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File 151047841699.jpg - (612.46KB, 600x800, 1507745149764.jpg) [iqdb]
198206 No. 198206
I sighed as I sat up, annoyed at myself. Mother always said a shrine maiden’s most basic responsibility of all is towards herself – I couldn’t hope to serve her or help others if I couldn’t take care of myself. Eating enough and eating properly, sleeping right, keeping clean and neat; all elementary things you might not think consciously about, but of vital importance nonetheless. Because it was Mother’s direct teaching, I took it as seriously as I would any youkai extermination: a threat to my health was a thread to my work, and that could not be allowed.

I knew what the issue was. Slowing down to keep pace with Aya for a few days in a row had left me with excess energy. I didn’t think I was the kind to get restless over it, but it built up over time either way.

I took stock of our situation as I thought of what to do to work off the extra energy. The night no longer looked red: the thin white lines now radiated enough clear, bright light that they easily drowned out the moon and stars in intensity. They lacked the red color, as if they were on the inside, and the sky on the outside of a big pane of colored glass. They had nearly covered the entire sky now, and I had to look for a full minute to spot even one tiny patch of starlit sky not covered by the web of light. Whatever this was doing to the world, it would be complete before next dusk.

Aya breathed peacefully, having tumbled into sleep nearly instantly from the fatigue of the day. I felt a strong pull of anxiety as I saw his skinny, pale little limbs shake from another passing shiver, the fire having died down to embers by then. My teeth clenched. It was that same unexplainable protective instinct from before flaring up again. I huffed as I got up and fed the fire, and forcing myself to stop there. It would get improper, otherwise.

I hadn’t seen my friend for almost a full day now, but I quickly nixed the idea of going off to look for him. Aya was vulnerable here, I couldn’t just run off to look for a dog. There was one thing I could do to occupy my time.

I sat near the fire and started to relax, feeling the warmth of the fire wash over me. With some reverence, I drew an ofuda out from a hidden pocket. It was a cut of common, even cheap washi paper, bought off a kindly couple in some remote village I never bothered to learn the name of – I’d cut it to the length of a forearm and painted it with some nice praise towards mother. What was actually written was not that important, I’d been told. I ran my fingers gently over it, feeling the rough texture, the edge of it… Although in the end it was nothing but a tool, it was precious in more levels than just the mundane.

I couldn’t easily burn or tear it if I tried, I knew – just from the calligraphy and from being near my skin as I traveled, it absorbed enough strength to protect itself, somehow. It was a wonder to me. In truth, I had always felt under-informed on how these things worked – rituals, exorcisms, talismans, all the traditional miko work. Mother placed more value in the worldly – specifically, how to deal with people and other practical skills. I knew there had to be some kind of basis to my own spiritual powers, but I had little help there; I knew as much as I needed to get rid of the weak youkai I’d faced outside, to convince the people I was the real deal (sometimes), and not much more than that

There was just one glaring exception. Mother’s own misfortune I was taught plenty about – it was a totally disparate source from what the ofuda were composed of.

But that was irrelevant right then. I re-focused my meandering mind and curled around the charm, leaning forward towards it as if I were shielding it from the world at my back, concentrating on it, meditating as I was taught. I pointed all my senses, my entire mind towards the slip of paper between my hands.

It was a less mystical process than anyone would imagine. In a way, it was no different from regular old mundane concentration, the kind you used when doing math in your head. You must be fully, completely committed. Let all your senses and thoughts run over and past you, flowing towards just one spot like meltwater on a river, and keep your focus completely and utterly. It was exhausting the same way as concentrating on anything is – like aiming at a target for one, two hours at a time, without the cathartic release of trying to hit it, or the expectation of being able to let go any time soon. If that weren’t enough, there was the actual drain of… life force, or faith, or whatever nameless thing the charm used for fuel. I could feel it sloughing off your arms, your legs, your core, like an incorporeal fluid. Be what it may, my body always missed it dearly once it was gone, and made sure I knew about it. I could even call the process brutal, or physical, like I was violently, forcefully dragging off energy from my core through brainpower alone – it certainly didn’t feel very spiritual. It also left me drained both mentally and physically, making it perfect for that moment.

I wasn’t very good at it, particularly that night. My attention kept wandering to the sounds of Aya’s breathing and soft forest noises. It may have been understandable, but by my reckoning, it wasn’t excusable, and I scolded myself for it. Even so, something felt different that night. Mistakes aside, it felt easier, smoother than usual. It drained me less, and yet I felt more flowing towards the ofuda. I deferred wondering about it until after I was done, and kept at the meditation.

It’s difficult to tell the passing of time when you’re in such a state, and I tended to simply go on until I felt too tired to continue. At some point, my attention flagged one time too many, and I felt myself being dragged out of it by the low rustling sound of cloth. I took a deep, calming breath, eyes still closed, while I readjusted to being back in the real world – dizziness was inescapable after these sessions.

Slowly, I opened my eyes, bit by bit, as I had learned to. Looking first at the fire, nearly all embers and ash again. Then, down at the ofuda, nearly glowing with a surprising amount of power. Then, I looked up.

On the other side of the fire, the boy was gone.

No, that wasn’t right. I looked again. There was a massive black shape over where he had been sleeping, large enough to cover twice again the space he took up. I couldn’t see any sign of him. My blood froze and I felt the shock of it urging me into immediate action, but I held off from even twitching, freezing as my instincts urged me to.

That wasn’t good enough. A head popped up from the black form, and suddenly it became clear that it was not just one black form, but two, sprouting impossibly from a the shoulders of a girl a third their size. A familiar youkai, still leaning over my charge. She laid a hand softly, almost tenderly upon his chest, then grinned at me.

With her other hand, she gave a little wave.

Each heartbeat pounded loudly in my ears.

[ ] Move. Now.
[ ] Stay as still as possible. Let her make the first move.
[ ] Talk. She didn’t seem overtly aggressive before.
[ ] Talk. Wait for an opening, when she’s distracted.
hope you guys don't mind that i don't put a whole lotta effort in looking for pictures for each update
Expand all images
>> No. 198207
[X] Move. Now.

Please rescue him!
>> No. 198208
[X] Talk. Wait for an opening, when she’s distracted.

A suggestion: I think you should provide link to thread 1 here in thread 2, and a link to thread 2 in thread 1. It would make navigation easier for new readers, at least.
>> No. 198210
Right, right. It's been a while since I've had to make a story thread, so I forgot.

Old thread:
>> No. 198211
[ ] Talk. She didn’t seem overtly aggressive before.

I don't think we're going to beat a tengu on speed, even with a distraction.
>> No. 198212
[x] Talk. She didn’t seem overtly aggressive before.

They've caught us in an incredibly disadvantageous situation, so any rash action is probably going to be punished severely. The best thing to do at this point is see what they want.
>> No. 198213
[x] Talk. She didn’t seem overtly aggressive before.

We dun goofed, and tengu!Aya has us beat into next week to begin with. No option but to see what she wants.
>> No. 198215
File 151065215191.jpg - (368.19KB, 850x1202, __shameimaru_aya_touhou_drawn_by_henohenomomiji__s.jpg) [iqdb]
Adrenaline burned through my veins, evaporating all fatigue and trying to push me into the last mistake I’d ever make. I recalled the people I’d seen killed by youkai just days earlier – limbs that had been torn away, missing gouges of flesh – and those had been the injuries inflicted by the very weak ones, hiding amongst the people. A pulse of nausea flashed through me as I thought of what this creature might be capable of.

Awful, stupid, irresponsible. What was I thinking, this close to a mountain teeming with them? That because I’m here, nothing will come close? What if it had been something keen to quickly kill him, or me? I clenched my teeth in frustration.

The youkai kept that infuriating grin on as she faced me, still leaning over the boy. There was a long pause as we stared at each other. All the routine small sounds of the forest at night seemed to recede, leaving behind just our breathing.

“What do you want?” I finally snapped, half-whispering. It was weak, but I still had no idea how to interact with this monster. Merely talking to it felt like surrender.

“Ah. This is awkward,” her whisper broke through the silence, her grin faltering. “Give me a second.”

Saying that, she turned back to Aya, pawing through his clothes and the cloak he was sleeping in.
I tensed up even more, if that were possible, but she didn’t seem to be hurting, or even waking him. Perhaps that shouldn’t have surprised me. If that had been her goal, she could’ve done it any time she pleased.

“Here it is.” She perked up, lifting up the pouch with his protection charm in it. Immediately she wrinkled her brows, stretched her arm out, putting it as far from herself as she could, and made a noise of disgust. “Eugh. Hakurei work, unbearable. I’m confiscating this for now; you won’t be needing it.”

She spun it by the string once and tossed it far upwards. There was a loud, startling caw, and it failed to fall back down. Aya stirred from the noise, but didn’t wake.

“That wasn’t yours. You shouldn’t even be able to go near it.” I said, stupidly. She rolled her eyes, in what I thought was a decidedly un-youkai-like expression.

“Listen carefully,” she began, in a lecturing tone. “It’s about time you got over that 300-year-out-of-date zealot’s attitude. I’ve excused it so far, but the others won’t be so kind.”


