.”

“Right back atcha,” I shrugged, holding my real emotions in check. Getting too caught up in the moment would keep me from thinking of a good way out of the situation. A tengu that was to be a leader had to be able to think his way out of any situation. Or so I felt Aya would tell me. Unfortunately, I was drawing a complete blank. Best thing that I thought up would work if I had a weapon of my own. And even then…

“So, this is your last chance,” the girl said, swinging her sword sharply to point at me, “apologize and let me know what you're up to and maybe it this won’t have to get any uglier than it has already.”

I was thinking up the perfect insult when something peculiar happened. A bright flash of light came out of nowhere. I winced and shut my eyes, the girl likely did so too. A quick succession of almost-metallic pings echoed, something clacking hard against the stone pavement and, finally, a dull thud followed. When I opened my eyes again, there were a few spots in my vision that rapidly started to fade away. More importantly, the girl was lying on the floor. No one else was around and I could not divine who or what had intervened in our standoff.

The girl had fallen over and was sprawled on the floor. She slowly sat up and grasped her knee with a pained look on her face, sucking in air through her teeth. The blob hovered close to the ground, as well. Her sword had come free from her hand and was halfway between us. I quickly kicked it away, denying her any opportunity to quickly regain composure and strike at me. It was the most sensible course of action I could think up.

Our situations reversed, I wore a triumphalist smirk as I glanced down at her.

[] Ignore her. Moving on is celebration enough.
[] Help her up; it’s very fun to tease her.

Now here's a choice less about proper tenguness and more about character interaction, for a change. Though it very much is a direct result of previous choices made. Whatever you feel works best, metaknowledge not necessary. Not quite romancing her at this stage, sorry to disappoint that one guy gung-ho about it.
>> No. 197707
[X] Ignore her. Moving on is celebration enough.

I think the poor Myon's been aggravated more than enough. Getting helped by the arrogant ass who got her pissed in the first place isn't going to help that, really. And asides, I'm more curious about the actual cause of her collapse.

I think it's troubling I'm excited to have a potential asshole MC in a story, now that I think about it.
>> No. 197708
[x] Help her up

If we're going to be smug, we might as well go all the way. Besides, if we're going to keep acting with such confidence, helping her up would be the thing that innocent people do. You know, since we are so sure we're in official business and all.
>> No. 197710
[X] Help her up; it’s very fun to tease her.

Because wearing a triumphant smirk as you walk past someone who just got attacked and hurt is borderline psychotic.

It's nice to have the option presented to us, though. Most authors just kinda assume the readers don't want the MC to be plucked straight out of the loony bin.
>> No. 197716
[X] Help her up; it’s very fun to tease her.

Hopefully this won't come back to bite him.
>> No. 197720
Supposed to be evocative of the games and (to a lesser extent) the official manga. Less asshole, more lovable jerks. 2hus are harsh before they get around to tea and sake, man.

Carrying on with what you came to do isn't psychotic. A bit cold, probably.
>> No. 197726

Someone is on the ground bleeding after getting attacked, and you just stroll by smirking? That's fuckin wacky dude. No two ways about it.
>> No. 197727
A touch of canon is a refreshing additive to any story.
>> No. 197728
You're projecting your own expectations onto stuff that isn't in the text. Choosing to ignore someone who was attacking you by going in the opposite direction and indoors is very much the opposite of being a gloating ass. There's no smirking as you stroll past them because you're not going past them or even care anymore. And while we're at it: no one said anything about any blood or bleeding either.
>> No. 197736
[X] Ignore her. Moving on is celebration enough.

Our basket of 2hus is full enough without Youmu, honestly. Let's minimize contact.
>> No. 198369
Re-reading, I've come to the conclusion that Hide's being a total dickhead in this particular occasion. He arrives, and with just a bit of (warranted, given that she's security) forceful talk from Youmu he gets the idea stuck in his head that she's being unreasonable, and becomes unreasonable himself in turn.

>“Hm… I-” I started to say something, mouthing something that sounded and looked coherent but was really a bunch of nonsense. I mumbled most of it for good measure.

>“What was that?” she leaned in closer, her brow furrowing.

>“It’s like I just said, I’m not in a habit of repeating myself,” I told her.

That can't even be called teasing, that's just being a bitch. Too unflexible, too headstrong, too quick to make a situation riskier than needed. Weak moves altogether. If the whole thing is a test we've already started failing. Although, to be honest, I think we could have been given a choice somewhere in between "tell her to fuck off" and "give in to what she wants immediately, going against Aya's direct instructions" when meeting her.

Anyway, in light of this, I'd like to salvage the situation while we still have the chance. Even though the latter part of the choice worries me, with some luck we'll be able to convince her that we just got off with the wrong foot. If nothing else, get her to see we have a legitimate reason for being here. This might be dangerous, but I'm just assuming that going back to help her will be enough for a vote of confidence and she won't simply stick to her previous assessment and try to kick Hide out as soon as she's on her feet.

Changing my vote from >>197736 to
[x] Help her up; it’s very fun to tease her.
>> No. 198379

You're kinda poking the proverbial elephant in the hiatus; the entire story premise gets awkward and confusing when the options presented force us to treat non-Tengu like Tangu.
>> No. 198384
This has shamed into writing, so I guess there'll be something "soon".
>> No. 198397
File 151323173834.jpg - (924.14KB, 1500x1246, a balance.jpg) [iqdb]
“Are you alright?” I asked, then closed the distance between us with a few cautious steps. It may well have been the moment to gloat but abandoning all care could well prove premature.

