The image of the merchant’s fat face was one that seemed to be burned into Kenji’s mind. For a moment, it was all that the beast could think about. Why? Well, jumping a little back in the story, Gotoh—if the name is to be recalled—had entered a fruitful partnership with the self-exiled gangster. Both had profited immensely, with Kenji skimming off the top of lucrative new ventures fomented by a mixture of beastly cunning and ingenuity. Indeed, he had been one of the main beneficiaries of the festival and would profit from a multi-layered scheme of brokerage fees and commission. Even if sales were abysmal, as they might be after the youkai-initiated brawl, the venture had already generated sizeable earnings.
In other words, Gotoh would win no matter what.
As would Yachie. Kenji knew that for sure. That was the brilliance of the Kiketsu stratagem. Appreciating its intricacies was not really at the fore of the beast’s tired mind, however. He was tired, bloodied and a very sharp claw had just penetrated deep into his chest.
It had not been a deliberate lowering of his guard that allowed this grievous injury. Not in the sort of sense that martyrs are lionized for welcoming. In cold, rational terms, he could not resist effectively anymore. His movements were slow. His counters predictable. His zeal lacking. Many facts could be pointed at and used as an explanation. Cold rationality and explanations could not, however, reveal the truth of the matter.
Perhaps the White Lotus’ teachings had had more of an impact on his way of thinking than the beast would care to admit. That revelation would gladden the priestess, no doubt. Certainly the awesome display she had produced when facing Saki had created unexpressed relief in the beast’s mind. He was appreciated and belonged where he chose to be. In summary: Kenji Yajuu had accepted a truth within him that could be described in scripture but only understood by a readied mind.
All of that was why the smirk did not leave his lips even as Yoko delivered a would-be deathblow. That there was no hesitation on her behalf was commendable—true beasts should not show any mercy.
A sharp gasp did, however, leave someone’s mouth. Whether it was Kenji’s or his rabid former lover, he could not tell. What followed was the draining of color from his face and a loss of feeling of his extremities; suddenly there was no strength left in him to stand, let alone fight. The wounded beast crumpled, a streamer without wind to entice motion, and his vision became blurred and, ultimately, began to darken.
The future leader of a crew, the diligent and dependable lieutenant, the right hand man… the promises of rank and status in the beast realm were not to be. Effort, discipline, suffering, retribution and all the other bloodied stones that paved the path of a gangster would be left to others. They would tread gladly, perpetuating the cycle of senseless struggle. Nakajima and the others would not be dissuaded even if they were to see Kenji’s collapsed form. Neither would Yoko, were she to survive extermination. Soon she would have a worries other than the blood of the person she still loved staining her hands.
The death of a Kiketsu soldier was a silent and unremarkable affair.
The Hakurei shrine maiden had wasted no time in sorting things out. She was in no mood for excuses nor did she particularly wish to make sense of what had actually happened. Youkai were making trouble and that was all it had taken for her to fly into action. That she had to act on a day where she was supposed to be relaxing made her even less inclined towards peaceful conflict resolution. The red and white Shrine Maiden of Paradise got to work.
Not that there was any chance for a peaceful outcome. Spellcard rules or not, the Keiga matriarch would fight to the last. She welcomed Reimu’s intervention, despite already being close to capitulating, and thoroughly enjoyed the challenging odds. Saki was defeated. Humiliated, even. She and what remained of her crew scampered off back to hell, unlikely to return to Gensokyo for the foreseeable future.
There were words exchanged between the miko and the Buddhist priestess and some of it was heated. That was no surprise as the two had never seen eye-to-eye on most things. It did not come to violence, however, because the Buddhist offered apologies and concessions. It was not much but it was enough to placate the cranky Hakurei.
Byakuren had withdrawn into the temple and into her quarters, asking that she not be disturbed. Ichirin saw a queer look in her eyes that she had never seen before. Placidity was all that Byakuren normally shared with her followers. Agitation, both cloud and woman decided was the cause for the unusual energy in the priestess. Whether it was some greater concern beyond the day’s disturbances or simply an adrenaline-caused hangover was unclear.
What was clear was that Ichirin was left in charge. She and the other youkai disciples did their best to salvage the rest of the day. Kyouko was left to clean up the mess where the fighting had happened and Shou clumsily took on proselytization duties. Elsewhere, the others kept an eye out in case more trouble was on the horizon. The youkai were not very good at dealing with normal humans and were uncomfortable on playing the role of good Buddhists. But it wasn’t like they could just call it a day. That would mean letting Byakuren down.
The festival limped on, with the bulk of attendees dispersing as soon as Reimu had forcibly ended all the excitement. A few stragglers remained, hoping for some other unlikely development that never came. There was some influx of newcomers later in the day but their numbers was far less than the morning crowd. Some seemed to have come for devotional reasons but others simply wanted a good meal; many helped further enrich the fat merchant with patronage of the food stalls.
