[x] Pinch her cheek. Blow in her ear. Plug her nose. ------
A small, mischievous grin makes its way onto your face as you watch the girl’s sleeping visage. Really, sleeping in such a vulnerable way like this... she hasn’t learned at all, has she? Carefully reaching out with a hand, you poke her on the cheek. Her skin is soft to the touch. Quietly observing her, and thankful that she’s a light sleep her, you poke her again, a bit harder this time. Her face twitches a bit, her closed eyes squeezing tighter for just a second, but she still doesn’t show any signs of waking up.
You pinch a bit of her skin between your thumb and forefinger, feeling bolder now, and give it a light tug. Her face twitches again, her eyes in a wince as you pull harder. Just how much of a heavy sleeper is she? She’s always been an early riser, so you’ve never had the chance to actually experiment, but it seems like she can really take a lot of abuse before waking up.
Sighing, you let go of her cheek. It’s slightly reddened around the area where you pinched it. Sanae rolls over in her sleep, turning in your direction as she turns onto her side, using one of her own arms as a pillow for her to rest her head on. Your grin turning into a smile, you reach out again, brushing your fingers through her hair. While doing so, her exposed ear catches your attention, giving you an idea.
You lower your head, grinning mischievously again. Bringing your lips close to her ear and puckering them into an ‘o,’ you blow a short burst of air into her ear. Immediately, her body gives a small jerk, and shivers as she winces again. You snicker as you draw back.
Now then, what should you do next...
...hm, well, maybe you should just leave her asleep, and finish the cleanup by yourself? She must be tired out, both mentally, and physically, and she’s always up early to take care of the house from morning to night, so maybe for today, you should just let her sleep in a little.
You pinch her nose, plugging it. She squirms uncomfortably again, her lips moving apart to allow for a small gap, breathing through her mouth. Still retaining your hold on her nose, you begin rocking her head from side-to-side.
“Waaaaake uuuuup,” you say, drawling.
With a sudden cry, she bolts upright, her eyes wide open and surprising you. And then, with a dazed look about her, she blinks a few times, and looks about the room.
“Good morning,” you say to her.
“Huh?” she mutters, seeming a bit confused. Finally, after it takes her a moment or so to absorb the situation, she replies, “Oh. Good morning.”
She hurriedly wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, her cheeks giving off a faint glow in embarrassment. Covering her mouth as she yawns, she looks about the VCR cases strewn about the floor, picking up the nearest one in her hand and looking over the cover.
“Oh,” she says, smiling fondly. “We finished it, huh? I guess we didn’t bother to clean up before going to sleep...”
“Yeah,” you say, grinning again as you peruse over your recollections. “You were crying at the end, weren’t you?”
“N-no I wasn’t!” she says defensively, looking away as she gets up on her knees, scooting over to another of the VCR cases to pick it up, stacking it together with the one she was already holding, before moving to “So... now that you had a chance to watch all of it, what did you think of the show?”
“I liked it,” you say, standing up and walking to help her clean up. “I didn’t expect the ending to be like that, though. I thought there was going to be a huge big final battle.”
“Yeeaaah,” she says, giggling. “But it was still good, right?”
“Uh huh,” you nod.
“You seem cheerful today, Sanae.”
Lady Suwako, lazily resting her chin on top of the dinner table, says this as the girl takes away the finished breakfast plates, her eyes looking at the priestess with fascination. With one hand, she taps her fingers on the top of her hat, which is sitting on the floor next to her, her head rolling from side to side as if to relieve boredom.
“Today and yesterday. Did something good happen to you lately? Did you win a lottery?”
Sanae lets out a snort. “As if there could be any kind of lottery here, Lady Suwako.”
“So you haven’t won a lottery, huh?” she says, letting out an exaggerated sigh. “And here I thought I might be able to go on an extended vacation to a tropical paradise.”
“There aren’t any of those here, either.” “Auu, you’re crushing my every hope, meanie.”
“If you want a vacation, then just hurry up and disappear,” Lady Kanako says, sneering.
“That’s such a bother, though,” the littler god replies, waving her hand dismissively. “It’s not my idea of a relaxing getaway vacation.”
“You don’t seem to have any energy today, Lady Suwako,” you remark.
“I gueeeess,” she whines, sighing again. “When it’s summer and it’s this hot, I just lose the will to do anything at all, y’know?”
“That’s what you say about the winter and the cold.”
“No, no, this and that are totally different,” she says, waving her hand again.
Lady Kanako folds her arms together. “Sounds to me like you’re just reaching that ripe old age where everything becomes a bother.”
“How rude,” she says with narrowed eyes, seeming somewhat annoyed. “I’ve still got more vitality than you. And I have that little something that you lack, y’know? That certain character appeal...”
“Speaking of which,” Sanae interjects, returning from the kitchen and taking her usual seat at the table. “It seems like there’s nothing happening lately, doesn’t it? All of the feasting and parties have kind of died down since we came, and we’re not getting a lot of visitors, either...”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Lady Suwako says, lifting her head off the table. “We’re not in a hurry.”
“No, we can’t be so relaxed,” Lady Kanako says, looking serious now. “Not when we have competition to worry about.”
“Eh,” Lady Suwako shrugs her shoulders. “The Hakurei shrine is more or less in the same boat as us. Isn’t that right, Sanae?”
“Huh?” she says, taken aback by the question for a moment. “Well... whenever I go over there, it seems like she’s always drinking tea with Miss Marisa, or she’s away from the shrine, or she’s getting drunk at another party somewhere, so...”
“What an unmotivated shrine maiden...” Lady Kanako says, looking slightly distressed. “...Well, I suppose then it couldn’t hurt to take things a little slower.”
