In the shadow of the Great Youkai Mountain there was a strange little hut built to provide temporary shelter. That was, arguably, its original purpose. The site was originally a small crack between boulders that did little else but keep anyone standing inside mostly dry when it rained. The beast that took refuge there one late summer day had been tired of moving around aimlessly and wanted to rest up for a while before moving on.
At first, branches were borrowed from nearby trees to plug the gaps overhead. Then, as it turned out that the location was incredibly discreet, the beast’s visit was extended. It was a good location to return to as he took care of other business. After a long day of exploration, he would return with more building material; stones, branches, and even a discarded cart he found by the roadside all served to give his shelter more solidity.
That its appearance could change dramatically from day to day as it was modified did not bother the beast in the least—the realm where he had come from was mired in chaos. Only those with enough strength could build anything there. Even a half-formed hovel was more than most could manage.
After a few weeks, the temporary shelter had become something sturdy enough that a passing human might mistake it for a hunting shack. Of course, only a handful of humans would dare venture so deep into the woods and away from the relative civilization of the village. And youkai? The beast had sniffed around the area and found that none claimed that particular patch as their own. They would not bother him either. In other words, he could confidently say that he had a reliable base of operations.
If not for the fairies, of course.
He was not sure when they had started to take interest in him but it seemed to him that every day he had to chase a group away. Even though they fled at the sight of his claws and the hoarse snarls he mustered, they would invariably return. Worse still, he noticed that one of the fairies was bolder than the rest and would follow him closely whenever he was out and about. Throwing stones at her had only made her laugh while she dodged, convinced that they were playing some sort of game.
This perplexed him much. Why on earth would anyone assume that someone like him would be playing around? No one had ever questioned his ferocity back home. At least, no one had ever managed to do so without getting the tar beaten out of them. He would have never kept advancing in the ranks of the Family had he ever rolled over.
Although, that might not be an entirely fair assessment. The beast did not care to acknowledge it but luck nearly always seemed to be on his side. It was obvious if you thought about it. For instance: the odds of finding a secluded spot on the mountain that no one else had claimed during his first time ever leaving his home had to be very low. Similarly, he had advanced faster than other colleagues despite not standing out. If he did deign to think about his fortunes, he was likelier to consider himself somewhat unlucky. The reason for that is better explained later.
For the time being, his luck had manifested itself in an incredible haul.
The beast had stayed out on extended reconnaissance overnight. It was then that he encountered a traveling merchant loaded with wares on the road. Naturally, he planned to extort him. Or just outright steal—he hadn’t made up his mind on what he was in the mood for. But before he could decide, a youkai got the drop on the merchant. Appeared right out of the darkness. His blood boiled. He had been there first.
Balling up a fist, he jumped out onto the road and scared the stuffing out of both youkai and merchant. The little blonde thing panicked and rapidly melted into the darkness again. He looked around for her in vain, yelling obscenities into the night. When he had calmed down a little, he noticed that the corpulent merchant was smiling at him. Apparently unafraid of the beast, he clapped his hands and laughed, immediately offering him a large bottle of sake for his troubles.
The beast was not about to turn down free booze.
What’s more, he ended up thinking that this pitiful human was a pretty decent fellow. The merchant patted him on the back, uncaring that he had a long, scraggly tail, a mouthful of sharp teeth and other very wretched beastly features. Not even the tattoos on his arm gave the merchant pause nor that unnaturally-colored cyan hair of his. The merchant’s thanks was very generous. After the beast finished the bottle in practically a single gulp, he produced another and encouraged him to drink up.
By bottle three, the fearsome beast was highly contented. The beast had decided to escort the merchant clear of “this bad patch of road” as the latter put it and struck up a perfectly amiable conversation. He learned from the merchant much of what he could not have gleaned just by scouting—names, places and some of the people and things to watch out for in Gensokyo.
He was, of course, aware that he was being used by the merchant but the impromptu arrangement had suited him well. Information was a valuable currency and the victuals he was gifted for his troubles were also nice. With his ruthless instinct, he also “suggested” with a toothy smile a few knickknacks from the cart be given to him. The merchant was happy to oblige, being a wily creature himself.
The strong ultimately got their way but by no means did that mean that any of the concerned had to have an unpleasant experience. That was a lesson that the beast would do well to fully understand someday.
The beast—actually, let’s introduce him properly. Kenji Yajuu was a low-level member of the Kiketsu Family. He would be what we might call an soldier. Expected to follow orders, perform the day-to-day barbarities such as enforcement and shakedowns, and very often be the first to get caught up in a brawl. As one climbs up the ranks in such an organization, one might be given a little more responsibilities and latitude. Kenji was just beginning to be allowed to show initiative and make his own decisions. Until very recent events. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves again.
Kenji was returning from his expedition, burdened with the all things given to him by the merchant. Though strong like all of his kind, the trek up towards home had been taxing. The morning sun was intense and he could already hear those damned fairies playing around in the distance. Therefore, it could reasonably be assumed that someone like him would begin to find himself in a bad mood.
He snorted sharply, sniffing around to see if he could catch the scent of a fairy. He was fed up. Today was the day he would send a message, he determined. As he reached his architectural hodgepodge of a base, he spotted the perfect target: that blasted fairy who had been following him around was playing around in a circle of eight or so other fairies.
With the element of surprise, he was sure he would catch her. The question was, of course, how to scare them off for good.
 He thought of tying her up and leaving her outside for a while as a warning.  He decided to “tax” the fairy for testing his patience.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/02 (Mon) 10:30
[x] He decided to “tax” the fairy for testing his patience. Don't mess, sunshine. Sure he's pissed, just like I'm pissed right now. Even if that annoying fly ain't got a dime I'd kick a thousand dollars worth of shit out of 'em.
It took Kenji only a few seconds to stash away his loot and work out the best angle of approach. Beasts like him did not hunt as such—as there was no strict need for them to eat flesh—but they all seemed to instinctively know how to exploit the weak. Relying on superior speed and senses, he was nearly upon the group before anyone even noticed. Of course, by that point it was too late.
Kenji sprang with powerful precision into the group, letting out a roar for effect. He grabbed his target before she could process what was happening. The other fairies screamed and scattered, their wings furiously beating to carry their small selves to safety. He held his prize in such a way that she could not kick, bite or otherwise attempt to retaliate. This proved unnecessary as the fairy went limp, overwhelmed by shock in Kenji’s estimation.
He dragged her into his house and tossed her onto the misshapen pile of leaves and straw that he had been using as a bed. Without missing a beat, he quickly retrieved his haul from the previous evening and then closed the door behind him.
Triumphant, he examined his prize. The cherubic little thing smiled at him, no trace of fear in her emerald green eyes. She wore her onyx hair short, with a plain hairpin on the left of her head helping to part it slightly. The plain pastel dress she wore was mostly unremarkable—short sleeves for the summer heat and with a few ribbons clumsily sown on along its hem. If not for the translucent wings on her back, she might have been mistaken for a normal human child.
Was it still just a game to her? Kenji felt tinglings of frustration that he had not managed to intimidate her.
“Listen up, ya little punk,” he bellowed at his captive, “I ain’t playing around. I’m a reasonable guy but you’re making me get nasty.”
The fairy nodded, mute.
“I’m going to teach you a lesson so you all leave me alone. I don’t want any more fairies hanging around here, do you understand?”
“Mm, why not, mister?” the fairy asked, curiosity in her tone.
“’cuz I said so,” the beast retorted, not in the mood to explain anything to a loser. That he just wanted to be left alone was the essence of it. “Now, I’ve decided how to punish you. Empty yer pockets.”
The girl complied, though her expression showed that she considered the experience more of a novelty than a crime. From a pocket in the front came a shiny pebble; the rear a single impossibly-rusted coin; a secret pocket she didn’t bother to conceal under her dress had a roll of thread with a needle attached to it.
“Don’t go holdin’ out of me now, or I’ll make ya pay,” he said and pointed at her hairpin. It looked like it had no value but that wasn’t really the point.
She took off her pin, which turned out to do little for the structural integrity of her hair. Unsatisfied with his haul, the beast was considering forcing her to steal something or otherwise bring him real tribute. All the while the fairy pouted, cheeks puffed up. “Mister,” the fairy dared to speak, “this game isn’t very fun.”
“This ain’t supposed to be fun,” he growled and swiped his hand violently in front of her face, just missing her. Kenji laughed at the result. “Ya didn’t flinch. You’re a tough little bastard, aren’t you?”
Checking on his hunch again, he motioned as if he was going to slap the defenseless fairy. The speed and force of his move created an audible gust of air. Once more, the fairy sat stone-faced and stared right at him. That pleased him to no end.
“Who woulda thought?” he laughed, his bad mood a thing of the past. “Most of the worms I run into would be wetting themselves right about now. But you’re as cool as a Family man.”
There was no reason for Kenji to know it nor care, but not all fairies were made equal. They had a reputation for being child-like and mischievous and this was broadly true. Perhaps one out of every thirty was a slight bit more perceptive or intelligent. One out of fifty, industrious. Rarer still, particularly bold or courageous ones. Ones that combined multiple traits were very unique creatures indeed.
The fairy that had been following him—she’ll introduce herself presently—was one of these atypical fairies. Yes, she still wanted to play. And, for sure, she didn’t have the best words nor reasoning skills. But she was brave and incredibly smitten with Kenji. The other fairies didn’t get her fascination. All they wanted was to play pranks (on him, if he couldn’t catch them) and go fly around on sunny days. It was different for her.
Partially, anyhow. Yes, she still wanted to play pranks. But these had much the same root cause as note-passing about a classmate behind his back. Or, to state it clearer: it was why a boy in grade school might want to pull on the pigtails of an icky girl. Someone more mature might have been able to process their feelings in a far more rational way. Fairies endured their clear limitations.
Bearing all that in mind, she was convinced of the following truth: following him around and enduring adversity was something that would make her just as cool and strong!
She sort of managed to explain that last point to him. “I wanna be like you”, “Let me help ya, mister”, “I really promise”, and more heartfelt sentiments were stated in a similar fashion.
“I gotta say, I didn’t expect a pipsqueak like you to be so sharp,” Kenji showed a sharp-toothed grin. Being recognized as someone “strong” fed right into his ego. He was beginning to like the fairy. It didn’t hurt that he fundamentally respected her wish to improve herself. Those who were stagnant might as well not be alive. “What do they call you?”
“Oh, um,” the fairy beamed, glad to have caught the beast’s interest, “I’m Lala, like a song.”
The beast would have laughed at the name under any other circumstances if not for the look of hardened determination on her small face. He asked, “So, Lala, you want to learn how to be strong and tough by hanging around me, huh? What’s in it for me?”
“I can clean, I can sew… just a little, maybe cook? I’ll do whatever you want, mister!” she balled a tiny fist which gave him an idea.
The price he exacted was fairly predictable: he asked her to keep her friends away. For good. The fairy agreed, though the wide-eyed stare told him that she was unsure of how to proceed.
 Acting just like him would tougher her up.  Using her own brain would do her good.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/03 (Tue) 11:00
[x] Using her own brain would do her good. Right. Very easy. Doubt she's knowledgable of intimidation tactics, unless if I'm missing something here. So obviously she gotta deal with it by herself, now how's she gonna do it... use your imagination.
It ought to be pointed out that there was a certain innocence to the beast’s cruelty. Yes, fighting her own comrades was not exactly a pleasant experience, but he did not cajole her for his own amusement. It was the only way that he knew and how he lived his own life. If she managed to pull through, he thought, she would be well on her way on prospering.
He was not concerned at all for her welfare. In between her leaving and her eventual return, he unpacked his haul and further enhanced his new home. Slowly, but surely, more creature beast comforts were being added. When the fairy returned, clothes disheveled and a few seams torn here and there, he gave her a stiff stare and sized her up.
“Is it done?” he asked, impatience creeping into his words.
“They won’t come back,” the fairy said, her voice firming as she stared right back into the beast’s red eyes. It was a magnificent response.
The beast laughed. “Come, sit,” he pat a cleared spot and rummaged through his things for sake. The fairy looked like she much rather would lie down but did as she was told, nodding and forcing a weak smile. He did not bother to ask if she drank. That did not matter. “Tell me about what happened,” he said, fetching a pair of cups as well.
The fairy tugged at one of her short sleeves. Using words and explaining things were not her strong suit at the best of times. It was trickier to speak under the circumstances. Having only hoped to be noticed until very recently, her little heart was not prepared for being the sole focus of Kenji’s intense attention. Just as the last frost of the year could be gone by midday, she was melting into an incoherent puddle under his gaze. That he said nothing, simply listening to all her slush of words made things worse.
“Then they were joking that I liked you more than I liked playing,” one of the fairies statements was such. She delivered it with raised intonation towards the end, as if she was almost asking a question which, obviously, had a silly premise that no one could ever possibly be expected to believe. The conclusion was sort of explained, “Um, I told them that I liked playing and that I’d play with them so that they went away and let me play as much as I liked.”
She did use all of her best words to explain it to the beast. And he more or less understood what she meant. The lack of linearity to the storytelling wasn’t too confusing.
Recapitulated, the encounter went something like the following: Lala met up with her friends. They teased her. She didn’t really have any good comebacks. They laughed when she said they ought to find somewhere new to play. As fairies are better at understanding actions than words, she made a game out of it. Hide and seek but with more projectiles. Or was it an endurance contest? Either way, while there was a lot of laughter going in and out, there was plenty of pain throughout. Lala won and that’s what mattered. Whether or not it was a permanent victory remained to be seen.
“I expected no less,” Kenji said with parental pride when the fairy finished rambling. He finally got around to pouring the sake into the cups—a large share for himself and a smaller portion for the fairy. The sacrosanct ritual that was to occur meant little to the bruised fairy. She mainly focused on Kenji’s approval and felt validated for her choices. To the beast, however, it was something as serious as his own life. He did not wish to fulfill the role of oyabun so casually but neither did he wish to disrespect the fairy’s effort by not doing things properly.
He signaled for the fairy to take his cup up to her lips. He said the words, many of which she did not understand, and finished with the necessary component, “I, Kenji Yajuu ask of you, are you willing to renounce all other family and bonds?”
The fairy nodded, then realizing she actually had to speak, added softly, “I do, I want to join.”
“Very well, let it be known that the penalty for betraying your new kin is disaster and unimaginable pain for over a thousand reincarnations. If you accept, you will drink.”
She was quick on the uptake. “I, Lala, agree. I am now in your care!”
The fair took a sip from his cup. He nodded and took a sip from her cup. They exchanged cups once again and Kenji drank deeply. The beast was in a fantastic mood. He had never had a direct subordinate before.
Lest we get too carried away, it is probably best to explain why he was so quick to accept a mere fairy into the fold. Nature abhors a vacuum. Beasts like Kenji knew little else than struggle and pain. The only sense of belonging, of structure, was to be found in the cutthroat (but also fraternal) organizations that came about in their hellish world. It could said without exaggeration that the only thing that they held above their own lives was their extended (and often criminally violent) family. Even all alone in Gensokyo, Kenji yearned for the reassurance of that quasi-religious bond.
“A small fry like you has to treat her elders with respect,” he went on, emptying most of the contents of his cup. An underling had to put up with their superior’s unreasonableness and their ceremony had quickly become a one-sided drinking bout. Just like Kenji’s own induction had been all those years ago. He explained some of the rules and etiquette to the fairy and told her that she was entitled not only to his protection now, but that of the whole bloody Kiketsu’s family. That was the broad truth, though he omitted the complicated details as not to sour his own mood.
“I get it, you’re my big brother now, Kenji,” the fairy smiled with those deep green eyes of hers, unconsciously understanding the gravity of the situation. The beast fell in love with her. She might not have looked like much but he was convinced that they were cut from the same cloth. That she instinctively sought to keep his cup full of sake sure didn’t hurt his opinion of her either!
The festivities went on for some time. They drank, ate, and he explained as best he could what would be expected of her. At some point, he passed out. He woke up to find the fairy tidying up his shack. She also had sewn her own clothes back into a passable state. In the face of such eagerness he could do little else but assume the role of a serious elder brother.
His new underling had high hopes for her first day. She gave him furtive glances dripping with expectation when she thought he wasn’t looking. Her restraint was commendable—she avoided making any sort of direct remark out of fear of being perceived as pushy despite every molecule of her small body being ebullient with excitement.
The days and weeks following the beast’s own induction were tryingly hellish. That said, there was no template for training her that he could follow—his original home had unique features that derived challenges that could not be replicated. Kenji understood the girl’s eagerness and energy. He wondered, however, what would happen if they were placed into a crucible: would they leave behind true spirit and determination or simply smoke into nothingness?
 Lala’s body would be pushed to exhaustion and beyond.  Her discipline was to be tried, broken if necessary, and then recast.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/04 (Wed) 10:30
>>201782 >>201783 >>201785 Sorry, I accidentally the whole thing while doing some stuff. Your votes will count, don't worry.
“Lessee what you’re really made of,” Kenji said after biding the fairy outside. There was no masterful plan on his behalf. Just to push and push until she utterly loathed him. It would only be after she managed to conquer her shortcomings that she would become worthy of doing more than being a simple lackey.
Lala was tried without mercy. It was against fairy nature to concentrate or otherwise dedicate themselves to any one activity for an extended period of time. The sole exception being playing around.
To instill a sense of responsibility and duty to her, he had her perform all the things that were expected of juniors. He made her practice lookout and chided her if she even so much as dropped her gaze down for a moment. He had her hide in the grass and in shrubbery, to stalk and learn to move stealthily. He commanded the fairy to fetch pales of water than then keep her balance when walking on uneven surfaces.
Really, it was a little bit of everything and more. Kenji did not let up and soon the fairy reached something of a breaking point.
“I can’t anymore!” the fairy yelled, her tiny voice hoarse. Her deep green eyes were red and puffy due to the uncontrolled stream of tears running down her face. She was covered in dirt and grime and an attempt to wipe away her tears just made a larger mess of things.
“You can,” Kenji said with a dreadfully deep growl. The beast seemed indifferent to the tiny thing’s protestations. Continued cries of how it was impossible just hardened his heart further.
He picked up the fairy by her collar, sharply and with no hesitation. It was a gesture much like a she-wolf dealing with a stubborn pup. The tantruming fairy shut up at once as her eyes met his. Only whimpering sobbing, disgustingly involuntary by his reckoning, came from her. He brushed a leaf and stick from her hair with his other hand.
“You are not allowed to give up, is that clear?” he said quietly. Were the fairy a store owner being intimidated, the beast would have received the best of their stock and an offer to be pleasured by their one and only daughter in return for leniency. Such was the murderously cold aura that he projected through his deep stare and ambiguous smile. One might expect a fang popping out for added effect but less is more, sometimes. Few things could make the beast as serious as he was at the moment.
“Is that clear?” he repeated to the fairy.
She nodded and grit her teeth, her expression a grimace as if trying to control her sobs solely by affecting the musculature on her face.
The beast dropped her unceremoniously. She landed with a thud and wasted no time getting back at it.
It could roughly be said that this was an extreme form of tough love. Sure, Kenji would not articulate it in such a way—he lacked the vocabulary for one. There were complicated feelings swirling in both mind and heart but the gist of it was that she was part of the Family. For her to fail would be for him to fail. She could not fail because he could not fail. He had picked her and inducted her. Only success or death would be acceptable outcomes. Pity, doubt, nor mercy could have no place in the matter.
Were they a normal, non-criminal and non-brutal family, this might be better expressed with the ever-typical-but-seldom-entirely-truthful-for-most, “I love and believe in you.”
All in the Family believed such a thing deeply within their wild and animal hearts. It was just… filtered by both the circumstances of their home and trade into something which was exemplified by what just happened.
Drawing on strength that she did not know she had, the fairy returned to it. It was a struggle for sure. But, perhaps, Kenji’s good luck was manifesting itself yet again—she was oddly buoyed by his intervention. His immensely corrupted feelings had been purified by her earnest heart. She held onto the belief that he, in fact, thought her special and worthy of belief. To not return that vote of confidence would be no good.
The first day ended late. Not much was said over a quick meal. Sleep came easy. And events and variations of events repeated themselves. Less hardship. And then even less the day after. They fell into a routine. Lala even began to tend to domestic chores in the evenings because she no longer found herself so mentally and physically drained. The beast used those opportunities to go back to his foraging and wandering.
After perhaps a fortnight, the fairy once more behaved as most of her kind did: eager to smile and playful in energy. The difference was that she had become acclimatized to hardship and was beginning to be able to keep up with Kenji’s unreasonable demands. To him, she was still a far way from being truly hardened but she would have been unrecognizable to her former fairy friends—not least because she had made a makeshift dye out of some the beast’s salvage and now her dark hair had a thin cyan streak along the left side of her head. Imitation doubtlessly meant as flattery.
During one of those newly autumnal evenings, Kenji introduced a new component to their (now, comparatively) sturdy-looking base. Using wood, scraps of metal and stone he had cobbled together a broad-rimmed barrel of sorts. It was held together by little more than happenstance and could be filled with enough water to bathe in. If it all held, a wood-powered fire would provide the heat. The bathtub was set just outside the shack to the side.
Even someone like him, who was accustomed to the acrid smell of human spirits in despair, was beginning to tire of the combined bodily stench of beast and fairy. The occasional bucketful of water mitigated things but not to a satisfying extent. And so he eagerly prepared a bath. He had fetched water in assorted containers all afternoon for that purpose.
Finding that the waterproofing held fast after a few bucketfuls, he lit the fire and stripped down. The wood groaned as he shifted his weight onto the rim and tested the temperature of the water with a finger. Kenji waited for the water to be quite warm before lifting himself into the tub. He growled with satisfaction, finding that the heat instantly soothed his muscles.
“Join me,” he commanded Lala, who had been looking at the whole enterprise with childish wonderment. “There’s room for two,” he assured, bringing in his knees and legs to allow the fairy an in.
Whatever reservations or modesty the fairy might have normally possessed were nowhere to be found. She did not wish to disappoint her brother. Muscle and bone began to ache in anticipation of the hot relief besides. Few in Gensokyo could say no to a bath, even one constructed with such precarious engineering. She set aside her outfit neatly, naked under the night sky with the burning fire providing soft reddish illumination.
“Ah, this feels really good~” she said in a singsong fashion, letting her petite body sink into the hot water. Her leg brushed up against the beast’s far larger counterpart and that sent a jolt up her spine. She smiled sheepishly at him but found the incident did not so much as even register on his face.
He was looking up at the stars, blankly. Her gaze fell upon his elaborate tattoos that seemed to cover a great deal of his skin.
Lala could not deny her fairy nature. The suffering of just a few days earlier seemed so distant thanks to the miracle of a proper(ish) bath. Accumulated fatigue dissolved and was replaced with typical cheekiness.
 She would ask Kenji if she could start to go with him on his daily wanderings about Gensokyo.  There had to be more family members, right? Lala was certain that they were all as cool as he was.
[x] There had to be more family members, right? Lala was certain that they were all as cool as he was. Since it's supposedly so important we all oughta know. Also I'll be sad if there's a timeskip now. You can't skip a proper bath scene. It's traditional.
“Aniki,” she called out softly, an innocent smile on her lips. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
The beast heard her but chose to delay his response. The night was cloudless and so the vastness of the heavens was made plain to him. The sheer number of stars—some bright and others not, some of minutely different shades—was pleasing to behold. It was chaotic in a way that reminded him of his original realm. He wondered what sort of strength would be needed to rearrange them to his designs.
The fairy pouted some, thinking Kenji indifferent. She dared to prod his chest, right by where a peaceful-looking flower bloomed. “Come on, Kenji, don’t be mean,” she tempted fate with even more impertinence.
The beast felt at ease so he chose to continue to admire her fearlessness. He lowered his gaze from the night sky and onto her. Her femininity disinterested him entirely so he looked past that. The small girl looked even more impossibly lithe and delicate without the volume granted by a somewhat billowy dress. “Scrawny”, he would say if he felt like teasing her. He resisted the impulse because of the physical proof of her dedication—calloused extremities and small muscles that were sure to be constantly sore given all the strenuous dedication shown over the past weeks.
“What is it?” he finally responded, rotating his neck to clear a crick.
“Oh, um,” the fairy dithered momentarily, having expected no response at all. “I wanna know if I have any more brothers and sisters or uncles or stuff like that,” she explained eloquently, “I bet they are all really cool like you are.”
“I don’t know about cool,” the beast chuckled to himself, “but there’s a lot of others, yeah. We’re not as big as some of the other families but that just means we’re more exclusive and, err, awesome. If we weren’t, we would have been destroyed or swallowed up already.”
