"I'll be back in just a moment, then." She doesn't seem like she's here to cause harm, but that could change; Just because a law is abolished doesn't mean people stop following it. Then again, they probably don't care about all that if they're on the roof in clear daylight...Still, this is a matter of the shrine itself. Kanako should be there, at least. Unless...No. Stop. No time for this. They're adults, they can make their own decisions.
Can't afford to waste any time. My steps are light and measured for only as long as it takes to break from their sight – the second I'm sure I can get away with it they leave the floor completely, being tossed about with each strained corner. It's a bit dangerous, but by the time I know my path I've arrived. Just being here this fast is somewhat disorienting, let alone the ride over. I wonder how Daichi deals with it?
Peeking over the side of the roof proves a mistake. Don't need to see any of that, thank you. "Excuse me, sorry for interrupting." A pair of sighs, one deeper, longer, and a second later. "Twenty-five minutes too much for you?" I understand your frustration, but this is kind of important... "Yes." Wait! "No." Well... "There's complications." Stop stumbling over yourself and "Spit it out, woman!" No need to get all hostile on me! Kanako coos softly, trying to calm him in the second I take to collect myself. "There's a reporter here asking about what happened and I don't know what to tell her." It takes a long moment to get a reply, made even longer by the fact that I'm looking away. It's a lot easier to wait when you can see someone's at least thinking. "...Is her name Aya, by any chance?" And it's Kanako that finally comes through. "Aya Shameimaru?" "Fuck." Is there just something about this shrine that makes people answer simultaneously? "We'll be down in a minute. Thank you, Hina." I wish I could take some comfort in this, but that answer makes it awfully difficult. Without delaying them (or myself) any further, I descend back to the ground – and back into the air as I remember that I should probably not make footsteps from a direction that isn't somehow bathroom related. If you're going to lie, see it through.
Gotta learn some time.
"Welcome back!" Looking as cheerful as ever, Aya gives me a bright smile and a wave the moment I walk through the door. "Thank you. Have you been continuing the interview without me, or did you decide to wait?" "Well, I wanted to start but these two decided we should wait on you." The best. "So, now that we're here. From the beginning?" Right, right. The beginning...was getting captured. Is that still a secret? I don't see why it should be, but then Grey might not want Sanae to know that he was ready to kill a friend of hers. "Well, like I had said, I was passing by and dropped in for a visit..." How did I let myself get so caught up in lies and misdirection? It's all just awfully tiring. "Someone else had already come to discuss something with Kanako, so I spent some time alone with Sanae." "Time alone with Sanae, huh?" Really? We just did this. Being instantly met with glares has a way of hurrying the conversation along, though. "Sorry, couldn't resist. Go ohn." Wha...?
Her pen falls from her hand, rolling to the floor and landing with a clatter that's drowned out by the thud of her head against the table.
The room sits in a sort of shocked silence before anyone thinks to ask Gr "What the hell was that?!" Yes. Right. Thank you. "Hina, we're leaving." By the time his words have even registered, Grey pulls me from my seat by the wrist. The moment I catch my balance, though, Kanako stops him with a push against his shoulder. "No you are not! I'm not dealing with her when she wakes up!" "You're welcome to come with us." I don't know how you can stay that calm with that kind of fury in her eyes. "Ha ha. You deal with her or I'll...I'll..." "Or you'll deal with her. Wonderful. Thanks, Kan-kan." ...Kan-kan? That's...cheesy. Really cheesy. Do you know how cheesy you sound? Cheesy enough to blindside Kanako, who fights to stay threatening against the rising blush in her cheeks. If it were anything else, I'm sure she'd still be frightening, but... "You let him call you that?" "Hey! Why are you attacking me?" I dunno, Kan-kan. Suwako's got a point. "Yeah, Suwako. What's the matter with what I call her?" Now that. That's terrifying. Everything about his face is perfectly cheerful, but something in his tone is just daring her to say something. Mouth hanging wide and a single finger extended in front of her, she stares long and hard at Grey.
"See you later, guys." Staying perfectly still otherwise, she brings out the rest of her fingers and waves a single, brief wave.
Grey's hand is almost instantly back in mine, dragging me out the door without another word. As we leave, Suwako continues, not quite muffled out by the wind. "You two are just the sweete-" "Shut the fu-" Ngah! An almost ear-shattering slam marks Grey's sudden stop, which practically jettisons me into his now unarmored (and surprisingly warm, though I have to wonder why I would even notice) back. "You wanna explain yourself, dick?" That voice...shouldn't be... "Had to greet you properly after all this time." The dirt and the dizziness make it a bit hard to see, but as I brush them off it becomes apparent that Aya is, indeed, standing in our way, a giant leaf replacing her ever-present pad. The wind has picked up since we last came out here, whipping loose clothes and hair around wildly – ours, anyways. She seems to be positioned just perfectly, the wind making her hair play in its own curves and her dress (an off-white wraparound with a subtle pattern of blowing leaves lining one side, held in place by a thick burgundy belt) dance, the rise and fall of its curves making the leaf pattern almost real. Underneath its relatively thin fabric is a pair of jet-black thigh-highs, thick and wooly.
Crossing her arms tightly enough that only the hem of her cardigan continues flapping, she glares daggers at the two of us. "It's been six days." Grey, meanwhile, keeps right on smiling. "Really? Felt like months without you around." "Well, time does crawl when you're bored." The wind picks up, howling through the trees and sending me off balance. "Wanna play? I'll take on either of you for the interview." This doesn't feel like a great idea. She looks awfully confident, and after all that talk about truth I feel like she wouldn't be bluffing.
[ ] Grey looks ready to go, and he actually stands a chance. Let him. [ ] I almost took out an elder god, and she doesn't know what I can do yet. I can try my luck. [ ] If you're ready to fight for it, then I'm not. Take this inside.
[X] Grey looks ready to go, and he actually stands a chance. Let him.
You're the one that knocked her out. You deal with her.
>>19449 Hina gets Grey and Kanako. Grey knocks out Aya from behind. Grey reveals embarrasing nickname for Kanako. The last event results in enough time for Aya to regain consciousness, fly out the window and cut off Grey and Hina as they're leaving.
...So, I feel like I should write tonight. However, I started reading Idea of Alice in /sdm/ and damn! Thank god it only has two threads and change, or I'd declare a hiatus. I almost forgot how fun reading was. For serious.
I mean, I'm not saying outright that I'm not gonna at least try, but let's be honest folks. Voting is open until I'm able to pry myself away from it, but if anyone happens to know another story of similar quality please do recommend it. I promise I won't start till after I update!
>>19453 >However, I started reading Idea of Alice in /sdm/ and damn!
I know that feel.
>Voting is open until I'm able to pry myself away from it, but if anyone happens to know another story of similar quality please do recommend it.
Contemplations Under the Moon and Stars A Fairy's Tale Fragmentation of Memories The Game Palingenesia Resonant with Vivid Tones Retrospective and Astronomical Narraration Shadow Over Gensokyo Stitches in Time Check the recommendations thread in /gensokyo/.
Cutmas is awesome, yes, and makes me wonder whether I'll be able to write a drunk scene half as well as he, when the time comes. Shame about Harker. The Game I read and loved from the very first post, and I heartily endorse it (again) to any of my readers who haven't. Resonant with Vivid Tones I distinctly remember reading, but at some point or another I simply lost track of all my stories and didn't pick them back up. It may have been partially the fault of a long hiatus, but my memory is hazy and I'm not here to point fingers anyways. Retrospective and Astronomical Narraration is, undoubtedly, the best-written story I have read to date, despite it having been cut short. It is a large part of what made me want to pick up writing for the site, and I not only recommend but demand that anyone reading my tripe without having read RAN first stop what they are doing and pick that story up.
The others I've not tried, aside from a few early posts. Thank you, and good night.
There's no way I'd win, anyways. "Any chance you'd go easy on me?" ...Daichi, though, takes a few confrontational steps forward, stretching his arms a bit as he walks. "What are you, kidding me? You're Daichi Takeyuu. Going easy on you would be an insult." ...Looks like these two have more history than I thought. With a light scratch behind his tattered ear, he grins at the girl deviously and replies in a jovial tone, "Is my name really that big? Far as I can tell, I'm just an old man." I can tell just as well as Aya can that his words are mocking, and her face tightens in offense. In the same second, though, it relaxes into a confident smirk. "Don't think you can talk your way out of this. I was ready to fight you the second I knew you were here." Far more history. Gently rubbing his forehead with the tips of his fingers, he lets out a sigh that's quickly swallowed by the mountain gales. "So you'd have fought me whether I agreed to it or not?" With a smile and a shrug, she replies, "In so many words." "Can we at least put this off? I'm late for something, and you should know the value of punctuality as well as anyone." You know, she already said not to bother talking her out of it... "If you're already late, what's another few minutes?" By now they're shouting at each other, struggling to be heard over the wind, but Daichi is content to let it answer for him this time.
Without breaking their stare down, he says (with an unsettling calmness, given how loud he needs to say it), "Hina, I would recommend going inside." ...For what? We just watched two gods fight, why can't I watch two tengu fight? The moment's hesitation is enough to draw his stony glare over his shoulder. In a low, strict tone, he continues, "I'm not going to try to convince you, if you don't want to. Just keep in mind, you won't make it in if you stay for the beginning." The moment he finishes, his eyes go back to Aya, who now sports a wild grin. The wind somehow finds a way to pick up even further, sharing in her excitement. "He's right, Hina. It'll be such a treat, you'll be glued to your seat." Her insistence only makes the decision easier. Logic would denote that I should stay – I've never actually seen a tengu fight, let alone two, and learning my companion's abilities is never a bad thing. Besides, what harm could really come to me? It's just a danmaku duel.
Logic, though, has a funny way of being irrelevant in Gensokyo. "Good luck, Daichi."
"Thanks." Without bothering to say any more (or even face me, though at this point I'm accustomed to it), he opens his coat, pulling out a small, carved wooden rod tipped on both ends with polished metal orbs. "Now get in there." The two stay silent until the door shuts itself behind me, leaving me with only the now-whispering wind and an empty hallway.
Standing in silence, the two tengu quietly studied each other. A raging tempest howled around them, sending even the elder's oppressively cumbersome coat swaying. With each gentle peak, the metallic ringing of a hundred hidden weapons and tools would resonate through the air only to be drowned out before reaching even Daichi's ears.
Finally, the younger spoke, her voice low and calm yet carried on the winds. "So what are we at? 70 to 6?" Hearing her so clearly after their previous shouting match was a godsend, but despite having first been exposed to the trick ages ago it never quite stopped sending a slight shiver through Daichi. Taking his cue, he too dropped his voice, idly running his fingers over the intricate carvings of his weapon's handle and occasionally twirling it a bit as he spoke. "Sounds about right. Surprised you'd admit to it so quickly though." With fire in her eyes and pride in her chest, the girl swelled visibly. "Admit to what? Beating Tenma's right hand man on more than one occasion?" Her entire life, Tenma had been the very definition of world-shattering strength. Even coming this close to him had been among her greatest achievements, and she absolutely refused to loosen her grip on it. Unfazed by her mocking tone, Daichi simply chuckled to himself. For all the circumstance and ceremony that surrounded him, he truly never thought himself more than an old man. Seeing such youthful energy, though, was among his great pleasures, and the days when indulging in her constant challenges was a bother were few and far between.
Unfortunately, today was one such day. "So. Two spells, three spells?" Just let her cooperate, he silently hoped, Just this once. Furrowing one brow and raising the other, Aya responded with a playful but cautious tone, willing the silencing wind just a bit stronger in case of waiting ears. "...Since when have you used spellcards? You know we're both good enough to get away with it." By the time the spellcard system had been put into effect, the two had long since begun their little sparring matches. Using it didn't seem particularly important to either of them at the time, and so they paid it no mind. To mention it now had to be some kind of tactic.
That's how he always won, after all.
Already growing weary of her, he let out another small sigh, finally letting his hand and the rod within it drop to his thigh. "I told you, didn't I? I'm already late. We need to make this fast." In the blink of an eye her fan was raised to strike him, gusts circling its handle and crawling over the veins of the oversized leaf. Even as her hand fell he had leapt back, leaving only his rod in his place as Aya's message was carried to him on the wind. "First hit wins, then."
Again, no idea how long this is gonna turn out. This is, at the very, very most half of the update. Fun fact: I have absolutely no idea who's going to win the majority of fights I write before I get to the end, at which point I rig it if the decision actually affects the story.
As a booming gale shot forth in the arc of her wasted strike, she let her feet off the ground and spread her wings, catapulting herself with a violent whip into the air using her own weapon's recoil. Daichi stood firm against the enchanted wall of the Moriya shrine, barely keeping his knees from buckling against the first (and strongest, in his experience) of her attacks before propelling off from it, scarcely missing his own dropped weapon as it ripped through the air behind the wall of wind. A monstrous crack marked its impact with the shrine, but the simple wooden siding remained intact as the weapon bounced harmlessly from it and landed in Daichi's intercepting hand. He knew well enough by now that her fan was her greatest asset, and knew immediately to take the fight to the forest, where the trees would at least make it more difficult to direct. If she had any respect for the mountain, they would also limit the strength available to her. His feet skimming so close to rocks and plant life that relaxing his toes would mean losing them, he made a mad dash for the first patch of green that his eyes could register.
Aya, of course, was just as well aware of her own limitations. Almost all of their matches would start with a guessing game that she was getting better and better at as she learned about Daichi's favored terrain, their speed allowing only enough time for the slightest miscalculation when cutting off the other's route of escape. Landing where his foot was to touch down next with another ear-shattering boom, she planted her hands on the ground and seamlessly twisted herself into a sweeping kick that would pass a hair's width from its target's leaping feet. Setting a small cyclone at her foot, she let the kick continue until it was once again in Daichi's path, when it was forced vertical. His own foot waited to intercept her, though, and he vaulted from her head, ruffling her hair in the process.
It was a wasted motion against a legitimate threat, but he never could get himself to stop treating her like a child. Perhaps with more time, the thought would inspire a spot of psychological inquiry. At the moment, though, his only concern was the rapidly approaching woods. Pushing himself to avoid another encounter with Aya, he skimmed along the surface of the mountaintop lake, sending enormous waves in his wake before disappearing into the neighboring brush. Reprimanding herself under her breath for letting him go, Aya followed him into the darkness, knowing there was little to do after her failed interception but give him his terrain. She could try to wait him out, but she did value punctuality and her desire to win was beat out by her respect for her opponent. This wasn't exactly a fight to the death, nor was there any grudge on either part. Not even the interview was really as important to her as was the act of fighting him, itself.
As the blinding mid-morning sun and howling gales were reduced to a glow and a whisper by the thick blanket of trees she found herself enveloped in, Aya's steps slowed. Breaking her line of sight had forced her on the defensive, and though she felt eyes on her as she tried to silence her steps, all that she could do was grip her fan in anticipation. A light breeze clung to her like cloth, its omnidirectional flow ready to lash out on an instant's notice – a skill that took some practiced finesse, but which had proven useful once refined. For a moment her thoughts drifted back to the spotty mockery of a defense that was her first attempt, more open than protected, but it wasn't the time for nostalgia. She couldn't afford to drop her focus, as even the smallest crack in her defense could be fatal.
Well, as fatal as it gets, she reflexively allowed herself to quip to no one.
As though on cue, a silent blur shot from the shadows behind her, striking the air where she once stood with a small metal orb. That he would attack from the rear was a given – his advantage demanded it – but though she would never admit it, Aya's dodge was completely accidental. They say luck is a part of one's strength, but a victory borne from it was still an infuriating one for the two proud warriors, whether it was their opponent's or their own. Seeing her assailant as she just happened to turn left her stance imperfect, but in the instant she saw his arm she sprung to action, grasping his wrist for a throw only to have her own struck by one end of the curious little weapon he carried.
In the moment that he knew his strike would miss, the rod had fallen from his stolen hand and into the grip of his other, which had already begun its warpath. The strike ran true to a pressure point in her wrist, sending a sharp, stinging pain through Aya's entire arm – the purpose of the weapon that hit her, in fact – and in momentary shock, her grip had loosened. With his dominant arm free, Daichi's elbow shot for the girl's throat and was narrowly dodged, her head dropping from its path as her entire body spun into a kick to his back. The idea of blocking it was as impractical as it was unpleasant, so he did the next-worst thing and dropped to the floor entirely. As he fell, he once again tossed his weapon to its original hand and lashed out for an exposed collarbone only to be parried by the invisible hand of her wind, which struck him away with the same unconscious reaction that would once have resulted in a mere flinch.
Landing clumsily and with a slam that reminded him all too well of his coat's weight, Grey sprung forward trying to disappear once again. They both knew that pulling another dodge out of thin air like that was impossible, so when Aya's foot touched down lightly it was not a stomp but a desperate grab that broke the soil beneath her, her fingers deforming deep footprints from where he had kicked off. Cursing to herself under her breath, she set off in the direction the footprints would have sent him only to give up on the chase within seconds. She had lost sight of him again, and there was already plenty of time for him to hide and prepare.
Plenty of time for her, too.
Summoning a small, controlled cyclone, she filled the air with whatever fallen sticks and leaves she could, rushing to put her back to a tree before it could be attacked. Her breath was hard, but steady and trained – it was easier to silence that way. She despised being put on the defense like this, but Daichi always seemed one step ahead of her. If she could just bring him back down to a straight fist fight, she knew she would win. He was just too encumbered, and she too fast, too clever.
Her eyes wandered briefly to the fan in her unnaturally cold grip, a treasure to which she owed a great deal of her success and a small source of comfort and calm when she needed it. When her inexperienced hands first wielded it, she had no control of its direction or concept of its strength. Like watching a child try to swing a sword, the mere memory that she was ever so abysmal with the thing was both an embarrassment and a nostalgia trip. It didn't exactly help that within an afternoon of playing with it she had managed to summon a hurricane by accident, tearing her clear off her feet. Thinking back on the terror that gripped her while being flung through the air by what she understood to be a party trick and the weeks it took for her to dare even touching the horrid thing afterward drew forth a laugh that she barely suppressed into a smile.
Suppressing it became much easier, of course, after seeing a thin chain wrap around her waist and arms, pinning her to the tree she hid behind in the half-second her concentration was broken. At first panicking to escape it before it tied her down completely, she quickly realized that the battle was as good as done. Sure enough, slow, heavy steps circled from around the tree, and Daichi stood before the defeated Aya with a calm smile. "Good game." Daichi extended a hand for her to shake, only to be met with an incredulous frown. Allowing his smile to spread into a grin, he kept it perfectly still. "Problem?" Futilely wiggling against the chains that bound her, she frowned hard enough to warrant a laugh from the old tengu so hearty and warm that she couldn't help but laugh herself. The sight was an odd one, to be sure, but it seemed to them like every match ended much like this. There was never anything on the line, nothing to get too serious about except their own competitiveness, and so with nothing to lose and nothing to gain from their duels there was always an air of cheer about them. Losing, itself, had long since ceased to bother either – Aya had to accept that it would happen much of the time, and when Daichi lost he simply shared in her joy.
After what felt like an eternity, the two finally calmed down, allowing Aya to reply. "Yeah. Good game. Gotta say, that was a pretty gutsy trick, dropping to the ground like that. What if I had been too fast for you?" "If you were too fast for me, I'd have lost by then. What you need is to recognize when you can slow down, think things through a little more." Gesturing to the tree she was bound to, he continued, "Like this. Kicking up cover was a good tactic, and I actually did lose you for a second, but you picked the closest tree to you." Trying her best to look mysterious and clever while still tied to a tree, she replied, "What if I hadn't though?" With a knowing smile, Daichi almost instantly returned with a simple, "Ah, but you did." He was always ready to offer advice, but speculating could occupy him for hours that he didn't have. Resigning herself to her fate with something between a sigh and a laugh, she rests her head against the tree, looking at the sunlight through the foliage. "Yeah, I did." Her brow tightens just slightly, but her eyes remain fixed on the canopy. "There's just one thing that's been bothering me, though..." "And what's that?" The moment the words left his mouth, a gust – not especially powerful compared to what he'd dealt with throughout the day, but strong enough and well-aimed enough to force him – pushed him off balance, stumbling toward the tied up girl's waiting headbutt.
"You never actually hit me."
Still not done. The rest should come relatively easy, but this bit took something to the tune of 7 hours so I am on break.
"Hina! Back so soon?" A stack of dirtied plates at her side, Sanae greets me cheerfully from her place at the sink. Kanako seems to have disappeared again, though the thin smile on Suwako's face makes me think she had everything to do with it. "I am. Did you see what happened with Aya?" It's odd that they would be so nonchalant about her waking up. Wasn't this a big deal? Suwako replies, letting Sanae focus on the dishes. "In the loosest sense of the word. One second she's here, the next I'm picking my hair out of my teeth." ...Right. I suppose 'saw' isn't really the best word to use. "What's up? I figure if you're here and not panicking, the situation can't be that bad." Hey, I don't panic that much. Do I? "She and Daichi are fighting for the interview. I was told to go inside for it, though I still think it's odd that I would need to. Are tengu really so dangerous that I couldn't even watch?" I mean, I may not have won against Suwako but I like to think I can at least defend myself from crossfire. "You couldn't have watched us if you tried." "Mmmnnnnnnnnghhello Daichi." And what are you giggling at, Sanae? I bet you did the same thing the first few times he snuck up on you.
My eyes blink a few times, seemingly of their own accord. Sure enough, Daichi stands behind me with a smirk plastered on his face, tall and broad as ever. "You...I just got back in the kitchen!" What, did they just flip a coin or something? "Why yes, you did. Very astute of you." I already have one girl giggling at my expense, you don't need to get Suwako going too. "We're going." He won? "You won?" Letting the smirk drop a bit, he nods to the hallway and repeats himself, this time with just a hint more emphasis. "We're going." Rushing to wipe off her wet hands on whatever cloth will take it, Sanae calls from the sink. "Wait, wait! Before you leave!" With a last frantic shake of her hands, she runs on her toes and crashes face-first into Daichi with open arms, though he manages to stay on his feet this time. Seeing his serene smile as he tightly wraps his coat around her just makes it harder to go. Her head pressed firmly against him, she says in a voice so soft it almost doesn't make it through his leather, "We love you, Daichi. Don't disappear like that again." So much harder. Leaning down and cradling the girl, he whispers in her ear, "I won't. Promise."
For another moment, the two stay like that, until the silence is broken by a deep sniff and a pair of childish giggles that I wouldn't trade the world for.
The mountain air is cool and crisp in the morning, a soft breeze having overtaken the wild storm that was present only minutes ago. Flying through it shakes off the last remnants of grogginess that overtake you when you've been indoors too long, so subtle that you don't even realize it's there until it's gone. After yesterday and all that came with it, I feel like it's been more than a year since I could just relax and fly around, enjoying the clean air without needing to worry about whether there was a bullet in it. The orchestra of animal life, the soft song of the wind in the forest, and the view of the entire mountain that you only get from the peak never cease to amaze me, but today they feel especially fantastic, like a celebration of a new era for the shrine. Daichi flies beside me, leading by a short ways but ultimately just as comfortable with simply ambling along and admiring the view. We have places to go, sure, but whatever is in store for us can't possibly be as stressful as our last little adventure...hopefully.
There's just one thing that's still bothering me, though. "So you never told me. What happened with Aya?" Without bothering to face me, he says quite simply, "She won." What. You're joking. You're joking, right? We didn't just leave Sanae and Kanako without letting them know? Without warning them about what's to come? "She won?" "She won, and I gave her the interview." Oh, no. Oh, no no no no. "Well, with a rain check. She's headstrong, but she's not completely unreasonable." "We're in trouble, then. Well, we're not, but those three-" Finally turning to me with a smile, he continues, "Hina, how much do you think I saw back there?" "Well, you saw everything, didn't you? You were the one that told me who Suwako was in the first place." Hell, interviewing him would probably get more information than anyone. "But how much do you think I saw? Go through the events of the day from what you know of my perspective." Well, we dropped in, and...he disappeared. Talked with Kanako for a while, then saw Sanae fall through a wall...and disappeared. Saw a little girl (who could for all he knew be a visitor or a relative) cuddling with Sanae then disappeared againDaichi you're a genius! Seeing the smile of realization creeping across my face, he lets his own break into a grin. "I'm gonna tell her everything. You don't need to worry about those three." "You're right. I don't." Unless she comes after me again, but we'll burn that bridge when we get to it. "So what's this appointment you've blown off?" I may not be deeply involved, but curiosity is a vile and powerful thing. "Pack meeting. One time, Goose didn't show up for seven hours, so now if anyone's late we just put it off till the next day." Oh. Well, I guess we're not terribly late after all. "So we have about ten minutes to get down there." Squinting a bit, he points to a small clearing in the forest by the foot of the mountain that I couldn't see getting to in less than forty. "And that's just the entrance." "So we're as good as late again then." It doesn't directly affect me, but I still let out a bit of a sigh. Just seeing this operation get delayed for two whole days on account of a whim... "Oh, goodness no. But you might want to close your eyes." I don't like the sound of that. I don't like the sound of that one bit.
With a grab and a turn that already has me disoriented, he braces my body against his, tucking my head into his chest. In the same moment, my stomach flies to my throat as the world fades into a blur of rushing wind. Even time feels like it's slowed down, each second a trial of its own. It's difficult to say how long the ride lasts, though "Too long" is plenty for me. Shortly in, the tone of the air changes and the straight dash turns to a twisting, turning, nauseating mess without even slowing down in exchange. The only thing keeping me from trying to break free is the thought of crashing into something at this speed.
Thankfully, it can't last forever. The moment the world sets itself straight, I find myself collapsed on the stone floor with a hand on my stomach, thankful for something cool and stable. Somewhere in the odd, muffled nothing that the air left in my ears, I can hear Daichi say, "We're here." So much for a pleasant amble. "Sorry if that was a little too fast for you. I tried to slow it down, but I'm a bit of a two-speed." I don't care. I don't care about any of this, just let me...I don't know, let me be for a minute. "Hina! You made it!" Or not. I'm afraid a glance will have to do; if I let my voice out I don't know what'll come with it. "I thought Grey was gonna get you killed! Though, from the looks of you, he almost did. Did you fly her here?" "We were almost late." Hey, you could have just told me to wait at the shrine. I would have been perfectly happy without having experienced any of that. "And I resent that! The closest she came was getting caught in a minor explosion." oughppreciate the concern but you don't need to be squeezing me that tight right now... "A minor explosion?! Look at the poor thing! She's so fragile, she can't even handle a little ride. It's okay, Hina, I'll take good care of you. You don't have to worry about this brute and his minor explosions." How comforting. "Will you two shut up and get in here already? We already had to push this back." An unfamiliar voice, though there's only one of them that I haven't spent some time with. It's not exactly a comforting one, considering how happy he was to kill me and be on his way last time. Maybe I'll just sit outside for now. "Come on, Hina. You're a part of the pack now, too!" ...Or not.
Picking me to my feet makes my head (and stomach) spin again, but at least now I can see where we're sitting. The room itself is small and simple, much like Goose's – mostly furnished with the mountain itself, with cushions where they're needed. There's only one ornately carved table with a number of equally artful seats around it that together depict what I can only assume to be a tengu folk tale, sweeping lines depicting in shocking detail a giant and horrible beast being confronted by a group of six, whose bodies might equal the size of its eye in a generous estimate. A sheet of glass serves as the table's effective surface, covering the pattern which was chiseled into the top of the table itself. Seeing it extend straight into the mountain as it does only makes the artwork more impressive; there was no second chance for whoever made this.
A few simple wooden chairs have been pulled up as well, clearly having been brought in from outside. Next to the powerful imagery of the carved pieces, even the smooth and sturdy craftsmanship of the extra seats is utterly unimpressive. On top of the table is a rough map of Gensokyo with various marks and notes on it. The edges show a bit of wear, but the parchment itself doesn't look aged at all; this map is one that's simply been handled enough times that avoiding a few tears wouldn't be possible.
And standing above the table with crossed arms and an accusatory glare pointed straight at me is who I can only assume to be the leader of this pack. His eyes stand out the most (I wonder why), thin, piercing, analytical, and of such a dark brown that I'd swear they were black. Looking into them, I feel like he can tell everything about me, like he's just waiting for something to pounce on. His hair, as black as any tengu's, is ragged and split from a clear lack of care but still has a natural sheen to it. Cut just a touch longer than Daichi's, it has a certain bounce to it that sends small portions spiking whichever way the wind last blew them, but it's still together enough that he doesn't look completely ridiculous. His lips lay so flat that I can't tell whether he actually knows how to smile, but his cheeks have a light, natural blush to them that would make one glow if he did. As is, he just looks like he's flush with fury. Pity, that. He doesn't look to be particularly big or tall as far as tengu go, but there's a certain unflinching authority in his motions and his voice that quite frankly frightens me.
His clothes, of course, don't betray any of that. Rather than the elaborate battle garb that tengu seem to favor (or did a year ago, at least) he simply wears a tight-fitting short-sleeved shirt in a flat, dark blue. His pants are loose and look easy to move around in, practically a carbon copy of Southpaw's right down to the drawstring. The only difference that I can see is that the material that makes them up is thicker. Slung across his back is the same spear that pinned me when I first met him, long but not unwieldy, with a red staff portion and gold-trimmed blades arranged in a cross at its end. A glance at his feet shows not only the small, single-point blade on the opposite end, but that he trusts it that close to him without shoes on.
Southpaw's voice calls out from the corner, breaking my gaze from the leader. Just as well; he was putting a hole right through me. "Right then. Now that we're all here for a change," and the last few words carry just a hint of acidity, his eyes jumping to me as he says them, "Can we get started?"
[ ] Stay quiet. Maybe they won't notice I'm here. [ ] Two out of four is...okay. Ish. Say my piece, but don't push it. [ ] If I'm a part of the pack now, I should be able to have my say in things.
FUCK that took too long. I can't wait to get back into the tengu though; I have some fun parts planned for this bunch.
>>19491 If I cared whether people interrupted them, I wouldn't have split them. Any time you have something to say, go ahead and say it.
Thought I'd be able to get this done tonight, but there's a wicked power outage so that's not happening. Tomorrow and Saturday are also really busy, but I'll try and squeeze in whatever writing time I can.