Which really just means that today, none of you really have anything to do...
...Now that that’s been ascertained, how should you spend the day?
[ ] Stay at the shrine. [ ] Head down to the waterfall. [ ] Head down to the base of the mountain.
Anyone could see The road that they walk on is paved in gold, And It's always summer, they'll never get cold, They'll Never get hungry, They'll never get old and gray... You can see their shadows Wandering off somewhere, They won't make it home, But they really don't care, They wanted the highway They're happier there today, today...
>“And here I thought I might be able to go on an extended vacation to a tropical paradise.” >“When it’s summer and it’s this hot, I just lose the will to do anything at all, y’know?” Wait, you wanted a tropical vacation, but you can't stand the heat? Vacation's when you should be doing new and exciting things, not lie around like you do at home.
>“...Well, I suppose then it couldn’t hurt to take things a little slower.” Oh great, it's the Goddesses That Don't Do Anything. Remind me why you guys wanted to stay alive again?
>>18769 Sound it out. If you take into account the Japanese R=L thing, Lumiya is phonetically identical to Rumia. >That'd be like saying Mikio and Hoshuu were the same person at the start of the story. So would you be willing to say that Rumia is an alternate personality of Rumia, or vice versa? I ask that because: >>18768 I'm thinking that the Lumiya that attacked his village was EX-Rumia, because sealed Rumia is just too stupid/weak to do something like that. Now was the Lumiya we met in the forest sealed, or EX? I don't remember if the ribbon/amulet was mentioned.
It's entirely possible that her sealing was connected to attacking the village. [/baselessspeculation]
>>18771 I am sounding it out. ア (a) is not ヤ (ya). for that matter, ルー (Ruu) isn't ル either but that looks stupid when romanized properly.
The Lumiya we met in the forest wasn't sealed. She said as much when she mentioned the real reason for saving him. Regardless, it'd be a pretty shitty seal if she could switch between sealed and unsealed at will.
>>18773 Well yeah. I don't think the attack would be enough to get her sealed though... wasn't it mostly done by other lesser youkai? Lumiya just cleaned up and welcomed Tayasumi home.
As far as alternate personalities go. Remember when we almost had Hoshuu wipe out Mikio? That'd happen to unsealed Rumia if Lumiya ever broke free: she isn't going to share her body. And unlike Hoshuu, unsealed Rumia likely isn't strong enough to even attempt seizing control.
of course, I'm typing all these words for nothing, Lumiya is never going to appear in this story again ;_;
>Well yeah. I don't think the attack would be enough to get her sealed though... wasn't it mostly done by other lesser youkai? Lumiya just cleaned up and welcomed Tayasumi home.
Mikihisa was able to hold off the lesser youkai. Then Lumiya killed him.
>“Hmph, I can’t believe how weak the all the other youkai were,” she snorts haughtily. “Dying like that to a single human. Well, he put up a better fight than I would have given credit to. Better than you, anyway.”
She may have been marked for sealing just by being the sole surviving youkai involved.
>>18786 I skip most of what is said here, because you can't reason with logic or good arguments with the people here in this thread. Don't get me wrong, i am not saying everyone is like that but too many of them are working hard to kill this story.
Deciding on your destination, you rise to your feet to head outside.
Sliding the door shut as you step out of it, you look up at the blue sky overhead, and take a deep breath, letting out a satisfied exhale. Though it’s normally colder than you’d like this high up near the summit of the mountain, right now, the temperature feels just right; the breeze doesn’t chill, but rather cools your skin, providing comfort with its gentle caress. Unconsciously, you begin smiling faintly as you step off of the porch to begin the descent down the mountain.
It grows warmer the further down you go, but you don’t mind, as the wind continues to brush against your body as you soar in your descent. You’re not in any particular hurry, so your flying speed isn’t very high. Still, it doesn’t take long to reach the base of the mountain, and from there, it’s only a matter of minutes before you’ve reached the edge of the Great Youkai Forest. Years ago, you might have wanted to refrain from entering this place alone, but there’s no longer any reason for that.
After all, there’s no longer any point in pretending to be helpless now.
Your feet touch the ground lightly, making for a gentle landing. Looking up at the thick gatherings of trees, you begin trudge through the dirt and grass. Of course, you don’t know where she would be, considering that you only ever meet her on sparingly few occasions, but you don’t need to. To find her, you only need to trace the unease in the air around these parts. The negative sentiments that her body carries, hanging onto her like the stench of death; a smell so foul even those unversed in the spiritual could immediately notice.
Of course, that’s not really her fault.
Following that trail, you come across her in no time at all. She stands in front of a tree, standing tall with her hands folded together across her lap. She does not turn as you approach, even though the sounds of your footsteps grow closer. Looking past her, you can see what she’s looking at: a straw effigy, nailed to the tree with a large rusty nail.
“I wonder what it is that drives people to wish misfortune upon another?” a light voice comes from the maiden standing in front of the tree, her eyes fixed on the man made of straw.
Drawing closer to her, you answer her wondering as you walk, “There can be a lot of reasons. Envy, grudge, revenge...”
“Whatever the reason, the sentiments that they harbor draw other negative sentiments, gathering until they have the power to affect reality,” she says, reaching out to touch the nail embedded in the tree. “And, when the victim of the curse feels its effects, those around them who fear the curse only end up strengthening it.”
She pauses, her slender fingers slowly gripping the head of the nail.
“...No matter how harmless at first,” she says with a sad voice, shaking her head. “No matter the intention behind the curse, once it begins growing, it will continue to grow as long as people fear it; as long as they continue to believe in it, the curse cannot be removed.”
