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File 137393121450.jpg - (414.75KB, 600x856, As seen by Alice.jpg) [iqdb]
"Gladly." A part of me is irritated at his attitude, but I'm sure he's still quite irritated with me. At least he admits that he's not completely without fault. It's a step. "Care to see what Alice is up to?"
At the mention of her name, he shivers almost imperceptibly. "No, but we're in this whether we like it or not. Let's get out of here." With a hint of dread in his voice, he turns to the hallway we came from, walking at a normal clip. Compared to his usual brisk pace, he'd may as well be dragging his feet.

When we get to the storefront, Alice is positively glowing as she works on the same dress from before. Is this all she does, or is she just very focused? Good to know she isn't too torn up about the dress, in any case. "Everything okay? I heard yelling." ...Although there is such a thing as being too happy.
Not stopping on our way to the porch, I give her a curt, "Quite okay, yes. Thank you." I'd like to spend some more time with her in a more relaxed setting, but that isn't happening today.
"I do hope you don't plan on skipping out on our arrangement." The cheer doesn't leave her voice, making her words that much more threatening. "I'll know."
Just keep walking. Just keep walking. There's sunshine and flowers and freedom outside. "Wouldn't dream of it. It's been a pleasure, Alice. I hope to see you again soon."
"Oh, if you're hanging around that disaster, I'm sure you'll be back soon enough. Speaking of which, I wouldn't be in such a rush to get out that door." ...Why...not.
Despite myself, I stop to give her a look, letting Southpaw continue on. Her smile suddenly seems more knowing than joyous, and she answers my question without needing to be asked. "It's getting to be that time, after all...I suppose I should let you know why this is your punishment." Setting down her work for a moment, she turns in her chair to address us. Even Southpaw stops to listen. Clearly, this merits emphasis. "Every day, without fail, that singularity of havoc barges in here and ruins everything she touches. I've had a backlog for the past month because of her, and with a single uninterrupted day I could do away with it. I might even have time to see the sun." Her voice is mostly calm, although her irritation with the situation stains the edges. "You're going to give me that day."

As though it were rehearsed, the door slams open and a spinning blur of black, white, and yellow stops upside-down in midair, suspended by an unamused Southpaw's chain as a broom clatters across the room. Alice, for once, loses her composure more readily than I do as a burst of hate explodes from her only to be drawn back in the same second. It's a common (if tragic) sight in situations like this, though the intensity is staggering. The slam comes almost too fast to surprise me; by the time I registered it, Southpaw had already reacted. Had I not already seen it so many times, I'd be amazed at how instant it was.

...Well, to be fair. It's still pretty amazing.

It also makes me wonder about Grey and Aya's match atop the mountain, but I don't get very far before the blur (having settled into a distinctly Marisa-like shape) shouts her dissent. "What the fuck kind of trap is this, you cheater?! You and I boHina!" Her tone and face both brighten when she catches sight of me, the dusting of malice quickly dissipating. Alice seems relatively unfazed by the intrusion, continuing her stitching without missing a beat.
"Marisa. So good to see you." Her voice drips with the tired sarcasm of someone who just had a year of plans overturned in the span of a second. Again. "What brings you here?"
"Oh, you know. Just checking in on an old buddy." That gets a scoff out of Alice, though she doesn't elaborate. "What about you?" I'd also have liked a moment to come up with a story.
Although, a moment is all it takes. "Getting clothes, as you might have expected. I would expect it of you too, but your entrance was a bit more spectacular than the average customer."
Mentioning it seems to remind her of the chain around her leg, and she turns to Southpaw. "Hi there, by the way. Can I have my feet back?"
"Are you going to attack me?" Oh, just let her down. There's a limit to reasonable paranoia.
"No." The answer seems enough for him, and as quickly as she was captured, she's loose. With a thump, she lands head-first, rolling her body from her head to her feet then springing off of them. She almost crashes into a mannequin in the process, but a few dolls keep her balance for her. She must do this pretty often. She doesn't seem upset about the rough handling, at least. "And I'll have you know, I actually am here for some clothes, too. This old thing," she says with derision, holding up the tattered hem (if you could even call it that) of her dress. Its faded black tones reach just to the bottom of her knees, although with the condition it's in I have to wonder whether that was the designer's intention. Underneath it is a wooly layer of white that looks less durable but much warmer, and in much better condition, at that. A white undershirt covers her arms and reaches up to her neck, as well. Odd that the darker of the two should be the more summery, its cut more revealing everywhere it can be. "Well, it needs some attention."

Alice raises an eyebrow skeptically, giving her a sideways glance. "Aren't you a magician? Learn a spell to make it more durable or something." Despite the jab, she holds out a beckoning hand.
Sounding as indignant as she can while removing her skirt over her head and being guided away from obstacles by dolls, Marisa snaps, "I tried! It chafed!"
It's met with a bored click of the tongue and a roll of the eyes. "Was this before or after it caught fire?"
"Before, if you must know." Unceremoniously dumping the load across Alice's arm results in a small cloud of soot that floats across the work table, though most of it seems to have gotten on the previously-hidden portions of her outfit, leaving a lingering shadow of the burnt dress.
There's a moment of silence as Alice stares in disgust at the thing, then at the assortment of works that suddenly need a good cleaning. It gives me time to ponder over how much of this conversation has been in jest. "Will you be ruining my morning as well as my night, or is this all?"
"Well, if you're offering..." She produces a small, octagonal box whose image sends shivers down my spine and a grimace across Alice's face, and before she has time to continue I interrupt.
"Actually, Marisa, I was wondering whether you'd like to spend some time with me, since we ran into one another." I'm also beginning to wonder about whether I'll live through the night, if she brandishes that thing so easily. My thoughts go back to the horror that little thing produced outside of the Scarlet mansion, from the light bright enough to burn air itself to the dripping, oozing, charred wounds the gatekeeper suffered, to the low, grinding thrum of the world tearing itself apart until it ceased to exist. It takes a moment to shake the memory, and though I can banish it from my mind, it lingers in my quivering fingers.

Thankfully, that's enough to get the thing back in a pocket for the time being. "Well hey, that makes two of us. It's been days, you know?" Grinning deviously, she adds, "I might have already changed the world, for all you know."
That was our arrangement, wasn't it? If nothing else, the smile is infectious, and I can't help but jokingly wag a finger. "Naughty, naughty. What am I going to do with you?"
Sauntering back toward the door (to the visible relief of Alice), she replies, "I don't know. What are you going to do with me?" Glancing at Southpaw, she adds, "I've already been hanged today."
Throughout the conversation he's been sizing the girl up, but when spoken to he finally finds his voice. "It doesn't look like the worst thing that's happened to you."
"Oh, hell no." She takes it as a measure of pride, almost gloating as she lists, "I've been choked, poisoned, stabbed, bludgeoned, sliced, scorched," and her eyes stop drifting through her memories to stare him down as she adds, "By the sun, by the way. Like. Right next to it. Well, asun...A few suns. There were suns involved." We need to do something about her lying... "Still breathing."
Southpaw seems unimpressed, unbelieving, or both. "Of course. Who hasn't?"
The deadpan response gets a hearty laugh out of Marisa, who slaps him on the back as she walks by. "I like this guy! What's your name, anyways?"
"Well, Takashi, you and me, we're gonna get along." His eyes dart to mine for a moment and his ears sink doubtfully (and adorably, I might add). "So. Got any ideas, or do you just wanna have a night on the town?"

[ ] Why not visit Patchouli again? She was nice.
[ ] A night on the town sounds lovely.
[ ] Why not give Takashi a say? He could probably spin a way to make this relevant to the mission.


Holy shit thread four! And the story has barely even begun, really. Thank you for your seemingly boundless patience, everyone.

As a reminder to old readers and new alike, I will never actually post anything NSFW for an update. When I use that tag, it's just something I'd like you to wait until you're done reading to open.

Previous thread: >>19439
[x] Why not give Takashi a say? He could probably spin a way to make this relevant to the mission.

If he doesn't have any ideas, no big deal, and if he does, maybe this will help patch things up with him.
[x] Why not give Takashi a say? He could probably spin a way to make this relevant to the mission.
[X] Why not give Takashi a say? He could probably spin a way to make this relevant to the mission.

The lack of votes has shamed me into getting off my lazy ass.

>Its faded black tones reach just to the bottom of her knees, although with the condition it's in I have to wonder whether that was the designer's intention.
If only she knew what designers outside do to jeans. Pre-faded, pre-ripped, cut-offs and other such mutilations.
I don't think it's especially unreasonable to wait for a third vote when I'm in the middle of writing a short. Got a lot done.