Their leader was a big contributing factor to their continued survival. A woman who was not afraid to use any and all assets and methods to advance the interests of the Family. Kenji said nothing of her to the fairy for the moment, unsure how he would explain just how little he really knew of her. In other words, he was a little embarrassed of admitting he wasn’t exactly prominent within the pack.
“Hm, my big bro’s big brother…” she closed her eyes to think about the concept after Kenji told her about the beast that had inducted him. He was ruthless when it came to exploiting the human spirits and had the craziest eyes but was something of a softie when it came to their gatherings—first to laugh and forgive minor slights against his status.
“A lot of good people,” he concluded with a wistful smile. “They wouldn’t recognize you as part of the family right now, you still need to toughen up more, pipsqueak.”
“Just you watch, I’ll get really tough,” the fairy nodded, fired up.
There was a long road ahead for her yet. She was still a pup. Curious and had troubles hiding her thoughts and feelings. To top it all off, she let her eyes wander too freely. That really gave her away most of the time. Kenji flashed a smile and preemptively answered her question, “It hurt like hell to get these done. You’ve been staring for a while now, ya know? That’s rude.”
“I wasn’t!” she said, “I just looked a little, that’s all.”
“Maybe one day you’ll get some of your own,” Kenji mused. Picturing his own very harsh experience and thinking of how the sadistic master artist would smirk whenever someone so much as winced, he laughed, “make sure ya don’t faint when you see the needle!”
“I-I think that I’m going to wait until I’m get a little tougher,” the fairy fired back, looking away from his body with a frown.
“Clever girl,” the beast chortled. There was no need to hurt her feelings too much. The tub groaned but did not give when he moved his legs to one side, as to not let them cramp up. He was already thinking of possible improvements he could make to the bath, not least of which a was a more reliable way of adding and removing water. Some sort of storage tank might be good.
“Um,” the interrupted his thoughts once more. “What you said earlier about everyone… is it really true? Really? Even about the one eye and one hand?”
“I got no reason to lie to ya,” he said plainly. “Besides, if I wanted to say crap, I’d make it more interesting than that. For sure. The world has oni and dragons, dontcha know?”
She didn’t quite grasp his meaning but nodded anyways. “You’re the best big brother I’ve had, looking out for me like this,” she said with a cheery laugh.
“Oh, so you’ve had other big brothers?” he knew what she meant but her earnestness was easy to poke fun at.
“No, I haven’t! Fairies don’t really have family,” she explained, missing that she was being put on, “all that sort of stuff we learn about from humans.”
The beast said nothing, opting to reach out at her with a wet hand and pinch her cheek between his pointer and middle fingers. That was the least that an elder brother ought to get away with, he figured.
“Ow, what was that for?” the fairy asked, wincing.
Not understanding what “nothing” meant nor that she should keep quiet, the fairy continued to run her mouth about this and that. The beast humored her with the most basic of answers and the occasional smile—a feeling of longing welling up in the pit of his stomach. He, of course, dismissed it as indigestion, but that his thoughts turned to the banter he was often a party to at headquarters was telling.
He even began to recall the various scents unique to each beast. Even at a distance, in spite of the unpredictable and strong winds, it was usually a way of telling that someone was approaching. As with everything else particular to his existence, it was a huge advantage to be able to tell when someone was there before they noticed you. Or, to put it in beastly parlance: before they got the drop on you.
By that measure, what happened next could be understood as a massively embarrassing incident.
He dismissed one particular memory that kept getting stronger and stronger as a natural reaction to thinking about scents. His very mixed feelings due to various circumstances made it easier to ignore. It was only when the scent was so powerful, so omnipresent that he thought that there might be something more to it. Of course, by that point, it was too late to react properly.
She had stood there half-cloaked by shadow. The beautifully familiar figure had approached the makeshift home some time ago. While one might expect a known—and nominally friendly—face to announce themselves from the get go, the new arrival was contented to stand there a while and observe the scene. To give up the element of surprise so easily would be foolhardy and there was still much that she wished to learn.
At last, Kenji’s instincts could no longer be ignored. Red eyes met their chromatic counterparts. Lala would recall that he moved almost too fast for her to track. In but an instant he had sprung out of the tub—nearly causing its total collapse—and moved closer to the new arrival. Without the merest pretense of modesty he stood until he was certain that the other party had acknowledged him with a mild sharpening of her eyes. He flopped down onto his knees.
Despite being wet and both dirt and grass sticking to his naked body, he adopted the deepest of bows. His face almost touched the bare ground with hands flat and slightly to the side and below them. His supplicate pose was stiff and immobile. His tail had become as a wire, protruding backwards.
This complete and sudden submission shocked Lala. Her fearsome elder looked like little more than a stunned beetle—a slight breeze or a casual flick of his tail would be enough to flip him over. She almost wished to try touching him to see what would happened but even she was not capable of that level of knowing irreverence.
The woman in the shadows interested her as well. She had blonde, short hair that had beastly horns (or maybe antlers?) of a similarly bright color jutting out and upwards. A shirt and skirt that wasn’t as cute as her own dress—so she thought. And, maybe most importantly, a tail that began in a scaly shell on her back and was longer than she was tall. It had a soft underside or segmented parts and the tip swayed slowly back and forth, lifted a little distance from the ground.
 Sensing her brother’s discomfort, she joined him in adopting a similar pose.  Lala approached the woman with naked curiosity.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/06 (Fri) 10:30
File 160466198170.jpg - (158.56KB, 1500x1317, some sort of confident dragon turtle.jpg)
The woman ignored Kenji for the time being, her eyes instead following the fairy’s movements. She watched as Lala clumsily got out of the tub and wiped away the excess of water before turning to face her.
The fairy looked at her brother intently, eyes attempting to etch into memory every contortion and ripple of muscle. It was reasonable to expect fairies to know little about formality and the reasons why a society might value this sort of exaggerated gesture. Solidarity seemed understandable enough for her, however.
As if playing a game where she had to mimic him exactly, the fairy prostrated herself besides Kenji. She tucked in her wings, stretched her back and felt the cool kiss of grass and dirt on her knees. The evening was not so cold as to make it overly uncomfortable. Her little heart beat a little faster for whatever reason as she stared down at the ground. There was an urge to look at her model to check if she had adopted the pose exactly but she decided that she would just hope she had done a good enough job.
“On your feet, Yajuu” the woman said, ultimately ignoring the fairy. At her command, Kenji sprung up and awaited further instructions. With a smile that superficially projected understanding, she suggested with cold eyes and a placid tone, “Feel free to clean yourself up and get dressed properly. I can wait.”
“Of course,” Kenji said, trying not to betray any emotion. He gestured for Lala to follow his lead. The fairy looked at him and the woman with a lack of understanding but went along with it for the moment.
The beast tried to keep his cool. His heart felt like a ballon about to burst. The only reason that he was not sweating profusely was because he knew that if he showed any obvious weakness then it would be all over. If Lady Kicchou had wanted to punish him…
He tried not to finish that thought, instead taking a bucket of cool water to clean off where his body had touched dirt and grass. He had nothing so proper as a towel laying about but had thought far ahead enough that a few rags he had found and Lala had cleaned would do in a pinch. He focused on the menial and mechanical—on patting himself dry, on putting his clothes back on, on whether or not the fairy was also getting ready. Calm would be projected.
As might be gathered from his general disposition, there was very little that could rattle a beast like Kenji. The head of his Family was an intimidating woman—to be sure—but it was more the fact that she was out and about in Gensokyo that had him apoplectic. Did she know? If so, it was the Kiketsu style to not to dirty yourself directly if at all possible. So she likely didn’t. The preceding reasoning was why he hadn’t simply bolted the moment he realized that his boss was standing right there. That and a reasonable expectation that the much-more powerful beast would catch him in the blink of an eye.
Kenji forced himself out of his own head for a moment.
“This is your boss, too,” he told the fairy with a whisper. She followed his lead then as well, getting rid of dirt and then drying herself. She was putting her dress back on, not bothering to put on undergarments first. He took her concentration for understanding and added, “Treat her with respect and follow her orders like the word of a powerful god.”
“I’ve seen a goddess before,” Lala chirped, “she waved when she was walking by with some other mountain people.”
“You better stay quiet,” Kenji said coolly, deciding not to waste any more time.
The fairy began to say something but caught the look on Kenji’s face and decided to remain quiet as ordered.
“My apologies for not being able to greet you properly,” Kenji offered his matriarch a deep bow. Suddenly mindful that she might not want him to grovel, he cut it short. “Lady Kicchou, I wasn’t expecting you in Gensokyo.”
“What good is it to do just that which were are expected to do?” she asked with a smile, “Have you forgotten how it is that we operate already?”
“I thought that perhaps you had, since you did not announce you would join the infiltration and decoy operations,” she said as if dereliction of duty was no major sin. Her eyes projected an almost-sympathetic and understanding look.
“The opportunity arose and, as you advised, we were to exploit any openings,” he explained. Whether or not that was the truth was immaterial. It was the version of events he chose to present.
“Ah, natural insight of yours, I imagine? Or would it better be described as ambition?” in response the last question, the matriarch laughed, amusing herself.
“Should we not have ambitions, Lady Kicchou?”
Her tail rocked a little faster back and forth. The blonde beast crossed her arms and nodded, assenting to the self-evident truth, “Whenever the day when I am to be replaced dawns, only the strongest and most fit shall succeed.”
“It will be a long time before I am even considered a contender,” Kenji said with a brief bow. That was no simple feat of self-deprecation. He knew all too well that those with real power in the Family were superior in nearly every way. If he were to challenge any of them, he would cease to exist. Their peerless skills, knowledge and connections got them where they were. A slowly oldier transitioning towards lieutenant had his work cut out for him; over time he had to hone his instincts and abilities while building up his own base of power and interpersonal capital.
“We shall see,” Kicchou intoned her reply as if it were a pleasantry but smirked as she spoke. “Have you any tea?”
Kenji looked to Lala and commanded her to heat up some water.
The boss came closer and spoke quietly, “I will have you make a report and tell me of several things that interest me. We have some time to catch up. I will be altering your mission as well. Be prepared to act in the interests of the Family.”
Kenji interpreted some of that as a veiled threat though that could have easily just been his nerves. There was something about the way she paused to emphasize certain words or switched so effortlessly from command to almost cheery suggestion that kept him off-balance.
That was simply the way of Yachie Kicchou, leader of the Kiketsu Family. She would damn someone with a smile just as easily as she would have someone else do the dirty work for her. Despite his (justified) panic, Kenji had been at least correct in expecting that she had not shown up to punish him. At least, this could not have been her primary reason. One of his colleagues or, better yet, a rival from another family would have been sent to deal with him if he had displeased Yachie.
She was patient with her subordinate, barely showing any surprise at seeing him fraternize with a mere fairy. Of course, she immediately understood what had happened and would not condemn him openly—her own beastly instincts immediately told her that the fairy was of some use. Even an older youkai might feel unease at the sight of two driven beasts; the fairy had shown no hesitation in her actions.
In an unprecedented move, the matriarch placed a hand on Yajuu’s back as if to switch to business to the more mundane. Never mind that this was already the most that they had every spoken directly outside of the business banquets. And never mind that she was not known for genuine warmth or—for lack of a better word—chumminess. Kenji tried not to let his shoulders stiffen too perceptively.
 The matriarch praised the resourcefulness he had shown in building his shelter.  Yachie cut through some of the unspoken tension with humor.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/07 (Sat) 10:30
“Nakajima is worried sick, you know,” the boss confided with a smirk on her lips, “you ruined their plans by disappearing.”
The beast understood what she was getting at though how she knew about the little scheme they had going on eluded him. Clearly no secrets could be kept from the boss.
“They like to scheme and plan, that’s just how they are. It has no bearing on reality,” Kenji replied, distancing himself from their harebrained idea.
“I saw the wigs and the getup,” she pat him harder on the back, “very fetching look, my dear subordinate. Perhaps I ought to institute a dress code for our organization.”
“Though I am glad that imaging myself and the others dressed like that, I have to respectively and selfishly ask that I be allowed to keep my current attire,” Kenji turned his head to smile at his matriarch.
“Imagine?” Yachie could not contain a guffaw, “Yajuu, I made them wear the product of their foolishness. It is all well and good to think of infiltration but at least use your brain a little.”
“It seems that I left at the right moment,” he chuckled at imagining the others tense and uncomfortable, parading themselves in front of their boss as she sat impassively in her chair.
“Superiors can be so unreasonable at times, can’t they?” Yachie asked. Kenji was uncertain if it was a self-aware comment, something laden with irony or a trap. Erring on the side of caution, he simply offered a half-nod and flashed a weak smile.
While the two beasts talked, Lala had been diligently making tea. Her instinct to eavesdrop had been suppressed successfully. The obligation she felt towards Kenji—for the moment—outweighed her curiosity. When the water was almost at a boil, she removed the heavy iron kettle from the fire and thought about what she should do next. Fetch cups, she figured.
They did not have a purpose-built table in their home yet so she stacked a tray atop a few planks and decided that that would do for the moment. She had not been long for gone but was surprised at how close Kenji and his (also hers, though she hadn’t quite internalized it yet) boss seemed. Not in the way friends might be, she thought, but she couldn’t really explain the feeling beyond that. Things like shared world view, values and origins were a little too abstract for a fairy, all told.
“Please come on in,” Kenji invited Yachie to follow Lala as soon as he realized the tea was ready. He lingered outside for a moment more as he doused the weakening fire under the bathtub for good.
A pair of lanterns provided a low level of light inside the shack. While things had gotten more organized since Lala had taken to cleaning, there was still an amount of clutter and improperly-stored odds and ends along the walls and in the corners. Yachie said nothing and took her place by the tray, letting her large tail finally flop down onto the floor with a meaty thud. The tail then curled itself up to an extent, leaving room for others to maneuver around her. She gestured for the fairy to sit next to her—a silent command that felt oddly compelling to Lala.
Kenji took his place opposite them. He stared at the fairy. While it didn’t feel like it had the same tangible force as Yachie’s command, she nonetheless understood that it was her place to pour the tea. She kept the slightly chipped cup for herself as she poured first to the horned visitor and then to her elder brother.
“Lovely little thing,” Yachie said with a smile, running a finger along the fairy’s soft cheek as one might with a cat. Before taking a sip, she added, “I had never considered the utility of a fairy before. It is good to have my horizons broadened.”
“She is like us in spirit,” Kenji said, unflinchingly staring into the fairy’s eyes. They were soft and quick to joy, yes, but there was a scintillating determination as well. “And she is one of us, it would be more than a privilege if you were to impart your wisdom upon her.”
“There will be time for training and improvement,” Yachie seemed neither pleased nor displeased to have her suspicion that the fairy had been inducted confirmed. While it was true that during the conversation she would continue to occasionally stroke the fairy’s hair or gently squeeze her shoulder, this was not done out of affection. Lala just happened to be close and inoffensive enough for Kicchou to pet her absentmindedly.
Instead of talking about Lala, the Family or Kenji’s circumstances, the conversation was more centered on Gensokyo as a whole. In between sips of tea, the boss pried bits and pieces of information from Kenji. She asked who she had met, how far he had ventured out and whether or not he had been conspicuous.
“The local fairies know to stay away but, other than that, no one is wise to my presence,” Kenji explained. There was also the merchant—Gotoh was his name, not that it really mattered—that he had met a few more times to hash out some joint business ventures. “There might be numbers running soon in some key areas,” he said of their dealings.
“It is a relief to see one of my own keeping himself industrious in this strange land.”
“Thank you, Lady Kicchou.”
“That was part of the secondary instructions in the event that the primary objective had been completed or was unachievable,” she said with a cold laugh, “I didn’t mean it as a compliment. You did as you were tasked.”
That was her way of reminding him of the costs of failure. Had she been out for blood, he would have lost more than a finger in order to display contrition. If things didn’t continue to go his way, he could easily lose his life.
“As soon as I have a steady flow from my operations, you can expect prompt rendering of your rightful share,” he brought up one of the subjects dearest to any Family member: wealth. Any and all activity that generated income for a member was taxed. Money went up the hierarchy from the kobun eventually reaching the sole oyabun at the very top. He would normally kick back to an older sibling who would likewise pass part of his earnings up and so forth all the way until it reached Yachie. While everyone got a piece of the action, she undoubtedly got the most.
That is why it was a little shocking to hear Yachie’s nonchalant reply, “Keep your wealth for the time being. I free you from your duty to provide for your family.”
Not even her most trusted lieutenants could boast of such a privilege. Kenji couldn’t think of a single case in living memory where an exception had been made. In fact, the only historical precedent had been for Yachie herself before she had become head of the family… or so he had heard once at a drunken gathering. Was he mistaken in worrying so much? Instead of punishment and scorn he was to be rewarded?
Yachie cleared a strand of her hair away from her red eye. She seemed amused to read how he processed the information in real time. “This will be vital for our next operation,” she explained, perhaps taking glee in limiting his hopes.
“What am I to do?” he asked.
“Oh, quite a lot. But not all at once. So you ought to be able to handle it” she said, having brought the fairy close to her. Lala had surrendered herself to the caresses, resting her head on the shoulder of the boss of the Kiketsu Family. Contentment was written all over her smile.
She shared a few details. And yes, the first part was so simple that even a fairy could accomplish it. They would set out in the morning so long as Lala wasn’t too busy playing at housecat.
 The boss knew that her subordinate wondered why she had come to him. So she gave him a reason.  More privileges would be forthcoming if he acquitted himself well, she remarked with casual playfulness.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/08 (Sun) 10:30
Something that the denizens of the surface, underground, heavens, hell and elsewhere had in common was their love for a good cup of tea. A visitor was a good excuse to stop whatever else one might be doing and make a nice brew. Now, if that visitor was especially agreeable or the conversation was interesting or long enough, eventually just tea wouldn’t be enough. That was when another one of those well-loved vices tended to make an appearance—alcohol.
Of course as a subordinate, Kenji was to treat his superiors with every courtesy and finery he had at his disposal. So as cups emptied someone—it was unclear who—suggested a proper drink. And so out came the sake that Gotoh had given him and the naturally delicate sweetness of the tea was replaced by subtleties that tickled the tongue with every sip.
There was something very odd about spending all that time just casually with the head of his family but Kenji found that being overly suspicious was taxing. While he didn’t drop his guard entirely, he felt it easier to go with any new developments rather than resist them. Obviously, the blonde woman sitting across from him would remain the most consequential person in his life. Still… it surely couldn’t be too bad to appreciate her from a different perspective. Not just a superior nor ally, not quite a friend or anything greater.
“This isn’t as strong as the sort of thing we get back home,” Yachie said, taking Kenji away from his thoughts, “I could get used to it, though I enjoy a little intensity every now and again. I believe you would make a fortune if I gave you exclusive distribution rights.”
That would make merchant happy, for sure. There was nothing sweeter for a clever businessman than cornering a new market. Kenji objected politely, “That would be too generous, I haven’t earned the privilege.”
“That does not really matter,” the boss shook her head. Lala had long since curled up next to her and was fast asleep. She was not a night owl.
“The others…” he began to voice his reservations, bringing up the obvious point that they came from a cutthroat society where every shift in power dynamics was challenged.
“You can handle yourself,” she said, “my being here is proof of that. Or do you wish me to speak to the others and tell them to take it easy on you?”
That was most certainly a joke. Yachie had said it with a straight face, however. Kenji shook his head, forcing a smile, “no, Lady Kicchou, it won’t be necessary. As you say, I can handle myself. It is just one more challenge that will make me stronger when overcome.”
“A good response from one of the Kiketsu!” she laughed softly, eyes alight with pride. “Perhaps I ought to confer rank as well as more privilege? That way you shall have more to overcome and more opportunity to become something greater.”
Kenji still had doubts in his mind just how serious she was being. “Whatever you deem prudent I will accept,” came the diplomatic reply. He could just about hear the voices of the others calling him a “real lucky bastard” and a “good for nothing so and so” that got preferential treatment. Of course, he didn’t see it in terms of being lucky. Having the boss’ attention squarely on himself also meant that she expected concrete returns. To fail would be certain doom.
He came away from the evening’s libations with a slight unease in the pit of his stomach. Casual talk with his matriarch was difficult to wrap his head around and she seemed to stay on a topic for only a few fleeting moments. Whenever he attempted to get at a deeper point, he was deftly deflected. She was a difficult person to get a proper read on for sure. There was new appreciation for the skills and drive of the head of his family.
Yachie had unceremoniously announced that she would stay in his humble shack for the time being. Kenji offered up the best spot and comforts to her while he went on to sit outside. Ostensibly to keep watch but really it was to seek relief by having his own space to think again. That proved pointless. He quickly found that he had no real insights about much of anything. The sake—faithful and selfless ally—was the scapegoat for his mental exhaustion.
Feeling restless, he turned to mindless work. He worked in the dark on improving the tub. The silent stars above kept him company throughout the night.
“Are we there yet?” the fairy asked for what seemed like the millionth time.
“Soon,” the beast snarled, tired and irritable.
Traveling through brush was difficult at the best of times. Leaves, branches and the occasional unseen rock all made for unpleasant obstacles. Kenji had opted to avoid roads and trails, hoping to avoid being spotted by any passerby. The land had eyes. Territorial beings jealously guarded their little plots of land and other creatures would raise an alarm whenever a stranger was spotted. This slow and methodical crawl through the wilderness had made the morning’s excursion take several hours already.
They really were near their destination. For quite some time, the distinctive smell of humankind had wafted in with the currents of air, lingering for anyone with a sensitive enough nose. Had he gone by road, he would have also felt the scent of water and manure coming in from the fields that fed the village. He did not currently care to see any humans and so he concentrated on other smells, closing in to his destination in that fashion.
Kenji preemptively silenced the fairy’s question with a sharp wave of his hand. They reached another clearing. One that was besides a small path that cut through the woods—a narrow and rudimentary animal trail. Seeing that there was no one around, he crept into the opening cautiously and found that there were wheel tracks leading away from the space. It was a simple matter to follow them to their destination.
The cozy nest was hidden between trees and several large rocks. In a way, it was a similar concept to the beast’s own refuge on the mountain. It was far less precarious in terms of construction, however. He filled his nose with the air, finding that a single overriding scent was prevalent in the immediate area. It matched his memory.
He looked at Lala and found that she was trying her best to imitate him, wrinkling up her nose as if she could taste the air like he could. She looked determined and he hoped that she had internalized the explanation of their mission. They were there to collect on a debt and extract as much interest as possible from the foolish youkai who had accepted his offer a fortnight ago.
Wooden boxes and a cart outside of the lair were further proof that they were in the correct place. She had planned to use it to grow her business.
Now, he needed the money. Or, failing that, for her to pay off part of her debt by other means. Either way, it had been a wily investment.
 The beast would work through his frustrations by doing the collection.  The fairy was pushed by a desire to be useful and took the initiative.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/09 (Mon) 10:30
[x] The fairy was pushed by a desire to be useful and took the initiative. If she fucks up, it's possibly cute and amusing and we get to watch a distressed/punished fairy. If she doesn't, then it's a proud moment. Win-win.
The youkai had been sleeping off a late night when she was woken up by brutish knocking on her door. Daytime was challenging for her under normal circumstances and the sudden interruption caused her to sputter onto her feet.
“…” she tried to call out and make the knocking stop but found that her voice was almost completely gone. It had been a late night, indeed. Annoyed at not being able to reply, she opened the door half-dressed, scowling.
Maybe a human might have been intimidated by those sharp nails of hers. Or the strange pointed ears that protruded from either side of a messy head of hair. The (now) disheveled wings that were typically flapping around joyously as she sang were retracted behind her and seemed as uncoordinated as the rest of her. At any rate, a small bird-like youkai was as intimidating to the beast as a worm would be to her.
“Pay up!” the fairy barged into her home, pushing past the stunned bird. The home was little more than a small bedroom on the inside. Other than a bed and a few clothes that were scattered about—including a few studded leather straps for whatever reason—there were only boxes and jars of foodstuffs and kitchen utensils.
The beast pushed into her home as well, crouching down to fit under the threshold and surprising the bird once again.
“...what-?” she attempted to ask but her voice came out like a hoarse grunt.
“You owe us!” the fairy growled, doing her best imitation of Kenji. Of course, a growl from what is basically a little girl is somewhat squeaky. Lala ran a finger quickly through her hair, bringing attention to the rebellious streak of color as if it were a warning sign that trouble would be forthcoming. “If ya don’t pay up, ya punk, we’re going to make ya wish ya were never born.”