You remain silent, watching her hand.
“And eventually, the curse becomes uncontrollable.”
She yanks the nail out from the tree, and the effigy drops to the ground, resting on top of the damp soil. Her fingers remain tightly gripped around the removed nail, however, and her visage is still turned away from you. Though her voice remains calm, her shoulders appear to be shaking slightly.
“The one behind this particular curse was a simple villager, neither an especially nice or malicious man; his target was a rival farmer, and his reason for placing this curse on him was simply because of that rivalry. He did not believe it would have any significant effect, and it was half out of curiosity for the occult that he did the deed. And yet, in that year’s harvest, his rival found that his produce were no good at all. It was attributed to simple misfortune, of course... until he suddenly fell ill and died.”
“And that was because of the curse...?” you ask.
She finally turns around, looking at you in the eyes with a very serene expression.
“The man who cursed the farmer had no intention of killing him, and yet the curse grew out of control, and perhaps that was what killed him. He has no idea of knowing whether it was due to his curse, or if it was simple coincidence. And now, he lives, being slowly eaten away at by his own guilt. It is a very sad story; whether or not that man holds responsibility for the farmer’s death or not, he must suffer for what he has done.”
Hina reaches down, picking up the straw doll in her other hand and letting it rest on top of her palm as she gazes down at it with pity in her expression. Silently, she drops the nail and cups the doll in her hands, closing her eyes and focusing for just a few seconds before walking over to the nearby river. Crouching down again, she sets the doll down on the running current, and watches as it is carried away by the flowing water.
“Do you believe that man is reprehensible?” she asks. “Is he undeserving of forgiveness, for setting loose a terrible beast that he did not fully comprehend?”
“What do you think?”
“It is not my place to judge,” she says simply, standing up. “After all, I am powerless to stop the beast after it has awakened. I can only make it so that it will not befall upon anyone else, after its victims have been already claimed.”
A man that unleashed a terrible beast and dealing with the aftermath, sounds familiar. I feel in such a case that forgiving him is best as it might be a while before he forgives himself. And continuing the cycle of hate does no one any good.
[x] I can’t forgive him. A man who unwittingly unleashed a terrible affliction upon another is a fool at best; I just can't forgive an idiot like that. You don't go fucking around with powers you don't understand.
The regret is genuine, and he felt guilt even though he could not be sure he was at fault, and though there was less malice in his heart than curiosity. If you can't forgive a person for that, you'd be hard pressed to give a reason to forgive anybody for anything.
As for the baton passing to the Yama, the Yama decides where souls go after they die. The court's purview is not so much forgiveness as it is reward, rehabilitation, and punishment. That such a system exists does not mean you can simply put off all moral judgment until the person dies. The world would be in anarchy.
[x] You cannot judge this man - there is no proof that he committed a crime. Therefore there is nothing to forgive. [x] Only he can come to terms with it, decide for himself if he is to blame, and if he believes he is, to forgive himself and move on. [x] To judge, to forgive... there is nothing that can be done, here. The world will continue as it always has, leaving behind the past, heading toward the future, and we will remain forever ignorant of it. Such is life.
For a moment, you hesitate to answer, unsure of what might come out of your mouth.
“I...” you begin slowly, casting your gaze at the ground at your feet. You find it difficult to continue, hesitant to answer once again, but tearing your eyes away from the dirt, you lift your face up to answer with a much more determined and confident voice, “I can forgive him.”
Hina looks to you, observing your form, almost as though she’s studying you. Then, she nods, and smiles faintly, speaking in a gentle tone of voice, “...Yes, he is a man to be pitied, not hated. But even should you forgive him, instead of condemning him, he will continue to suffer. Even if he were truly blameless, he will continue to be in pain, because he will not forgive himself.”
You walk up next to her, looking down at the flowing river, your eyes following the current as far as it can, though the figure of a man made of straw is already far beyond your sight. With a wistful voice, you wonder out loud, “Will that man ever find peace for himself?”
“I do not know,” Hina responds, standing up. “It is up to himself, after all, whether he will forgive himself and move on, or allow the guilt of what he did to consume him.”
You remain silent, squatting down and lowering your hand toward the river. The touch of the cold water flowing against your outstretched fingers chills your body, sending a shiver throughout it. Beside you, the curse goddess crouches in a similar way to you, also reaching down to touch the water with her hand, disturbing the flow of the river.
“I’m sorry,” she says with a grim smile. “It seems all I do whenever we meet is to talk about things of depressing nature.”
“I don’t mind,” you say, shaking your head and allowing yourself to smile a little. “You can’t live life on happiness alone, as much as you’d like to. Bad things will happen to you, big or small. That’s a fact of life you can’t escape, no matter whether you’re a human, youkai, or a god. That’s why times of peace and contentment are things to be cherished, right?”
“Of course,” she says, nodding. “There would be no value in happiness without sadness. People would not understand that they are happy. If you think about it that way, even the curse gods who bring misfortune to others so hated and feared by humans are a necessary part of the world.”
“That’s certainly an optimistic way of putting it,” you say with a laugh.
“Perhaps,” Hina says, her grim smile growing into a much more cheerful and brighter one. “But, even if you accept that misfortune is a necessary aspect of life, you still shouldn’t actively seek to be miserable, don’t you think?”
You reply with only a smile.
While returning from your outing to the forest, flying above the trees back in the direction of the mountain, you see a familiar figure in the distance, a somewhat short woman with black hair. She seems to see you as well, as she immediately changes directions and begins heading toward you. Slowing down in your flight, you watch as the figure grows larger, coming closer and closer.