If he wants to blame me, then let him. "No objections here." Smile, smile. It seems to irritate him that I'm not trembling at his slightest suggestion, and all the better for it. The child needs to learn to relax. Sure, it might be irresponsible of me to take him so lightly, but I still can't look at those ears without Let's not go down that path. As the group starts gravitating toward the table, Daichi says with very little ceremony, "Any new business to start with?" Springing forward as though to grasp a fleeting opportunity, Goose slams her hands on the table forcefully, getting a slight jump out of me. "Gentlemen!" Her posture sinks and her eyes begin shifting slowly and purposefully from one member of the gathering to the next, stopping to scrutinize each of us before moving on. When she finally begins speaking again, her voice comes out in a hushed yet severe tone. "How do we kill the shrine maiden?" And that very moment, a fist comes falling from the heavens, directly into the back of her head. She doesn't seem any worse for it, standing there and giggling like an overexcited child, but you could hear the crack from down the hall. The others don't pay it any mind, but it still makes me uncomfortable. Daichi decides to play along just as I open my mouth to object. "Laser beams?" ...And all he gets is a heavy sigh? I mean, great, I'm strictly anti-head-punching. Could have at least written it off as a cultural thing if they both got hit, though. Well, if Goose doesn't mind, who am I to make a mountain of a mole hill? "Brilliant! Have this man promoted!" And she clearly doesn't mind. Letting her usual indomitable excitement bleed through, she tries once more to sound threatening through her sinister grin. "And then killed."
Finally having had enough, the leader barks, "Are you done?!" His coarse voice sends shivers down my spine, even stronger and more commanding than I remember it. Compared to this, his threats on the mountainside were like jokes – though, the thought that I hadn't actually come quite that close to death is a comforting one. Regarding him with a smile, Goose silently and rigidly takes a seat. No one speaks for a moment, letting him glare at her, but her cocky smile stays plastered on her face as she delivers a small flourish and half-bow. As she settles in, her fingers intertwine and settle in front of her face, concealing her nose and everything below it. Ignoring the exchange entirely, Southpaw tries to help the meeting along in a soft monotone. "No new business from me. The hunt was successful, and I spent the interim cleaning and butchering. No clues of Tenma's whereabouts in the forest." It took him all day? "It took you all day?" Either that's one hell of a hunt, or he's an uncharacteristically slow worker. Southpaw shoots me a glare, but Daichi cuts him off before he has the chance to rebuke me. "Give him a break, he's gotta learn some time." That just raises more questions. "But I thought the tengu didn't believe in paying others for their food." After all, a wild animal could get killed by a tengu before realizing it was dead. For such a proud people, wouldn't hunting and preparing be child's play (literally)? Goose chimes in this time. "No, you're right. They don't pay the hunters. Or at least, they didn't." I can't tell whether it's just her dedication to the act, but I can't help but feel like there was a hint of malice in her voice just now. Either way, that doesn't seem right at all. "If there's no pay, why would anyone choose to become one?" "You can teach your pet on your own time. Grey, anything new?" Right back on track, then. I'll have to sit down and learn a thing or two about this dead culture of theirs some day. Daichi gives me a glance too brief to extract meaning from before saying, "Nothing important. No one I asked had any information, though that's not much of a surprise at this point." Wait...So, when he was off not helping with the whole...situation. Was he hunting down Tenma, or doing all that stuff he mentioned over dinner? He's not hesitated to lie in the past, but does he care more about Kanako and Sanae or his pack?
For that matter, why is this even a question? Things all worked out either way.
Suddenly, Goose's face lights up. With a lightning-fast "Oh!" under her breath, she lets her fingers loose to point one at the leader. "I have something new, actually." And it took you this long to remember? "I've been working on these machines to transmit sound," A proud smile spreads further across her face with each word; it's quite clear that this has been an accomplishment for her. "I had to get a little creative with the--" "Details." Once again, the leader cuts her off, and once again it seems really uncalled for. "Are we really in such a rush that you can't let her talk about a point of pride?" Rather than respond, he simply glares at Goose. What does he have against her, anyways? With just a hint of disappointment overshadowed by the nervous realization that she's already on his bad side, she pauses for a moment to think of the most succinct summary. "...but the long and short of it is that we can talk to each other from afar now." That's...rather revolutionary, actually. It practically renders the post system obsolete, even. This gives everyone in the room slight pause, reviving the smile on her face until the leader asks, "So we can contact Tenma with these machines?" Sinking just a bit, she explains, "Well, no. They just send out the sound to each other." Pulling out a small black box from her pocket, she points out a textured section. "See, you press a button on the side here when--" Flinging his hand as though to swat away the very concept of the machine, he turns away from her and spits out a coarse, "Useless." Absolutely uncalled for. "Now hold on! Sure, it's not a one-step solution, but it's far from useless." His intense stare shoots directly to my eyes, halting whatever further arguments I may have thought of. "Most of the time, we travel as a pack anyways. If she had been investigating with that time, we may have found a clue by now." That's ridiculous logic. These are tools, they'll stay useful for as long as they exist! "Well, you don't know that! What if there's a situation where you can't make it to the other person? If Tenma had one of these the day he disappeared, maybe you wouhurk!" Stay calm. Don't swallow. Don't struggle. Just keep breathing. Daichi's hands instantly find themselves occupied by two wrists as my feet and a sparking weapon fall with a clatter to the floor. This guy is insane. "You should put a leash on her, Goose." "I should put a leash on you, Hood." Giving him an indignant look, she snatches her hand back from Daichi, who lets the leader – Hood. Right. Finally. Who lets Hood's hand go, but stays nearby as I try to suppress a rising coughing fit. "You want to lead for a while? I'll call a vote." They voted on him? Goodness, why? "That won't be necessary. Moving on." Staying between the two, Daichi points out a few marks on the map spread over the table. "We still have yet to check most of the areas nearer the border, but they're also the most dangerous of the lot. It makes sense that Tenma would be there, but we're going to need to make a few preparations if we're to investigate anywhere near Makai, Higan, or Hakugyokuro." I'm noticing a very unpleasant pattern here. "It's also possible that he's holed up in the bamboo forest, but if that's the case then he's either dead or not coming back for anything." An uncomfortable silence falls over the room, each of us acknowledging the possibility that Tenma is gone forever. Even as an outsider, the idea of watching as a nation not only falls but disappears completely is...well. A bit much, to say the least. With a slightly strained voice, Southpaw tries to move things along again. "So what do you propose we check out first? We can't prepare if we don't know at least that much." Letting your elders decide for you? I suppose I can't blame you. Never breaking her glare from Hood, Goose says sternly, "I'm giving my vote to Hina." Buh...What? "That doesn't sound like such a bad idea. She's shown me an interesting perspective on things in the past couple days." You too, Daichi? "And you, Southpaw?" Though Hood stares the child down, he returns the gaze fearlessly. Pausing to consider the question for a moment, he speaks slowly and chooses his words carefully. "If I don't give her my vote, I sacrifice my anonymity either now or in the future. You told me how important that was yourself." Anonymity? "Wait, what do you mean anonymity?" My voice comes out painfully, each breath scraping past my throat like a cough. "Do you have any idea how fragile our alliance is already? If everyone knew whose votes opposed them, we would be brawling constantly. This way, we all have opinions and they're all considered fairly." For once, Hood explains something without yelling or sounding condescending. "When something like this happens, we tear out strips of paper, write our votes, and put them in a pot. It's not perfect, but we don't write much of anything else and we burn them afterward to cover our tracks. As long as no one knows what the others' handwriting looks like, we're anonymous." When he's not berating someone, his harsh stare seems less judgmental and more...responsible. If this is the side he showed them at first, I think I can see how he got to be the leader. "And when we're anonymous, we're stable." "That's all very lovely, but it doesn't exactly help me. I'm the only one deciding anything right now." "We voted to trust you. Don't think about it too hard." He still seems reluctant, but I can respect his dedication to upholding the group dynamic.
I still don't know anything about Tenma, though. How am I supposed to decide?
[ ] I need more information. What do they already know about Tenma? -[ ] Write-in your questions for them. [ ] Just trust my gut. -[ ] Higan. -[ ] Makai. -[ ] Hakugyokuro. [ ] Well, he didn't vote to trust me, so I can still vote to trust him, right? [ ] Actually, I have a different plan... (Write in.)
I'll warn you to be fair, if you choose to ask for more information I'm making the decision so that I don't end up giving you the same vote twice. Besides, I've been spending way too much time thinking about the next sub-arc to delay it more.
>There's only one ornately carved table with a number of equally artful seats around it that together depict what I can only assume to be a tengu folk tale, sweeping lines depicting in shocking detail a giant and horrible beast being confronted by a group of six, whose bodies might equal the size of its eye in a generous estimate.
Also, we now seem to be part of the Tengu equivalent of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks. I wonder if there's a secret handshake?
We could draw up a laundry list of questions about everything they've already considered in the weeks/months/however long it's been since Tenma went missing, or we can get points for at least appearing proactive.
[X] I need more information. What do they already know about Tenma? 1: First of all, give us the basic rundown of what you knew about him. The tell-me-I'm-stupid things, to get them out of the way. (Hood will probably have a field day.) 2: Any hunches, hints, theories. Things that stick out in your minds. 3: Anything you know about him that isn't common knowledge. Beyond just tabloid crap. 4: Did anything telegraph his vanishing? It sounds like it was a complete surprise all around. 5: Where have you looked and why? Where haven't you looked (barring, say, our options) and why not?
This isn't covering nearly enough but it's a start. If anyone has stuff to add then do it. The game is afoot!
>>19546 Addendum to this! I want everyone's suggestion for where the group should go next and a brief explanation why. With the information from >>19546, they'll be taken into consideration for where we go next.
Maybe now I can get to sleep and stop thinking about this vote.
So this is about as off-topic as I'm gonna get, but I feel like this needs to be said over and over again and I can't shoehorn it into a Prismriver arc.
The Guru is a local band composed of awesome people and awesome musicians, who I fell in love with the first time I saw them open for someone. They also just released their first studio album, and it came out great. You can listen to the entire thing at http://theguru.bandcamp.com/ and for three dollars there's no reason not to support them if you like what you hear. If these guys don't make it however big they want to, there's no justice in the world.
And since I'm posting anyways, I'd like to make it clear that this vote does in fact have a significant impact on the course of the story. If you're reading and not voting, I'd give it some thought.
Only now do I realize the difficulties of posting this sort of option for an anonymous audience of ambiguous size and status. Are people done voting, thinking about voting, or just not voting because they're awful? Yeah, you know who you are. For shame.
So here's the deal: I don't know when I'll have time to write, exactly, but Saturday morning EST (or is it EDT? I don't really keep up with that.) is a pretty safe bet. If you're still thinking about what to vote for, consider that your deadline. Hopefully this is enough notice to catch the non-dailies.
And just so's you know, the asking option wins in the event of a tie since it needs a bit more consideration. All questions presented will be accounted for regardless of whether you voted for them specifically, unless you mention that they're stupid and sucky and say why - basically, I value logic and reasoning More than anything in these votes.
A deadline? Holy fuck, wait! Well, I can't seem to find a clue in the story so far, so the answer is obvious: we need more information.
[X] I need more information. What do they already know about Tenma? 1: First of all, give us the basic rundown of what you knew about him. The tell-me-I'm-stupid things, to get them out of the way. (Hood will probably have a field day.) 2: Any hunches, hints, theories. Things that stick out in your minds. 3: Anything you know about him that isn't common knowledge. Beyond just tabloid crap. 4: Did anything telegraph his vanishing? It sounds like it was a complete surprise all around. 5: Where have you looked and why? Where haven't you looked (barring, say, our options) and why not?
>>19559 >Only now do I realize the difficulties of posting this sort of option for an anonymous audience of ambiguous size and status. Are people done voting, thinking about voting, or just not voting because they're awful?
I think the main problem is that, other than Hakugyokurou being mentioned by her once tangentially, we don't have Hina's impressions of any of the options. Has she been to these places? Does she know the people there? SDM for example it seemed like she was visiting for the first time.
If she's unfamiliar with them, then even if the tengu were to answer any of her questions, it's unclear how that might help her to decide on where to go, in which case there'd be no reason for them not to simply answer her questions on the way.
I don't usually advocate this, but it's really my mistake and you do kind of need to know in order to get through all this. Hina's not been to any of them, as they're not really the sorts of places living people (or in Makai's case, people at all) have any business being. She does however have a basic knowledge of Gensokyo on the whole, much like most people have a basic knowledge of, say, Asia.
No one who's alive has been beyond the river, but Komachi isn't exactly tight-lipped. Hina has some basic knowledge of the process spirits go through, the fact that living people can in fact make it across (though she doesn't know exactly how), and that both Komachi and her boss are high-ranking among their respective professions - possibly even the highest. She also knows that Komachi is very lackadaisical, though only through hearsay. Hina's not the sort to cement perceptions without first-hand experience.
Hakugyokuro has been resealed since PCB (which was...god, years ago.) and it takes some doing to get in. Hina's only seen it in passing, as the doors (which are pretty hard to miss) materialize for people with appointments. Certain individuals who shall remain unnamed have free access to the place, so information about its goings-on isn't uncommon. The role Hakugyokuro plays in the afterlife is common knowledge, and is taught in school. Yuyuko made her presence known to all of Gensokyo shortly after PCB, but eventually settled back into her role at the...palace? Mansion? Certainly bigger than a house, at least.
Makai has been sealed off from Gensokyo for as long as Hina has known about its existence. There are rumors and legends, but it's basically a Planet X. Again, Hina's not the sort to simply accept hearsay as fact, so the dozens of conflicting stories about the place have simply melded into a mass of nonsense.
None of the tengu have been to any of these places, incidentally. The preparations required to enter them are rather restrictive.
Oh. And I use the term "deadline" very loosely. If it's clear that people are still mulling it over, I'll let them reach their conclusions. I just figured a week ought to be enough time, and weekends tend to be my writing time anyways.
>>19608 Updating DIG would require an entire weekend's worth of re-reading, re-planning, re-imagining, and general purpose figuring-shit-out. Right now, CFA is at the forefront of my mind nearly every day and I'm still having trouble writing it. I'm not saying that I don't want to continue it, just that it's something for a more...stable time.
...Or I can totally forget that it's Father's Day.
Not everyone has the fortune to have a close relationship with their father. Some of you, I'm sure, never forget to curse them in your prayers. Still, Father's Day is a day to honor any man who's had an influence on your life and your self. Take a moment, if you will, to think about the people you've come across who've really changed you for the better and who - even if they have no real relation to you - have always been a good example of a man. Even if you don't have anyone, then think on the glimpses of hope you've caught in scumbags, and if you haven't any of those then think of the work that your friends' parents had to put into raising someone you can lean on.
Maybe I'm just overly sappy, but some holidays are worth trying to enjoy.
I'm sorry if this whole vote has turned into a clusterfuck, but despite my having been at it a while I still really don't know how to do this CYOA thing. I'll start writing tomorrow, if that's all right.
For the curious and the impatient, I am indeed working on the update when I can. There really just isn't much time in the week for me, and even when there is it has a way of disappearing. This week in particular got unexpectedly busy, and the following days are looking no better. I'd give an ETA but I actually have no idea how long this update is going to be, so. It'll come when it comes.
By asking about him, of course. "Well, all of these places are supposedly quite dangerous, right? I can't just send you into a life-and-death situation at random, and I don't know anything about Tenma. Do you mind if I ask some questions?" Everyone answers simultaneously, with the exception of Southpaw, who simply gazes dispassionately at me. He must take this anonymity thing seriously. "Yes." "No." "Not at all." Hood seems none too pleased by the outcome, but lets his dissent end with a half-sigh, half-grunt. Hooray for democracy. "Thank you. To begin with, I've never met Tenma personally, or even really heard much about him. Can you tell me about him? The obvious things too, to get all that out of the way, but especially the things that most people wouldn't know about him." Almost instantly, Goose raises an eyebrow and points a finger matter-of-factly, lowering her head just so she can look up at me. "He's strong." ...Very informative. Thankfully, she sees fit to continue after a short pause. "Like, crazy strong. He's been leading the tengu for longer than any of us have been alive, and if rumors are true he also founded the nation in the first place. I'm talkin' digging the first tunnels by hand." Her fingers bend into claw shapes and start scratching away at the air in front of her for emphasis, a look of mock determination on her face for the second the gesture lasts. When it ends, she falls casually into the back of her seat, arms crossed. "He's also insane, as far as I'm concerned." Insane?! "What do you mean, insane?" Already, we're getting somewhere. Until, of course, Hood cuts her off. For once, his tone is...well, less hard. "He wasn't insane. There's no way he'd have been able to pull together the tengu if he was." She refuses to be silenced this time, though, and replies without hesitation. "I dunno, man, you've gotta be pretty crazy to think you're not only capable but qualified to make potentially life-or-death decisions for...How many people would you say? Hundreds? Thousands?" Donning a smirk, she cocks her head to the side. "Or did you manage to break a million before you started killing each other off? Besides, whether he pulled 'em together in the first place, he certainly hasn't been trying very hard to do it again. Maybe he's only just lost it." Hood's ever-present glare remains fixed on her, his entire stance unflinching in the face of her escalating (and, frankly, uncalled for) taunts. Something about how accepting he is of the prodding makes me believe it's a routine by now.
Daichi, thankfully, has the sense to keep them from going any further. Just as well; somehow I feel like this would have ended with me getting choked again. "That's enough, Goose." Throwing her hands in the air lazily, she says with a touch of indignation, "Fine, fine. I'll just shut up." Really? You're going on this mission, too. "Oh, come on. Don't be that way." My pleas (half-hearted as they are) fall on deaf ears. I could push it, but knowing her it would only end in tears. How have these guys managed to stay together if they can't even tell me about their mission without getting into a fight? Giving himself a moment to think with a deep sigh followed by an equally deep breath, Daichi picks up where Goose left off. "Tenma was..." And he still takes another moment before settling on, "Something else. He was strong, yes, but more than that he was good. Not just in the sense that he did things well, but he was always trying to look out for his people. Any time something bad would happen, he'd take it personally. There were too many people to manage by himself, of course, but he thought of us all as family. Even if you didn't see him for years, he'd still remember your face and greet you like it hadn't been a week. It seemed like he could even remember everything you'd say, every motion you'd make, every motion he'd make. There was no such thing as tricking him twice." Wait. Doesn't that mean... "You've tricked him once?" I might be underestimating my company. Southpaw finally sees fit to speak, answering in Daichi's stead. "Grey was his assistant." That would have been good to know about two days ago. "And you didn't see fit to tell me up until now?" A scolding tone creeps into my voice, but within seconds I recall that I have almost no real authority here. Whoops. He doesn't seem too offended by the slip-up, but even without a harsh tone it doesn't take more than a simple, "Was it relevant?" to set me in my place.
"Right. Sorry. Go on?" Regardless of the past, it's certainly relevant now. This opens up an entire new avenue. "We used to spar, now and then. By the time I won a match I could hardly remember a time that I wasn't assisting him, and even then it was a fluke. Nowadays the ratio sits at something like his five wins to my one." That's still incredibly impressive. "I can't imagine that he's died." "I can." Southpaw interjects this time, his voice a quiet monotone. "Why else would he abandon his people? Why would he just leave the nation he founded and supposedly loved to crumble?" His voice remains steady, but his tightening eyes betray a bit more urgency. Whether it's sadness or anger, I can't quite tell. In the same cool, collected demeanor as always, Daichi responds, "What if he was captured?" "By who?" Practically spitting the words, Hood cuts through the almost unnatural calm in the room. "To kill him, all you'd need is a single moment of neglect, but for him to escape all he'd need is one from his captor. Who could possibly keep him caged this long?" The question gives Daichi pause, the great weight of his thoughts showing on his face. The others stay silent, knowing better than to ignore it, and in time he says in a gravelly whisper, "Someone bigger than us. Someone so big that we can't even fathom it."
Right! Questions! "Okay, then. That brings me to my next question. Hunches, hints, theories, anything that you've got?" It sounds like he has someone specific in mind, and the others might actually be persuaded to speak this time. Naturally, Daichi is the first to cooperate. "I suggested the places I did for a reason. Every one of them houses someone perfectly capable of standing on Tenma's level. None of them have a motivation that I can pin, but at this point there's not much else to search. Every time we get a clue or a lead it turns out to be some minor issue, and every time we check old ground to see if he's been moving it's as fruitless as the last." So...nothing. After an entire year of (presumably) constant searching, they've got nothing. It's no wonder tensions are high. "So what other ground have you covered so far? I find it hard to believe that you've scoured the entire rest of Gensokyo." For once, Hood sees fit to speak in a normal voice. The idea that this is his answer to tired despondence occurs to me, and part of me feels awful for even thinking of that joke. "We've certainly covered most of it, some parts more than others. There's no way he's on the mountain, at least." "We don't know that!" And that's what it takes to get Goose talking again? "I still say there's some kind of secret tunnels that we've just never seen. I mean, this entire nation is inside of a mountain. This entire ancient nation. Maybe he's retreated to some place that's been out of use for so long we've just forgotten about it entirely." Opening eyes I hadn't realized were closed, Southpaw interjects. "I still say he's dead." Daichi addresses the boy with a smile, though it's clear from his tone that he's growing tired of Southpaw's negativity. "You're too young to have gotten a grasp on just how impossible that is. Hell, I bet you've never even seen him without armor on." "Of course I have. Don't be daft." "What color is his hair?" The question stops him completely, the moment's hesitation being enough to expose his fib, and he quickly tries to hide the blush rising to his face. The display draws a light chuckle out of Daichi, which of course gets Goose snickering. Somehow, though, trying to hold back laughter only makes it stronger, and within moments the two are giggling hard enough to send the boy digging his head deeper into his elbow. Almost magically, the tension in the air has dissipated. Hopefully it'll stay gone.
After all, we're not done here. "Okay, so. Is there anywhere specific that you haven't covered, aside from the places you mentioned?" Hood picks up the torch this time. "We haven't searched that geyser city, but there's no point looking there. Tenma would rather die than spend the rest of his days surrounded by oni." That's...a bit extreme. "Why is that? It seems rather much." I've dealt with a few oni in the past, they aren't bad people. "Personal issues. I guess he was in a war or something." Again, very informative. I suppose I don't need to know the cause as much as I do the effect, in this case. "Besides, even if we did search it we'd probably not get any cooperation. They're not known for their hospitality down there." "Well, that's no reason not to try." "It is when you have other, easier, more likely options." Point. "Other than that, the bamboo forest, like Grey said. You're welcome to go in there if you want." The mere mention of the place sends a shiver down my spine, bringing to mind the well of hatred that's stained it for so long. I'd rather not admit it, but if we can avoid that place it's all the better. "And nowhere else?" "Not really, no. We've even searched most individual houses. People are generally cooperative with tengu who say they're on a mission." You're really going deep with this. But wait. Individual houses is kind of crossing the line, don't you think? "Isn't that a wild breach of privacy?" "Not if they invite us in." Well, of course they're going to invite you in. They're scared of you.
But let's not linger on that. "Well, regardless. There's just one more thing I'd like to know – this one's for Daichi, mostly." Almost immediately, Hood's head snaps toward Daichi. "You told her your name?" ...Whoops. "No, but she's found it out. Nothing I can do to prevent that." I'm still not sure why this is a big deal at all. "Anyways. Go on, Hina." "Thank you. It seems like this whole situation happened very suddenly, but was there anything at all that telegraphed Tenma's disappearance? Even the slightest odd behavior could be a sign." Resting his head on a hand, fingers running past his coarse stubble, he considers the question for a long while before answering. "...There was one thing. A few nights before he left, he called me to his room to talk. That's not terribly strange, mind you. We'd end up having conversations every few nights; he always said I was one of the only people who could just talk without getting too intimidated to think. That last time, though, we ended up talking about the past. Decisions he'd made, battles we'd won and lost, the way the nation had seemingly exploded into being. He's never been the nostalgic sort, so it was odd to look back like that." Breaking his gaze from the table below him, he looks at me with a slow nod. Is...Is he done? "...That's all?" "That's all." You'd have to be a psychic to get 'I'm going to disappear.' from that. "I know it isn't much, and it might not be anything at all, but that's why I've never given it much thought." Suddenly, Southpaw finds his voice again. With a bored yet impatient tone, he interjects, "So are we done? Can we make this decision?" "Well, I suppose we can. I was going to ask where each of you would prefer to go and why, just to take it into consideration." Lazily hanging her head behind the back of her chair, Goose says, "You already know my idea." Yes, Goose. Yes, I do. "Higan. We'll at least know whether he's dead." This is a really uncomfortable fixation Southpaw has. I should talk to that boy. Wrapping his fingers together, Hood gets a fiery look of anticipation in his eyes. "I'd go to Makai. I feel like this is an act of war, and I can't see two oversized graveyards starting wars." Daichi, meanwhile, continues talking at the same calm pace he's been the whole time. Now that I think of it, he's probably seen countless meetings like this in Tenma's court. No wonder it comes so easily to him. "Hakugyokuro has a noble family that's already been known to cause chaos for their own gains. I don't know what kind of scheme they might have, but it would also be the easiest of the three I suggested to check." So in the end, we have no evidence, no leads, and...really, not much of anything. Mulling it over in my head, none of the options seems much better than any other, but a decision has to be made. After a few minutes of relative silence, I've got my decision.
"All right. We're going to check..."
You can vote or not, I dunno. This has already taken long enough to justify posting what I have, and if I keep going till it's done I feel like it'll take another two weeks. Now I have a good reason to try harder!
Also, I couldn't think of a good picture for this so have a wizard.
I did get a good portion done, but one thing after another has come up - not the least of which has been the annual only-convention-I-can-ever-afford. I'm the guy passing out cookies and trying to convince people they aren't poisoned. Tonight there's also a concert by The Guru, who I linked earlier and missed the last 6 or 7 times they were around. I'm not slacking over here, but it's still gonna take until Monday, most likely.
"Hakugyokuro." The announcement is met with no fanfare or excitement. Goose immediately clicks her tongue, disappointed that I didn't agree with her, but both Southpaw and Hood simply remain silent, considering their next steps. Daichi however, noticing how uncomfortable the whole scene has already made me, offers a much-appreciated prod in the right direction. "Care to explain your reasoning?" Continuing on, I give him a quick smile, which he returns. "Yes, of course. All three of them are difficult to get into, to be certain, but if he's in hiding then he'd want to stay in a place that very clearly telegraphs any visitors or potential search parties. It would be hard to miss doors that large opening, I should think. If he disappeared because he had died though, he's certainly at least been through there by now, meaning we can accomplish what we would have gone to Higan for, and if it's an act of war..." Then it'll crop up sooner or later, with or without us. Something tells me the five of us would have no chance of undoing it ourselves. Hood's already been prodded enough today, though. "...Well, let's just hope it wasn't an act of war. If we find evidence to the contrary, we can act on it." It may not be the best course of action, but it's certainly better than starting a war where there isn't one already. The answer seems good enough for them. With a small grunt, Hood stands from his chair, his spear gripped tightly as it pushes him up. "If that's your decision, I propose that we split up for preparations. We're going to need to find a way in, unless you intend to make an appointment." We can do that? Goose's head flies up, a (hopefully) exaggerated look of astonishment on her face. "We can do that?" Beat me to it. "Yes, actually." Even Hood's eyes widen a bit at Daichi's interjection...but that would mean he was just joking. I didn't know he could make jokes! "I've had to visit once or twice with Tenma, on business. If you talk to the right people, you can get in without a fuss." That's actually pretty good to know. Let's make it a bit better. "Who are these people, exactly?" His gaze goes off to a corner of the room for a moment, and after thinking on it he says quite simply, "Trade secret." No way. Not this time. "Oh, come on. What reason could you possibly have to conceal that from us?" What harm could it possibly do for the last people left that you can trust to know who can get them into Hakugyokuro in a pinch? Scrunching her features together, Goose stares me down for a long moment before answering, "A secret one, obviously." ...I'm starting to see where Hood's animosity comes from. But I'm still better than that. "Of course. How could I be so blind." …if a little snarkier. Southpaw's already going about adjusting his clothing and weapons, but sees fit to add while tugging on a chain, "I'm sure he has his reasons. Grey's never let us down yet, the least we can do is let him have his secrets." Before I realize it, my expectant gaze is upon Hood. Not that he's given me much reason to trust him to take my side, but he at least seems...somewhat sensible. Of course, a second after locking with his unyielding eyes I remember the whole majority rule. Three people already want him to keep it a secret; his vote neither matters nor comes. "...I still don't like it, but okay. Should we do that? I feel like it would be significantly less dangerous, and if they know we're there, it's less likely they'd be sore about having us poke around." Making up for lost time, Hood jumps on the question. "Somehow, letting a potential enemy know explicitly that we are coming and when doesn't seem like a great idea. Even if we were to lie about our intentions, they'd immediately know that we were looking for Tenma if they're at all aware of the situation. What other business would tengu have in there?" Point. "Grey and I will go looking for ways in. Goose, head to the human village and try to find any relevant information. Anything about getting in, the terrain, the inhabitants. Whatever you can get." "You know, I could get the info to you right away if we use these radios..." You go, Goose! Put him in his place! "And you know," Daichi adds, mimicking Goose's sarcastically suggestive tone, "It would save us all the effort of organizing another meeting if we could just tell them we'd found our entrance point." I'm glad someone else here has some common sense. Hood still looks reluctant about the whole thing, but after a moment's hesitation he holds an open hand out to Goose, who deposits one of the radios before it even reaches its length. Rotating the device to inspect every angle, an uncharacteristically quizzical look quickly overtakes his face. "So. How do you use this thing?" Don't rub it in. Don't rub it in. Don't rub it in. Goose will do it for me. "It's pretty simple." ...Should have rubbed it in. The tone in her voice makes it clear that it was a jab, but she stops there. "Like I was saying earlier, you just press this when you want to talk, and let go when you're done. I haven't really played with the rest, but it's at least working right now." Pulling an identical device from one of her countless pockets, she presses the button that she indicated and is met with a scraping, crackling noise. As she continues, a rough "Check it out!" emerges from the one in Hood's hand, distorted with the same scraping noise but clearly understandable. As quickly as the demonstration began, her thumb flies from the button and the room falls back into silence.