The girl looked up at me, confusion intermixed with a disapproving scowl. She didn’t know what had happened and was perplexed by why I’d approach her. There was a quick abortive attempt to stand, that got as far as her tensing her leg muscles before she winced and gave up. Perhaps hoping that I hadn’t noticed, she hardened her expression into something of a grimace. “What did you do to me?” she accused, anger barely kept in check.

“Nothing,” I replied.

“Liar!” she attempted to bark but came off more like a whimper. “You attacked me and caught me off guard.”

“You were the one with a sword,” I reminded her, “I was the one running away. I’d say I was the one at the disadvantage.”

“...” she glared at me. Evidently she wasn’t quick-tongued.

“Still, seems that I won our little confrontation,” I let out an exaggerated sigh and then smiled, “for all the good that that does me.”

“You haven’t won anything!” Once again forgetting that she was in no condition to move quickly, she attempted to stand up. She got about as far as rocking her upper half forward when her knee wobbled and she winced once more. The white blob near her seemed to mirror her motions. It didn’t have a face or anything but I could have sworn that it seemed to recoil in pain just like she had.

“Yes, yes,” I waved my hand dismissively at her, “doesn’t seem like we can have our little standoff anymore, at any rate. The exercise was nice, but if I keep pushing you it looks like you’ll break apart. Or scuff up that cute little dress of yours.”

That last bit didn’t seem to go down very well with her. There was some fight left in her yet. I barely managed to get out of the way of a rapid, but clumsy sweep of her leg. It must of hurt for her to strike out like that but she was grinning, her light eyes shining with determination. Even if she knew I’d continue to dodge, she was prepared to make a good showing for whatever little it was worth.

“If only I had my sword… I’d teach you a lesson!” she declared defiantly, a thin bead of sweat forming on her brow.

“Well, how about we get you back on your feet first? I don’t have the time to wait around until you finally get bored of trying to intimidate me while sitting on your ass.”

That was another line she didn’t take too well. Instead of flopping around trying to hit me again, however, she made the effort to sit up properly and then crossed her arms. “If you’re trying to help me, forget it. It’s your fault that this all happened in the first place.”

“I know that tengu have a reputation for being superior to most, and that I could likely handle you without breaking a sweat any day, but I was not the one that attacked you,” I said, wagging my finger at her.

“Well you’re-”

I cut her off. “Why else would I be offering to help you now?” I asked, extending a hand.

“It’s a trick and you’re trying to humiliate me some more,” she replied, but didn’t seem to believe her own words very much. Her gaze fell upon my hand and I could tell that she was trying to keep her own hand from going up to meet mine.

“You’ll just have to trust me. Rest assured—there’s better ways to do that than helping you up,” I winked, thinking of several dozen things I could be doing instead if I really wanted to go wild. “I’m going to count to three. If you don’t take my hand, I’m not going to repeat the offer. One...”

“Not going to happen.”

“Twooooo…” I stretched the number out. I suspected she wouldn’t reconsider but, at the very least, I could continue to enjoy observing the fierce pride that kept her from accepting.


“…and three.” I concluded with a shrug. “Lost your opportunity to keep your dignity.”

“I’m just fine, thank you,” she scowled. “I’ll be up in a moment, when I feel like it.”

“I really, really doubt that,” I said. “Looks like we’ll have to do things that hard way.”

“I knew it!” she squeaked, over-excitedly. “You weren’t serious about helping me at all and now you’re going to attack a weakened opponent. You fiend! Well, I won’t make it easy for you!”

She began to thrash around, trying to keep me away. It must have hurt her to move her legs but she didn’t hesitate to do it, any discomfort she felt being channeled into the intense stare into my eyes. I was sure that she thought that she was putting up a good fight but the truth was that she looked like a freshly caught fish flopping about aimlessly.

I sighed and walked away. She hurled a few weak insults mixed with deluded remarks of triumph. I went over to where her wooden sword had landed and picked it up. Then I returned to where she was and found that she had turned a light shade of pink from all the awkward exertion. Wordlessly, I gripped the sword in one hand. She stared at it, perhaps recognizing that her time had come. She quieted down, approaching her perceived end with stoic determination.

It was a facade that soon crumbled, “have you no honor!?” she yelped and winced. I had simply lightly touched her knee with the tip of the sword. The effect was instant and, despite her best efforts to seem tough, her resistance seemed to crumble away almost as soon as I motioned that I was about to do it again. “Torture is the lowest of the low!” she protested, bottom lip quivering slightly.

“I wanted to get your attention, sorry,” I said, “you won’t stop treating me poorly even though I’m doing my best to stop this pointless fighting.” That was...reasonably close to the truth. “You’re not listening to reason. I’m getting you off the floor one way of the other.”

“Just what are you-” her voice trailed off as she watched me clumsily hook the sword up to my bag. It hung behind my back, swinging a little with my every movement. I had gotten my point across and she knew I had easy access to it if I wanted to get her to shut up again.

“Come on, we’re going,” I squatted and the sword clacked on the stone tiles. Before she could thrash out again, I jutted out my arms and slid them under her back and legs. And, with a little bit of effort, I stood up and scooped her up with me. It was the sort of graceful feat accomplished in the blink of an eye that only a tengu could perform.

It took her a moment to realize what had happened. Less than that for her to begin to squirm.