“Hey!” Miss Aya greets, raising her fan as she slows down to a stop, floating in the air. “Out for some sun, Mikio?”
“Something like that, I guess.”
Her eyes wander to the mask hanging from your sash before returning to your face. With a look of curiosity, she asks, “What’s wrong? You’re not wearing your mask anymore?”
“Well, it’s a bit complicated,” you say, trying to laugh it off.
“Hmmm...?” Miss Aya leans in closer, her eyes narrowed into a look of suspicion. A playful grin seems to creep onto her face as she sidles closer, conspicuously elbowing you in the gut as she continues to speak. “You weren’t wearing it yesterday, either. You know, when you were acting all huggy with that wind priestess.”
“Oh, so it was you.”
“Geh,” she backs off. “You noticed me?”
“I noticed your camera, anyway.”
She winks. “Weeeeell, I didn’t really want to intrude or anything, but that just seemed like a good moment to take a picture of. Don’t worry. I’m not going to publish it as a scandal in the papers or anything like that. If you want, I can have the picture printed out in secret.”
“That’s okay,” you say.
“But it’s kind of a relief, honestly,” Miss Aya says, sighing as she fans herself. “You know, for a long time, every now and then, I wondered if maybe you were actually a ho--”
“Miss Aya,” you interrupt her in a serious tone, looking at her with equally intense eyes.
“H-huh?” she stumbles on her words, looking somewhat flustered. “What? What’s wrong?”
“The memories that I’ve lost,” you begin, biting your lower lip before continuing. “...If I was someone very different, before I ever woke up here, and those memories of being that person returned to me, what do you think would happen to me? What would you think of me?”
“Um...” she starts, seeming at a slight loss for words. “Well, er... I’m not really good at answering questions like that, so, uh... I mean, I’m a reporter, so normally I’d be the one to be asking questions, and I don’t really know what to say to that. Momiji could probably give you a better answer, if you’re looking for one...”
“How would you feel about it, though?”
Backed into a corner, she has a difficult expression on her face. She folds her arms together, still fanning herself with one hand, and takes a few moments to collect herself and think of a response, knitting her brows together in effort.
“I don’t think things would really change that much,” she finally says, though still seeming somewhat unsure. “I mean, if you started acting differently it would probably stand out to me, but just because you’ve recovered your old memories it wouldn’t mean that all the memories we share would be gone, right? Or something like that, I dunno.”
“I see,” you say, feeling some small relief.
“You’re being weird,” she says, frowning slightly. “Are you starting to remember something?”
“A bit,” you say with a smile.
Miss Aya still looks at you with suspicion, but gradually, her expression becomes gentler as she floats a little closer to you, raising a hand to your cheek and touching it, “But you know, it really was a waste, wearing that ugly mask all the time. You have such a cute baby face. I bet you’d have been pretty popular with women if you’d shown your face more.”
“Hahaha,” you chuckle, shaking your head. “...It’s alright, I wouldn’t want that.”
“Eh?” she blinks, confused. “Why not?”
Because I’d only hurt them.
“It’s just how it is,” you say with a smile.
The sun is beginning to set now.
[ ] Head back to the shrine. [ ] Stay outside for just a bit longer.
You stop, feeling the wind dance about your body. Closing your eyes, you slowly lower yourself to the ground, where the dirt beneath awaits the touch of your feet. Firmly planted on solid ground once more, you open your eyes as you begin to trudge forward, up the mountain path. There’s no need to live your life in a rush; right now, you should appreciate every single moment you have right now. Surrounded by peace and contentment, by friends and people you love. Cherish, cherish it all. This is what it’s like to be happy.
You lift your hand to the sky, looking at your outstretched fingers. Silhouetted against the orange rays of the setting sun, you stare at the movements of your fingers, taking note of every twitch. This hand is yours. This body is yours. This identity is yours. You are Hoshuu. And you are also Mikio. Without either of the two, you would not be “you.” Right now, that is the truth of your existence. And it is with that truth, that you are able to be happy. If that truth were to become a lie...
But is that how it really is?
It might not be. But it’s fine that way. This is what was desired of me, after all.
How do you know that? You don’t. You’re just comforting yourself, making an excuse for the wrong you’re doing right now.
Maybe you’re right, but, things are ideal now, aren’t they?
It can’t last.
Even if it won’t, that doesn’t matter. It might even be better for her that it doesn’t, after all. I... was so happy. I was so happy. Or at least, I think I was happy. I want to be even happier, but I might be asking for too much. But, even if everything ended here, it would be sad, but I think I could finally accept it. Everything, from the beginning to the end, I could finally accept with a smile. That’s why, in the end, it doesn’t matter.
End this charade.
This is... the right thing to do. I know it is. This is the only way to achieve a peace of mind. For her... and for me. That’s why... that’s why you have to be a bit more patient. Everything will end soon, for us. We won’t have to worry anymore...
You turn around, and see Sanae land on the ground behind you, her arms wrapped around a paper bag filled to the brim. She hurries toward you, grinning brightly. “Hey, Hoshuu. Heading back to the shrine?”
“Ah, yeah. I thought I’d take the long way back home,” you say, nodding as you turn to face her. “And you look like you’ve been to the village.”
“Yeah, I went and bought some groceries,” she says, nodding as she walks up to your side. “Let’s go together now. The weather’s so nice today. It’s just the right temperature; it’s not as hot as it’s been lately, and it’s not cold, either. The breeze feels just right.”
“Want me to carry that for you?”
“No, it’s fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I said I’m fine,” she says, giggling. “I appreciate the thought, though.”
“If you say so,” you say, shrugging.