She sighed, slumping, then seemed to make a decision. She started walking towards me, deliberately, calmly. I took an involuntary step back.

“I hope you’re not truly this thick, Yoshiko.” Hearing my name from her mouth made me decidedly uncomfortable. “Did you think you could walk into the mountain by yourself and not meet anyone? That your goddess would be, what, hanging out in a cave, alone, and you’d just come across her by searching randomly?”

I hadn’t thought about it, I realized. When I thought of the mountain, I just thought of a normal mountain. Rocks, trees and wildlife. But of course it would be no such thing.

She shook her head, seeing my expression. “The only reason you’ve gotten this close unmolested is thanks to me.” She drew close to me, close enough that I could see the twinkle in her eyes. “I’ll tell you this much: yes, Hina really is in here with us.” I took in a hard breath and opened my mouth to interrupt, but she didn’t pause. “No, I don’t know exactly where, or what she’s doing – It’s a city, you realize. We’ve lived here centuries, dug through and under the mountains – miles and miles and miles of tunnels, halls, storehouses, homes, bathhouses, town squares, stores, tombs, courtrooms, markets and shrines. It’s far larger than any human city,” she said, and it felt like a boast. Having been all over Japan, I highly doubted that last part was true. “You have no chance at all of finding her without interacting – interacting positively! – with some of our kind. So, get over that. You’ll just have to get along.”

She stared into my eyes, looking for something. I nodded hesitantly, sure I had no other choice in that moment, with us hand-spans apart. She nodded back, seeming satisfied. “Good. Let’s practice it.”


I wasn’t allowed to complete the thought. In a blink, she forcibly pulled me in by the arm, directly into her. She wrapped her arms around me and I went completely stiff on reflex.

She was very thin and smelled of nothing much.

“There. See?” she whispered, way, way too close to my ears. “I’m warm and made of flesh and blood. Just like you. I won’t say we’re exactly alike, because that’d be a lie, but we’re close enough. We can be this close and you’re still completely safe.”

She abruptly let go and took a step back, leaving me a little stunned. “Get used to it, is my point. Get used to me, to us, or your chances will be awful. What do you say?

I stayed quiet for a beat. “Ye… Yes. I’ll… try.” I tried to make myself feel less hostile. I didn’t know whether I succeeded, but Aya flashed me a smile.

“Good. I’m glad you understand. Now, go wake the boy up. We’re going in right now.”


“I’m walking with you from here onward. You need a guide, or you will probably die.”

I blinked, face blank.

[ ] No, fiercely.
[ ] No, politely.
[ ] Fine... for now.

altered beast power up sound
>> No. 198216
[ ] Fine... for now.

Who is the woman who want to help?
>> No. 198217
[X] Fine... for now.

Party member get.
>> No. 198218
[x] Fine.

Not like we have any other options at this point.
>> No. 198219
[x] F-fine.

The hidden tsundere option!
>> No. 198220
[x] F-Fine.

I like the way the above anon thinks.
>> No. 198271
“Time’s wasting. I was going to wait until tomorrow, but since you’re up, we may as well get you two a decent place to sleep tonight.

“You were going to wait until tomorrow, after stealing the charm, you mean.”

“That’s not important. It’s not even yours, anyway, and as I said, you won’t be needing it in the mountain.” She smiled, stepping behind me. “It’d make everyone grumpy at you, not to mention make you antsy to use it. I know you shrine maidens.” The smirk she wore came through in her next words. “Best to leave it with someone trustworthy.”

She prodded me forward. “Go on.”

I took two steps before I turned back, taking a good look at her. She still wore a smug expression.

“Just so you know, I understand what you just did, and I don’t like it.”

“How do you mean?” Her eyebrows arched convincingly. “I’ve done nothing at all.”

I frowned. The entire encounter: showing up here at this time, the sudden hugging, all calculated to keep me off balance. Fast-talking, no more and no less. A common con-man’s trade. For a supposed great tengu, she sure chose some crude skills to wield. Nothing would please me more than going against her out of spite, but my brain was in the process re-engaging properly at this point, and refusing her outright was a poor idea.

It wasn’t pleasant admitting it, but she‘d even made a good point. Thinking back, my feelings about youkai hadn’t been so strong before what happened in the village – and should they be? A farmer doesn't 'hate' the rabbits and moles that plague him. I tilted my head at the crow tengu, watching her as I thought. No, this meaningless anger wasn’t a useful emotion. Those lowly, deformed youkai had thrown a wrench in my duties by killing people, and so an unreasonable grudge had grabbed hold my of my heart.

I pried it off then, or at least started to.

Still, some kind of concession seemed necessary.

Mother had said older, higher youkai were often close to human in temperament. If that was the case, I’d been plain rude.

I tapped my foot, impatient with myself. I lacked the stomach to apologize or thank her for the moment, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to. For all I knew, she was doing this exclusively to profit from me, somehow.
“I’ll go,” I sighed. “D-Don’t misunderstand," I said, mysteriously stuttering. “You’re dangerous, untrustworthy, and I don’t like you. But I don’t see that I have much of a choice.”

She gave a pure, beaming grin at that. “Since we’re friends now, I’ll take that as the compliment it is.”

I frowned harder.

Unsurprisingly, the ‘short hike’ turned out to be more of a trial than the tengu made it seem. For one, there was no discernible trail at all, as they’d have no need for that. Besides that, the darkness was a factor – I couldn’t let Aya trail behind as I had in the daytime, he’d lose sight of me and get lost. It was slow going, and the terrain got harsher as we went; the mountain range extended far and it was anything but smooth: we went downhill nearly as often as up, and the closest peak remained far in the distance. If the approach was this bad, the valleys between peaks would be torture to hike through.

Still, our guide occasionally took flight to find the best spots to pass through, and we arrived to our destination in what must’ve been less than one hour, what seemed at first like a natural cave in a well-hidden, small rocky fault. As soon as we stepped inside, the illusion evaporated: less than an armspan from the entrance, the natural walls ran into the clean straight angles of a perfect hallway, vanishing into complete darkness further on.

She told us to stay put and walked off into the tunnel’s maw. As soon as the soft sound of her footsteps died down, Aya tugged on my skirt forcefully, looking up at me.

“Do you know what you’re doing?”

I thought about lying, but there was no good reason to. “No. We’ve been kidnapped.”

He scrunched his eyebrows at me, but also seemed bemused at the idea. He’d been strangely alright with being marched out of his bed at the middle of the night earlier – even attempted to chat with the tengu before getting shushed down – apparently she didn’t want to attract further attention, even in her own territory.

“Aren’t you scared? You were before,” I asked.

“Don’t ask me something like that,” he complained, frowning, but took a moment to think about it. “Tengu are less scary than wild youkai. They won’t just attack us for no reason, and you can reason with them.” He paused, feeling the smoothed stone wall absently. “I’m a little scared, yes, but it’s exciting. I have no records of anyone surviving being inside the Youkai Mountain tunnels proper. That means I’m the first of the Hieda to be here!” He gave a nervous, fleeting grin.

I’d have left it at that – more than that, I wouldn’t even have instigated such a conversation, but I couldn’t feel the same. Being moments from being swallowed by a gigantic stone tomb filled with tengu did awful things to my stomach, and the fear there squeezed words out of me that wouldn’t have come otherwise.

“Hieda. Those two seemed to recognize the name.”

He rounded on me instantly, eyes lighting up – he suddenly looked like a kid at the park, entirely out of place in this dark tunnel. “Thank you! Thank you for finally being a little social. It’s nice being out here and free, but I was starting to get bored just walking about with no conversation.”

I hesitated. “You’re… welcome?”

He smiled, then cleared his throat, sending the sound echoing down the tunnel, dropping into what I suppose would’ve been the sort of tone you use to tell a story, if his voice were that of a fully grown men. “As I’ve said and you ignored before, I’m the eighth Child of Miare – chronicler of Hieda. But you don’t know what that means, do you?”

I hadn’t had occasion to care before then. “It means you’re a rich boy?”

“No, no – rich? What? No, that’s not it. What it means is that I’m part of a very special line born only about once a century,” he said – not arrogantly, curiously enough, but he seemed excited to be telling me this. “I carry the memories of all who have come before me, and I don’t forget anything I’ve seen once. Do you see why it’s important that I’m out here at a time like this? It’s knowledge that will be preserved for hundreds of years.

“I don’t believe you.”

“What? Why not? It’s the truth.”

“You act like a child.”

He glared, puffing up, but it didn’t truly put a dent in his mood. “You’re way too blunt, you know that? It’s not as if we’re all one person continually reborn. The next one only keeps the memories.”

I noted that he didn’t actually deny what I said. Perhaps not completely like a child, then. I nodded; arguing this would be pointless, it was best to humor him. “I see. Where are you going after this, then? Assuming there’s an ‘after’.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“You left to experience history yourself, didn’t you?”