“I will drop you if you don’t behave,” I warned her, “like I said, I’m helping you up. Don’t be stupid.”

“You’re treating me like a child!” was the best thing that she could come up with as a response, I supposed. She struck my chest with a fist, hard enough to make a loud noise but not enough to actually hurt me much.

“This will be easier for the both of us if you use your arm to help support your weight around my shoulders instead of hitting me,” I told her, trying not to be too brazen. I had decided to pick her up mostly to annoy her, true, but if I did too much at once she’d just end up hitting me for real. And despite her small frame I suspected that she was stronger than she looked. Her skin also felt a little cool to the touch but that was easily explained away by my own body being warmer due to physical exertion.

“I didn’t ask for your help,” she complained, avoiding eye contact as she gathered her thoughts. It would be unfair to say that she was embarrassed. It looked more like a straight up matter of pride. The shock of defeat hadn’t worn off yet and so she wasn’t ready to admit to any weakness. Even if the pale skin around her knee had begun to swell a deeper red, she would never admit to me that it smarted.

“So rude,” I clicked my tongue at her, “the least you could do is show a little gratitude. Hasn’t anyone taught you any manners?”

“Yes, but you’re the one that’s hurt me in the first place!” she complained, sounding even less sure of that than before.

“I didn’t. But! Even if I did,” I offered as I began to walk towards the nearby building, ”wouldn’t I be taking responsibility by helping you out?”

“I-I guess...” she frowned, unsure of what to think, “but it still doesn’t make things right.”

“Shut up and hold on to me, “ I commanded with a scowl, “you can figure this out when your knee feels better.”

All the excitement from chasing me and then getting hurt must have finally gone away. The girl didn’t seem willing to put up much more of a fight. She let herself be carried without any more of a fuss, loosely gripping at me with her arms as well. The amorphous blob followed right along, right beside her at the same height.

“You know this place, right?” I asked before opening a simple wooden door that served as the entrance.

“I live here,” she said softly.

“Where do I go now? You’ll need a bandage or ointment or something to fix yourself up.”

“Left...” she instructed, eventually guiding me through a series of corridors. It was a quiet and very austere building, where the wood looked like it had aged with dignity. It almost felt like a shrine except that there were no obvious holy objects and decorations anywhere to be seen. Our destination was by the far end of the structure. Like the rest of the building, it was mostly without decorations. The only objects in the room were a small personal mirror, a few boxes and wall mounts with empty spaces curved to slot in something like a sword. A sliding door on the opposite end, left slightly ajar, hinted at the existence of an inner courtyard beyond.

“That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” I let her down gently, making sure to pat her on the head lightly for being a good sport. If it annoyed her, she did a good job of hiding it, much to my disappointment. Instead, she reached for a nearby box, unlatched the top and began to search for something.

She continued to look until she found a small jar filled with a yellowish viscous liquid. A pungent smell filled the air—it was remotely floral but also nearly overpowered by the scent of something akin to rotting wood. She did not hesitate to scoop up some of the salve with her fingers and smear her knee and a few other spots with it.

“Don’t leave,” she said, accurately predicting that I had grown bored of her. I had a mission to accomplish and had wasted too much time already. “Once my knee feels better I’ll take you to where you’re going.”

The forcibly grim and confident edge that she first displayed had come back. None of the vulnerable desperation remained in her, so far as I could tell. It couldn’t be that she felt better already? It didn’t look like she was about to attack me again, at least not yet. All the same, I found myself thinking that keeping the sword on my person instead of discarding it or giving it back had been a good decision.

“And why’s that?” I asked. “I thought you were adamant that I state my business first. I’m definitely not going to do that now either.” Even if I had wanted to tell her, I was certain she understood the importance of dignified pride.

She smiled. It was the smile of someone who thought themselves both justified and insufferably clever for answering the way they did. “Because,” she said, “you’ll just have to trust me. It would be rude not to.”

[] Continue on without her.
[] Wait for her to recover.
>> No. 198398
Well, it's unlikely to be a trick, I think. Youmu just doesn't fit the deceptive type. She could simply tell him where to go, but is being a petty as a small revenge. Totally understandable.
But she does seem willing to cede, given enough time. She'll get it out of her system and do her job, annoying him in the process. He deserves it, anyway, and being put in situations like this is probably good for him.

[x] Wait for her to recover.

I find it kind of amusing how hard Hide has complained about Youmu challenging him. I can guess this is because he's very unused to it, given his position - it's even stated that he enjoys it in previous updates, too. I'm not sure what's the difference between that and this is, maybe someone else can speculate.
>I laughed, failing to control myself. Forgetting the annoyance of being assaulted, I liked the thrill of having been challenged. It was also why I had been able to tolerate Aya despite her prodding and occasional barbed comments. I pushed her further, “so are you going to apologize or must start a pointless rivalry?”
Is it because Youmu isn't a tengu and Hide is a raging racist?
>> No. 198403
Nice recovery there Tman.

[X] Continue on without her.

Showing up alone will put us in a position of strength. Waltzing in all smiles and curtesy, with the implicit understanding that we beat Cutemu, will send a very powerful, yet subtle, statement to the lord/lady of the manor. I'd even go as far as saying we should shift into maximum oversmug and shift her sword to our waist.

Only drawback is that we might get lost.
>> No. 198406
>She smiled. It was the smile of someone who thought themselves both justified and insufferably clever for answering the way they did

It's like looking in a mirror, isn't it?