You turn around and begin walking uphill once more. The wind priestess starts after you, walking by your side with her arms wrapped around her bag of groceries. This isn’t unlike the situation from ten years ago, when the girl would go to the supermarket, talking and laughing about silly things along the way. The thought makes you smile, and you turn to look at Sanae’s face, trying to recall more about the past; the conversations you’ve had, the things you did together...
“W-what, is something stuck on my face?”
“Hm? Oh, no, I was just thinking... are you really Sanae?”
A playful grin makes its way to your face. “I mean, how do I know you’re really the Sanae I remember? For all I know, you could be an impostor.”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh come on.”
“No, really,” you say, mockingly narrowing your eyes in suspicion, and putting a hand on your chin. “How do I know you’re not a fake?”
“Well,” she says, pointing to her hair. “I’ve got this hairpin you bought me, don’t I?”
“Ah, yeah,” you say, laughing. “You’re still wearing that thing. It was 100 yen, you know? Normally you’d throw that out after getting more expensive ones.”
“How could I throw it out?” she says, frowning. She lowers her gaze, seeming somewhat embarrassed. “...I mean, it was the first present you got me.”
That was a silly thing for you to say.
Sheepishly, you rub the back of your head, staring down at your feet as you continue to walk. The mood has grown awkward now, with silence hanging over the two of you, both continuing to trudge up the mountain without saying a word, your gazes directed lower than straight ahead in embarrassment. You nearly freeze up, however, when you suddenly feel contact on your skin. Turning your face, you see the girl beside you, closer than before, her shoulder close enough to touch yours. She refuses to look at you, staring straight forward.
I do this for Sanae. It may hurt more in the end, but the means are as important as the end. I want her to be happy now, so that when it all ends, she can look back and cherish all the happy memories again.
The touch of her skin makes you feel uncomfortable. It feels suffocating. Your breathing is restricted and your chest aches, just from being this close to her. It takes all of your composure to keep yourself from breaking contact immediately, to resist the urge the push her away. This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong. Those words keep repeating themselves in your head, and the more you listen to them, the more you think that they’re right. It hurts to be near her, so you should get away from her.
But is it really wrong?
Right now, she has a very content look on her face. Even though the two of you are simply walking together, not even conversing with one another right now, her expression is very... peaceful. If all it takes for her to be happy, then shouldn’t you bear the pain? After all, you would want for her to smile, isn’t that right? If she can smile, then so can you. So, smile.
Are you sure?
Yes. I’ve already decided, after all. I will be as happy as I can, and I will do everything that I can, in order to give her what I took from her.
Taking in a deep breath, you crane your neck back to look up at the mountaintop. You reach up, grasping at the summit with your hand, before allowing it to fall. Beside you, you hear a giggle come from Sanae, who looks over your way with curiosity.
“What the heck was that?” she asks.
“I dunno,” you reply, shrugging your shoulders. “I was just thinking about something.”
She leans in a bit closer. “About what?”
“Oh, you know, stuff,” you say elusively, continuing to trek along the path. “Like... what lies ahead of us, or something like that.”
Sanae stares at me with small puzzlement.”What do you mean?”
“You’ll go on building up the shrine, right?” you say, grinning as you look at her. “You’re going to expand the influence of the shrine beyond just the mountain. You’re already set on what you’re going to do, and I was just thinking that it might be good for me to set a goal, too.”
“Well that’s easy,” she says quickly, “You’ll keep helping us at our shrine, won’t you?”
“Am I a help to the shrine?” you ask, looking surprised.
“Of course,” she says, nodding. “You’re already involved in our little meetings, anyway. You might as well be considered a priest there by now.”
“Heh, I guess so,” you say, placing a hand on your chin. “Though, a man shouldn’t be bound to just a single place, right?”
She giggles. “That line doesn’t suit you at all.”
“You think so?” you say, frowning slightly. “I thought it was cool.”
“Whatever,” she says while rolling her eyes. Snapping back to a cheerful voice, she turns her head to you once again and asks, “Anything you particularly want for dinner?”
“You know I’ve never had preferences.”
“Right, right,” she nods. “...Though, it wouldn’t hurt for you to ask for something once in a while.”
She inches just a little bit closer, one of her arms slipping in behind and around yours. The returning silence brings back the comfortable mood from earlier. Closing her eyes, Sanae lowers her head to the side, resting her head on your shoulder. You almost flinch, but thankfully, she doesn’t seem to notice that, and the two of you continue to walk the long path up.
A crisp, brown leaf lands on top of your palm, and crumbles apart when you clench your hand. Looking up, you see the colorful, dyed leaves of the season. It’s the time of the year, when the life that sprouted in spring, and lasted through summer, begins to die. Autumn has come. And, as you unclench your hand and allow the bits of the crushed leaf in your hand to fall away, you realize that this may be the final one you’ll be able to enjoy. The final one before what...? That... may depend on what happens.
...Even if the end is drawing near, there’s still time to enjoy yourself; to forget what will come up ahead, and lose yourself in a frenzy of emotions. With what precious time you have left, you should spend it with those who know you, and care about you.
First, you’ll visit...
[ ] (I don’t really need to put anything in here. You’ll get a scene for everyone, so just pick one to go for first.)
>And, as you unclench your hand and allow the bits of the crushed leaf in your hand to fall away, you realize that this may be the final one you’ll be able to enjoy. The final one before what...? That... may depend on what happens.
>>18943 I would like to remark here that stupid choices should not be made regarding Shizuha. We're committed to Sanae. Seeing Shizuha is fine, but trying to be more than a friend now will result in an obvious bad end.