“What?” He processed this, one dainty hand going to his mouth. “Oh, no, no, don’t misunderstand. I’m not running away from my land, of course. I’m Hieda, I can’t leave,” he said, looking at me as if I were stupid for even asking. “I meant our history, not Japan’s. The rest of the country has been slowly losing touch with the world’s forces – only we remain. You should already know this; you’ve been traveling outside, yes?”

I couldn’t deny it. My travels, especially nearer the larger cities, had been trying to say the least. People weren’t very receptive, to put it lightly. I soldiered through only because of mother.

“It’s my purpose and my family. It’s just… it concerns us, right!? Look at the sky! I had to take a closer look. And nothing has happened so far, we’ve been almost perfectly safe. And there will be an after. We’re protected.”

I got the distinct impression he was trying to convince himself more so than me, and felt a sudden, pulsing urge to push the point, just to make him more and more annoyed. Is this what having a little brother is like?

Before I could respond, I heard faint, lively steps sounding down the corridor. They grew, and a light became visible as well, far away – this single straight tunnel stretched far into the mountain, apparently. Both of us tensed up, but before long, our tengu guide was trotting into view, scowling, with a lantern bobbing in her hands.

“You two are way too loud. I could hear you halfway across the mountain. Come with.”

>> No. 198272
We followed that bobbing light through minutes of silent walking through darkness – a cold breeze constantly blew past us, belying a proper ventilation system in this massive tunnel system. Before long we arrived to what might’ve been a communal sleeping room. Stone, less perfectly carved out than the hallways – taller and curved in places, it nevertheless smelled like comfort. Stitched-together, threadbare fur bedrolls were piled up to one side of the room, and a good handful of tables and cupboard were lined up to a corner. A dozen people might have lived here comfortably.

“The dogs have all run off somewhere, so you have the whole room to yourselves. If anyone finds you, mention my name and you’ll probably be fine.

She lit a single candle for us and left, promising she’d be back in the morning. Despite the cold of stone, Aya was asleep seconds after lying down, and I followed close behind.

[ ] Mother’s plight
[ ] Mountain politics


suddenly 14 days have passed
>> No. 198273
[X] Mother’s plight
I'd love some more Hinakuru~
>> No. 198274
[x] Mother’s plight

Logic suggests we should try to find out more about the mountain we just ended up in.

I am incapable of logic when Hina is involved.
>> No. 198275
[X] Mother’s plight
>> No. 198317
File 151219388344.jpg - (200.89KB, 850x1169, sample_93d03a2732096c4ec2d630d1124e5a25.jpg) [iqdb]
Hina felt nauseous.

There was a black simmer going in her stomach, a slow boil of barely-held-back emotion that threatened to spill and stain the surroundings the color of death.

But Hina Kagiyama, mis-fortunate spirit of misfortune, well-used to that stripe of emotion as she was, caged it safely inwards and did it not let it destroy any thing but her own sanity – as it had been doing for a long time. It was a safe bet, she mused absently, that there probably wouldn’t be a great amount left to destroy those days.

But such thoughts were but small flashes in the roiling sea of rightful anger the ghostly goddess nurtured inside. Mostly, her depressing past-time was to worry, feel angry and powerless, at herself and everything else, too.

So Hina’s time flitted by while she was confined, in meditation, and anger, and helplessness.

It was a basement she was stuck in, by her reckoning; a windowless basement drowned in stale, dusty air. The ones that had caught her had at least not been cruel, although she wasn’t in a state to think so at the time. They’d left her a good lantern and oil, a comfortable feather bed, pillows, and even some books to kill boredom – as well as food, water and a bucket for earthly needs, of which she had none.

The din of life and talk came through the walls frequently, although dimly, and Hina surmised she was in a well-populated site.

It must’ve been purposeful. There were no charms or enchantments stuck to the walls or anywhere else to weaken her; it would’ve been easy to thrash about and bring the whole building, the whole town down around her ears. Not, however, without spelling painful death for any living thing for miles around. It was a cowardly measure and she hated it.

She’d tried the door, but it was a massive metal slab half again as tall as her and studded with menacing bolts, almost as if built with this kind of goal in mind.

She didn’t make an issue of keeping track of time. In complete darkness, she sat, laid, paced, steamed, and cycled through those many, many times.

At length, she heard dragging of furniture out by the door. It had been barricaded too, and thoroughly, judging from how much time it took to move it all. As if she were a caged animal.

There was a series of tremendous clanging noises, then the door screamed open, making her ears ache. The one responsible took one single step inside, cloaked in the dim indoors light flooding in from outside.


The call echoed. The woman who’d opened the door waited, squinting into the darkness. Hina did not respond, standing silently further towards the back of the spacious basement. “Kagiyama? We must talk.”

Hurting others did not come easily to Hina, even youkai, but she’d been stretched these past days, stuck worrying endlessly for her most important human and what might be happening outside. A growingly insistent part of the goddesses’ mind softly whispered to make this woman into slurry (and quickly), but thankfully, long practice allowed her to easily discard the idea. Instead, she responded as bidden.

“That’s an interesting proposition, after you’ve had me confined here for weeks.” Her tone was monotone, quiet and clear, as usual, belying her feelings. Still she didn’t step forward. “Will you explain, Keine?”

She winced, looking down momentarily. The village’s protector looked exhausted, rings lining her eyes. “Yes. We can talk about it upstairs. Please.”

“I can speak from here.”

“Very well,” Keine breathed, then repeated, louder. “Very well. There isn’t much to explain, anyway. You heard, right? About the barrier? That’s why you came.”

Hina clenched her teeth, unseen. “Yes.”

“I’m afraid it was completely true – and now it is done,” she said. “You couldn’t have stopped it any more than I could, Hina. Please understand this. I know you would’ve tried, and it wouldn’t have gone well.”

“So, that’s why you’ve put me here.”

“Yes.” Keine did not shake, but she wasn’t entirely at ease with this girl so near, and in so delicate a situation besides. They’d met, talked, and Hina had lived near for a goodly while, aiding the humans of her village in her own way, but still – still, she wasn’t entirely a known quantity.

Hina’s breathing sounded steady in the silent basement as seconds counted by, Keine edged a half-inch towards the doorway. But then, the flat voice sounded again, from the darkness. “It is alright. I understand. One more question.”

Keine breathed in relief. Being intimidated like this, unintentionally to boot, ill fitted her, or so she believed. “Yes, of course.”

“My priestess. Is she still in the village?”

The village protector froze in place.

It was uncharacteristic for her, but it’d completely slipped her mind – the entire meeting, almost. That day prickled her heart with the many deaths, and she’d ran herself ragged, busy with managing the village in the aftermath. In her state, then, she’d sent the stern strange-eyed girl off to the youkai mountain almost on a whim, a momentary notion that otherwise, she’d stay and make things difficult. Make the village less safe, the people more tense in these already hard times, just by being there.

Not for the first time in her life, Keine cursed her sense of duty and responsibility. “She’s gone to the Youkai Mountain. To search for you.” She swallowed. “On my word.”

There was a long, long moment of silence. She fancied she could hear Hina’s breathing become louder, but her voice was unchanged once it came.

“One may die in the youkai mountain. Easily, if they are human.”

Keine said nothing. Another dead moment passed.



“Leave, please.” Rather than wrathful, or disappointed, or any other reasonable emotion, the words suddenly sounded hurried, urgent. Warning bells went off in the teacher’s head, and she took a wide step back behind the doorway. A single, disjointed sob escaped the darkness from where Hina spoke, and her next words were loud, quick, and strangled. “Get out. Get out and close the door.”

The door slammed shut, hinges screaming as it did.


no metagaming now
>> No. 198337
Keine was probably one second away from being erradicated.

A pity. Her belief that she knows better than everyone else seems consistent in all stories.
>> No. 198343
I felt uncommonly good the next morning. Long before my eyelids found the strength to push themselves open and the fog of sleep could be lifted, something just felt… nice. Just nice, was the best term for it. I felt warm and comfortable, for once not under that alien angry sky, huddled up in quilts that smelt of dog. Never mind the fact we were under ten million tons of rock and youkai.

Nice, but… something was out of place. I resisted clearing the cobwebs out from my head, because it just felt so comfortably lying there; Just for that short moment, I wanted to forget all about duty and the situation we’d ended up in. It couldn’t last, of course. At length I was forced to open my eyes and confront the something that had been out of place. The boy cuddling up against me.

I frowned; I’d been half expecting this to happen ever since he joined me – he was a child, after all – but I always figured I’d wake when he tried it. By necessity, I wasn’t a heavy enough sleeper to let such a thing pass, ordinarily. The previous night must’ve taken more out of me than I’d foreseen. He’d wormed under my covers and arms (it couldn’t be otherwise), poking his pointy nose right up against my ribs, and I slept through it completely. Inappropriately close. His bony arms folded up against his chest, digging into me a tiny bit with each slow, sleeping breath. He was drooling on me, mouth half-open.

A growing restlessness caught in my stomach, and I cursed inwards as it suddenly burned bright in my mind, demanding my attention. It was happening again. The same feeling as days before, when I first saw him. Seeing the small helpless boy in my arms like so, a wave of unwelcome emotion welled against my insides, irrationally demanding that I do something, anything to protect him, although there was nothing to be done. Even so, it was an unwelcome, insistent reminder that I and I alone was responsible for his well-being. I sighed.