>The forcibly grim and confident edge that she first displayed had come back. None of the vulnerable desperation remained in her, so far as I could tell. It couldn’t be that she felt better already? It didn’t look like she was about to attack me again, at least not yet. All the same, I found myself thinking that keeping the sword on my person instead of discarding it or giving it back had been a good decision.

She is stubborn and prideful as they come. I guess that, in her eyes, we have done nothing to earn a visit to the Mistress.
Man, it really doesn't feel like Youmu will actually help us. Maybe take us to another guard or something (Youki?) Even if Yuyuko can kill us, she probably doesn't want to bother her.

Well, if we can't predict her, we can see what is the most Tengu like thing to do. And, for him, it is to focus on his mision again.
We had our fun, but he said that we've wasted enough time and I agree. We can't keep bothering with someone that is obviously not going to help us willingly.

[X] Continue on without her.

>“Because,” she said, “you’ll just have to trust me. It would be rude not to.”
Didn't she ended up throwing a tantrum when we said this?
>> No. 198415
[x] Wait for her to recover.
>> No. 198470
Alright, moon man, you convinced me to read and now I've caught up.

[x] Wait for her to recover.
Somehow, I don't think Youmu is going to be completely servile yet. Hide did manage to get her to shut up and let him carry her, though, so he obviously had some effect. Maybe a little more prodding -- or outright domination -- might turn her into a good little dork?

As to the choice, whilst showing up alone might show independence, I feel like that's not necessarily the way of a ruler. After all, the great tengu canonically are fairly powerful and yet they keep legions of guards around. Having an escort seems to be more in line with the expectations of somebody with stature. Besides, Hide's probably not going to be winning points against Yuyuko here. Just popping in to be cheeky would probably do little besides provide Youmu with more reason to be hard-headed, if only because Yuyuko would tease the hell out of her somehow.

I'm late on the draw, but if you're fluttering around, do find it within yourself to provide a comment to go with this vote. Our resident moon man, as many people have to explain, does not count votes without one. Please understand.
>> No. 198473

I don't think any Tengu besides those in Tenma's direct lineage would want to present the image of a ruler. But, if that's really the route you're interested in playing, you picked the wrong vote. In this scenario and context, being escorted to the throne room would be more akin to how a prisoner would be escorted; Less like a foreign dignitary, and more like an unknown threat.

Enter alone with Youmu's sword would go a lot further in presenting the image you're looking for.
>> No. 198474
>image of a ruler
I played fast and loose with my choice of words; I meant to speak more broadly of the ruling class, of which Hide is a member.

>In this scenario and context, being escorted to the throne room would be more akin to how a prisoner would be escorted
I'm not sure how you're figuring that. He's already played Youmu as the yapping dog and given her a good kick. If anything, it's a display of (possibly backhanded) magnanimity on his part to simply let her play her role at this point. Either way, she loses face to differing degrees, but I'm pretty sure Hide's face is secure in any case. I just think the option of letting her recover a little on that end is the tactful choice, and tact is pretty important for someone of reasonable stature.

And presuming she tries anything, she's probably just going to lose further face, which will be on her.
>> No. 198475
For once, I think you're overthinking it. Bloody hell, it's just a simple message we're bringing to some lady, and we've already barged in, started a fight, and beat up and humiliated their retainer. There's no reason to keep kicking when the situation is already pretty much resolved.

We've already seen that Youmu's can't hold a poker face for shit, I firmly believe she's not gonna try to be tricky since she's said as much. Let the gal do her job and recover some dignity.
>> No. 198476
File 15146775597.jpg - (1.52MB, 900x1300, this peach is wholly unrelated.jpg) [iqdb]
If there's a clear consensus either way before tomorrow evening, I should be able to squeeze in a final update for the year. Otherwise, we wait until whenever, I suppose.

I don't really want to tip the scales either way (since I think both outcomes are interesting for different reasons) but I suppose that what you need to figure out is what gives you the best footing when dealing with the unknown. Is it the faith that a vanquished lesser (Youmu) who knows the place better will aid you and place you in a position of strength when it comes to dealing with others because of your deeds and her defeat? That is, despite whatever reservations about her authenticity that any Tengu might have. Or is it, instead, boldness of action that carries the day? Finishing what has been started by yourself may eliminate some of those unknown and unreliable factors. Sorry if that's cryptic, but I think it's the best way I can supplement tengu-like thinking.

There's been some mention of both concepts in the comments: stuff like maximizing that arrogance/smugness for effect or relying on the conquered to conquer further. 'course all that logic is as valid as wanting to tease Youmu while she recovers or ditching her because she's annoying or whatever. Not all decisions have to be for such heady reasons. You can easily play it by ear and see how things develop.
>> No. 198477
[X] Continue on without her.

While you guys contemplate over every little thing, I'm just going to go with fortune favoring the bold!
>> No. 198478

The fact that the letter isn't all that important is the entire point of this leadership exercise. Unless we find a way to shift the balance of power over to Hide, he's going to walk into the boss chamber as nothing more than a delivery boy. If Youmu's attitude had shifted to something like grudging respect, actual respect, admiration, or dicklust, you could make the case that she's worth the gamble. Seeing as how that isn't the case, there's simply no grounds for having here present for the opening phase of meeting the lord/lady.
>> No. 198479
>Unless we find a way to shift the balance of power over to Hide
Considering he's meeting Yuyuko, whether or not he realises, I don't think there's any shifting the balance of power in his favour, running solo or not.
>> No. 198480
'kay, gonna take this as an excuse to get to writing, before I gotta go do real life stuff. Expect something (hopefully) soon.
>> No. 198481

I wasn't speaking about literal power. More like...perceived/implied power. If hide gets introduced as the Tengu who barged in and beat up a guard, that's going to reflect badly on Hide's lineage and all Tengu in general.