But now is time for update! Write, write, write...
File 137433544745.jpg - (1.37MB, 1400x1251, As imagined by Hina.jpg) [iqdb]
Okay, this one might actually be a little bit NSFW.


"Well, I have a couple of ideas, but..." But they're not especially productive ideas, as far as I can tell. Southpaw's already given me hell once today, no sense giving him more reasons. Besides that, he might even start to like me if I give him the respect he deserves. "What about you, Takashi? You've been so quiet."
His eyebrows raise oh-so-slightly at the suggestion, as though he were already prepared to be dragged around. "I..." he falters for a moment, before catching himself. "Don't really know. Not much happens here, so." He doesn't seem to be lying, even if he is completely false.
"Bullshit." Marisa pulls the door open with some effort, inviting in a gust of much-welcomed fresh air that carries the scent of Alice's garden with it. Her slight grunt of exertion reminds me just how heavy it was, and just how much force went into making it slam like a clap of thunder. "There's nothing you can't find here. What're you into?" She neglects to hold it open for us, but I at least get it for Southpaw. I'd hate to see what one of his slams would do to Alice's house.
The question seems to give Southpaw some pause. Admittedly, it's a rather vague one. "Legends, I suppose."
Chuckling, she replies, "Aren't we all! That's not much to go on, though." It doesn't stop her from going in a random direction. "Go on, though?"
"History. Poetry. That sort of thing." ...I hadn't pinned him for the sort, but I suppose it makes some sense considering how quickly he was able to concoct that tale for the children. Wasn't there also a bookshelf in his cabin? It had been pretty sparse, though... "It's nothing you can do with three people, though."
Spinning on a heel, she walks backward as she leads us down the street. "Pfft. What are you, kidding? I read with my friends all the time. It's slow going, but you can stop and talk about every little thing that happens."
"...Really?" His entire face distorts in utter confusion. One of his ears even twitches a bit, giving me a sudden struggle. Maybe I should go back for that bonnet. "That's...weird. You're weird." Southpaw!
"You don't need to be that rude, you know." Then again, it's to be expected of him by now.

"Hey, I don't mind. In fact," she says, still casually strolling backward without having watched her step even once, "Thank you. I'm proud of being weird." How she manages to walk backward while bowing escapes me. "But you didn't hear it from me. Far as anyone else is concerned, I'm just a normal witch. Got it?" Her tone is playful, but we nod anyway.
"So," I interject, "What else can we do?" We are supposed to find an entire day of activities.
"Well, if you're not familiar with the human village, where are you familiar with? Maybe it's not me that should be showing you around." With a matter-of-factly smile and raised eyebrows, she shakes a finger at us as though to direct her point to its destination. "I mean, I've only ever met one other tengu in my life. Well, two, but the second didn't really stick around to talk."
That definitely gives him some pause, though I'm not sure whether he expected more or less exposure. He finally settles on, "I don't leave the mountain much, but we can't go there. Otherwise..."
"Hold on, hold on. There's our answer." She stops abruptly, putting bracing hands on his shoulders. "It is the responsibility – no, the dutyno, the PURPOSE of all good men," she says, shaking her head with each correction and redoubling her strength, "To go where you aren't supposed to go! Let's bust that mountain open and see what's inside!" Please, please, please let that be a metaphor.
Her heartfelt speech does nothing to convince him, unsurprisingly. "How about no." Something about glaring red eyes seems to naturally strike fear into the hearts of humans, a likely reason for the shade's ubiquity in youkai. Admittedly, it makes me a bit nervous, as well.
Marisa, however, doesn't give him an inch. "How about..." She leans in with a lopsided grin and sloooooowly raises her eyebrows again. "Yes?" And finishes the gesture by wiggling them quickly. If nothing else, it gets us laughing.

...Wait. Southpaw laughs?

And besides that, he seemed so serious. To see it dissolve in an instant like that puts me a bit off-balance. With the mood lightened, he elaborates. "We really can't, though. We'd all be killed." Okay, maybe not lightened so much.
It still doesn't dissuade her, though, as she waves a hand dismissively. "Psh. Shaw. You've never seen me in a danmaku match, man. I'm the strongest there is." Snapping her fingers, she adds, "Oh, except maybe that one fairy. She's pretty beastly." Her tone is too playful not to be joking, never mind the fact that fairies are known for exploding into dust the moment they come into any source of magic.
Danmaku, of course, has nothing to do with this. "I think we should let it be, Marisa. He clearly doesn't feel comfortable with it, and we're here to have a good time, not pile responsibilities on our new friend." I'd also rather not get kidnapped again, just yet. I'm beginning to like the first kidnappers, insofar as one can.
...I should probably be careful about that. "Fine, fine. Wimp." She clearly never needs to think this hard about where to take her day, and her restlessness is starting to show in her voice. "If nobody comes up with anything good, alcohol is gonna have to start getting involved." I've only really been offered the occasional glass over the slightly less occasional meal, when people see fit to offer their hospitality. Something tells me that isn't what she has in mind.
Southpaw isn't ready to give up just yet. "You never let me finish before. I don't get away from the mountain very often, but I know the kappa village pretty well." The way he speaks, you'd think he has something to prove.
The excitement shoots right back into her at the mention of the kappa. "No way! I have a friend down there who says they never get any tengu visitors."

His eyes get the closest thing to a mischievous gleam that I've ever seen. "Then again, I was also thinking about checking out Higan. I've never been there before."
For once, Marisa takes it as seriously as she ought to. "Hold on, hold on. You're talking about the endless river that souls get ferried across before judgement? The one where if you fall in, your body is torn to shreds and rebuilt so it can be torn to shreds again, for ever and ever, until your soul can't even summon the energy to inhabit it, dissociating into the same free energy that does the shredding? The one where the dragon-killer only qualifies to be the ferrywoman? That Higan?" I had no idea it was such a terrible place. How did she even find out about all that?
Unsettlingly sharp has never been a term I would attribute to his smile, but here we are just the same. "That would be the one, yes."
Without breaking her expression, her thumb shoots skyward from a clenched fist. "I'm in."
"I'm beginning to like that whole reading with friends idea..." I should have just offered a visit with Patchouli in the first place. What was I thinking?
Dropping the act (please let it be an act) Southpaw says in a rather dulcet tone, "Actually, yeah. Now that I think about it, that sounds pretty nice, too."
"Yeah, I know the best place for it too." For a reason I don't dare question at this point, Marisa is just as excited about reading as she is about adventuring. "Although you'd have to meet another one of our friends." Looks like we had the same idea.
Southpaw hesitates and ponders for a moment that stretches into a short while, and then into a long while. The silence gets more and more tense, only broken by the occasional half-hearted "hm." It's like he doesn't know how to operate when things aren't put to a vote or ordered.

Marisa is the first to snap. "Okay, screw this. Sword to your neck." She points a finger at Southpaw's neck, and starts counting down from ten.
It's pretty clear that he's about as flustered as I am. There aren't any swords around here. "What?"
"Decide," she says in a tone that reminds me far too much of Reimu. "Seven."
"I can't just–"
"Quickly, now. Six!"
His mouth hangs open, unsure of what to make of the gesture, as she continues counting. "Three."
"Uh..." He almost seems to have a choice, but the words are caught in his throat.
Marisa's finger slips closer and closer, and her eyes gain a menacing quality to them. "Two!"
"Look, I don't know–"
The last second passes in silence, and she slides her finger horizontally. "Sshhhk. Hina. Sword to your neck. Ten."

Oh, damn it all.

[ ] Higan. He seemed excited about that one, and he suggested it in the meeting.
[ ] Wait, what am I thinking? I'm not ready to die! Let's just relax with Patchouli. The mansion should be calm...ish.
[ ] An adventure sounds nice, though, and I've never been to the kappa village. I don't even know where it is.
[ ] Oh, I can't make this decision, either. Apparently alcohol needs to get involved. That's an adventure of a sort, I suppose.
[x] Higan. He seemed excited about that one, and he suggested it in the meeting.
[X] Higan. He seemed excited about that one, and he suggested it in the meeting.

Let's have a pleasant chat with Death. Though it's going to be tricky asking if Tenma passed through without tipping off Marisa.
[x] Higan. He seemed excited about that one, and he suggested it in the meeting.
[x] "We don't need to actually put the sword through our neck to get there though... right?"