And it stays there as she basks in the combined wonder of four onlookers.
Making no effort to conceal the grin that her stunt earned her, she continues casually, "Next up is making the signal a little more clear so we're not giving away our positions every time, then making it so that you can choose which device you want to transmit to instead of just all of them – though that should be pretty easy, actually. From there, it's just another tool to tweak as I get ideas." Letting her pride leak through her voice as she goes, she pulls out another two and tosses them gently to Southpaw and Daichi. "Oh, yeah. And this turns it on and off." Flipping the indicated switch, Southpaw brings it to his mouth and sends out an experimental, "...Good work." Indeed. But wait, where's mine? "Sorry, Hina. Wasn't planning on having a pet when I was making these." Of course. "It's okay, though! Why would we ever be separated, right?" Seeing everything I want to say just a second before I start saying it, Hood cuts me off as he is wont to do. "Which brings me back to my point. Southpaw, stay with Goose. Make sure she doesn't get into too much trouble. Keep your radios on your person, but only use them in safe positions. Grey's and mine will be off until such time. Any questions?" Well, if you're going to offer... "What about me?" Everyone else has orders, I'd like to think I'm worth giving some to. He apparently doesn't though. His stare isn't even really condescending or angry or whatever range of hatefulness he wants to occupy, it's just blank, as though I'd been spouting nonsense from my mouth. "That's on Goose. Or did she decide in the last ten seconds that you're no longer her pet?" ...You know, I thought I had accepted it, but hearing the term so many times has started to really grate on me. This still isn't the time to start fights, though. "...Fine. Right. Of course." Then Goose can tell me what to do. Can't you? Another blank stare in the face of frustration that I cannot possibly be holding back effectively, and another nonchalant answer. "I dunno. Stay with Southpaw, I guess. Make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble." This just reeks of mischief, but the idea of spending more time with Southpaw does appeal to me. Besides, in some bizarre roundabout way this makes me an equal, right?
"Right. Dismissed." Seeing one tengu disappear is enough of a shock, but seeing four do it is just distressing – especially when they're the only ones who know how to get out of here. "Oh, yeah." I'd gasp, but I don't have time before the air is swept from my lungs for yet another 'ride'. It's just as brief as the other one and just as disorienting, but...we're not at the human village. Why aren't we at the human village? Do I have to take another ride? I'd really rather have just gotten it all done in one sitting... All I can really make out is a spinning blur, but the quiet of the mountainside makes my companions' voices easy enough to pick out. "Goose, that's the wrong way." So Southpaw's carrying me this time. That's good to know. "No it isn't." And Goose is being Goose. Also good to know. "The human village is over there. I can see it. So can you." "Yeah, but that's not where we're going. Or at least, it's not where I'm going..." "We had orders to go to the human village." "And you had orders to stay with me. What's it gonna be, loverboy?" Wah! Falling falling falling flying still dizzy not fun not cool! "We're going to the village." Without another word, he turns tail and flies off toward the village, this time at a pace I could actually catch up with. It'd be lovely, were it not for the fact that a similarly silent and stubborn Goose did much the same, floating lazily toward the ever-present sound of rushing water, her hands resting in the slightly-less-full pockets that her radios once inhabited.
Come on, guys. Really?
[ ] Follow Southpaw. We do have orders. [ ] Follow Goose. All we're doing is looking for information, right? We can do that anywhere. [ ] I just...I want to go home. This is all too much, and neither of them are going to question it.
[ ] Try to round up the other one, while I still can. [ ] I'd really rather it just be the two of us.
So that took way too long, and I'm not too happy with the last part. If I look on it next time and dislike it, I'm just gonna rewrite it for the beginning of the next update. No picture because I'm still too damn exhausted to look for a good one two days after the fact.
By the way, I apparently give better hugs than Jesus. Pass it on.
I feel it only fair to let you all know that I'm going to have zero free time till Tuesday, which I think is a fair enough amount of time to call whatever votes I end up with. How long it'll take to make it look like I actually plan my story, though, I can't say.
>>19896 Case in point! The SDM - and for that matter, pretty much everything up until I "quit" - was written entirely on the fly. I've got some plans for the kappa, though, so let me know which I do better.
>>19897 I'd agree, but I mean. I'm on /youkai/, and updates are wildly sporadic. Kinda have it coming.
Whoops! Laundry night means no writing time. Tomorrow though, for sure. Also, I can't help but notice every time I actually have a specific day that I can write, votes mysteriously stop. Should I stop mentioning that sort of thing?
Fine. Fine! Whatever. I'm the newcomer here, what do I know? I'm just going to follow the orders I was given, and if something happens it's none of my business.
...or so I'd like to believe. If I pretend hard enough, it'll be true, right?
As I rush up to meet Southpaw, who simply glances back and continues on his way, the sound of the bustling village rises from silence to a barely audible din. That we can hear it at all from this distance is a testament to the energy that flows into its ever-expanding market each day. There are days when you don't even have the space to move out of someone's way, let alone along your own. Just as well; it's just a sign of how many people are off living their lives. Of course, I might be more inclined to look at it positively, being an outside observer most days.
From up here, the entirety of the human village is visible – even the newer parts that form the outskirts opposite us. It's always a bit of a wonder just how much of it there is, knowing how much goes into every single structure within it, but if there's anything humans have going for them it's their readiness to work for what they need. I've seen it first-hand, turning my little shack in the woods into a real house in a matter of days, for which I'm still thankful every time I wake up completely devoid of small animals and their feces. They said it was the least they could do after taking on the pox that had been cast on their family, but it still feels like I made away on that deal.
Of course, as lovely as my own house is, the spread below us puts it to shame. Where six people built a house from the wood they needed to clear anyways, a village put together something truly dazzling from materials that I'm positive they needed to venture into danger for. The earliest I can remember, there were already enough solid brick and stone houses (and how they managed to lift those stones so high still baffles me) to justify paved roads of sanded-flat stones that sparkle gently as the sun rises and sets. In the afternoons, though, I'm not sure I've ever seen the market roads in any capacity but the space between my feet.
The oldest sections are the nicest, oddly enough. Having already established themselves as centers of activity, they're the focus of attention and are allowed the most renovation for it. It's not unusual to see sections of the street choked off, people cursing under their breath as they realize the futility of making it past monstrous five-horse wagons full of tools and materials without getting in the way of the more skilled young hands and the old, grey artisans that guide them. Though every business big and small that's managed to plant roots there already has a loyal following, they still have an odd competition going with each other, each one getting slightly more garish with each passing month. Occasionally, they even tear places down entirely to rebuild them from scratch with an extra floor or a sturdier material. It keeps the builders busy, at least.
The newer ones, on the other hand, are mostly either living space for growing children or expansions to workshops whose success have outgrown their buildings. As the limits of the village's reach extend, marble, jewels, and ornate carvings give way to plainer stone with the names of houses chiseled above the door, which in turn give way to wooden houses not unlike my own that bear no marks but their architecture. The streets outside them are the same flat stones as anywhere, but it's clear that whatever effort is put into them is made by the few people who live there. A few of them are clearly displeased with the situation as it is, but most like the quiet it offers. I've noticed more and more of the elder artisans making them into their primary workspace, letting the younger hands take over the larger shops and sending more complicated jobs for a short walk.
The largest and most decorated of them all, and perhaps the thing I love more than any about the village, is the schoolhouse. For all the renovations and additions that have gone toward the village, the school has matched them, making it into a monument to their devotion to education that rises high above any other building. Of course, it's an all-ages school, so it needs to be big. Anyone in the village is welcome to learn about whatever people are willing to teach, from the simplest infant-level "courses" that occupy the playground more than the school ground, to courses from the headmistress herself that would make even the most wizened men's heads spin. It also doubles as the village's most readily visible clock tower, having been placed directly in the center of town.
Most youkai can't really understand the importance they place on it, their practically infinite lives giving them all the time they need to take life's lessons. As one who deals with mortality nearly every day, though, I've come to have some appreciation for their drive to learn while they still have time to use the knowledge. After all, they're sentient beings with aspirations like any one of us, and they have only their meager hundred years to make their mark. In a way it's sad, but speaking with the elders for minutes can be more engaging than spending a day with a thousand-year-old.
"So. How are we gonna do this." Southpaw breaks me from my reverie, and not a moment too soon. Our silent, steady flight begins its descent to the ground, great stone arches welcoming anyone who wishes to enter. There are guards at the gate, but between the Hakurei and the town's guardian they've long since been much more than greeters. They do ask that anyone entering or leaving give their signature (or at least they've always asked me) for record-keeping, and it makes sense given the dangers of traveling the forest.
But...do this? "How do you mean?" "A tengu and a youkai--" Hey! "Goddess." I may not have a great deal of pride, but you don't see me calling you a dog. With a sidelong glance that quickly goes from my head to my feet and back, he continues. "...Sure." And what's that supposed to mean?! "Regardless. Two questionable individuals are walking into a human settlement asking about a questionable place for unclear reasons. We need an angle." Do we? "They're not that untrusting, you know. Besides, most people are too busy with their own lives to worry about two completely unrelated people asking about a place that's just as foreign. And didn't Hood say earlier that people don't question a tengu on a mission?" Not that I want to go around scaring people into telling me things. It still irks me that he would use what is essentially force to get into strangers' houses. Southpaw's eyes meet mine, staying locked this time. It's clear that he's trying to look stoic, but I'm not sure what he's holding back. "...Hood and I don't always do things the same way." A glimmer of hope! "I see." So how are we going to do this?
[ ] Just start asking people. Hopefully someone will know someone who knows someone. [ ] There is a school right there. It's probably still in session, though. [ ] The guards see plenty of people. Maybe they can guide us in the right direction?
[ ] Wait! Costumes! Any excuse to play dress-up! [ ] We'll be fine, Southpaw's being paranoid.
This update brought to you by the number 4, and the letters A and M! Also, the village isn't nearly that pretty, but I wanted an excuse to post this picture.
Oh yeah. If you have a specific costume in mind for either or both of them, go ahead and suggest it. Whichever one gives me the most ideas or seems like the most fun wins, so don't worry about votes or whatever.
And while I'm here, meant to say it earlier but I had to run out the door: Whoever it was that posted in /blue/ has made me more motivated to write this story than I have perhaps ever been. Doesn't give me any more time, and certainly won't stop me from reconstructing every sentence six times, but still.
So after spending yesterday hacking up mucus and blood, today's prospects for writing are a bit better. I don't know how a day's work is gonna treat me, but damn it I'm going to try.
In other news, I'm very close to a major milestone in a game I've been playing with my brother and bro, so effort's going into that on a daily basis. Whether it'll affect update speed depends on how far I can push my mind from the subject. It's no excuse, but it'd be insulting to both me and you not to accept other interests as a factor.
Status: Not slacking. 1750 words so far, squeezing in time where I can. I'd split it, but I'm pretty sure I'm maybe kind of almost done unless this next bit takes longer than I expect it to. Also, working an overtime shift on Saturday, so I can't just stay up late and/or wake up early to write. Just lettin' y'all know.
"Well, if it worries you that much. I know a good tailor who could loan us a few disguises, and her shop is in the outskirts of town so we wouldn't even expose ourselves to too many people beforehand." He doesn't seem the sort to accept a plan without some thought behind it. Frankly, I'm much the same way; the idea of springing head-first into a potentially dangerous situation is so ill-conceived, if people didn't do it constantly I'd find it unfathomable. For the pain people go through as a price for their thoughtlessness, isn't the effort of consideration a paltry one? People can't possibly be that adverse to thinking things through. Then again, maybe I'm just too optimistic.
No! No such thing!
Even as he considers the idea, he slowly squeezes out his next point, each word carefully chosen. "But that doesn't answer how we're going to conduct the search. Unless you also know a few cooperative ghosts, we've got to find out who and where to ask without seeming too shady, disguises or no." It's a valid one, indeed; or rather it would be were it not for the enormous schoolhouse. It's the village's drawing point, a monument that nearly rivals the mansion on the lake and dwarfs everything around it. He can't have missed it. It doesn't take more than a raised eyebrow and a sideways nod to get him blushing, though his face is as straight as ever. I'll get you to crack, yet... "Of course. So where's the closest entrance to your tailor's shop? We'll land early and travel through the woods." Ever cautious. Thankfully, it's too early to encounter any real threats...unless it's a real real threat, in which case you're more likely to surrender a piece of pottery than a piece of your body. Truly strong youkai have nothing to prove. "It's the east gate, so...that way." And it's a bit of a walk, at that. At least it's not too overgrown; the path has formed of its own accord as the easiest route through the forest, snaking along the outer wall of the village. It's a thin, twisting, rocky, barely-really-there dirt affair, but it's a path.
A path that he completely ignores. Naturally. "Keep close. Keep quiet." What? I'm the regular here, you can't tell me where to-ow! "And keep up." Fine, fine, you don't have to pull my arm here. Despite being rough about it, he does know how to make the trek easy. When all the ground is soft, the only concern is stepping in the right spot, and it doesn't generally involve things that are hard to walk on. About halfway through, I'm accustomed enough to walk alongside him, keeping pace almost effortlessly. With any luck, I can learn a thing or two in the mean time... "So-" Or not. Before even really finishing the first syllable, his hand is over my mouth, though the impact is controlled enough that it doesn't actually hurt. Staring me down, his ears shoot back as he whispers as harshly as one can, "Quiet." Thank goodness dog tengu are easy to read, or I might argue it. For all the times I've seen him cold or unamused, this is the first he's been legitimately angry. His grip on my arm tightens quickly and painfully, drawing out a small wince as a shock goes through the part that had been broken. It's not such a problem when I can at least see it coming...
Seeing me tense from it, though, he immediately loosens his hand and drops it to my wrist. Whispering once more, his ears move forward a bit, shooting further out to the sides. "...Sorry." As long as you know what you did. Speaking in the lowest whisper I can manage, I return a soft, "It's okay." I could barely hear it myself, but his features lighten all the same. Moving through the rest of the forest, his hand stays gently around mine, and his feet lead by just a step. If I didn't know better, I'd say he's warming up to me.
What Southpaw apparently doesn't know, (un?)fortunately, is that the east gate is at a corner. When he takes a swift turn to the side we emerge hardly a room's length from another set of guards, close enough to see the intricate weaving of iron – or is it steel? Some kind of metal, I'm sure – that decorates the top of the relatively plain gate. A simple (but large) archway, the cast vines that almost seem too organic to be manmade as they coil and bloom around one another connect two enormous stone walls to frame an empty space that's guarded by magic more than it is people. A pair of guards sit on simple chairs they most likely brought themselves, watching over a stand by the gate with an almost comically thick book sitting atop it – the true lock to the gate. Each of them has one, and in it is simply a collection of signatures from the coming and the going. Entering the city is as simple as signing your name, which serves as a means of keeping track of both the people's travels through the forest and of any youkai present at the times of...incidents.
It's sad that they still need to make the distinction, given that no feral youkai would have business in the village, but it's perfectly understandable given their history.
The guards hail us down, not bothering to rise from their seats. An...eclectic pair, the two of them have gotten something of a reputation for switching jobs what seems like every other month, though this one's held their interest for about a year. Supposedly they lived next door to each other for the better part of their lives, but only saw each other entering or leaving their houses for the first time some three years ago. They'll readily regale anyone with the tale if they show so much as a mote of interest; some find it annoying, but they have a way of making the mundane into something wonderful.
The taller of the two, practically a skeleton of a man, greets me warmly. "Oh, hello, Hina." Oh, he finally remembered my name? I've only been through this gate forty times. Pushing aside my petty sarcasm, I return the greeting with a smile. "Hello, boys." They're well into their adulthood, but I've heard some of their conversations. They'll always be the boys as far as I'm concerned. As I move to pick up the pen beside the book, he continues in an oddly stiff voice. "So good to see you!" So polite today. The other is shorter and a bit more stout, but you'd only ever think of the words as he sits next to his friend, average as he is. His hand shoots to his mouth in an attempt to hide the devilish grin which, itself, tries and fails to hold back a snort. "Don't get lost in the forest!" I suppose we did emerge from it... "Pfhah!" I'm not sure what's so funny, but it'd probably be easier on all of us not to ask. "...Actually," I begin as I mark the first empty space with an X that matches the two above it, "We're just going to the schoolhouse." As the ink of my signature settles and changes color to a deep, blood red, two flowing blue signatures fill the lines above. Not often three gates have visitors at once. "Oh." Sharing a glance, the shorter one shrugs at the other simply, letting the clearing fall into silence as Southpaw approaches from his usual safe distance and hastily signs what I assume to be an alias. As we take our first steps into the city, the barrier clings to my skin like an expanding bubble until it's past. The gates used to be adorned with welcoming signs and shops that hoped to draw you in before you could get too distracted with what you came for, but the expansions have changed all that. The street before us is almost completely devoid of people, dull but colorful stones clearly visible under the quaint wooden houses that form the avenue. Few of them have more than a floor and an attic, but it's plenty for a small family – just the sort that you could expect to be struggling through the crowd in the market district at this hour.
As our steps bring the two to the limits of our hearing (Or mine at least), they call in unison, "Hope to see you again!" before bursting into hysterical laughter. As their hoots and hollers fade, we're left with nothing but the chirping of errant birds and our echoing footsteps. Southpaw seems troubled, looking around himself subtly but nervously as house after house passes us by, pausing only when someone's around to witness it from an impossible distance. If his motions were even a bit more apparent, he'd be painting quite the target on himself. In time though, he stops fidgeting and quietly asks, "...What was that about?" Oh, is that all? All I have to offer is a smile and a shrug. "I have no idea." It's best not to think too hard about those two. He seems to want to ask more, but as we move on the streets get busier and little tengu who like to play at being spies get quieter. Thankfully (for him), my tailor only recently opened her shop, and before we see our tenth villager we're greeted by a quaint wooden sign for Dolls & Talls hanging from an open porch out into the street, where the sun illuminates its flowery, gold-painted calligraphy against a flat brown. A smaller sign hangs from the first by driven chains, clarifying in small, straight letters, "Clothing for all shapes and sizes."
The place itself is only slightly more showy than the other houses along the road, but as a clothing shop it makes sense to be. Your building is your first impression; too flashy and you alienate people of simple tastes, too simple and people are wary of the inside. The two-story house is painted a striking blue that shines even in the moonlight and lined with gently waving white trim, decorating every corner and window like so many frilly dresses. The roof rises to a high peak, black shingles sparkling at all hours to invoke a memory of the market district that draws people in from both the street and the air. Underneath it all is a covered porch that supports a delightful hanging garden and a few benches for waiting customers. Of course, tired passersby are welcome to rest for a spell – even a window view of her goods is a view.
Opening the plain, heavy oak door to Dolls & Talls is like opening a gate to another world. All the colors you could imagine pass by your eyes as divinely crafted dolls with individual dresses and faces of their own float through the air sorting threads and cloths, fitting customers, pampering the mannequins that model the pieces she's most proud of, and even sewing completely different articles of clothing alongside their puppeteer. There are no racks of premade clothing as you might find in a larger store; each article is hand-crafted from the detailed sketches that emerge over sessions of consultation with every customer. It's a difficult way to do things, but I've yet to find another lone tailor that can not only mend this singularity of ribbons I've managed to gather but improve it. At least, not one I can afford. Dozens of the dolls run the store at a time, all controlled from the busy hands of its owner, one Alice Margatroid.
A blonde woman just a hair shorter than me, she sits at her crowded worktable focused on a new doll's dress. She's taken to stitching them to scale just for the challenge when work isn't keeping her busy, so her nose is adorned with half-framed rectangular magnifying spectacles that compete with a wax crayon for space on her right ear. The sleeves of her white dress shirt are meticulously rolled flat against her upper arm, her pale elbows practically shining under a hanging light. Below them is a pair of thick, brown corduroys held up by matching suspenders which, themselves, hold a pincushion to her chest. She and four dolls are making heavy use of it; one of her hands repeatedly fetches, tosses, and catches pins as they dart around the shop. She insists that I not make the distinction, but they're just so real...
Sparing only a glance before continuing her almost mechanical motions, she greets me with a simple, "Hina." "Good day, Alice. I was wondering if you had any spare outfits you might be able to loan to us." It's one thing to chit-chat on her days off, but she knows very well the value of time. If she doesn't have time to stop working, she certainly doesn't have time for me to beat around the bush. "Who's 'us', and why loan and not sell?" Urgh. Southpaw has no reason to trust her like I do... While she's still focused on her work, I shoot him a pleading look only to find that he's as unprepared as I am. Damn it. "Did you really not think of anything?!" Hurrying my words so that the slow reply isn't too suspicious, I let out the same inaudible whisper. Oh, don't glare at me like that! You're the one that wanted costumes in the first place! "It's your friend! I thought you had it handled!" Nngh. Whatever! Gotta think of something, fast...
[ ] "This is a friend of mine from the mountain; he's got a formal event to be at but he knows he won't need the outfit often enough to keep it." I bet he'd look good in a tuxedo... [ ] "Well, it's a funny story. See, apparently tengu are very protective of their family, so when I accidentally tore his sister's dress..." Then again, he does have a bit of a baby face... [ ] Just tell the truth. She's trustworthy enough, and I'm a terrible liar anyways.
>>20048 I keep meaning to say this and forgetting. Part of me really wants you to be >>/blue/4270 but a much bigger part revels in the simplicity with which you can elicit a giddy, bubbly feeling in me. I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Hooray guy, you're just the best. <3
That said, the creation of /shorts/ has drawn something resembling nostalgia from me, as I'd been writing short stories for the site long before starting CFA, but since I started taking it seriously I just haven't had the time to think about anything else.
So in celebration, I'll be finishing a certain short that I've owed some people for an age and a half, and then in CFA's downtime I'll be working on character backstory shorts - the sorts of things that would normally require a shoehorned flashback or "MEANWHILE" cutaway. You only get them, of course, after appropriate points in the story, but there'll be something popping up over there at some point. Look forward to it!
As much as I would dearly like to choose the dress option and continue Hina's delicious slide towards being a dirty old goddess as well as see Southpaw's reaction, well. That option has what looks like the more transparent lie, and he wouldn't be able to change into the dress in the store without giving it away. Being caught in an alley helping a tengu into a dress would definitely attract attention. Therefore,
[x] Just tell the truth. She's trustworthy enough, and I'm a terrible liar anyways.
We're just going to go talk to some people and didn't want to attract lots of attention. She doesn't need to hear anything about Tenma or the Netherworld. And, well, maybe Alice and Hina can get him into the dress and accessorized together. For maximum disguise effectiveness, of course.
Holy consensus, Batman! Here I was thinking I would have time to finish that short I mentioned. Then again, I'm not gonna have significant writing time till Wednesday regardless, so blah. Writing will commence at my earliest convenience, but if you have any ideas for what you'd like either Southpaw or Hina to dress in feel free to suggest them. Costume design is one of my biggest hangups in this story, oddly enough, but I refuse to sit here describing someone's clothing when you've seen them a hundred thousand times.
Also, trying to write this short has made me every wary of when Hina hooks up with someo-ah who am I kidding, everyone and their mother wants a Southpaw route. Take that as you will.
>Writing will commence at my earliest convenience, but if you have any ideas for what you'd like either Southpaw or Hina to dress in feel free to suggest them. Costume design is one of my biggest hangups in this story, oddly enough, but I refuse to sit here describing someone's clothing when you've seen them a hundred thousand times.
Uh, a little late to the party, but I was thinking Hina could dress up in a generic shrine maiden costume, and Southpaw in a heavy hooded jacket ostensibly to cover his ears and tail, in hazard sign yellow. If they moved fast, at first glance it would look like Sanae is taking an outsider somewhere.
Writing was delayed for personal reasons, but I'll be spending most of today jumping between writing this update and trying to translate the entirety of Tokyo Jihen's Adult because it is a fucking amazing album and a certain someone has a thing about listening to songs without knowing what the lyrics mean. There's a few translations up on lyricswiki already, but they're awkward and spotty (moreso than all poetry translations are going to be) and in some places nonexistent.
I would say "I'll share if there's an interest" but four songs in I've already put in enough effort that I'm sharing either way. Besides, everyone needs to listen to this.
...Or do I? There's really no point lying about it, and she'd probably see through it even if I did – everyone else certainly does. "My friend and I are trying to gather information about Hakugyokuro," Ow! That was uncalled for. Can't let an elbow stop me halfway, though. "And we don't want to draw attention to ourselves." I can, however, elbow back. Really, if it was dangerous I wouldn't have said anything. And if you'd stop giving me dirty looks, you'd see that she's completely unfazed. "Mm. Sounds like something you'd get yourself wrapped up in." Excuse me? "And what's that supposed to mean?" There are a lot of things you could be implying there, and none of them are good. Without moving her eyes from her work, she continues berating me. "Only that you're always involving yourself in other people's problems." Well, berating is a harsh term, considering the monotone delivery. Still, though! "Well, it's kind of my thing." What do you want? I'm a curse goddess. She takes a moment to tie off a stitch before replying, "Hey, I never said it was a bad thing." Finally, she turns to look me in the face, a subtle smile brightening her tired eyes. "Interesting company you're keeping these days." She's still speaking in her low monotone, but when she's at least looking at us it comes across as being more gentle than anything. "And you haven't even met the whole gang." Southpaw's certainly the most...reserved, of the bunch. Setting her pincushion on the table next to the diligent little dolls, she stands from her seat and walks closer to us. "I haven't even met the one." Whoops! Probably should have introduced him... "Sorry for ignoring you like that. I'm Alice." Her bright expression and outstretched hand do nothing for Southpaw, who maintains a still, careful face. At least he knows how to shake. "Takashi Kashiwada. It's a pleasure." That's some alias. I have to wonder if it's one he uses often, or if he finds a new name every time. "Oh, the pleasure's all mine." As she lets go of his hand, her eyes shoot to mine for an instant and her eyebrow twitches. Did she see through it...?
Taking a step back, she half-crosses her arms, resting an elbow in one hand as she strokes a nonexistent beard. The gesture looks good on her, her bright blue eyes shining even through lids squinted in thought. Looking him up and down, she paces around him. "So you say you don't want to draw attention. That's going to be a trick, what with those ears." As she gets behind him, she gives me a much more overt look, her face suddenly frantic and disbelieving as her neck snaps from me to him. There's not much reply I can give from this position without letting Southpaw see, as much as I'd like to set her worries aside.
Snapping her fingers to punctuate an idea seems to shake her from her own worries, and she begins shaping the outfit in the air around him as she speaks. "Why don't we dress you up in a long coat with a hood, make you look like an outsider? Hina could dress as that mountain shrine maiden, she would just have to-" Nonononononnononono. "I am not cutting my hair." Do you know how much effort it takes to get your hair this long in my line of work? One wrong curse and I'm bald! I'm lucky I'm in the land of ridiculous hats or no one would be able to take me seriously. Her voice stays level, but her eyes burn with the same fury, as though I'd said something to offend her. "Hey! Hair grows back. Do you know how many dolls I've had completely destroyed solving incidents?" Is that...Always assuming the worst, this one. She's perfectly right to bring it up; you can't expect to get through a full-blown, recorded incident without a few sacrifices from everyone. This, though...this isn't an incident. "Alice, this is different." Dropping her head only enough that her unbelieving glare passes above her magnifying glasses, she crosses her arms. "You're asking around about Hakugyokuro, running with tengu. Are you really going to tell me it's different?" At the mention of tengu, Southpaw's ears twitch, as though he was only just reminded that even trustworthy people can be sensible people. "It really is just a minor outing." ...Of course, there's always the last try.
Bringing a hand back up to her face, she squeezes the bridge of her nose and lets out an exasperated sigh before replying into her hand, "...Fine. Sure." Before tucking her hand back into her waiting arm, she pushes her glasses to her forehead. As our eyes meet, little signs of fatigue creep into her posture and expression. Whether they're new or just made apparent without the glasses, they make me feel awful for even arguing. "Do you know how many dolls I've had completely destroyed on 'minor outings'? Every one is my own time, effort, and money, and every one is unique." "I understand, Alice, but it really isn't like that. We just wanted to check the place out. It's an adventure!" Sometimes I wonder why I'm forced to lie so much, but that only gets me wondering whether I'm really ever forced. "So why don't you want to draw attention to yourself, if you're just asking about a little visit?" Will you just let it drop already?! "Because not everyone is as reasonable and level-headed as you. Some people like to jump to false conclusions, and then get really stubborn over silly things." There's not many people that can get me to bleed sarcasm like this, but at least I know Alice will get it. "And then go around challenging people to danmaku until there's nothing left to burn. You can see the trail of lights from the other side of the mountain." Even Southpaw gets in on the action, though the venom in his voice makes me think he's had a bad experience. It seems like not many people haven't these days. Giving a short glance at each of us in turn, Alice shrugs simply. Finally. "Okay, okay. I just don't want to let you get yourself killed or something. After all," she sets a warm hand on my shoulder, smiling fondly. "You're my favorite customer." Am I now? "Oh, come now. All I get are repairs." Her shop is pretty big at this point, and moving to the human village has to have gotten her a fair amount of business. Setting off to some corner or another, she turns back momentarily to quip, "And disguises." Har-har.
Waving us over, she turns a corner into the back rooms – the ones she actually lives in. The décor is rather plain, aside from the myriad dolls lining the walls and filling displays. The entire place is painted in a dark, subdued palette completely unlike the outside, and the edges where wall meets floor and ceiling have delicately painted floral patterns lining them. The place isn't enormous, of course, but there's enough space to send us on a bit of a tour before arriving in her upstairs bedroom. It's mostly a simple off-white theme, but Alice's scurrying from closet to dark mahogany dresser to woven chest transforms the place into a display more impressive than anything she has downstairs.