The day came to an end as all days must. And then another. And yet another. Soon all the leaves had turned and most had fallen to the ground; a few stubbornly clung on, defying the inevitable for a few days longer.
Jumpers and coats became mandatory for the average human. The fields, and much of the outskirts of the village, were now permanently empty as the very first of the frost crept in. The excitement at the temple had quickly become forgotten. Gensokyo is a land where incidents of greater importance happen with some regularity, so that wasn’t surprising.
Byakuren remained dutiful, reading from the sutras and providing commentary whenever she had anyone she could preach to. Nuanced discourse was all but an impossibility, even with her more established disciples—they would recite noble truths in a perfunctory fashion but did not seem to really grasp the essence of the teachings.
A rare sigh escaped her lips as the priestess attempted to meditate one afternoon. Emptying her mind of thoughts had proven unexpectedly challenging. It would be fair to say that she was distracted; the room she was in was the same that the beast had intruded into all those weeks ago and challenged her. Her thoughts were of… him and other things.
 She reflected on the progress Kenji had made in their lessons together and how it had changed his attitude.  The alliance with the Kiketsu had been built upon deception and its full consequences were still developing.
[x] She reflected on the progress Kenji had made in their lessons together and how it had changed his attitude. He's... not dead is he? Not really? Fuck, man, you can't kill my man like that. What'll happen to Lala? She needs her aniki, man. Fuuuuuck ;_;
>>203081 [X] She reflected on the progress Kenji had made in their lessons together and how it had changed his attitude. WTF all I did was fight two wolves and I died? This quest is glitched, nothing I could do doood!
Anybody else think the whole thing with Saki and Yoko showing up was some kind of collusion/arrangement with Yachie and Saki? It feels kinda too convenient to be pure coincidence that the broad Kenji broke the boundaries for showed up to help do him in. I mean, what did Yachie get out of this in the end? Money? Would that do her any good in the Beast Realm? The more I think about it, the more the whole thing stinks.
It is difficult to comment intelligently on matters of religion. To an outsider the motivation and the acts of the devout can seem arbitrary, even capricious. The insider, on the other hand, may approach the issue as if all has sublime meaning and that any specific critique may well be a category error. There are plenty of truths and untruths between those positions—as well as beyond them—but it is worth bearing in mind just how difficult it is to speak plainly and with certainty.
To say that Byakuren practiced self-denial to the point of hubris would be difficult to truly ascertain. There was something to be said by how the head priest of the Myouren Temple did not seem to act on temptation. Her thoughts continued to intrude on her peace, bubbling through the fissures of the meditative mind. Lips moved; a prayer, a part of a sutra recited. As she maintained her eyes closed, a hand raised itself in a practiced fashion as if to proffer a benediction.
Tenaciously keeping her mind free of tangible thought, Byakuren blindly took off the ojuzo that had been tied to her wrist. She pressed the beads in her hand and ran her fingers every individual smooth bump, enjoying the familiarity of the object. There was no specific prayer nor lesson that she wished to meditate upon and, as she pressed the prayer beads to her bosom, she simply enjoyed the respite that their presence afforded her.
The path towards enlightenment appeared to stretch on to the horizon.
For all of her efforts, Byakuren had not managed to completely tame the wild beast. The same could be said for most of her youkai followers, in fact. Still, she reminded herself as she finally allowed effervescent thought to form, rapid progress had been made. The seeds of understanding had been planted. He was not the type to be able to recite a sutra. And yet… his nature was not fated to always be wild and violent.
She understood how he had been broken. Even if he had never told her directly. That he was often crass and lascivious was merely a way to draw attention away from his loneliness. It was something she had seen in other youkai. Yes, humans as well. Many who came to love her—more than they came to love the noble truths of the Buddha—did so because they finally found a place where they could belong and not be judged.
A slender finger stopped over a bead. His love was expressed more physically than most, the priestess thought idly. An all too human reaction perturbed her saintly visage—the warmth recalled the memory of lantern light. It was a momentary lapse; it had been a momentary dalliance. Had the beast been defeated, as he had claimed? Byakuren had seen his true strength twice. On both occasions her chest had tightened with suppressed excitement.
The attention he paid to her womanly charm was not all there was to it. That was something that Byakuren was sure of. It was a supremely conceited thought to entertain for sure but it was not for anyone else to judge. Lost in her thoughts, lips still reciting prayer by rote and fingers cycling over beads, she was more sure than ever that her unconventional approach had yielded results. That was the instinct of a masterly youkai slayer—long since relabeled but as lethal as always—that she relied upon to cultivate relationships with her one-time enemies.
The others had accepted him as well. No petty jealousies had disrupted things. She had not been pleased with the drinking and fighting but mindlessly admonishing her disciples did more harm than good. Bishamonten clearly tolerated some indiscretion, so why shouldn’t she? Matters of faith and religion were not always straightforward.