Asking about the dying thing by continuing the metaphor in an awkwardly Hina way. Unless that's not Hinaish at all, in which case... well, that's why the writefag has line-item veto.
Hooray for votes! I'd like to write tonight, if time permits, but my job hunt just went from zero to holy shit in the span of two days. Obviously, any relevant concerns are top priority. It shouldn't throw things off too too much, but I get the feeling it won't be out lickety-split.

That said, an old and dear friend of mine is working on a project of his that you may very well already know about. You can find it over on 4chan's /tg/ by the name of Maverick Hunter Quest. It is a very deserving distraction that I would summarize as being amazeballs, and although it took a lot of convincing to get me to pick it up (especially given how far along it's already come), I am now kicking myself for not being there since the first thread. It runs old school THP style, with marathon writing sessions at previously specified times which often last all day and sometimes go on for multiple days. Even if Megaman X isn't your bag, I still recommend giving it a go. The man and his partner in crime are both masterful storytellers, and the setting is almost 100% original. There's a lot of love going into this thing, and it shows in both the writing and the people who read it. When it's running, I'm a lot more inclined to keep an eye on it than on...well, just about anything I can name.

The archives can be found at http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive.html?tags=Maverick%20Hunter%20Quest and every upvote is greatly appreciated in the anti-quest downvote-spamming atmosphere that /tg/ can nurture. Of course, that's only if you actually like what you read. He's neither a beggar nor a thief. And no, he didn't ask me for this plug.
[x] An adventure sounds nice, though, and I've never been to the kappa village. I don't even know where it is.

Oh god this is a thing again. For now.
Oh god I don't remember what's going on at all.
Yeah, that's about as much faith as I deserve. At least you enjoy it enough to give it another try?

I'm more focused on finishing the promised short story from before than the next update, seeing as how if I let it sit I'll have another to work on before it's half-finished...which it already is, actually. Now's a good time to catch up, if you're so inclined.
Update status: Working on it.
Life status: Working on it.
This Friday, there will be an update.
Every Friday thereafter, there will be an update.
If I finish the update before Friday, I will continue writing other things for the amount of time that I have scheduled for myself each day. The update will then be posted on Friday.

I'll let you know if anything changes.

File 137930456689.jpg - (95.38KB, 1012x677, grammy and poppy.jpg) [iqdb]
"Higan." The word spills out of my mouth before I have time to second-guess it. Southpaw's face hardly changes, but it's enough to go from confusion to outright astonishment. Whatever he expected, it wasn't this.
Marisa immediately withdraws the imaginary blade, speaking as she hikes up her dress to reveal its imaginary sheath around her thigh. "That was fast."
"Well, you weren't going to give me enough time to think it through anyways. The point is to go with your first instinct, isn't it?" Although perhaps if I had realized what my first instinct was in the ten seconds she gave Southpaw, I'd have chosen more wisely...
"The point is to save valuable time you could spend living instead of talking about living," she says, waving a finger just forcefully enough and just close enough to my face to be incredibly aggravating, though the bizarre little game was stressful enough to put me on edge in the first place. Her reasoning is sound, at least...in a sense. "If there's anything you want to bring with you to the afterlife by the way, speak now." For being so concerned with living, she doesn't show it.
Southpaw instantly barks, "I'm ready." His determination and confidence are inspiring; it's as though he can't conceive of our failure, or perhaps that he's already thought through his entire life and is prepared to die which is actually rather terrifying.
He's too young for all that. I've at least had a few hundred years to think it over. "As am I." And hey, I won't have to wait long for the ferry. There's a plus.
"That's the spirit!" The horrid pun brings a smile to my face, despite myself.

After running back to Dolls & Talls to retrieve her broom, Marisa rockets into the sky faster than I can keep up (which of course makes Southpaw scowl over his shoulder, though with all the scowling he does I can't tell exactly what to make of it,) and heads directly toward the river. They stay far ahead, paying no particular mind to me until I escape their field of vision. Thankfully I don't especially mind traveling in silence, and our destination is not at all difficult to see from the sky, given that it stretches endlessly into the horizon. No living creature has ever seen the far side of the Sanzu river, and there's a fair chance we won't either. Hopefully we're not foolish enough to actually try. Perhaps the reason no one's done it is because you have to be rather clever to devise a method of getting there in the first place? As we approach, the gentle greens of the forests and hills give way to shockingly deep reds that blanket the shores and swallow the landscape around them unnaturally. A few scant steps fling them from one edge of the horizon to the other, great tides of flowers advancing as swiftly as time. Southpaw and Marisa have stopped beside the first few flowers, floating hesitantly before the field of spider lilies that extends to the very edge of the water, staining the sky a sunset pink.

I show them what courage looks like.

"Looks like I owe you a drink." Southpaw's voice comes from behind me, though it feels like I misheard him.
"I told you man, she's crazy. No fear." This gives me pause, and as I turn to face them they close the small distance between us.
"No more than the job requires. What are you two talking about?"
Even Soutpaw struggles against a grin as Marisa explains, "We had a little wager going as to whether you'd chicken out at the last second."
"How did that come about?" I have trouble getting anything more than barks out of the boy. It doesn't even occur to me that I might be offended at the wager itself until I've asked.
"Well, he was kind of glancing back at you, so I mentioned how relieved I was to have you with us. He..." She trails off, scrunching up half her face in an uncomfortable smirk and slowly shrugging, then settling on, "Wasn't."
"Isn't." Yes, yes, thank you for the clarification.
She barely acknowledges the interjection with a quick, "Right," before moving on. "So, you know, we got to talking, yadda yadda yadda, I bet him a drink that you wouldn't chicken out." Which means it was his suggestion first. It looks like she does have some tact, after all.
"We could still go double or nothing, if you want. Technically it's not the last second yet." Thanks for the vote of confidence.
"You're on. Hina's in it for the long haul," she turns to me, slapping a hand onto my shoulder almost hard enough to stick. "Aren't you?" Without awaiting a reply, she sets off toward the waters.
By the time I've finished muttering "I wouldn't have come here if I weren't," both of them are out of earshot. Mine, anyways. As I move to catch up (again), it occurs to me that I really haven't given Southpaw any reason to believe in me. So far, it's been nothing but walking around the human village, playing dress-up and drinking tea. This could be my chance to get some respect from him...but how much is it worth? What are we even going to encounter here?

If nothing else, it doesn't take especially long to close the gap between us. Their paces have slowed a great deal, likely from a blend of trepidation and awe at the endless field of flowers. While Southpaw carefully looks in every direction and hovers low to the ground, feet just brushing the spider lilies' petals, Marisa mostly admires the flowers we pass directly over as she ambles along. The grassy fields behind us disappeared long ago, leaving only flowers in every direction. Even the mountain seems more distant than it should be, barely a shadow on the horizon. Were it not for the gargantuan river, it would be too easy to completely lose one's sense of direction. The thought of wandering aimlessly and endlessly through the flowers (as nice as it would be for the first hour or so) sends a shiver down my spine. Allowing myself any more than a sideways glance at them reveals roiling energies responsible for the varying shades of red in the field. Some flowers are pristine and peaceful, while others have a directionless hate trapped within petals that reach out like hands desperate to suffocate whatever they find a grip on, making the place that much more disturbing. I don't even know whether to take them upon myself, or whether this is simply beyond my realm.

When I'm within a comfortable distance, I greet them by way of a, "So we still need a plan." We never really established what we were supposed to be doing here, and I can't even begin to think of a way to make this about Tenma without tipping off Marisa. Come to think of it, though, wouldn't making the search more public help it along?
Without stopping his steady scan of our surroundings, Southpaw says, "We wander around. Look at things. Ask some questions, if we can find anyone to ask them to. Think about what we encounter."
"Or we could just go talk to Komachi for a while." Both my and Southpaw's heads snap toward Marisa in the same instant. She continues her amble, not bothering to elaborate.
"You're a...regular, then?" I interject before Southpaw has another chance to say something horrible and rude. For being such a fantastic actor, he has no idea how to talk to people.
"I am," she answers as casually as if this were a restaurant. After a bit of deliberation, she weakly adds, "Sort of. A little." Hoping to add some strength to the statement, she throws in, "I mean, I've been here a few times and there once. Well maybe not there there but pretty close. On the other side, at least." but the words spill from her mouth in a jumble, crashing clumsily like a tray full of dishes after a moment's inattentiveness. I thought there was a limit to her fibbing. Clearly I thought wrong.
Southpaw, however, accepts it unquestioningly for a change. "That makes you the most qualified to lead the way, then." I half-expect her face to contort in dread from the declaration, but she simply accepts it with a shrug.
"All right, I guess. I thought we were just taking our time. Stopping to smell the soulses, you know?" I'm not sure whether the shiver that runs down my spine is from being reminded of the dead that await the ferrywoman here, or from the unbearable non-pun. I try not to linger on either.

