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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
>>198208
Right, right. It's been a while since I've had to make a story thread, so I forgot.

Old thread:
>>194609
>>194609
>> 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]
198215
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.”

“Others?”

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–”


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.”

“What?”

“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.
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