“…” the bird looked at the fairy incredulously. Then at Kenji who stood passively with a look like someone had just stomped down on his foot, arms crossed. That sobered her up that she wasn’t just dreaming. She may have well fancied herself a rebellious outcast from society and lived out her fantasies at night at times but she was intelligent enough to know what a true outcast looked like.
Lala balled up a fist, champing at the bit, “Alright, ya asked for this.”
“Wait!” the bird forced out dryly, coughing from the exertion. She was frustrated with not being able to charm them with her usual lilt—something she considered one of her loveliest features. Miming something she hoped would get the point across, she reached into a small bucket in a corner, bringing up a moist cup of water to her lips. Lala looked to Kenji as if asking whether or not she should attack but seeing as her brother just stood there, she decided to wait it out.
“I…” the bird tried again, finding it a little easier to speak. “I have it,” she frowned, realizing that she would have to say as little as possible so that she could be in a somewhat decent state during business hours in the evening.
The small independent business owner fumbled her way back to bed, lifting up a small piece of wood on the floor. From there, she took out a large envelop. Lala practically snatched it away and opened it to inspect the contents. There was money alright. A lot of it. The fairy wasn’t sure how much because she could really do the all the adding that was necessary quickly enough. So she turned the envelop over to Kenji.
The beast saw that it was enough to cover the whole of the loan. A quick count revealed that there was even enough to cover interest. Still, it was in his nature to push for more. “That’s good,” he said, “you’re almost free of your debt.”
“...huh?” the bird gave her the same look that everyone always did to their loan shark when they were told that whatever they did was never quite good enough.
“I made an investment, y’know,” Kenji smiled with his impassive red eyes, “I’m expecting returns for a while yet, partner.”
Business had been good to the bird. Right after Kenji had appeared to her in the middle of the night a few weeks back, she had used the money given to hire another cook. With the extra manpower, she had placed another stall in the village, in broad daylight. It turned out that scaring humans in the dead of night while selling lamprey was all fine and dandy but the real profit was in catering to the lunchtime crowd. Farmers who had spent all morning toiling and bored housewives looking to cheat their way out of cooking both loved her reasonably-priced food.
She understood that without the loan, things wouldn’t have turned out that way. There was no need for intimidation, even someone as self-absorbed as she was knew that the more business she did, the more time she’d have to play around and singe. So she was open to doing further business with the gangster.
The only real problem was communicating complex ideas at the moment. With her voice shot, she could only mime and smile and hope that she was understood. Kenji was perceptive enough to get that she was open to a more permanent arrangement. It wasn’t as satisfying an outcome as putting the screws to someone but he couldn’t complain about a pliant debtor.
The bird shivered, realizing that her sleeping gown had been open unbuttoned in places all the while. She did not hasten to close it fully. In her mind a totally false narrative had taken hold: that the dreadfully intimidating beast had held back from violence because he had seen contours of breasts and the sensuous hints of plumpness in her thighs. Already she was writing lyrics in her head for the eventual song she would sing at the next concert. About a ferocious love, indecent and painfully sultry.
The tattooed bad boy and supposed heartthrob, on the other hand, thought of nothing but how to maximize his returns.
The bird, unable to voice her feelings, let her body do the flirting.
 She was froward, cheery and playful in her approach.  There was a sudden coldness to her as she played hard to get.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/10 (Tue) 10:40
Kenji got incredibly favorable terms from the bird. This was in no small part due to how she seemed to be utterly fascinated with the idea of him. Even as he pressed for a more thorough partnership, taking in regular profits from her stall, she could do naught but fantasize about being lifted up by a burly arm of his and slung over his shoulder. If love was a battlefield—as she now mentally wrote down in lyrics—then she was to be a captive taken at the conflict’s conclusion.
The bird nodded in assent when asked to offer even more favorable concessions. She fanned herself coyly, mistaking Kenji’s thoroughly predatory smile for wickedly lustful interest. That the beast’s assistant was a witness to their elaborate courtship dance only made more acute the galvanizing sense of impropriety. The bird even went so far as straining her voice even more at one point, asking with a wheezse, “You just take what you want, don’t you?”
That the beast replied with an arrogant affirmative made her legs and head feel like she had drank a bottle of sake by herself.
“I am pleased that we will continue to have such a mutually beneficial partnership,” Kenji concluded after getting very lopsided commitments from his mark. The bird dared to rest a hand on his chest in a gesture that communicated “think nothing of it”. He took the bird’s hand into his own, causing a flighty reaction as she tittered with an almost-soundless song. This deliberate act was very much meant to keep her stupefied.
The beast had quickly realized what was going on. Even though he couldn’t figure out why. Her womanly charms were not totally ineffective—he did find that energetic aura of hers alluring—but business trumped other considerations. The unexpected development was exploited as well as any Kiketsu should. If circumstances had been different and he were truly on his own, he may have well indulged her fantasies by joining her in returning to bed.
Lala pouted through much of this exchange. She was definitely impressed by how precisely Kenji set the terms of the deal and how ruthlessly he seemed to get what he wanted. The problem was that she didn’t like the bird at all. She had no self-respect. Kenji could do much better than someone like that. There was absolutely nothing cute about her wings—she thought they looked like a moth’s—and the way she tried to pretend that that she didn’t know that her shirt was open was just annoying. A truly shameless youkai.
The bird was sad to see Kenji go. She gave him a long, wistful look at the door, the kind meant to penetrate deep into a man’s heart. “Will… I see you again soon?” she strained.
The answer was obviously “yes”. They had agreed to more regular collections as part of the terms of their new arrangement. It would be odd for business partners not to meet. That assurance made the bird sigh with relief and the fairy tut. There was a further insistence that Kenji could call on her at any time of day whenever he felt like it. The beast nodded but otherwise had nothing else to say. Other matters now occupied his mind.
Some time passed and they were once again in the middle of brush. They weren’t going back to their home just yet, with the beast once again relying on memory and smell to set a route through the wilderness.
“Are we going to go get more money?” the fairy asked, breaking the silence. She had kept quiet since they left the bird’s house, glumly thinking of things that were too complicated for fairies to obsess about.
“No,” Kenji replied. They had stumbled into a clearing and he used the opportunity to take a small break and get his bearings. “We are going to get proper protection,” he told his underling.
“Eh? But I thought that being strong is enough…”
“Avoidin’ stupid fights keeps us strong,” he explained. While fighting all the time and surviving did make a beast stronger, it was also risky. Enemies could strike when you were still recovering from the last fight and have an easy time beating you. It was all well and good to be a hothead when there were no risks. The Kiketsu didn’t back down from fights but neither did they rush into them wildly if there were other alternatives. Striking at an opportune time, when an enemy was distracted or weakened from another fight… that was efficient.
Of course, all that philosophy was a little too much for a fairy to understand intuitively. And it was definitely too much for Kenji to explain eloquently. He did his best, using a couple of colorful analogies with choice language but it was still a muddled attempt. Instead of the hypothetical, he turned to the practical. “Who is the scariest person around these parts?”
“Mmm… dunno?” Lala proved the limits of her imagination.
“There’s no one you avoid when you used to play around with the other fairies?”
“A couple of youkai are a little scary if you try to play around their homes but we don’t really think about it too much. Fairies go everywhere.”
“Someone told me,” Kenji echoed intelligence given to him by the merchant, “that there’s people here dedicated to youkai extermination. Fairies probably get beat up too by her. You know, it’s the type of person that cleans up messes and restores order. Ya know who I’m talking about, right?”
Lala narrowed her eyes, as if lost in thought. She then smiled stupidly at Kenji, laughing softly, “Nope, I dunno anyone like that.”
“You really don’t know about that shrine maiden?” the beast thought that perhaps Gotoh had misled him.
“Oh! Yeah, I do,” realization crept into the fairy’s voice. “The cute one, you mean?”
“There’s more than one?”
The beast grew a little irritated at his subordinate’s unreliability. “We should be near a shrine now, pipsqueak, so liven up,” he growled at her and resumed walking.
Lala realized a little too late who he probably meant. By then, they were standing underneath the shrine’s gate with the main structure in sight. The shrine maiden could be a little scary. She kept quiet because of Kenji’s concentrated look. By then, she knew better than to bother him when he in one of his moods.
 The fairy was on her best behavior so that Kenji would be relaxed.  Lala got ready for trouble so that she could help out the beast.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/11 (Wed) 11:00
[x] Lala got ready for trouble so that she could help out the beast.
Feel a bit bad for the bird. Women shouldn't be bluntly ignored like that, ya know. Plus it could be a handy entry into the pimping business. What? Don't tell me the BEAST WORLD of all places doesn't have it.
The beast Yajuu took a moment to take in his surroundings before proceeding. It was his first time at a shrine.
The turning leaves had done much to add variety to what was an otherwise unremarkable location. Nestled among the trees, the shrine was a simple structure with a single path of paved stone leading up to it. It was a perfectly normal rural shrine, unassuming and whose upkeep could stand to be a little better. There was little point comparing it to great temples of legend or any number of iconic views.
What was somewhat surprising about the location was the feeling it elicited inside him. Familiar and at the same time undoubtedly sacred, he felt mildly apprehensive. His instincts furthermore told him that he was likely being observed intently by a variety of actors. Whether or not this was something as grandiose as a divine spirit or lowly as a group of fairies in the trees he could not tell. His nose picked up little but the smell of yellowed leaves recently swept into a pile and that of humans.
With a cautiously stiffened tail, he proceeded towards the building.
Two people sat near the front of the shrine. The one with dark hair was clearly the shrine maiden—her red and white outfit fit the beast’s expectations—while the other was a short girl in black with lively eyes and golden hair. They had noticed his approach and did not stop sipping from cups of tea between muted chatter.
The blonde flashed him a warm smile when he was close and that compelled him to make the necessary introductions.
“Hmn, I think you’re wrong, Reimu,” the blonde said to her companion, “doesn’t seem like trouble at all. Pretty polite fellow. That fairy seems well-behaved too.”
Lala had been following Kenji quietly, staying a step behind him at all times. At being mentioned, she stepped behind the beast for cover. Her bashful reaction made the blonde grin and wink at her.
“I would like a moment of your time if it’s not too much trouble,” the beast ignored the interjection.
“Sure, what do you want?” the shrine maiden said with a shrug. It was only when the blonde cleared her throat that she recalled her manners. Putting down her cup, she introduced herself as the Hakurei shrine maiden with a sigh.
“I’m Marisa,” the girl in black spoke up, putting on a large wide-brimmed and floppy hat onto her head. She stood up and dusted herself off. “Come on,” she gestured to the fairy, “this conversation is probably too serious for us.”
She did not hesitate at all to grab Lala’s hand. The fairy looked at Kenji who shrugged and let do as she pleased. And so, Lala was spirited away by a pushy blonde for the time being.
“Would you like tea?” Reimu asked out of obligation, making her feelings known, “I would have to fetch another cup in that case…”
“No, it’s fine, Lady Hakurei,” Kenji said quietly, opting to take a seat on one of the steps that lead up the front porch. The formality made the shrine maiden smile to herself and she seemed clearly unaccustomed to being treated in such a way.
“Well then, what does a polite youkai like yourself want with me?” she asked, sitting back and looking at the mountains in the distance framed by the shrine’s gate. She fiddled with a lock of hair bound by a red and white tube.
“I wished to reach an understanding with the shrine maiden on any activities I might engage in.”
The shrine maiden stiffened and looked at him with immediately cold eyes, “If you cause any trouble, I’ll have to exterminate you.”
Kenji chuckled, trying to seem as non-threatening as possible. “I want to make it clear that I’m not going to cause trouble of any kind. I respect the way things are set up. So getting you to understand that is really important.”
“Look,” Kenji continued, reaching into his clothes. He pulled out the envelope he had collected earlier. During the trek he had portioned out what he thought was a fair amount of money. “I would like to make a sizable donation to you and your shrine to make sure that my intentions are not misunderstood. I do not ask for cooperation but perhaps,” he thought of how his boss might put it, “the benefit of the doubt.”
“Hah,” the shrine maiden wore a grin that stretched from ear to ear. At hearing the word “donation” she seemed to have filtered out everything else that was being said. She repeated her earlier offer, now sounding earnest, “Are you sure you don’t want any tea? Sake, perhaps?”
“Oh no, I wouldn’t want to bother you,” Kenji said, handing over the donation. “All I want is for us to reach an understanding.”
“I’m not sure I’ll ever understand youkai,” the shrine maiden laughed, good cheer infecting her. “But, if you’re not going to break the rules and I don’t have to do anything then it’s fine.”
“Yes, in fact, it would be lovely if you did nothing but look the other way most of the time. I’ll make sure to continue showing my appreciation in the future if that’s the case, Lady Hakurei.”
“There’ll be more?” Reimu asked greedily, caught between counting the sum in her hands and giving her beastly guest her full undivided attention.
“If things go well, yes,” Kenji explained, “I hope that you now understand the importance of letting me pursue my various ventures freely.”
“I think I do,” she nodded, “but I have to ask, you’re not going to hurt any humans, are you?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” the beast replied, barely suppressing an urge to lick his lips. “All this comes from various partnerships. I’m a legitimate businessman with both youkai and human contacts cooperating in mutual profit.”
“Good, good,” the Hakurei shrine maiden nodded, abandoning due diligence in that line of questioning. She took the envelope and stuffed it under her red top, patting a spot just above her left breast with great satisfaction.
Now that she had warmed up to the beast’s presence, Reimu found it difficult to simply dismiss him and go back to her tea. The suggestion of sake returned. It was less of a suggestion and more of a comment that she felt like having a celebratory cup—and not by her lonesome. There was no getting around this most sacred cultural tradition. Kenji knew better than to refuse again.
 Curiosity drove the shrine maiden to ask if the beast had or planned to make similar donations anywhere else.  The shrine maiden wished to know if she, too, could get directly involved in a profitable business venture.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/12 (Thu) 10:50
[x] The shrine maiden wished to know if she, too, could get directly involved in a profitable business venture. You did tell us to be wild when voting. I can think of nothing more wild and dangerous than getting involved with the crimson slasher.
The shrine maiden was quick to return with a bottle of sake and new cups. She poured generously, treating the beast like an old friend who she hadn’t seen in a long time. “Drink, drink,” she laughed, nudging his shoulder backwards with a soft punch.
Kenji had the distinct impression that she was celebrating the situation more than their acquaintance. His gut told him not to let down his guard too much. While he was certainly unimpressed with the scrawny girl and her swinging emotional state, he felt that there was much more to her. He had picked up lingering scents that were both distinguished as well as rare. All non-human. A normal young woman would not have dealings with such beings.
“You need to develop an instinct for it,” Kenji said flatly, answering Reimu’s increasingly-probing questions about business. He did not wish to enter into too many specifics as exposing himself as a predatory being was not wise. Lady Kichou would surely agree.
“Maybe you’re just born with it?” Hakurei mused, pouring herself another cup of sake. She confessed with a playfully self-pitying smile that doubled as an invitation, “Every time I try to make money, it doesn’t really work out.”
“Finding something that works can be difficult,” the beast didn’t want to lead her on much, “there’s a lot of effort that needs to be put in.”
“Ho~ is that really the case?”
He suppressed a chuckle by having a drink. The shrine maiden was about as unsubtle as a fairy. “I spent several weeks hard at work just getting this initial amount,” he tried to act as if he didn’t understand what she was getting at.
“But once you got things going it’s easier, right?” she cocked her head towards him, showing creeping frustration at not being immediately accepted into the fold.
“Let me put it this way… I’ll have to be on top of things for the foreseeable future. I can’t let things run themselves or otherwise people will take advantage of my absence,” he said, knowing how quickly an intimidated merchant could decide to grow a backbone once he forgot what a sharp claw felt like against the neck. Even the bird could decide that he was just a passing fancy and renege on the agreement. This was why all families were structured with superiors having many underlings—the more hands you had to enforce that things ran smoothly, the more you could accomplish.
Unsatisfied with the explanation, Reimu’s next question was even more diaphanous, “That sure sounds like you could use help running things.”
Kenji poured himself and the shrine maiden another cup. The sake was inferior to Gotoh’s tribute but he couldn’t complain too much. It relaxed him well enough. He was amused at the shrine maiden’s insistent behavior. For once, he felt like he was on the one being leaned on. If she could be ruthless at collection then she wouldn’t be a half-bad gangster by any means.
“You fight youkai, right?”
“I exterminate them when they’re being too much of a pain,” Reimu claimed. A wooden wand with streaming paper had been laying about within arm’s reach. She picked up the gohei and waved it with tipsy playfulness at him, miming no doubt some sort of ritual she performed to be rid of youkai.
“So you know that it’s not worth showing them mercy when they’ve gone over the line. Like me, if I hurt a human, ya’d probable hafta put me down.”
The shrine maiden nodded with no hesitation. She then patted the spot over her breast and frowned a little.
“Yeah, unpleasant for us both,” the beast agreed, “but rules are rules. If some punk crosses you, you go at them heavy or not at all. That’s the way it is with business too. Otherwise it’s just chaos. Breaking a contract is the biggest crime of all.”
Reimu laughed. It caught the beast off guard and he smiled sheepishly at her.
“You know, that’s pretty funny,” she put down her sacred rod unceremoniously. Warmth bubbled up to her cheeks and framed her wide smile with touches of pink. “It would be nice to hire someone who thought that way to take care of some of the stuff that I have to. Usually I have to deal with all sorts of rule breakers and people who want to do something dumb that affects everyone else.”
“I’m not really sure about fighting with all those rules I’ve heard about but I can look plenty tough and crack skulls if needed,” the beast said with a belly chuckle. He rolled up a sleeve, exposing the horns of an angry oni (somewhat redundant in his estimation) on his forearm.
“As expected from a beast that escaped through hell,” she shook her head, smirking.
“Oh? I guess you knew all along,” the beast shrugged, holding his cards close to his heart.
“I’m not as dumb as I look,” Reimu poured more sake into both cups, “I can figure out that sort of stuff easily. I mean, I did end up going into your home and beating up all your bosses and that idol. You’re not from here. That’s why I asked you if you’d hurt humans. If you didn’t know the rules, I’d have to beat you up until you did.”
“Sounds like you’d be a good boss,” the beast joked, “way better than that Keiga idiot. Dontcha get me wrong, I wouldn’t back down from a fight.”
“S’fine, I prefer getting money and drinking sake to going through all that trouble,” the shrine maiden laughed again, more than just a little bit tipsy.
There was just one thing that she insisted upon. That is, aside the continued covetous comments and attempts to gain more money. He would definitely not involve her more directly in business—she could intimidate a youkai but he doubted she would approve of his schemes involving humans.
That one other thing that she brought up, even as they worked to finish the sake, was incredibly perceptive. “None of the others are here and working with you, right?” she asked, meaning other beasts.
Yajuu had found himself very satisfied with the encounter. He had reached a very unambiguous understanding with the Hakurei shrine maiden. In light of that, he would treat her with respect. That meant telling her the truth. The wholeness of it was not that important.
 The beast confirmed that he had arrived alone in the summer and had established himself through his own efforts.  He explained that the nature of his pledge to the Kiketsu meant that he could share any details about the Family and any involvement they might have.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/13 (Fri) 10:50
[x] He explained that the nature of his pledge to the Kiketsu meant that he could share any details about the Family and any involvement they might have. Good opportunity to sow a little disinformation. There's no obligation to tell non-Family the truth, after all.
“Is that so?” Reimu reacted with certain indifference to the beast’s story. There was no way of telling for sure whether that was due to any latent suspicion or, simply, alcohol doing its part to stupefy her. At some point she had stopped drinking and leaned back, spacing out with a placid smile.
She held her liquor well for someone of her size, Yajuu thought. As he also had been feeling some of the effects, he took pains not to be overly familiar with her. “Lady Hakurei” continued to be the way he addressed her, despite the occasional colorful slip. He had accomplished his business and it looked like it would be a good opportunity to say his goodbyes.
“I’ll be looking forward to your next visit,” Hakurei said, sitting up once more. She grabbed her gohei and waved it at him, joking, “Don’t take too long or I’ll have to hunt you down.”
“...I was worried you might misbehave,” her friend said, returning with good timing. Lala stood next to her, looking at the bottle, then the shrine maiden and finally to the beast with a disapproving scowl.
“If you want some, Marisa, there’s still some left, probably,” Reimu shook the bottle of sake awkwardly, nodding at the resulting sloshing noises.
“It’s been a pleasure,” the beast concluded, “but we oughta get going.”
“Sure, sure, same,” the girl in black waved lazily at him, sitting down next to the shrine maiden. She whispered something to her and helped her to prop herself up. She got a soft laugh and some sort of comment about her fussing too much as thanks.
“Bye,” the fairy spoke up, waving at Marisa. A grin and a nod was her response.
They began to walk away, the crisp autumn air doing much to clear the beast’s head. The shrine maiden’s laughter could be heard sporadically even beyond the torii.
Marisa had left a good impression on Lala. The fairy told Kenji how they had talked about this and that for a while and how she had been friendly all of the while. “She said she liked my hair,” the fairy repeated excitedly about two or three times during the recounting. Praise about the blonde’s braid and choice of ribbons also came up several times. It wasn’t the sort of stuff that the beast was interested in learning about.
With some patience, he was able to infer some of the more relevant parts. The girl had asked the fairy about him and where they’d come from. It was done in a subtle way, to her credit. And, more impressively, it appeared that Lala had not shared anything unnecessary. Nothing about their base nor his origins. Or, most important of all, about the Family. There was no way he could be completely sure, of course, but he was satisfied with how his underling had comported herself.
He pat her on the shoulder when he felt that she had told him all that he wanted to know.
“What’s that for?” the fairy gave him a queer stare, unaccustomed to overt kindness from him.
The beast chuckled in response and looked towards the mountain again. The fairy pouted, feeling once again a little lost.
Things were different at their base. In the hours since they had left, someone had gathered kindling and a flowery fragrance permeated the immediate area.
Kenji knocked on the door of his own home, knowing better than to potentially barge in on his matriarch. A reply welcomed him in and he found Yachie sitting and calmly drinking a cup of tea. The room had been redecorated; some of the knickknacks he had found had been placed up against walls and a small, but proper, table had been fashioned out of the planks. Unseasonably fresh flowers had been arranged in a cracked bucket.
“You’re back quick. Good news, I trust?” the boss asked, biding the fairy closer. Lala rushed to her and sat down new to her. The fairy was all smiles, happy to be the object of attention.
“I did as I was asked,” Kenji replied. He noted how easily Yachie took to stroking Lala’s hair. His rough beastly nature could not process it as a human might but the dull pang he felt momentarily in the pit of his stomach was something akin to jealousy. That the fairy looked like she might purr agreeably at any moment surely did not do much to dispel the feeling.
As thereafter commanded, Yajuu debriefed his boss. He told her about both encounters and was surprised to hear that Lala’s recollection also seemed worth asking. That Lala did not like the bird and did like Marisa was treated as equally as important as what Kenji had to say about setting up a reliable collection and getting the authorities off of his back. If he had any objection to that fact, he hid it well.
“What are we going to do next?” the fairy asked, very much out of turn.
“My, how eager, if only everyone else had your energy,” Yachie laughed. Kenji thought that there was something highly incongruous about the woman he now saw with an apparently genuine reaction and the fearsome and unforgiving boss he knew to fear. “Yajuu,” she asked him with a smile, “are you ready for your next task?”
“Of course, Lady Kicchou,” he replied, straight-faced. Although he could confidently state that he was no longer under the effects of alcohol, his head felt light.
“Very good,” she nodded, her tail thwacking against the floor with approving punctuation. “The next part is somewhat more complicated. You will set out in the morning once more.”
Kenji left the shack at the first opportunity. Lala stayed behind, presumably to catch up on her domestic chores. The beast felt uneasy but pinpointing a cause proved impossible. Uncertainty about the purpose of his next mission was one factor but that was a pathetically weak excuse and he knew it. Questioning orders was not his lot. He once again turned his attention to handiwork and chores, attempting to clear his head of thoughts.
Leaning up against the tub and no longer wishing to work, he felt weary. He allowed himself a little break.