Just as before, it was such a sudden and overwhelming feeling that a silly thought struck at me: what if this was a youkai, lying, cloaking itself in the guise of a human boy, influencing my mind by force?

It was stupid, of course, and I in turn felt stupid for having had the thought. He shifted in his sleep, twisting his legs around mine – again, way, way too close. It was about time to wake him up.

I called his name, as neutrally as I could.


Not even a sign of life. I called again, louder.

He yawned, stirring – first, he rubbed his face against me, then looked up with those big eyes, dull and confused from sleep. Not easily, I fought off another unexplainable bout of that awful plague of an impulse, instead shooting him the best cool, questioning look I could muster. He looked blearily at me, still not fully aware of what was happening. Soon enough, some wakefulness returned and he was squirming uncomfortably, trying his hardest not to look at my eyes.

I spoke. “Why are you in my bed?”

He stilled, looking down, but at point blank as he was, that just meant he was looking directly at my chest. He coloured, looking back up. “It’s not a bed,” he grumbled.

I stared.

He tried another excuse. “It was… It’s cold in this place.”

That wasn’t a lie – whatever ventilation system they had in these systems made for a very cool draft, and being all stone did it no favours. Still, I continued glaring. He tried again, weakly, to escape, twisting sideways, then went still again, looking at me resentfully.

“You–” He swallowed. “Your dog wasn’t around today.” He’d been sleeping with my friend when he got the chance, I recalled.

“No,” I agreed, feeling him figuratively and literally squirm under my attention. I couldn’t say it wasn’t satisfying in some level, but I stopped short of wonder why it was so, at the risk of incriminating myself. After a while, he settled unwillingly on a position with his ear against my chest.

“Let me go already,” he whined, mumbling and bright red at that point. I held on for another beat before finally unclamping my arms from his back, letting him sheepishly back up and off me. Even though I was to blame for it, I resolved to dwell on what’d just transpired for as little time as I humanly could. I latched on to the first likely explanation for what I’d just done: punishment. Yes, a small punishment for crawling in with me without my leave. And payback, from when he’d teased me before.

“You’re cruel, aren’t you?” he accused, and I allowed myself a minute smile. A point for me, today.

>> No. 198344
The boy had an undeniable talent for regaining his composure. Before ten minutes had elapsed from the business on the bed, he was up and about, no grudge, merry for all the world to see, chewing on a piece of salted meat and chattering animatedly at me about the architecture, or mode of life of tengu, or whatever it was that he found so exciting in these dull, stark tunnels. Now he took the chance to catch up, after being silent out of exhaustion the previous night.

Properly awake and alert after a good night’s sleep (for both of us, it seemed) we surveyed the room properly and uncovered a hearth-stove hidden out near the corner with the tables, the smoke vent snaking off neatly into a near-invisible crevice in the walls. I offered a prayer to providence when the search of the room also revealed a sack of charcoal, kettle, pots, barrels of water and beer, stale bread, butter and everything else you might need for a good enough breakfast – including a full, shiny-new teabox and cured meat! I even found myself humming low as I picked out what we’d eat. I didn’t wonder long why someone would run off and leave so much food behind – stuffing my pack with as much as I could comfortably carry was enough work to keep me the questions at bay.

It was fine, my companion comfortably spoke enough to fill both our roles. We sat close to the stove, for light and warmth.

“–makes no sense to have an eatery and communal sleeping quarters in the same room! Did you see how many tunnels there were? There has to be enough room to separate those. What if someone wants a midnight snack?” He went at his piece of hard bread with intensity as he spoke.

“Mm.” I tried to concentrate on chewing.

“I mean, what if you have to fry something up? It’d be loud. And the smell would wake everyone up! Oh, is it the wolves?”


“The crow said something about dogs, didn’t she? You know of the wolf tengu, don’t you? They’re supposed to be subordinates. The beddings smelled like dog! So that’s what it was.” He tried a sip from his tea and cringed, sticking his tongue out childishly.

“Mm. What if they just have dogs?” I responded absently. Must’ve been my good mood. I killed the fire in the stove and was about to go through the room again, for useful tools this time. Was it wrong to steal from youkai?

“I don’t think so,” he said with finality, then shifted tone completely. “Yoshiko. We should go explore.”


“Yeah! Look, she said we’d be fine if we mention her name, and she’s a tengu, she’ll be able to find us in here easily.”

“Too dangerous. No.”

He wasn’t cowed by my instant answers. “We don’t even know if she’s telling the truth about– about anything, really. It’ll be good if we find someone else to ask, or maybe even some clues! About the sky! The tengu are involved for sure, right?”

I frowned. It wasn’t an argument completely without merit, despite its obvious makeshift nature.

[ ] Go.
[ ] Wait here for Aya.


wanna hurry up with this crappy story boys
if i put in effort maybe i can be wrapping it up by end of jan
>> No. 198345
[X] Wait here for Aya.

Honestly she is our guide and knows the environment, let's not go willy-nilly in an unfamiliar place.
>> No. 198346
[x] Wait here for Aya.

Let's at least try to make a good first impression.
>> No. 198347
[X] Go.

What's the point of life without some excitement?
>> No. 198348
[x] Wait here for Aya.

Uh, you mean wait here for the Crow Tengu, right? Because no way we're leaving Hieda to explore on his own.
>> No. 198349
Also, I find hat ilarious that she said to call her name... to someone with the same one.
Not like he can help it.
>> No. 198350
[X] Wait here for Aya.
>> No. 198351
Mother and daughter will meet each other in the end? I would like to see a happy ending.
>> No. 198372
“This isn’t fair. We don’t know how long we have here, I should be trying to make the best of it.” He angrily tossed a scrap of bread into the stove fire-chamber, then looked sideways at me. “And if I just get up and leave, what’ll you do?”

“I’ll bodily restrain you if I need to” I said, quickly thinking back to where my rope would be. He believed me and deflated, grumbling about it being a waste. At least he was obedient.

“I just don’t get you. Why do you care if I’m in danger or not, anyway? If I did wander off and disappear, would it even matter to you?”

“Yes. I’m a shrine maiden. I protect humans from youkai – even if said human won’t protect himself.”

“It’s not as if I want to be in danger. I just think you’re worrying too much – we haven’t seen or heard anyone around since we got here, have we? It’s completely empty.”

“Give up. You’re not convincing me.”

He sighed. “That’s all there is to it, then? You’re holding me like this because it’s job, and nothing else?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling strangely like I was lying. “Do I need some other reason?” I asked, feeling acutely silly. It was so stilted that the boy chuckled at me, although he looked self-conscious himself.
I chastised myself. I really didn’t know what was going on with me – occasionally, being around this boy without a proper role to perform was doing bizarre things to my head. The usual mask of a serious miko that I donned regularly didn’t seem to fit quite right, and he kept poking uncomfortable holes through it. It got me restless and uneasy.

It also made me want to take it out on him, just a little. I changed the subject abruptly. A smirk almost formed on my lips. Almost. “Will you need to sleep with me again if my friend doesn’t show? I won’t mind, if it helps you.”

He pointedly ignored me.

Our tengu guide did not take long after that to appear, the rhythmic clacking of her geta on stone grew slowly in volume, echoing down the corridor for a full minute before she finally emerged from the doorway. She wore a much simpler, workman-like earthen shirt, shorts and some sort of puffy hat rather than the elaborate robe from before.

“Good morning,” she announced loudly, without malice. “I’d love to ask how you both slept and make fun, but we’re short on time. Big shots don’t like to be kept waiting. Up, up, gather your stuff and put out that fire! No need to clean up, though.”

I did as she said, still miffed that we’d been forcefully pushed into going along with this girl. There was nothing to be done for it now, making an issue would just be retreading ground at this point. All I could do was keep my eyes open and hope for the best.

We took a lantern and followed a brisk, business-like Aya down the tunnels as she explained we’d be heading further into the heart of this mountain – the tunnels would widen to allow five to cross abreast (or one tengu with their wings unhidden), and we would start crossing other crows soon.

“I’m sure I don’t need to say this, but don’t stare too much. Look like you belong. The one we’ll be meeting is one of the five most powerful people in the mountain, one of the Devas. A great oni.” I glanced at the boy, but he was already fully absorbed in the ‘lesson’. We turned a sharp corner.

“You know the legends. They despise dishonesty, drink a lot, and like to be treated fittingly. For you two, that means be respectful and know your place.”

The boy interrupted. “Why and how are we getting an audience with a Deva? We just got here! How would anyone even know of us?”

Aya flashed us a smirk over her shoulder. “You didn’t think I was sitting idle while you two traipsed around the woods, did you? It was a ton of work, spreading the word!”

I felt an icy knot form in my stomach. “Spreading the word,” I repeated, apprehensive.

“Yes!” She made a pleased sound. “About the mysterious roaming human shrine maiden who beelined towards our mountain – all the scouts swear it. Not just any old shrine maiden, either, a priestess of Hina! Yes, that same Hina! Where has she been these years, and why a shrine maiden now?”