Beaming for the first time since we got here, she spreads her arms, swelling with pride for her little gathering of treasures. "These are the clothes I don't sell. If you're really just wearing it around town, I can let you use it for a day," and in an instant, her expression darkens. Her steps are light, but her pointed finger and penetrating glare make it clear that she means every word when she says, "But if you misplace even a single thread, you are entering a world of pain." Turning to give Southpaw the same direct look with a snap, she actually gets him to tense up his stance, reflexively falling into something I could imagine a few dozen tengu doing at once. "Understood?!" "Sir yes sir!" ...Don't you mean ma'am? Alice doesn't seem too bothered by it, at least. If anything, she's happy to be shown some respect. "...I can see why Hina's hanging around you." Looking him up and down for a moment, she seems to consider her next words. "You're kind of cute." Wha-but-- "It's not like that." Yeah! What he said! Even if he is blushing hard enough to feel from here. That doesn't mean anything! Not-quite-holding back a soft giggle, she moves on. "Whatever you say. So I don't have much for outright disguises, but there are plenty of fashion styles going around in the village these days. As long as you can cover that tail and those ears, I'd say you should be fine." ...Hold on, this is your bedroom. Wouldn't that mean... "Wait, you have men's fashion here?" Sitting at the foot of her bed, she looks up at me with a smile. "In a sense." "I don't like the sound of that." Just say no if you don't. Don't tease me like that. "Just look around, try to find something you like. There's a screen over there, if you need it." Always with the subtle jabs.
[ ] Well, let's see what we have here... [ ] It's Alice's room, I don't feel comfortable doing this. [ ] Southpaw hasn't done one thing so far. He can at least pick costumes. And I want to see him squirm, having to look through her drawers.
Think about characters' tastes. This is less of an asspull than it looks like, I promise.
Scanning the outfits I can see from here reveals hanger after shelf after rack of dresses, shoes (boots, mostly – there's a reason she's my tailor) and both woven and jeweled accessories. Each piece is beautiful and distinctive, but even from half a room away the sheer volume that she's stuffed into the space she has makes them indistinguishable. There's no way I can put something together if I don't take them out and look through them. "Well, if you're inviting me..." Letting her sly smile grow a bit, she waves a few fingers at me nonchalantly. "I am. Don't be shy, now." All right, then. Let's see what we have here...
Flipping through the armoire (being the least intimidating of the lot) gives a closer look at just how skilled she is. Each piece is made of at least three materials, using not only the colors but the texture and the sheen to create patterns that are captivating even on their hangers. There's not a one that I don't want to try on, myself, but oddly enough they're all made to different sizes. Scanning the other closets and drawers reveals much the same throughout; many of the outfits are clearly made for fairies, wing holes decorated with sparkling lining. Looks like our choices are a little more restricted than I thought. For that matter, what are Southpaw's sizes? "Alice, I might need your help here." As if anticipating it, she hops to her feet the moment I say her name, and her already-light steps are swallowed by the soft carpet as she scuttles over to the far closet. "Well, if you want my opinion, you should start with the essentials. Like I said, you need to cover up his ears and tail, so look for something with a hood, or else a hat that would look good on him." So she isn't just going to pluck something from the darkness. I suppose that would make things too easy. Clearly the stress of being in a lady's room is too much for Southpaw, as he meekly offers, "I don't need to look good--" "Yes, you do." Only to be shut down. Without bothering to look away from her browsing, she continues, "No one walks out of this shop without looking good. It's bad publicity." Sound logic if I've ever heard it. "Besides. If I may stroke my ego a bit, you could wear anything in this room and look good. Speaking of which!" Pulling her hand from behind a wall of cloth, she emerges from the closet with a lacy, pink, crimped bonnet.
Even if he doesn't agree. As Alice puffs it out to roughly the right shape to be worn, Southpaw's eyes widen in horror. Trying to keep a steady voice, he asks, "Do we have any other options?" "No." ...Now, I've seen other hats while I was looking, but... "I'm sorry, but do you want me to do you this favor, for free, during my working hours, or not?" Oh, now you're just being mean. His ears droop in resignment, and his eyes close as he almost whispers his consent. He stands perfectly still as Alice sets the bonnet on his head, tucking and puffing and tying where it's needed. She's quite right in choosing it, though – if I didn't already know, there would be no way for me to tell he had ears at all. The shade from the extended visor also makes it a bit harder to make out his already babyish face, preserving the illusion. Looking over her work, she presses down on spots to check the size. "Hmm. It could stand to be a little smaller..." And at the mere suggestion it shrinks to fit his head, the threads themselves visibly shifting while keeping their form. Is that how these work...The sensation sends a brief shiver through the boy, but as he realizes what's going on his shock quickly turns to wonder. No matter how many magicians you meet, they seem to have a new trick to show you.
"So is that how all the clothes in here work?" It would certainly make it easier to find something. Furrowing her eyebrows just a bit, Alice cocks her head to the side as she turns to look at me. "...You didn't know?" Why no, I didn't know that your clothes are made of magic. "How was I supposed to know? Most clothing stays one size for the duration of its lifespan." Well, except when it gets torn. Or burned. Or shredded. Or when curious children pull on errant lace a little too hard. Looking back to the bonnet, she continues while checking over her work. "Let me rephrase that. You didn't know tailors did adjustments?" "Adjustments generally involve a lot more time, work, and not-magic." I'm not generally one to tell someone how to do their job, but I like to think this isn't something you should assume of a tailor. "It's pulling threads. I do it all day. Besides, I was a magician before I was a tailor, and I still identify as one." Deciding that it's satisfactory, she gives me another smirk as she crosses past me to her seat on the bed. "You might say it's kind of my thing. Now can you pick out the rest for yourselves?" "I think we'll manage." Let's see. We have lacy and pink, so...
What have I done?
The last hour has been a haze of frills and cloth, one outfit after another flying from closet to reluctant model. Every offering I chose was quickly met with an, 'Oh, you know what would look great with that...' or a, 'And if we just add this...' until Southpaw's entire body was covered in six layers, right down to the bloomers and the corset. Though getting him to model them took some persuasion, the frill-storm has settled for the moment, and he now stands demurely before a rigid Alice.
His tail hides under a puffy, flowing dress that either rests on it or gives it plenty of room – either way, I can't really tell it's there. Flowers of lace adorn his chest and shoulders, which puff out to conceal toned muscle and just touch the ends of long, white silk gloves. Above his head is a small pink parasol, bits of lace drooping from its edges as it rests nestled in his collarbone. The dress itself is embroidered with floral patterns of shining thread that only just accents the flowers and leaves against the layers of deep purple cloth that rest upon one another, traced with frills as any noble's dress ought to be. At his feet, the pattern breaks into a series of radial portions that rise and fall on their way around, the high points being sewn in with small clusters of jewels. Underneath the pattern is a simple drape that falls evenly to his ankle-level, which is almost a shame considering how adorable the shoes we picked out were. Oh, well.
Of course, now that he's outside of the screen for a minute his face is red enough to rival some of the dresses he's tried on. As adorable as it is, I have to feel sorry for the boy. "I think we might have gone overboard." Looking at the piles of clothing that litter the floor around her, Alice lets out a low yet distinctly affirmative groan. "I'm inclined to agree." Perhaps more meekly than ever, Southpaw hopefully offers, "So can I--" "No, but thank you for reminding me." And his face droops again, his words dying in his throat. "Hina, you're gonna have to do most of the talking." Ooh. Right. His voice... "That could be a problem. I'm not entirely certain what kind of information we're looking for." Not like I know the first thing about tengu mission procedures. Are we just getting general information on the area, or something they would specifically need to know? Almost glaring at me in justified disbelief, she 'asks', "...You don't?" ...Right. Low profile. But what do I say...? "I mean, uh--" Before I have a chance to make a fool of myself, a smooth, gentle, high-pitched voice calls from Southpaw's direction. "I'm perfectly capable of speaking for myself, thank you." How did...What? Alice, of course, seems unfazed. Amused perhaps, but unfazed. "That's quite the talent you have there." With her praise, his blush recedes a bit, and rather than completely changing his face it now simply complements his soft features. "A lady learns many things in the course of her education." Role playing already? You'd think you volunteered to dress up like this. With a light chuckle, Alice offers a moment of applause. "Well said, milady, well said! You seem to be comfortable with your disguise, in any case. Do you have anything in mind for Hina?" "You mean my manservant?" Is that the game we're playing? And don't look at me like that. I know what you're thinking. "Of course! You keep her so elegantly dressed; she almost rivals you." "Oh, we can't have that. What if someone were to mistake her for her mistress?" The more expressive he gets, the more unbelievable his voice gets. I have to ask how he learned to do that one of these days.
Digging through the chest beside her bed, Alice fetches a simple light blue one piece dress and a brown apron with a few large pockets on the front. It's...rather scarce, compared to what Southpaw got. "Is that it?" "Just trust me on this one." Well, if there's anyone I can trust with clothes. In the span of a minute, I've slipped both on. The material is wonderfully light despite its thickness, and it seems durable enough to work in. Just feeling the way it rests on my body makes it clear why it's up here. Looking me over after doing another few minor 'adjustments', she reaches into her pocket and grabs a red bandana. "Do you know how to tie your hair back with one of these?" Ooh, that actually would look cute... Taking the bandana from her with a quick, "Of course," I begin undoing my hair and pushing it back. A few errant strands settle beside my face, but for the most part it cooperates, and the lot of it is tucked underneath the deep red and flowing black patterns. "Perfect. It just screams motherly manservant. It really suits you!" I can't tell whether that was supposed to be a jab, but I'll accept it. After all, it does suit me... Southpaw however objects to it, dropping his voice and his character completely. "Now hold on. I have to walk around in all of this after an hour of being pulled between the two of you, and she gets to walk out in the first thing you guys find?" I suppose it is rather unfair, but that's how things go. Then again, I don't want to cause waves. "Would you prefer I wear something different?" His mouth opens for a second, but he stops himself and looks me over head to toe and back before replying, "...No." And is that a blush I see? With a clap of her hands, Alice cuts us both off. "Right then. If that's all you two needed, I've already wasted enough time here." And from the brisk pace she sets toward the door, she doesn't intend to waste any more. "You guys know the way out. Have fun, and remember. World of pain." I don't think either of us could forget if we wanted to; the mere mention of it sends another visible shiver through Southpaw. Clearing his throat, he adopts the ladylike voice again, trying to set himself into his character. "Shall we be off, then?" Capital idea. "Yes, milady." Offering him a quick curtsy that gets us both smiling, he leads the way out, his steps light and even enough to glide along the floor like the lady he fancies himself.
Holy post split Batman. This week got super-busy out of fucking nowhere, including but not limited to helping my sister move into her first apartment. That I'm not really sure when a choice is gonna crop up has only made this take longer. I'll post the rest (or another ridiculously large portion, depending on how much longer I take) when it's ready, but after five hours of this I think I'm good for today.
Somehow the sight of a house lined with dolls is a touch more unsettling without their owner there. Before, they fell into the ranks of Alice's ever-present companions, an accessory to her very presence. On their own, though, each one's wooden face seems to watch us as we pass, the carvings and paint alike smooth and soft as real skin. Each of the hundreds and hundreds of faces, sitting atop their high shelves and behind their glass cases, and each with layers of dresses as well-crafted as ours. Hundreds of perfect little models for an overzealous tailor, their empty eyes looking down on us from their pedestals.
...Just dolls, Hina. Keep walking.
When we reach the front of the shop again, Alice has already thrust herself back into her work. Just like before, dolls fly around us as she sits at her workbench, their dresses fluttering as they bank around corners and kick off from walls to make up for lost time. Thinking it better to delay her no further, Southpaw leads me to the door without offering her more than a silent regard, and I follow suit. Before we make it to the door, though, a doll's dress brushes lightly against my shoulder as it skims past to tap his with its free hand.
Alice calls from the corner without bothering to look up, giving it a voice. "Ah, hold on a moment. There's something I forgot." As she speaks, the doll unravels a thick ribbon from the disc in its hand. It's a shining pink that matches the bonnet, and its edges are lined with a subtle but beautiful lace that both borders and blends the color of the ribbon with that of his neck. Circling around front to show him its intent before setting about its work, it gently wraps a ribbon around his throat tight enough to hold but loose enough to breathe. Even with the extra care, it's clear that it makes Southpaw uncomfortable. I don't blame him.
As the doll cuts away an appropriate length, she continues. "There's one thing that will never be perfect about this costume. This will hide it from most people and give you away to a select few, but they would catch you even faster without it." Putting the finishing touches on a neat bow below his chin, the doll flies back a short length and offers us a deep, polite bow. When its head rises again, it gives a sweet smile before setting back to its tasks. "There. Now you can go." Running his gloved fingertips over the bow experimentally, Southpaw turns to Alice with a smile. "Thank you very much for all your help." "Oh, the pleasure's all mine." Giving him nothing more than a glance and a smirk, she continues her work. "Running the shop like this, I never have time to play dress-up any more. It's good to see those clothes getting worn again." No matter how old you get, looking at pretty things never stops being fun. "Now get out of here, I have work to do."
With a last goodbye, I open the door (Southpaw is too gentle a lady for such exertion, after all) toward the blindingly bright afternoon sun. Spending so much time inside makes you forget what light looks like, sometimes. Opening his parasol from inside to block it, he steps outside and takes a deep, satisfied breath as he admires the hanging gardens, allowing himself a moment to smell the roses before we take our final leave. As I turn to shut the door behind us every single one of the dolls has an arm raised to wave goodbye, and in the last moments before the lock clicks shut, Alice shouts one last, "World of pain!"
Suppressing a shiver, I turn to Southpaw, who has his nose buried in some flower whose name I never learned. It's a fiery red blossom, standing with petals strewn from their long stem like a fountain that (upon further inspection) smells faintly of lemon. "How do you like your new dress?" ...Oh wait! "...Milady." Gotta keep up, here. The slip-up is too quiet and too small to matter, and he makes no note of it. His face breaks out into a smile that shines even under the shade of his parasol, and gives it a little twist as he replies. "Well, Haruka, would I have bought it if it didn't suit me perfectly?" Oh, you're good. "Of course not, milady." Bow deep, bow long. There's no such thing as exaggerating a servant's servitude. By the time I'm back standing, she-he has already stepped down to the street, leaving me to scurry up beside him. "Now, then. What's next on our agenda for the day? We mustn't waste precious daylight." Even on stone, his feet are silent as he glides along regally. "Your studies at the schoolhouse, milady." ...He seems like he's having so much fun, though. A little suggestion couldn't hurt. "Of course, a lady's agenda is her own to edit." "Priorities, Haruka dear. You should know that discipline is the staple of a good life." Is it, really? "Some would disagree, you know. I've heard it said that spontaneity leads to the experiences that make a life worth living." It's how I got started, after all. "It's also spontaneity that leads to the downfall of a life. Without discipline, there's no stability, and do you know what a lack of stability implies?" No, but I'm sure you'll tell me. "Loss. Imagine following that spontaneity of yours only to find that it's stolen away your job, your family, your home..." He's proven himself a capable actor by now, but something about the intensity in those last words makes me feel like this is a little too personal a subject to argue. Frankly, it's personal for me, too. Putting on a downtrodden face isn't difficult, thinking back on all the chances I've taken – and all the chances I haven't taken. "That'd be just awful, milady." "And that is why we must have priorities. To the schoolhouse." The decision doesn't change our pace or our course, naturally. It just makes the massive building seem all that much closer to us.
As we make our way through the city, people of all walks of life pass by us; A man with a beard that drags along the now-smooth stone as he hunches over the cane he whittled for himself, small jewels pressed into the head to give his striking falcon's head its eyes; a woman whose children ride in pouches and atop her shoulders as she struggles to carry six baskets of food through a single-width door; an unbelievably muscular man dancing his way down the street as people follow him, pounding away at their shoulder-mounted sets of drums. The collection does nothing but boost Southpaw's enthusiasm, each person sparing us little more than a "Good day," if that. When the buildings start to rise, though, even that courtesy is foregone.
From a distance, the market is beautiful. From up close, it's intimidating. From inside, it's terrifying. People flood the streets, shouting above the din knowing full well that the din will only shout back. Peddlers sit safe behind wooden tables, lifting their wares above the sea of faces in the hopes of a sale, each one another tiny step closer to one day inhabiting one of the gilded marble buildings around them, even if only as a single room. Every street is named and every sign is molded from brass and tin, the polished colors shining in the afternoon sun and providing a contrast to the words that hasn't faded in all the years I've known them. Whether it's nature or maintenance, I don't know enough to say.
Seeing the crowd begin to thicken, Southpaw looks to me with what I can only see as baby eyes. "...Can we just fly there?" ...Tempting. Very, very tempting. But we can't. "That would draw attention to us, wouldn't it?" Dropping her voice to a whisper, she leans in with a pleading look that makes my chest tighten. "But what if someone damages the dresses?" Point. I'm not inclined to take Alice up on that world of pain business. You're forgetting the biggest problem, though. "But what if someone..." Come on, you do missions and things. You should be able to get sign language. "...What if someone...?" For such a good actor, you really aren't in the right mindset. ...At least I can whisper this and be sure no one will hear. Looking to the sides, I put my mouth by her-his ear and barely even breathe, "What if someone looks up?" "...Then they'll see us." Oh, for... "They'll see under us." Pleeeease don't make this any harder...
For a long moment, he furrows his eyebrows and cocks his head to one side, but as the implication finally dawns on him they shoot so far up I could swear they're about to fly away. Futilely fighting to hide the rising blush in his cheeks, he simply says, "Oh." His head drops as he turns to trudge down the street once more, but it doesn't take more than a few more steps to get him bargaining again. "What if we just stay to the rooftops? No one would see us then." Oh, that'd be a great idea. If it didn't make us look like robbers. "That'll only draw more suspicion." "Not if we do it right. I can lead the way." ...Well, if you're anything like Grey...
[ ] Trust him. We shouldn't risk the dresses. [ ] If we're going to fly, I'd rather look absent-minded than foul-minded. [ ] We're walking and that's final.
I'd say this took too long for what it is, but I only actually got the chance to sit down and work on it two nights out of the stretch so it technically took less time than most updates. Funny, that.
Spending the weekend at a friend's, writing will only happen if I get up at stupid o'clock. Also apparently there's a hurricane going on or something, so if you don't see me for a while assume the worst. Or don't? Ha! Ha! Ambiguity!
And while I'm here, it's becoming apparent that writing shorts in CFA's downtime is impossible because when i have time to write I've always long since had enough votes. In light of this, new plan: When a relevant section of the story is coming up, I'm taking a "break" to write the short I have in mind. Some people will hate this, and those people can go fuck themselves because these ideas are begging to be written.
>>20445 It might be referencing someone looking under his dress and seeing something that shouldn't be on a lady perhaps. And they're trying to find a way to get through the crowd without wrecking the outfits.
Writing has begun, after a bit too long. Hopefully done some time this weekend. Short stories that need to be written are multiplying. Nieces are turning 6, and one of them is mine. God, but time does fly.
...If you're anything like Grey, I'm going to end up fighting for my life by nightfall. I'd rather avoid feet than blades. "How many times do I have to tell you, Milady? One must walk amongst her people to be respected. A lady that goes unseen goes forgotten." Silently accepting his loss, he slips back into the act without missing a beat. "You need tell me only once, dear. Since when, though, have these been my people?" Or you can keep arguing this. "Since we arrived here. I understand it's rather difficult to leave." As dreams of yet another mansion and its imagined inhabitants fill my head, a part of me hopes we won't be making too much of a story for ourselves. It'd be a shame to make such characters just to drop them by the side of the road as we leave. "Come, now. Most of them are too concerned with their own lives to trouble you." With my lady gliding along the road beside me, we dive into the squirming mass that is the market. "And what of those who aren't?" Ooh, good expression. Haughty, but not too haughty. "Clearly, they are concerned with you. Likewise should you be concerned with them." Looking back with what I hope is a reassuring smile, I add, "Once you're certain they exist." He laughs a bit – really more of a titter, in line with his act – and says mirthfully, "I sometimes wonder who serves who." With a small bow that puts me at his ear, I quietly reply, "Ever yours, Milady." From this close, the finer details of his face are clear, down to the softness of his lips, the blush on his cheeks, and the twinkle in his eye. It certainly made the last line easy to say. ...Wait, did I just think that? "As well it should be. Regardless, I believe we had business to attend to?" Yes! Business! Moving right along.
As we approach the crowd, it becomes a non-issue of its own accord. Southpaw hardly utters an, "Excuse me." before men who catch sight of her begin to part in the street. Merchants stand atop their tables with a stomp, vigorously shouting wondrous claims about their unbreakable shields, infallible medicines, and invisible cloth. None of it interests either of us in the slightest, of course, and those who actually have something to sell are too busy serving their customers to worry about the whims of a passing noble. Getting to be a business means knowing your market, and pandering to impossible targets just wastes time.
The shouts never quite stop, but some have either the foresight or the weakness of will to give up sooner than others. It's more than made up for by the few that have the nerve to follow us as we go, even if it's quickly shattered by a sharp glare. One, though, stands perfectly still as we approach, allowing the bubble in the crowd to form around her. Her half-lidded eyes regard us with the same disinterest that she gives everyone, yet her gaze doesn't break from us for a second. I don't know what brought her here, but in the moment we pass her, an iron grip on my wrist makes it clear why she'll stay. "Excuse me. You two seem to be new in town." There's a spark of recognition in Southpaw. Though I can't see it behind the bonnet, I don't really need to see it. "Why, yes. As a matter of fact, we only just arrived. I thought I would come for a look around town." The lie doesn't break her stare or her grip, and her response comes without hesitation. "You're not looking at a whole lot." Staring her straight in the eyes, Southpaw smiles divinely. "Just the parts that matter." "...Come have a cup of tea with me." It's not a question when the Hakurei asks you to have tea.
Had I seen her, I would have just flown.
The inside of The Rusty Kettle is about as quaint as the outside. Much like Alice's house, it seems to have been turned from a home to a store. It's also in the very same neighborhood, but that's where the similarities end. The walls are old and worn, splintering at several edges under chipped brown paint. Rusted nails hold faded pictures; drawings from the sky, depicting the human village when it was a smaller, calmer place. Bent pillars struggle to hold a canopy above the front door, lending an outright frightening lean to the entire building. One window is cracked open, supported by a thick, gnarled section of tree branch, and another is simply cracked. Latticework under the porch sports torn sections big enough to fit animals, and scratched out sections of dirt underneath them don't make me inclined to check for them.
The shop floor is hardly big enough to hold six simple round tables, the only things in here that look to have received any attention in the last ten years. Despite the creaking and sinking floorboards (or perhaps because of it) they sit level and sit strong, each with three or four small wooden chairs set around it. Behind the counter, a grizzled old man sits reading a rather thick book, supporting his cheek with a fist as he goes. His eyes...er, eye. Glances up at us as we enter, but quickly returns to his story, finishing a sentence as we walk up. Behind him is a stack of small drawers, each labeled in chicken-scratch handwriting, and beside them is a simple stove atop which rests a single kettle with significantly less rust than the name of the store advertizes. I guess he doesn't expect much business.
When Reimu arrives at the front, he sets an inlaid ribbon between the pages and closes his book. His voice comes out low and slightly gurgling, as though fighting through layers of mucus to escape. "Help you?" "Pot for two. We won't stay long." So that'll be an hour, maybe? It shouldn't get in our way too much, but with the way these tengu do things... While she's distracted with ordering, I motion as subtly (and as desperately) as I can to Southpaw, shaping the...radio? Radio. Radio with my fingers, and making a motion to turn it off. Nothing can blow our cover like Hood and Daichi can. "The usual?" "Yep." Crap. Not enough time to get through to him. "Mm." Without sparing me a glance, he turns to face the stove, and in that very moment the kettle begins to whistle. Maybe we really won't be here long. But still, that was a little too perfect. "That's quite an impressive skill, sir." "Mm." Talkative, aren't we? "If you don't mind my asking, how did--" "I do." The instant refusal gets a small laugh out of Reimu, which itself gets a couple solitary chuckles from the shopkeep, closer to grunts than laughter. Whether it was a joke or not, I probably shouldn't push it. It isn't like not knowing is going to make water boil any slower...
Getting to laugh even that much lifts Reimu's mood, leaving her smiling with open eyes. With any luck, it'll keep up. "If you want to pick a table, I'll bring the set over." Even as she says it, a smokey yet woody fragrance fills the air from the steeping tea. I've never smelled anything quite like it before, but that only makes me more excited to try it. "Thank you, miss..." Doublecrap! Forgot to introduce ourselves...Wait, what's Southpaw's name supposed to be? Is he gonna introduce both of us or am I supposed to? "Oh, where are my manners." Let her handle it, apparently. With a small curtsy, she introduces herself. "My name is Reimu Hakurei, the current protector of Gensokyo, and you are newcomers," ...Bitch. "Which either means you're about to cause a lot of trouble for me or you're about to cause a lot of trouble for me. So we're going to sit down and talk about how things work around here, before you have the chance to do something phenomenally stupid." Better than making the streets a war zone, at least. "I was wondering whether Gensokyo would be subject to law. I'm glad there's some semblance of civilization in your civilization." On the one hand, you go Southy. On the otherareyoustupid?! The less trouble we have with the Hakurei, the better!
She doesn't seem to mind the jabs, thankfully, and in short order we're sat around a table in a cozy corner. Tea steeps inside a thick glass teapot, which (as steamy as it gets) is fascinating to watch. You can actually see as the water gets darker, even from the hints of greyish green that it took on in the few seconds that she needed to walk over. As the fragrance gets stronger, billowing from the steaming pot between us, she sets her elbows on the table and rests her head on her hands. "So. Before we get started, tell me about yourselves."
>That's right, bitches. Write-in time.
You may be ladies, but what's your story? I had an idea or two, but I figure it'll be more fun this way. Once again, the most interesting or fun-sounding vote is what wins this time, so don't worry about bandwagoning. If you do want to jump on someone else's vote, start speculating or commenting about it. Oh, and once again - we should totally get a "Spoiler" checkboxthingy, instead of a NSFW. I mean, keep the NSFW, but there's a certain difference there.
Ostentatiously foreign clothing with Japanese names. You need something that people aren't so familiar with that they'd be able to call you out on it, while not so bizarre they it needs a great deal of explanation. The great border was established in the Meiji era, at a time where foreign fashion became very appealing to wealthy politicos.
And when in doubt, blame Yukari.
[x] Whisper too loudly to your charge that Miss Hakurei has 'at least better manners than that horrid, gap-riding blond woman'. [x] Lady explorer Sako Tenguki, of a long line of noble archeologists, and her governess Haruka. You got separated from your guides while examining legend of a 'lost land' in the Yatsugatake region. - [x] You were already made aware that locals engage the fauna in ritual combat by use of flashing whirligigs and merry fizzlebombs, and frankly, you're more worried about catching typhoid or dysentery. Eye your tea suspiciously as you mention that. - [x] You were headed to Gensokyo's institute of higher learning in order to read up on local myth, specifically that dealing with the afterlife, but seeing as Miss Hakurei is in the costume of shaman, maybe she could tell you something about the subject?
>>20504 Sako is cute, but Tenguki has got to go. Also, personally not feeling the 'blame Yukari' thing. That said, I am currently drawing a blank, so it's not like I've come up with anything better. Maybe more posts and time to think will help.
So this has nothing in particular to do with anything, but I am possessed of the urge to let y'all know. I've been re-reading through The Game because it is excellent, and one of Fell's asides stuck out, got me thinking - "I've never really done anything like this that so many people liked." And you know, he's always been thankful for his readers, but that gave me kind of a perspective on my own writing. It may not be quite the audience as his, but this story couldn't have happened without you - whether you've been with me since the beginning or just started reading yesterday. Without knowing that it made someone happy, I'd have never bothered writing in the first place.
By now, this hobby has brought a lot of happiness into my life. I'm glad - truly, deeply glad - that it's brought some into yours. That's all.
>>20507 Honestly, I don't get some of the beef you get over your 'break' from this when the same people are infamous for welcoming back certain folks (coughhycough) no matter how many times they do worse shit.
Glad to see you having an interest in writing, and I'd vote but I don't have anything great at the moment.
It's been established that Hina is a godawful liar, so I was throwing out what might be the most fun with the assumption they would be caught, but if you think Southpaw is capable of covering for her, then yeah you might want to go with something else.
There aren't any common Japanese surnames that include the tengu kanji and aren't pronounced that way, but for inu (犬) there's 犬童 (literally 'dog child'), which can be read 'Kitou' or 'Kendou'. So maybe 'Sako Kitou' or 'Sako Kendou'?
>Also, personally not feeling the 'blame Yukari' thing.
The point is that if they encountered Yukari, depending on her character in this story, it would explain how they got in Gensokyo, why they already know things about the locale, or simply cause Reimu to wash her hands of them. On the other hand, it might make her pay even closer attention to their story.
>>20515 I do think Southy can take care of himself, if only because he's made it this far with the state the tengu lands have been in.
Also, that's another thing--we don't know Yukari's character in this story, so we'd be putting our bets on something we don't know about.
I say we just have them be infuriatingly arrogant, conceited rich people. It's not a crime to be obnoxious and it'll make Reimu throw up her hands at the whole ordeal. Plus, if she thinks they're just out-of-touch spoiled people, she'll also think that they aren't going to be capable of anything that merits investigation.
>>20511 I feel like a lot of people focus more on the day of getting baked than every other aspect of it, but at the same time I can't blame anyone for giving me shit. I was out of my gourd (not because of the weed, believe you me) and it showed.
>>20512 I'm glad to hear that, and I hope you enjoy it.
>>20515 Honestly? I do hate my writing. I realized, though, that had I not gotten into writing I would likely never have met who is now among my dearest friends, and I would almost certainly never have gotten the playground of theorycrafting that currently occupies my head. I may only update about once a week, but a good 12 hours out of every day is dedicated to daydreaming about Gensokyo's past, present, and future. At this point, I care about my characters so deeply that I know if I don't cry when I write certain scenes I will have done it wrong. Shit, Goose is like a daughter to me.
Even aside from all that, what I said rings true. I do get a great deal of joy from knowing that I'm responsible for making someone - anyone, really - happy. That there are people who care enough to read and vote, and put time and thought into their votes, always makes me smile. I'd say I can't wait for the real story to start, but honestly, the tengu have the most planning, the most thought, and the most heart behind them of the parts I've thought up.