Though our pace hastens, it's still only a trot compared to the initial trip. I don't need to strain myself to keep up in the least, which allows me to hear all about Marisa's previous adventures here. Apparently I was busy while "that whole flower thing" was going on, although as she explains what she discovered the exact spring does come back to mind. I almost gave up hope after the end of the first week, seeing the endless flow of curses that I couldn't hope to so much as dent. Supposedly the ferrywoman – Komachi, as she clarifies – is the only one of her sort, and when she stops working, the work piles up. When the work piles up, the spider lilies aren't enough – itself a terrifying concept – and the souls find other places to rest. It's just as well that I didn't have anything to do with it; the incident was resolved in the end.

"So yeah," she finishes, looking deep down into waters so murky they could very well be solid. "I dunno whether Komachi's even gonna be here, but we can at least walk up and down the near shore and see what's been washing up." What looked like a large but distant river turned out to be more of an unapproachable ocean. Every time I looked to see the shore approaching, it was just as far as it had ever been. By the time I could tell there was an actual shore and not just flowers up to the edge, it seemed almost to jump at us just like the field before it. If the experience is as unsettling for these two as it is for me, they certainly hide it well. "Or, you know," she says airily, drifting backward over the water as she speaks, "We could just keep going and see how far we get." Even she shouldn't be cocky enough to think it would be that easy.
Southpaw on the other hand actually mulls it over for the moment it takes for Marisa's facade to crack from the relentless force of an escaping chuckle. Though a slight blush rises to his face, he brushes off the entire notion. "Hm. Which way should we go to find her, then?"
"Behind you." nononononodon'tkillmeplease

[ ] Play it cool. It's just a...she did say dragon-killer, right? But that doesn't mean we can't just relax and talk.
[ ] But if she is a dragon-killer, she's done away with better gods than me...best behavior.


[ ] What do you want to make sure you talk about? What do you want to make sure you don't talk about?


My sincerest apologies for the unannounced delays - both the two month one and the two day one. I could blame it on the busiest week in recent memory, the addition of a work schedule and later the change in said work schedule as well as the mandatory overtime (which I am so not complaining about right now), the internet problems that lasted days (actually, I'm going to blame the unannounced part on that. Totally gonna do that.) or even the fact that I grossly underestimated the amount of time it takes me to conceptualize, write, and edit an update, but the fact remains that I made y'all a promise and then broke it immediately. I know that this, like my behavior up until this point, reflects very poorly on me, but I also want you to know that I'm deadly serious about this schedule. My inability to stick with this story has been a constant point of self-loathing since I began it, mostly because it remains one of the biggest and most important projects in my life. I promised some time ago that this story would see a proper ending no matter how long it takes, and I will make good on that one. It was as much a promise to myself as it was to you, as it was to the characters I've spent so much of my time giving life to.
[x] Play it cool. It's just a...she did say dragon-killer, right? But that doesn't mean we can't just relax and talk.

If Komachi's anything like her canon self, this would be the best approach. No idea on the exa t topics at the moment.
[x] Play it cool. It's just a...she did say dragon-killer, right? But that doesn't mean we can't just relax and talk.

[x] If possible, move the conversation slowly towards the business of soul-ferrying, and the whole "what happens when you die" process.
[x] From that, work in the youkai angle: is it the same for them as it is for humans?
[x] And then from there, bring up tengu as an example--have you ever had any tengu coming through here, perhaps?

Feel free to work with or around that as best you can, and adjust for what the people present would or would not already know. The general idea is to slowly get around to casually asking about dead tengu passing through (and perhaps how to read the flowers, see who's in them? Unless Komachi can tell at a glance, and feels like sharing. And is telling the truth.). It should be done as casually and relevant to the conversation as possible, but if Hina and Southpaw can get their info without also getting dead, then they're doing pretty well.

The main problem I can see at present (and it's not one that I've thought much about how to deal with) is that it's probably very strange for a human, a curse goddess, and a tengu to just sort of be hanging around the Sanzu, asking questions casually. Komachi's going to KNOW something's up if that angle isn't covered somehow (Whether that's enough to make he uncomfortable or uncooperative, who knows).

...That, and the risk of Marisa blabbing about the fact that Tenmario is missing, should that be divulged or strongly implied in her presence.
[x] Play it cool. It's just a...she did say dragon-killer, right? But that doesn't mean we can't just relax and talk.

Hina tends to lack a bite. If she offends someone, it's usually by accident, and anyone with the power to off a dragon probably isn't going to lose it over a faux pas. Funny thing about power keeping power in check, and also working for the most stringent workaholic either side of the Sanzu.

>[x] What do you want to make sure you talk about? What do you want to make sure you don't talk about?
Let the conversation go where it will, but offer up what you're here for, plain and simple. If Southpaw's going to get mad about revealing the "secret mission," turn the decision over to him and politely suggest he be straightforward and direct with Komachi.
The update is being worked on, and is going well. However, between getting a later start in the week than I would have had I been on time initially, getting ten- and eleven-hour shifts routinely throughout the week, and being a lazy bum with some semblance of a social life, I don't foresee being able to make it this Friday either. While it's still in the realm of possibility, it's more likely that I will finish it during the weekend. It will absolutely not be later than Sunday night.

Also, do let me know if I begin to slip. Or if I do something especially well! Reader critique has been a crucial part of my improvement from the very first short story I wrote, years ago.
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Calm down.

She can smell fear. Probably.

After a steadying half-breath, I turn around with a smile and greet...no one. "Good to see you too," Marisa says to the air. "It's been too long."
"Well, you know I keep busy," replies the slow, sultry voice, practically purring at her. Turning toward it reveals nothing, again. Southpaw's agitation shows only in his ears, but the fact that it shows at all confirms that I'm at least not hearing things.
"Yeah, ever since that spanking you got." Or maybe I am.
"Hey." The voice takes on an angry edge, though the air is no thicker with curses than before Marisa taunted death. Hopefully it stays that way. "What happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom."
She closes her eyes and wags her finger with a knowing smile, coming back so quickly it could have been scripted. "Ah-ah-ah, but it happened in the court room, you kinky bitch."
"And it'll happen in public if you don't shut your face." Finally, the reaper materializes in the blink of an eye. It's not like Kanako's mist, slow and seeping like fog on glass, nor is it accompanied by the sudden breeze that signifies a tengu's landing. She simply steps into existence. The first thing I glimpse is the wispy, curving tip of a scythe that seems to grow from the air like a flame going out in reverse, each second producing another arm's length of otherworldly steel. Finally a drooping black sleeve emerges behind the handle, gripping a scythe taller than the woman behind it. Despite her soft features and gentle smile, looking upon her is terribly intimidating. Maybe it's only because I know what she is. Maybe it's the loose black robe (though not loose enough to conceal her...assets. How does she stand up with those things?) or the red of her hair and eyes, as deep and striking as the flowers around her, or the simple fact that she's taller than anyone present. "Can't even let a girl make an entrance. How am I supposed to preserve my mystique like this?" This wasn't an entrance?

"You could try getting some in the first place." The sight of such a small girl berating a towering death goddess is almost as amusing as the yelp she lets out when the blunt side of that scythe meets her bottom. The motion is fast as lightning, her weapon spinning in ways that take me a moment to puzzle out.
"Quiet, you," she spits before turning to address Southpaw and me. "Howdy. Welcome to Shigan."
The absurdity of the exchange thus far has completely stunned me, I realize only as I reach for words. "Uh, hello." I reply weakly.
She raises an eyebrow, her smile quickly returning to her face. "You got a name, or did you expect me to know it?" To be honest, I kind of did.
"Hina Kagiyama. Sorry." Come on, come on. Relax. Marisa can do this, so can you.
"Don't be. I get it all the time. What about this kid?" She sticks a thumb at Southpaw, who has been trying and failing to put on a tough air.
"Takashi Kashiwada." He refuses to let me answer for him, or perhaps refuses to let his fear get the best of him. "It's an honor to meet you."
"Who-hoa!" Her entire body recoils, eyes blinking in disbelief. "Look at that! Some respect. You could learn a lot from this guy, Marisa."
"Although," Southpaw continues, "I haven't really met you, have I?" To his credit, he doesn't break eye contact for a second, although he has to crane his neck back a ways to do it.