 Strict and dismissive normally. With him, familiar and quick to smile. Lady Kicchou came to check up on him without Lala noticing. She offered an unexpected and very special reward.  A silent song was stuck in the beast’s head. So he wandered back towards the village, thinking of an indecent bird and her soft-looking lips. Mutual yearning would be fulfilled.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/14 (Sat) 10:50
OK, so I'm gonna go ahead on the assumption that the Big Crime Boss isn't just hanging around and entertaining some nobody low-level flunky and a fairy on a whim. It would be plausible if she just needed a halfway competent underling and a base of activity to do whatever she's doing in Gensokyo, but that doesn't seem to be what's happening from how she's acting.
It's just all very suspicious and I don't like it. [x] A silent song was stuck in the beast’s head. So he wandered back towards the village, thinking of an indecent bird and her soft-looking lips. Mutual yearning would be fulfilled.
[x] A silent song was stuck in the beast’s head. So he wandered back towards the village, thinking of an indecent bird and her soft-looking lips. Mutual yearning would be fulfilled. I was going to vote Yachie at first, but I've seen that the vote's leaning that way anyway, so I'll instead offer a counter-thought: Assuming this isn't some stress/fatigue-induced fantasy, Kenji shouldn't shit where he eats, so to speak. Yeah, some dragon-turtle tail might be nice, but the woman herself is very much not. Otherwise, she wouldn't be the matriarch of the family. Even assuming there's a tender part of her, it would be absolutely foolhardy to think that she wouldn't sell him up the river just because they made whoopie once.
A presence loomed over Kenji. A single word was uttered. A name. He could not make it out.
Red eyes stared down at him, stripped of pretension. Utterly bestial. Intelligence set them alight. Those were the eyes of the Kiketsu matriarch as he knew them best—the eyes that could unnerve even the most hardened residents of the beast realm.
A question was asked. Kenji nodded dumbly, unable to respond with words. The matriarch smiled. He dared to believe there was tenderness there despite the boring gaze from those damnably-focused eyes. She leaned over and rested a hand on his shoulder, a small and friendly laugh echoing in the night. It felt as if a private joke had been uttered but he could recall not recall anything being said.
He was congratulated. Praised. For his work earlier. For recruiting Lala. For his initiative when he escaped into Gensokyo. Yes, those eyes of hers—still utterly savage—told him that she knew that it had been an impromptu flight. Still, she praised him. His had been a gamble that could have yielded great rewards for the Family. Prestige, certainly.
Kenji Yajuu trembled as her heavy tail slithered onto his body, caressing his legs with the soft underside that was free of scales. She understood his needs, she assured him. Anyone, especially the inexperienced, would be liable to give into temptation. The smile on her lips now seemed to mock him with kindness. Even if he had wished to do so, he felt increasingly unable to resist her advances.
She leaned forward, petting him on the head as she had done with the fairy.
Her tail retracted itself momentarily as another question was asked. Kenji nodded in assent.
Yachie Kicchou fell on top of his sitting body. It was not a pleasant experience at first. The matriarch did not seem very concerned about his comfort. Indeed, he soon felt her tail against his body again, pulling him closer and binding him tight. This led to the revelation that she was very much as any other woman. A sweet smell of flowers filled his nose as she smirked at him.
Squeezing him ever tighter, she kissed him. To an observer, that might not have seemed obvious. With dominant energy, it could be more accurately said that she tasted him. There was a hunger behind her action. She bit softly, playfully, into his lower lip, drawing a thin drop of blood. Giving him no quarter, she sloppily licked the lip clean. She growled at him, low and persistently, and he responded in kind.
He violated the pristine skin on her neck by kissing it strongly. Leaving a mark, he quickly grew wilder. The tempo of the encounter was not set by him, however.
Yachie had begun to move, slithering up and down with her body pressed up against his. There was no tenderness in the motions. Small ripples of pain occurred whenever something hard like a knee dug into flesh. Regardless, enough pleasurable stimulation made it worth enduring. Even fully clothed, Yachie paid attention to rubbing up against his sensitive areas and utilized all of her assets to reward him. That is to say, the tight mass composed of tail and bodies was not entirely rigid. The very tip of her tail, small as a finger, teased his crotch with brief, electrifying gropes.
Yet another question was asked. It was almost drowned out by a girlish giggle. Kenji once again nodded.
With a free hand, she undid the ribbon and strings that held her shirt shut. As fabric crumpled away, she revealed herself to be free of any undergarments. Kenji dug his head into her bosom even as she laughed and petted the side of his head. She did not have to command him for him to know what he ought to do.
Scratches, bites, licks, pinches, and pressed flesh with growls and groans accentuating each act. Such was the ferocious way both boss and subordinate expressed their arousal. This sort of rut was unremarkable for their kind generally. The stronger party would lead and would be utterly uncaring of things like convention, emotions or—at times—consent. Outsiders would do well to be disgusted about the primal characteristics of the act.
All of a sudden, he found himself flat on his back with his clothes sprawled next to him. A bright moon looked down from above, making Yachie’s naked skin seem all the fairer. He grunted as she dug her fingers into his chest. She leaned over him, again taking his lips by force. She straddled his lower chest, making his breathing more difficult while her tail continued to do its wicked work. No longer wrapped around the whole of its body, the thinner extremity squeezed impossibly tight around his manhood.
The tail moved slowly up and down, warm and flexible. Movement sped up the more he gasped for air, still subjected to unyielding pressure on his chest. As she tightened her grip, he feared that he might be broken into pieces. Even as he pressed his own fingers into her supple thighs, part in retaliation and part in madness, she did not relent. Hers was a loving cruelty, however, and she stopped all of a sudden when he looked to be at his limit.
She asked him another question, a finger running tenderly over his cheek and chin. He shook his head, finally denying her. But, of course, by that point, his fate had been determined. She lowered herself directly onto him with the precision of an executioner’s sword. As she began to move back and forth, her blonde strands of hair bobbed with the effort while her horns seemed to remain wholly static from his perspective.
Now slick with sweat, body slammed against body with reckless abandon. Indecent noises came from where their bodies connected and cries of satisfaction erupted between vigorous grunts and unceasing growls. Eyes locked into one another, there was no room for misunderstanding; he existed to satisfy her whims and nothing else. Her spirit was strong and her will indomitable. As she was, no one could doubt that she was the paragon of beastly beauty.
Lady Kicchou devoured him thoroughly thus.
When it was over, two beasts lay side by side on the ground. Time, long since meaningless, passed. Whether it was merely a few minutes or a lifetime did not really matter.
Long, auburn hair fanned out over Kenji’s chest. Yet another question was asked. It was of an entirely different sort. A lover’s request for comfort. He pulled her tightly to him, bringing the beast’s body onto his. She rested atop of him, careful not to dig into any tender areas. Their eyes met. There was no harshness to be found in them. Their desire was expressed in a fashion unusual for fearsome beasts.
“Of course, Yoko,” Kenji finally spoke up.
His partner seemed satisfied with his reply and rested her head on his chest. They shared a quiet moment, free of families, responsibilities and other worries. As they first had all those many months ago, they simply delighted in each other’s warmth.
Lala roused him sometime later in the evening. She was excited and wanted to chat—happily tripping all over herself while explaining that Yachie had been telling her about life in the Family. Kenji smiled and let her go on, casting away the heavy feelings of drowsiness away by stretching his legs. Of course, the real reason she had come fetch him was for dinner. She had forgotten and it took Yachie peeking from the door to remind the fairy of the fact.
Kenji avoided looking at his matriarch as they sat down to eat. He did not wish to give her an opening to divine what he had dreamed about. This was not out of embarrassment or anything quite so puerile. It was a manifestation of the same spirit of self-preservation that had made him escape his home in the first place. Luckily for him, his boss was happy spoiling the fairy with attention. All Kenji needed to do for the rest of the evening was stay quiet and occasionally nod.
Later, when Lala was fast asleep, there was no avoiding Yachie. He sought fresh air again but she kept him company, perhaps sensing that something troubled him. She gazed up at the stars silently, same as him. Even so, he felt a silent pressure emanating from her. That this was a guilty conscience did not cross his mind. For a beast like him introspection did not come easily.
Kenji attempted to sideline that gnawing feeling of discomfort. He talked to his boss, playing the part of the eager but concerned underling.
 They both knew that there was a risk of conflict—perhaps even a power struggle—if Yachie stayed away from home for too long.  Money and protection were nice things to have but the ultimate objective of all her plans remained unclear.
Even if there was no plan, no stakes and nothing to be won, the beasts would have been restless. The silence of the night was just too peaceful. That they had to strain their hearing to hear animals chirping or the occasional rustle of leaves left them on edge. Their own realm was full of strife and sound, with never so much as a dull moment. Some—the weakest and most miserable—might well think calm and safety desirable. The Kiketsu pair did not.
When the inevitable conversation bubbled forth, it was a product of those unspoken anxieties. Cordial but commanding, Kicchou humored her subordinate as she had the fairy. She sat on the edge of the tub, causing the wood to creak and groan, and leaned forward slightly, pointing those horns of hers casually towards Kenji. Darkly, he imagined getting gored by her at any provocation.
“And you would question an elder?” Yachie asked, face stony. The provocation had been made and he had asked about what she had in mind for the future.
“If I may, yes,” Kenji replied. To ask about her plans was a foolhardy thing. Bold, yes, but utterly stupid.
“To follow the orders of our kin is our way,” she reminded him, “I have no more need to explain anything to you as you would to any of your own subordinates. I command; you obey. If there is a need for you to know something, you shall know.”
“Of course,” he said, deflated.
“If you wish to challenge me for supremacy…” Yachie looked at him with a violent sliver of a smile, “I can always abide your request.”
“Not today,” Kenji looked her in the eye as she responded. Despite himself, his breathing quickened some. A thrumming in his chest was the result of his beastly instincts being stirred. He saw in her red, inhumanly sharp eyes, the same deadly and sensuous beast as in his dream. His hand squeezed shut so hard that he drew a bead of blood where claw met flesh.
“A shame,” Yachie smacked her lips together and folded a leg over the other. Her skirt peeled back on one side, revealing a well-toned thigh. Whether this was meant to be purposefully provocative, a coincidence or her instincts also making themselves known would remain unclear. That heavy tail of hers waved with much inertia, wiggling from around the midsection to tip with some delay.
Yajuu snorted the night air in an attempt to calm himself. Nakajima would have mocked him ceaselessly if he could see him then.
“Do lighten up,” the boss said with a wink. The gesture was superficially playful but there was no real warmth behind her words, “You are lucky to be here and to be a useful instrument for the Family.”
Once more, the beast felt anything but lucky. He was, of course, sorely mistaken. Trusting ourselves to recall the revelation that his had been an unplanned flight, being able to keep his head attached to his shoulders for so long was nothing short of miraculous. Whatever else might be said about the conniving matriarch, he was now key to her plans. The shrewd boss knew how to take care of her best assets.
His next task began early in the morning. With Lala to keep him company, he once again negotiated his way through the woods and brush. The human village was once again at a stone’s throw but he keep to its perimeter and avoided all contact with its populace. The fairy was mercifully quiet and uncharacteristically patient—something that the beast chalked up to the matriarch’s influence.
By mid-morning they reached their destination. A far grander compelx than Hakurei’s shrine, the temple had a long paved road leading to it. Jizou could be found in some concentration by the road as well as various unlit stone lamps. Further along, past a stone and wood gate, beastly guardian statues stood by the steps that led up to the main building. Kenji showed the komainu a courtesy nod, baring his own sharp teeth to mimic their static expressions.
It was a peaceful place with birdsong carried by the breeze interrupting the silence. This would seem to be the sort of place where someone as violent and criminal as him would be patently unwelcome. To be sure, one would imagine that he would have nothing of interest for the residents. Lady Kicchou thought differently.
“Hey, you over there,” Kenji called out to a girl half-hiding behind a statue. The youkai had large, floppy animal ears on a head of hair that was only a shade darker than Kenji’s own. A small, bushy tail wagged anxiously as she held a broom in her hands.
Surprised at being called out, the girl pointed to herself dumbly. “Hey, you~” she called back with a nervous smile. Tugging at the sleeve of her dress, she came closer to the pair. “Ah, hello!” she exclaimed, “welcome, welcome.”
Lala smiled stupidly at the girl. Something about her just amused her to no end. She watched the movements of her tail intently, quickly noticing that there was a correlation between her words and how it flopped around.
“Have you come to pray?” the girl asked, tail erecting itself with pride, “maybe even join our temple?”
“Nah,” Kenji shook his head, “I have business with the priestess.”
“Oh,” the girl’s ears pricked up as she tried to be helpful, “you probably mean to see Lady Byakuren. She’s probably busy right now. I’m a priest-in-training, maybe I can forward a message?”
“It’s for her ears only. Gotta talk to the head priest,” Kenji said with disinterest. He didn’t feel like engaging with a lackey much longer.
“Um!” the girl was perceptive enough to notice that he had lost interest in her, “if you can just wait here then I can check-”
“I can find my own way,” Kenji smiled at her, showing her a perfectly innocuous smile. To someone imaginative, however, even a benign smile from a heavily tattooed and tall beast could look like a fearsome grimace.
“Um! Um!” the girl’s tail and ears flopped up and down as she got worked up. Dealing with intruders was also a task that fell to her from time to time. It was not something she wished to attempt with him.
“Hey, Lala,” the beast poked his fairy, snapping her attention away from the funny-looking youkai, “keep this nice girl company, won’t you? Make sure she doesn’t interrupt my meeting. Think you can manage, pipsqueak?’
“I sure can!” Lala said with bursting with excitement.
“I sure can~” the girl echoed, a troubled expression on her face.
“Come on, come on, let’s play!” the fairy’s energy was at its zenith. She clamped onto the girl’s dark pink sleeves and pulled her towards the front of the temple.
“Come on, come on,” the girl repeated, sounding troubled.
The beast did not stick around to watch how the rest of that exchange played out. He continued up the temple steps and into the main building. The tablets and banners with words of wisdom, sutras and whatever else were hung from walls and poles. Careful as to not disturb anything sacred, he otherwise fearlessly trod inside past the ceremonial areas.
 Where the smell of incense and tea was the most concentrated he would find the priestess in a contemplative state.  At the back of the temple, in a private area, he encountered the priestess exercising her body and mind through strenuous training.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/16 (Mon) 11:00
The temple was quiet but not empty of people. Not wishing to encounter anyone else, Kenji took his time in moving through the building. He sought a human and so the stench of youkai served as warnings of which rooms to avoid. It was certain that the others would have likewise felt his presence and that they did nothing to check him betrayed either great confidence in their order or aversion to the point of cowardice.
There was a sole human present at the rear of the temple. It was a strange scent—seeped in incense and well-layered, ancient to the point of nearly seeming musty. Though that was a transitory impression as the purity of perfume of fresh flowers dispelled that initial impression. It floated most strongly around the presence of a woman who stood at an open screen door by a private garden; flexible and unassuming white clothes clung loosely to her as she stretched and retracted limbs in mellow exercise.
Chanting quiet enough to be confused for muttering came from the woman and Kenji approached her openly but quietly. She had long hair that flowed freely past her waist, exceptional for the dark and (possibly) unnatural color at the top that gradually transitioned to hazel wood towards the extremities. It did not seem to be colored as Lala’s was, something very odd for what should be a normal human.
“I shall do readings later,” the woman acknowledged his presence. Her voice carried far in the quiet. “Please return later.”
“I have business with the head priest,” Kenji said, keeping a respectful distance as he circled around next to her.
The woman was young and her brown eyes were soft and projected patience. She controlled her breathing as she proved her limberness by bending arms in a pose behind her back. Exhaling, she focused on her own movements instead of the new arrival. “That would be me,” she said quietly, bowing her head in the direction of the rock garden. “Have you come to join our temple?”
“Have I?” Kenji frowned, irritation welling up inside of him. He could not explain why but something about the woman rubbed him the wrong way.
As if sensing his thoughts, she turned to look at him.
“Those wishing to turn towards the path of peace do not always know it that that is what they desire,” she stated with what could be best described as a saintly smile. It made Kenji’s body tense up instinctively.
“Path of peace, no that’s not quite it-” Kenji shook his head. He could not explain further to her. A vision of Lady Kicchou’s face, scowling at his ineptness, kept him from saying anything too foolish.
“If your mind is not in the state of readiness it needs to be, we here may be able to help you,” she continued to lecture, softly but confidently, “to understand that there is no difference between those who have achieved enlightenment and those who have not will set you free. Humans and youkai both are welcome at this temple and are welcome to hear its teachings.”
Kenji did not wish to be set free. He accepted the world with all of it’s shitty imperfections and the frustrations and struggle and conflict and everything else. To deny that there were differences—that beast and human could be the same, that the strong and the weak did not exist—was utterly repellent. There were ways to reconcile his worldview with what the priestess said, for sure, but they required a great deal of time, patience and introspection.
Already the beast had forgotten the purpose of his mission. “Lecturin’ people you just met isn’t a nice thing to do, ya know,” he struck out defensively, putting on vulgar airs. Suddenly, she was no longer his objective and a head priestess, just an uppity bitch giving him attitude.
The woman shook her head, “The quickness of your anger does you no favor. It merely reinforces the message your body and the tattoos surely covering the entirety of it projects. That you are scared and you are insecure.”
“Tch, judgin’ a man by his appearance?” the beast laughed derisively, “some holy woman you are. Betcha you’d turn me away at the door if I hadn’t forced my way in.”
The priestess countered, “So long as others are not put in any danger, I have no cause for turning anyone away. Calm yourself and we may continue to talk.”
“How about a fight instead?” the beast suggested. “Doesn’t fool me for a second. I watched you for a while. Stretching like that… that’s to make you better at hittin’ and dodgin’.”
“I reject violence,” the woman said. “My exercises are a form of meditation. Only in extreme circumstances do I engage in self-defense.”
“I’ll attack ya then,” the beast smirked, “that oughta count, right? I won’t hold back. I’ve never beat up a priestess before but there’s a first time for everything.”
“I would advise against it,” she said quietly, muttering something under her breath. Kenji did not catch what was uttered. “You would possibly end up hurt. And I do not wish to harm you.”
That made the beast’s blood boil. It was as fine a provocation as he could have hoped for. Without waiting for any further signal, Kenji launched himself towards her. He really did not hold back, swinging wildly with a left fist with all the finesse of a street brawler. That was the sort of blow that, if it connected, might break smaller bones. It was aimed at her shoulder.
The priestess reacted with incredible speed to his opening move. Though they had been standing only about a body’s length away from one another, it may have well have been several thousand for how easily she managed to sidestep. It was not the reflexes of the a normal human but there was no time for the beast to think about that as he followed up with another wild swing with his right.
The results were similar. He once again missed.
The woman continued to mutter quietly to herself, barely looking at her opponent. A scroll of colorful light was held in her hands. Or possibly not: the scroll seemed to float about her, staying near her body at all times. There was no time for the beast to think about it as he followed up with a sweep of his legs, hoping to defeat agility with reach.
This, too, was avoided effortlessly. The plain garb looked less like anything that a priest would wear and more like keikogi at that point. The belated recognition of that only served to fire up Kenji even more. The tougher the opponent, the more satisfying victory would be.
Up until that point, the priestess had not attempted a blow of her own. Less of a battle and more of a sparring match in which she hoped to impart a lesson, she continued to endure her opponent’s violent and merciless blows by simply being faster than him. His stamina was high—even for a beast—so there would be no end to the exchange unless she willed it.
 When the blow finally came, the priestess likewise did not hold back.  The beast was pacified gradually, with precise application of debilitating strikes.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/17 (Tue) 11:15
[x] The beast was pacified gradually, with precise application of debilitating strikes. What a loser. This is probably much worse than just getting beat up really hard from his perspective, so I'm going with it.
The priestess and the beast continued their dance for some time. The beast would step in, attempt to get close, only to have her preempt his moves and gracefully step back. The more he flailed, the more he stepped up his intensity and soon he worked up a sweat. More pleasingly, however, was that the priestess also slowly became flush from exercise. While her face maintained its serene state, color drew itself onto her neck and hands and surely began to spread elsewhere on her body.
The beast keenly watched for any opening at all, betting that there was a limit to her ability to minuet. He shuffled as necessary and kept the pressure up.
After some length, the human showed weakness to the beast. Whenever she pivoted backwards with her right, it was a little slower than her left. A matter of milliseconds. For a wild creature seeking to exploit any advantage, it was enough. He pressed hard, making her fall back more and more on that slower side. She became ever slower. Until, eventually, he could see the end coming.
A sinister sweep of his leg was meant to knock her clear off her feet and end things decisively. He applied force, strongly and precisely, to the blow as he let slip a howl. The sweep made contact with her leg. But, instead of buckling under the strike, she held fast as it was only a grazing contact. It was then that the priestess finally made her move.
The beast was off balance and, in that short moment, his opponent had swiveled forward with her other leg. An open palm pressed itself forcibly into his chest. The beast recalled thinking that no normal human could have managed so much concentrated strength in a single blow. After that, he slammed against the ground, breath wholly expelled from his body.
As the beast found himself in a horrific daze, if not outright state of unconsciousness, it might be appropriate to explain a little about the priestess. There were threefold reasons why she handily defeated an experienced brawler like him.
To be clear, despite her fearsome performance, she was still a human. Earlier in her life, she had shown an aptitude for magical crafts. Initially, it was the dharmic arts that were well-known to some of the more esoteric Buddhist traditions. Over time—and after certain traumatic events—she hungrily sought knowledge of another kind. These magical traditions were shunned by normal humans and considered outright evil by some. Regardless, she used the knowledge learned to extend her lifespan and to enhance her body in other unnatural ways. Faster reflexes, enhanced strength, greater resistance and the like.
These enhancements were something exploited during her career as a youkai exterminator. While interesting and directly tied in to the current temple and her reason for being in Gensokyo, it suffices to say that she had long since shed any fear of beasts and wicked creatures. In facing Kenji, she had felt at no point overly pressured and was comfortable in taking her time to gauge his abilities.
Lastly, beyond being a former exterminator, she was also an experienced fighter. She would balk at being called that, naturally. Fighting went against the values of peace and tolerance that she preached. And yet, whenever she felt that evil was too great to ignore, she was not above putting her fists in the service of her what she considered a just cause. Out would come her magical scroll and she would dance much as she had then, striking crippling blows on anyone on whom words did not seem to have much of an effect. She and her body knew all about parries, footing, minimizing received damage and so forth.
At any rate, Kenji found himself at her mercy. To him, the benevolence and grace she showed after her victory sickened him to his very core. He found himself looking out into the garden, laying with his head in her lap. An attempt to stand up overwhelmed him with dizziness.
“Stay still for a while,” the priestess said softly, stroking his hair as one might a sick child. Not even the strenuous bout had altered her pleasant scent.
“Surprised the hell outta me, fightin’ like that,” the beast spat out with temporary resignation. His addled mind began to recognize that his defeat had not been a fluke. There had been a method to her resistance.
“True strength is knowing how to avoid conflict,” she preached, eliciting a groan from him. The priestess smiled down at him, unfazed, “Seeking peace does not make one weak.”
It was proving to be a far more painful experience for the beast than his other previous defeats. Being beaten to a pulp by a rival or even your own superiors during hazing was just a fact of life. The whole being lectured by someone who handed your ass to you about not fighting thing was just too painful.
“It may not seem like it now, but you would be a good fit for our temple,” she said, “there’s redemption available for all who seek it. Honest work and devotion will change your outlook on things.”
Petulant to the extreme, the beast chose to forget his mission for the time being. He was yet unbowed. Even if it did not deliver a final victory over the irksome woman, there were still means of scoring hits on her. Even a small crack in that benign facade would provide immense satisfaction. It would not, of course, make up for his humiliation but such considerations were best reserved for cooler and rational thinkers.
 Her religion and peace was worthless. He had already crossed and fled hell with his own power.  The beast made lascivious comments to what was surely a chaste and repressed priestess.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/18 (Wed) 11:00
A group of of miners might spend several weeks if not months on-site, descending down shafts and into pits every day before the sun appeared in the sky These hard-living men braved all sorts of troubles in order to survive. So, when released from that cycle of hard work and darkness—if only temporarily—their energy was explosive. Hard drinking and visiting cathouses were some of the traditional activities they indulged in when away from the mine. Their language was colorful and the subjects of conversation often lurid.
Kenji’s choice of words for the priestess was comparable to the worst coming from that rambunctious lot. A jibe about “knockers hangin’ right in front of my face, just askin’ to be grabbed” was about the least filthy thing that the beast said. Without much of a bite thanks to losing a fight, he was left to bark loudly and incessantly at her, hoping to at least cause her to be upset.