>>18947 That isn't for sure, as there was nothing definitive between Mik-shuu and Sanae, just signs of close friendship, and a few cases of skirting the line. Regardless Shizuha is someone Mikio considers a good friend.
>>18960 That's one way to think of it. Considering how well Lion seems to have planned this story out, he probably intended for the path behind us to be the Youkai Hunter from the very beginning, so he couldn't just let us see that path until we saw the other two, especially Tayasumi. Instead, he simply gave us a bad end that foreshadowed the path.
Besides, it helped make the impact of when we actually had to go back there all the greater.
>>18975 Again, why "either/or"? These are not mutually exclusive situations. We could confront Headgames as the climax, which as I already mentioned, tend to take place near the end, and the only thing left after that could be the resolution.
You follow the current of the Youkai Mountain’s river, heading for the woods closer to the human village. By now, it has all been dyed in the deep colors of autumn, showing off the brilliant color of the trees’ leaves to the rest of the world, hanging from the branches and resting in beautiful piles on the ground, softly crackling underneath your feet as you step through the forest. No doubt that she must be working very hard right now, cheerfully spreading her colors everywhere. Pointing your nose to the air, you breathe in deeply, taking in the scent around you. The smell of autumn is nearby as well, manifesting in the scent of roasting sweet potatoes, amongst other delicate foot smells.
Following the scent, it’s not long before you come across the two sisters. They’re sitting across from each other, facing a small bonfire. The older sister, Shizuha, prods at the twigs stuck into the ground, watching over the fire as it cooks the skewered harvest crops gathered around it. The younger sister, on the other hand, appears despondent, hugging her knees to herself, not even paying any attention to the fire in front of her. Smiling, you approach the two of them.
“Hello,” you greet brightly, holding up a hand to wave at them. “It’s been a while.”
“Huh? Oh, um...”
Shizuha looks up from the fire, looking at you with widened eyes. Oddly, though, she seems... afraid? She nervously scoots up next to her sister, almost as if to hide behind her back. Minoriko, on the other hand, doesn’t even bother to look up, apparently not even paying attention to the rest of the world as she mutters something under her breath. You yourself feel a bit confused for a moment before you remember something.
“It’s me,” you say with a reassuring smile, taking the mask hanging from your sash, briefly holding it against your face. “Do you remember now?”
Pounding the top of her palm with a fist, now that she’s able to recognize you, Shizuha moves away from her still sulking sister, standing up and stepping toward you with a delighted smile.
“It’s been a while, Miki! Although, I guess it’s only been a year.”
“It feels like it’s been longer than that,” you say with a somewhat tired smile, lowering the mask held in your hand and tying it to your sash once again. “Last year has been pretty eventful.”
“Uh-huh,” she nods, her hands folded together behind her back as she leans back to stare up at your face. “So that’s what your face looks like, huh? Not bad, not bad...”
She giggles. “You’re welcome.”
Shizuha walks back over to the fire, reaching down to pick up two of the skewered sweet potatoes, returning to you and handing you one of them. You take the skewer from her hand, smiling in gratitude as you blow on it too cool it down a bit before taking it off the skewer, beginning to peel it. Blowing on it again to ensure that you won’t burn your tongue, you bite into it, tasting the strong, sweet taste of the potato flesh filling your mouth. Letting the heat disperse into the air as you let out a hot breath, you chew the rest of what’s in your mouth and swallow.
“It’s delicious as always,” you say. Looking over to the fire, though, you notice that the younger sister still hasn’t moved at all, still sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees, muttering something constantly in a voice that’s barely audible but not comprehendible. “...What’s wrong with your sister?”
“Oh,” Shizuha says, looking away from her own sweet potato, reminded of her sister’s plight. “She’s just feeling a little depressed.”
“She wasn’t invited to this year’s harvest festival,” she explains, biting into her food and eating it before continuing, “This year’s crop yield was a total failure. I heard it was because the weather was really messed up this year. Anyway, Minorin thinks the whole village hates her now, so she’s been moaning about it for a while. Don’t worry about her; she’ll get over it soon, probably.”
You step a little closer to hear what she’s mumbling.
“Um, is she really going to be alright?” you ask concernedly.
“It’s fine,” Shizuha nods, undaunted. “It’s not the first time she’s been like this anyway. She gets depressed pretty easily.”
You turn to her. “Speaking of which, that means you weren’t able to go to this year’s festival either, were you?”
“Huh? Oh, well, yeah,” she says nodding with a neutral expression before breaking into a small smile. “I don’t really mind as much as Minoriko does, though. I had a lot of fun the last time I went to the harvest festival! Everyone was really nice, and they all looked so happy...”
“It must have been enjoyable,” you say.
“Ahaha, yeah, it was,” she giggles, folding her hands behind her back again and twisting and turning her body as she talks, “...But it’s kind of embarrassing, being in the middle of a huge crowd like at the festival. I feel like I’m being put on the spot.”
“You can’t help if you’re shy,” you say to reassure her, before remembering something. “By the way, there’s going to be a festival of our own at the mountain soon, at the shrine that is. If you’re not busy, then would you like to come attend it?”
“Oh, a festival?” she says, clapping her hands together. “Sure! I’ll tell Minorin as soon as she snaps out of it. I bet she’d be really happy to hear about it, and we’ll bring a lot to eat and drink!”
“I’m sure everyone attending would appreciate that,” you say with a faint smile. Breathing in the crisp air before letting out a sigh, you turn to Shizuha again and say, “...I’ve got some other people invite, too, so I’ll be leaving for now. Take care of your sister and yourself until the festival.”
“No worries,” she says cheerfully, grinning widely. “See ya then!”
Now, who to invite next...?