"Oh, where are my manners. I figured Marisa would have told you all about me by now." She bows low with a flourish of her scythe, spinning it around her body in practiced arcs that almost seem to cut trails in the air behind it. "Komachi Onozuka," she begins with an official tone, "Holder of many titles that I don't particularly care about." Looking up from her low position, she grins at Southpaw's deepening blush and concludes, "At your service." Punctuating the motion with a quick shake of her chest (which disturbs a few flowers) she rises back up to her full height. Even I blush a bit at that.
"You fucking ham." And there goes the mystique.
She waves away the insult(?) nonchalantly. "Yeah, yeah. I've gotta entertain myself somehow, all right?"
"Actually, shouldn't you be working right now? Your boss is gonna have your tits if there's another incident."
"Nope." Her already-wide smile spreads to an almost frightening one. "I got me an intern."
"An...Intern?" Southpaw cocks his head, unsure of the term. Whether it's the meaning or the fact that one can intern for this position which confuses him, I'm not sure of myself.
The query is lost on her, either way. "Sweet, isn't it? Boss-man told me to wear my uniform today, and this kid showed up all doe-eyed and ready to work. I only have one boat, though, so I took him across a couple times, had him take me to make sure he doesn't crash the Titanic, and now he's doing all the work for none of the pay." She laughs softly to herself before adding, "Not that there's any money in this."

"Why do you do it, then?" Southpaw asks. It's odd that he would need to, being a youkai himself.
"Hm," she starts, either unfazed by his ignorance or not showing her surprise. Leaning on her scythe and stroking an imaginary beard, she takes a moment to think silently. "That's a hard one to explain. I guess you could say it's my calling?" The answer doesn't seem to satisfy her, though. After a short pause she continues, "I mean. It's just what I do. Hell, you're a youkai," she finally mentions, "You oughtta know how it is. Why do you do anything you do?"
The vague question gets some pause out of him. "Anything like what?"
She waves a hand in the air, feigning exasperation. "Like anything. I don't know you, man. With those ears, you could be a youkai of especially stinky farts for all I know." The line gets a snicker out of Marisa, and despite myself I do have to hold back a bit. Southpaw is less amused. "Point is, there's some things you just...do. Then again, it's kind of the same for humans, isn't it?" She turns with a smirk to Marisa.
"It's a little less clear-cut, but yeah, I guess you're right. Most of the time, you gotta do you. I dunno about you, but I can only do other people once or twice a day." If I hear the word 'you' one more time... "How about you," Gah! "Hina? Any of this ringing home?"
"Oh, of course." It's true that I love what I do, but it's also literally what I exist to do. If I didn't, I simply wouldn't be.
Southpaw, on the other hand, seems to lack such a purpose. "I...don't really get it."

As I make to explain more thoroughly, Marisa slaps a hand on his back consolingly. "Well, maybe some day. So!" Almost in the same motion, she moves to a contemplative stance and points casually toward the river. "While we're on this subject, I was kind of wondering on the way over. What happens to youkai when they die? Do they get ferried over, too?"
"I was actually wondering that, too. I mean, there's clearly something different about the way we're made." Southpaw immediately gets more attentive at that question. It does seem like a good opportunity...
Komachi, too, perks up a bit. "Ooh, interesting question, though I don't have a great answer for you. Yeah, they get ferried just the same as anyone else, but there's something about the judging process that's different. I'm not really involved in all of that, so you'll just have to talk to Shiki when you see her." The skies around her seem to darken with her expression as she says, "I could take you right now, if you're eager to know."
The three of us reply in unison, "No thanks." I, however, continue. "But could you perhaps tell me whether you've ferried any tengu recently?" The opening is there, it just needs some careful probing.
Her expression goes dead, and my heart skips a beat as her eyes darken – a real dark, not like the joking look she just shot. This one turns my spine to ice and grips my throat shut. "Now why would you want to know that." Suddenly she truly looks the part of a reaper, a cautious hand idly feeling the grain of the wooden shaft.
Southpaw stands his ground and answers calmly, "Hina is helping me look for someone that I used to know." What a surprise that he would offer up such information.
In an only slightly annoyed tone, she replies almost instantly, "Well, you're not going to get them back. I can tell you that right now."

"I don't need to get him back." At least he isn't completely delusional. "I just want to know whether he's actually dead."
Her expression lightens somewhat as she realizes that we aren't going to make her job that much more difficult. "Well, that's tough. For one, I don't just ferry souls from Gensokyo. People from the outside come through here constantly. The number of people who actually lived here is maybe one percent of one percent of the people I ferry across." That would explain the breadth of the field. Though, if she's the only ferryman, how can she possibly keep up? "Second, just because I haven't gotten around to someone doesn't mean they aren't dead." She waves an arm slowly across the landscape, from upstream to down. "Every one of these flowers is a resting place for a soul until they get in the boat. And," she continues with a tired sadness in her voice that almost breaks my heart, "Even despite all of that, I have ferried a lot of tengu recently. I wanna help you, kid, but I'm gonna need a little more to go on. Even then, I'm not making any promises."
Tension was on Southpaw's face the moment we came here, but now his skin glistens with sweat, a mixture of fear and devotion clashing behind his eyes. Surely being forced to divulge information about his mission is painful for him, but now is the time to do it. Still, it isn't my choice to make, and besides that, I don't really know anything about Tenma to give her. "Would a name do?" he asks hesitantly.
"It's a start," Komachi replies with a sigh.
He braces himself for one more moment before quietly saying, "I'm looking for Tenma--"
"Bahahahahahahahaha!" What.


Marisa and Southpaw both seem to share the sentiment, though no one dares ask why she's laughing so boisterously. It takes a long moment for it to subside, and even then she speaks through chuckles. "You really had me going there for a second! Fuckin' Tenma. Jesus Chrahahaist..." She takes a few steadying breaths, wiping a tear from her eye. "No, Tenma isn't dead, you stupid son of a bitch. Do you really know him? Are you fuckin' with me?"
Southpaw, curt as ever, turns tail. "Thank you for your time. Let's go."
Sobering herself, Komachi runs to stop him. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Sorry, I didn't mean to...I just. We go way back. Trust me, whatever Tenma's doing, he isn't dead."
"Thank you for your time." He pulls at her again, almost stomping down a poor little flower but jumping off to fly away in the last moment.
"I didn't say he wasn't here." That gets his attention.
It does not, however, get him to land. "Is he here or not." He's quite done with diplomacy, it seems. Maybe he really isn't as intimidated as I.
"It's still hard to say." Her demeanor actually looks timid as Southpaw looks down at her, his voice hard and demanding. "He can make it across himself, and he's known my boss a lot longer than he's known me." What kind of...
Marisa's jaw drops. "You're shitting me." The reverent smile on Komachi's face says, 'No shit at all' without her speaking a word. Suddenly, she has Marisa's attention as well. "I don't know who this Tenma guy is, but I'm helping you find him. I don't give a fuck." Was she always so vulgar?

Southpaw doesn't bother arguing against it. Other things are more important. "So why are you telling us all this? We can't get across unless we die, anyways."
"Weeeeell." Stretching her back and rolling her eyes so wide that her head has to chase them, she teases, "There is one way. You're not gonna like it, though."
"What is it?" He inches toward her in the air, perhaps a bit too excited.
"Now, I'm not saying my boss is gonna be happy about it. Nor am I saying you're definitely gonna find anything. You're throwing around a pretty big name, though, so you might be able to get away with it. If," My heart stops as a breeze rustles my ribbons and a scythe appears inches from my face. "She goes. Alone. You don't have to or anything, though." Oh.

Oh, dear.

[ ] Nope. Nope nope nope. Nooooooope.
[ ] Noooooooproblem. I was ready for this when I first suggested it.
[ ] I'm not doing this by myself. Haggle, pester, and pray.
[x] Noooooooproblem. I was ready for this when I first suggested it.

Maybe whimper a little bit. Just a little.
[x] Noooooooproblem. I was ready for this when I first suggested it.

Show us your couarge Hina! It's okay to tremble a little, right?
[x] Noooooooproblem. I was ready for this when I first suggested it.

I get the impression Komachi'd give me a fear boner.
[x] Noooooooproblem. I was ready for this when I first suggested it.
[X] Noooooooproblem. I was ready for this when I first suggested it.

>Haggle, pester, and pray.
Wait, who would a goddess pray to?
Other, larger goddesses.
Due to the continued shift-dickery of my work, I'm going to say that this, too, will be a Saturday update (though I may still make it by Friday night). In addition, I'm amending my update schedule - I have been and will continue to attempt wholeheartedly to get updates out on Fridays, however I'm tired of having to notify you of my lateness and I don't foresee the situation at work changing in the near future. Therefore, you can consider my update schedule "Weekends."