Whomever owns the estate isn't even going to consider an alliance or negotiations if the image Hide presents is that of the town fool.
>> No. 198482
Yes, I know, soft power. The thing is, Hide's not going to win in soft power or hard power in the Netherworld, because this isn't his home turf. He's completely out of his element, and additionally has been warned that his actions could put him in a situation where no one can save him. Frankly, even if, like you say, he comes off looking like "the town idiot", it's better to lose face a ltitle and remain safe. Youmu's already lost face, so it's not like it'd be an uneven scale.

Of course, the whole argument is beside the point now, since the vote's been called.
>> No. 198483
File 151474557984.jpg - (1.93MB, 1700x1133, a place beyond.jpg) [iqdb]
I chose to ignore her request. The simple fact was that I didn’t need her. I had her at a disadvantage, her sword slung behind my back like a trophy. Closer to a trinket, actually, since I didn’t even feel like showing it off prominently. If she was planning to manipulate me by throwing my words back at me, she would have to try harder.

“Where do I need to go?” I asked, more for her sake than mine. She was sure to understand my real meaning.

“I’ll show you later,” she insisted, scowling.

“Be well,” I said. It was a flat goodbye, one that drove home the point that I wasn’t going to waste any more time.

“Wait! You’re really just going to go and leave me?” she asked, looking up at me with those clear green eyes. Momentarily, they showed what could have been genuine disappointment. Or perhaps it was well-deployed guile. She hardened again swiftly, adding with acerbic flair, “you’ll just be wandering around, lost. So suit yourself!”

“I’m willing to take that chance,” I hastened to bid her goodbye again, adding a little trap, “I’ll be off now, I’ll find the person in charge near the back, right? Big fancy room, I gather.”

“You won’t find her at all,” the girl smiled, with a certain degree of smugness. But her eyes betrayed her. The her had caused her to shift her gaze into another direction, likely indicating where she thought her mistress was at the moment. If I hadn’t been looking for it, I wouldn’t have picked it up, at all, since it was a quick and involuntary action.

“Alright, you make sure to rest up,” I started off into the direction she had pointed at, towards the other door in the room.

“You need to be more patient!” she gasped as she struggled to stand, failing to muster the strength. The cloud that hovered around her spun quickly around her, as frantic and upset as she seemed to be.

I didn’t say anything, letting her stew in her own ill-humor. I was certain that she’d continue to try to follow me but I was equally certain that she’d struggle to make it past the door. I put her out of my mind and instead tried to get my bearings. The problem with grand old structures is that they tend to have a lot of subtle features and secrets that are hard to suss out between similar-looking decorations.

As I suspected earlier, I found myself next to a large courtyard. A large porch enclosed most a vast inner space, a well-kept garden where gravel was carefully raked in smooth snaking patterns in a few different directions. This grey sea had a few islands in the form of larger stones, a few shrubs and trees. There were also a a pair of paths that cut through the periphery towards the rear wall, beyond the main structure and porch.

Even with the girl’s inadvertent help, there was still a lot of ground to cover. Doors that led to room and corridors all looked the same when closed and there were no signs that any one place was more important than the other. It wasn’t like I wanted to simply barge in either, there were limits to audacity. So I started walking towards one of the ends of the porch, attempting to make a mental note of anything that could possibly show me the way. Were it a castle, I could trust to find the most important person in a room up top. Just like, in a way, I could find the tengu worth talking to higher up on the mountain. Flatness was just outright impractical when it came to showing your standing.

I had almost given up hope of finding an obvious clue. I was nearing one of the edges of the porch, where it changed direction until coming to an abrupt end near the perimeter wall. One of the doors I had just passed slid open slowly. I turned, half-expecting to see the girl hobbling on one leg, a maddened spirit possessing her. There was nothing of the kind.

In fact, there was nothing at all.

I stared with apprehension, waiting to see if someone or something was going to come out. As far as I knew, doors didn’t usually open themselves. After realizing that nothing was going to happen, I decided to go back to peer in. I’d have to start opening doors and checking rooms soon, anyhow, may as well start with that one.

“Excuse me, is there anyone here?” I sidled up to the door, rapping lightly, whilst simultaneously taking a look inside. It was a larger room, far less austere at first glance than the one I was in earlier. Light from the courtyard filtered in, casting a few long shadows. A hanging scroll with a painted landscape dominated one end of the room, while meticulously arranged flowers sat opposite. In between, a medium-sized table where perhaps a little more than half a dozen people could sit comfortably at.

“Why yes, there is,” a voice replied. It was soft and complaisant, one whose matching smile was too easy to picture. It belonged to a woman who sat at the middle of the table, looking out towards the courtyard and right at me. Somehow I missed her presence when I was looking around the room.

“I’m terribly sorry for intruding,” I defaulted to politeness. Unlike the girl, she hadn’t been uncouth yet, “I’m looking for the lady of the land, would you happen to know where I could find her?”