At first, she went quiet. And the beast took this as a sign that his words were having their desired effect. She no longer stroked his hair. “Figure that all this is just an act, anyhow, I can smell it on you,” the beast said hoarsely, “A man eater to the core. I wonder if the male followers of this temple dream of their priestess doing indecent things with them, huh?”
“They may well,” the priestess broke her silence to respond. She looked down at him with a certain sadness, “The Buddha teaches that desire is the origin of suffering. I have known desire as well.”
“Well, if you fancy a go, I’m keen. You’ll have to do most of the work, however, on account of having been beat up,” the beast let out a dirty laugh.
The woman shook her head. His comment made her smile, “No, I did not mean it like that. Regardless, your wildness reminds me of so many others. I admit I feel nostalgic at the moment.”
The beast turned his head slightly downward and partially kissed her thigh over clothing. He did not care for what she said.
As an aside: because of the nature of his utter defeat, the beast indeed was attracted to her. Were he in a better mood, he might well admit as much to himself. That had little to do with her kindness or patience. It was indeed her strength that galvanized him. Force so well used and so precisely applied was beautiful to him. And, well, if he was completely honest, the fact that she also was a holy woman made his head swim. Such was the depravity of someone who had spent his existence in one of the hells.
“Your strength seems to be returning,” she observed, ignoring the incident. “Are you ready to be civilized yet? Or do you now dream of pushing me down and ravaging me?”
“...you’re playing with fire,” the beast yipped, convincing not even himself. A sense of humor went a long way in making him see past perceived sanctimony. “That might be what yer inta, I guess.”
“You may attempt to find out at a later time,” she exhaled sharply. “Now, I ask again, do you wish to talk? I have other duties to perform today.”
“Like servicin’ the faithful,” the beast insisted on the same tack.
“I’ll fetch you a pillow so that you may rest here for as long as you need,” she said, gently lifting his head up in order to stand up.
“Alright, fine,” Kenji growled, “you’ve won both rounds. I’ll getcha next time.”
He was disappointed. He never got to deploy the line that he had been concocting about the fishy smell that he picked up while in her lap.
“Oh, alright then, shall I help you sit up?” she offered, slipping a hand under his arm. Another growl would have been appropriate but being too much of a sore loser was not his style. Kenji accepted the priestess’ help and sat up, facing out towards the garden. She sat next to him, keen to make sure that he didn’t have a dizzy spell.
“What’s your name, priestess?” Kenji demanded.
Her words were measured and she continued not to mind his rudeness, “I share blood with the namesake of this temple. Hijiri, as the monk I aspire to be. And, as with one of your tattoos, Byakuren.”
She was, of course, referring to the white lotus that adorned a part of one of the beast’s upper arms. It was kept company by koi swimming up towards it. It would take too long to describe the variety of creatures and art on his body as well as their significance. Of the mentioned examples what is relevant are their religious connotations. It makes sense if you think about it. Even someone who thumbs their noses at earthly laws might well have a respect for the wheel of life if they’re under the rule of yama in hell.
“Robes are no barrier for the impure, eh?” Kenji did not relent fully yet.
“I suspect not,” she answered, “clothing has a habit of becoming loose or even undone when its wearer moves too vigorously. Though perhaps a blow is also to blame for the revelation.”
“Well, Byakuren, I thank you for the kindness of making me decent again,” the beast mocked, “Kenji Yajuu is in your debt.”
Byakuren nodded. She chose to take his words as if they were serious. Experienced with youkai as she was, she understood how the beast thought. He would surely bend to her will if pushed in the aftermath his defeat. It had been that way with some of the others. It was not deference but better likened to begrudging respect. Patience and steadfastness on her part would win him over in the long run.
 The priestess made the beast clear his mind, contemplate his surroundings and meditate.  The priestess used his values against him and forced him to be polite.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/19 (Thu) 11:00
[x] The priestess made the beast clear his mind, contemplate his surroundings and meditate. Take a dangerous yakuza, subject them to mental conditioning. Voila. You now have a more devious and more dangerous yakuza.
What the priestess suspected regarding his compliance proved correct. Despite yet more attempts to rattle her with words, Kenji was pliant. He heeded her suggestion to be quiet. He even closed his eyes. She instructed him to breathe; slow breaths in and out, emphasizing on their regularity. This was to be a rhythmic affair, much as their martial dance had proven to be.
Though the beast still occasionally twitched and fussed as a child might, he maintained a fairly consistent level of discipline. Byakuren had no bell to ring or block to strike so she maintained the meter with her voice. She uttered words she knew from memory, her cadence allowing them to form into that familiar string of mystical exercise. This was no song nor much of a chant—as she might be wont to sing in front of a crowd—but it was an intimate call to peace and order.
Like most of the youkai that were attracted to Byakuren, Kenji did not truly grasp the significance of the moment. To him, the sutras and mysteries were but words, riddles that bored and contained no real practical value. He felt a deep disquiet that seemed to condemn the pretentiousness of it all. Finding peace and order seemed at odds with his nature as a supernatural being. A power that could be used to banish or exterminate youkai surely could not be used to make them stronger. That wasn’t to say that the priestess’ efforts were doomed from the start but perhaps her selfishness was at odds with reality.
Of course, reality is a delusion, she might likely explain if confronted. But that’s more of a theological point and not really what concerns us regarding the beast’s first experience with meditation. Her power had compelled a thug into submission. Had she used that strength to break him down further, she could perhaps rebuild him to her liking. An option that was rejected consciously for, apparently, violating some of her saintly tenets. These principles had been selectively interpreted many times in the past and used by her to justify any manner of her actions. Whether or not she agreed with that assessment, it was what made Byakuren incredibly human.
A smile blossomed on her lips after she finished reciting a verse. “How do you feel?” she asked the now-quiet beast.
“It doesn’t hurt much where you hit me,” the beast spoke of the temporal. He opened his eyes and stared out at the garden. A small bird had landed on one of the many stones that stood out in the island of raked sand. It chirped twice gaily and then beat its wings and took off again.
Byakuren had not expected immediate success. “I meant, are your thoughts more in order now? Have you been able to let go of some of your more intense emotions?”
“I feel…” the beast breathed deeply, thinking of the moment he had just lived, “very strongly about something still. It’s your tits, I just can’t get my mind off of them. I just don’t think that they would fit in my hands. And I have large hands.”
To his surprise, she laughed. “If it helps you concentrate your thoughts away from conflict and violence, feel free to think about my bosom as much as you wish.”
“Don’t worry, I will,” he fired back, though with less raw antagonism than before. Was he at peace? The answer was resoundingly “No”. He was, however, calmer and still under the psychological effect of being defeated. In truth, he wasn’t even thinking much of her bountiful breasts or how far his fingers would sink into their softness if he were to casually cup them. “Do you have anything to drink?” he asked, “I think better with a drink.”
“I do not drink,” she replied, immediately making him desire her less.
“How boring,” he sighed.
“You ought to abstain for better clarity of mind,” she said, but added quickly, “it can be a gradual process, however. Asking you to change too much at once could be an act of hubris.”
“So you wish to change me?” he snorted, though the fire that usually burned in his belly failed to ignite.
“Do you not wish to change yourself? That is why you have come, is it not?”
“No, not really,” Kenji shook his head, “I have business with you that originates with someone else. I am an intermediary.”
“That is not relevant to what I am saying. I have met many who did not realize that they sought change at first. And yet, their actions spelled out the desires of their hearts even as attempted to drown those with distractions.”
“I really dislike that sort of crap, pretendin’ that you know about me, what I am and what I want,” Kenji grumbled. Once again there was not enough heat to set things aflame inside of him.
The priestess ignored the complaint. She kept her voice level, and locked her hazel-colored eyes onto his. “I ask you this: do you have the strength necessary to improve yourself?”
“’course I do,” he puffed, unimpressed.
“And the willpower?”
“I transparently appeal to your vanity then, and question your resolve,” Byakuren smirked, appearing very much not as an enlightened soul but more of a needling busybody. It was a practical example of her excellence in reinterpreting her precepts. “Prove your sobriety, as it were, and show me up. Perhaps I ought to admit frustration with being called all manner of awful things by you, if that helps.”
“I don’t get what you’re talking about.”
“I’m saying, try things my way. With dedication. If you are not reformed in some manner after some time then you are correct: I do know nothing of you and cannot possibly hope to. Otherwise I am correct and you have come to Gensokyo to seek change and you will be happier to have found it.”
The beast was not enthused. “I’m too busy try that kind of pointless thing,” he complained, “some of us have to work for a living.”
“I have heard of the sort of creature that you are. Gensokyo is a land where any incident is widely talked about. And, as matters of faith were involved, I took some care in informing myself as much as possible,” the priestess told him, looking positively smug. “I realized when you were incapacitated that you were a messenger. No doubt your master wants some sort of alliance of convenience with my temple.”
“What a clever bitch,” Kenji laughed, intending genuine praise.
“Such an arrangement may have many advantages,” Byakuren continued, “but that is not what I really care about at this moment. Will you attempt what I have asked?”
“Join your temple?”
“Nothing so formal, if you do not wish it yet. Attempt to apply the teachings shared here to your life. That is all I will ask. Join us for services as much as you can tolerate. Speak and share with me and the others as your heart commands.”
The priestess made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. “I will accept all the terms stipulated by your master without need for negotiation if you do so.”
“I’m flattered, what can I say?” Kenji felt his heart quicken with excitement. Lady Kichou would be overjoyed at how smoothly things went. He had privately harbored doubts about anyone accepting some of the proposed stipulations without asking for more in return.
“Say yes,” she pressed with zeal.
Despite calling the priestess a whore and many other things besides, it would be the beast that would end up selling himself. Being a saucy tart, he was not about to give his soul away to a shrewd bargainer without asking for more than the agreed-upon price. It would only fair for her own personal commitment to be tested. He thought of how to cost her something precious without it being too unreasonable to reject.
 Byakuren would discard a conviction by sharing a drink.  The beast tried her virtue by taxing her with a kiss.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/20 (Fri) 11:00
Somehow I don't feel like either of these will "tax" byakuren's anything. She doesn't strike me as particularly rigid, if you know what I'm sayin. In which case, whatever will get rid of her fastest will do. [x] The beast tried her virtue by taxing her with a kiss.
“What a strange request,” Byakuren said. She seemed to ponder it for a moment, bringing a slender finger to her lips as she placed the rest of a hand on her chin.
“It is a simple one and it’s the personal price I want from ya,” the beast insisted impatiently. “I’m outta here otherwise.”
“Forgive me,” she broke from her pose and looked him in the eye, “I simply was simply attempting to recall the last time such a thing was asked of me. Most of the earthly interactions that color the lives of normal people are removed from my daily experience. I am surprised at myself for not considering that, perhaps, many of those who have found this temple do not think as you do. I know my presence to be calming for some but it might also be intimidating for others. They would not dare ask as you do, regardless of the feelings in their hearts.”
The beast felt sorry for her congregation. The insults he hurled earlier had been off widely off the mark. He could picture some poor, frustrated human lacking the courage to ask for what he wanted from her. Meanwhile, the priestess acted as an inadvertent tease, likely getting close to them without much concern for modesty. She lacked common sense, in other words.
“I will have to reflect upon what can be done,” she concluded. “As for your request: I do not mind. How should I-?”
Byakuren shifted her body awkwardly towards him. She was at an angle—torso twisted towards him—and just about at arm’s length. The priestess leaned forward some, looking like she had dropped something on the floor rather than reaching out to plant a kiss on Kenji.
“Sutras don’t really explain how to do this sort of stuff, huh?” Kenji teased, finding her fidgeting quite at odds with her earlier serenity.
“Ah, well, some do,” she confessed, “though I haven’t studied them as closely as the others. Living a proper life is a concern for us all, and I ought to correct that oversight. To appreciate life in its fullness is our duty; it is only when we intoxicate ourselves with excess that we lose sight of the path.”
“Oh, shaddap already,” the beast growled softly at her. To end her preaching, he went on the offensive, holding her by the shoulders as he moved his body closer. Byakuren mouthed something but said nothing, allowing him to do as he pleased. Despite the bluster, the beast hesitated slightly, no longer as satisfied with the idea of kissing her as he originally had been.
Nonetheless, he persisted. He pressed his lips against hers, finding that there was more to her scent than incense and flowers. A very human bouquet of light perspiration and lingering charcoal soap from her last bath tickled his sensitive nose. As he kissed her, he appreciated the slight moistness of her lips and how her breath paused momentarily.
As he pulled away from her, he found himself annoyed that it had been little more than a simple peck. And so, overcompensating for his own muddled thoughts and feelings, he did something she did not expect. “Ah!” she squeaked as his hand swiftly left her shoulder and palmed her bottom. Finding her rump both shapely and firm, the beast pinched one of her well-filled cheeks before finally withdrawing completely.
If Byakuren thought his act too uncouth or too rough, she kept it to herself. Instead, she let out a dumb little laugh as she attempted to center herself again. “The contract has been sealed with our lips,” she said, with no self-awareness of how that sounded, “let us work together from now on.”
Kenji wasted no time in laying out the terms that Yachie had given him. He did not really wish to talk about his own growth for the time being. Byakuren obliged and was true to her word. Everything in the deal was to be implemented as-is. There was a note that he had been given and some of the terms were prescient—he would act as liaison and serve as an example that even a fearsome beast could live peacefully if he embraced the teachings of the Buddha. That point in particular made the priestess smile broadly at him, satisfied with the bargain.
“We cannot spare our own treasures,” the Byakuren said of the economic cooperation, “but there are others present that are skilled at generating wealth. The ultimate purpose for all these riches is quite interesting indeed. Were you aware?”
“In my world, I’m only told what I need to know, when I need to know it,” the beast replied.
“Once our ties are cemented, we are to announce a great festival here at the temple. It will showcase both the superiority of our faith and thinking. ‘It would do a lot to dispel the prejudices against both your faith and our organization’ it says right at the end.”
“...Is that so?” Kenji did not understand why that would be a desirable thing. His family did not act out in the open very often. Parading themselves in public was bold. Perhaps Yachie had decided to abandon hell for good? If that were true, the others would be joining them before too long.
“I have long thought about how to best reach the people of this land,” Byakuren said, “it cannot be denied that those in the village enjoy festivals and merrymaking. The creatures outside the village also are fond of reveling. By showing them that both humans and youkai can be united in such a way… it would be good for the temple and the land generally.”
Byakuren nodded to herself, a serious expression coalescing on her face. Though very different in appearance and outlook at first blush, Kenji found himself thinking that there was undoubtedly a cunning similar to Yachie’s to be found in her. Perhaps she was right, he thought, humans and youkai could be united by their commonalities.
A girl in a nun’s headdress had interrupted their meeting after some time. She was one of a pair of youkai, her companion a dour-looking cloud that eyed the beast with naked suspicion. They had come looking for Byakuren as she had deviated from her usual routine. That ended their first proper conversation as she was needed elsewhere.
Kenji took the opportunity to excuse himself, leaving some of the pending details to be resolved at another opportunity. He thought of being childish yet again and patting the priestess’ bum as he walked away but he did not feel like fighting; the strange cloud was sure to react negatively. Both the girl and Byakuren smiled at him as they wished him goodbye and he responded with a tepid nod and wave of his hand.
He found his own way out and discovered that most of the morning had been lost in dealing with Byakuren. The sun was high in the sky and it would soon be midday. His subordinate had done her job well. Both her and the girl she was meant to distract were found napping on a grassy patch near the path to the cemetery. A pair of brooms lay beside them.
“Made a new friend?” he asked, nudging her awake, “I guess that makes two of us.”
“Oh, aniki?” the fairy looked at him sleepily, caught between suppressing a yawn and rubbing her eyes. The yawn escaped her soon enough.
“Aniki…” the animal-eared girl repeated, still fast asleep.
“Let’s let her sleep a while longer,” Kenji whispered, and helped the fairy up to her feet, “we’re leaving.”
Lala was restored to her usual self before too long. She could not wait to tell Kenji all about how she had kept the girl—Kyouko was her name—busy using her smarts and toughness. Helping her sweep aorund the temple grounds had been turned into some sort of competitive game, apparently, and they had whiled away a lot of the time by doing chores.
She was only too happy to hear that she would be back at the temple before too long, as the beast told her of the alliance between them.
“Hm, Byakuren sure sounds pretty,” Lala said to him, “I’d like to meet someone you like lots like that.”
“...what makes you say that?”
“Oh, well, you were smiling just now when talking about her. You never really smile like that when talking about our older sister. It’s always a lot more serious.”
“I hate that priestess very much, as a matter of fact,” the beast chuckled at the leap that the fairy made. He didn’t quite believe what he said about that troublesome Hijiri but it was the most he was willing to say on the matter at the moment. There were lots of things that Lala did not need to know. Like how he had lost a fight.
“They’re our friends now, I’m having fun meeting so many people. It makes me wanna get even tougher so I can fight anyone who doesn’t like us,” the fairy concluded crudely. The beast pat her on the shoulder, unable to find fault with her enthusiasm.
 Lala was encouraged to be friendly with their new friends. There was strength in numbers.  The fairy was not wrong about needing to get tougher. They had a ways to go yet.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/21 (Sat) 11:00
>>202031 If you understand the mindset of the beasts, they don't really 'make friends' -- they just make a show of submitting to those who prove themselves stronger. Even if they band together, it doesn't mean they won't stab each other in the back tomorrow if they see a sign of weakness. Theirs is a society that doesn't really work beyond a very superficial level.
>>202033 What's important to consider is that there are ties with some Buddhist temples and the yakuza in Japan. You have a lot of (usually important) yaks who have a way of conveniently 'retiring and repenting' when things are going on or as a shield from internal politics.
Whether Yachie intends to do that herself in order to have some kind of continued foothold in Gensokyo, or perhaps she intends to simply fill the ranks with her men, the festival bit is probably just PR, plain and simple. Byaks wants humans to trust them more, and Yachie probably wants humans to think of the Kiketsu as 'altruistic businesspeople' or somesuch. The clear circumstance is that they're pushing into Gensokyo, and it'd be hard for Reimu to just Crimson Slash them all if the humans have some kind of more-than-negative sentiment towards them. Or something like that.
[x] Lala was encouraged to be friendly with their new friends. There was strength in numbers. Just one guy and a fairy isn't enough to do anything fun. The temple youkai aren't known for being very dedicated to buddhism, right? We should be able to pocket a few.
Plus Kyouko is in a punk band, that's practically being a criminal already.
The journey back was uneventful, with Lala getting used to cutting through wooded areas and smaller trails. There was much excitement when she was encouraged to make friends though Kenji was unsure that she understood the greater lesson at play. Talk of a common front, united in mutual interest, would have to be explained calmly at some other opportunity. The crunch of orange and brown leaves underneath their feet would fill the role of actual conversation.
They arrived back home and were greeted with peace and quiet.
The Kiketsu matriarch was nowhere to be found. Her unique scent lingered in the air inside of the shack but would likely be gone in only a matter of hours. Kenji paid the disappearance no mind and, indeed, relished the opportunity to spend time without constant supervision. His only obligation—that he make his report—would wait given the further lack of instructions. There were wiser ways to spend his time other than tracking a beast that most likely did not wish to be tracked.
Lala, on the other hand, reacted differently. At first thinking it a game such as hide and seek, she frittered to and fro. Kenji did nothing to stop her. She searched carefully in the shack (as if their boss could hide behind a pile of scrap), in the nearby woods and even took the time to go to the nearest stream. It was hours before she gave up and finally returned.
She asked Kenji if he had any idea what could have happened but the beast offered only a vague statement that the boss was a busy woman. “She’ll be back whenever she needs to be here,” he said after she did not let the subject drop. Those few days had habituated her to a routine of idle attention and hair-stroking that was difficult to forget. The fairy did not get his indifference at all.
Slightly annoyed at the fairy, the beast issued a few orders to keep her busy. Under the guise of keeping up her training, he finally had some peace and quiet. That did not make him feel any better. The restlessness he had been feeling as of late continued. He could not escape the boss’ machinations nor, would it appear, could he even best a preachy pacifist. Violent and dark thoughts raged in his mind. He regretted not pushing down that vile woman there and then, claiming the spoils of what should have been an easy victory.
His breathing quickened as he recalled the sourness of her sweat and the acidity of her saliva. This false memory, aggravated by frustration, stayed with him for the rest of the day. The tub bore the brunt of his hostility, groaning and creaking as he shifted around restlessly during his nightly soak. It did not yield and fall apart only by sheer luck. It was just as well that Lala kept to herself and retired early as she might have been frightened of the fey eyes that once again stared up at the night sky. That slow realization that the chaotic points of light might have some order, after all, made him feel helpless.
Several days after their first visit to the temple, the beast and the fairy returned for another visit. Yachie had not been seen again and so Kenji had defaulted to his usual business—he mostly continued to conspire with the greedy merchant and expand his financial reach. He had amassed enough wealth to outright purchase sturdier materials with which he could build his home. But that was all of secondary importance and he spent most of his time idle and laying about.
It was only to silence Lala’s incessant badgering that he finally relented and went to see Byakuren again.
“Ah, hello!” they were greeted enthusiastically by the same cheerful girl just outside the temple. She had been reciting a sutra from memory—poorly—and was pleased to be interrupted. “Lala, Master Kenji, good to see you again~!”
“Heya, Kyouko,” the fairy basically launched herself onto her, hugging her at the waist.
“Heya, heya,” Kyouko echoed, laughing and returning the hug. “Come to play some more today?”
“We’re here on serious business,” Lala said, letting go, “we’re here to get to know the others.”
‘Master’ Kenji shrugged but did not deny that assessment. He wondered if the honorific was something that the excitable girl had thought of impromptu or whether it had been an instruction from the priestess.
“Hm, is that so?” Kyouko’s tail wagged.
“Perhaps you can show her how tough and dependable you’ve become thanks to my training,” the beast suggested idly, uninterested once more in the pair. It appeared that his visit had been foreseen. The girl from last time—Kumoi, the beast recalled—stood at the top of the temple steps, looking at the new arrival with a slight smile. The large cloud coiled around her protectively, with jealous eyes.
“Oh, yeah, I can show you the sorts of things I do for training,” the fairy grabbed Kyouko’s hand and began to pull her towards a more open area. There was no fighting her boundless enthusiasm.
Kenji climbed the temple steps to meet the waiting pair.
“Good day,” Kumoi spoke, “have you come to see Lady Hijiri? I’m afraid she’s away at the moment.”
“What a shame,” Kenji grumbled, unsure whether he was disappointed or relieved. “I suppose that means I can’t receive any training today.”
“Oh? I’m a priest-in-training,” she said with a perfectly wholesome smile, “I can’t claim to be as knowledgeable as Lady Hijiri but perhaps I could help out somehow.”
 Her friend could help him deal with his frustrations; the cloud looked like he was spoiling for a fight.  Under the guise of spiritual training, the beast hoped to learn more about Byakuren and her shortcomings.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/22 (Sun) 11:20
For quite some time the beast had felt irritated at the way the cloud looked at him. In the first place, it was odd that a cloud should have a face, let alone the face of a bald, bearded man. He kept close to the Kumoi girl, circling around her with purpose. His orbit tightened the closer the beast had gotten, almost looking jealous that he should be able to talk to her. Or, perhaps, it was a more generalized antipathy. In which case, the feeling was mutual.
“What’s his deal?” Kenji tilted his head at the cloud, not knowing that he was a nyuudou—a reformed one, but once upon a time a man-eater. “Keeps staring at me,” the beast growled provocatively at it, “don’t like it one bit.”
A look of momentary confusion crossed Kumoi’s face. “Oh, you mean Unzan?” she asked, looking back at her companion, “he’s my friend. Helps me out with my duties.”
“Looks like he’s tryin’ to pick a fight,” Kenji smirked, “I have half a mind to give him one.”
The girl looked troubled and said something softly that Kenji didn’t quite catch. She nodded her head and then spoke again, looking apologetic, “Ah, well, he’s normally nice to strangers… but I fear you might be right. He says he doesn’t like you much either. I don’t quite understand why.”
“Ho, well, at least I can respect an honest guy like him for having the guts of admitting it. Though he should probably do his own talking instead of using someone else.”
“He’s, um, just shy. Not used to talking to people anymore,” Kumoi looked to be in a panic, noting that Kenji’s eyes were mean and focused. This was the sort of look that was a clear sign of trouble ahead. Worse still, Unzan didn’t seem to be too calm either.
“How about it? Fancy a go?” Kenji pointed at the large temple courtyard, “you and me, if you have the balls.”