[ ] Nitori. [ ] Hina. [ ] Miss Aya and Miss Momizi.
Good god, this story took it's sweet time. Didn't think I'd ever read all of it. Figures I catch up with the updates just as the final countdown(?) starts and the tension is at it's highest. Argh. Don't die or explode in to snakes or anything, Mikio/Hoshuu. That would be so painfully cliche.
>>19022 Who said anything about originality? Everything's been done before. I'm just saying that it's not tired and overused to me to have him die or explode into snakes, compared to solving the problem with friendship or whatever.
>>19018 >>19022 Are you implying that bursting into snakes is an overused element? I'm kind of curious about what contexts this would happen in now.
As for whether or not dying would be cliche or not, it would really depend on the how and why, Death is so common in real life (no shit really?) that it would be hard for the concept alone to become cliche in fiction. Now if a resurrection was included, yeah okay that would border on cliche.
That’s right, as long as you’re on the way back to the mountain, you might as well stop by the forest between you and your destination. After all, that’s where Miss Hina resides, and she is also a friend, to both you as well as a few of the residents of the mountain. With your mind made up, you float up into the air, your body gently riding along with the gentle breeze around you, as you fly at a leisurely pace in the direction of the imposing mountain.
Looking down below, at the thick gathering of trees that obscure the sight of the ground beneath you, you calmly slip into one of the few openings between the branches of the trees, lowering your altitude of your flight and finally landing on the ground with a light step. Listening for the sound of running current, you head off in its direction, walking on until you find the flow of the river, then beginning to walk in the direction opposing it. She has to be near this place...
Turning my head toward the river beside me, I watch as a figure in the distance, a doll, floats above the river, following along its current in a gentle and graceful dance. She lifts her dress with her pale and dainty hands, lifting them hem just above her ankles as she spins around, a dark mist-like aura twirling about her body, as if allured by her dance. The mist circles around her like a snake, coiling about her body in the opposite direction she’s spinning, eventually touching her bosom. She continues to spin, lifting a hand to touch it to her chest, pressing her palm against herself as the snake-like mist flows inside...
You begin walking closer to her, watching her expression. It remains calm, and collected, her eyes shut peacefully and her lips unmoving. And yet, for only an instant, you see her expression shake, her closed eyes threatening to open, her eyelids shaking and her lips trembling. She redoubles her effort to keep her expression still and immovable. She is feeling their pain, the agony of those who have been beset by misfortune, experiencing the sadness and uncertainty that it brings to humans. Like her dolls, she takes the pain of others without complaint, like a scapegoat. But she is no longer a doll; surely, she feels pain as well...
But, is it out of her volition that she does this? Does she take on the misfortunes of others, because she truly cares about people? Or is it simply that her nature, a god who is a part of the cycle of curses, dictates her to do so? No matter which answer she would give if you were to question her on it, no matter what she believes her intentions are, you would be uncertain as to what to believe. After all, you are always so conflicted, always so indecisive, never able to make a clear decision. Always doubting yourself, and always denying yourself...
But now isn’t the time to be thinking about that, is it?
With a good natured smile, you continue on, as she comes to a gently stop above the river, her body slowly levitating down, until the tips of her feet touch the water’s surface, just enough to send a small ripple throughout the river’s current. She opens her eyes, and looks toward me, a gentle smile now on her lips.
“You certainly are dedicated to what you do,” you say as a greeting.
She floats away from the river, the soles of her boots touching the sloping ground beside the flowing water. The curse god steps closer, her hands folded together gracefully in front of her dress as she walks over to you in wide strides. “It’s a duty I must not falter in. What brings you here? Is there something you want to discuss?”
“I was in the area,” you say, your steps coming to a stop. “And since you were nearby, I thought I might see if you would accept an invitation to a gathering.”
“A gathering?” she repeats, curiously cocking her head to one side.
“Yes,” you say with a nod. “The tengu and the kappa are holding a feast together with the Moriya shrine, and many of the mountain’s other gods are attending. I was wondering if you would be interested in attending the festival as well. What do you say?”
“A festival, I see,” she says with an uncertain expression, worriedly touching a hand to her cheek. “I wonder if it would be acceptable for me to go? I don’t think many people would be pleased to see me...”
“It’ll be alright,” you say confidently. “Even if the others avoid you, you still have friends among us.”
She considers your words for a moment, then smiles in an uncharacteristically cheerful way, nodding. “I see. Then, I believe I will attend.”
“Great,” you nod enthusiastically. “We’re still not sure exactly when it’ll be, but once I have a date, time, and location, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
“I look forward to it.”
...That takes care of inviting friends from nearby the mountain. The mountain’s residents, namely the tengu and the kappa, are all sure to know about the event being held, so there’s no need to seek the ones you’re close to now to invite them, but it wouldn’t hurt to spend some time with them, as well. What will you do next? The sun isn’t even close to setting yet, and there’s still plenty of time before the day’s over...
[ ] Go visit Nitori. [ ] Go visit Miss Momizi and Miss Aya. [ ] Go home.
There's no need to maintain the order. Nitori lives so close to the mountain that it would be no trouble at all to go out of our way to invite her after visiting family. I'm more worried about the reaction we will receive from the regular tengu.
Because we are closer to the Kappa than the Tengu right now, even if only by a difference of a mile or so. It's no coincidence that the cast of MoF showed up in the order that they did. It's the most efficient way to meet them climbing up the mountain.
Besides, I'd find it kind of fitting that the people we met in Gensokyo first are the ones we see the last in a "Book Ends" sort of way.
Incidentally, excluding Moriya Shrine (which we met in the outside world, but we saw Sanae first) didn't we meet everyone in reverse MoF order? The tengu took us in, we met Nitori via Momiji, ran from Hina into the forest, where we met the Aki Sisters.