Sappy speeches aside, I'd say this is enough to get started. I'm on a real bitch of a project at work right now, which is leaving me completely exhausted by the end of the day (What? It's already 9:30? Fuck!) and I may or may not be staying the weekend at a friend's house, but remember: Every moment you wait is a moment I plan. Those character backstory shorts are starting to look more like a novel all themselves.
Speaking of novels, everyone needs to read Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. That shit is wild.
Okay. Rich, so...haughty. Plenty of people are obnoxious, but never the ones with plans. They'd be trying not to draw attention to themselves, wouldn't they? "You may refer to Milady as Mistress–" "I thought you were a lady." Barely bothering to lift her mouth above her crossed fingers, she shows only the slightest furrow in her brow as she interrupts me. "All of a sudden you're a mistress?" At least I'm good at making people angry, though I can't say it's a source of pride. Lifting her chin just a bit to look down on Reimu, Southpaw plays along. Hopefully if we're abrasive enough she'll just disregard us. Or hate us. Either way, as long as she's gone... "Haruka here is my personally appointed governess. She may address me more personally." Ooh. Good one. Reimu's eyes thin a bit further, but she maintains her bored monotone. "Good to see you're in touch with the common people." Her eyes dart down to the tea. By now, the shade is dark enough that the steeping itself isn't so obvious, but it'll need a fair bit of time yet. Seems she's already losing her patience.
Moving right along. Names, names..."Mistress Sako Ten–" "Kendou, Haruka dear." Before I even finish making the mistake, she interrupts me. I suppose Kendou is less conspicuous than Tenguki. "The sooner you do away with that dreadful speech impediment, the sooner you'll be perfect." The way she's covering for me, you'd think she had it all planned out from the beginning. Playing roles, though. "My apologies, Milady." Spitting words like blades but never too harsh or too loud to cut through the silence, she continues verbally whipping me. "And fold your hands, child. You'd think you were a peasant." "My apologies, Milady. I'll keep a closer watch." "Make a point of it." Definitely caught on to the plan, then. "Now, as she was saying. I am Sako Kendou, daughter of Junya Kendou, heir to the Kendou estate, ruler of–" "You don't rule anything that matters around here." ...There's a line between to-the-point and blunt. "What a pity. You clearly haven't had the honor of hearing my exploits, or you'd show me a little more respect." Rather than showing indignation or anger, Southpaw simply adopts a truly pitying look, like you might give a sickly kitten. It only serves to fan the fires behind her dark brown eyes, which carry a dim, almost purple glow from the candles that light the deeper ends of the store. "I am an explorer and archaeologist, as was my mother, my father, my father's father, his mother and father, and so on. Countless museums around the world have been enriched by my finds in the Sonoran Desert," and she's met with a blank stare, "the great tundras of Gunnbjorn," ...two blank stares. "my studies on the flora and fauna of the Desaguadero river," Before she can continue, a clank interrupts her as Reimu's hands drop to the table.
Pouring a cup for herself and us (Has it really steeped long enough?) she uses a free hand to wave us off. "Enough about other places." The interruption still doesn't get Southpaw acting angry, but it does draw an unmistakable leer from her. "What are you here for?" I'm glad you asked! "Well, Miss Hakurei," I start semi-nervously – She's angry enough by now that she's taking sips of the scalding tea with a straight face. Of course, being nervous adds to the act, so it's for the best. "Milady and I were examining a legend of what was being called a Lost Land, in the Yatsugatake region. Somehow we lost our guides–" Southpaw cuts in, on point as always. "Our guides lost us, rather. We followed their instructions to a tee." I'm really impressed at his ability to parody nobles. He's really not missing an opportunity, here. I should put in a fair effort, then. "What about when they said not to look into that crevice?" Putting on an indignant face and then a matter-of-factly one, she replies, "I didn't! I looked from outside of it." Setting her cup down after a long sip, Reimu's voice gets heavier. "So you were separated." We were! "Correct. In time, we were acquainted with the Lady Scarlet." "Lovely woman. Very hospitable. We really should visit again some time." That's the look! We're up to sheer disgust, now. "Such strange customs, though, sparring with those flashing whirligigs and merry fizzlebombs. Must we learn such savagery?"
Finally snapping, her voice sharpens like a knife. Gone is the cool, aloof attitude she adopts around anyone not in her immediate circle of friends, and in its place is a passion that brings her nearly to yelling. "That savagery prevents countless meaningless deaths on a near-daily basis. It's my invention, it's called the Spellcard system, and it's the law. So yes. You'll be expected to learn it." Letting herself settle back into her seat, she crosses her arms. Her tea is already done, and I've only just taken my first sips. "That is, of course, if you want half the respect that you used to command. Where you came from means nothing here. You'll have to carve out a new name for yourself, and you won't be causing an incident in the process." With the last words, her head nods forward, giving an ominous shadow to her eyes. If we were to actually do anything notable at this point, she'd have our heads. Lifting a finger to her chin in thought, Southpaw hesitates for a moment before slowly responding in the best, worst way. "...Define 'Incident'." Reaching across the table to grab Southpaw by the dress (only to be dodged, though she recovers by pointing a finger directly at her face), Reimu almost strains to keep from clenching her teeth as she speaks. "Something I need to 'Resolve.'" "Oh, I wouldn't dream of it. My only pursuit is knowledge – specifically world myths of the afterlife, right now. I plan to open an exhibit on the subject, when I have a respectable number of artifacts. Speaking of which," And her eyes gain an almost predatory trait as she looks Reimu over, "You seem to be dressed in the garb of a shaman. Would you have anything to teach me on the subject?" Stomping to her feet, she throws a couple of coins at the old man behind the counter, who catches them without glancing up. "Go bother Keine if you want to learn something. Just remember: The nail that sticks out," and she turns back to us, pointing her gohei threateningly for emphasis. "Gets hammered down. You understand me?" "All too clearly, Miss Hakurei. Enjoy the rest of your day, and thank you for the..." Glancing down at the lightly steaming cup before her, Southpaw grimaces, unsure of the contents. Her fingers clasp the handle, careful not to touch too closely to the cup itself. "Tea." With a hint of a snarl, she turns for the door again. "Feel free to sit around and finish. I'd hate to rush you along my way." And she's gone. It's a long moment before either of us move. It's longer before either of us speak. Southpaw takes the occasional sip of tea, but it's clear that the more distance we let her get, the better.
When I can see that the tea is starting to cool down too much to drink, I take it in two fingers much like Southpaw did. With my pink extended to its limits, even twisting my hand a bit just to get it higher in the air, and I take a long, slurping sip. "...Hm." Sssssssssssip. "Hmhmhm." Ssssssssssssssssssssssssip. "Hehehehehahahahahahaha!" I'd take another, but by now her laughter has infected me, too. We just pulled one over on the Hakurei.
The rest of the walk to the schoolhouse is uneventful. By now, Southpaw's gotten plenty comfortable in her role (And why shouldn't she be?) which gives her even more of a presence in the markets. The flood parts ways for us, and in no time at all the front gate is in view. The doors themselves are actually rather small so that the younger students can open them, but the mural that surrounds them is indication enough. Enough of the wall to be incredible but little enough to still draw attention to the entrance is covered in beautiful, intricate depictions of Gensokyo.
The lines are thick and the colors are flat, but it's all the more impressive that they work in those limitations. Lines flow into one another, borders blending as though to unify people from all walks of life. The entrance itself is framed by the human village, which itself is filled to the brim with people running through the streets, hanging out of windows, jumping and shouting and living. It captures the energy of the market streets wonderfully. Above it towers the great mountain, whose top pierces the clouds and serves as a throne for Kanako, almost a cloud herself. Along them, celestials play their board games and frolic as they do.
The left edge of the clouds holds a young celestial hanging a fishing rod from the side, its hook swaying in the waters of the Sanzu River, itself an extension of the great waterfall that runs down the mountain. The river extends far into the horizon, but it's clear that there's a shore, however distant. The closer shore is coated in blood-red lotus flowers, thin and grasping but impossibly elegant, and a single wooden boat sits tied to a tiny pier.
On the opposite side of the mountain, the forest closes in on the viewer, revealing bugs, birds, lions, tigers, bears, and – oh, my. A crudely drawn image of a red-eyed beast with a comically large set of teeth has been painted over one of the darker sections. Children these days...As the forest thins, water frames it once again as a stunning portrait of the lake frozen over in winter (and a snow-capped mansion on its shore) takes the focus.
Enormous pillars, each carved with pictures from a family's history, hold up the gate and shade the walkways along the rim of the school. From the center, the nearest corners are far enough to be unclear and the bell tower is too high to make out without backing up considerably. It never fails to amaze me that they're actually able to build something this large without having it collapse on itself, but the architecture departments are all on the top floors, so I suppose they're confident in their work.
No one's walking around, but even on our way in it was clear from the wide, sunny windows that class is still in session. The sound of children playing in the enclosed courtyard echos out through the few hallways between us, and the higher the floors go the more advanced the classes become. Balconies open out over the higher floors, for those who choose to fly into class, but only a few go into hallways and I'm not sure how people would feel about our interrupting.
[ ] Information desk. If Reimu didn't ask about it, surely the school won't mind. [ ] Just fly around. There's a lot of classes going on, maybe one will be on Hakugyokuro? [ ] We can wait in the courtyard, and ask when people aren't so busy. There's no rush.
I did it before Monday! Yeah! This section was actually really fun to write, and it came to me pretty easily. I even got to describe something fun!
>>20566 Oh good, you're still here! If you don't mind my asking, is there anything thus far that's really stuck out for you? It's a bit easier to answer when you haven't been waiting two years for updates.
>>20577 It deserves all the attention it gets; no more, no less.
A very old, very dear friend is driving up from North Carolina as I type this. I have not seen her since before she had her three children, so suffice to say I am kind of psyched about that. It is extremely unlikely that I will spend an appreciable amount of time writing while she's here, but the winner is pretty clear-cut and I need a little bit of time to prepare for this one anyways.
>>20582 >things that stick out Your dialogue would be much easier to read if you used the enter key more. You're fine when writing descriptions; I have no idea why you stop doing it that way when people start talking.
The massive quality jump after the hiatus definitely stuck out. I really like how you're handing Hina's thoughts. I don't like that there are so many OCs, but they're written well enough to break past it.
>>20615 I've heard the dialogue thing from more than one person at this point, but strangely enough I can't shake the exact opposite opinion. Seeing dialogue with double-spacing so often makes if really difficult for me to follow, and I feel like it breaks the flow of the writing. Of course, at this point I've heard the same thing from enough people that I'm inclined to believe it. I'll try to break up dialogue a little more in the future, but I can guarantee you no amount of complaints will get me double-spacing.
I'm quite happy that you mentioned that the story had gotten better after the "hiatus"; I felt that way but no one's really mentioned it thus far. I'm not sure if I've said it in the threads, but I'd like to say it again: Up until said "hiatus", I didn't care about this story...or anything, really. It was just something to do. Now that I can really call it a hobby, I'm sure you understand how much it means that someone recognizes it.
The OCs actually have a bit of history. Back when I was writing short stories exclusively, I had an idea that later became...well, this. A few tengu, fighting to reclaim the glory that their nation held before a disastrous civil war. I knew I wanted to do the story, but character creation isn't my strong point...so I asked for help. My sister created Goose first, requesting quite simply a character that carried a sense of excitement and joy regardless of the situation. She eventually became what she is, which (hopefully) you'll come to understand as I write her. Hood came from...well, someone who I'm not sure would be happy to be credited for him. His idea was less focused on personality, so I honestly don't know how to write him just yet. I'll figure it out, I'm sure.
Grey and Southpaw both came from none other than our own Thirty Terawatt Satellite Cannon, of /sdm/ fame. The latter was a character he had played in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and the former was his own contribution to the theoretical pack - an old, jaded military tactician.
Since I had them, I've wanted to write them - it's a good part of the reason I'm enjoying CFA so much - and because of that I've really made characters at the same time. At the same time, the vague ideas that my friends had given me are about as helpful as ZUN's characterization, which gives me room to play with them.
I'm not sure exactly where I was going with all that, but anyways. Said old, dear friend is actually planning on staying for a fairly significant amount of time, which is awesome for everyone involved. Because of this, I can take time to write without wasting chillin' time. Unfortunately, the past week has been hell of busy anyways, and I'm coming down with an illness the likes of which I would not wish upon...well, anyone. I'm not the ill-wishing sort.
I can't say when I'll be up to writing, but I promise I'll take the next opportunity I get.
One week becomes two. It's been a while since I was made to post a status update, and I don't like it.
Within about three days, I have been informed that said dear old friend intends to stay indefinitely, then intends to leave immediately, then intends to leave this weekend, then intends to stay for...some amount of time? It is confusing and heartbreaking, and I don't like it.
On a related note, my brother started his job which he got and also started. The schedule conflicts with mine, so our regular evening hang-outs have been abolished. Even on weekends, our sleep schedules are skewed. I would like to say that I have been spending all the time I could with him while I still could, but I haven't, and I don't like it.
My sickness has taken me by the throat and shaken me, leaving me soaking in my own sweat, mucus, and blood. The medications I have been recommended are ineffective, as they have always been, and I have taken them anyways so that I have a right to bitch about how ineffective they are. I'm getting better, but it's taking its sweet time, and I don't like it.
I've also been informed that my apartment hunt is over. I will be staying in a room that is twice as large, living in a house that I feel comfortable living in instead of existing in, a few doors away from some of my favorite people. Again. Currenthouse is all abuzz with people and also boxes, as the entire process has takenwill have taken all of a week. This, I like.
It does however mean that I have other things that are not writing to worry about, like packing, and moving, and doing these things while coughing a lung up and feeling ungood. Ultimately, though, this all translates to "I am not updating enough." It also means "NARH is making excuses again," and I don't like it.
Best to let them be, then. I'd be a fool not to consider the urgency of our mission, but we still have plenty of time to take. "Shall we stop in the courtyard for a spell, milady? It's a lovely sight, and there are places to rest until the headmistress will have us." I've been told that she teaches here, on top of the clerical part of the job. I've yet to be told how she finds the energy. "And I hear children. Perhaps the scurrying of commoners can entertain us for a while." Without even acknowledging that we would consider seeing someone else – which, now that I think on it, is a nice touch – she continues strolling along daintily.
The etched bricks that line the outer wall echo with our footsteps (Well...my footsteps.) as we make our way toward a great arched stone pathway. Each step, we pass by name after name of the school's friends over the years. At some point it became tradition for classes to carve their names in the bricks as they graduate, close friends often sharing the same plot. No matter how far the two might drift, the bricks never forget them. It's a silly, sentimental thought, but even I've been asked to sign a few. Rejecting them never gets easier, but I'm not a graduate. It's just not my place.
When we do reach the arch, it's quite a bit taller than it seemed from afar. It makes sense, though: It's tall enough to accommodate adults, exceptionally tall adults, people who enjoy flying at ground level, or horns, but wider than you'd expect such a passage to be, perhaps to accommodate a rush of bodies at the morning bell. As such, sunlight floods the two-room-thick tunnel despite its length. Similar ones are placed along the walkway, each one an entrance to the open-air yard and all that resides within.
At first it was behind the school entirely, but as time passed and the building expanded they refused to build over it. And why would they? The artisans charged with the school's expansion would have grown up on these very streets, played on these grounds with people they still know today. By now, most have even chiseled their names into these bricks. Who wouldn't want to watch their own children do the same? So the walls stretched and bent over the years, and greeted themselves when they met at the corners, and now every room has sunlight at almost any hour of the day. Even in the courtyard, there's so much space that you can almost catch the sunset if you stand in the opposite corner.
I'm beginning to sense a theme in the design.
From the moment we turn into the tunnel, color floods our vision. Small, delicate flowers of hot shades that inspire visions of summer run along the outer edge of the grass along the walkway, their pattern only broken by the stepping stones set directly in front of each passage. They pale in comparison to the yard's centerpiece, though. More varieties of plants than I could hope to name form a great mass of vines, leaves, and petals that seems to writhe with life each time the wind blows past it, and under the care of the botany department not a single one is left to wither. Flowers grab your attention first, as they are wont to do, but if you look between them even the stems are arranged. Their perfume is as impressive as their appearance; despite being apparent from even this distance, the aroma is gentle and nuanced.
Of course, the whole thing was almost cut down entirely a few months ago when a child went missing inside of it. There was quite the uproar, though when he wandered back out two days later he was as happy as he'd ever been. Surprisingly, that alone was enough to quiet the doomsayers, though they did end up digging a small moat around it. By now it's been turned into an attraction all its own, with colorful little fish swimming to and fro. Some even say they've dug a small tunnel from the moat to the lake, just to encourage larger fish. Patently absurd though the notion may be, it's certainly fun to consider.
A young couple silently admires them from a nearby bench (a generous gift among many from the townspeople), arm in arm and hand in hand as their heads nuzzle against one another. It almost makes me wanOff to the side, older children poke around in the dirt, occasionally holding up pinched fingers for the acting instructor to inspect. Another group is left to wander, sketch pads and pencils in hand, in search of a subject for a piece. Some have already settled, making light sweeps and bobbing their heads from the subject to their paper rapidly, and one has laid down on her stomach near the centerpiece for a close look at tiny details. Off far enough that they don't disturb (and aren't disturbed by) the students, another couple has spread out a blanket on the grass and simply lay together happily, pecking one another in between bites of pizza.
It's not unusual to see people coming here just to relax, even during the day. There's plenty of space for anyone who wants to be here, and it's a safe spot to enjoy nature, which is hard to come by for humans. It's warm, it's pretty, and it's quiet, aside from the fenced-in playground where toddlers are given their first lessons. There's a small swinging gate that opens into the rest of the yard, but there's also a direct entrance to their indoor classroom. Regardless of the weather, though, the teachers make a point to put singing, dancing, and playing into each day's lesson, keeping the young ones happy and enthusiastic about learning. Right now, the afternoon class is sitting down at a cluster of vibrantly painted tables.
Toward which Southpaw trots, fearlessly and wordlessly.
Okay. Okay! How hard can it be to keep up the act for a class of three-year-olds and a single—no, two. Two instructors. Another steps out of the building with a stack of plates in hand, and begins setting them down at the tables as Keine. Well, then. With their tables set, the second instructor sits to help supervise as the headmistress herself walks out of the classroom with enormous bowls of food balanced on a tray that takes a table to transport, serving each child what they ask for. The first has already run inside and returned with an assortment of juices, milk, and water. Right from the get-go, all three of them buzz about trying to keep a handle on all of the children. For the most part, the effort is a success.
By the time we reach the fence, the group has settled a bit. With the kids served, the instructors keep a close eye on them but don't seem to need to devote their full attention. One turns to us; a woman who couldn't possibly be over 17, her features smooth and round. She stands only at shoulder-height, but her wide, honest eyes hide how high she needs to look. Her lavender hair is pulled to the side and tied off in a loose bun that hangs at her shoulder, and an enormous, milk-white lily is tucked behind her ear. A soft, almost fuzzy shirt clings to her modest form, its sleeves ending just above her elbows. Flowers are strewn over its sky blue base, each different from the next. It seems almost like an arrangement. Under its hem is a cream-colored dress ending just past her knees that flows magnificently in even the slightest breeze. Along her left leg is the silhouette of a goldenrod, in – appropriately enough – a pale shade of goldenrod. Sandals are strapped to her feet well enough to run in, in a pinch, but still loosely enough to stay cool in the early autumn afternoon.
And run she does, if only for the second it takes to close the distance. "Hi! Are you here to volunteer?" ...No question about who we are? A low, slightly raspy voice calls, "Down, girl!" from the table, earning a laugh from the others. This one has two long braids that fall all the way down her back, blue and white highlights separated into the strands of each braid. It's subtle, but it lends the style an interesting effect. A dark purple undershirt hides her modesty where her thick, white, unbuttoned blouse doesn't, and a pair of very loose black pants that ends in comfortable-looking boots lay underneath it. "Introduce yourself before you start shoving scissors in their hands." The joking tone never quite leaves her voice, but there's a hint of irateness that says this isn't the first time this has happened.
"Hey, at least I asked first." Without giving her time to respond, the flower girl's head whips back to us, sending her bun flying behind her shoulder. "I'm Akyu, of the Hieda. Are you here to volunteer?" Southpaw regards her with no more than the appropriate amount of distaste as she replies, "I am Sako Kendou, daughter of Junya Kendou, heir to the Kendou estate, ruler of–" "Yeah, yeah. Are you here to volunteer?" Rather insistent, aren't you. I can see why, though – even as Southpaw was rattling off titles, she would turn her head to look over the children. Can't blame her for working while she's at work. "Assuming that at least your colleagues know their place." And when the lady volunteers, her governess volunteers. It would seem we have a day ahead of us. "Awesome." Hearing the clatter of plates and a few high-pitched laughs, she whips her head back around. "Hey! No throwing food!" And back to us. "We can really use the help. Thank you so much, guys." And just like that, she's back at her table, cleaning up a spill while trying to keep one of the fast eaters seated. The braided instructor is just as busy, but she finds time to shoot off a quick, "Thanks for introducing me, too." "You're welcome. Fitzroy, let her eat." Is that what people are naming their kids these days? Seems like there's a new movement for every generation.
The gate has a simple lock, though it still takes a second of experimentation to figure it out. Extending from the top of the opening end is a short black pole, and perpendicular to that is a simple curved shape which hugs the end of the fence. Pushing the pole down makes the curved lock give in either direction, and when we push the gate closed it locks tight again. Nothing you couldn't do while, say, carrying supplies, but fence's chest height alone keeps children from escaping into the yard.
The mere act of crossing into their little section of the yard completely changes the feel of things. Observing from a foot away and being right in the center of the twenty-some children (by my estimate, anyways) is like the difference between watching danmaku and playing it. The moment we're inside, the braided instructor calls to us. "Hey, thanks for helping out. I'm Tokiko. You wanna take care of the dishes?" Southpaw responds with a sneer almost instantly, her voice dripping with disgust. "That's far below me. What else can I do?" Tokiko seems a bit irritated by the quick rebuke, but she holds her tongue. Well, if they need to get done... "I can take care of the dishes." Wait, is that supposed to be below me too? "...As it please Milady." She turns to me with a smile, and nods curtly. "Great. There's already a couple over in the sink," And she points to it, a great silvery basin hanging from the wall, "If you wanna get started. They'll pile up fast enough." Turning to Southpaw with a smirk, she continues, "As for the lady, would you prefer to keep the finished children busy? They know where the toys are, just make sure they stay quiet and don't hurt anyone." A child's hand shoots in the air, and Tokiko's attention is immediately upon them. "You're done, Rogaih?"
Without wasting another moment, I make my way over to the sink as Southpaw makes it perfectly clear how little she wants to volunteer, despite having done so readily. I can't tell whether it's for the act or if she just can't stand being idle. Just like she said, there are a few dishes already waiting to be washed, and just like she said, they pile up fast enough. For the first few minutes, two dishes get brought over by tiny hands in the time it takes to wash one. There's only so many kids, though, so in time the flow stops and I catch up. With three dishes left, I hear the ring of a bell, and a chorus of children lead by Keine. "Stoooop, looook, and listeeen![i] Thank you, friends! Everyone to the circle, now."
Setting down her hand bell, Keine moves to take her place beside a small array of easels, each set with a different display. One has a half-written calendar, another has a board of facial expressions with emotions written underneath them, another has a tally of brightly shining suns, clouds, raindrops, and snowflakes. There are more tucked away behind them, I'm sure. Her deep blue eyes are normally as piercing as Hood's, but around the children they grow soft as a mother's. Her smile is as warm and inviting as a fireplace in winter, and her voice is trusting and strong in equal parts. It's not hard to see how the humans came to accept her.
Silvery blue hair runs down her back like a waterfall, but here and there small strands get caught in her blue-and-green sweater, hollow diamonds of color blending into one another over a field of white. The texture of the embroidery is as beautiful as the woman it covers, each knit lending to the image of azure tides flowing across her ample figure. Underneath it is a flowing turquoise dress that ends in sharply pointed frills around her ankles. Though it fits tighter than Akyu's it still leaves her plenty of room to move if need be, as is evidenced by the sleek white sneakers under it.
Her hat, though, steals the show...as it always does. Keine's become something of a legend for her hats, each new one just a touch more ridiculous than the last. Today (thankfully) she's chosen something a bit more subdued: A three-layered hat, so enormous that I have to wonder whether it's not glued on somehow. The corners of each square layer are upturned like spikes, and the bottom has tassels hanging from each. Sitting atop the third, smallest square is a perfectly spherical red jewel that seems to cover every shade in the spectrum as the afternoon light bounces through it.
As the children sit in a circle in front of her, each gives her their (mostly) undivided attention. "Now, we have some very special guests today! Would you like to introduce yourselves?" With a wave of her hand, all eyes in the room turn to Southpaw and me. "Yes, thank you." Letting her eyes pass each face in the room individually, she puts on a grandiose air and sets about her titles again. "I am Sako Kendou, daughter of Junya Kendou, heir to the Kendou estate, ruler of–" "I'm sorry, Miss Kendou, but the kids–" "[i]Ruler of the Phantom Isles, former adjutant of the First Wraith Batallion, head librarian of the Depository, and part-time world explorer." With a look of satisfaction, she assumes her normal tone again. "You may refer to me as Mistress Kendou." Compared with the powerful voice she used before, the statement almost makes her seem demure. Keine stares at her for a moment, shielding her thoughts with the same gentle eyes that shield the children. "I knew our company was special, but I had no idea you were that special. Thank you, Milady." Nothing she says hints at it, but I can't help but feel like she just insulted us. Sako doesn't, though. Happy with the small amount of respect someone gave her, she gives a small curtsy before turning to me. "And this is my governess, Miss Haruka." "It's a pleasure to meet you both. I hope you have a lot of fun today." As she speaks, Keine gives me a pitying look for only as long as it takes for me to reply with a strained smile, then looks over the class. "But we have fun every day, don't we?"
The chorus responds so enthusiastically that it draws a small gasp and a reserved laugh from Sako.
"All right! Now, it's time to do the calendar! Who's our helper today?" The teachers all glance at a board on the wall, decorated with yellow, orange, and red leaves made of paper and sloppily painted. It's pretty clear that the kids each did their own leaf. On each is a name and a drawing of one of the children, and next to each is a job – "Librarian", "Meteorologist", "Qalandar". I have trouble believing that last one isn't just made up, though. Even as they look for the name beside it, Edward stands from the circle with an enormous grin. Leaning over to me with a smirk, Akyu (Where did she come from?) whispers, "Edward loves counting." "Edward! Com-oh!" As Keine turns back to the calendar to find her helper already there, she jumps in surprise, getting a small giggle from a few of the kids. "Okay, the month is Sep-tem-ber," she slowly enunciates as the tip of a flashy, ribboned baton goes along the enormous print on top, "and yesterday was Thursday, so what's today?" Again, the kids respond in chorus, "Friday!" "Very good! Now Edward, can you help us find out what today's number is?" With a small flourish, she hands over the baton, which Edward takes eagerly. Almost as soon as it's in his hand, he begins pointing to the days that have already been marked and counting them aloud. I'm no expert in the field, but a three-year-old that can count to 19 is pretty impressive. The other children in the class count along, too, with Keine helping the ones that get a little lost. "Nineteen! So we make a ooone...and a niiiine. That means today is September 19th. It's going to start getting colder from now on, isn't it, Miss Hieda?"
"I'd say it's already been getting colder, Miss K. I've got my comfy shirt on, but I think you might have the right idea with that sweater." For effect, she crosses her arms and shivers a little bit. "To be honest, I'm a little warm. This is my favorite favorite sweater, though, so I just couldn't wait to wear it. It looks like Miss Tokiko's got the right kind of clothes on, though." Looking up from the pile of papers she's been sorting through, Tokiko smiles and replies, "I like the cold, but sometimes when I'm flying it gets a little too cold. That's why I like to be able to button up, if I want to. In fact..." Standing up for a moment, she takes off her blouse completely, setting it to rest on a chair, and flexes her...wings? She's a youkai? "Mm. That's more like it." None of the kids pay it any mind, thankfully. I'd have thought they would be more scared. "Well, just be careful you don't get too cold. We don't want Miss Tokiko to get sick, do we?" Some of the kids respond with a 'Noooo', but others just shake their heads. A girl dressed all in pink raises her hand, but doesn't wait to get called on. "I don't want Miss Tokiko to get sick, because she's nice, and I love her." Awwwww! "Awwwww~! Come here, honey." Setting down her work again, Tokiko kneels with her arms open, and the girl runs to hug her. When she does, her wings close around her for a second, giving her back a quick rub. Picking right up from there, Keine continues, "And we love all of you too. So make sure your parents pick out nice, warm clothes for you! Now, then..." Her voice drops a bit – oh! It's a song! After the first note or two, the kids are all singing along. "What's the weather, What's the weather, Do you know? Do you know? Is it sunny, is it rainy? What's the weather? What's the weather?" It's so simple that it's almost embarrassing just listening to it, but I can't deny that it's cute seeing 20 toddlers singing it. "Okay! So who's our meteorologist today?" The meteorologist isn't so enthusiastic as Edward was. "Looks like it's Jasmine! Go on up, Jasmine."
Jasmine, another girl in a red sweater, a red dress, red leggings, and red shoes (Her name was on a red leaf, too, now that I look. Seems it's her favorite color.) stumbles to her feet and walks up to Keine, who pulls a small pair of binoculars from behind the calendar. "Okay! So what kind of weather do we have today?" As Jasmine puts the binoculars to her eyes, Keine turns her to make sure she won't stare at the sun. After a moment's consideration, she shouts excitedly, "It's sunny!" "Right! There's only a couple of clouds in the sky today, so it's still nice and sunny. Can you come draw a sun on the weather board?" As she speaks, she rummages through a pile of supplies to find a big black marker, which she uncaps before handing it to Jasmine. She just looks at it hesitantly, though. After a moment and a 'What's wrong?', she asks, "Can I use a red one?" The question brings a smile to Keine's (and my) face, and she trades it for an almost identical red marker. This time, the girl accepts it happily, and draws a circle that turns out as more of a spiral along with all the other interpretations of suns lining the board. Some are cleaner than others, likely from the older kids. She puts the cap back on the marker herself, this time, and runs back to her place in the circle. "Great job! Let's give our helpers a hand!" And on cue, everyone – Milady included – offers their applause.