She opened her eyes after reaching the end of the cycle on her beads. Putting the ojuzu down, she stretched her arms on either side of her body and placed her palms down on the floor before leaning back. Another sigh escaped her lips. Two in a single day was a rare event indeed.
Desire. That was the root of it all. The pain of holding onto attachment was unbecoming the head of a temple. She denied herself once more and convinced herself that she was simply tired. A sudden awakening was still possible. The White Lotus, lips parted, a hint of carnal color blemishing her cheek, struggled to find the right koan that would provoke deeper insight to Kenji.
The space next to her, where he had once sat and snarled and cursed, remained empty.
Fairies loved to play no matter the weather. Sweltering hellfire was just as good as bitter chill. Fairies adapted quickly to the circumstances. Clothes might change but their spirit remained much the same. That was why groups of fairies could be found playing even as frost became a permanent fixture up on the Great Youkai Mountain.
Had anyone ever bothered to catalog fairies they might have come to the conclusion that while the previous is definitely true, it is not necessarily the same fairy playing about all year. Some follow their unexplainable instincts and migrate to parts unknown. Others spend the seasons they don’t enjoy as much napping comfortably in the earth or in a tree, waking only when there’s sufficient commotion nearby. A rare few might make a different choice entirely: spend time in the home that they chose for themselves.
Lala could count herself among the rare few. She had been marked as fearless by Kenji all that time ago but this wasn’t strictly true; during the day of the festival she had been consumed by fear and panic. Those deep green eyes of hers had reddened and her cheeks puffed as she cried with no end in sight. She had been ignored in the fight, even pushed away, but its outcome had impacted her nonetheless.
She could not go back to her own kind. The fairies that she had run into, even when she had been accompanying Kenji on errands even before the festival, all looked at her like she was no longer kindred. To their innocent and carefree eyes, she seemed almost taller—an imposing figure that was cocksure and easily moved in the world of youkai, humans and rules. That was to say, in a world that was of no interest to carefree fae.
Her tears finally stopped after some time.
 Lala had found peace in routine and plenty of companionship at the temple  Solace came to her in the mountain as she took to living in the home they had built together.
>>203108 >>203109 She's seen the true reality of the gangster life she idolised in the form of Kenji and understood that she can't match any of the beasts in strength or fearsomeness. She's not going to do anything in response to losing Kenji because there's nothing she can do, realistically, and she knows it already.
>>203113 Maybe she won't try and seek revenge. But I find it hard to believe that a fairy, a social creature, would decide to completely abandon relationships. At the very least, she would hang with the friends of her aniki.
>>203117 I can agree on the first half. As to the latter half, I'd quibble with the idea of them being Kenji's 'friends' as such. We've been given little in the way of insight as to how he really looked at them. Shou is the only one he admitted anything to, but that doesn't mean a whole lot when you consider how separate from the others she is. Other than that (alcohol-fuelled) moment, Byakuren was the only one he was ever truly vulnerable with; this mirrors everyone else, of course, in that their devotion isn't really to the cause of the temple, or to each other, but to her specifically.
That said, admittedly, we don't really know how Lala feels about Byakuren, nor what Kenji might have conveyed about her to his fae kobun. I still somehow doubt she got much of a notion of the temple-dwellers being anything like friends to him. She probably spent more time around Kyouko than anyone else (if anyone else), so that's probably the bulk of her associations as far as the Myourens go.
>>203114 There comes a time when you've gotta let go of grief or it'll eat you up inside. She literally can't hope to do anything to or for anyone as a puny little fae, nor can she really hope to persuade anyone to take up for her, and she just has to accept that. Either way, there's not going to be a nice, neat resolution to things. Might as well pick the lesser of the two evils that lets her move on.
>>203124 There's value in the struggle itself with grief. She might know that she can't hope to do anything, but she doesn't have to let herself be rolled over, either. She's put herself in a unique position for a fairy, and I'm interested in seeing what she might be able to make of it. I see a transformative potential, here; and it might be for better or for worse, but I still incline to chase it at least another few steps, even if moving on is what will have to happen in the end.
>>203125 Then I suppose there is some difference in our imaginations on where she can go. As far as I see things, there's nothing that can really happen. I'd love to hear a convincing possibility floated to change my mind.
The early morning sun did little to warm the area around the temple grounds. The once colorful and interminable carpet of fallen foliage was wholly gone. It had meant that there was less to sweep and, by extension, that the priests-in-training had a far easier time completing that daily chore. Though the extra time theoretically meant more time spent in meditation and prayer, wandering minds and undisciplined feet usually took them away from official temple business and towards a hot cup of tea and idle chitchat.