I made a sour face, but if she saw it, she wasn’t deterred. “As Hina was one of the most fearsome dwellers of the mountain in her time, so this one must be. What does she want? Has she come to join either side? Something else? What can she do to tip the scales?”

Either side? It took a second for my memory to work again: They were having a conflict of some sort, weren’t they? The knot in my stomach only grew.

Aya wound down from her soliloquy, her perilously wide grin visible even from our awkward angle behind her. “That’s the gist of it, anyhow. These are tumultuous times for us, so people are especially receptive to flimsy rumour.”

I didn’t know how to respond. The first thing that came to my head plopped out of my mouth, inadvertently. “Fearsome? No, never mind. Why… Why have you done this?”

Aya positively cackled at that, and her laugh echoed painfully. “Here’s another tip for when you meet her. Don’t ask dumb questions.”

I swallowed the insult.

“If she offers you a drink, accept and be prepared for the kick, but don’t be goaded into any more than the first dish. Don’t be too formal, they all hate that; no bowing to the ground. If she jokes and you don’t find it funny, it’s better not to laugh.” She rattled off tips that wouldn’t be remembered. Glancing at my side, thought, I found that the boy was rapt. We crossed a gray-haired, stone-faced man who didn’t even spare us a glance – the first tengu I’d seen beside Aya. “If either of you have some trinket that might serve as a gift, that’s not a bad idea. Ah, we’re almost there.”

“Already?!” The boy piped up, alarmed. “We’re meeting them right this second?

“What? Oh, no, no. You don’t think you’ll be meeting a Great Oni stinking, sweaty and in travel clothes, do you?”

We turned a corner, crossed two wooden doors, and, abruptly, found ourselves in the single largest bathhouse I’d ever seen. Underground.

“Both of you need a good wash first.”
>> No. 198381
My money's on Yuugi. Let's see how Oni are before learning the meaning of humility.
>> No. 198382
No, it's Kasen with a wig.
>> No. 198387
File 15131936557.png - (1.13MB, 909x1269, latest.png) [iqdb]
The blast of humid air hit us full-on, and I got a good glimpse of what was inside. A huge hall-sized chamber, large enough to need support columns, with a full-featured traditional bathhouse inside. The bath itself was much larger than usual, a pool that had to span half the entire chamber. There was a massive furnace, mounted in a bulky, metallic pipe-wreathed mechanism… the boiler, I realized, with pipes running off it. It doubled as the main form of lighting, making for a fire-lit, dim, warm atmosphere; almost sensual, although that couldn’t possibly be appropriate for a public bath. Other than that, it was surprisingly the exact same as I was used to – soaps, buckets, and all that, and bathers, of course. Two or three had their wings out, having them tended to by other tengu.

A dozen heads swiveled our way when Aya dramatically opened the door, and a few lingered. Flinching away from their line of sight, I glared at her. I’d been distracted enough that I didn’t notice it when she took us through a changing room – where we were now standing, alone.

“Just testing your focus,” she said with a smile before either of us could properly react, shutting the door, then tossed us three towels from the neat little wooden shelves. “Anyway, I’m not joking about cleaning up. The oni aren’t exactly sticklers for it, especially once the drinks start flowing, but looking good and smelling nice always helps, with anyone. Now, you can leave your belongings here, if you have any” she started casually unbuttoning her shirt. “I guarantee they’ll be safe.”

She had her shirt off and neatly folded in her hands by the time the boy finally built up enough courage to sputter a complaint. “W-what are you doing!” His voice cracked with unfortunate timing.

“Huh?” Aya seemed genuinely confused for a second, but then the customary smile split her face. “Ah! I’d forgotten about your silly human ideas. This is a mixed bath, little boy.”

He fumed at being called that, flushing visibly – aided by the fact Aya was now unraveling the binding around her chest, and slowly. He turned his back on her abruptly, muttering something, but did start undressing.

I was fine with mixed bathing, but something else was making me squirm. I considered asking Aya whether leaving everything here was truly safe – these were all my earthly possessions. My pack, my clothes, my charms, my food, even my gun. Asking for reassurance from someone I already didn’t trust in the least seemed like a meaningless to do, however, so I silently made the decision to go along with it. I was already risking my life and someone else’s by being in here, my belongings were no great consideration in comparison.

Another question popped in my head instead, and I voiced it. “Why are you bathing with us?”

“Can’t I?” she sniffed. “It’s great for bonding. We can wash each other’s backs and such– ah, maybe I could let you clean my wings? Hahah!” She let out a clipped laugh, cupping her cheeks, and I could swear she actually coloured for a moment. I briefly wondered if it was possible to fake a blush. “That was a joke. We’d need to be much, much closer for that to happen. Our wings are very sensitive, see.”

I frowned.

With varying amounts of awkwardness and hiding behind the small bath towels, all three of us got through the cleansing before the proper soak (Aya asked about washing our backs and was dryly refused). It was a wonder the poor boy didn’t blow steam out of his ears and pass out, with how intensely he was blushing and how hard he was trying not to look at either of us. He didn’t do well at it. I let out a suffering sigh when I slid into the deliciously warm pool. It wasn’t enough to make me forget the situation we’d gotten ourselves stuck in, but it made good headway. The boy looked relieved as he dipped in to my left, likely because the water covered me and Aya up as we sunk to our shoulders in it. It was large enough for us to be more or less isolated off to a corner barely lit by the furnace firelight, I between the two of them. The other bathers politely ignored us just as we ignored them.

Thinking of what Aya said, I snuck a look at one young tengu with his wings unfolded across the room: he was sitting on one of the washing stools, eyes closed, while a young girl knelt close to his body, painstakingly… well, there was no other word for what she was doing. Caressing. Slowly, thoroughly she lathered the wing close to the base in careful circles, close enough for him to feel her breath. Wow, I thought, she wasn’t lying. Calling this intimate might be underselling it. I looked away soon, embarrassed for having witnessed it. It was a wonder they were capable of doing such a thing in a public space.

She followed my line of sight and chuckled. “Told you. Afraid we’re not there… yet.”

I glared.

She smiled at my expression, shrugging. My companion chanced a shocked “I–Is that really allowed?”

“Nobody complains as long as you do no more than wash. Not that young crows lack for mischief. They occasionally must be disciplined for such kinds of… indiscretions. And quit staring that hard.” She grinned and drifted my way, stopping when I felt her shoulders and hips touch to mine. I managed to stop myself from jumping, but shot her a look anyway.

“Bonding, I said! Don’t worry, I’m not into women.”

I scowled, but didn’t move or push her away. Again, my mind was clouded and I felt clumsy: I wasn’t quite sure how to act, and so realized I had settled into a stubborn hostility purely by inertia. If I wasn’t exterminating the youkai, what was I supposed to be doing?

It was an uncomfortable feeling.

I longed to go back to my routine, no matter how devoid ofwarm water and sweet-smelling soap it was. There I had certainty of what I was doing – there was only me, Mother, my friend, the road, and occasionally an audience of villagers. Nothing more. I had to find her. That’d settle everything.

The thought should have been enough to clear my mind of all doubts – it always had been, before. She had been perfect, beyond questioning or reproach. She had had my complete faith, as it rightfully should be between a goddess and a priest.


The idea didn’t fully form in my conscious mind, instead settling as a sickly feeling in my chest. Us humans are remarkably skilled at ignoring such uncomfortable truths, and I was very much human. Thus it went unchallenged, despite the moment of wrongness that wasn’t supposed to be there, and was swiftly ignored: I just had to find Mother, yes, and all would be solved. In the mean time, I could be friendlier to the crow, slightly, for as long as we remained on the same side.

I refocused in time to catch a question from the crow. “–will you tell me about it?”

“Tell you about what?”

“In all my years, I’ve never heard of a shrineless shrine maiden before. How does it work?”

The other Aya piped up for the first time since coming out of the dressing room, embarrassment still in his voice. He’d get used to it, I was sure. “I’d like to know too. You seem very used to traveling on foot...”

“I am.” I paused, uneasy, being stared at from both sides. It wasn’t as if there was much to keep secret and Mother had never told me to be secretive about any of our work, but I’d never been directly asked about it.

I cleared my throat, preparing. While I generally wasn’t much of a talker, I was practiced in speaking at length when I needed to – to teach a group of villagers something, or answer questions, or whatever occasional similar duty fell into my lap.

“There’s not so much to tell. I wander from town to town, guided by the Goddess. I arrive, make sure I am noticed, find a place to stay. People come to you if there’s a chance you’ll solve their problems for them. That’s the case in smaller towns, leastwise.” I scowled, thinking of the insulting treatment I’d gotten whenever I’d gone closer to the larger cities. Mother’s power being treated like a circus act… despicable. “People come to me for all sorts of problems. In love, in business, and much less spectacular problems. If a village lacks a proper doctor or veterinarian, that ends up being most of what I do. I don’t charge money, so it’s worth a shot to them. I do my best to help, whether our particular kind of misfortune was involved or not. It feels more like being a handyman than a miko, to be sure. We never minded it.