You face the mountain once more, leisurely walking along the riverbank as you set out toward it, watching the current of the river flow against the direction you’re walking in. You take in a deep breath as you walk, closing your eyes as you breathe in the cool crisp autumn air, before opening them again and looking to the river once more. The movement of the water is so swift, so strong and violent, yet its sound is so strangely soothing and calming, capable of healing a weary mind. It reminds you of the sound of rain.
The rain, the rain...
You hold a hand to your head.
The rain, falling from the dark skies.
You shake your head.
The rain, pouring down your helpless face.
You close your eyes again.
The rain, washing away the smell of death.
Who was it?
On that day, in the day, who were you? Who was there, as the rain fell from the dark sky? Who was there, surrounded by the stink of death and blood? Who was there, lamenting to the skies the unfairness of the world and everything within it? When was it? Who was it? What happened to you then? That day, that day, that day. The day when you...
Before you’ve realized it, you’ve reached the foot of the mountain. Your unfocused eyes gradually work themselves back into use, and you snap your chin up to look ahead as though you’ve just awoken from sleep. Blinking, feeling slightly dazed, you lower your hand and walk on at a renewed pace, looking back at the mouth of the forest you’ve just exited. Letting out a small sigh, you face forward once more and trudge on, lifting your arm to block the sunlight above. Nitori... she should be around here somewhere, though it might take a while to find her...
Ah, no, there she is by the riverbank just up ahead, crouched down. How convenient.
Approaching her, you lift an arm and wave as you call out, “Heeeeey!”
Standing up abruptly, she turns to look this way, preparing to dive into the river for a quick getaway if necessary. Seeing your familiar getup, though, she decides against it just as her legs coil up for a jump, lamely stopping halfway. Straightening her back, she turns in your direction, and raises a hand to wave back at you. You close the distance between her and you.
“You’re not wearing your mask anymore!” she immediately notes, staring up at your face.
“Yeah. What are you up to?”.
“Oh, just skipping rocks,” she says, a round, flat stone held in one of her hands. “Wanna give it a try?’
“Sure,” you say, crouching down.
Your hand hovers over the ground littered with white, round stones, searching for one with a particular shape and size. Grasping one, you check its weight, tossing it up into the air a few times to get a good feel for it, before standing back up. Facing the river, you wind back for a throw like a baseball player, your eyes keeping aim on a particular spot in the water. Ready, you toss the stone with great force, making sure to put a little spin to it. The round stone hits the surface of the water, bouncing up ever so slightly as it skips across the flowing river, sinking just short of reaching the other side.
“Whoa, that’s really good!” Nitori says, her mouth wide agape in small awe. “When did you get so good at skipping rocks?”
“I practiced a lot before,” you say, crouching down and picking up another stone. “Back when I didn’t have anything to do but.”
“Hmmm?” she makes an interested sound. “I don’t I’ve ever seen you practice.”
Well, that would be because it was back when you were in the outside world. After all, you spent quite a while just skipping rocks across the lake as Hoshuu, didn’t you...?
“I practiced in secret,” you say with a grin, winding for another pitch. You toss the stone, and this time, it skips all the way over to the other side.
“That’s awesome,” she says, clapping her small hands a little. She takes the round stone in her hand, and winds up for a baseball pitch, trying to imitate you. She tosses it, but the stone just hits the water once before sinking down. “Aw, dang... I wish I was as good as you at this.”
“If you’d like, I’ll teach you,” you begin to say, before remembering, “Oh, but more importantly, you know about the feast that we’re going to have here, right?”
“Huh?” she tilts her head in confusion. “A feast? What feast?”
You raise an eyebrow. “You don’t know?”
She tilts her head to the left and right with a scrunched up face, racking her brain. “...Nope. I spent the last few days just submerged in the water, so I guess I’m not caught up on current events. So, what’s this feast that we’re having? Are lots of humans coming too?”
That’s a long time to be underwater.
“We’re holding an autumn festival at the shrine,” you say, pointing up at the summit of the mountain up ahead. “The tengu and the kappa are invited, and of course, the humans at the village nearby here are coming as well. You’ll be there as well, right?”
“Oh, oh, of course!” she says, her eyes practically sparkling with excitement and anticipation. “I wonder if Marisa’s gonna come too. She’s always telling me awesome stories when she’s here!”
“Well,” you say, letting out a small laugh. “I’m sure if she found out about it, she’d be there, and that’s probably definite, given how fast news travels around Gensokyo. Anyway, now that you know, be sure not to miss it, okay?”
“Of course, of course!” she says, nodding with enthusiasm. “I wonder if I should cobble together something to show everyone...? Oh, maybe I should get some fireworks going, too...”
For someone as shy she is around strangers, she’s never one to miss a festival is she? That’s what’s so great about the inhabitants of Gensokyo. No matter the rules, the customs, or whatever they possess or possessed in the past, when it comes to having fun and celebrating, they do it with all their might. They put aside differences and slights of the past to enjoy a drink together. Carefree, cheerful, and celebrative in the now, despite the bloody struggles they participated in the past.
Maybe that’s just how this place is meant to be. Maybe, you can...
You look up at the tall mountain. The tengu are all about information. There wouldn’t be even a single one ignorant of the upcoming celebration, so there’s little point in going to tell Miss Aya to attend the festival, though it might take a slight bit of a persuasive hand to convince Miss Momizi to lay aside her duties and enjoy a festival for a day. Should you go visit those two?
[ ] Visit Miss Aya and Miss Momizi. [ ] Head back to the shrine.