The cloud smiled at him and nodded. A clear yes.
“Uzan!” Kumoi exclaimed, “You can’t. Lady Hijiri- no I’ll be cross with you if you do!”
“I think it’s settled,” Kenji said, “come on, let’s get it over with.”
“It’s a matter of honor?!” she scowled at the cloud, “really, don’t be unreasonable. Just let it go.”
“He gets it,” the beast laughed, “let us men have our bloody honor. Spellcards are for those who prefer elegance to a vulgar brawl.”
There was nothing that Kumoi could do to stop the fight. The cloud left her side, following Kenji down the steps with eyes that matched the beast’s determination They stood at one end of the large courtyard by the temple’s entrance. Unzan formed a pair of fists out of his body that looked about as solid as matter could get.
“It’s a fair fight between men, that clear?” Kenji asked, “if I hit you, I can really hit you. If I find out that you’re just a cloud, I’m going to go for your little girl over there then instead. She probably couldn’t do the same trick, I’ll bet.”
The cloud rumbled with rage. The threat had its intended effect. The beast did not doubt it would be a more or less fair fight.
Kumoi rushed down the steps to try and stop things but found herself held back by a pair of human worshipers who apparently were more interested in watching a fight than praying.
Things began spontaneously. Both beast and cloud rushed towards one another and exchanged a few quick punches. Loud, dull thuds echoed. Out of respect for both the temple and his partner, Unzan had chosen to keep himself at around human-like size. The beast did not know it but he could have easily made himself the size of a building. He also honored Kenji’s wish and made himself solid; he did not have the consistency of flesh but any hits did register pain.
It was a very fun fight, Kenji thought as he traded another blow with the cloud. It hurt like hell when he was hit. His fists were bloodied before too long and his body was sore all over. That only drove him to redouble his efforts, aiming to pay back the bastard before him more.
The humans and Kumoi certainly had never seen anything like it—the strength and primal ferocity of both sent a chill down their spines. Soon, others had noticed the exchange and came running to watch. Lala and Kyouko were among them. The fairy cheered without thinking, obviously wanting the beast to win. Others observed from a distance, choosing not to appear. Not a single one of them felt like they could stop the fight even if they had wanted to. Nor could they, for that matter predict who it was that was going to come out on top.
At last, though, it was Kenji who won. Not because he had been the strongest or had endured but rather because he had been less scrupulous. They had shifted positions over the course of the fight, as might be expected. What had happened was that Unzan found himself with his back to a statue and with no way of maneuvering without opening himself up to a clear hit. And if he was hit, he would stumble back. And if he stumbled back… well then the statue would likely be damaged. He was too conscientious to violate his duties to both the temple and his partner. So, out came a gruff cry, “I yield!”
As it had been a matter of honor, Kenji saw no choice but to accept his opponent’s defeat. He realized what had happened a little too late and was more upset with himself than with the cloud man. Spitting out blood, he slumped his shoulders. His strength was fast leaving him. Still, he was satisfied, having worked out a lot of the frustration that had been eating him up. “You’re one tough bastard,” he said with a bloodied smirk.
“And there is honor with you,” Unzan said with a solemn nod, “perhaps I was mistaken.”
“Wanna get a drink?” the beast asked.
Unzan nodded, a tight smile replacing the almost-permanent scowl that he usually wore.
Through the fight, a strange connection had formed between them. It was not quite respect but more of an acknowledgement of how their earnestness chose to manifest itself. “Our fists had a nice conversation,” both might reply if pressed about it later.
Lala was, of course, ecstatic at the results and was the first to approach the fighters, running up to hug Kenji from behind. “That was so awesome!” she was in tears, “I really want to get as strong as you are soon!”
“Unzan,” Kumoi approached, deep disappointment carved into her brow, “are you satisfied?”
“Yes,” the cloud replied, eyes turned downwards, “I am sorry, Ichirin.”
“Lighten up, Ichirin,” the beast used her given name, “we’re friends now. Gonna get something to drink, in fact. Wanna join us?”
“Lady Hijiri wouldn’t approve,” she huffed but then, after a moment, sighed, “I cannot join you but I can at least pretend I have witnessed nothing improper.”
“Thank you,” Unzan said quietly, choosing be quiet for a while again.
“If anyone talks about our fight, martial arts can be a form of meditation. Tell them that this was just sparring,” Kenji thought quick on his feet, not especially wanting to make things harder for the girl. It wasn’t really out of a sense of responsibility to the temple but rather a sense of fair play.
“Let me see to your wounds,” Ichirin tried to move on, “it won’t do to have a wounded guest. Or have him bleed freely onto the temple grounds.”
 The beast reveled in the pain of victory and refused her offer.  Kenji accepted, content to have caused enough trouble for the moment.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/23 (Mon) 11:15
It took some work for the crowd that had gathered to watch the fight to disperse. Ichirin delegated the work to Kyouko who, with Lala’s spontaneous help, noisily encouraged everyone to go back to whatever they had been doing. In watching the pair work, Kenji found that they complemented each other well, with a blend of high energy and tenacity that overwhelmed most passive resistance. Despite their unimpressive statures and likely lack of actual strength, the beast thought that they might do an effective job as sentries for an operation.
The cloud had fallen quiet among the commotion, once again communicating almost exclusively with Kumoi. This was not meant to be a slight so much as a product of habit as his stern face showed little in the way of hostility whenever his eyes met Kenji’s. He took his place around the priest-in-training and silently pressured her to get a move on.
With Byakuren away, however, Ichirin was taking her role at the temple more seriously than usual and felt compelled to supervise. Worry about the beast and his wounds did have some impact on her. Without thinking of how it might look to the nearby humans, she took Kenji’s hand and apologized about the delay. Leading him back up the temple steps, she gave Kyouko a final look meant to get her to take care of everything in her absence.
“It is rare for once of us to be injured,” she meant as an apology as she entered the main temple building from a side entrance and took the beast through a small corridor to a small room. It was a common room of sorts where a mixture of scents permeated the air. Youkai, by and large, as far Kenji could reckon. A few articles of clothing had been left strewn on the floor, their different sizes suggesting different owners. Ichirin had him sit by a square table that took up much of the center of the room as she fetched a small box from a larger trunk next to the door.
Unzan settled in on the opposite end of the table, quick to secure drinking cups from nearby. He watched with interest as Ichirin asked Kenji to strip down to his waist and opened up the box filled with bandages and liquids in phial form. Kenji’s tattoos were of interest to him and the beast correctly predicted that they would be a subject of conversation once the drink began flowing.
“I have never seen anyone resist Unzan’s fists like that before,” Ichirin made conversation as she wiped off a combination of sweat and nearly-dry blood from Kenji’s hands and body. Noting the areas of his upper torso where bruising was already apparent, she asked, “What sort of creature are you?”
“Tough,” the reply came accompanied by one of the smuggest smirks that the girl had ever witnessed. Unzan roared with laughter, shaking his head with approval.
Kumoi frowned as she applied a stinging liquid and then bandage to a sore area. The practical problem with Kenji’s bravado was that he could not display any sign of weakness in front of her. Being pummeled by a nyuudou, turned out, was an extremely painful experience. Without the high from his boiling blood at the moment of the fight, a lot of his body ached. Byakuren’s blow the other day had been singular and surgically applied. By contrast Unzan had more or less tenderized his flesh and sought to break bone with each mighty hit. So he bit the inside of his mouth whenever she looked away from his face, hoping to use that fresh pain as a distraction from the rest of his body’s sores.
“Thanks for the help,” the beast minded his manners as Ichirin finished up.
“No worries, Lady Hijiri would scold me if I left you unattended. She is as a big sister for a lot of us, kind and understanding, so it wouldn’t do to disappoint her,” Ichirin spoke, eyes brightly filled with affection.
“A big sister, huh?” Kenji though of his own sworn family. Her slyness never ceased to amaze him. He began to think of the Myouren Temple as less of a religious institution and more of his sort of family. An important factor in seeking their alliance, no doubt.
“Is that a such a strange thing?” she asked, misunderstanding the reason for his amusement. “We owe our lives to her and have been through much together.”
“I suppose then, that I am a cousin,” he said, once again dressing up his upper body. “You don’t need to answer if you do not wish, but did she tell you to be wary around me?”
“Only that I should have patience and understanding for you are as many of our congregation was long ago,” she replied, getting up to store the medicine box. The trunk was left open and Kenji quickly understood the reason: a large bottle stood on one side of the interior and it was her way of giving them alcohol without directly giving it to them. Ichirin shook her head at Unzan, “I will be seeing to my other duties now. It would be best if you didn’t spend all day here.”
“Thank again,” Kenji spoke for the pair.
Kumoi stood at the door for a moment. She adjusted her headdress, hiding some of the hair that was exposed at the side of her head underneath the blue fabric. “We are as family,” she said quietly, “do not try to take advantage of our beloved saint. Unzan will not hesitate to go all-out if needed. And neither shall I.”
The beast shrugged. Her loyalty was commendable but misplaced. He was the one being taken advantage of, surely. There was no peace and no path forward which he could truly call his own. He thought about that after the girl left and after the first drinks were poured. With a toast to allies, he gulped down greedily.
In the days that followed, the beast found himself with a new routine. He made his collections and saw to his interests every now and, whenever he was not busy improving his home, he spent time at the temple. Partly this was—as he had told Lala—a way to ensure the numbers in their alliance, partly a way to fulfill his contract with Byakuren and, if he really was honest, a way to stave off loneliness. The joy he felt from being in an environment where tight familial bonds were the norm was a product of years of indoctrination.
He met several of the other members of the the temple over time. They were, as a whole, not as pious as the chief priestess. Quick to joke, quicker still to drink, they were a motley bunch who had been brought together more by a love of Byakuren than a love of Buddhism. Still, they did their temple duties and often participated in group recitations and meditation. Kenji was not fond of those but found them tolerable—especially when afterwards the tiger youkai and priestess Shou called him around for a drink.
The relationship between Shou and the rest was somewhat complex. He had gotten bits and pieces from other youkai, including a shape-shifter and Ichirin, but to be succinct, she was the chosen of a god. In theory, all at the temple ought to nominally worship her. That said, in practice she served as Byakuren’s lieutenant and right hand and seemed not to mind the subordinated role. She was quiet and dignified at a cursory glance but, as Kenji soon found out, was far less reserved in private. With the drinks flowing, she became more talkative and he could even perceive a whiff of the wild and predatory animal about her.
As part of their contract, Kenji was entitled to a stipend from the temple. Shou saw to that and brought him small treasures and jewels at the end of the week. In a short time, he became the wealthiest member of the Kiketsu Family. This also meant that the drinks were soon almost exclusively on him. That was not all that his money was good for and he also spent a fair chunk of it for a greater purpose.
 The beast ensured that Reimu was kept uninterested in his ventures with regular visits and varied tribute.  The connection with the merchant proved invaluable as Kenji relied on him to procure gifts for the temple’s inhabitants which, in turn, earned him special favor.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/24 (Tue) 11:20
[x] The connection with the merchant proved invaluable as Kenji relied on him to procure gifts for the temple’s inhabitants which, in turn, earned him special favor. i'll probably be pissing against a tide, but i will never lose my wish to study tantra with the heretic
In his next visit to the Hakurei Shrine, Kenji found its shrine maiden in a somewhat sour mood. She was at a detached storage building at the rear of the shrine, struggling with dust as she organized the cramped space.
“Give me a hand with that,” she said by way of greeting, immediately conscripting the beast in her endeavor. Together, they lugged a heavy trunk from the entrance towards a recessed space in the rear of the dark room. Reimu groaned she hit her leg on another stored object, “It just never ends.”
Kenji thought that perhaps he would be conscripted to do all the heavy lifting for the rest of the day. It was not something that he wished to do. He was already thinking of just leaving an envelope and making an excuse to extricate himself. Luckily, the shrine maiden had had enough of imposing order on chaos and decided that it was a lost cause. “Come on,” she grunted, shaking her head at the mess, “tea is better than dealing with this crap.”
They sat at one side of the shrine, by a small porch that led directly towards what the beast assumed were living quarters—a plain, cozy-looking space with tatami flooring. Reimu poured the tea, a frown still etched onto her face. She sighed to herself and took a sip of the tea, managing to chisel off some of her frustration in a moment.
“I’ve brought you something else today,” the beast said quietly after trying the tea. He reached into his clothing to produce a small jewel—a shiny pebble really—and handed it to her. It was one of Shou’s and one of the less valuable ones at that. Still, if sold at the village, it would fetch a good price. Enough for Reimu to hire someone to organize her storage space. Not that he said as much, wisely opting to not rile her up.
“Oh, that’s nice,” she said with some indifference, leaving the jewel on the tea tray as if it were a paperweight.
“Is something the matter?” Kenji asked, concerned that her ill-mood could affect his bottom line.
“Perhaps,” she eyed him with suspicion, asking, “where’s your fairy?”
“Playing around with friends, probably.”
“Not troubling humans, is she?”
“Maybe a youkai but, even then, I doubt it,” Kenji said with a shrug. In all likelihood Lala was playing around with Kyouko still, showing off all the ‘cool’ things that she could do because of her training. He had not bothered to tell her that he was stepping away from the temple.
“Then, you?” her eyes sharpened harshly. The accusation seemed perfunctory and her irritation somewhat artificial.
“Nah,” the beast replied, maintaining his cool.
“Well, someone is,” she at last revealed the reason for her ill-humor. “Last time I went to the village I heard people talking about a strange black youkai harassing people and asking them all sorts of questions. And then I also heard about a tough-looking youkai spending a lot of time at that stupid temple. That’s you, isn’t it?”
“Myouren?” the beast paused, thinking over his word choice over a drink of tea. With the human faithful and pilgrims, there was no practical way of keeping it a secret. “I have been fostering a relationship with them, yes. But I haven’t harassed any humans. Maybe with the exception of the head priestess.”
“Oh, I don’t care about her at all,” Reimu puffed, “it’s a strange coincidence regardless, don’t you think? If people are hurt and youkai become too bothersome, it’s my job to exterminate them. Even though it’s a pain.”
“I have nothing but good will towards humans,” the beast smiled at his lie. As far as the average villager was concerned, however, it was true enough.
“You better not cause trouble.” Reimu grabbed the jewel from the tray and gave it a proper look over for the first time. Its translucent red color pleased her and she smiled at the beast, stating, “I wouldn’t want our relationship to end.”
“That would be a real shame,” the beast agreed. Shrewdly, he added, “If you have your doubts about my intentions, do come to the festival we are organizing at the temple. It will be open to both humans and youkai and there’ll probably be lots to eat and see. I’ll make sure you get preferential treatment at the stalls.”
“Festivals are nice. You should have organized one here, instead. It is better to get visitors here. If they also happen to donate to the shrine, even better.“
“Next time for sure.”
Autumn was nearing its end when Yachie met again with Kenji. By then, much of Gensokyo’s forests were full of noticeable holes where leaves once presented a unified patchwork. Cold air moved much easier through these barren branches and, from his home, Kenji thought that nocturnal gusts sounded somewhat like the howls ubiquitous to the animal realm.
“You’ve been keeping busy, Yajuu” the boss said as soon as she saw him. He had returned home ahead of Lala for the day, head full of sutras that Byakuren had asked him to memorize. It turned out that the beast had a certain knack for at least remembering noble truths and high-minded lectures. He could not say that he found any sort of wisdom in what he was taught but it impressed his extended family at the temple nonetheless.
“Lady Kicchou,” the beast bowed politely, inviting her into his home and away from the chill.
“I trust that everything has gone well,” Yachie said, lighting a fire in order to brew tea. By then, the once-haphazard shack had become something of a pleasant little single-room cabin. There was actual furniture, quality insulation and quilted futons that replaced those precarious piles of leaves and straw.
“I have gotten along with those at the temple and we’ve been cooperating on a number of things.”
“Very encouraging to hear,” the boss said, watching the kettle intently. The tip of her tail rocked from side and side with impatience. “How go the preparations for the festival?”
“I’ve been seeing to that this week,” Kenji explained. He had used his merchant contact to arrange for local businessmen to set up stalls along the temple grounds. There would be food and opportunities for youkai and humans to mingle. Not to mention entertainment.
“I imagine that the others are pleased with everything?”
“Everyone else at the temple? Yes, I suppose so. Even the more anti-social members seem to be excited.”
“We’re almost there then,” Yachie said, picking up the kettle with a towel. She poured out tea for them and sat down at the table. Her red eyes were trained on Kenji now while a sly smile formed on her lips. “Tell me, Yajuu, how reliable do you think these allies of ours are? Would you trust them with your life yet?”
The beast thought back to an incident a week earlier before giving his reply.
 Late at night, when it had been just two of them left drinking, he had confessed something he had never told anyone before. Understanding had been his response.  His irreverence during a lesson had caused a temporary lapse of patience from his instructor. An earnest apology followed.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/25 (Wed) 11:10
[x] Late at night, when it had been just two of them left drinking, he had confessed something he had never told anyone before. Understanding had been his response. We've received one particularly smack-upside-the-face hint that Kenji's carrying something around, and that it's probably the reason he's not yak-ing it up back in the Beast Realm. Given everything, he was probably in bed with some Keiga fam and might have even harboured some doubts about the whole yak life thing.
That in mind, I'm gonna say this is the plot button choice.
[x] Late at night, when it had been just two of them left drinking, he had confessed something he had never told anyone before. Understanding had been his response. I'm slightly curious about our protagonist. Although it'll probably just be something silly that touches on pride. Also, possible nun.
Only a beast could match another when it came to drinking, Kenji had found himself thinking. Of those who joined the drinking party, only him and the tiger remained. The mouse had dropped out early, preferring to search for proper food and quiet than limitless drink. The phantom had passed out in the corner, muttering about the sea every now and again. The others carried her away to a proper bed.
“Ah, it’s good to have someone who can handle their drink around,” the tiger repeated yet again. She had said as much every time she poured another drink after they had been left alone. A sentimental drunk, she happily gabbed to Kenji about all sorts of things. Apparently it was nice to be respected by the worshipers but it also meant that no one dared to be familiar with her. “You, you’re fearless,” she had said happily, not for the first time again.
“Nah, I’m not all that,” Kenji said, laughing. The unguarded state he was in was due to alcohol’s magical properties. It felt like he had known Shou his whole life. It was rare to find a drinking partner that could handle their drink and generally be pleasant to be around. “Tigers are pretty fearless too, I reckon. I’m not saying this because you’re a god-”
“-avatar,” Shou merrily corrected him with a wave of her hand.
“Yes, that. Anyways, I bet you’re pretty good in a scrap. I can smell it on you, it’s beastly and wild.”
“That’s not really a compliment appropriate for a woman, you know,” she laughed, winking one of her golden eyes at him.
“Ah, yeah, guess you’re right, sorry,” the beast joined her in laughing. “Still, I think you know what I meant. Where I’m from it’s great to be wild. It means being powerful. Means doing things your own way. Not really having to depend or trust others.”
“Kenji,” the tiger stopped him from going on, “there’s nothing wrong with depending on others. Or trusting them. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the trust Byakuren put in me.”
“Byakuren, huh? Yeah, but she’s a strange one.”
“Strange enough to get you to following lessons.”
“And to beat me in a fight,” he confessed sheepishly. “That’s not normal for a monk.”
“I bet you started it, though.”
“I did,” he said and brought his cup up to his lips. He was no longer upset about his loss. Somewhere along the way, between the lessons and just helping around at the temple, he had just come to accept her worldview. Not as his own—he still rejected it vigorously—but he saw the diversity in her community as something unique that probably wouldn’t have happened with brute force nor guile. Unlike, of course…
“I can’t imagine the world you come from,” Shou interrupted his thoughts. She put her elbows on the table and her head on her hands, creating a sagging triangle. Her head ornament, an orange lotus, had become loose and slid forward until it fell with a thud. “Oh,” she laughed and sat up, picking it up and fiddling with the edges of the fabric instead of putting it back on.
“I’ve probably told you too much already about my home,” the beast said, “doubt that the others would appreciate being talked about so much.”
“Who cares? You’re here and talking to me. It’s not like I’m going to tattle. I’m not about to go tell Byakuren that I’ve been spending night after night drinking… really good sake,” she said picking up the bottle once more. She was right about that, the merchant had come through and gotten Kenji some of the best stuff money could buy. Which was all well and good since Kenji had enough money to afford it.
“Would you swear that?” he asked.
“On my pagoda,” she said without hesitation, placed her accessory onto the table and poured out even more to drink. Another bottle gone. Another to be opened.
“Okay, then, I’ve got something I need to get off my chest. I can’t tell you about Family business since I swore an oath… but this isn’t that.”
Shou noticed that his hand hesitated to pick up his cup. Looking him in the eye, she promised, “This stays between you and me.”
“Thanks,” the beast took a moment. He shrugged and emptied his cup in a signle gulp. “I ran away. Because I was afraid. I’m not as fearless as you thought.”
“Eh, well, I’m sure you had a good reason. Even Byakuren has messed up at times and we still look up to her.”
“A good reason?” Kenji pondered about it for a moment. “I didn’t want to be killed.”
“That’s a pretty good reason.”
“Not where I come from,” he smiled bitterly.
Still feeling slightly coy about confessing, Kenji drank another cup before continuing. The rich and subtle flavors of the sake were wasted if just gulped down as with any plain rotgut drink. He told Shou about Yoko. She was a beast from another family. Analogous to him, low-level but ambitious, their love had been from the start clandestine. That they had become lovers after a fight, after stumbling upon each other in contested territory when recently initiated and lost during their first solo collection rounds was something that made Shou chuckle with sympathy.
For a while they took to meeting secretly, using their limited freedoms to conspire to contest the same territories. While they did not outright collaborate, in the sense that their families would understand, they did not compete freely either. A massive sin for blood rivals. With mistreated human spirits in that wasteland as their only witnesses, they were very happy for a long time. Their rise in their respective families was twinned and they remained similar in status and privilege. They even joked from time to time that, before too long, they would be the leaders of their families. Then they might escape the need for secrecy and openly establish an alliance between them. Both knew it to be a fiction in their hearts of hearts but it was a pleasant fiction.
“The trouble was that I shouldn’t have trusted her so much,” Kenji got to the point in the story where his belief in his rotten luck began. One day, he headed to his rendezvous spot to meet Yoko as they had arranged. That none of the enslaved human spirits were around at the entrance should have tipped him off that something was awry. He shook his head, trying to keep his voice steady as he explained things to Shou. “It was a trap. Other members of her family were there, waiting for me. She sold me out and stood there silently, eyes cold as they threatened and then beat me. They made me an offer—work for their family in secret and betray my own or they would run rumors and conveniently turn up ‘witnesses’ that had seen me with Yoko. In other words, it would look like I betrayed them anyways.”
“What did Yoko say?” Shou reached from across the table to take his hand. His pride was fully gone and so he accepted her pity.
“That that was the way of life that we chose, nothing else,” Kenji sighed. “So, because I didn’t want to die—I would be found out one way or the other—I ran away. There were other spirits heading for Gensokyo so I just followed their lead.”
“And you’re back to working for your family?” Shou asked, “They didn’t expose you?”
“No, I guess not,” he laughed, “some luck though, right? Running away and being found by your family again, asked to keep on working. If they ever do find out...”
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” Shou did not hesitate to say. “In fact, we’ll all protect you. Byakuren is pretty stubborn when she wants to be and she’s not about to let one of her precious disciples disappear on her.”
“Hah, it would be nice if I could believe it. Besides, I swore an oath… pretty much only death can release me from it.”
“Miraculous things have been known to happen,” the tiger said, pouring out the last drink of the night. They both had a lot to think about and, more importantly, it would be dawn soon. Neither wished to be caught by an early-rising priestess. Kenji sighed and toasted his companion, offering a brave smile that only a man who has accepted the hangman’s noose around his neck could offer.
“Yes,” the beast told his boss, “I would.”
“Marvelous,” Yachie said, “if it is mutual, that will make the next stage easier.”
 The beast asked if the alliance was meant to be long-term so that he could prepare himself if he had to disown it.  Kenji wished to know if the other families may have been aware of her plans so that he could better protect the scheme from surprise intervention.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/26 (Thu) 11:10
[x] Kenji wished to know if the other families may have been aware of her plans so that he could better protect the scheme from surprise intervention. The dame sold him out, eh? Guess I should've seen that one coming.
My man forgot the cardinal rule: never trust a broad. They bleed every month you know. T'aint natural. [x] The beast asked if the alliance was meant to be long-term so that he could prepare himself if he had to disown it.