“I always walked, rather than taking carriages or any of that – a good portion of my work was performed on the road, anyhow. It’s where the more mundane sort of problem happens. Tired animals, broken carts, common injuries and broken bones.” I shrugged. “Not as much misfortune to be collected as in the towns, but more food and necessities. It works out well in the end.

“When I began, Mother followed close and protected me, but as I got more experience, I suppose there wasn’t as much need. For some time now, I’ve only been able to talk to her directly occasionally, for directions on where to go next, and… catching up.”

The crow interrupted. “You’ve been all over Japan, then.”

“Yes. Even down to the southern islands, once.” That had been a special request. A haunting in a little island village west of Okinawa.

She whined and slapped the water. “Awww, I’m so envious! I do love this hole in the ground, but I haven’t gone anywhere for over a year! Take me with you, once this is all settled.” She grinned. “A tengu will be sure to draw in the customers, don’t you think?” She sounded disarmingly girlish, and it wasn’t the first time I’d heard that sentiment. Young people from small villages sometimes get that itch.

“Thank you for the offer,” I said flatly, “but it’s not a business.”

“But the more misfortune you get, the better, no?”

“No. We help people who want to be helped. There’s no urgency and no quota.”

She hmmed, looking unconvinced. “No offense, but I’ve never heard of a selfless god.”

“You’ve never heard of a shrineless shrine maiden either.”

She shrugged. “Fair point. But you can draw it out just like her, then? I didn’t think it was possible for a human.

“I–” “[i]Yoshiko!”

I blinked. The boy was looking at me with wild eyes, shame momentarily forgotten. “You’re giving her exactly what she wants! Don’t you see?”

She rolled her eyes, an expression I still found tremendously out of place on a youkai. “Please. I’m just making conversation. Ah, but we’re just about out of time for relaxing.”

She resolutely got up and very purposefully crossed in front of him before stepping off, making him squeal and shut his eyes hard. Poor kid. Far too sheltered for someone who’s supposed to have lived through several lifetimes. I got what he was trying to tell me, but it didn’t feel like that sort of a scenario.

“She’s gone.”

“Thank you, I think.” He opened his eyes and looked in mine, briefly. “You mustn’t trust her. She’s the worst, craftiest kind of youkai.”

I nodded shallowly, for his benefit.

“We should hurry,” I said. Getting up as modestly as I could, I laid what I hope was a friendly hand on his head and then walked off, following the crow girl back to the changing room.
>> No. 198388
“No.” I finished wrapping myself in the bigger, proper towel.

“What do you mean, no? Why not? It’s part and parcel! The nice bath will go to waste if you just get into the same dirty clothes again.”

“Still, no.”

“I’ll paint you up if you do it.”

I frowned. “That’s not an incentiveI don’t want to be ‘painted up’ and I especially don’t want to play dress up with you.”

“It’ll help with the Deva, I swear it – you can change out of it right after the meeting, how’s that?”

I let out a long sigh. Being around this girl was tiresome, too, but in a different way. “No.”

She whined. “If you’re going to keep wearing that thing, let me do something about the rest of you, so you don’t look like you just walked in off a battlefield.”

[ ] Agree to wear something else. Just for the meeting.
[ ] Let her do whatever she wants, but keep the clothes.
[ ] No deal. A nice bath was plenty.

for-fun choice, mostly
don't worry too hard about it
>> No. 198389
[x] Agree to wear something else. Just for the meeting.

She can clean the clothes herself afterwards... if there is an afterwards.

Also, thanks for the clarification. I'd have voted HELL NO without it, to be honest.
>> No. 198390
[x] No deal. A nice bath was plenty.
fuck you I'll have my shadowruns
>> No. 198391
[x] Agree to wear something else. Just for the meeting.
>> No. 198392
[X] No deal. A nice bath was plenty.

iunno, I don't think that Onis will care much about your clothes anyway.
>> No. 198393
[x] No deal. A nice bath was plenty.
>> No. 198394
[x] No deal. A nice bath was plenty.

Gotta keep the uniform. It's a faith thing, y'know?
>> No. 198395
[x] No deal. A nice bath was plenty.

She doesn't want it, if she wore something else it will be because she felt forced by Aya, she wouldn't be honest with herself, and Oni respect honesty.
>> No. 198431
File 151374078849.jpg - (148.29KB, 830x1085, d2d6979cc9e4224499ec3924c25443e3.jpg) [iqdb]
“No.” I could be stubborn too, I’d decided. “It’s not happening,” I completed, my expression set. I didn’t feel a need to explain myself to the crow; how this shrine maiden ensemble had been gifted to me by Mother, then tailored, modified, added to by my own hand until it was a more intimate part of me than my own flesh and skin. She could as well have been asking me, pretty please, to chop off my right hand, because it’d make an oni like me better.

Aya tsked as it became apparent I wasn’t about to cave, looking me acidly up and down as I retrieved my clothes. Even so, she put some forced cheer in her voice as she asked again. “You could look really good – you’re athletic, and gracef–”

“Save your breath,” I said, not looking at her, as I wrapped my sarashi back on. She huffed, but said nothing more.

The boy finally scuttled back into the dressing room, evidently not having been comfortable naked, defenseless and alone in a room full of youkai. He visibly suppressed a yelp upon getting an eyeful of the two of us, then cutely lowered his eyes and made his way behind me with small steps. He stopped short of grabbing hold of the towel wrapped around my waist, and I was grateful for the restrain.

From then on everything went as smoothly as I could have hoped for. We all got dressed: me in my usual, Aya in the same worksman’s-style shirt and shorts as before, and the boy in something similar. He seemed rather mystified by the western-cut clothes, curiously, and hesitant to get on with it front of us – but he reined in his embarrassment the best he could as he got dressed, not going beyond a bright red flush. She indulged in a bit of teasing and tried to stare at him as he changed, smirking, until I put myself in between them, ending her fun. Once clothed, we looked so mundane that I wouldn't have guessed we were supposed to have an audience with oni royalty – or whatever Devas were supposed to be.

Aya promised us we would only make one more stop. I’d started doubting whether there was truly any hurry or set time at all for this supposed meeting, but dwelling on it was pointless. I was giving her a chance, I reminded myself, and I hadn’t been made to regret that decision just yet.

We went into the tunnels again, lantern in hands, this time being guided continually upwards. If we entered somewhere near the base of the mountain, the bathouse would be down near ground level, and we would be heading towards the top… maybe. My sense of direction had thoroughly abandoned me in these echoing tunnels. More Tengu crowded the halls the farther up we went as well, and more of them seemed to stare at me – at us, really, but I felt I got the brunt of it.

It was… illuminating? Surprising? I wasn’t expecting anything in particular of a tengu people, but I especially wasn’t expecting something so normal at first glance, so like humans. The variety, more than anything else. There were ugly ones and pretty ones, grey- and jet- haired, men, women, boys and girls, short and tall, well and poorly dressed, muscled, slim and fat. Carrying blades, books, food and water. Intrigued, hostile, excited, uninterested as they met my eye. A few even looked afraid.

At one point we went through a square of some variety: a perfect octagon cut out of mountain rock in huge, flawless geometric lines as if from a mold, lit dimly with huge candle sconces on the center of each wall. There was a small fountain in the center and tables around. A meeting place, I judged. There were a few tengu clustered around a heated match of shogi, a group of young-looking girls chattering by the edge of the fountain, and others milling about or passing through. The sight overlaid my memories so well it gave me a jolt: the reactions, the mood of the place were the exact same as arriving to a new village always was. I had to close my eyes, recenter myself to make sure my head wasn’t playing tricks on me. The slight hush, the bolder ones coming up and staring at my empty eyes, even the whispering that followed. We hurried from there and I got the distinct impression someone would’ve stopped us if not for our guide.

As the initial shock wore off, so did, to some degree, this estimation. No, it wasn’t quite the same – how could it be? The differences were subtle but clear, once you stopped to look. A few of them came to me as I paid attention: No old ladies or old men, at least none so old that their backs curved and their eyes squinted. Whether they simply didn’t age that far physically or they all died before reaching it, I couldn’t say. Children were absent as well – The youngest I saw would have looked twelve were he a human. There were no merchants, no hawkers that I could tell, and those invariably grew on our towns like warts on a pox victim. I nearly did not see the western-style wear that was becoming popular all over the country. Looking carefully, a good half of these people had clear battle-scars that they proudly displayed, sometimes at the expense of modesty. And, of course, there was the fact they all had long, pointy ears.

Even with all that taken into account, it was so remarkably human. They were scarcely more different from us than I imagined a different nation would be from Japan.

We’d been walking up the street-wide underground ramps and staircases for a healthy twenty minutes. Poor Aya was flagging and breathing hard, so I had to reluctantly pull him along by the hand. It was then that we were finally intercepted. I’d almost expected it sooner.


She stepped square in front of us with her hands on her hips, stance wide, hands on her hips.