The transition towards winter afforded these brief luxuries. The first snow of the year, usually light and impermanent, was sure to happen in the next few days. Naturally, the temple grounds—the steps and stone paths at the very least—would have to be kept clear of snow, lest it melt and turn into insidious and slippery ice. And later still, whenever the first real heavy snowfall came around, shoveling would become a high priority task. There would be no more socializing before work was done.
Lala’s friend Kyouko proved to be less disciplined than the fairy when it came to tackling work. It wasn’t that she was a layabout or anything. Simply summed, her concentration lapsed after extended periods of time. If no one came up to check up on her, she would sometimes take a break and close her eyes. Leaning up against a broom or a stone lamp, she would remain motionless save for the occasional twitch of those large velvety ears of hers. Once, Lala chanced upon her in that state; she asked her friend what she was doing and the reply was that she was just listening. To what, the fairy could not figure out.
Still, the yamabiko—Lala eventually learned that that was the proper name for Kyouko’s species—got her share of work done without so much as a hint of displeasure. She would greet visitors whenever she spotted one, showing little of the hesitation she had shown Kenji on that first encounter. The average human or youkai was far less intimidating than a tattooed beast with an attitude. Indeed, her small but bushy tail could sometimes be seen wagging with excitement as she greeted old and new faces alike.
Lala approached work in a slightly different manner. The Yajuu training regimen had been haphazard and, at times, counterproductive but it had made a lasting impact on the fairy. She approached tasks solemnly, listening careful to instructions and resiting the two enemies called boredom and fatigue like nary a normal fairy could. There may have been a day far in the future where she would yield to her basic fairy nature—especially as her training had not been completed—but for the time being she endeavored to be the best that she could be. He expected no less of her and she wold not fail him….
Truth be told, Lala quickly became an important part of the temple; Ichirin felt that she could delegate time-sensitive tasks, like making sure a room was clean before it was used by worshipers, to the fairy that the others might not be able to finish in time. No one formally anointed the diligent fairy a member of the temple in full standing but it was very clear that she became just that. She was granted (shared) quarters and she became a regular fixture around the table at mealtimes. That Lala kept mostly to herself, showing little of her previous fairy propensity for chatter and mirth, was ignored for the time being. More precisely, she was given some space.
It wasn’t that anyone had commanded it. It was simply something that just happened. The others laughed and talked and continued to do their occasional very un-Buddhist thing whenever they gathered. They included Lala as a matter of course but did not force the issue whenever the green-eyed fairy would stare blankly as a result of a comment. If and when the fairy wished to talk, they would happy to hear her out, of course. Noticing that she retained her fondness for sweets, those on kitchen duty would somehow find a way to slip her something beyond the usual savory fare between meals from time to time.
Matters of faith and learning were not heavily pushed either; Lala would ask about this or that, straining herself to learn more about the temple and the people there. Things like the difference between everything and nothing and all the subtleties of existence flew over her fairy head as expected. Things like why Kyouko was training to be a priest or why Unzan hung out with Ichirin were far easier to understand. Truthfully, it was difficult for her to remember much of matters sacred and profane. Still, she did her best as there was one thing that she remembered clearly: Kenji had expected her to learn more about the temple. She was not about to forget an order from her beloved older brother.
The days thus passed, if not easily then agreeably enough. As expected, it was less than a fortnight before the first snow fell upon the temple steps.
Snow fell over much of the Great Youkai Mountain overnight. Save for the sound of the wind picking up from time to time, blowing up small flurries of powdered snow that danced in the midday light, all was quiet across a swath of the lower slope. Many of Gensokyo’s fairies had found their way down to the lakeside and were presently engaged in a massive free-for-all snowball fight. But there was more to the calm than just that.
Near a familiar place, a ways higher but close to the crack between boulders that Kenji had chosen as the location for his ramshackle home, there was a cabin that was discreetly tucked between old evergreen trees, shielded from both prying eyes and wind currents. It was a simple single-room wooden structure, constructed secretly during the summer by youkai laborers who had been properly compensated and then encouraged by various means to forget that they had built it in the first place. Even if anyone could be persuaded, against their own survival instincts to recall something, the snowfall had rendered the terrain indistinct and the location nearly impossible to find.
For the many months that the Kiketsu Family had been operating in secret in Gensokyo proper, the cabin had been the base of operations for its matriarch. A small stove had been set up in a corner, its exhaust camouflaged outside by passing a pipe through rocks until the blackest of the smoke dispersed into mere wisps that were just as soon entirely diffused. A fire was burning at the moment, providing warmth to the sole occupier of the cabin and also providing her with sufficient heat to fix herself a nice cup of tea.
A few documents—ledgers and letters, mostly—lay scattered over a small table which was at the center of the room. Yachie had intended to tidy up but had found that cold had affected her more than she would admit. Her tail moved languidly from side to side as she watched the kettle on the stove. It might be said that something akin to homesickness affected her. Although, were she in a mood to openly speak about her feelings, she might say that it was less about the environs and more about being able to delegate mundane chore to any number of toadies.