Personally I would go more with "The best asked if the alliance was meant to be long-term so that he could prepare himself to best take advantage of the situation/get outta dodge in time." But maybe that's implied, or so obvious it needn't be said.
The matriarch paused. She took the opportunity to slurp a mouthful of tea before answering, “We have worked in isolation from our family and the others but not in secrecy. By meeting with the various inhabitants of this land, you have already made yourself a known agent to those who watch for such things.”
“I would have noticed someone keeping track of me,” Kenji addressed the most obvious scenario.
“Would there be any need to keep track of you, specifically?” the boss answered her own question, “Likely not.”
Kenji drank his tea, brooding over the matter a little more. It wasn’t so much that he was devoid of theories—the Kiketsu were good at scheming and thinking such matters through—but he would rather hear some hint from his superior. The true purpose of her plan still eluded him and he was increasingly uncomfortable with just going along with things. For all he knew, he was digging his own grave.
The excuse that he wished to protect from intervention was thin. It did, eventually, get some comment from Yachie. Pouring herself another cup of tea, she mused, “It is always wise to assume someone will attempt to upset your plans. Risk can be minimized or turned into an advantage.”
“I’ll remain vigilant,” he stated, trying to make it sound like he wasn’t outright grumbling. As a loyal soldier, he was condemned to play his part.
The course of events once Lala came back was predictable. The fairy was ecstatic to see Yachie once more and bombarded the matriarch with attention. Egged on by the patient boss, she told her all about what had been happening in her absence. New friends, Kenji’s fearsome fighting skills, her own training—she practically tripped over her own tongue trying to get it all out. Of course, her reward lived up to her expectations and she got the affection she so desired.
The beast did not wish to spend all evening in that environment. Making up an (not-entirely-untrue) excuse about having to see to preparations for the coming festival, he left his home and wandered for a while.
Night was a good moment to see Gotoh. The fat merchant was mostly done interacting with normal villagers and could welcome the presence of a beast into his stately home. He laughed and joked about their run of good luck as of late, promising him more sake and other luxuries free of charge. Their schemes and investments had returned yet another batch of record profits. While nominally happy, the beast found little solace in yet more monetary success.
There would be no problem with rounding up enough local businesses to set up stalls for the festival, he had been assured. Things would run smoothly and they would make a killing with their organization fees. With that sorted, he had no other excuse to linger. The beast asked that most of the bottles be delivered to the temple and took only a single one with him. Using the discreet rear exit at the back of the house, he exited to a seldom-used path that was overgrown with bushes and trees.
The beast drank as he walked, pausing from time to time to breath deep of the cool autumnal air and stared up at the clear night sky. He thought of visiting the bird. Uninteresting as she might have been to him, it was still a distraction. What kept him away from the promise of carnal comfort was what she had said last time he had passed by for a collection: that on nights when the moon shone bright, she could be found in a field, putting on a show with a friend well into the small-hours of the morning. He had no desire to find himself in a crowd, especially a noisy one.
His ramble took him back to the temple. Only a few lanterns by the main building were lit, the rest were dark and idle. So used to seeing Kyouko outside, doing chores and greeting visitors, that he half-expected the girl to come running up to him at any moment. Of course, she wouldn’t. The beast did not know it but she was busy indulging in her rebellious streak, out in a field somewhere with her friend, the very same bird he had briefly thought of fucking.
It was not exactly enjoyable to stand out in the chill but Kenji hesitated to enter the temple without a clear purpose. He sat at the entrance of the graveyard, in a spot where a youkai had attempted to surprise him not too long ago—a mistake that she was not likely to repeat anytime soon. The beast enjoyed the fleeting warmth emanating from his belly as he downed a good portion of the bottle. If any of the other families were to see him now, what would they think? No doubt it might well be a masterful Kiketsu ruse to have one of their own attempt to drink themselves to a state of numbness in the dark. A ruse, a distraction, a something or the other. A ploy by the wily to become even stronger.
In the spots where stalls would be set up in just a few days, the beast ambled about. A fight would be nice, might bludgeon himself into an unthinking state, he reasoned. Sadly, a temporary solution. Same as the mostly-diminished contents of the bottle in his hand. Gotoh’s greed fueled his generosity and the beast appreciated the tribute of his leasers. That was the natural order of things. Submission when bested, when greater opportunity lay in swallowing pride and gritting teeth. When trust was irrelevant because there was no alternative. No oath took precedence over nature.
Kenji did not bother to knock. He entered Byakuren’s room and announced, “There is no where where I want to be.”
The head priest had been in bed but roused quickly enough. Dressed in simple cotton sleeping clothes, she did not react negatively to the intrusion. Taking her time to light a lantern, she motioned for the beast to sit on one of two cushions that she had in an otherwise very austere and small room. She listened patiently to what he had to say.
“...I could not find Shou,” he confessed, “and there’s no one else around. I don’t want to be alone but there’s no one whose company I want. I’ve settled for you.”
 She offered him no words, keeping him quiet company throughout the night.  The beast could not resist, and eventually welcomed, her direct comforting.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/27 (Fri) 11:20
Byakuren did not mind being the beast’s only recourse. Closing her eyes momentarily—long enough that Kenji feared she may have simply fallen asleep—Kenji intimated that she was meditating upon what she should do. The many days and sessions that they had had by themselves already made him pick up on a subtle rhythm to her process, to her breathing and to much more.
There was a part of him that wished to insult her, to try her even at the moment when she was the only one he could turn to. Very little of that original anger could be found and mixed in to inflame his grievances. Whatever other disagreements he might have with the priestess, he knew that she was not an antagonistic force at present. Or so he ferverantly hoped. He did not dare to think of rejection for it would finally sink him wholly into despair.
“Come,” Byakuren said at last, breaking the silence. She motioned for him to lift the cushion and plant it next to hers. The tandem position was one familiar to him from their meditation exercises. He did as asked. She surprised him by veering from the expected and towards the familiar by placing a hand on his shoulder, asking, “Do you wish to share that which troubles you?”
“Nah…” he answered, “I couldn’t explain it even if I tried. It’s hopeless.”
“I do not believe it is,” she said, pressing him gently, “start with whatever comes to mind.”
“...what comes to mind is that I would have pushed you away or done even worse normally.”
“Why don’t you?”
“There would be no point. I’ve been defeated.”
“...not just you.”
Byakuren’s palm massaged the back of his shoulder. She found there was a rigid sensation, less muscle and more tension. “I do not believe I have defeated you,” she said, sitting closer to him so that she could work both shoulders with both hands, “I think I’ve simply shown you another path.”
The beast laughed bitterly. “That sort of talk would normally make me want to push you down and force myself onto those indecent tits of yours.”
“Normally? Not now?” she was unfazed by his confession.
“I just don’t have the fight in me,” he whimpered.
“I am defenseless. I wouldn’t resist.”
Her hands stopped moving. He turned his head around, half-expecting a damnable smirk. Instead he found eyes that offered no judgment and a calm that further eroded his anxiety. “Like I said, I’ve been defeated,” he sighed.
“Perhaps you would wish me to resist strenuously? Does the promise of struggle give you purpose?”
“I thought so too. And I do get fired up all the time over small shit. But no, I don’t think that it does anymore. Just fighting for the sake of fighting… I don’t think I’ve gotten anywhere. I enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but there’s gotta be something else, right?”
“So fighting Unzan didn’t make you happier?” she asked. It should have come as no surprise to him that word would eventually reach her of that. They had made a spectacle of themselves.
“It was fun but no, I guess,” Kenji said, letting himself sink into a more comfortable position. He resisted still, voicing a token rejection, “I wouldn’t say that meditating with you is fun either. And I don’t think I’ll ever really care about sutras or the words of the enlightened ones.”
“Just as you will never care about me?” the priestess asked quietly.
“...crap, that’s embarrassing,” the beast whimpered, “can’t really deny that I came here looking for something. Probably would still be out in the cemetery drinking if I really disliked you. ‘I want to conquer that bitch and fuck her senseless!’ is the sort of thing that I thought a lot about late at night.”
“Take your time, there’s no rush. I’ll help for as long as you need my help. The others will too,” Byakuren said as she stopped her massage. The beast became aware of her sweet and mild scent as she hugged him from behind. He thought little of the soft feeling of her chest against his back and more of how warm her touch felt against his skin.
Kenji did not let himself be entirely passive. He could not resist Byakuren nor how she eased away troublesome memories and ongoing struggles. With naiveté that was incongruous from a beast from hell—a breed of those who were used to just taking what they wanted—he turned towards the priestess with some reluctance. Asking seemed stupid but he did not wish to risk misunderstanding.
“May I?” he asked, struggling to meet her eyes. The lantern’s dim light cast shadows across the room and her face, making her a little more unreadable than usual.
Her lips parted, “If that is what you wish.”
Trembling slightly, he accepted the former youkai hunter’s kindness. He kissed her gently, lovingly, as he had once upon a time dared to kiss another. It was yet unclear if he was pledging himself to her or if it was simply the desperate attempt to survive from a wounded beast. It hardly mattered. Byakuren felt warm and, most importantly, accepted who he was. On a chilly autumn evening when hope seemed so hard find, he had found some measure of peace.
They parted as the first light of the new day crept over the top of the Great Youkai Mountain. It was not discussed, much less arranged, and simply seemed like the proper thing to do.
As he rounded a corner, Kenji found that the other temple inhabitants were also beginning to start their day. Ichirin greeted him politely, quickly covering up the surprise on her face. It was time for morning prayers, she stated, glancing in the direction of Byakuren’s bedroom. Unzan looked to be half asleep but gave the beast a subtle nod.
He wished her well but did not linger. His spirit was rested but his body felt heavy and weak. Instead of returning to the mountain, he chose to retire to the common room. It was thankfully empty and he covered himself with a blanket someone had left behind. Sleep found him quickly.
In the afternoon, Kenji occupied himself with the pending business at the temple. Most of that pertained to organizing the details of the upcoming festival. A great banner had been made, to be hung from the temple’s roof and welcome all that came. Some of the youkai had fought over what should be written on it but a comprise was finally agreed upon. That might not sound like a big deal but forcing that compromise took a whole lot of time and energy. It wasn’t easy to wrangle a mouse, a phantom, a tiger and whatever else and get them to agree on any one thing.
Byakuren made giving them a common purpose look effortless and whenever she did pop around to help Kenji, things went smoothly. As she had other matters to attend to such as organizing group prayer and meditation sessions and leading them, there hadn’t been much more opportunity for the beast to thank her.
“Hey pipsqueak,” Kenji called over Lala during a work break. The fairy had arrived at around noon at the temple and, indeed, had been the one to wake him up. She had been worried that he hadn’t come home, she claimed. Never mind it wasn’t the first time he had stayed out all night.
The fairy had been busy figuring out the security of the event with the help of Kyouko (who, for reasons unknown to the beast, looked about as tired as he was). It was a festival meant to celebrate both humans and youkai and underscore that understanding was possible so it was unlikely that anything too bad could happen. But still, Kenji would have been remiss to not plan for any eventuality.
“Yeah, aniki?” the fairy asked, giving him a strange look. That was likely because she had never seen him genuinely want to hear her opinion. He hesitated because he didn’t really know if he should ask it at all. It seemed dumb but, for whatever, reason, he did care what Lala thought about certain things.
 He asked the fairy if she was happy spending time at the temple instead of training.  The beast asked if she still thought he was as strong as when he first met her.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/28 (Sat) 10:50
“I’m having loads of fun,” Lala gave a most fairy-like answer. “I thought this was a kind of training, though. They’re our, uh, right, allies. But also friends too.”
“Yeah, you’ve made a lot of friends,” the beast agreed, patting the fairy’s head. She flashed him a sparkling smile, immediately enjoying that he was being uncharacteristically gentle. Were he to persist much longer, she might curl up next to him like a shameless cat and just die from the intense joy. “It’s not only Kyouko but I’ve also seen you with Ichirin and the others. They all like you.”
“I like ‘em too!” she giggled, “they’re not mean and listen to what I’m saying.”
“Are they better than the other fairies?”
“Fairies are nice too,” Lala nodded, “but it’s always so loud and everyone wants to talk at the same time. But that’s fun too.”
There was just no upsetting her, the beast thought. It was unclear to him just how much of a proper member of the Kiketsu she was but it seemed obvious that she fit in easily those at the temple. Oath or not, she would be better served staying her current course. His mode of discipline was too inconsistent. Even if Lady Kicchou had not started directing his actions, he doubted that he could have trained her properly. Gensokyo had its own organizations and power brokers. If he had just continued to act on his own, it would have just been a matter of time before he was exterminated.
“Mmm, Kenji?” the fairy was looking up at him with concern in her eyes, “are you okay? You stopped playing with my hair.”
“I did?” the beast forced a grin, “guess I don’t want to spoil you too much. Gotta be tough to make it in this world, dontcha know?”
“Yeah, I know!” she smiled and struck a pose. It was meant to look like him before his fight with Unzan, the beast realized—her fists were tight and it looked like she could spring into action at any moment.
“That’s the spirit!” he encouraged her, allowing himself a genuine laugh. For all of his uncertainty and loathing, he remained a lover of true guts. Dismissing her and allowing her to go back to work, he was pleased at how tough the fairy had become. It wasn’t the same sort of toughness that he envisioned all those many weeks ago but, surprisingly, he could say the same about himself. As the fairy cheerfully got back to playing around with Kyouko, the beast was glad that there was more than one way to do things.
The few remaining days before the festival were all rough going. One of the biggest challenges was to properly advertise the event and Kenji, being very much naturally intimidating, could not really expect to find much success by standing in the village square and handing out flyers. Most of those in the temple were likewise disqualified; a scowling cloud, an undefined girl with odd wings, a haughty mouse and such would elicit similar reactions. And, of course, Byakuren had other duties to perform while it was outright beneath the dignity of Shou. Not to mention that they were more likely to ask her for richness than care about a festival.
So Gotoh and his web of influence was the way to proceed. Kenji trusted the merchant to spread things by word of mouth, using businesses that would set up stall as the focal points. It was a reasonable strategy as all the owners had a vested interest in making as much profit as possible.
He spent the last afternoon before the festival helping clear the temple grounds and built a few stalls. The experience he had gained from improving his own home was key. With the help of the few craftsmen that were hired, they had most of it done by early evening. A few missing decorations could be seen to in the morning.
Back home, he took a long soak in his tub. He could not say that he was nervous as such but a vague unease refused to go away. Yachie had disappeared a few days prior and left a simple note wishing him the best of luck. For a time he wondered if maybe she didn’t plan on sending more muscle or even making a personal appearance, but it seemed that he was the only Kiketsu that was going to attend.
Lala joined him in the bath, jabbering about the festival. Though the tub had been improved over time, made a little sturdier and had a direct water feeding system connected to a tank, it still groaned when she splashed around too much. “I wish our sis could see all of our hard work,” she said at one point.
That got the beast to reply, “Lady Kicchou is busy. Can’t spend too much time away from home or some of our less clever brothers and sisters start thinking that they can run things.”
“She must trust you a lot then,” the fairy said innocently, “seeing as how you did all the work out here.”
“Yeah, something like that,” the beast said as he stretched his leg, tapping her on the foot. “Quit moving around so much, you’ll spill all the water.”
“Ah, I can fill up the tank later, it’s not a big deal.”
“How insolent,” the beast laughed drily, “you really aren’t afraid of me anymore.”
“I can’t be afraid of you, silly. I like you lots and lots.”
Kenji did not dispute her logic. It was not worth the effort to get into that sort of argument with a fairy. Besides, the fairy wasn’t letting up. It was because she liked him lots and lots that the fairy was determined to act. Only fair that he had his share of fun at the festival.
 Lala would ensure that he smiled lots by sticking by him.  She had a job to do so she enlisted someone else to keep him company.
[x] Lala would ensure that he smiled lots by sticking by him. You know what? I would have gone with the latter option out of pure curiosity, but I like this relationship with Lala and wish I knew what choices would have made it more prominent so I could go back in time and pick them instead.
The beast and the fairy made their way to the temple early in the day. There was work to do before the festival officially began. Signs went up as the first of the humans went up and set up their stalls. To his surprise Kenji found that few of the humans hesitated to talk to him, more concerned about unloading their wares than feeling intimidated. As the other temple inhabitants seemed to be unsure of how to do simple manual labor, it fell upon him to do most things.
Lala pitched in, staying close to him at all times. Enthusiasm did not make up for a fairy’s limited strength and stamina, however, and more than once the beast had to step in and help her out. That dynamic—of large beast and small fairy—seemed to amuse some of the humans at the stall and they spoiled Lala with attention and exaggerated thanks. Of course, the fairy was delighted to get complimented and was over the moon when she got a piece of candy from one of the older workmen.
Before too long, the work was done. There were all sorts of stalls set up now—some selling various types of foods and treats, others knickknacks and souvenirs and others still being simple games involving with prizes. Not exactly the sort of thing that one might expect at a Buddhist temple but, as people began to stream in around midday, it seemed to delight visitors all the same.
The temple inhabitants were less of an immediate success. Byakuren had decided to do a series of introductory lectures to their faith but failed to gather much of a crowd. Shou would sit, dignified and serious, with her spear in hand and accept offerings in return for blessings—but not until later in the day. The others were mostly left to simply mingle with the mostly human visitors and just generally contribute to the festival’s atmosphere. Peace and harmony was supposed to be the theme of the gathering, after all.
“Hey, aniki,“ Lala tugged at his sleeve. The fairy had been dragging Kenji around the various stalls for quite some time, asking to try all sorts of foods and games. It surprised the beast to see her capable of near-endless consumption of sweets. At dinner she would be fine with just a small bowl of rice.
“This is pretty fun, dontcha think?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied. Humans (and a few youkai) were just walking around, eating and laughing with one another with no apparent care in the world. All sorts had turned out—mothers with younger children, groups of clique-y youths, older artisans and field hands. That no one seemed to mind the occasional flash of his tattoo or his unnaturally intense red eyes and wild hair was, if not disconcerting, at least novel. A fat middle-aged woman had bumped into him and laughed about it as she apologized, treating him as if he were nothing more than her next door neighbor.
Byakuren would be delighted about all that, surely. Kenji stole a glance at her and found that she had found a small but captive audience of elderly villagers. They had been corralled by that cheeky mouse, no doubt using less-than-honest methods.
“Our sis is giong to be really happy too,” Lala said, “writing ‘Kiketsu’ on stuff was pretty smart. People know who did all of this cool stuff for them.”
“How can you tell?” the beast smirked at her, “you can’t even read.”
The fairy pouted and took a bite out of a sticky sort of candy. Something with honey, perhaps? After she chewed her way back to happiness, she added, “I can just tell by the look on their faces, okay?”
“Sure, pipsqueak,” he said as he patted her on the shoulder. She might have had a point. Kenji had not gone overboard but a few strategically placed “brought to you by” and so forths had been painted onto some of the stalls. There was little reason to expect villagers to have heard about his group before so he had bet that it would leave a good first impression.
In another display of youkai-human friendliness, Ichirin had taken to talking to a group of younger children. They were unafraid of Unzan and had gathered around him. Obviously, their original intent had been to poke the strange cloud-like thing with a stick. Ichirin’s sunny disposition and good humor, however, dissuaded them from trying. She even got him to transform that permanent scowl of his into… a less grave scowl. Progress, of sorts.
“Shouldn’t you be patrolling with your friend?” Kenji asked when they arrived at the next stall. They were selling some sort of fried dough with a sweet bean paste filling. Naturally, Lala wanted to try some.
“I told Kyouko that I’d help out later. I wanted to spend time with you, having fun.”
“Oh, how irresponsible. You know Lady Kicchou wouldn’t approve of your slacking off,” Kenji scolded her with a laugh. He found that the festive atmosphere was rubbing off on him. Sure, he’d rather be away from the crowds enjoying a nice bottle of sake but he could just do that later.
“Mmm, I don’t see her around, do you?” she asked as she panned around the crowd, voice a guarded whisper. That was the sort of insolence that could cost you the tip of your finger. The beast said nothing, opting to pat her again on the back as she happily bit into her latest snack.
A familiar face caught Kenji’s eye. Rather, a pair of them. The shrine maiden had accepted his invitation and shown up, with her friend in black and white. The latter seemed to be as excited as Lala, urging her friend onward to a nearby stall. Amusingly, it seemed that Reimu’s disposition mirrored his own: she was nowhere near as pleased as her companion.
A few youkai that he did not know approached the shrine maiden and began to talk to her. Judging by the frown on her face, she didn’t much care to be the center of attention. The other girl—Marisa, the beast finally recalled—happily munched down on a snack as she engaged the rest of the group, laughing and enjoying herself.
Across the distance, Reimu made brief eye contact with him. She frowned.
 The beast bought snacks for all and joined the group.  He extracted the shrine maiden from the group.
Lala could reasonably make the claim that, among all the inhabitants of Gensokyo, she knew Kenji the best. They had, after all, spent day in and day out in close proximity for several months and she paid very close attention to the beast’s every move. As one might recall, she wished to be just like him. She could predict many of his impulses and knew when he was in a good or bad mood. That she couldn’t express her observations succinctly or elegantly was besides the point.
By no means that that mean that he wasn’t able to surprise her. He moved quickly thorugh the crowd and towards the shrine maiden. The fairy ran after him but got slowed down by a group of children that wanted to touch her translucent wings. She freed herself in time to watch Kenji greet a group of youkai with an overfamiliar smile. As if they had known each other for the longest of times. Marisa greeted him in kind while the youkai seemed to each other with confusion.
“Yo, glad to see that you made it,” the beast pressed his way into the circle. What the fairy recognized as a tengu from the mountain didn’t seem too enthused abuot having her personal space invaded but took a step back once she spotted one of the really cool tattoos he had on his forearm. People were funny about those for whatever reason.
The shrine maiden didn’t seem to happy about much of anything, the fairy thought. She greeted Kenji with what basically amounted to a shrug. That didn’t dissuade the beast and he boldly made an announcement, “I’m taking Reimu away for a while. You can all talk to her later.”
If any of the other youkai had objections, they hid them well, catching a glimpse of his very exaggerated toothy grin. Besides, they still had Marisa who was only too happy to chat to her acquaintances. She wanted to stick with Reimu but knew that it would be easy to find her in a crowd—the tall beast was easy to spot.
“Oh, Reimu, it’s been a long time,” the fairy greeted the shrine maiden as she was escorted towards the rest of the crowd.
Reimu ignored her, choosing to speak to the beast, “It’s much busier than I thought it would be.”
“We advertised well,” he said, “come on, like I promised last time, I’ll treat you to something nice.”
The fairy continued to be a third wheel, following the closely back towards the stalls. Kenji and Reimu exchanged a few more words, most of which were drowned out by the festive crowd. She did get to see Reimu smile though—something that she thought was pretty special—when Kenji got her a few dumplings.
“Definitely… shrine… sometime…” the fairy overheard Reimu say before the girl in red and white scarfed down one of the dumplings. Kenji nodded at her and said that it would be up to her.
Lala had had enough. “Hey, aniki, you’re ignoring me!” she huffed and latched onto his arm. The selfish little sister wanted to spend quality time with him no matter what.
Reimu gave a look that could only be interpreted as “I know, fairies are like that and it can’t be helped” and shrugged before digging into another dumpling.
“I’m talking about important things here,” the beast chided, “look, I’ll buy you more candy if you leave us alone.”
“You just don’t get it!” the fairy fumed, pouting her poutiest possible pout. Perhaps she had been inspired by the mass of children running around the temple grounds, acting in a similar fashion with parents that didn’t want to give them money to play games or buy sweets.
She would have continued to be an intransigent brat if not for the deadly serious energy that washed over Kenji. She was used to seeing him worked up but those killer eyes were especially sharp; a shiver ran up her small spine.
Kenji had spotted someone who most definitely did not belong at the festival. She was standing off by the cemetery's entrance, arms crossed as she grinned. The beast had only seen her once—and from a distance—but there was no mistaking her for someone else. Her in-your-face fashion sense was unique: long leathery boots that were meant to highlight her unparalleled leg strength, a turquoise neckerchief that flapped around with the wind and multicolored dress and skirt that billowed with her infamously rapid movements.
Reimu noticed that Kenji had gone quiet and followed his stare. “I don’t need this sort of pain in the butt today,” she grumbled upon spotting the Keiga Family matriarch.
“I don’t want trouble either,” the beast said as if to convince himself that that was the truth, “but I think it’s inevitable.”
His tail stiffened as he balled his fist.