I apologize for my ineptitude.
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"Then what are we waiting for?" I suppose I should have seen something like this coming from the beginning. No changing things now.
"See?! No hesitation. She's fuckin' crazy!" However small it is, Marisa's enthusiasm gives me a rush of faith that pushes my determination that much further. It's as gratifying as it is depressing. It shouldn't be such a rare treat.
Even Southpaw seems...not entirely derisive. "Two drinks, then," he says, not terribly broken up about it. If I didn't know better I'd say I even caught a glimpse of pride. "How long until you can leave?" It's not an impatient question, but a steadying one.
Komachi answers without hesitation. "That depends on whether you can all keep your mouths shut." Everyone demonstrates their fantastic abilities to do so, however sketchy the request suddenly seems, and she continues, "We can leave right now."

The sentence is punctuated by the sound of wood slamming against the sandy shore, as though the ground had come up to strike it. There's no gentle rowing or halloo to announce the young man's coming, and the suddenness of it all sends a shock through everyone but Komachi, who turns to face her intern. "Welcome back. How was the ride?"
Pushing his lower back forward in an attempt to stretch it, but smiling all the same, he almost shouts, "Long! But terribly interesting. That one must have lived to be a hundred, the stories he had to tell." He wears the same black robe as Komachi – oh, that must be the uniform she mentioned – though he wears the hood, covering up hair too long to be short, but not quite long enough to call long, a mop that hangs messily around his thick eyebrows. Large and friendly yet distinctly shady eyes show their enthusiasm shamelessly, and his animated motions make a long, thin, braided beard that reaches past his waist sway with every syllable. He clearly wants to be here. "And the longer the ride, the more interesting the stories. It's a good gig."
Komachi shares a laugh with him. "You're gonna have to think of what to talk about quick, then. We have a special visitor. Express line." This is getting ridiculous; I thought I was joking about not having to wait for the ferry, before.
The boy looks confused, though. "I've never heard about any special visitors. What are the rules for those?"
"The rules are: Don't ask questions, do what they say. There aren't many people that are special in the eyes of the Yama." Her tone is just as relaxed as it ever is, although in a place like this she doesn't need to sound threatening to sound threatening. He doesn't cower, necessarily, but there's a clear distinction between master and pupil in his stance alone. "This here is a goddess." She gracefully glides her open palms from my head to my toes with another low bow, presenting me.
His first instinct upon seeing me is to glance at my own braid then make some small foreign gesture with his hands. It seems positive enough. Shortly, though, he scrunches his features and half-points a finger. "But even gods-"
"Yes, yes," she waves it away, "But this is a very special goddess, and you just broke the first rule."
"I'm sorry." This time the boy looks positively remorseful, his cheer having vanished at his own indiscretion.
So does Komachi, as long as he's not looking. Seems she has a soft spot. "It's not about sorry. It's about getting you – and her – on board." Does everyone around here make bad puns? "Got it?"
"Yes ma'am." Beckoning me wordlessly, he begins walking back to his ship.

It isn't a terribly long walk, but the abruptness of it all makes it feel like I'm suddenly abandoning everything I've ever known. Then again, isn't that any sort of exploration? Yeah. This is just another adventure. I mean, she wouldn't have sent me across if she didn't know I could make it back alive. Would she have? She is...well, she is what she is. But she's already so busy. "Um," my thoughts are interrupted, just as we reach the boat. It's barely big enough for the two of us, and seems ready to sink from a slight breeze. Despite its apparent age, though, the wood is neither green nor covered in barnacles. It's hardly even sun-bleached. Rather, its damage comes from innumerable years of air, the river being something closer to an apparition. On the side is painted in a red that only shows from the ethereal reflection in the water, 'S.S. Titanic.' "How should I address you?" There he goes, breaking the first rule again.
Not that I care. "I was wondering the same of you." Isn't it impolite not to introduce yourself first, though?
"Oh, I'm nobody." He smiles that infectious smile of his. "Nobody at all." He stands with his arms sweeping in, inviting me to take the first seat. At least he's a gentlemanly nobody.
But that won't do. "That doesn't change my need for a name to call you by. You are my guide, after all." I get in the boat, despite myself.
"Doesn't it though?" Why must he be difficult about this, of all things? "You're sounding awfully human, for a goddess. You ought to understand things you can't give a name to." Smiling a terribly pleased smile, he pushes the Titanic off to sea – off to river.
"Roger!" Komachi helpfully shouts from further inland, "Make sure you don't let her wander off, either!" Now why would she say somethiMarisa. She must have remembered that little incident at the library. As embarrassing as it is, at least she's looking out for me.
"Roger, then." I can't keep the smile from my face as he exasperatedly groans. "It's a pleasure to meet you. My name is Hina."
"Not Lady, or Mistress, or Hina-sama, or The Unquestionable and Grand Wizard of yadda yadda yadda, any of that?" His speech is like a woodpecker, each syllable at the heels of the last, the titles coming with each glance at my admittedly somewhat...decorative attire. People just never seem to accept a goddess that doesn't look the part.
I don't need a title, though. "Not The Nameless One, or The Pale Oarsman, or My Worst Nightmare?" I don't know what's wrong with me, teasing someone who may very well take me on this trip when I actually die.
"None of that, no. Please." The poor thing can't handle a little teasing...or maybe he just gets enough of it from Komachi. "Actually," he says, brightening, "I kind of like The Pale Oarsman. You can totally call me that, if you're into it. So, Hina, then."
"That's it, yes. Don't worry about asking questions, by the way, I don't mind at all. I just don't know whether I'll answer them yet." I'd hate to go along this entire ride without having anything to talk about.
He seems quite pleased by my going over his boss, though he doesn't mention it. "Oh good. First question, why are you so special?" I'm not. Not in the least.
I don my most regal, knowing smile, and quietly say, "Pass." He frowns a funny, smirking sort of frown. "May I have a turn?"
"Yes, you may. My turn." Wait. You...oh, damn it. "Why can't you tell me why you're so special?"
Because I'm a terrible liar. "Pass."
"Gyaah!" he shouts halfheartedly, making that his frustration comes off as a joke. Whether it's real underneath it all, that's another question.
"My turn..."

Despite having requested the chance, I can't choose a single question to ask from the multitude floating around my mind. For a moment, my eyes wander to the "water", a dense mass of energy too loose to call a soul and too tightly bound to simply be. How exactly it came to be a river is beyond me.
May as well. We'll be here a while. "How did this river come to be? Did they teach you that?"
"Hey now, that's two." There's something odd in his smile, but I can't pin it.
Not a big deal, either way. "You can ask me two, then."
"Okay. I don't know, and no." Well. Fair's fair, I suppose. "So what kind of goddess are you, exactly?" That's a surprisingly tough one to explain.
"You could call me a few things." It all depends on the label you want to use. "Essentially, I redirect the flow of hateful, harmful energy toward myself and away from..." Humans? Youkai? Places, things. "Whatever it is that's at risk. It's not a glamorous job, but I love it just the same."
Roger whistles an impressed sort of whistle. "Is that why you're rotting, then?" I'm...sorry?

A glance at myself doesn't show anything particularly out of the ordinary. "I'm afraid I don't follow."
For just a flash, his face seems almost pitying. It only takes the slightest twitch of an eyebrow to banish the impression, and he's back to his normal cheerful self. "Your whole spirit is rotting, man. It's like nothing I've ever seen before." That's...concerning. "I thought it was just a fashion statement. You know how people can be in this business." I don't, in fact, but that can stay a secret for now.
Besides that, I feel fine. Something makes me think this is an act. "So why didn't Komachi say anything?"
"Maybe because she's not as rude as I am. Sorry, by the way. We don't have to talk about this." The suggestion seems almost as much for himself as it is for me, the discomfort creeping in to his voice slowly. "Does, uh. Does it hurt?"
Well, assuming that the rotting really is a result of the curses... "You get used to it." A sigh sneaks out of me, making the phrase sound so much more tired than I had meant it to. Trying a second time, I look him in the eyes and summon the brightest smile I can under the circumstances. "Do your arms still hurt from all the rowing?"
"I see your point, I think." He leaves it at that, but the freshly familiar feeling of faith firms my resolve. There's no trick or lie to this. He respects me.

At least someone does.

"As for the rotting. Whether we talk about it or not, it's happening, isn't it?"
"So it would seem. That's two, by the way."
"Oh, stop already." This is more important than some arbitrary question rules.