Soon the cabin would be abandoned for good and none of that would matter.
A self-satisfied formed on her lips as she poured herself a cup of tea.
 The Keiga had been routed thoroughly.  The Kiketsu had avoided almost all notice.
[x] The Kiketsu had avoided almost all notice. I highly doubt the Keiga were anything beyond simple pawns, probably there to be scapegoats and/or get rid of Kenji in some fashion. Yachie wanted to accomplish something on the low-down, and Kenji was a good enough patsy to be her front-man and keep all eyes off her. Remember, Yachie and Byakuren never met directly; she implied in her first meeting with Kenji that she only knew second-hand about who and what he was. No one, in fact, seemed to ever acknowledge Yachie's presence beyond Kenji and Lala, and they kept everything about that business to themselves, exactly as Yachie wanted. She was up to something all to her own benefit, and Kenji was the one who suffered for it.
>>203153 It's her own cabin that she's abandoning, a place dispassionately erected as a forward operating base with the help of paid labour, and sloughed off as dispassionately as a snake discards its skin.
What's sadder is that she doesn't, as far as I can tell, pay any mind to Kenji's place, which is now actually abandoned. Though that's not altogether unexpected since, y'know, he was just another throwaway piece in a scheme.
>>203164 What significance would the name have to any humans/youkai who may have noticed? It wasn't like Kenji had them plaster it everywhere; it was specifically noted as only being on a few booths here and there. Also, there's no reason to believe it was anything Yachie ordered. Kenji could have easily done that unilaterally, being under the assumption that he was taking care of 'family business'.
In any case, again, Yachie herself wasn't noticed by all indications, so it's not like anyone ever learned what she was doing — and by extension what the Kiketsu we're up to. Even with the name out there, the actual deeds of the family and its actual nature/form remain uncommon knowledge. That is essentially the same as being unnoticed.
I won't be counting the last vote as it's come ten days after the update, has no comment and ignores the discussion of the other posters. I was already planning to update soon and hadn't planned on finishing a story on a (would-have-been) coinflip; I feel it fairer to the audience that's actually been around to do something else. And a drive-by vote does not change my plans. If you don't think I'm making the right call, let me know and I may reassess. But I suspect if you're invested you're alright with my decision.
Not, necessarily, in the measure of territory gained nor tribute received. Nor, indeed, in terms of influence. The argument for success went more along the lines of vanquishing the enemy and hearing the echoes of their lamentations even as far as way as on the Great Youkai Mountain. The art of subterfuge and its whorish demands would keep any sensible person from too public a celebration.
And, in the case of the matriarch of a beastly family used to precaution and misdirection, it would keep Yachie from doing much else than appreciating her own masterful moves in private. That was to say, a smile of self-satisfaction could be considered decadent and indulgent. A true grand master would not dare to show so much as a raised eyebrow. Even in the most private of settings. The hot, plasma-like feeling that burned at the heart of every beast precluded true stoicism; Yachie’s feelings were always there, albeit dissembled and diffracted behind a well-practiced facade.
Vulnerability could only be displayed in private. And, even then, only fleetingly as anything more than a few minutes of rest invited scheming and disaster. A cocksure subordinate could see any moment of rest as a moment of weakness and make move. Worse still, a rival family could take advantage of complacence and then, well, the outcome would be obvious.
The door to the cabin swung open. Flakes of snow suspended themselves in the interior for a moment, unsure of whether to penetrate the sanctuary further or to simply flutter down uselessly onto the ground. Yes, Yachie had known that the door would swing up. However, she had only realized that fact a scant minute before it happened. The intruder had practiced well-disciplined stealth, avoiding crunching older layers of snow and keeping himself downwind and minimizing the chance that superior animal senses could detect him before the time was right.
World-weary eyes stared at Yachie, frosty elements coloring the skin on the intruder’s face a lively pink. No obvious satisfaction, predatory instinct, was present in the cold stare. He looked upon Yachie as if it were the first time they had met, looking at her golden antlers warily and her long reptilian tail with uncertainty. Her air of unpracticed nobility was alluring; a familiar flowery smell lulled him into a a state of acceptance, if not comfort. The urge to bow in greeting was barely held in check. It had been the standard way to interact with her, after all.
To her credit, Yachie remained composed. She sat sipping her cup of tea, as if nothing in the world could perturb her. That her back was against a solid wall did her much credit in the eyes of the perpetually violent and paranoid. Always minimize your exposure, as the adage went. It was only with an exaggerated gesture—a loud slurp of what remained of her cup as her eyes upturned towards the beast—that she gave signs that she was aware of the new development.