“Lady of the land?” she cocked her head, making the somewhat wavy strands of medium-length hair move across her cheek and become tousled. In the half-light I couldn’t make out more of her features. She opened up a hand fan and waved it casually a few times in front of her face, an action that looked well-practiced. “Why would you be looking for someone like that?” she asked.

“I’m to meet her,” I replied, “I’ve got an invitation.”

“What a curious situation,” she remarked, adding casually, “and do you always fight those who get in your way?”

“Fight?” I squinted, trying to see if the girl had was in the room as well.

“You made quite the ruckus, you know,” she answered the unspoken question with a carefree laugh, “even the dead would be awake after something like that.”

“It wasn’t my intention,” I replied, “she was needlessly confrontational, I couldn’t just let it be.”

“Ah, to be such a child,” she fanned herself some more, ambiguous as to whether she meant me or the girl. “Well, you’ve found the lady in charge, so you can rest easy. Do be a dear and open the door completely, it’s still dark in here.”

“Of course,” I said, trying to assess the situation as best I could. I didn’t know if I was making much of an impression either way yet. Those were large doors, meant to be opened all the way and thus provide the room with a sumptuous view towards the garden. I could see then that there were more details I had missed—scrolls carefully placed in a small rack tucked away in a corner and a bonsai on one end of the table. So much for sharp tengu eyes, I blamed the slight fatigue brought on from dealing with that girl.

“Do have a seat,” the lady now invited, indicating with a sly tipping of her fan a spot opposite her. The clothes she wore were far more traditional and restrained than what the girl had been wearing; A azure cap with a spiral icon at the front matched the color of a fine and delicate-looking kimono. A few few ribbons and frills adorned her garments here and there, most notably on her sleeves and shoulders.

As she fanned herself some more, I couldn’t help but appreciate the alluring air about her. She smiled, enigmatically, as it seemed polite but also to hint at an ease at reading others that I felt I had previously encountered in the more wizened tengu matrons. With but a careless ruffle of a feather they would know all your thoughts and desires. Power wielded so subtly and with such ease was to be admired. I knew that it would be hard to read whatever her true feelings were behind those noble and attractive features and carefree attitude.

I removed my rucksack before sitting, taking care to release the sword from it so that it did not simply drop carelessly to the ground. The woman’s darker yet clear reddish and brown eyes followed my movements with some interest, eventually meeting my own gaze with a wordless and relaxed smile. I left the sword beyond arm’s reach, a belabored sign of respect.

“I’m afraid I don’t have any tea and crackers ready,” she said, covering her mouth with her fan playfully, “usually it’s Youmu’s responsibility to mind those. She’s likely still indisposed, not to mention indignant, following your little encounter.”

“It’s quite alright,” I replied, ignoring the other part of her statement completely. I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to apologize, feel uneasy or was just needling me for the sake of it. But it seemed I was right about how sharp she really was. I followed by asking, “Would you like to see the invitation now?”

“Yes, that’s probably best,” she said, nodding. She placed her fan on the table and watched quietly as I reached into my bag and got the sealed invitation. I handed it over to her with a deferential nod, fulfilling etiquette appropriately.

She took it and examined it quickly, even bringing it close to her face and giving it a quick whiff. Had no idea why she’d do that, I think I’d have noticed if it had a distinctive scent like that of a perfume. As I watched her break the seal with the swift motion of a finger, I noticed something else that I had missed: much like Youmu, there was a small translucent blob near her. In fact, there were several. All much smaller, and almost invisible in direct light and they orbited her in an unpredictable fashion and speed. Only by really staring in her direction and focusing could I actually follow them and their movements.

“Is there something you wanted to ask me?” she interrupted my thoughts, picking up her fan again and covering her face for effect, “you’ve been staring at me so hard you’re liable to make me blush.”

“My apologies,” I said, trying not to trip over what I was sure was meant to be a targeted coy remark. “I’m not yet accustomed to dealing with people of import outside my home, I beg you to be forgiving of any unintentional and thoughtless slights.”

“You’re well spoken, I’ll grant you that,” she praised me without hesitation, “though there’s something to be said for more direct and heartfelt speech, isn’t there?”

“As you say,” I nodded, hoping to approximate her own guarded smile.

“I think I like you,” she laughed all of a sudden. It was a good-natured outburst that was almost compulsively disarming. “I’m sure it’ll all be fine.”

“If I may ask,” I didn’t miss a beat, choosing to press on, “what exactly do you mean by that?”

“The reason you’re here,” she said, “the reason for this invitation and its quite interesting contents. Incidentally,” she placed the invitation face down on the table, “would you like to read it yourself? I think you’ll be amused by it.”

I couldn’t tell if it was a test. She was still hard to read, with her effulgent demeanor that had me constantly on the back foot, always on the cusp of letting down my guard as one might shed a heavy coat when the sun came out in force. I believed she was genuine, at least to a significant degree, and that’s what made her so dangerously disarming.

Of course, there was a chance that it really was some silly thing, something so insignificant that made second-guessing myself utterly pointless. There was a chance that I wouldn’t be in her debt at all and that we’d just share a knowing look, perhaps even a slight chuckle.

[] Find out what it says.
[] Some things aren’t worth knowing.

Have something raw, with the most minimal of editing and revision due to time constraints. Hope you enjoy it all the same, I've been looking forward to moving things along. Happy New Year, guys!
>> No. 198484
[x] Read it

As the letter's recipient, she effectively owns it. I see no harm in following her advice.