[ ] I need to get to the bottom of this, and I need to do it now.
[ ] Then again, he's uncomfortable and clearly doesn't know much more than I do. Change the subject, there are probably better people to ask.
[ ] Or maybe it's just another unfortunate thing I need to accept about my purpose.


Posting immediately before bed, Friday night. Victoly.
[x] Or maybe it's just another unfortunate thing I need to accept about my purpose.

And we'll all float on anyway~
[x] I need to get to the bottom of this, and I need to do it now.

I'm curious where this leads and it's been a while since this aspect was referenced.
[X] Then again, he's uncomfortable and clearly doesn't know much more than I do. Change the subject, there are probably better people to ask.

It's something to ask the Yama, not some intern ferryman.
[X] Then again, he's uncomfortable and clearly doesn't know much more than I do. Change the subject, there are probably better people to ask.
In contrast not sure if Hina'll have a chance to address that with her once she's there and I'm not sure if we'll get a chance to really ask about it anytime soon after this.
Update's almost done, but I have work and a wedding to attend tomorrow. It will not come sooner than Sunday, unless under extremely lucky circumstances.
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Important as it is, though, it's time to end this conversation. My first instinct is to let it be; it's a part of who I am, and I've been living with it until now. After a moment's thought, though, it sinks in that my spirit is rotting. That's all there is to me, spirit. Just like so many things, my form is just an interpretation of what I truly am, something to make it easier to understand me. To say a youkai's – let alone a goddess's spirit is rotting would be like saying...something worse than just flesh, or brains, or any one organ. Worse than a human's spirit, by itself, although not by much. It's my everything.

If there is anything about this that I can address, I should know. If there is nothing about this that I can address, I should know.

But as much as I want to force the answers from him and shake him by the collar for being so casual about it all (or just ask politely, perhaps) it's clear that he's already uncomfortable and hardly the most knowledgeable person here. "I'll just have to ask the Yama about it." The phrase spills out of my mouth as quickly as "Higan". There's only one place we can possibly be going, after all, and I need to look the part. Half of me is filled with world-stopping terror, counting the seconds before I meet possibly the single most...influential being that exists. The word doesn't feel quite right, but none seem to live up to just what the Yama is. The other half, however, is positively bubbling. How many people have the privilege to see something like this? To be surrounded on all sides by the "river", as much of a misnomer as a "curse", or as "Hina". I can't stare at it for too long or the sheer gravity of it calls me forward, being the youkai that I am. Perhaps others just have a better grip on this sort of thing, but there's no way they can't feel something. Maybe I'm just too used to letting myself spin~.

Roger smiles a bit and breaks both the silence and my river-gazing. "So why the grin?" Well, why else?
I lean forward reflexively, resting my elbow on my knee and my chin on the back of my hand. "Do you have a passion, Roger?"
"Another question out of turn?" He counters. If he won't give up his game, I'll just have to beat him at it.
I raise an eyebrow, putting on my most exaggeratedly girlish voice. "Do you need to ask?"
Rather than ham it up, he calmly and quietly asks, "No, but what kind of a place would the world be without inquisitive minds?"
"Can all the great thinkers of the world ever truly imagine not thinking?" I didn't expect this to take quite this sort of a turn, but here we are.
"No, because–fuck." I win~ "Well, I guess you could say I do," he says, dropping the philosophy the moment it's tossed to him. "Although..." He stumbles, but quickly decides, "It's a little morbid."
"I won't judge." There's very little chance I haven't seen worse.
He hesitates for another moment, but when he begins talking, he immediately relaxes. "I like funerals. I think they're some of the most beautiful things there are, sending some dear soul off to the afterlife, planting something to forever remember them by." He forgets to row for a moment, looking off into the directionless void of pink skies and...the color is so immediately recognizable, yet evades grasp. Grey or silver are close, but aren't quite satisfying. Something is missing, that quality that makes it look – no, feel alive.
Perhaps it's just his quiet joy accenting the soft trickle of the river's timeless flow. "So why the big smile?"
Coming full circle like that only makes him smile wider. "Valid point, and excellently made, but it does not quite answer the question."
"How's that?" I thought it was a rather clever way of answering it, personally.
"What's your passion, then?" Oh, right. I so often forget to talk about myself...hm. How to say it.

"Spinning." Bluntly is best.

After all, how else do you get such fun reactions out of people? "Spinning." His beard sways as his face contorts comically, as animated as he is stunned.
"Spinning," I reply with a serene smile. I have my purpose, my calling, my aspirations and responsibilities, but when it comes to passion...Well, a girl's got to have her hobbies. Say what you want, I love what I love. "It comes to mind now and then, and I can't help but smile."
"What's so great about it?" He notices that he's stopped rowing (which of course makes me notice that he had stopped rowing) and starts pushing particularly hard.
I put on a shocked face, complete with a dainty hand covering a wide mouth. My fingers fall to my chin and my eyebrows come together in a full pout as I go to say, "Have you never spinned? You poor deprived thing!" I don't know why I'm teasing him so much. Maybe it's just been a while since I've been able to just joke around with someone. All these tengu get into such trouble. I can't even keep from laughing at my own joke.
At least he sees the humor in it, too. After a short laugh, he insists, "Come on, for real. I'm intrigued."
It's nice to hear someone ask about it, though I doubt I'll be able to say too much. I should keep it simple and organized... "It's as much fun as it is an art and a science. Knowing just where and when to push can steer you all sorts of places, and the way it draws in energy pushes you further with every spin, and it makes the world look just so beautiful, and sometimes I lose track of time, and forget where I am, but." Wait. Let's try this again. "I mean. It's..."
He's doubled over and coughing by now, unfortunately. An opportunity missed. "No, no, I get it. It's all right." His coughing finally clears into voice-cracking laughter, although he gets a grip on himself quickly enough.
That's quite enough of that, then. Time to never mention it again. "Why are you interning for this position? It seems thankless," I almost say, before realizing how incredibly rude it sounds. Now isn't the time to be petty, Hina... "So what inspired you to pursue this position?"
He tries to look apologetic, and fails. "Hey, I don't mean it like that. It's just cute, is all. You're." He stops himself after a moment of glaring.

Perhaps the stern look is a bit more persuasive when it's surrounded by rot. Admittedly, though, I'm fighting back a blush. I haven't been called cute in a long time.
He moves on. "Sending dear souls to the afterlife is beautiful at a funeral, hearing what impressions a person's left on others, and all that, but what do you think people do when they're told they're about to be judged?"
"Oh, lots of things. People are different." You learn that when you work with them.
"You'd be surprised. Every single person I've worked with so far has told me all about their life, their fondest memories, their deepest secrets, their regrets and their accomplishments. They pour out their soul, so to speak." This time, the pun gets a laugh out of me. I must be going mad. "I think they need it. Someone to listen, and to answer their questions, and guide them along. Help them come to terms with things. That's why the assholes get more time, you know that?" Assholes get more time...? So, a longer ride? I shouldn't ask, if he assumed I would know.
"No, I didn't," I say, completely honestly.
"Trade secret, that. Pass it along." He winks a sly wink. As though someone might hear in this endless expanse, he drops his voice to a whisper. "I dunno why we spend all our lives living for secrets, then the afterlife happens and we keep it up."
"Then," I speak rather loudly, sending him jumping, "Why are you whispering?"
He looks off into the horizon contemplatively. "Gotta work within the system to bring it down, right?" What a character you're turning out to be.
And we have so much in common. "I've been working for years, and it's still strong." There's something a bit crushing about knowing that your cause may never succeed, but that you can never give up on it.
"So are you, though." He looks me directly in the eyes. "Are you gonna keep working?"
"Of course." I answer without hesitation, and his reply comes in the form of another small rush of faith.

Moments pass in silence, until a familiar thump sends me off my seat and very nearly sprawled onto the boat's deck. How the opposite shore appeared under us, I have to try very hard not to ask.
"So it's been a while since you were last here," he states. It's obvious just from the way I look around, mouth agape. The place sends shivers down my spine, parts of it being obstructed by what I can only call static, like the force that binds the world gave up. Looking downstream makes the river seem almost like it's glowing, though I know it's impossible. I could swear I could see some people playing catch, as well...Lookinggmgoizvosklerthuaatrd the world stitches itself back together to reveal a lone woman sitting by a fire, seeming on the verge of nodding off. She only closes her eyes completely long enough for it to be a very relaxed blink, and in between each, she glances up at me and smiles. My eyes travekki;e*fflsxbbwwwwhere a foggy mountain pass lies, clean and tidy, clearly well-tended by someone or another.

I want to keep looking, but it starts to hurt to focus too much. I turn back to Roger, taking some comfort in the gently rolling river. "Do you think you remember the place well enough, or should I give you some directions?" He says it so casually, like he just strolls right through this chaos...