“There is more tea,” she announced to no one in particular. The Kiketsu matriarch got to her feet as if she had not a single care in the world, her tail swaying without any tension. Careful to not break eye contact with the beastly interloper, she added, “Close the door, you’ll let a draft in.”
The beast obliged, pressing shutting the door tightly against the wooden frame. He watched carefully as his former boss, the woman who had been at the center of his life for so long wrangled an iron kettle. With a cute heave, she raised the hot metal vessel and poured water into a pair of cups. The technique lacked the smoothness inherent in even the most antisocial host. Instead, it could be said that she filled the cups with the bare minimum of what was expected.
“Come, sit,” she motioned the cold beast with a polite wave of her hand, bidding him to join her at the small table that took up so much space in the cramped cabin.
There was no reason to refuse and so the beast sat opposite her and watched the hot steam rise from his cup, its intensity quickly dissipating into the atmosphere. He slurped the tea while it was hot, appreciating the delicate flavors of the superior blend even as the raised temperature did much to erase the unique taste.
Finding that snow had clumped onto his shoulders during his excursion, the beast wiped himself off quickly, not caring for etiquette. Better dry than cold.
“Come to rejoin the fold?” Yachie asked. Though her tone demonstrated mellifluous levity, those red eyes of hers were dead serious. They bored past the beast’s own, perhaps to his very soul. Not that he was currently self-conscious enough to fixate on that.
Kenji Yajuu took a moment to reply. Not because he was unsure of the answer. But because he felt that it was only polite to demonstrate thoughtfulness. “Would such a thing be possible?” he asked a question of his own, further perpetuating the polite nonsense.
“The boss’ word is law, you ought to know that,” Yachie laughed with none of the cheer of a joke. Her thin lips curled back, showing off the tip of a fang. An unambiguous message.
“A traitor is subject to the same protection?” Kenji asked, forcing himself to drink more of the boiling-hot tea.
“Why not? You have had my protection all the while.”
“So you’ve known all along…”
“Was there any doubt?”
“Just whatever you wished to fool yourself with. I have known all and continue to do so,” Kiketsu incarnate announced, with not so much boastfulness but matter-of-factly. Nothing more needed to be said. Kenji’s suspicions had been confirmed in a manner he had expected. The boss only showed as much of her mind as she thought it necessary; he and the others were, as always, pawns. Kiketsu planning and cunning was peerless.
“I am glad to have been of use to you,” Kenji said. One might expect a certain measure of rebellion behind words such as those but the beast meant them earnestly. He had spend most of his life in the beast realm and his philosophy had been mostly affected by the Kiketsu credo. There were no hard feelings, so to speak. Just understanding. Deep, uneasy understanding that could predict what the next step would be. His delay in confronting her—if you wish to call the present interaction a confrontation—had been mostly due to his uncertainty as to what would happen next.
“Well, will you come back to me?”
“No,” the beast answered, “the others would not accept a traitor.”
“No, they would not,” Yachie agreed. “A double agent… or perhaps a man who has staked out on his own, however…”
“That would also not work.” Hell only respected those with power and Kenji had none. Even with his experience and his burning internal drive, he could not hope to stake out on his own and survive. Only those with the strictest of drives or blessed with the strongest of resentments would not yield under the duress of all that natural competition and hostility.
“No, it wouldn’t,” Yachie smiled and blew at her tea before taking in a slurp. She brushed away a golden strand of hair from her face after, smiling like a proper devil as she sized the damaged beast up properly. “Do you wish revenge, then?”
“No. Neither on you or that whore.”
“Such rancor!” Yachie laughed, pleased at the beastly vitality that still existed within her former subordinate.
“It is merely a statement of fact,” Kenji said, “she sold herself thoroughly to the Keiga and forfeited whatever future we had together.”
“I do take lovers from time to time,” the matriarch announced, a playful glimmer reflecting off tooth and into bright eyes.
“In another lifetime that would have been acceptable,” Kenji said, sighing with a weariness that shook his bones. The conversation, up to that point, had not exactly gone as he had wished it to. But, then again, he had not expected much of anything. He just knew that he would never be free if he did not confront his former leader. She knew all. And if he had dared to strike out a destiny elsewhere, it would only be a matter of time before she ensnared him again.
“The penalty for leaving the Kiketsu is death, as you are well aware,” the other beast reminded Kenji. There was no malevolence in her words; the cruelty was wholly incidental. About as natural as Yoko’s abandonment.
The question therefore became, “What shall I do with you?”
The solution, clearly, is to start a massive brawl with his former yakuza members, dropkick his former lieutenant off a bathroom window, beat the shit out of his ex-boss and hand her over his letter of resignation.