Also it may amuse her. That might earn us some brownie points we lost by leaving Youmu behind.

Also, your Youmu is softest, Teruyo. That unintentional guilt trip was harsh.
>> No. 198485
My thoughts:

>"Lady of the land?”

She was caught off guard by how Hide views the situation, but decided to play along for funsies

>adding casually, “and do you always fight those who get in your way?”

She didn't actually see or hear about the fight. She made an educated guess based on seeing the sword, and Hide took the bait like the grade A sucker he is.

>I noticed something else that I had missed: much like Youmu, there was a small translucent blob near her

Similar to Aya's clothing thing. Something she does intentionally to catch people off guard. Once again, Hide is distracted to the point of not noticing she's been staring at him just as long as he's been staring at her.

Step your game up Hide, this is seriously some low class Wolf Tengu level shit.

[X] Some things aren’t worth knowing.

Because it really isn't worth knowing. If Hide had some part to play in this other than being the butt of the joke, he would have been informed of such in a way that doesn't leave things to chance. Hopefully he gets his shit together and does something Super Tengu Cool like picking it up, smelling it in the exact same way she did, before throwing it in the trash.
>> No. 198486
[x] Find out what it says.

When somebody is as good as masking their intent as Yuyuko seems to be, the most you can do is gamble. Might as well gamble on her being genuine.
>> No. 198487
I get the feeling trying to be completely businesslike about this would be missing the point of the whole learning exercise by a country mile.

[x] Find out what it says.
>> No. 198764
File 152064703762.png - (170.05KB, 400x400, a yuyu.png) [iqdb]
I wished to stare at her. To scrutinize or at least divine what she really meant. A tic in her eye, a wrinkle in her smile, something, anything to guide me before what began to feel like a careless gamble. Of course, that wouldn’t be possible. She had already caught my attempts to size her up earlier and taking a moment to look would not only be rude but also make me look irresolute. A steady hand was needed, making firm decisions.

I reached out to grab the invitation with a polite smile on my face. I made brief eye contact with her, hoping to be as inscrutable to her as she was to me and took the piece of paper. In my mind, I projected a cool and collected persona, showing only the most cursory of interests in the note. In my heart of hearts, curiosity had more than come to dominate my every fiber. How could it not? It was always interesting to know how people referred to one to third parties. It set the tone for every following interaction one would have with them.

I held back an urge to sniff the letter like she had, thinking that it may give away my excitement. Instead I looked at it with what I hoped was a normal expression, eyes scanning the bold handwriting with hurried strokes on the characters:

“This one is in your care.
I have heard of your problem already.
He will help.
And be discreet.
My charge, potentially useful lessons in engaging you.
Big head, do not be afraid to put him in his place.
Don’t bend too much, lest he break.
If he does, I will even the score.
There are those who still want that.
Would be a pain if they found out the truth, don’t you agree?

I slid the note back onto the table, crossing my arms as if I was unimpressed.

“Satisfied?” she asked, She mimicked my own body language, folding her arms across her chest. Well, almost. With that action she lifted her bosom, causing the fabric of her traditional garb to loosen up top, making it so a swatch of pale skin below her neckline became exposed.

“I wasn’t certain what I was expecting,” I told her some of the truth, resisting the urge to stare at her expanding neckline. That ploy was transparent even to me.

“It does seem you’re valued, isn’t that lovely?” she asked, smiling all the while.

“To an extent,” I replied, “you may still bend me so long as I don’t break. Whatever that means.”

Whatever that means, indeed,” she giggled, sounding flirtatious, “I wonder just how flexible you’ll prove to be.”

“Ah, yes, but I’m also discreet, don’t you remember?” I countered, trying not to get too swept up in this new phase of back and forth.

“All the more reason to push you towards your limits,” she said, fanning her face with a forceful intercession like she was attempting to hide a flush of red on her cheeks.

“I should likely help you with your problem first, that is the main reason I’m here.”

“Oh, it’s not really my problem,” she said, eyeing me with naked amusement, “you could say that you’ve already encountered the problem and, indeed, have a firsthand account of it.”

“The girl?” I said what came to mind. Those clear green eyes, angry and somewhat disappointed in me, were hard to forget.

“Yes, my precious little Youmu,” the lady said with a sigh. She uncrossed her arms and let her bust reach their more natural height. A primal part of me approved of their elegant motion. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been watching the way they handled gravity quite so intently, as I felt that maybe I missed a valuable cue on her face. “She’s a young girl, and as young girls are,” she explained, “wont to be troubled. I’m afraid there’s no consoling her this time either.”

“I don’t follow your meaning,” I told her, hoping to pry out more details.

“Yes, well, I suppose I should start from the beginning,” she sighed and fidgeted with one of those wavy locks of hair. “My dear Youmu sees herself as something of an attendant to me. The reasons are long and dull, suffice it to say that it’s a family tradition. She takes my care and my whims very seriously and tries to execute her duties to a nearly-impossible standard.”

That didn’t surprise me. The girl you encountered was serious, unnecessarily so. Clearly didn’t like either surprises or being challenged in any way. I had met tengu that thought similarly, those who would often rise through the ranks of the wolves, obedient and faithful. Fierce if well directed and encouraged. A point of prestige to have one leave the guard and serve your household, in fact. They were incredibly useful but never were clever enough to realize that they were simple tools in the service of others.