"Now! I had a lesson in mind today, but when I met our special guests, I had a really fun idea. Lady Sako Kendou here said she was an explorer!" Among other things. "Does anyone know what an explorer is?" One of the boys' hands shoots into the sky, and he can barely restrain excited, 'Ooh! Ooh!'s. "Yes, Takuro?" ...Strange that the normal name would stand out. I guess this is where the next generation is going. "A explorer is...they look at stuff!" It's hard to keep myself from laughing, but I'd hate to discourage the child. Akyu jumps in this time, kneeling down beside him to talk. "And what kind of stuff do they look at?" His face scrunches up for a second, searching for the words, but he finds them quickly enough. "Stuff...stuff that nobody's seen!" Letting her face glow with excitement, she looks at everyone in the circle as she speaks. "That's right! An explorer is someone who goes around the world, looking for things people haven't seen before. Sometimes there's nothing really special, but sometimes there's really, really cool stuff! Miss K. and I are kind of like explorers, too, aren't we?" Laughing softly, she waves her hand as though to dispel the thought. "That's a bit of a stretch. We just write down what other people see. Explorers do the real work." Akyu looks like she's ready to argue, but Keine doesn't let her. "So! I was thinking, if they'd like, our guests could share a story or two from their adventures. Wouldn't that be cool?" Some of the kids caught on faster than others, but by now every one of them has stars in their eyes. An almost uproarious "YEAH!" rises from our little corner, drawing a few stares from some of the other classes. As the shout dies down, it gives way to a few lingering laughs from across the yard. Keine looks up expectantly, and Sako looks right back at her. "What do you say, guys?" "I'm sure we can think of something. We've certainly had our fair share of close shaves, wouldn't you say?"
[ ] Just let her tell the story. She's got this covered. [ ] Throw in your account of things; it'll be more genuine. [ ] This is a preschool class, and we're (ostensibly) outsiders. Let's make this story awesome.
In the past...Two months? Jesus. In the past two months, I've found (to my sorrow) that I do not deal well with changes. I have also found that when given a place to put nice things or money individually I can stick to a budget, but gimme both and my bank account empties like a clever analogy for something that empties itself very fast.
Lots of things have been happening, but after the first month or so I had absolutely no excuse for my speed (or lack thereof). My apartment has been settled, my friend has gone back to North Carolina, my body has stopped trying to destroy itself. I'm just very, very lazy, and I mean to do something about that. Updates should return to normal from here on, and those character background shorts that I may or may not have mentioned are starting to congeal in my head so I'm going to (attempt to) write them in between regular updates. With any luck, they'll actually get done.
I'm sure there was something else I wanted to say, but it's hard to remember it all over such a span of time.
>>20677 I would thank you not to bring up that disgraceful excuse for a human being in my presence. There are very few things for which I have such distaste.
So much for my body not trying to destroy itself. I'm sorry for the delay; I've been unconscious more often than not for the past week or so and even now I'm hacking up all manner of unpleasant things.
Writing commences, but with Thanksgiving being...wait, Thanksgiving? Holy shit yes. I sincerely hope every single one of my readers has a wonderful thanksgiving, whether they celebrate or not. There's a bunch of stuff I'm thankful for, not the least of which is you guys! But I'd rather write my story than rant about the best holiday (which it totally is) so I'm gonna go do that.
If...If you say so. "With so many to choose from, though, which do we tell of?" Adopting a thoughtful expression, Sako puts a single finger to her chin for a moment. "How about...the story of the snow-men?" A few children get excited and start trying to tell her all about the snow-men they've built, but the teachers hush them for speaking out of turn. "Ooh! But Milady tells that one so much better than I. Would you do the honors?" I have no idea where she's going with this one. Better just let her work her magic. "Gladly." She clears her throat to begin, but Keine interrupts her. "Ah, before you start. Would you like a seat at the front, where everyone can see you?" As she speaks she rises from her seat, offering it to her. Waving her back down, she says, "Oh, that's quite all right. I'm comfortable on my feet." I suppose she would be, as an explorer. "But where to begin..."
A frigid wind blew through the bare branches dotting the mountainside, howling like the wolves that prowled them and giving the explorers pause. Countless thick layers of clothing made the two unrecognizable, yet the chill reached to their bones and stiffened their joints until they creaked with every motion. There was history in these mountains, the shorter bundle had a sense for it. Thus far, though, there was only ice and snow and treachery. What few signs of life they had found were closer to signs of death; bones that shattered underfoot and corpses refusing to rot in the eternal snow.
They climbed on, though, mapping out every ice-coated cave and every bare forest. They had come too far not to explore the whole thing, but supplies were running low and they hadn't seen game for days. Perhaps it was the crunch of their boots through ice and snow, heavy with weariness, but as hunger crept into them it was hard not to believe in some invisible monster that had eaten the mountain bare. If nothing else there was ample firewood, but a warm camp is nothing like a full belly, and the mornings were defined by hunger.
It was on one such morning that they first heard it. They had settled for the night in a cave just small enough to seal with a tarp, blocking out all but a thin ray of sunlight where it sagged to let smoke into the air. In its place was the eery orange glow of a small fire, reflecting off every wall like mirrors, each its own tiny fire-in-the-ice. They almost didn't want even a fire; the air was thin and sharp enough already, but the taller bundle insisted on fear of freezing overnight.
"So where were these mountains?" whispered the wind, an illusion borne of their solitude. There wasn't another voice to speak of for miles around, but the explorers looked out from their encampment curiously, regardless. All that greeted them was the impossibly high view of empty valleys, land even the robust men of the north were too afraid – or perhaps too smart, they were beginning to believe – to settle. The view of green forests below was as constant as it was distant, as familiar as it was foreign.
"Oh, I get it," the wind continued rudely. "Sorry. Go on."
But on that silent morning, when the wind had died down and the explorers' ears were tense, they heard more. Only the slightest rumbling, almost like the shuffle of cloth on cloth from a room away, and it disappeared as soon as they were aware of it. "Haruka," the shorter bundle started, "I don't think we're alone." "Neither do I," her governess replied, gripping a quarterstaff in her gloved hands. For such a simple weapon, it got the two of them out of countless binds, and was a constant companion.
Just then, the rumbling continued, this time growing louder and louder. The two tensed, looking around for what it could mean but finding nothing until Sako was tackled to the ground, where she caught a glimpse of fur from the corner of her eye. When the two explorers untangled themselves and returned to their feet, there was nothing remaining of the beast but the constant shifting underfoot, this time as apparent as the clouds overhead...and just as close.
Again their assailant appeared as though from the ether, but a splash marked his emergence and the two deftly side-stepped him as he flew through the air, his milk-white knife brandished. Furs fluttered over pale skin, and in the very instant he had come he was gone. Both explorers knew they had to fight, but neither could imagine how to win, and so they stood in nervous silence awaiting the next pounce.
They didn't wait long.
The hunter jumped from behind once more, and was once more dodged. This time the two caught a glimpse of its ruby eyes, glowing against the pure white of the mountain, and they saw him disappear underneath the snow. The shifting was his tunneling, they realized, though with the speed he moved it was more like swimming. There was hardly time to track him before he emerged again, and though they moved to dodge his knife found its mark. Blood seeped out from Sako's arm, and numbing air seeped in through the gash in her clothes, which was far more frightening than the gash in her flesh.
Haruka was not without her own success, though, and a solid ring echoed out as her quarterstaff met the beast's head, slamming it painfully into the snow. Rather than fall, though, he simply sank into its depths. The assault paused, if only for a moment. It was enough for them to make for the summit; their cave was no shelter, and Sako had motioned for them to run. Their feet sank and trudged through the snow, each step a battle for their lives. The hunter's incessant strikes were beginning to take their toll, too; their hurried steps muffled the slight shifting that marked his coming, and before long red snow marked their trail.
It was hardest when the clouds were on them, the freezing wind turning mist to ice on their faces with each step. To make matters worse, the foggy cover they had hoped for was useless against their opponent, whose aim was true every leap. With all the more white around them, the two could hardly see each other, let alone this ghost of a creature. Their breath was ragged from running, ragged from crying out in pain every time sharpened bone scraped through flesh, ragged from breathing in the snow, which hung in the clouds, still too light to fall. For a moment, it seemed like the veil over them would never be lifted.
And in that moment, seconds stopped and they burst into clarity.
Where even the clouds couldn't reach, snow had no stay. Small patches of grass grasped for air through earth – sweet, solid earth – and looking out onto the valleys showed only the tops of clouds, glowing shades of orange and purple flowing through their contours where once they had been solid and grey. The two had little time and less mind to admire the view, though, their pursuer hot on their trail. Without snow to burrow through, he stood awkwardly on too-large feet, bare and white. The fire hadn't left his eyes, but concern had slipped into them. Still, he huddled under his furs and gripped his bloodied knife, ready to finish what he started. They could respect him for at least that much.
Haruka stepped forward, frayed as she was, and gripped her staff close. She knew better than to assume the creature would be any less formidable without its precious snow, and looked him over carefully while Sako retreated a ways and started digging for a medical kit. It too was indispensable, a constant companion on her travels, though she rarely used it. Occasionally she had the fleeting thought that it was dead weight, but she would always remember the few times she had occasion to open the compact little case and perish the notion. This, she noted, would be another time to remember.
As she undid its latches with a clack, knife met staff. There was no ringing of steel against steel, but the impact shook the combatants' bones. He's strong, thought Haruka, but he's clumsy.[i] As ferocious as he was, his swings were slow and his feet stumbled over themselves. Most importantly – and much to Haruka's relief – he left openings. It was clear that he wasn't used to covering his body; the snow did that by itself. Though every parry made her joints ache and sent her feet stumbling, she quickly learned to roll with them, and soon enough the battle was as one-sided as it had ever been.
It was only a matter of time before the creature lay beaten, its fluttering whites and greys alone on a canvas of earth.
I was debating splitting this, but y'all have waited long enough. I figure this is at least something until I have time to finish.
Also, I just realized: If you count split updates as singles (as well you should) this is the 51st, which is some kind of milestone I guess! It's also a little bit depressing that it's taken this long to update a measly 50 times.
How did we get ourselves into this mess? Sako and I sit surrounded by awestruck children, her miming first-aid application and me cautiously poking at a stuffed animal that was thrown to us mid-act. At some point or another, she started mimicking her actions in the story, which set the kids to shouting and cheering. The teachers would occasionally interrupt to throw in some participation. At more than one point Keine would point to a chart of labeled facial expressions and ask how they think they would feel.
The second time it happened, she simply shot her a glare, but after the third Sako took the opportunity to beckon me act alongside her. The battle with the snow-man captivated even Tokiko, who took every opportunity to spit a quip between lines until we broke past the cloud line. I have to admit, even I'm wondering where we go from here, but I hope it isn't much further. I can already catch Akyu and Keine laughing at me now and then. I'm no Sanae, after all.
"So there we were, faced with this unknowable but clearly hostile creature, on top of a mountain with nothing to see for miles. We had survived until then, but the fight was long from over." ...Well. "If we couldn't find provisions, we could never hope to make it all the way back down. We had come in search of history, and all we found was mystery." The rhyme drew a giggle from a few easily-entertained kids, and one easily-entertained adult. A child called out, unable to stay his curiosity a moment longer. "So what'd you do?" Shooting him a devious grin, Sako replied, "What do you guys think we did?" Hands shot into the air, waiting not-so-patiently to be called, and she wasted no time choosing one. Instantly the girl, a tiny thing in a blue sun dress, answers, "You ate the snow-man!" pfft-- "No, we didn't eat the snow-man." Her tone is scolding, yet joking, and the two share a laugh over it. "Even if we did, he was skinny. There's probably more meat on my bones than his."
"I'd say it makes sense. For him to live up there, his body would have to adapt to the lack of food." Keine takes the opportunity to make it into a lesson, though I feel like the content might be a bit advanced for kids. Then again, humans' capacity for learning has never failed to amaze me. If I understand correctly, that Marisa girl hasn't got a drop of magic in her blood, and that's the sort of thing they say takes a lifetime to overcome. "I don't know about that, Keine. What if the food adapted to his presence? Our footsteps may as well have been war horns compared to his silent attacks." Ever ready to argue, Sako starts playing up the creature's fearsomeness. Good for the story, but I'd hate to scare the children. "Either way, that was some awful terrain you were going through. You must have a lot of training." Perhaps seeing her readiness to linger on unsavory subjects, Keine tries to change the subject tactfully. "Oh, my parents would take me along on hikes all the time. By the time I was a woman grown--" "You don't look grown to me." Akyu finds her voice again. From the snippets of exchanges I've gathered, she and Tokiko seem close (or at least close enough to share some private jokes). I wouldn't be surprised if her quipping was a learned habit.
She did have a point, though. It's hard to say which of them is taller, and Akyu is short even for her age. Sako refuses to acknowledge it though, and continues unhindered. "I had scaled more mountains than even some retired climbers. It's only natural, though; as an explorer I'm expected to go where it isn't easy to go. Speaking of which..."
The explorers sat in the light of the rising sun, nursing their wounds and mending their clothes before concerning themselves with what to do next. What little warmth they had would escape the moment they descended through the clouds again, and their gentle glow did nothing to hide the fact. For now, at least, they could breathe...if a bit heavily. Sitting in silence, the two looked out onto the sunrise, wondering if it would be their last. Neither had the first idea how to proceed, but both knew they would need to act fast.
Suddenly, Haruka stood. Though she leaned heavily on her staff, one hand snatched up the first aid kit and her feet swiftly moved toward the fallen snow-man. The wind blew against her as though in protest, but her mind was made and her will was unmovable. Even as her own wounds threatened to take her, she fervently worked over the body of this monster that had only moments ago given them to her. Some years later, reminiscing on the day behind closed doors and aside lit hearth, she was asked why she'd done it. "I figured for a moment," she said, sipping on mulled wine, "if we were going to die there, I'd hate to leave an extra corpse."
The creature was awake, if too sore to move much. At first he struggled and hissed at the care Haruka took with him, but in time his hurts began soothing and he understood. With her work done she tried to sit the creature up, but when she gave him her shoulder, he used it to stand to his height. Despite the sheer length of the man, his limbs were thin as twigs. They weren't without muscle, but the bones under them must have been made of iron not to shatter at the slightest touch. For how they weighed on her, Haruka wouldn't have doubted it.
When he spoke, no language they recognized came out, but they played at understanding and followed his lead. With shaking legs he stumbled back down the side of the mountain, stepping fearlessly into the veil of cloud, and the two explorers followed him. The cold bit into their wounds anew and the ice burned all the worse now that they had warmed some, but their guide pressed on, and so did they. All through the clouds and a small, dead forest they passed, but when the ghost of a man stopped there was still nothing to be seen but snow.
Letting go of her shoulder, the creature grasped gently for Haruka's staff. She hesitated for a long moment, scared that he might still be planning to turn on them, but eventually relinquished it. There were no sudden blows or attempts at escape, only the clatter of a pole against the stones underneath the snow. The snow-man's blind stabs circled around a small area, but when he went to probe the center the staff sank until it was completely buried, his hand included. Pulling it back out and giving each of the explorers a glance, he sank into the snow as he had before. This time, his burrowing was silent...if present at all.
A heavy silence hung in the air at his departure. The two remained above for a long time, wondering whether to burrow after him, or wait, or perhaps simply go on their way. If they were expected to follow, they had no indication he would wait for them any longer, but they hadn't the slightest notion of what might lay below their feet. What if all that awaited them under the sinkhole was a slow, cold death? They had to make a choice, and there was no surviving if they split ways now.
Knowing that her hunter's intuition would never have led her astray, Sako stepped forward first and dug an experimental hand through the snow. It was somehow softer here, and though the snow held them up her feet sank further down than elsewhere. There was some kind of tunnel here, she could tell, and she intended to find where it lead no matter the risk. And it was a risk. Probing with her feet revealed it as only just wide enough for the snow-man to move through; to go in would be to abandon her clothes.
Whispers could be heard, if you listened in the right places, that the lady Sako Kendou was possessed of a certain kind of insanity. As far as she was concerned, it was a compliment – no explorer worth their weight was to be swayed by things like common sense. You had to know how to survive, yes, but to brave the places other people wouldn't dare to you had to be able to forget, too. It was how she gained most of her prestige; her luck never seemed to fade no matter how many years it was stretched over. That day would be no exception.
When she started unbuttoning, she was unsure. When she finished, she couldn't afford to be. Waving a tentative good-bye to her governess, she dug her way through, working handful after handful behind her even as the feeling left her fingers. The snow gave way effortlessly, and before its cold had time to truly cut through her it parted under her head, making way for the vision before her. It seemed almost out of a dream, but the tumble of snow behind her and the astonished gasp of her companion cemented it in reality.
Before them was a vast hollow, its walls lined with settlements of speckled blue-black stones. Their doors and windows were little more than holes sealed in furs, and in places frost clung to them, glistening with what little light reached them safe from the flames that burned on a few select roofs. Below their feet, warmth coursed through the stone floors, the sound of running water flooding the chamber. Above them, it seemed a cloud had found its way inside, and the air glistened with those same suspended snowflakes that scraped their throats and faces.
What was most impressive of all, though, was the great steaming waterfall across the settlements. It seemed a hot spring was welling far above them, and as it streamed forth it fell from dizzying heights to a pool that extended below them. All down the side of the stream, carvings in the wall depicted human figures and crude yet intricate depictions of the mountain, the rivers, the sun, and the snow. It seemed at a glance to be some kind of story of how they came to live in this place, or perhaps a myth they would pass down. The explorers lamented the language barrier; as much as they'd wished to ask of these people's culture they were doomed to conjecture.
Where it gathered, they saw snow-men swimming and floating and playing, their flesh the same snow white as their guide's. A few let their glances linger, but none concerned themselves too much with their visitors. Some even seemed to emerge from under the surface, swimming in from a different room elsewhere. Small tunnels dotted the walls, but none had more than one or two of them walking through it.
Their guide had been waiting patiently, swirling a toe in the steaming pool and looking airily at the mists beside the waterfall. When he heard their arrival he hobbled to his feet, seemingly steadier already. More of the sharp yet flowing language spilled at them, this time gentler. Understanding is hard to feign for long, though, and he soon realized his folly. With nothing else to do, he grabbed their wrists and walked off into one of the tunnels.
Light quickly left the tunnels, and their arms led them down countless turns, stairwells, and ladders, even making use of an underground river at one point. In time, drenched and tired from walking, a low purple glow filled the tunnel. It was steady, yet crawled along the walls as though a fog. There was a small man, a shriveled thing hunched over and sitting on a pillow. His eyes were closed, but he seemed to see us just the same.
His voice wasn't half a whisper, but in the darkness and the solitude it echoed just the same. Though he quivered and trembled, and though the girls couldn't understand one of his words (and doubted even the white man could, through all the shaking) they gripped them at their very hearts. In one instant they knew a weight had been lifted, and in another they knew they were that weight. Questions boiled in their heads, they needed to know, the world needed to know. Who were these people? What secrets have passed under their noses unseen?
Almost as soon as it had started, it had ended, and they were dragged back out unceremoniously. Being in silent darkness was as unpleasant the second time as it had been the first, and they could swear[i] the path they took was different, but at the end of it they emerged to burning braziers and flowing water just the same. This time, their welcome wasn't so warm. With a sorrowful look, the white man pointed to an underwater cavern and the river that flowed through it. The others parted to give them their way, but it was clear they weren't to stay.
Lots of splits. Lots of tired. There'd be more choices, but you kind of voted to let the story happen, so...here it is. I'll try to have the next portion done tomorrow or the day after, I don't like leaving these things to sit if there's nothing to vote on (and frankly, I'm not fond of letting them sit then, either).
"And I've been looking for them ever since." ...That's it? I mean, the kids seem happy enough with the conclusion, but... "...That's it?" Tokiko takes care of the asking for me. For real, though! After all the excitement, that's all we get? "I'll be sure to let you know when I've found them again." With a shrug, Sako steps back out to the sink and pours herself a glass of water. I don't blame her, all that jumping around has me thirsty too. "The river took us straight to the base of the mountain, and we made our way home from there. We could have found our way back, maybe, but it had already been a long and dangerous outing and we weren't about to make it that far with none of the supplies we left with." Working through the glass in small but desperate sips in between sentences, she's already downed enough to justify filling it a second time. "Frankly, Miss K., it was something of a miracle that we survived." "Oh, I don't doubt it." Keine wears the same concerned face that she's had since the snow-man showed up. "Climbing at those heights at all would have taken most people a whole team, and you managed to take down a youkai in single combat." Finally smiling, she turns to me. "Or at least, Haruka did. You've chosen a good governess." I know it's just an act, but the warmth in her voice makes me swell with pride. She has a talent for doing that. Sako returns with a devious grin of her own. "Only one befitting of the position. It's why I treat her so well." "And with such talent, I'm sure she'll be a great help with our next activity!" Addressing the class with the last few words, she turns to dig through another pile of supplies for a moment, soon emerging with a sheet of paper. Half of it is taken up by an empty square, and the other is lined. "We're going to split into groups for this. Think about what you remember from Lady Kendou's story, and draw a picture of it inside the box. When you're all done, tell an adult about what you drew, and they'll write it down here! Okay, friends, listen for your name!" After a bit of running around (and an emergency visit to the bathroom), the five of us each supervise our own table.
The five children I've been given mostly get the idea, thankfully, though they do need a bit of prodding to keep working instead of playing with one another. One in particular seems almost completely incapable of focusing, a bright-eyed girl whose unkempt straws are tied off into two pigtails. She finishes first, handing me a paper with three hastily-drawn circles and a triangle, and no amount of coaxing gets more out of her than a furtive, "It's you!"
...I'm...not sure what to do, myself. Turning to the others, I ask to anyone—wait, what was her name? "What's your name again?" "Harmony!" Let's just write that at the top of the paper before I go any further. Turning to the others, I ask to anyone, "Harmony's all done, what should she do now?" Akyu responds, being the closest. "Can I see?" She takes a glance at the paper and immediately calls Harmony over to her, trying to get a few more words. It doesn't seem like she's having much more success than I did.
"Miss Haruka?" Moving along, then. This time it's a quiet young boy I recognize as Edward, though when he's not counting he's a completely different person. He's dressed in thick winter clothes already, and his voice is barely a squeak – and a slurred one, at that. "You're all done?" He nods shyly, and pushes his over toward me. This one's much busier, little dots cover the square entirely. He hasn't drawn anything else, though. "Cool! What did you draw?" "It's...clouds. The inside." Even as he says the words, his eyes wander off to the other tables. I'm probably not gonna get much more, but it's worth a shot. "You mean when we were running from the snow-man?" "You were running from the snow-man, and you ran inside the clouds." Good enough. Again I give the finished product to Akyu, but this time she sends him off to play until the others are finished.
Seeing Edward and Harmony at play rushes the other three, but all of them pick their own favorite parts. One drew a waterfall, massive scribbles marking where it splashes into the water. When I asked about it, she ranted about how her parents brought her to see the waterfall on the mountain. Another drew a few stick figures with swirling scribbles surrounding them – running through the clouds, again – and the last went and found a purple marker, drawing the old seer in his foggy chamber. With all their work done, all my work is done, so I find myself surrounded by wooden building blocks soon enough.
Three kids have chosen to play with them, and each makes their own attempt at architecture. None make anything particularly coherent or functional, but they have their fun...until two start getting into an argument about which of them gets the last bridge block. "Hey! No fighting! What's going on, here?" "I need this one!" "No, I need this one!" "But I need this one!" It's as much a response as it is a dismissal. This is pretty much how the argument's been going up to now. "Well hold on, hold on. How about instead of arguing, we all work together to build something awesome?" Plant those seeds, Hina. You're in a classroom, now teach your subject. "I think that'd be a lot more fun than fighting." One of them got stars in his eyes at 'build something awesome', but the other still looks a bit huffy. "I don't wanna." And sounds a bit huffy, at that. "Are you sure? I'd really like to play together with you." "Don't wanna." Nngh...Okay. Different angle. "Well, okay, but we were gonna build a huge tower..." "...how huge?" And she's mine.
It's only a matter of time before I'm standing on my tip-toes, carefully balancing the last of the blocks atop our monstrosity. At first it was just the three of us slowly putting together a wide base, picking blocks carefully, but by the time it reached my knees there were six kids surrounding the tower and frantically waving blocks at me, shouting "This one next! This one!". By now, I've had to build a stepstool from blocks just to reach the top. A gentle breeze sets it swaying under a carefully held block, and I can't help but let out a quiet, "No, no, no..." which quickly turns into a frantic "No no no nononononoooooooo!" as it finally topples down, blocks raining all over.
The kids, on the other hand, just shriek excitedly and reach for the fallen blocks, eager to start over again. Their fun is interrupted by the ring of a handbell, and another call of, "Stoooop, looook, and listeeen! Very good, friends. Now, we were going to read a book today, but it seems like we're almost out of time, so can we all clean up and get ready to go home?" A chorus of disappointed 'awwww's rings out over the yard, not the least of which is Sako's, surprisingly enough.
[ ] "You know, if we clean up after school just this once, we might have time..." [ ] This one goes here, this one goes there, that one goes over here... [ ] Wait. I'm on a mission. I should probably get this conversation rolling.
I'm mostly putting this choice in because I can't tell whether this scene has gone on for too long. Speaking of which, sorry for missing that deadline - shit got crazy, as it is wont to do. I should know better than to think I can actually get an appreciable amount of writing done during the week.
[x] Wait. I'm on a mission. I should probably get this conversation rolling.
We won't find Tenma, but we might learn the extent of Human Village's and its chronicler knowledge of the situation on Youkai Mountain. Might help in allaying the fears of the more paranoid members of some of the group.
>"A tengu and a youkai--" Hey! >"Goddess." I may not have a great deal of pride, but you don't see me calling you a dog. >With a sidelong glance that quickly goes from my head to my feet and back, he continues. "...Sure."
Your story could use more curses, even if they're only little stuff mentioned in passing. Right now Hina's own narrative reads like she's some bystander, and I understand thet, but this is someone whose existence is centered around saving the world from its own folly.
All business, some of the time, I guess? Calling it here, writing will happen Saturday at the earliest, most likely Sunday if the pattern holds true. If it takes until Monday, I am forbidding myself other activities till this update is done. I want this story to go somewhere, already.
>>20955 My thoughts exactly. Though, I get the feeling things wouldn't be such a drag if I didn't take weeks and weeks to write a few measly pages.
>>20958 As is evidenced by all o' this. Southpaw and Hina are here to find information on Hakugyokuro, and in costume for the express purpose of making this whole investigation completely unrelated to the Tengu. I'm sorry if you forgot. You're totally right about the curses, though. Gonna have to do something about that.
>>20959 ...sssssure. That sounds like a plausible enough hand-wave.
...Which won't do. We're here for a reason, after all. "Ah, excuse me, Miss K. If class is about over, may Milady and I have a word with you?" Hakugyokuro. Hakugyokuro. Get your questions straight before you even start...wait, what kind of information are we asking about? She hesitates for a moment, looking over the bustling class even as she helps put things in their places. Just as she opens her mouth to reply, though, Akyu shouts from across the lot, "Go! We can handle our own class." Hakugyokuro. Hakugyokuro. Come on, there's a million questions to ask! Why can't I think of one?! With a warm smile, Keine calls back, "Thank you," and then louder, "Bye-bye, everyone! Have a nice day!" As the kids shout their farewells, she gestures for us to follow her inside and makes her way to the door.
The inside is as colorful as the flowers of the yard's centerpiece. Every chair is another color, every knee-high table is a bizarre, abstract shape, and every wall is lined with the kids' work. From paper feet to paintings to sculptures, no spot is left untouched. The paintings are wild, thrashing strokes of random colors that seem to have been made with fingers as often as brushes, and most of the sculptures are shapeless lumps covered in buttons, tiny stones, and fuzzy string, but much like today's assignment they're all labeled with the kids' own explanations. Where there isn't a display, there's a science experiment (if an outstandingly simple one), or a collection of outfits, or a table covered in crystals, plants, and anything that looks like it'd be fun to look at through a magnifying glass. She keeps her kids busy.
The moment we get into the room and away from the din, she turns her head to us, walking around the furniture without even looking. "Thank you both for helping out today. It's more help than you know to have youkai coming in and just being friendly with them." But we aren't youkai...well, our characters aren't. Playing the part, Sako asks in an amused voice, "Youkai?" "Oh, come on. No human has the kind of resilience to climb above the cloud line with a two-person party, and no creature like that would accept you sooner than they would kill you..." Allowing herself a giggle, she adds, "Though, I suppose it didn't, now did it? Besides, your eyes are red. Even if you were human before, you can't have gotten here without making a scene in town." And in Gensokyo, a well-dressed girl with red eyes must be a youkai. Not that I have any business knowing that. "I don't see what that has to do with what we are." We stop at a door, and Keine pulls out a key ring from...where did she pull that from? I only looked away for an instant. She waits for the click of the opening lock to reply with a sly smile, "You're in Gensokyo now. It has everything to do with what you are."
The inside of the office is cramped and cluttered, shelves and cabinets overflowing with binders, and folders within them, and papers within those. There's scarcely room to walk, but somehow we all manage to squeeze in. "You see," she continues, setting her hat down on a table, "This is essentially a nature reserve for legends. Things are only as true as people believe they are, and right now I'd wager people believe that you're a monster." Sako--Southpaw. I don't know whether belief can change who you are, but if Keine says it can change what you are I'd rather not take the chance. Southpaw reels back, aghast. "A monster?! How dare you!" Keine's hands shoot up in mock defense. "In only the best sense! Youkai is just a general term for things that are neither animal nor human. You might even be considered a goddess, for all I know." I know it's just an example, but I don't like that wording. The suggestion pacifies Southpaw, at least. "I should hope so. Compared to those filthy commoners, I had may as well be one." Back to doing this again? I get that it's part of the act, but I'm getting really tired of being so...insufferable. Keine is about as pleased with it as I am. "Those filthy commoners are my people, thank you very much, and you just played among them. Where was your distaste then?" With a dismissing hmph, Southpaw replies, "Children shouldn't need to concern themselves with such things. Besides, even the baseborn can grow to greatness." With a sharp smirk, she--he adds, "Adults, though. They parade their worthlessness around like so many ragged--" "I did not invite you in to be insulted." All the warmth that she showed the children dissolves in an instant, putting us face-to-face with the other side of the village protector. This side has no patience for insolence, and no mercy for her enemies. She's not so quick to act, though, and despite her demeanor her energies seep lazily across the table, only just beginning to wrap around Southpaw. It's hard not to act on something so apparent, but I don't know how visible the effects would be. Sharp looks and sharper words do nothing to dissuade him, though. With the same conceited smile as always, he says quite simply, "I don't recall insulting you."