It was a brat. A child who couldn’t be older than fourteen by human reckoning, with a voice to match. She was a small thing, with the sharp, hawk-like features that I’d come to associate with tengu, her fluffy dark hair in a short ponytail, and a persistent frown on her lips. She wore another one of those tengu kimono that seemed, to me, too elaborate to be practical. The appeal and richness couldn’t be denied, though: this one was of some very fine material of deep violet, richly painted in a criss-crossing pattern of black and white. It got across that she was supposed to be wealthy and important, if nothing else. I thought of my own warm, tough, simple miko’s outfit and found that I was glad I hadn’t let Aya use me for a mannequin.

She scowled prodigiously at our guide, making her best imitation of a kid being told to clean their room and go to sleep.

“Aya,” she… greeted? Making no effort to hide her hostility.

Our own crow bowed shallowly, bringing her hands together. “Ah, this is a happy coincidence. This is the young Himekaidou lady,” she said, glancing quickly at us, a barely-there smirk on her lips. "You’ve grown so fast, it feels like just yesterday that I was watching this cute fledgling take her first flight. Aww.”

“You didn’t! I mean, it doesn’t matter.” Her geta thumped down hard on the stone. “Don’t deflect. You know why I’m here.”

She hadn’t even spared me or the boy a glance. I was fine with that. Aya made her eyes wide. “You’re finally taking my invitation!” In half the space of a heartbeat she’d closed the distance, grasping one of her hands tight in hers. “I’ve been waiting. I Just know you’re gonna be a fast learner. Right now is a little awkward, but we–”

The girl shoved Aya away after a moment of shock, a flush of anger creeping up her cheeks. She forced her voice to go cold. “Funny. If you’re done with your comedy skit, you– you’re coming with me.”

She tried hard to mask the stutter. It didn’t work.

Aya took a hopping step back out of punching range, grinning. “I’m busy today. Sorry!”

She composed herself in little time. “Aya, What’s your problem? We all know you’re not right in the head, but I thought you’d be on our side when it came down to it.”

“Your side?” Aya tilted her head, hmming. “I don’t know what you mean. I don’t take sides.”

“And your habit of playing dumb is reeeeeeeeally annoying.”

Aya made an awkward smile. “That one was a little on the nose, wasn’t it? You’re right. I just don’t think this is the time or place to talk about it.”

Himekaidou seemed put off balance by this sudden admission – she’d been ready to fire another insult back, and floundered. “Whatever. I still need you to come back with me. You’re wanted. The lady Tenma made that clear.”

“Nah. She wants to take my head off, I’m sure.”

“You can’t just ‘nah’ a call from the Tenma!”

“Clearly I can. I’m doing it right now.” She smiled innocently and shrugged. It was clear to see this confrontation, if it could be called such, wasn’t going as Himekaidou expected, judging from her bewildered expression. It didn’t last.

She shook her head to steel herself, putting on a brave face. “No. No, I knew you’d do this. I’m not leaving here without you, one way or another.”

There was a pause of the kind that isn’t so easily broken. Watching carefully, I could see the girl tense in a way that spelled imminent action. Her eyes darted, her center of gravity lowered. Even to someone of middling knowledge like me, it was obvious she was getting ready for a tussle. Before it could morph entirely something other than a pause, however, Aya contemptuously cracked it.

She let out a resigned sigh and looked around, back and forwards through the tunnel. It was conspicuously empty for as far as I could see (which wasn’t much, granted). When she was satisfied, she turned back to the well-dressed crow with a look of pure pity in her eyes. “Hatate. Let’s not do this. You aren’t this stupid.”

Evidently that had been the wrong thing to say. Hatate flashed her teeth and flushed bright red. Angry red, I realized, not embarrassed, and I realized it was about time for me to take action. She’d completely forgotten about me, if she'd even realized I was here in the first place.

“Oh yes. Mighty Aya, so above us all and ready to flaunt it. This is why I’m tired of you, and so is everyone else. I’m about to do the the whole mountain a favour.”

I’d been around enough to recognize an attempt at pre-fight banter when I heard it, and although I’d never witnessed a tengu fight, but I had the sinking feeling this unfortunate, proud little girl was about to get soundly slapped around.

Aya just sighed, her eyebrows knitting.

The boy grabbed my hand tightly.

[ ] Intervene.
[ ] Step a safe distance away.
>> No. 198432
[X] Step a safe distance away.
-[X] Have Aya (the little one) buy some popcorns.
>> No. 198433
[x] Intervene.

I really don't want to read Hatate getting wrecked.
>> No. 198434
[x] Intervene.

What the fuck is going on.
>> No. 198435
[X] Step a safe distance away.
>> No. 198437
[X] Step a safe distance away.
>> No. 198438
[X] Step a safe distance away.

Talk shit, get hit.
>> No. 198439
[X] Step a safe distance away.

Talk shit, get hit.
>> No. 198446
sup dawgs

i feel like writing a short so i might go a week or two without updating this while i get that done (or while i try until i give up)
>> No. 198451
well, that's kinda shit, but I'm curious about what that short might entail, so that's kinda neat too. A complicated feeling.
>> No. 198457
File 15142666195.jpg - (484.52KB, 3032x3996, 22ba4c72c259c883bd30cf3c9109f996.jpg) [iqdb]
I was going to sensibly lead my young charge a few steps away, but it was over before I could bother. The rich girl had been as badly outmatched as I’d feared. The ‘fight’ — that didn't in a million years deserve to be called such — lasted a scant few painful seconds.

Tengu were fast. I knew this, had known it, but I hadn't fully had the chance to witness it in action. I didn't have to be any sort of specialist to know movement such as what I was witnessing wouldn't be achievable by any human.

This is what I could tell happened.

She'd given plenty of warning, but I was still unprepared when Hatate lunged, abruptly turning into a blur. She snarled like a wild animal, swinging wide and wildly. Aya did... I didn't know exactly what, but I could tell she put herself close enough to her opponent to smell her breath, then — this I saw clearly, because that's where the fight ended — they spun, all of the momentum in Hatate's rush turned against her as Aya slammed her down on flat on her back with enough force to split bone. There was a painful, sharp crack of skull on stone and her head bounced back up off the ground in what would certainly have been a skull-destroying, brain-splattering, instantly fatal injury for any human.

She blacked out at once, silently. The boy gasped at my side, but unfortunately for her, another few seconds and her eyes were fluttering open again, hazy.

Aya waited patiently until a spark of recognition reached her eyes before acting again, but she wasn't letting up just yet. She stomped down hard, driving the single tooth of her geta into the girl's gut. Making a pitiful sound, she raised herself reflexively, trying to curl up and protect her midsection. That was a mistake. Aya's knee crashed on her face, sending her back down.

And that was that. It was impressive: in all my years, I had never seen a fight finished so quickly and cleanly as this. Hatate moaned and coughed, covering her face, Aya's foot still resting on her stomach.

“I'm disappointed, Hatate.” Aya furrowed her brows. I got the feeling she was trying — not trying her hardest, mind you, but trying nonetheless — to look like she wasn't enjoying this. She couldn't even completely get rid of her smirk, though. “You've—”

By then Hatate had recovered enough to interrupt, rather vigorously for someone who just got so soundly beat, with a torrent of profanity so vulgar that I had the irrational urge to cover the boy’s ears, mostly about Aya’s sexual habits, specifically with oni, and occasionally in great and lurid detail. I stood listening, more fascinated by the second. The tengu were an inventive lot, weren't they? Must be the result of living hundreds of years.

Aya listened for more than a full minute, bemused, and only put a stop to it when the girl freed her hands from her bloodied face to claw at the leg holding her in place. She stomped again and the obscenities trailed off into another pained wail.

“Are you about done?” Aya asked.

Hatate tried to spit on her foot and missed, but otherwise finally quieted, her hands balling into fists at her sides as she laid her head down on the stone corridor. The kneeing had given her a great ragged gash over one eyebrow that bled copiously, but she wasn't concerned. She looked up at Aya with such venom, I had a glimpses of the coalescing black mist that signalled misfortune being created around her. Interesting. I thought only humans could do that.

“Hatate. Being smart and crafty has never been the reason I like you, but you've gone overboard this time. You're acting like a small time thug. It's unsightly and improper.”

“Improper?! T-the... ugh—” she turned her head and dry-heaved twice. “The only time I'll ever take advice from you is if I'm ever looking for tips on taking oni co—”

The fearsome geta came down again like a factory machine, drawing another pained moan. Aya snorted. “I hope that was worth it for you. Next time you insult me, I'll start breaking ribs.” Hatate only continued breathing hard and glaring in response. Aya continued. “Do you realize how many mistakes you've made in the past ten minutes?”

She coughed heavily before responding. “I don't care. Get off me.”

Aya ignored that. “In the first place, why in the world would you come talk to me if you intended to attack? Just do it! With backup and while I've got my back turned, preferably. And besides, if you wanted to talk, you should've attacked suddenly rather than announcing it like an idiot. You must think before you do these things.”