“...her duties are mostly menial, if I’m honest,” she continued, “but that’s fine since I’m not that big on ceremony. You’ll have noticed her affinity for the blade, judging by how likely you had to separate her from that wooden substitute before she would even begin to yield to reason.”

“It certainly was an experience,” you say.

“If she ever plans to find a lover, she will need to learn how to channel those energies in a more positive fashion,” she remarked with unexpected frankness. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for this Youmu if even her mistress saw right through her misplaced bravado. “And no,” she interrupted whatever other thoughts I might have had, “I don’t need your help with that. Although...”

“I am not a whore!” I exclaimed, rather bluntly but not too loudly, lest she think I was unnerved.

“Of course not!” she erupted in laughter, evidently finding my answer unexpected, “I see what she meant by big head now. Your sense of self certainly doesn’t need any more development.”

“Good that we understand each other,” I told her, still unsure if I had walked into a verbal trap of sorts. It was difficult to say.

“Indeed. Well, that sword you confiscated from her. It is all that she has.”


“She usually has more than that. A proper blade, a heirloom in fact,” she explained.

“So she’s lost it?”

“More than that, it’s vanished. And she has been beside herself ever since. To the point that she’s nearing complete dereliction of her duties,” she fanned herself slightly, emphasizing the last point, “I’ve nearly died all over again from neglect. I can’t remember the last time tea and snacks were served at the proper hour, she’s always off somewhere looking for those lost blades of hers.”

“And you want me to help her find her sword?”

“Well, not me, your mentor and, guessing by the threat there, your zealous protector? Perhaps even lover? Something so intimate that it borders on scandalous, at any rate.” She fished for information carelessly, evidently not caring if it put me on my guard. Perhaps she just enjoyed the prospect of me being so tightly-wound, so careful that I was unable to match her fast, loose and almost uncaring tone.

I thought it over for a moment. But I still wasn’t sure if that sort of question was meant to rattle me. But fortune favored the audacious, so I countered, “is that envy I hear? I thought a lady of the land would be more reserved and dignified. Instead I have the distinct impression that you wish to get to truly know me.”

“Ah, I ought to smack you with my fan for being so uncouth,” she complained, a sly laugh contradicting her words. “At the very least, if you wish to wish to at least fantasize about the carnal, you would do well to at least learn my name. You haven’t even asked that.”

“Nor have I offered my own name,” I realized. And I made a proper introduction, bowing courteously as would be expected.

“You may call me Yuyuko,” she introduced herself, “if I were to tell you my surname I expect we would be stuck on needless formalities.

“Ms. Yuyuko, like a neighbor I’ve known all my life,” I smiled, matching the light tone she had struck.

“Yes, something like that. A pleasure to meet you, Hidetsugu.”

“Hide will do, if we’re being informal.”

“I believe we shall be,” Yuyuko put down her fan and grinned, white teeth showing through in between full lips. “And I shall leave the matter of your relationship with your fellow tengu ambiguous for now, for I predict that it will benefit all involved.”

“Most kind of you,” I said, thinking of nothing else witty.

“At least until we bend until we near breaking point,” she giggled, offering no real hint of what she was truly thinking.

But that was fine.

I was fine.

Things hadn’t gotten off to a bad start. I knew what I was to do and I was in Yuyuko’s good graces. A careless thought flashed through my mind. A face, rather. Blonde, small and kind. I couldn’t help but feel that she was somewhat responsible for this. Even though I knew she couldn’t have known about it and was too far away to directly witness these events. That was the problem with dealing with divinity, you never knew up to where their powers truly extended.

[] Ingratiate myself with Yuyuko further, ask more about herself and this place.
[] Stick to business, as it were, ask more about this Youmu and her blade.
>> No. 198765
Do people really sniff letters? What the fuck, man.

I like the Yuyuko. Not as aloof as the ubiquitous fan-waving ladies tend to be, and I add a point for every separate titty allusion.

[x] Stick to business, as it were, ask more about this Youmu and her blade.
I hope this is the straightforward kinda character choice it seems to be, because that's how I'm treating it.
>> No. 198766
[X] Stick to business, as it were, ask more about this Youmu and her blade.
>> No. 198768
[x] Stick to business, as it were, ask more about this Youmu and her blade.

We'll learn more about our ghostly lady soon enough, from the sound of it. Might as well make Aya's payment first.

Refreshingly direct Yuyuko, by the way.

You're gonna need a comment before Teruyo counts your vote, son.
>> No. 198773
[x] Stick to business, as it were, ask more about this Youmu and her blade.

I keep forgetting to mention this, but I really like how you write Hide. There's something about his "straight man" personality that makes interactions with characters like Aya and Yuyuko all that more fun.
>> No. 198777

There's some evidence to suggest wealthy aristocrats used perfume unique to their family as a seal of authenticity. I'm not sure I believe that, but it's probably the effect Tman is going for here.

[X] Ingratiate myself with Yuyuko further, ask more about herself and this place.

This is a pretty opportune moment since she's clearly off her guard. The fact that she doesn't even consider Hide a potential suitor kinda puts a soft cap on how much influence we can exert over these two.

To that end, I think we should capitalize on the newfound realization that Hide is actually in a position of power to win a bit more favor.
>> No. 198786
[x] Stick to business, as it were, ask more about this Youmu and her blade.

We kind of left Youmu in a delicate situation, so we better work towards improving their relation if she is to bo-help her.

Also, very good update, easy and fun to read.
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