Truthfully, there was no real rush to reach a conclusion. The cold made beasts like them reluctant to expend much in the way of energy; Yachie dreaded exposing her scaly tail to snow, knowing that it would quickly steal away much of her body heat. Besides, both of them knew that she held all the cards—Kenji had not come to fight nor to protest, else he would have made his move already, the crime boss reckoned. But then again, neither was he meek, his red eyes betraying an enticing level of vivacity as he refused to look away from her.
“What will you do now?” the boss asked. The purpose of the question had more to do with buying herself more time to have another cup of tea than actually desiring to hear an answer.
“Be free,” he replied simply. It was a good answer. But also a very unreasonable one. Beasts had to conquer or be conquered, such was the way of the world.
Whatever else she might have really thought, the Kiketsu matriarch kept a pleasant expression, the corner of her lips curling up into an ambiguous sort of smile. It was not unlike the expression of a wolf just before it snarled. “Shall I kill you and end this?”
“You already have killed me,” Kenji reminded her, “you left me to die or be destroyed by others.”
“Suppose I accept your reasoning, if we were ever to meet again, I would have to kill you myself as a matter of honor. As would every other beast in our clan.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Kenji smirked, old mischievous energy welling up into a wide grin, “I managed to do alright for myself for a while.”
“Will you run to the temple then, seek sanctuary?”
“I would like nothing better than to ravage the head priestess,” Kenji spat out, bestial intensity instantly recognizable to his former matriarch.
“And your little sister? Would you pretend that you’re a family of two?”
“She is strong,” Kenji answered. It wasn’t much of an answer but it was all he was willing to say on the subject. It would be for the best if Yachie thought the relation permanently severed.
“I am not convinced.”
“Shall I cut off a finger, my hand?”
“That is only acceptable from a contrite subordinate. You are neither,” Yachie narrowed her red eyes. She looked at him with hostility and made it understood that he could not simply be left as a loose end. For certain a myriad of schemes depended on the Kiketsu maintaining their secret footholds. Anything that threatened her plans had to be dealt with.
“Shall I kill you then?” Kenji asked, his voice nearly breaking. Even mentioned with some levity, it was an impossibility that would lead only to his own destruction. His claws would do their best if it came to it but… it was simple suicide to try to challenge a much older, much deadlier beast.
“Ah, if only you had had the chance!” she lamented, “the head of the Kiketsu must be strong and cunning. There are none among our ranks that could hope to one day challenge me. The business with the Keiga has cost me dearly, more than I had foreseen.”
The beasts sat opposite one another in silence for a good while. Neither wished to do what they both knew had to happen. It was a senseless waste, a product of tradition and oaths that had long since strayed from their original purpose as honorable reminders of fraternal bonds. The form was followed but the spiritual truth had been forgotten. Would it not be better to…? It took a while of denial for the obvious impossibility to come into focus.
At last, a conclusion came. Kenji stood and opened up his layers of cold-weather clothes. He exposed a chest that was as hairy as it was beastly. Scars from many a fight, including recent ones from the bout with Yoko, marred his flesh like ugly welts. It was an act which went against all natural instinct—and it was not the first time he had denied his beastly self. Regardless of whether he would admit it or not, Gensokyo and the people he had encountered had changed him profoundly. The bonds that he willingly chose to make had led to make a decision that not too long ago he would have regarded as utterly foolish.
Yachie Kicchou stood and stared at her former subordinate’s exposed flesh. She drew close, as if in a trance, quietly positioning herself in front of him. There was little room in the small cabin and each felt the intense beastly musk coming from the other; the drive to fight, to kill or be killed was heavy and could not be ignored. Its familiarly bitter comfort steeled Kenji's resolve. An elegantly deadly hand was raised, its trajectory certain to lead straight to the beast’s heart.
Without pity, Yachie bit into the beast’s cheek, drawing a stream of blood that dirtied both of their faces. She spat at him, even as Kenji stood impassively, marking the spot she would rend his flesh with claw. When the blow came, it was swift and unemotional. She would steal his life away with only the most precise incisions.
Kenji felt the air flee his lungs as a second blow came below his rib cage. Instead of the despair he expected would consume him, he felt relief. A smile formed on his bloody lips as he staggered back. It was a merciful end, at least, he thought. As warm darkness enveloped him, he could have sworn that he fearsome beast that was killing him had a look of immense pity in her eyes.
By nightfall, the stove had long since extinguished itself. Evidence of habitation was mostly gone; all the letters and documents had been taken away and not even the last of the provisions had been left behind. The Kiketsu matriarch had been thorough. But, perhaps, not as thorough as she had originally intended. A fire had been planned, set to burn the timbers and remove all evidence that there had been a cabin there in the first place.
The dead rose.
The exsanguination had been incomplete and had left the beast debilitated. Kenji had, nonetheless, not been forced back into the wheel and yet been made to turn along in concert with its eternal cycles. Words of questionable wisdom, words spoken by a woman who believed in him as he was, were difficult to tune out. His hatred of Byakuren provided much needed warmth. His love of, for it could be nothing else, provided the energy and motivation he needed to stand on two feet again. The green eyes of a fairy, recalled by exhaustion, chastened him to hurry up.