And so she went on berating and taunting the fallen girl for a good few minutes, smiling slyly all the while. She was savouring it, that much was clear. Watching them, I came to understand a little bit about Aya's personality, or so I believed. The way she was speaking and prodding the powerless Hatate with her foot, it felt familiar; it was the same as when she was teasing and casually threatening us, making sport of wielding power like a crude club and enjoying it immensely. I realized with some wonderment that in this she was no different from a bully of the common stripe. The older kid in the neighbourhood who steals toys because he can. The petty government officer who takes a little too much enjoyment in his authority. The unlucky bandit whose weapons embolden him into trying to become something worse upon seeing a lone woman on the road.

Truth be told, I didn't think that much of it, aside from wondering whether it was as common a trait in Tengu as it was amongst us humans. At least she wasn't enjoying the beating up itself, but the glorifying in it that came after. Besides, Hatate did give her ample excuse to go for it.

Hatate didn't swear or spit again, and I was glad for it. I wasn't keen on watching someone be beat to death — my stomach wasn't that strong. Unexpectedly, the longer it went on, the less annoyed Hatate seemed, until the death stare was reduced into comparatively mild intense glaring. Her wound had stopped bleeding quickly without any tending, something unusual for a head wound, at least for humans.

“—didn't even notice my cute new attendants. See? You must work on your tunnel vision.”

I blinked, refocusing. Hatate's eyes widened momentarily, as if she'd truly only just noticed us. Aya sighed, looking down on her. “Unfortunately I don't have time to play with you today. Let's call it a debt owed, how about that?

Hatate scowled. “‘How about’ you never show show your face again instead?”

“I can't! That'd be a great loss for the entire mountain, and not just because my face is the prettiest one around.” She grinned. “That's the spirit, though. Remember, despite this poor showing on your part, my invitation is always open, if you ever feel like you want to rise above

She motioned us past, and I firmly pulled the other Aya with me as I walked along, shooting Hatate a glance as she slowly stood, wobbling. I could only hope she wouldn't peg us as Aya's allies and hold a grudge.

“I apologize you had to see that. Hatate's really a great girl despite her birth. Parents that high up usually produce complete trash, but she's got initiative, she's got energy, and she's impressively devious when her focus isn't spoiled.” She sighed as she lead us through the tunnels. “She's just so very young and dense. She desperately needs guidance.”

Aya's hand trembled in mine. I looked down, and — ah. He was shaken. I hadn't been paying attention so I didn't realize, but seeing violence that direct had gotten to him. I wasn't 100% inured to it myself, but I was desensitized enough to keep it comfortably under control. He wasn't. It might have been the first time he's seen something like this. He pulled as far away from the other Aya as he inconspicuously could while we walked, glancing her way constantly.

I was absolutely certain he was about to say something stupid if I didn't stop him. There was that colour of outrage and horror at what had just happened to his expression.

[ ] Do nothing.
[ ] Stop him.


nvm lol
I regret getting into such a heavy and relatively plot-centered story like this. I think I'm better at cutesy stuff and enjoy it more, so I wanted to make a romance short. Just sweet and innocent.

I'll still do it at some point in the near future, but I'll try to make it concurrent rather than halting updates on this.
>> No. 198459
[X] Stop him.

The less Aya is interested in Aya, the better.
>> No. 198460
[x] Stop him.

Don't feed the troll.

Bully. Whatever, you get what I mean.
>> No. 198461
[X] Stop him.

I see no gain in letting him go off.
>> No. 198462
[X] Do nothing.

I'd quite like to see it though.
>> No. 198463
[X] Stop him.

Please Akyuu don't bring yourself into trouble.
>> No. 198464
[x] Do nothing.

Bite the bait. Bite the shit out of it and never let go.
>> No. 198465
[X] Stop him.

Don't waste your breath, Aya. Aya is a youkai: a monster. And they only respect and worship power.
>> No. 198466
[KZ] Do nothing.
>> No. 198498
It's not your update, sorry about that.

I've started a vile, repulsive, disgusting and filthy porn story for perverts at >>>/at/38452
Finishing this is still priority one. Don't worry your pretty little heads about it. I just have an itch that has to be scratched, feel me?
>> No. 198500
I squeezed to creak his bones, drawing a muffled yelp of pain that couldn’t have gone unnoticed. He looked at me, spooked, and I glared as hard as I’ve ever glared, willing him to just shut up. It was strange that he’d shown no reaction at all to my eyes before, but now he shrank away, startled, letting go of my hand as he recoiled. I didn’t, holding him firmly at my side by the wrist. There was a twinge in my chest at this, but I smartly ignored it. I shook my head. There would be no attempted butting into youkai business as long as I was around.

Keeping the crow girl talking was a good bet, I figured. It was obvious she liked the sound of her own voice well enough. I was treating her like an ally, but there was no forgetting what she was after that display.

“And you’re this ‘guidance’, I’m guessing.”

She had her back to us as we follower, but I could clearly hear the grin on her voice. “I’d like nothing more than to leave the work to someone else, but alas! There’s no other crow in this dump more qualified. Educating the young is a society’s most important task, as you know.”

I could have sworn she’d said something about tengu children being ‘complete trash’ — in those exact words — not five minutes earlier.

Despite the scare I gave him, the boy spoke up. “That was education just now, then?” He asked, acidly. I drove my nails into his wrist.

She laughed, not taking it as a challenge. Thankfully. “That was the worst beating I’ve ever given her, true, but even that was downright gentle. Don’t pretend to know us, child.”

The last sentence was delivered lower, and I felt the shiver that went through the boy at it. If he didn’t stop mouthing off after that, I could no longer help him. She continued on, heedless. “I’m dead serious when I say I’m the most qualified to educate her, by the way. The poor girl is doomed to become yet another paper-pusher if she continues the way she is, same as every other crow. I just thought I might rescue her from a life of boredom and oppression, if only she’d allow me.”

“Oppression?” It was strange to hear this word come from a tengu’s mouth, but it stood to reason that if they had an organized society, they must have all the trappings of ones as well. “From the oni, you mean?”

She laughed again, lighter. “Not only them, and not exactly. It’s a tangled mess here in the mountain, and that’s part of the problem— Ah, and I’ve already said way too much. If the Tenma knew I’ve been speaking of these matters to humans, she’d have my head, regardless of consequences.”

I blinked, feeling the deepening impression that I’d been forcefully thrust into matters I had no earthly notion about, where a wrong step might land me on the wrong side of a set of youkai claws or a bloody 1-ton steel kanabo. A mire into which I’d been tossed by the crow. Even without facing us, she seemed to sense what I’d been thinking. “Don’t worry, I’ve already filled you in to the essentials. You’re going to be just fine.”

There was never a statement I trusted less.

She guided us through more tunnels than I thought could fit inside one single mountain, eventually slowing to a stop near a door that seemed the same as any other, save for the guardsman (guardstengu?) standing at attention to its front. Or, not quite at attention — he maintained a constant scowl as we approached, his eyes trained on our guide as he slouched forward. I couldn’t avoid noticing the conspicuous, bright red tanto sheath tied to his sash. Most tengu I’d seen, Hatate and Aya included, didn’t carry weapons that I could see.

The age-lined man’s scowl grew deeper the closer we got, until I fancied he was about to spit at us. But instead of spitting, he stepped aside, lowering his eyes as Aya stepped forward. We crossed a wooden door like any other into a broader, more well-lit tunnel than the one before, lined liberally with candle sconces, albeit exactly as perfectly carved and unadorned, save for the natural arraying of stone layers from the mountain itself. Our own lantern was snuffed, no longer needed. I could hear a quiet din of conversation beyond the plain portal at the end of the hallway.

Aya stopped us there, turning fully to face us.

“Here we are.”

“Where?” I asked drily.

“To the deva.”

My thoughts scraped to a noisy halt, and the sparks they lifted threatened to put the rest of my mind aflame. Wait. Now, already? My voice came stilted. “I thought we were making another stop before that?”

“We were, but Hatate pushed our timetable forward.”


“I said we were, but Hatate pu—”

“I heard you,” I interrupted gruffly, speaking before I could think about it. The deva, one of the five big honchos of the mountain, possibly a more powerful being than I’d ever seen in my life. I’d had hardly any opportunity to prepare at all. “Right now, this very second?”

She smiled innocently-but-not. “Yes.”

I swore inwardly. Extensively.

Aya grinned. “Don’t think too hard on it. I wouldn’t have told you much more if there had been more time to prepare.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

She kept grinning, annoyingly, then shoved the door open with bombast.

[] Yuugi
[] Suika
[] Kasen


f u c k c
let's go
i'm writing, i'm alive, i'm at it, i've got the spirit my brothers

happy 2018
>> No. 198501
[x] Yuugi
Not enough Yuugi love around here.
>> No. 198502
>> No. 198506
[X] Kasen
>> No. 198510
[KZ] Yuugi

Oni games? Oni gaems.
>> No. 198511
[X] Kasen
>> No. 198515
[x] Kasen

We know both Jack and shit of her life as a Deva. Today, we will be cured of our ignorance.
>> No. 198519
[x] Suika

Token vote for the watermelon.


Quit it. Nobody cares who you are.
>> No. 198522

That isn't true. I care who he is.
>> No. 198523
[X] Kasen
Best oni
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