“Ah, crap, I knew I should have exterminated you,” Reimu said, “I don't want to go back to hell but if I have to, I’ll make sure that you guys never come back.”
“Don’t lump me in with them,” Kenji spat out the words, “I don’t know why that bastard is here.”
“I get that she’s not your boss but I don’t really care. I’m going to go back and get my extermination tools. If she’s not gone by the time I come back, I’m getting rid of you both.”
“Do what you must, Hakurei,” Kenji said coolly, trying to suppress the very explosive feelings that were now raging inside of him.
Saki Kurokoma with her large wings and puffy, long black tail that matched the color of her hair, was head of one of the main organizations in the animal realm. Enemies of Kiketsu like Kenji, the Keiga Family valued raw strength above all. The beast didn’t know it but Reimu and a few others had crossed paths with her as they resolved the incident in the animal realm. That was why the shrine maiden was so eager to get the tools of her trade—she knew that Saki could well be a force to be reckoned with. That matriarch wouldn’t hold back if she thought she could gain an advantage.
More relevant to Kenji, the presence of someone like Saki could only mean that she planned to muscle in on his operation. The skirmishes and fights their families were daily occurrences and there could never be any peace among the beasts so long as one family did not subdue the others. He was not prepared to yield to her as Yachie’s wrath would be absolute. And he had yet to get his revenge for Yoko’s betrayal. She, too, had been part of the Keiga.
The shrine maiden was true to her words and left in a hurry. Lala was flabbergasted. Kenji radiated an intense energy that made her realize just how great the gulf between them really was.
 Wishing to resolve things before Reimu returned, the beast rushed the Keiga head on.  The beast kept his distance, risking initiative for the chance to observe unseen.
Few things were as beautiful as a stalking beast. It was the beauty of zen, of focus becoming purpose. Kenji’s every muscle was tense with concentration, his movements deliberate and smooth, with not a single footstep or motion wasting energy. Likewise, his senses sharpened as he targeted the Keiga matriarch, as conscious of her body as he was of his own. He moved along a treeline, mindful of the wind so that his scent went in an opposite direction than his target.
He did not know what had brought a rival family to the surface, to their public attempt to establish their brand in Gensokyo. He could guess but, for the time being, he did not act carelessly. It would be unlikely that Kurokoma would be alone. The Keiga were not known for subterfuge, for ploys and schemes as the Kiketsu were. If he had to make a wager, he expected others of the clan to be nearby, likely looking to overwhelm any resistance with overwhelming strength.
The hairs on the back of his head stood, tense with electric potential. He had gotten as close as he dared without getting within the range of the matriarch’s senses. Between brush and a stone lantern he stood, observing as his target continued to stand impassively, making no attempt at stealth. It was perhaps a direct challenge to the Kiketsu, a way to draw out any elements out for a fight. An honorable duel—as it were—of the likes fought by lieutenants in the beast realm might have been her aim. If she expected Lady Kicchou to be about, she perhaps desired a direct confrontation with her.
“I’ve spotted you,” his reconnaissance mission was cut short by a calm statement. He had expected as much. There was no way that the Keiga matriarch would be alone.
“You always did have a good eye,” the beast played it cool, laughing as he turned to the hench woman. She had gotten the drop by staying downwind of him, mirroring his own approach to Kurokoma. She stood as she always did, beastly pride smouldering in dark eyes that matched long, smooth hair that reflected little of the daylight.
A confident she-wolf, Yoko grinned with sharp cruelty and crossed her arms. “Long time no see, Kenji.”
“Not long enough,” he replied, stepping out into the open. The Keiga boss spotted him instantly, offering a slight nod of acknowledgment to her underling.
“Still playing it cool, I see,“ Yoko whispered as her matriarch approached, “you should have joined us when you had the chance, we could have been standing here as comrades.”
“Fuck off,” the beast snarled, “I’m here for your boss.”
“...well, we can catch up later,” she shrugged, confident that they had Yajuu at their mercy.
“For whatever reason, I expected a mere otter,” Kurokoma sized him up with glee in her eyes, “I’m glad that I’ve got something better than that.”
“Lady Kurokma,” Yoko interjected, “this is the one I almost brought with me.”
“Ah, that’s great!” Kurokoma clapped her hands as her wings shook as a result of a tremendous belly laugh. “Anyone good enough to ride Yoko is probably strong enough to have some fun with. This means that all of this really is important to the Kiketsu scum.”
“There are some strong youkai about,” Kenji cautioned, “and that shrine maiden that defeated your weak clan is on the move as well. I would scurry off, tails between your legs if I were you.”
“We Keiga don’t back down from a challenge,” Kurokma replied, “and besides, so long as you bastards get a bloody nose as well, it will have been worth it.”
Lala ran fearlessly into the meeting, taking her side next to Kenji with a defiant glare. The fairy’s appearance surprised both Keiga and they looked upon her with some bemusement. “Aniki,” Lala said quietly, “I’ll help you protect the temple.”
The beast was glad to have her at his side. In a fight, there was little that she could do against real beasts. In all likelihood, she would only serve as a momentary distraction. That was of little consequence. It was a matter of honor. Not only would it be a confrontation between Kiketsu and their sworn enemies, the Keiga, but it was a chance for Kenji to stand up for himself and his scarred heart.
“If you want, I can show you how I broke your bitch in,” Kenji taunted, his grin cold and menacing. “I hear that you’re the type who likes to get her hands dirty. Well, here I am, some Kiketsu filth with an attitude, spoiling for a fight.”
All of that had sounded better in his head but beasts were not known for their eloquence. Saki Kurokoma shook with excitement, accepting Yajuu’s provocation with selfish delight. It was what she had hoped for deep inside—a direct confrontation. Of course, she did not expect it to be a proper fight. There was no one in the Kiketsu family that could match her raw strength and experience. Yoko, eager to make a favorable impression on her boss, placed herself between them. Saki commanded her aside with an impatient sweep of her arm.
“He’ll be a good warmup in case Kicchou decides to poke her head out from her bolthole,” she commented, stretching her legs forward to loosen up her body for a fight. “Watch for now. Make sure no one interrupts us.”
Yoko nodded, visibly disappointed that she would not get to engage Kenji. The way that things had ended between the lovers had had a great impact on her as well. Tumultuous feeling, a chaotic swirling of rage and sadness had motivated her since the betrayal; she used the outrage she felt towards everything, including herself, as a focus to empower her beastly instincts. If she demonstrated her superior strength and resolve it would prove her choice correct and would do much to justify the path she had found herself obligated to follow.
“Please show him all the strength and agility of the Keiga, Lady Kurokoma,” Yoko said at last, stepping back to give them room.”
The Keiga matriarch adjusted her wide-brimmed hat one last time, making sure it was firm on her head. She was one for theater, it seemed, as she extended her arms in synchrony with her obsidian-colored wings. It made her appear larger, sleeker and—most important of all—more beastly. She stomped a booted foot heavily and crowed with enraptured eyes, “Show me the paltry power of the Kiketsu! Don’t hold back because I won’t either!”
 Saki was proud to show off her prowess to the opponent and to her own underling; none could withstand her in an all-out direct fight.  The matriarch knew of Kiketsu cunning and did not ignore the queer anomaly of seeing both beast and fairy fighting side-by-side.
[x] The matriarch knew of Kiketsu cunning and did not ignore the queer anomaly of seeing both beast and fairy fighting side-by-side.
The horse is a canon brainlet. The presence of an unexpected combatant might well be enough to throw her off the tiniest fraction. She'd certainly be a momentary distraction, as Kenji noted. Sometimes that's all you need, though. Either way, he's not likely to have a good outcome.
>OP On a more personal note, thank you for bringing this back. I really enjoyed this when it was first running and was gutted when it stopped. If I'd had the power to knock anon in the head and get them to stop being lackadaisical about reading and voting, I would have employed it. You deserve a much better audience, generally.
Thanks for the comments and votes. It really does help with motivation to know that there are people invested in the story. I didn't really have a set time to call the votes but I guess I might as well do so now and strike while the iron is hot (and before life makes me busy again). Wait warmly.
For quite a few years, serious conflict in Gensokyo had been resolved using a regulated system. Humans, youkai and, sometimes, even gods fought and settled their differences on more-or-less equal footing. This was the so-called spell card system, whose rules ensured that the questions of the day would be settled with relatively little destruction and death. It was a runaway success and proved to be a good way for humans to coexist with all the fantastical creatures that often wished to cause havoc. Numerous incidents had been resolved under this system and both the Keiga and Kiketsu matriarchs had followed these conventions in their duels with the Hakurei shrine maiden.
A fight between beasts held no such pretensions.
No human had noticed the eruption of beastly violence at first. The festival was a lively occasion, after all, and the gathered humans and youkai were more interested in the various colorful stalls than whatever might have been happening by the edge of the grounds. That said, it was only a matter of time before a trickle of keen-eyed spectators gravitated towards the commotion. There was a tremor in the air, as the intensity of the clash slowly infected its environs.
In no small part this was due to Saki being in peak form. The Keiga matriarch moved with a swiftness that scarcely could be tracked with the naked eye. She struck powerful blows without hesitation, shattering Kenji’s guard and nearly threw him into a daze. To even say that she outclassed him would be an understatement; with a few more decades of experience under his belt, Kenji might have found himself devising passable counters to the matriarch’s all-out assault. As things stood, he could barely conceive of the time when he could deflect, let alone dodge her vicious strikes. His body screamed out in pain with every strenuous blow and deep cut her received.
It could safely be said, in the savage logic of gangsters, that Saki was showing him an undeserved courtesy. To be clear, Kenji was putting up as competent a resistance as he could—the fact that the first clean blow that was landed on his shoulder did not cripple him spoke volumes of his toughness. Still, amid burning gasps for air and the feeling of blood pounding against his ears, he could not fathom a way to best his opponent. That the Keiga [i]matriarch[/i] was deigning to fight him seriously, without holding back, was a point of pride. He spat out blood and saliva and smiled, watching Saki’s beautiful footwork as he scrambled to defend himself.
Lala was similarly outclassed and panic filled her small fairy head. Despite the many weeks of training, she could hardly keep up with the desperate Kenji, let alone the fleet-footed Saki. She knew that she was contributing nothing to the fight and her attempts to strike a blow felt almost minutes too late as the Keiga matriarch circled around the defiant beast. An earnest desire to help her sworn brother made her keep her efforts up but they felt increasingly futile—she couldn’t help but wish that she could draw some of the attention away from him.
“You’re pretty good!” Saki exclaimed earnestly, adjusting the brim of her hat so that it remained firmly in place. Her dark wings fluffed with satisfaction as she decided to let her opponent have the initiative for the time being. It would be, of course, a little too boring if she just bludgeoned him into submission without fully appraising what the upstart Kiketsu dog was capable of accomplishing.
Kenji had no snarky reply at the ready and, instead, took a moment to firmly plant his feet on the ground. His heart hurt, adrenaline coursing through his system and accelerating all of its functions. There was nothing he could think of that would give him the upper hand; an outright rush would be as pointless as a careful trap. He knew that he was outclassed. All he could hope for was not to lose. Or, at the very least, make the Keiga bastards pay a hefty price for their win.
In an act of cruel mercy, he shoved away his fairy apprentice. Lala did not deserve to taste a bitter loss and, by his reckoning, it was certain that Saki would pummel her as mercilessly as she had him before too long. The fairy was taken by surprise, flung at high speed and no longer had solid ground under her feet. Kenji was sure she would react and take flight but did not turn to track her progress. “I see now why our families are rivals,” the beast coughed as he tried to buy more time, “fighting ya is pretty damn hard.”
Saki responded with an attempt at a punch just below his ribcage. The beast had caught his breath and was able to translate that into a glancing blow on his belly. It still smarted as all hell but, at least, he hadn’t had the wind knocked out of him. “Not in a mood to talk?” he asked, circling around as he tried to find some sort of solution to her superior speed and strength. Fuck it, he thought, it seemed like he’d have to risk everything to make something of a difference.
A torn dress… a ruffled tail… hell, the impossible dream of a bruised eye. That would be what Kenji sought to achieve. A cocky smile splayed itself on his face, impossible thoughts of dominance keeping him sharply focused. He winked at Yoko, clearly unnerving the sour bitch as a frown marred that once-attractive face of hers. If only! If only she had stayed true to their delusions. She had stolen from him not only his future, in the most literal sense, but also his ambition and his children and all the promise there had been possible in disgruntled family members coming together to eventually overthrow the opprobrious status quo of the beast realm.
His muscles already sore and his movements quickly becoming sluggish, he attempted to beat exhaustion with singular drive. Saki was asking for it, taking up an inviting stance which would give him the chance to show off his most frenzied of moves. A parry or block could be made, sure, but only after he gave it his all.
He spat again, holy ground further sullied by his fluids. If only one of the guardian statues would come to life and help him out—the fight would be more interesting with additional fangs and claws at play.
“Enough!” a sharp command stopped him dead in his tracks. He had committed to delivering a powerful overhead blow but found that all of his strength dissipated quickly. Kenji was pleased, though he could no longer say at what, when he saw who it was that had stepped into the fight.
Standing proud and serene, with a small crowd of humans a few steps behind her, Byakuren sought to intervene in the fight. As with their first encounter, a luminescent scroll could be found in her hand and the priestess’ body language was very much attuned towards confrontation. Her stance had the same sort of ambiguous—go with the flow—energy that had caught the beast flatfooted all those weeks ago.
Saki looked at the interloped with a thoroughly pleased expression, fangs poking from the edge of her mouth as they would with any other excited member of the beastly caste. “I was getting bored of this small fry,” she blustered, unable to help herself much as Kenji could not, “do you wish to challenge me, girl?”
“I wish there to be peace between youkai and humans,” Byakuren did not miss a beat, much to her credit. She looked troubled, expression heavy with the weight of what it was that everyone involved knew had to happen. Regardless, she did not let her mask slip. To do otherwise would undermine all that she had worked towards over the years.
It did not matter if it was for show or if she had high-minded goals. The fact of the matter was that Byakuren was directly involved in what could only be charitably called a pissing contest. A larger crowd was sure to form as there was not a single living being that did not enjoy the sight of a disaster-in-progress.
 The priestess dazzled the crowd with her grace and strength, leaving the Keiga matriarch on the back foot.  Kenji rallied as Byakuren worked with him in equal partnership, making sure the threat was contained in tandem.
[x] The priestess dazzled the crowd with her grace and strength, leaving the Keiga matriarch on the back foot. Unless I'm totally misreading things, I feel like this is sort of what everything has built up to thematically: Kenji's learning to let go of the usual beast pretensions and face the world as it is. Accordingly, this option is the one where he steps back to let Byakuren handle things expediently after swallowing his pride. She'll probably make quick work of Saki and keep Reimu from having to be involved. At least, that's what I hope.
I probably would have gone with the latter just because Kenji's prideful and all that, but I also would like to think that Byakuren's presence helps him in ways that aren't all tactical. And I genuinely want to see my boy grow.
>the fact that the first clean blow that was landed on his shoulder did not cripple him spoke volumes of his toughness Good to know our boy isn't made out of paper. I really wasn't sure and kind of figured the horse would CBT him into nonexistence with one kick. I mean, he did go down pretty easily when sparring with Byakuren.
>In an act of cruel mercy, he shoved away his fairy apprentice. Lala did not deserve to taste a bitter loss Good try, Lala ;_;7
>If only one of the guardian statues would come to life and help him out Don't drag Aun into this. She's got enough on her mind as it is.
I got the feeling if Kenji's trying to get involved it'd end with him getting tossed aside by Byakuren to get him out of harm's way - like he did with Lala. His best feat in the fight was contorting his body in a way his vital body parts wouldn't be wrecked. And to get a hit in himself he'd have to go with a hail Mary. While he'd be capable enough as distraction, I think he should go and recuperate.
Even if word of that could make him look like a horrible failure to the other beasts and his matriarch...
[x] The priestess dazzled the crowd with her grace and strength, leaving the Keiga matriarch on the back foot.
[x] The priestess dazzled the crowd with her grace and strength, leaving the Keiga matriarch on the back foot. >>202744 On the contrary, you forget which clan we belong to, what better way is there to defeat an enemy than having someone else do it for you?
Hmm... tough. On one hand, we risk his life if we choose to make him rally behind Byakuren (And technically gives Byakuren a tougher time defending us if we choose to resume), but he doesn't lose as much prestige to his matriarch. On the other hand, if we choose to not make him continue and let Byakuren intervene by herself, that removes the risk of possible harm to him (Along with making Byakuren's situation a bit easier since she won't have to worry about defending him as much). However, he loses much more prestige and honor to his matriarch and family for choosing to not continue on. I would say that this option is important for what path we want our character to take. (Even if there might be billions of further possibilities.) [x] The priestess dazzled the crowd with her grace and strength, leaving the Keiga matriarch on the back foot. I better not regret this choice...
>>202744 >>202749 I doubt his standing with Yachie or the Kiketsu is even much of a factor at this point. Though it's not entirely clear what she knows, she does at least know that he abandoned the Beast Realm suddenly, so she's likely got lots of good ideas as to the reason. Chances are good that this is basically an assassination attempt; she either gets Saki or Reimu to take him out without lifting a finger, maybe gets a bit of Keiga humiliation out of it. He even considered it early on when Yachie appeared, so that's kind of a (meta) red flag.
>>202740 working together with someone and trusting them is big character growth for someone like him [x] Kenji rallied as Byakuren worked with him in equal partnership, making sure the threat was contained in tandem.
>>202752 >working together with someone and trusting them is big character growth for someone like him Is it? Seems like he trusted Yoko enough. Granted, he did get betrayed in that case, but it doesn't seem like it'd be much of a change for him to trust Byakuren. And he also sought emotional comfort from her, which was a pretty big vulnerable moment, so it's already pretty well established by now.
To watch the priestess was to watch the divine. Worldly concerns such as pain and fatigue were carried off by a pleasant breeze that suggested the aroma of a freshly-watered flower. Even if he had wished to do otherwise, the beast could not but help follow Byakuren’s every movement. The crowd, Yoko, and the Keiga matriarch herself were likewise transfixed.
The swiftness that the winged matriarch had displayed did not lessen. By all objective measure she moved as sure and elegantly as she had before. It was simply that Byakuren moved faster, effortlessly, as if gliding on nothing but air. In other words, Saki could not keep up with Byakuren’s sudden and intense pressure, that of a raptor swooping in decisively from up on high. That she would receive receive painful blows was never in much doubt.
Kenji thought how foolish he had been to attempt to fight the priestess on their first encounter; he had never had any chance to defeat her. Perhaps no beast could compete in a fair fight, he thought bitterly. Whether by training or with an unknown source of power, the normal-looking human had promptly transformed into a creature that instinctively struck fear in the heart of youkai. Instinctual panic bedeviled him—and surely the others—and he could just as easily imagine this awoken hunter piercing his breast with pointed blade.
Instead of consecrated silver or something instantly lethal, Byakuren chose to attack with nothing but her fists. There was an excited murmur from the crowd as the Keiga queen bitch was caught completely unawares. She slipped, her boot scraping up against stone and into dirt as she was forced into brush. She spat, found that words could not escape her mouth and instead grinned like a demented fool. This, Kenji was sure, was similar to a look that he had shown himself recently—that of a cornered beast.
Saki’s wings puffed up and swept a noticeable gust of dirt and leaves. Whether it was an attempt to impress upon others that she was not easy bait or….
“Yield and be at peace. Leave, if you must,” Byakuren said with a calm voice. She did not seek to finish Saki off at once. It would have been easy for her: just another few steps and a singular powerful blow would do the Keiga in for good. What had worked on Kenji during their first meeting was sure to be replicated.
“Don’t hold back now!” Saki laughed, eyes crazed with excitement. “I didn’t want to fight you, just this whelp over here, but I can’t say I mind this interesting development.”
The crowd ate it all up, confusing reality with some sort of performance. A villain and a hero—such a narrative had wordlessly spread among them. It could plainly be seen in their eyes that they had become bewitched by the holy woman; their faith made the results of the encounter preordained. Had they been ask to take a vow there and then, the temple ranks would have been swollen with initiates. Such cynicism was far from the mind of the protagonist of the fight as she figured the best way to reach her youkai opponent.
Kenji himself found himself believing in miracles. Of the kind created with sweat and force—certainly—but its value was still not to be dismissed. The order of the heavens… a space in there wrought by effort? He could not think clearly. If he tried to focus on something aside from the saintly figure, his body reminded him that it was near collapse.
The Keiga matriarch lashed out yet again, only to see Byakuren pivot to the side while keeping her feet firmly planted. Kenji noted how the priestess did not allow herself to lose her balance and completed her motion by transferring the inertia of her action to her arms and, ultimately, to her fist. She caught Saki on the shoulder, causing one of the large wings to recoil and, finally, droop.
“Needs others to do his fighting for him! Kiketsu coward!” Saki bellowed and deflected away from her own dire situation. It could easily be believed that her frustration was real. Beastly pride made the childish accusation sting. The beast felt aware of his own body again and what it was that he had given up by turning passive.
There was no real retort he could give. He had lost his chance to rejoin the fight and save face. To rush in after being called out would prove nothing but that he was hotheaded. Worse, there would be nothing to be gained in delivering a final blow: to destroy an enemy without dirtying one’s hands was intelligent; to prove inadequate and rely on another but also seek glory was petty.
There had been a command at the start of the bout that had consecrated it as a duel between beasts. With someone disturbing the arrangement, however, it was no longer valid. All that needed to happen was for the initial shock of Byakuren’s decisive intervention to wear off. Time may have felt stopped for the beasts but only a few minutes had passed since the beginning of the fight. They regained some sense as the initial magic dispelled and, once again, squandered it on bestial madness.
Saki charged ahead, a carefree whoop accompanying a powerful kick.
Yoko stood before Kenji, unbidden but not unwelcome. No words needed to be exchanged. It did not matter if Saki won or not. A call to retreat would not change what had to happen either. A cross between pity and murderous intent permeated her dark eyes. The betrayal had to be full and seen to its cruel end—Kenji would either have to capitulate or be destroyed. Whatever love she may have still felt for him was dead and scattered in a land of wind and ghosts. It was a feeling that he would like to believe was mutual.
A claw came for his throat. He had enough foresight to dodge and coaxed his tired body for one last fight. That the bosses were there did not matter. The crowd did not matter. “Yoko…” he muttered as he attempted a counterblow with his leg.
“Kenji,” she said without emotion, her hair moving wildly as she easily dodged his attempt. The holy wind quickened their blood and both felt an internal heat as intense as the first time they secretly rutted in defiance of the enmity between clans.
“Would you do it all again?” he asked, a sharp scrape catching his arm. He did not wince.
“Yes. I feel as alive-” she was interrupted as Kenji managed to land a blow on her thigh. He wished to bite down on the plump flesh and feast in a familiar way.
“Fuck you,” he snarled, heart pounding in his throat as he jumped back to avoid the attack of a well-rested foe. “I would to it again as well,” he confessed, deflecting claw and landing a more satisfying blow to her right shoulder.
“Were it that I was born an otter,” she laughed coldly, showing a bloody fang that had been stained in excitement as she grit her teeth. “Or as you are!” A strong blow hit Kenji in the chest as he had misread a left and did not expect a feint.
“You can still join me,” he spat, and put a little more distance between them to catch his breath.
“You would still have me? How weak!”
“I would not! But I would like see you beg!”
The igneous romance would have continued much in the same way if not for Kenji’s exhausted state and for the the return of someone who would be sure to sort everything out. The clamor of the crowd made it more than clear that time was up. He felt nothing but admiration for his boss’ cunning mind and came to understand much of the machinations of the previous several weeks. They had all been disposable and unworthy of even a modicum of Yachie's respect.
He dared not keep track of Byakuren or anyone else but Yoko—his concentration was at its limit. His private little fight still had a moment left in it. And that would be enough. A damnable smirk formed on his lips..
 Yoko would have her shallow victory; naught but his body would be broken.  Kenji would triumph with desperate effort; the price paid was his own destruction.
[x] Yoko would have her shallow victory; naught but his body would be broken. Bother the bitch. She had a good thing and threw it all away for nothing. Leave her to her shitty little life. Ain't got time for that anymore; we've got magicians to bone.
>>203073 Just so you know, friendo, Teru has made it a stated policy in the past not to count votes that don't have at least a comment. Might wanna at least give a little insight into your thoughts in a non-pictoral way. I dunno if he's still enforcing the old ways here, but better to be safe than sorry.