With anger still tinging her voice, Keine changes the subject. "You wanted to talk with me." "We did. You see, I happen to be working on an exhibit on the various myths pertaining to the afterlife, and I feel that this visit to Gensokyo is a prime opportunity to explore previously unknown grounds. Anything you can tell me would be greatly appreciated." In one fell swoop, all my fretting over what questions to ask is quieted. You're a clever one. "The afterlife," Keine repeats to herself slowly. "Interesting subject. Is there any particular reason you've chosen it for your exhibit?" "Is there any particular reason you're asking?" "I'm in the business of knowing things. Asking questions is something of a habit of mine." "I'm sure, then, that you're used to being denied answers by now." Crossing his legs, he shoots her a sharp look of his own, and finishes, "Personal reasons." Her face is still as stone as she replies, "Of course. Let me begin, then, by saying that you won't find myths here. Like I said, when people believe in something, it becomes true. You can walk to the kingdoms of death, if you so like." "Can we, now? Perhaps it would save us some time." "If you're that eager to die, yes. Living creatures have no place there." ...She doesn't mean...no. It's just that you don't go there until you die. But if you can walk there, then...does that mean we're about to die for this Tenma hunt? I'm beginning to regret choosing Hakugyokuro. If the revelation worries Southpaw at all, he doesn't show it. "Shame, that. I'd have liked to see a few of the wraiths my batallion is named for with my own eyes." "They're something to behold, I must admit. Some years ago the borders blurred for a spell, and the dead walked the land. One almost ate me, actually..." An almost nostalgic look crosses her face, though only for an instant.
"In any case. I'm not completely clear on the details, myself – I was a bit more concerned with protecting the village than asking questions about where these ghosts were coming from – but my understanding of it is that upon death, one's soul gravitates toward the shores of the Sanzu river--" Raising an eyebrow, Southpaw interrupts her. "Where is that?" "Nowhere you need concern yourself with." The refusal gets a glare out of him, but he did kind of have it coming. "When these souls reach the shore, they take residence in a living being until such time as a ferry can transport them to the hall of the Yama to be judged. To be sure that there's a vessel for them, the ferrymen tend to a field of flowers that carpets the shore for as far as the eye can see." "Would that be what the mural at your gates was depicting?" "Yes. Very astute of you." Even angry, she can appreciate a good student. "Thank you." Wasting no time, she jumps right back into her explanation. "Upon reaching a Yama, their lives are reviewed, and they are either punished for a life of cruelty, declared enlightened and sent to what most people would consider a paradise, or allowed to reincarnate. The latter is the most common result, as you may expect." "You mean to tell me the birth rate is perfectly balanced with deaths? The amount of control that would require makes it seem unlikely." Good lead-in!
"That would be where a place known as Hakugyokuro comes into play. Physical bodies take time to form, and spirits are capricious things. They can't be trusted to wander the hall of the Yama, and if they're left to their own devices they get into all sorts of mischief, as is evidenced by their behavior back when the borders were blurred." Again with that term. I can't think of a better way to describe what happened, but it still feels...strange, somehow. It was a strange occurrence, though, so I suppose that's only appropriate. "So this Hakugyokuro is where they stay until they're given form once more?" "I wouldn't call it form, so much. The spirits I saw had plenty of that." At that, she laughs lightly under her breath. Some private joke? "But yes. Their needs are tended to, and they're allowed space to wander without causing trouble until they're drawn to a new body." With a shrug, she finishes, "At least, that's my understanding of it." None of that is going to help us, though... Southpaw understands as much. "Awfully vague for one in the business of knowing things." The casual derision causes her to furrow her brow a bit. "I can only know as much as I'm exposed to. As you can see, I'm still very much alive. Is there anything else you'd like to know, or are we done here?" "If there's nothing else you can tell me, then I believe we are. Thank you for your time." Pushing himself to his feet, Southpaw offers a hand to me. "Come now, Haruka. Surely someone around here knows more than that." "Actually, would you mind terribly if I had a private word with your governess?" ...I was really hoping she'd forget about me if I just stayed quiet. I'm no actor. "I may be her lady, but she is not my pet. If she wishes to speak with you, she may." And with that, he turns for the door. Keine sets her eyes on me, asking silently whether I'll stay.
[ ] No. I don't trust myself enough to keep this up on my own. [ ] ...But then, it's just as suspicious to deny her...
[X] No. I don't trust myself enough to keep this up on my own.
She accused us of being youkai, but not of being Gensokyo natives. The first is a lot less problematic when she doesn't suspect the second, so let's not give her the chance to notice us knowing anything about Gensokyo.
[X] ...But then, it's just as suspicious to deny her...
If she hasn't seen through our disguises (any more than she's already revealed, that is) then a one on one with Hina isn't likely to do much harm, even if we accidentally let something slip. If she has, then agreeing to what she asks is the best possible damage control.
>>20997 >I'm still curious as to what you misinterpreted, though. Every mistake is a lesson and all that.
Probably because of this: >His weight is on my lap, and his head is buried in my chest. >My hands find themselves tightening around him, occasionally giving a gentle stroke through his soft but stringy hair or down his back and being rewarded with a hint of a nuzzle. Wish granted. >a wet patch that's going to need a shower to hide.
For some reason, I found that somewhat erotical. The fact that I like Hina a lot and usually see her in a more sensual way than others normally do may have had something to do with my question.
I was also reminded of how dogs tend to hump people's legs. So, yeah.
I, like 90% of the population, am running around like a blue arsed fly in direct response to Christmas. To exacerbate this, one of my closest friends is going to be leaving for Chicago for the foreseeable future on the 26th, so there's to be a going-away party this Saturday. To say the least, I don't have much time to write.
Knowing that my weekends are going to be pretty much booked, I'm going to put in an extra effort to write in the evenings, even if all I can squeeze out is a paragraph. It's likely that I won't get even that much, though; every day this week I've come home dead on my feet and it's not showing signs of stopping.
That said, I'm calling it here, as unnecessary as it is.
While I'm here, I'd just like to say thank you for commenting with your votes. Even a couple words gives me a look into your thoughts, and it's nice knowing that you have some. For that matter, thank you for voting! Even knowing that I won't be able to update for a time, I can't keep myself from checking them obsessively, and every new one is another smile.
Also! I should note (just once more for good measure) that the short stories that I'll be linking after posts are relevant, though some more than others. There will be points where the story is told as much through them as it is in this thread, so if you're the sort of person that just skims past all of that then I would highly recommend you stop.
Apart from showing that the tengu have a highly stratified racial caste system, the short story is making me seriously reconsider going the Southpaw route. He's a bully, baiting and then beating up a kid, with a group of other tengu.
It's odd that Southpaw already had his code-name, while the other tengu didn't bother, unless that was just a writer's convention.
If most of the higher ups killed each other, and the ranks of privileged tengu (crow & wolf) had been thinned by the conflict, it may be possible to turn the tengu toward self-sufficiency & self-governance, like the humans and the kappa, so that things don't fall apart the next time. And if
>>20959 >Hold on, now. For all the time Hina's spent around people, how much of it has been in-costume? She can't exactly go spontaneously breaking bones without blowing her cover.
I didn't imply that she would fix any of the village's problems; Hina decides her own workload, and it seems she's visited the village more than once. But the village is densely populated (relatively) and there there would be generations of grudges, enmity, malice, jealousy, and spite between human beings, and the most important thing that restrains them from acting on ill-will because they cannot afford to lose crop share & goods production, nor can they appear to be vulnerable.
In any case she should be able to modulate her own powers, like most Touhous. She doesn't get a compound fracture from 'seeing' a curse, but she would for consuming it.
>>21008 >I'm calling it here, as unnecessary as it is.
"I'll try to keep it brief, Milady." It may be suspicious to deny her, but she wouldn't begrudge a servant her fervor. "See that you do. I'll be admiring the garden, meager as it is." It's hard to imagine someone who would consider the school's garden anything but spectacular, but somehow Southpaw pulls it off.
As the door clicks softly behind him, I turn back to Keine, who wears a relieved smile. "Interesting company you're keeping these days." She knows? She can't know. Where did I slip up? No, it's a test. I've read about this sort of thing. Just keep smiling. "I'm sorry, have we met?" The relief on her face turns to a sly mirth, and with a smirk she says, "Several times, as a matter of fact. I believe the most recent was a domestic dispute? How's that burn?" Well, crap. In a way, though, this makes things easier. You can never relax when you're undercover. "It's mostly healed by now. I'd give it another night before it's unnoticeable." Her eyebrows raise a bit at that, but her smile doesn't budge. "I'm always amazed at how quickly you get over these things." "It's why I do it." Better my three days to their three months. I don't even have the scars to show for it. This time, her smile widens a bit. "It's refreshing, seeing someone so dedicated to..." She hesitates for a moment, unsure of what to call it. There's certainly a few choices that come to mind, nicknames stemming from the bars and the markets. I'm not a major enough goddess that I go unquestioned, and even the people who don't think I'm a fake agree that I'm a lunatic. As long as they're happy, healthy nay-sayers, they can think what they like.
I get her message well enough, in any case. "It's good of you to say so. I doubt you wanted to keep me just to ask after the burn, though." Keine is a busy enough woman as it is. She's not one to squander her time. "Why are you asking about Hakugyokuro?" Right to the point, then. Her eyes demand the truth. "Personal reasons." Eyes don't tend to back up demands, though. She studies me in silence for a moment that's as long as it is uncomfortable. "You're not trying to revive someone chasing one of these curses of yours, are you?" I wouldn't be the first one to have delusions of bringing back the dead. I wouldn't be the first to fail, either. "I'm not that tragically uninformed, but thank you for the concern." "You realize that Hakugyokuro is--" "The realm of the dead, yes." No warm body has a place there. "Then why?" She doesn't raise her voice at all, but her tone is as hard as her glare. "If you keep looking, you'll find a way in, and then the world will lose a goddess and one of her followers. You know that as well as I do." She lets silence fall over the closet-like office again, its walls pressing for an answer just as heavily as her glare.
I'm not sure I have one, frankly. She's right about the danger – I've heard more than enough stories to know that nothing good comes from toying with the place. In the meeting room, surrounded by tengu who call this a decent challenge, and with the tension and the weight of it all, it hardly registered, but...there's a fair chance that none of us will come back. I may be above a few assaults, but death is greater than divinity, and all they have going for them is their lineage.
All the more reason to help, though. Even if they did capture me, it was a result of their situation. I can't blame them for that. Besides, they've more than earned my trust by now. Goose gave up sleeping for three nights, Grey trusted me with his family, and Southpaw has...been confusing. He's either slow to come around or slow to accept that he's come around. It seems like he's having a good time, though, so he can't think too poorly of me. Hood is...well, he can't be too bad if those three trust him well enough to lead them. And he did respect me, once they voted to listen to me. Besides all of that, this isn't just the fate of a family. I could be the difference between saving an entire civilization and dooming it.
Not that I can tell her that. "Nothing, huh?" With a sigh, she relaxes in her seat. "It's not that, it's just..." To be honest, though, the question makes me think on why I'm doing all of this in the first place. "I haven't really considered it, myself." The answer gets a small, incredulous laugh out of her. "Of course, I am now." Shaking her head a bit, she replies softly, "I had you figured for a smarter woman, Hina. Most people don't volunteer for a life of servitude and ridicule without thinking it over first." I did, though. I could swear I did...didn't I? It was so long ago.
It doesn't matter now, of course. These days, I'm doing it because...
[ ] It's my duty. [ ] It's my life. [ ] It's my love. [ ] It's...more.
Psst. This decides the theme of the next short I write. I like giving some control of who Hina is to you guys; it makes me feel better about going on auto-pilot for 2000 words sometimes.
Speaking of, check out what I'm not doing. This is embarrassingly short for how long it took, and I apologize for that. However, I come with good news: I've come to the realization that I am entirely in charge of how I live my life, and have begun to take steps to drastically improve things around here, which includes writing more often. Discipline, motherfuckers! The plan is to keep updates a bit more brisk when I can, so that writing doesn't seem so monumental a task after a long day. My goal is two updates a week, but if this works out well I might end up pushing three. Who knows!
I just really hope I don't make a bunch of promises that I can't keep. I hate not keeping my promises.
[x] This isn't my job, my hobby, my habit, it's sad - but this is my life.
>My goal is two updates a week, but if this works out well I might end up pushing three. Who knows!
There was a time when I was posting at great frequency, but then I burned out badly and took an arrow to the knee month and a half to produce an absurdly tiny update. You might want to consider doing one a week, so that you don't suffer my fate.
Let's think about this from Hina's perspective. She is a goddess, not just any youkai or human, which means she was born with an express purpose: To remove curses and misfortune from humans. (and other beings?)
Now, if I were in her place, I'd actually probably be pretty bitter about the whole thing. Since curses are usually placed by humans to other humans, your life would basically to be to clean up after humans' stupid mistakes generation after generation, like a mother with perpetually misbehaving children that don't grow up. I would do it grudgingly, only out of obligation and to get enough faith not to disappear.
Let's think about this from Hina's perspective. She is a goddess, not just any youkai or human, which means she was born with an express purpose: To remove curses and misfortune from humans. (and other beings?)
Now, if I were in her place, I'd actually probably be pretty bitter about the whole thing. Since curses are usually placed by humans to other humans, your life would basically to be to clean up after humans' stupid mistakes generation after generation, like a mother with perpetually misbehaving children that don't grow up. I would do it grudgingly, only out of obligation and to get enough faith not to disappear.
>>21108 >Let's think about this from Hina's perspective. She is a goddess, not just any youkai or human, which means she was born with an express purpose: >To remove curses and misfortune from humans. (and other beings?)
Or to put curses. Curse gods weren't created to remove curses, but as means to cursing people. The fact that Hina actually removes them, makes her a somehwat paradoxical figure, which would explain why she has no worshippers.
>Now, if I were in her place, I'd actually probably be pretty bitter about the whole thing. Since curses are usually placed by humans to other humans, your life would basically to be to clean up after humans' stupid mistakes generation after generation, like a mother with perpetually misbehaving children that don't grow up. I would do it grudgingly, only out of obligation and to get enough faith not to disappear.
Curses can be put by anyone to anyone else. She doesn't help others to gain faith, as she is completely oblivious to any possible worshipper she might have. If she faith was her objective, she wouldn't be so passive about it.
At first I was going to say I love discussion but people are presuming a bit much, and then I read through it again and realized that by the nature of the choice, there are no presumptions - only who you want Hina to be.
I was gonna write tonight, but I worked my first 11-hour shift Monday and followed it up with my first 12-hour shift Tuesday. I need to...not...work. Maybe have some human contact with someone who isn't my boss. Voting (and discussion? Maybe?) is open till tomorrow, assuming I'm not overly encumbered by chores.
>>21110 I was going to argue those points, but then I realized it's kind of pointless since it's a matter of pure personal preference rather than clear cut fact. The main thing is, I thought a cynical Hina could make for a more interesting character and a conflict to resolve, but I guess that boat has already sailed as far as this story is concerned.
Though, that does give me an idea for a story hook. Hmm....
Solidarity vote. [x] It's my ℒℴ????ℯ Hina's emergence as goddess would probably be born out of faith of some humans, as small as it may be, in that while misfortune pervades the earth, there also exists sanctuary, even in the form of some anonymous benefactor--the world is not an inherently cruel and unforgiving place.
Still, while that may be the reason for her genesis, she has free will, her own set of human-like emotions, and specific circumstances that would color her introspection now.
But that's just, like, my opinion, man.
>>21115 >The more I think about it...the more I think that Tenma isn't in Hakugyokuro. Call it a hunch.
Well, I thought the idea was to confirm that Tenma isn't dead.
>>21110 >Or to put curses. Curse gods weren't created to remove curses, but as means to cursing people. The fact that Hina actually removes them, makes her a somehwat paradoxical figure, which would explain why she has no worshippers. She isn't a curse god, she is a nagashi-bina. Was a doll, is a spirit of these dolls or their personification and manifestation I don't know. The thing is - she was born to relieve curses from people. That doesn't change no matter the interpretation of how she does it. [X] It's my life. But in a way that it's not what gives and prolongs her life, more like she can't imagine herself doing anything else, serving another reason or having other occupation. Except that in my eyes she doesn't see it as a "must no matter what" like "duty" option. She simply does it, like when you simply help someone without thinking that it's manly or something that "a Human must do or else you can't call yourself that". Speaking of which - does she need food, or she needs only energy and curses she absorbs to nourish her body? Well, at least in this story?
>>21121 I knew it will be misinterpreted, but was to lazy to delete and clarify with repost. I mean Hina is not a paradox or a contradiction. Even if the professions/affinities are the same she is not meant to curse people by default too. But that's minor and I can't find words to explain and I don't give a fuck.
So this...this is probably either the weakest or strongest excuse I have ever given, but I seem to have fallen face-first into a relationship of sorts. That whole twice-a-week thing? Nah.
The next update is done, but the corresponding short is not. I could post it now and finish the short before starting the next update, or...actually, you know, that seems like a pretty good idea. It won't throw too much off and y'all can vote while I'm finishing up. I'm still not gonna be done for a little longer than I had expected though.
...there's nothing in the world I'd rather be doing. "If I can die knowing that my life was spent helping people, I'll be happy. That's all I need." Lunacy, indeed. I just hope it isn't the sort that cuts my life short. "I suppose that makes two of us," she agrees, softening her tone. "But I still can't advocate trying to get into Hakugyokuro. Wouldn't you rather stay alive long enough to help more people?" As long as I'm alive, I can't let something like this stand. Not when I know I can do something. Holding back hurts. Some would call it weakness, but some don't rely on their reputation for their life. Still, if it means their secret is protected, I can take the hit. I've certainly taken worse. "Perhaps I'm a fool, but I just can't pass up someone in need." Even a half-truth still isn't the truth.
Finally seeing that I won't budge, she relaxes her stance, sinking in her chair. "Is there any other way?" ...Well. I suppose I can tell a little. "Would you have me go to Makai?" Mistake. "Do not." Her voice suddenly turns to distant thunder, rumbling quietly with the threat of coming doom. Her entire body goes rigid, and her eyes bore into my skull. I wasn't planning on it, though, so there's no reason to be scared. "Hakugyokuro it is," I reply with a smile. "At least let me know how you'd like your corpse to be handled, if we find you." With a sullen look, she adds, "The village owes you that much." "That's assuming I leave one." Wait no agh. I meant it as a comfort, but from the grimace it's clear she imagined something...worse. "I mean...Relax. I won't die." She stares me down, discomfort in her eyes. I suppose I owe her a concession. "...Put me in a boat at the shore by my house, and set it aflame." It goes out to ocean, so the fire won't cause any trouble. There are other ways I might prefer, but I feel like I could at least give my mourners a show...if I have any.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I did promise I would keep this brief." If we can't find any information here, we can't afford to waste time dawdling. As I gather myself and stand up, she does the same. "Just one more thing before you go?" I suppose one more question couldn't hurt, no. A raised eyebrow is enough to get her to continue, though she hesitates for a moment. Her mouth hangs open for a half-second, the question caught in her throat, before she asks in barely a whisper, "Why was that tengu boy wearing a dress?"
I did not just hear that. I...did not just hear that. I did not just hear that.
"...He didn't want to be recognized as a tengu boy." There's no point lying to her at this point, but that doesn't mean I can't be curt. "Fair enough." But...he would have fooled me. Occasionally, he actually did. "How did you know, though?" Giving me a smile almost as unctuous as Remilia's, she purrs, "I happen to be in the business of knowing things." She allows herself her victorious moment, but quickly softens her demeanor again. "Have a good day, and," Giving her lip a quick bite and looking off to a corner for just the blink of an eye, she continues, "I'll make sure the people know you were one of the good ones." One of the good ones...Of course. It'll be nice to be remembered. There's a sort of...unrest in the village, these days. Humans don't seem to be so quick to accept youkai into their lives. Even when Alice, the most genial youkai I've had the pleasure to meet (when she's not working at least) had first moved in, it was routine to see that vandals had attacked her house. She would only rebuild it each time, more beautiful than the last.
They've been given good reason to be wary, of course, but you'd think they would sooner keep their distance than invite this imagined wrath of theirs. Traders have been welcome for some time, of course, but having more than a stall that you run during the day is...more difficult. Some warm up to us, some don't. Alice still has to repaint three times a year or so. Because of their reception, a good number of youkai are just as quick to paint the humans as thoughtless, heartless beasts, born only to be slain. I don't know which is worse, but I want nothing more than to put an end to both. If I do, "One of the good ones" won't have meaning. Wouldn't that be something! "Thank you, Keine. I'll see you later." The only sound after I turn my back is the click of the closing door, which doesn't open again until after I've emerged into the yard.
Southpaw is, as promised, sitting on the previously occupied bench, admiring the mountain of flowers at the center of the school. "I'm sorry for the wait, Milady." "It's quite all right. Shall we retire for the day? I grow so weary." This early? We haven't even found any leads. "The sun has yet to even set. Why not continue our hunt?" Playing out that story got me in the mood for an adventure, and it was actually fun. I could have done worse for my end of the search. When I look at Southpaw, though, he turns his head, blocking his face with his bonnet. "I am not in the habit of repeating myself." Is he...blushing?
...Dog ears. He heard.
[ ] Tease him. Tease him subtly, while you can. [ ] Tease him. Turn that rose into a tomato. [ ] Be merciful. Pretend you can't see a thing.
[ ] I insist! The adventure must continue! [ ] Back to Alice's, we'll figure something out on the way.
For reference, just posting this took me two hours.
[x] Tease him. Tease him subtly, while you can. [x] Back to Alice's, we'll figure something out on the way. No need to come on too strong, but I can't resist a bit of teasing. The light teasing also makes it easier to stay in character for the way back.
So I know it looks like I got a girlfriend and completely forgot about writing (which is partially true), but by sheer coincidence a number of very personal issues have cropped up as well. I am a stranger in my own home, and that is not an environment conducive to writing. Please be patient while I try to sort all this out.
No, I am not dead. No, I have not forgotten about this site, this story, or you guys, and no, I don't really have a great excuse for taking this long. Things have, for the most part, cleared up on my end; details are details and can largely be ignored with one glaring exception.
I don't have the internet.
Now, you could say this is a minor thing to work around. I've worked around it before, when all I had to do on weekends was either write or drink, but that much has changed drastically for the better and my motivation to write now has to compete with other things I've always had an interest in, but which I've never quite started. This is much harder to do when my computer sits in a largely unused room, itself serving little more function than a really neat typewriter - I've barely turned the thing on twice since last I posted. It's easier to want to write when I'm already sitting there, hands on the keyboard, surrounded by people who I know would read it.
It's also becoming abundantly clear that weekend time is exclusively girlfriend time, which means my mindset for writing needs to shift from a three-to-six hour session on Saturday morning to...not. I know that one's a bit of a groaner, but hey, man. You take the time you can get, and mine is at a premium.
I promised that this story would see its end one way or another, and I fully intend to make good on that promise. I'm sorry I've made you all wait so long, and I'm sorry that after such a wait all I come with is promise of more waiting, but...there is no but, I suppose. Hopefully my plans will make this story worth it.
Well, no wonder he wants to call it a day. It won't be easy to keep this cover up now that one person has seen through it. "As you say, Milady." ...I can't resist an opportunity like this, though. "...Are you unwell? Your face is flushing." At its mere mention, it deepens. Delightful. "I am merely tired, and the afternoon is so hot." That's a pretty weak excuse with so many people starting to wear their winter clothes. Donning a puzzled look, I extend my daintiest hand to the air. "Is that so? The breeze seems so brisk against my skin. Perhaps you are simply unaware of your own illness." It's a struggle to keep the grin from my face as I reach to feel his reddening forehead, but – miraculously – it stays down. …if only because it's banished as he slaps my hand away sharply. That was actually hard enough to hurt a bit. "I'm not such a fool that I would mistake illness for heat, but I understand if you're enough of one to mistake heat for illness. Just be careful you're not such a fool as to cross me again. Come, now, Haruka. We've a long walk ahead of us." With an only slightly rushed step, he trots off toward the exit. Okay, okay, I get the picture. In the name of the mission, then. "Perhaps we should avoid the main streets, then. It’s unbecoming to show such a deep blush in front of commoners, you know. Why, they might even suspect that something was…awry." That doesn't count as teasing, does it? It's a legitimate concern!
For a second, his eyes widen and his lips tighten, but his blush gets darker all the same. Maybe he misunderstood... "I mean..." I don't really know how to say this in code. I'm sick of having to dance around people's words, anyways. Leaning in to whisper, I cup my hands to his ear and breathe, "For the sake of our disguises." "Haruka." His voice is almost a bark, getting just a bit deeper than I'd expect from the lady he pretends to be. The suddenness of it makes me jump back a bit. "You forget your place." ...Maybe too far. "My sincerest apologies, Milady. It won't happen again." Though I'm still not entirely certain just what it was that I did. "See that it doesn't." His face still flushed, he tries (and fails) not to stomp off toward the street we went down to get here. There's nothing I can do but attempt to keep up, and that proves a monumental effort without putting some spin on things. Just a tiny bit would be enough...And there's no one looking anyways. When I cave in (like I always do) and catch up, there's still a small portion of empty campus ahead of us, leaving me a chance to try and talk him down a bit. We’re still in costume, and that means we still have a cover to blow. "Milady, I--" "You will be silent. I've heard enough of your insolence for one day." Ouch. At least I know he got the message before.
I can't just let this go on unresolved, though. What could have made him so wroth? "Southpaw." The word is so quiet I can't even hear it myself, but he spins on his heel, arm stopped midair with four fingers rigid. Was...he about to slap me? With eyes like fire in a furious scowl that almost makes him look like Hood, he says in a growl, "What." Go on, Hina. You're too deep to stop digging now. "I really am sorry, but...what did I do?" He stares at me for a moment before letting his hand drop to his side. "Now is not the time, and here is not the place. We will discuss this, though, I promise you." I don't like the tone of that 'promise'...
Without letting me get another word in, he continues walking – a bit more calmly, this time, but still clearly agitated – and before I know it we're gliding through the markets again. In a way, his anger serves as an even better disguise than our fake refinement. All these people have seen a calm, happy lady, and then the same one returning from where she came not distraught but furious. Even the ones who weren't here hours ago know to make space for her; there may have been a bubble around us before, but the streets empty before us this time. It's a sad sign of the life they live these days – even with Keine's protection, they're constantly aware that an incident can start at any moment. It's just another source of distrust and distaste for anyone they see but don't immediately know. Even without focusing, I can feel their idle curses weighing on us just for appearing well-off.
The streets pass by in a blur at the pace Southpaw keeps, and before I have time to come to some conclusion on what I did wrong, we're under the hanging gardens with a hand on that great oak door.
The inside of the shop hasn't changed much from the last time we were here, of course. Whether she's working or playing, you can almost always find Alice at her desk, stitching away at some new outfit. It's a wonderful thing, being able to say that your work is something you truly love, and in a way it's what drew us together. This time, though, when she sees us through the swarm of dolls, she smiles and stands from her desk. Seems her current project is just for fun. "Hey, you two. Have fun?" The complete shift always throws me off a bit, but it's nice to see her relax. "I'd say so. It's always rather interesting visiting the markets." My mind flashes back to the man dancing down the street, and the image evokes a bit of a giggle. Something tells me it's going to for some time. "We didn't get much information, though." Adopting a mock concern, she replies, "Why, that's awful. You'd think you were suspicious newcomers asking strangers about a place that no living creature has ever had business with." "I know! People these days." Playing along gets a little laugh out of us both, but Southpaw seems unamused. He's also keeping up that angry face of his. Maybe we should get him out of that dress. "So, Takashi. I suppose you'll be wanting out of that dress?" Once again, Alice is on point. As he speaks, he keeps every muscle not necessary for it frozen. "And the bloomers, and the bonnet, and the corset. Yes." ...Except that he raises his arm daintily, offering a limp hand to be guided back to her dressing room. "If you would." Seems he does have a sense of humor!
The undressing process is a bit more straightforward than the dressing process was, seeing as there's only one outfit involved. Alice keeps a close eye on him (which results in much more blushing, though I can't tell whether it's angry or embarrassed any more) to ensure that his feet don't drag on an errant frill. Her earlier threats come to mind when I see the sharp eyes she keeps on Southpaw throughout the process, to the exclusion of all conversation. When he's finally out of the dress, though, she adopts the same smile she had when we entered. "Lovely, lovely. Takashi, would you come downstairs with me?" He hesitates for a moment, but ultimately gathers his courage and replies, "I'd rather stay here. Hina and I have something to discuss." "You can discuss it downstairs when she's done here. A lady needs some privacy to dress herself. Hina, you take your time." Frankly, I'd like him to stay too, but--wait a minute. "Aww, you trust me that much?" I knew we were friends, but with how serious she was getting about the dress this really means a lot. "What, with those rags?" Or not. "I could stitch those together in ten minutes. I'm going somewhere I can actually inspect these." ...Well, she did say 'a single thread'. Stopping at the door for a moment, she adds one final, "I did say 'a single thread."
With a look that falls somewhere between forlorn and utterly terrified, Southpaw leaves me to the dressing room. It's nice being able to take my time with my normal dress, but this really would have been a wonderful time to discuss things. There aren't even any dolls to overhear us...probably. Don't get paranoid, Hina. Even if they were hiding under her bed or in the closet or under those sheets or inside that box, they would just be dolls. Dolls can't overhear you, or judge you, or watch your every motion. Why does she even have so many dolls? I mean, I guess it's her thing, but there have to be hundreds of them around here. Even just one hundred wouldn't be that creepy...except it probably would, actually.