Not many could say that they had died three times in less than a year. His previous two rebirths had left much to be desired, objectively speaking, but he had always retained hope that each life would be better than the last. Whether he wished to admit it out loud or not, his way of thinking had changed and it had been due to a new understanding of cooperation and competition. They were not at odd with one another and this he had come to know; Byakuren had known this all along; Yachie knew as well.
The wound in his chest had stopped bleeding many hours ago and a thick fibrous crust had formed on what would surely one day be a grisly scar. The bite mark on his cheek had left a snake-like impression. Though, given its origin, perhaps it was more akin to a dragon. He wrapped his clothes tightly around himself before deciding the brave the cold once again; there was nothing left for him in the cabin.
It had stopped snowing. Kenji trudged over the hardening snow for some time, leaving the cabin behind and coming to a clearing in the forest. He wished he had some of Gotoh’s sake to warm himself up. That greedy old man… would he be capable of showing real kindness? With a shake of his head, Kenji decided that it didn’t matter. The hope of finding kindness and understanding was what mattered most. It was something that more beasts, like his former lover, would do well to one day understand.
The steady chill that had been blowing from further up the mountain stopped. The night became silent, fairies and youkai apparently deciding that it was better to stay warm in their dens than come out that night. Kenji walked, with no destination in particular in mind. Despite his exhaustion, his footsteps felt light and he made scarcely an impression on the snow. He thought to head to somewhere familiar but the night was still young. Besides, his home… was… it didn't seem to matter for the moment. It was a question he could spend as much time as he wished to answer. He had only himself and his heart's desire to answer to.
The night sky was beautiful. All the clouds had been blown past the Great Youkai Mountain, leaving a nascent moon in sharp relief. There was little to cast a shadow in the silvery bright snowscape. The stars adorned the vast celestial tapestry, some winking in and out as he stared upwards for a long time. The night’s chill could do little against the vital feeling of his very-much-alive heart. The wild possibilities that he had once felt projected above were nowhere to be found. Neither, indeed, did they impose that suffocating order that previously felt overwhelming. As far as Kenji could tell, they were just stars. Plain and honest, nothing more and nothing less than points of light in the dark.
Bravo! It feels good to see a conclusion at last. I believed in this story for a long time and hated the idea that it would die off mid-stream. Thank you for seeing it to the end. I enjoyed it very much.
I set out to write this on a whim for nanowrimo last year after thinking about the concept for a while. There is a lot of imagery and symbolism in East Asian gangsters that takes inspiration from Buddhism so I used that as a starting point since there's not enough known about the Beast Realm to set a story there. Well, without doing a massive amount of world building and relying on mostly original characters.
Still, I think that there's something of a natural fit with the (to say the least) unconventional attitude of the Myouren Temple and of Byakuren. Showing how a youkai could come to embrace her ways despite it being against their nature is interesting to me. The specifics of faith or doctrine aren't as important as the characters and how their relationship evolves against the backdrop of events that are beyond their control.
Even though I kept update length down in a bid to update daily, I still had to take a long break because of life and a lack of motivation. Still, thanks for taking the time to read this and I'd like to do more on the types of characters that don't get to be in the limelight too often. That and the type of relationships that are a little unconventional and multifaceted.
Every vote and every comment is motivating and helps me keep on writing. So I'd like to thank you again for bothering as it's appreciated.
P.S. Lala is cute and deserves hugs from a gruff beast who is bad at expressing his feelings in a non-violent way.
>>203226 The Beast Realm itself is something of Buddhist concept, although IIRC it's more something with origins in China, given the whole "hell and all other worlds are a giant, hierarchically organised ball of structures-within-structures" thing.
>The specifics of faith or doctrine The Myouren's doctrine is kind of unreadable from the outside, anyway. It's a weird hodgepodge with a Zen-ish coating, a Pure Land filling with some Vajrayana-ish crunch, and a heterodoxy centre. At least, that's what I read based on what's available in official sources. So, yeah, kind of a pain in the ass to get into.
>Even though I kept the update length down in a bid to update daily, I still had to take a long break Happens to the best of us, mate. I'm just glad you got back, personally. And whilst daily updates wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for any given story, the wait for a well-written story like this one has never been bad.
>I'd like to do more on the types of characters that don't get to be in the limelight too often Looking forward to whatever you come out with next!
>So I'd like to thank you again for bothering It wasn't a bother for me at all, nor should it ever be for anyone else. I appreciate the subtlety that often goes into your stories, and poring over things to find what I missed the first time is fun.
>hugs from a gruff beast who is bad at expressing his feelings in a non-violent way epilogue when Teruyo pls I need this