Stop it! Just get dressed and get out of here. We have more to do...though I'm not really sure what that could be. I guess Southpaw's in charge of the mission. He'll know where to take this. In relatively short order, I'm back in my big girl boots, opening the door back into the store. Alice has her magnifying glasses on again, and is slowly running each article of clothing Southpaw borrowed underneath them while he sits off in a corner. The dolls in the shop are still for a change. Some sit around idly, while others look over Alice's shoulder, which I have to admit is almost as adorable as it is disturbing. When Southpaw sees me, he hops from the stool he'd occupied. "Hey, sorry for the wait." I could have dressed faster, but these ribbons are just such a pain, and I couldn't leave without looking under the bed. He doesn't seem all too bothered by it though. "It's all right. Let's just get out of here." With a quick stretch of his legs, he sets off for the exit at a brisk pace...
...only to be stopped by a wall of dolls who seemed to appear from nowhere. Each one has a stern expression, a stout shield, and a sharp, long lance. There must be at least thirty there, and each one stares us right in the eyes. Some even dart between the two of us to keep a point at our backs. Just dolls. Just dolls. They're just dolls...just...just dolls...
"I'm sorry, did I say that you could leave, or did you just forget about that world of pain?" Oh, no. Oh, no no no no no. "I'm not finished inspecting this dress. You can have a seat over there," She gestures vaguely toward a couch stuffed in a corner of the room, "While I figure out how fucked you are." By the sound of it, that is not "Not at all." I can at least hope it's just "A little," but knowing Alice... Southpaw doesn't seem much more confident than I am. His ears and tail are tucked low, and all the anger in his eyes is reduced to smoldering.
[ ] Comfort him. It might not count for much, but it's something. [ ] Get his mind off it. Talk about why he was angry before. [ ] Just stay silent and reflect on your life while you can.
Yeah, sorry about all this. As it turns out, balancing a healthy relationship (with someone who lives an hour and a half away), a full-time job, and night courses takes up a lot of your time. I'd like to say I'll be trying to update more often, but there's kind of too much for me to handle as it is. I haven't stopped thinking about writing, and I do occasionally sit down and get a couple paragraphs out, but things are gonna be pretty slow for a while.
Well, no wonder he wants to call it a day. One person's already seen through his disguise; he's lost his confidence in it and now it's even easier. "As you say, Milady." ...If we're already going back, though. "...Are you unwell? Your face is flushing." At its mere mention, it deepens. Delightful. "I am simply tired, and the afternoon is so hot." That's a pretty weak excuse with so many people starting to wear their winter clothes. Donning a puzzled look, I extend my daintiest hand to the air. "Is that so? The air seems so crisp, and the breeze is so brisk. Perhaps your illness is merely sneaking up on you." It's a struggle to keep the grin from my face as I reach to feel his reddening forehead, but miraculously it stays down. …if only because it's banished as he slaps my hand away sharply. That was actually hard enough to hurt a bit. "I'm not such a fool that I would mistake illness for heat, but I understand if you're enough of one to mistake heat for illness." His voice drops to a (particularly ladylike) growl, and his eyes go as sharp as the teeth he keeps hidden. "Just be careful you're not such a fool as to cross me again. Come, now, Haruka. We've a long walk ahead of us." With an only slightly rushed step, he trots off toward the exit. Okay, okay, I get the picture. In the name of the mission, then. "Perhaps we should avoid the main streets, then. It’s unbecoming to show such a deep blush in front of commoners, you know. Why, they might even suspect that something was…awry." That doesn't count as teasing, does it? It's a legitimate concern!
For a second, his eyes widen and his lips tighten, but his blush gets darker all the same. Maybe he misunderstood... "I mean..." I don't really know how to say this in code. I'm sick of having to dance around people's words, anyways. Leaning in to whisper, I cup my hands to his ear and breathe, "For the sake of our disguises." "Haruka." His voice is almost a bark, getting just a bit deeper than I'd expect from the lady he pretends to be. The suddenness of it makes me jump back a bit. "You forget your place." ...Maybe too far. "My sincerest apologies, Milady. It won't happen again." Though I'm still not entirely certain just what 'It' is. "See that it doesn't." His face still flushed, he tries (and fails) not to stomp off toward the street we went down to get here. There's nothing I can do but attempt to keep up, and that proves a monumental effort without putting some spin on things. Just a tiny bit would be enough...And there's no one looking anyways. When I cave in (like I always do) and catch up, there's still a small portion of empty campus ahead of us, leaving me a chance to try and talk him down a bit. We’re still in costume, and that means we still have a cover to blow. "Milady, I--" "You will be silent. I've heard enough of your insolence for one day." Ouch.
I can't just let this go on unresolved, though. What could have made him so wroth? "Southpaw." The word is so quiet I can't even hear it myself, but he spins on his heel, arm stopped midair with four fingers rigid. Was...he about to slap me? With eyes like fire in a furious scowl that almost makes him look like Hood, he says – mouths, really, "What." Go on, Hina. You're too deep to stop digging now. "I really am sorry, but...what exactly did I do to make you this angry?" He stares at me for a moment before letting his hand drop to his side. "Now is not the time, and here is not the place. We will discuss this, though, I promise you." Somehow his not-threats are more threatening than anything up to now, despite being in-character.
Without letting me get another word in, he continues walking – a bit more calmly, this time, but still clearly agitated – and before I know it we're gliding through the markets again. In a way, his anger serves as an even better disguise than our fake refinement. All these people have seen calm, happy ladies, and all these people have seen angry ladies. Even the ones who weren't here to see us before know to make space for her; there may have been a bubble around us last time, but now the streets empty before us. It's a sad sign of the life they live these days – even with Keine's protection, they're constantly aware that an incident can start at any moment. It's just another source of distrust and distaste for anyone they see but don't immediately know. Even without focusing, I can feel their idle curses weighing on us just for appearing well-off.
The streets pass by in a blur at the pace Southpaw keeps, his hurried steps keeping my thoughts from straightening out, and before I have time to come to some conclusion on what I did wrong we're under the hanging gardens with a hand on that great oak door.
The inside of the shop hasn't changed much from the last time we were here, of course. Whether she's working or playing, you can almost always find Alice at her desk, stitching away at some new outfit. It's a wonderful thing, being able to say that your work is something you truly love, and in a way it's what drew us together. When she sees us through the swarm of dolls, she smiles and stands from her desk. Seems her current project is one of her own. "Hey, you two. Have fun?" The cheerful mood throws me off a bit; I've been seeing it less and less often these days, as her business is getting bigger and bigger. It's nice to see her relax for a change. "I'd say so. There's always something interesting to see in the markets." My mind flashes back to the man dancing down the street, and the image evokes a bit of a giggle. Something tells me it's going to for some time. "We didn't get much information, though." Adopting a mock concern, she replies, "Why, that's awful. You'd think you were suspicious newcomers asking strangers about a place that no living creature has ever had business with." "I know! People these days." Playing along gets a little laugh out of us both, but Southpaw seems unamused. He's also keeping up that angry face of his. Maybe we should get him out of that dress. "So, Takashi. I suppose you'll be wanting out of that dress?" Once again, Alice is on point. As he speaks, he keeps every muscle not necessary for it frozen. "And the bloomers, and the bonnet, and the corset. Yes." ...Except that he raises his arm daintily, offering a limp hand to be guided back to her dressing room. "If you would." Seems he does have a sense of humor!
The undressing process is a bit more straightforward than the dressing process was, seeing as there's only one outfit involved. Alice keeps a close eye on him (which results in much more blushing, though I can't tell whether it's angry or embarrassed any more) to ensure that his feet don't drag on an errant frill. Her earlier threats come to mind when I see the sharp eyes she keeps on Southpaw throughout the process, to the exclusion of all conversation. When he's finally out of the dress, though, she adopts the same smile she had when we entered. "Lovely, lovely. Takashi, would you come downstairs with me?" He hesitates for a moment, but ultimately gathers his courage and replies, "I'd rather stay here. Hina and I have something to discuss." "You can discuss it downstairs when she's done here. A lady needs some privacy to dress herself. Hina, you take your time." Frankly, I'd like him to stay too, but--wait a minute. "Aww, you trust me that much?" I knew we were friends, but with how serious she was getting about the dress this really means a lot. "What, with those rags?" Or not. "I could stitch those together in ten minutes. I'm going somewhere I can actually inspect these." ...Well, she did say 'a single thread'. Stopping at the door for a moment, she adds one final, "I did say 'a single thread.'"
With a look like a man marching off to his death, Southpaw leaves me to the dressing room. It's nice being able to take my time with my normal dress, but this really would have been a wonderful time to discuss things. There aren't even any dolls to overhear us...probably. Don't get paranoid, Hina. Even if they were hiding under her bed or in the closet or under those sheets or inside that box, they would just be dolls. Dolls can't overhear you, or judge you, or watch your every motion. Why does she even have so many dolls? I mean, I guess it's her thing, but there have to be hundreds of them around here. Even just one hundred wouldn't be that creepy...except it probably would, actually.
Stop it! Just get dressed and get out of here. We have more to do...though I'm not really sure what that could be. I guess Southpaw's in charge of the mission. He'll know where to take this. In relatively short order, I'm back in my big girl boots, opening the door back into the store. Alice has her magnifying glasses on again, and is slowly running each article of clothing Southpaw borrowed underneath them while he sits off in a corner. The dolls in the shop are still for a change. Some sit around idly, while others look over Alice's shoulder, which I have to admit is almost as adorable as it is disturbing. When Southpaw sees me, he hops from the stool he'd occupied. "Hey, sorry for the wait." I could have dressed faster, but these ribbons are just such a pain, and I couldn't leave without looking under the bed. He doesn't seem all too bothered by it though. "It's all right. Let's just get out of here." With a quick stretch of his legs, he sets off for the exit at a brisk pace...
...only to be stopped by a wall of dolls who seemed to appear from nowhere. Each one has a stern expression, a stout shield, and a sharp, long lance. There must be at least thirty there, and each one stares us dead in the eyes. Some even dart between the two of us to keep a point at our backs. Just dolls. Just dolls. They're just dolls...just...just dolls...
"I'm sorry, did I say that you could leave, or did you just forget about that world of pain?" Oh, no. Oh, no no no no no. "I'm not finished inspecting this dress. You can have a seat over there," She gestures vaguely toward a couch stuffed in a corner of the room, "While I figure out how fucked you are." By the sound of it, that is not "Unfucked." I can at least hope it's just "A little fucked," but knowing Alice... Southpaw doesn't seem much more confident than I am. His ears and tail are tucked low, and all the anger in his eyes is reduced to smoldering.
[ ] Comfort him. It might not count for much, but it's something. [ ] Get his mind off it. Talk about...something. Anything. [ ] Just stay silent and reflect on your life while you can.
I am so, so sorry it took me this long. Much and more has happened in the interim. Much and more continues to happen. I've said it before, and no one has any reason to believe me, but I am going to make it a point to write more often. It's good for my mental health. I missed you, THP. Let's make this story.
This is taking longer than I thought and I'm beginning to get antsy to write. I also want to get some practice before I get back into the swing of things. Who do you want the next background short story to be about?
Bread of No Consequence!Pr17GXUZvo2013/07/03 (Wed) 13:11No. 22612▼
Seconds pass and become minutes while Alice looks over every single thread that may or may not have been pulled, stained, frayed, cut, burned, tampered with, or any other such unfortunate verb, and all I can do is stare and wonder what went wrong as my throat tightens and my heart races. One angry friend is suddenly two. One likely put more time into that dress than she did into me, and the other is my...captor. Can't forget that I'm the liability right now. It makes me wonder what good it is to be a goddess if everyone I know is more capable than me, anyways.
Optimism! I'm surrounded by friends! They'll forgive anything that might have happened. Right? I mean, there's no way Alice would ACTUALLY kill me over a dress. Or her dolls. All those dolls. She can't really control all of them, can she? I mean, some of them look downright menacing. In fact...oh god, they're staring me down. I need to get my mind off of this, fast, and from the look of it so does Southpaw. I may have messed up, but I can make up for it! Hopefully. Possibly. Maybe?
...But how do I start... "I'm, uh. Sorry." My voice barely cracks through my quivering throat. I almost clear it to repeat myself, until I remember who I'm talking to. He looks over, squinting just a bit before spitting out a monotone, "For what." I still don't know what he was angry about, and it seems like he knows damn well that I don't. "For..." For what, indeed. We'd been prodding each other all morning, hadn't we? "For agitating you." I couldn't have known he would react THAT poorly. Nor do I know why he reacts so poorly to this. All he does is glare and turn back to Alice, resting his forehead on folded hands and visibly struggling to take slow, even breaths, leaving me wondering how to continue. "I sho-" "Shut up." The one eye that I can see from beside him shoots open with a twitch, sending a shiver down my spine. "Just shut up, for one second. Please." I'm all too happy to oblige. Alice isn't so intimidated. "He's right, you know. I work faster in the silence." She lifts her glasses for a moment to get a better look at us, her expression unchanging. "Although you might want to get a few last words in, if you're going to. Seems like you two might need it." After unceremoniously informing us of our imminent deaths, she flips her glasses back down and returns to her work.
Minutes pass in silence, the words catching in my throat every time I find more to attempt. If Southpaw is going to talk to me, it'll be when he's ready to talk to me. All I can do until then is wait.
The only sound in the room for what feels like hours is the ticking of a tall, dark, ornate grandfather clock that seems like the pounding of a drum. It's no wonder, either; there's so much tension in the air you could play a song on it. Even through the terror, neither Southpaw nor I dare to so much as breathe loudly. When she finally stands from her desk, Alice approaches us with slow, measured steps, each tapping the floor to the beat of a pendulum. A glance tells me that the entire process only took fifteen minutes, as impossible as it seems. Maybe I'm getting used to this Tengu pace? No, no, that's ridiculous. I'll never get used to being able to outrun my own screams. Not that I really could. Grey, maybe...I should ask about that why am I thinking about this right now?
A surprisingly rough hand finds itself on my shoulder, its twin resting on Southpaw's as Alice looks between the two of us with a smile. "You owe me." Oh no. Oh, please no. "But...but we tried so hard! I didn't see a spot on that dress when we walked in, either." Not even on the frills! Not even on the shoes! "We failed. Accept it, survive it, move on." You're not helping! Some people actually listen to reason, we're not all tengu in here. Adopting a scolding tone to match her unamused face, she continues, "Interrupting me doesn't make your point stronger, you know."
Breaking away from us with the understanding that there'll be no more of that, she walks back to her project, needing something to multitask with. "Now, like I said. You two owe me. You do not, however, owe me your souls. At that, she allows herself a smirk. "Yet. Now, as I said, you will be in a world of pain," and the expression draws a shudder out of both Southpaw and me, "but which one in particular I have yet to decide. Hina, you and I are good friends by now, and I owe you quite a lot. For the sake of that friendship, I'm going to go easy on you." Oh thank goodness.
"Takashi, however, was the one who wore the dress and, thus, will be getting the worst of this." A slow, resigned sigh escapes him, making me wonder whether he had planned for this from the moment he donned the disguise. "He doesn't seem the sort to have patience for Marisa's shit." "Wait. Marisa?" Like. My Marisa? Reading my face like a book, she smiles. "Oh, you know her already? That makes this really easy for you, then. Basically, I want you to keep her distracted for a day. Two, if you can manage it." "That doesn't seem terribly difficult. Why call that a world of pain?" She seemed pleasant enough when we visited the Scarlet mansion. Sure, she stole a book or two...actually. How much of her things were stolen, I wonder? All those scrolls and books. The only reason she gave Patchouli's book back was because of my insistence. She also lied quite a bit...but under the circumstances, I can't blame her. Not after the day we spent together. "Careful, Hina. I might just have to make your punishment harsher if you keep making this sound so easy." I want to believe she's joking, but I don't dare to test her. "So. Just keep her away from me and away from my shop for a couple days." Southpaw almost deflates with relief, but his stance stays carefully protected. "Done. How can we find her?" Gently laughing to herself, she says, "Oh, don't you worry about any of that. She'll be here any minute now." Her dirtier business done, her attitude softens. Part of me wonders if all of this was just some kind of joke to her. After all this time, I still can't pin her sense of humor sometimes. "If you want to have that discussion you mentioned before, I can show you to somewhere private. Had you mentioned that it was sensitive, I could have just locked you in a closet while she changed." See? It's stuff like that...
Southpaw wastes no time accepting her offer, and in short order he stands a scant foot above my sitting form. After checking the doors and windows carefully, even pressing his ear to the walls, he stares me down. Hard. "Um." is as far as I get before he begins, refusing to let me speak before I mess something else up. "I don't even know where to start with you. I don't even know if I really want to start with you, especially here." His voice is low and controlled, caution still at the forefront of his mind. After a moment of silence, he half-sighs, half-growls, and continues. "What did you do? Do I really need to tell you?" His eyes tighten to a squint, but his voice and face stay level...mostly. After it becomes clear that he does, in fact, need to tell me, they begin to betray his agitation. "The moment we met, you disrespected me. I try to make things easier on you, stay away from your...private parts." A light blush rises to his face, just as adorable as it was on the day he mentioned. I shouldn't be thinking like that right now, though. "And what do you do? You grab my fucking tail? What is wrong with you?!"
I had no idea! I thought it would feel nice! "I didn't kn-" "Even after that," he interrupts, refusing to be interrupted himself, "I took you into my house, and you immediately did exactly the opposite of what I asked you to. I should have pushed you onto Grey or Hood, or better yet just let you go. Goose has too much to do already, she shouldn't be distracting herself with new pets. You get adopted, slowing Goose down, then dragged to our meeting - which I have the sneaking suspicion you delayed. Grey is the most punctual man I've ever met, there's no way that was his fault." I may have suggested that we drop in, but...But I also suggested the route above the mountain...and helped find Suwako...and... "And while I'm on that subject, are you really that slow? I've seen puppies that run faster than you fly. We could get so much more done if you didn't need to be tethered to someone at all times." Now, that's hardly fair. Tengu are known for being the fastest things alive. You can't expect me to keep up with that.
By now his voice is dripping with spite, and he's practically vomiting curses. The once-bright room is so stained with his anger that it seems almost smokey. All I can do is take it in and hope for the best. So far, though...nothing's happened. Odd. "You revealed that you know absolutely nothing about the tengu on the whole, let alone the current situation – both with shocking inefficiency, I might add – and the very first thing out of your mouth is an insult?" Wait, wait. When was that? "Sure, cower at the slightest look from anyone else, but me, I'm just a goddamn dog. Yes, it took me all fucking day to scour the forest border to border. And do you know how carefully I have to look? This is my job. This isn't some kind of fucking game. When I gave you my vote, I almost wanted to vomit." Wait. Did he...search the Magic Forest? No. No, he couldn't have. It takes all day just to fly from one end to the other.
By now the words flow too quickly for me to even attempt an interjection, not that I would dare provoke him any further. "And now this entire mission you've been ignoring my orders, failing to give me critical insights on an area you claim to be intimately familiar with," he counts off the failings on his fingers, "Failing to plan ahead, failing to keep our objective classified while obtaining our disguises." He drops the count and his voice, checking over his shoulder one more time before breathing the words, "Thanks for making me deal with that psychotic tailor of yours, by the way. Nobody with that many dolls could possibly be a sociopath, right?" It takes a great deal of effort not to offer a quick, "I know, right?!"
"I dealt with the dress you got me, too. Very subtle. About as subtle as your little signals at the teahouse." He flails wildly, mimicing and exaggerating my attempt to get him to shut off the radio. "What the fuck is this? Did you not think I had thought of that? At least you were smart enough to put yourself in a position where you wouldn't be suspicious if you just shut your face," With the last words, his expression tightens into a snarl. I could swear he's restraining himself, yet no harm comes to me from taking in his curse. "But apparently you weren't smart enough to get out of that office before you told her who we are!" And his eyes go wide, the list of my shortcomings driving him into a wild, passionate frenzy. He's showing remarkable restraint for being so angry, keeping his complaints to a seething whisper. "It's like you have no idea how to be inconspicuous! Even when you're trying to, it's so obvious that you'd may as well just walk in naked and hope they don't believe you're really there! Not that it matters what with your saying my name out loud IN PUBLIC!" The last words send me jumping clear out of my seat, his composure finally having broken. Catching himself, he takes a moment to regain it, taking deep breaths. It doesn't seem prudent to take the opportunity to speak.
"As if that weren't enough, you start discussing mission details not in a whisper but in a speaking voice right in the same house as that..." He screws his face a bit, waving his hand as he reaches for another insult. "Coming-apart-at-the-seamstress." I can't help but chuckle at it, as much of a stretch as it is. It doesn't help matters.
Any mirth that he brought into the room is immediately choked out of it by a cold stare that reminds me far too much of Sakuya, and in a low, even voice, he finishes, "For a so-called 'goddess', you've shown me no reason whatsoever to believe in you."
And that is the most painful thing that he's said yet.
[ ] Some walk quiet, some walk loud. (Ignore) [ ] Sometimes people yell when they don't know what they're yelling about. (Defend) [ ] I've said things I didn't mean, but I've already said them out loud. Forgive me if you can find out how. (Accept, apologize.)
I'm back, bitches. Couldn't resist getting an ACTUAL next update out. I'm gonna work on that short soon, but probably not today. Hell, I might do all three.
>>22628 You assume wrongly. Since they're already spoiled anyways...
[ ] Some walk quiet, some walk loud. (Ignore his criticisms, let him have his rant if it'll make him feel better.) [ ] Sometimes people yell when they don't know what they're yelling about. (Defend yourself against his false accusations. He has it out for you, and needs a tongue-lashing himself.) [ ] I've said things I didn't mean, but I've already said them out loud. Forgive me if you can find out how. (Accept that you haven't been taking him or his mission seriously, apologize.)
I can't just let him talk to me like that. I have been trying my best to help these people who kidnapped me, and this is how I'm treated? "You haven't given me a moment to show you. You won't even let me speak for myself. You had no respect for me from the beginning, either, or you would have confronted me the moment we had a problem. I had no idea that you placed that much importance on your tail." He sits silently, staring ice through fiery eyes, until I mention his tail. His face doesn't betray any anger any more. It seems almost as if he's waiting for a toddler to finish speaking. His voice is low and flat, as if his outburst had drained his capacity to emote. "If you had tried to do that to a bird, you'd be tortured. Ignorance of the law isn't exception from it." ...The law? You get kidnapped for touching a dog and tortured for touching a bird? What kind of law is that? Besides, what law is there at all? "What law? The tengu are disbanded. The mountain is in chaos." Mentioning it brings back some of the emotion, but it looks almost more sad than angry. With some sternness returning to his voice, he seems to repeat almost to himself, "The law is a constant. It's what keeps us alive. They're there for reasons, and the reasons don't go away when the judges do." I can't imagine valid reasons for torture under any circumstances. "And why is that? What makes your laws so important that you can't live without them?" He scowls at that, his voice tensing up. "It's that attitude that made Tanegayama what it is today." ...Is that what they call themselves. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know.
"And you know that my attitude is that of an uninformed outsider. So inform me. I want to know about the country I'm supposed to be saving." I suppose this is my chance to sit down and learn more. I'm sure Alice will come for us if she needs us. He scoffs at the very idea, spitting out the words, "It's not my job to teach-" "Yes it is." How does it feel? How does it feel? "You have the time, the knowledge, and the need. My ignorance about your secretive, xenophobic culture is not my own fault." "You've lived on the mountain-" "For hundreds of years, yes. And I've never been given more than a silent escort to the shrine by a tengu, until..." Until you captured me. "Meeting you." If I'm to scold him for not being mindful, I should be mindful, myself. If nothing else, he'll be easier to deal with if I stop giving him reasons to be difficult. "Besides not being my fault, it is infuriating you to the point of being blind to your own faults." "I can't possibly-" "You," I interrupt once more. If you're going to defend yourself by barking at me, I won't listen to it. "Broke away from Goose the moment we left so that you could follow her orders instead of your own. You have no right to scold me for ignoring your commands, especially as someone who never volunteered to be in this pack of yours in the first place." His protests stop, but he continues staring expectantly. I have more to defend myself for.
"As for slowing down Goose, I was unconscious for three full days. I've barely had time to speak with her, let alone waste her time." This time, he speaks softly. If it's a discussion and not a yelling match, I can accept it. "Just because you were asleep doesn't mean she wasn't hovering over you. I think she's being an idiot, but you grew on her instantly." His eyes go a bit soft and distant, looking through the seam between the floor and the wall. "Three days is a long time to take care of someone." But she was working on that...giant, metal...man. Thing. "She told me that she got a lot of work done..." Southpaw shrugs, the last of his anger having shaken off. It still hangs in the air like a fog, but the steady flow has ceased. Goose seems to be a pleasant subject for him. "Maybe she did. Maybe she didn't want to worry you. Either way, she ran herself ragged." That's one way of describing it. "Delusional, too. She was going on about being a kappa." An actual smile graces his features, and I could swear I even heard him laugh. That could be the first time I've seen either. "Oh, she is." ...she doesn't...look like one. Aren't they usually shorter, with blue or green hair? "But you have more to say, don't you." He seems to have reserved himself to the tongue-lashing I have for him. Whether he really wants to hear it is a mystery, but I'm not going to stop just because he's not yelling any more.
"As for slowing down the meeting..." Well. That one...considering Southpaw's passion for the law, I can understand Grey's concern about keeping it a secret. "I'll admit, that was my fault. I thought it would be prudent to introduce Grey to another goddess with whom I am on good terms." Kanako is famous enough not to need further introduction. Recognition shows in his face, but not much more. "I apologize for the delay, but Grey himself thought it best that we stay for the night under her care." That, however, intrigues him. "Why would that be?" "Well, she was very fond of him, and the two wound up conversing long into the night. Refusing her hospitality would be rude." The word makes me think of his constant small slights, and I can't help a bit of acid leaking through. "We don't want to refuse allies, do we?" His hand lazily waves in the air, dismissing the idea. "We don't need allies. We've been doing fine so far." That's stupid pride if I've ever heard it. "It doesn't seem that way. It seems like you're just as far from Tenma as when you started, and at the end of your wits." He heaves a sigh, calming himself for a moment before replying. As much as it needs to be said, it's not fun to hear.
"So Grey approved of her. She must be helpful." Apparently someone else needs to say it before he'll listen, though. Just as well. I'm not here to lecture him on the importance of allies. Not today, at least. "Well, she is the resident god of the mountain. If you don't believe in me, I'm sure you at least believe in her." "She isn't so easy to subdue." ...This time, his smile isn't so charming. I'll take this as a light-hearted joke, for both of our sakes. "...In any case. I will admit that it was my suggestion to meet with her, but I refuse to take full blame for the delay that meeting incurred. Besides, Grey accepted my offer." Grey...I wonder how he and Hood are doing in their search for an entrance. It occurs to me just how conspicuous it would be for a disembodied voice to shoot from Southpaw's radio in the middle of a crowd, and moments later it occurs to me just how much ground they must have covered by now. That speed is something else.
Which reminds me. "And yes, I am really that slow, as are the majority of creatures in Gensokyo. You've shown me quite well that tengu are faster than the eye can follow." "Not all of us. The birds are, mostly, and a few of the wolves, if they really want to be. You're just too slow to follow us." What kind of defense is that? "As I said. Me and the rest of the world. You need to accept that you're the exception, here." "No. You do. You've been looking at me like I'm a child, to be doted on and led by the hand. Don't try to deny it, I can hear it in the way you talk to me." As he speaks, there's none of the anger from before. He's clearly still sore about it, but at this point anything that comes out of him – and anything that comes into me – is just clearing the air. Maybe that's helping matters. "You think I'm a puppy or something. Do you realize who you're dealing with? What you're dealing with?" That...is a good point. "Regardless of my own slip-ups, I'm not going to let you deny that." "And I won't attempt to. You're absolutely right, and I apologize for the lack of respect I've shown you." Whatever he is, I can't keep treating him like a child. Even if he has all the social skills of one. "I plan on watching myself more closely in the future and giving you the respect you deserve, and hope that you will offer me the same courtesy. I do, after all, need you to believe in me." It takes him a few moments to respond, time enough for me to think about just what it means for me: My companion doesn't even believe that I'm a goddess. That's going to need to change. "...Right. Sure."
First things first, though. "To begin, I'm sorry that I insulted you with my ignorance. I realize now that I have no idea just how much work you had to do, and should not have judged your abilities so prematurely. Although...I do feel like some of the offense you took was unwarranted. After all, I couldn't have possibly been judging you as a dog. I didn't even know there was supposed to be a difference." And I'm still not sure just what the difference is. Sighing a slow but shallow sigh, somewhere between incredulity and exhaustion, he says to the air, "You really are blind, aren't you." Not the response I was hoping for. "I told you once already, your people were like a brick wall. I could see them, sort of, but they never let me even an inch further." His gaze suddenly turns toward me, pierces my eyes, and grips them unflinchingly. "If I teach you, will you take it seriously?" "Absolutely." "Will you ask stupid questions?" "Of course. All questions are stupid." "Am I going to regret this?" "I wouldn't dare let you." His eyes stay open and locked on mine for another few seconds before he finally lets himself blink. "...Fine, then. Later, when we can relax for a while." After that, it feels like we're already relaxing. But we aren't, are we? "Ah! Before I forget. I did make quite a few mistakes today, I will admit. You never once asked for the help you wanted from me, though, nor did you correct my behavior. I haven't had any training whatsoever, and I feel like that's not an excuse not to give me credit for getting the costumes that you insisted on, for free. And if you didn't notice, the disguise worked. Even the Hakurei couldn't tell who we were. The fact that Keine saw through the disguises wasn't my fault, that cover was blown some time in the hours we spent volunteering with her. Alice said that some people would be able to see through them, too." "Okay, okay, fine, fuck. I'm sorry. I was harsh on you, I blew up on you, and I'm embarrassed that this conversation ever had to happen. Can we end it?"
[ ] Sure. Let's go see what Alice is up to. [ ] Of course. Let's talk about... [ ] Not yet. I have more to say.