[ ] More independence, more freedom. I can explore by myself.
[ ] This may be an adventure, but I'll be happy to take a map.
[ ] Or a guide. You can use guides on adventures, right?


Still on time, though only just. I probably could have gotten this out on Friday if I had tried harder. I'm sorry.
[x] This may be an adventure, but I'll be happy to take a map.
[x] This may be an adventure, but I'll be happy to take a map.
[x] This may be an adventure, but I'll be happy to take a map.
I cannot guarantee that there will be an update this weekend. Most of my free time this week has been spent conceptualizing, researching, and otherwise preparing for the brewing of a beer to commemorate the upcoming birth of my brother's first and very, very probably only son. What little remains has gone toward spending time with my loved ones during the week of first shift that I've been allowed before going back to a weird not-quite-second shift.

When I have a minute, I will spend it writing. As of right now, however, the update has not even been started.


There are not enough disapproving looks in the world for this. Are you still alive, you double nigger?

It's not like I'm worried about you or anything.
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This Friday. I promise.

I am so, so sorry. I'll spare you all the excuses. You know them by now.
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Maybe directions won't amount to much, but I'll take what I can get. "Some guidance would be just lovely. Do you have a map, perhaps?"
"Oh, yeah, right in the lobby. Little podium full of the things." The joke, small as it is, gets a laugh out of me. As inappropriate as the time may be, it's a comfort and I'm thankful for it. "So you just go in through the front door," he says, pointing toward nowhere, "then take a left and keep going straight until you hit the double doors." That's...that's great, Roger. "Then at the three-way fork, you take a right, then keep an eye on your left side for the elevators. She's on the highest floor, all by herself."
"...I'm sorry?" A number of words come to mind, but the quickest of the jumble come out before I can catch them.
"I know, right?" He attempts, completely misreading me. "I dunno how she does it. Only ever seen her come outside the office once." His face scrunches in a mix of confusion and concern, and he leans on his paddle. "You'd think someone with that much work to do would have some help on hand. Maybe she's one of those artist types, a total control freak, you know?" As absurd as it sounds to talk so casually about the Yama, it's grounding, in a way.
Or it would be if there were at least a building here to speak of, let alone one with a 'highest floor.' "I'm afraid I don't see any kind of building around here..."
"Really?" He cocks his head a bit, bewildered. "It's right there," he repeats, pointing vaguely at nothing.
"Maybe...maybe you should just lead the way." Either he's too committed to the joke, or I'm going mad.
"A blind goddess, then?" Or he's going mad... "I'm sure Komachi won't mind if I play seeing eye dog for a while. She did say not to let you get lost, after all," he says, jumping off the boat with a grunt.

He offers me a hand, which I take as gracefully as one can when performing such a simple task. "Thank you so much. I hate to be a bother." I've given up on trying to explain things here. I've always known I would never understand death, but this...
There's no point defending my eyes' honor, if it comes to all that. "Oh, it's no bother at all. I'd hate to be that stupid intern that got Hina lost." At least he doesn't seem to mind.
"That'd be a terrible way for The Pale Oarsman to start his career, indeed." It could make a good start to a redemption tale, though. Wouldn't that be a nice little notch in history?
"It is, however, a very good way to end it." He laughs at his own joke, a half-hearted kind of laugh that seems almost habitual rather than real. Seems he may have hit a little too close to his own home. I appreciate the small distraction, at least. As much as I try to stay relaxed, it's difficult at a time like this. What would it be like, getting hopelessly lost without a guide, doomed to wander the realm of the dead for an eternity...? An image of Marisa and Southpaw waiting for me to return for...hours? Days? Only to find an empty boat and an apologetic intern.

It takes some effort to keep those sorts of thoughts from intruding. I suppose I wasn't as ready as I thought. "So like I said, yoosiesho;oia0s9r7tyzx[spoiler]pfxob[spoiler]ffspgyallows him whole, every trace of his body dissolving into the air with a swirl, soundlessly as sugar in tea. The suddenness of it all sweeps me off my feet, and it takes a long moment to register. Roger's gone. Roger's very gone.

I stand. I stare, for a long time. Nothing changes.

It takes another long moment for me to shake off the paralysis.

Something wet is on my cheek, but I don't remember crying.

It's an odd state of mind I find myself in, both revolted and intrigued, both deeply, deeply disturbed and blanketed in a queer, not-quite-calm. Certainly terrified, though everything about this place is terrifying. Everything I dreaded and hoped wouldn't – couldn't happen. No, wait, it's not all bad yet. I'm just out a guide and expected to extract answers to difficult questions from my judge. From everyone's judge. It would be terrifying if I weren't terrified. Somehow, though, being allowed this solitude for the first time in several days now...why, maybe even the first time in my life. The soil is soft and fragrant, the scent of distant flowers blending with the non-river like a drizzly day. It brings back old memories, and with them a certain serenity. I just hope I can hold on to it.

Thus do I think back on his directions. If I track from the place he was pointing and go left, then the mountain swiftly sweeps skyward. Top floor, then. Strolling toward it makes the rest of...I want to call it reality, but something deep inside of me refuses to accept it as real. The rest of creation sweeps past me much like the field of flowers before it. Within moments, all I can see stretching to the horizon is a range of mountains and forests, small rivers completely unlike the Sanzu, and a light fog that sweeps around the tips of trees like draped lace. Guess there's nowhere left to go but up.

And up. Paths below me start to fray as though my passing was that of time itself, edges blurring into shrubs and shorter trees as the elevation climbs.

And up. As short as the trees grow, their branches cover what scraps of a path I can imagine from their remnants. It reminds me all too much of a few spots within the magic forest that I try not to visit too often. Now and then I have to convince myself that I didn't just see other people, [s]though there's no way I didn't.[s]

And up. In time, the air is too thin to even fly on, and my feet gently settle on a thick, if high, branch. A moment's rest would do me well, I should think.

[ ] But that's just weakness talking. I need to keep moving.
[ ] Right here is fine. Just gaze at the mountains for a while, maybe try to pin what's...so...
[ ] Maybe I should get my legs adjusted, rest under the trees for a while.

A bit sparse for my standards, but I'm trying over here god damn it.
[x] Right here is fine. Just gaze at the mountains for a while, maybe try to pin what's...so...

Not long. Just to pin down what's un-there.
[x] Right here is fine. Just gaze at the mountains for a while, maybe try to pin what's...so...
Going to try to finish the update throughout the course of tomorrow, but I'm gonna be helping to clean the post-Thanksgiving apocalypse. Don't be too surprised if it comes later in the weekend, but it will come. I'm not ready to deal with this kind of shame again.
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...just a moment, though. Keeping mindful of the time, I shift my legs off the branch to dangle, gazing out at the horizon. As often as I've stood atop the tengu's mountain, looking over the Magic Forest, it's never been quite so breathtaking. It's as though the setting sun were frozen in crystal and laid across the sky, dazzling purples and oranges staining mountaintops, sending their shadows stabbing into the light opposite it. Thin, wispy clouds form streams in the sky far beneath my feet that thicken to gentle puffs, but the fiery colors of the sun embolden them to a rolling boil. The sun itself hangs lazily, half-obscured by the countless other peaks I could be climbing, and it occurs to me just how lazy it is. The sun has been setting since I started my rushed ascent, desperate to reach the Yama before darkness fell. Even after breaking the cloud line, it doesn't seem to have moved an inch. This place...

This place. Too many things are strange, even for being the afterlife, and I can't put my finger on any of them. From the space-warping to the strange static to the people who shouldn't be here eternally setting sun. I've been so focused on reaching my destination, wherever it might be, I haven't really had time to be bothered. As much as I want to relax while I can, all I can think about is how bizarre this journey has been. My mind focuses on every detail I can perceive, whether I will it or not: The colors of the trees (almost too vivid to just be plants), the smell of the earth and the air (like home, only...old?), the sound of wind scraping the surface of the range, its forests too thick to budge under the gales (and shouldn't they be thinning at this height?)...something is off, but I just can't see it. Being so confounded makes my little rest more stressful than the climb. Perhaps it's a bit unsightly of me to be so desperate to understand what can't possibly be understood, but there's an awful lot of mountain here and unless this "office" shows itself soon, I'm going to be here for a long time yet. I'd like to know what it is I've gotten myself into.

...I need a good spin[i].

Talking about it on the boat ride put me in the mood, but there's a time and a place, and it isn't "while crossing a mysterious endless river". Now, though, I [i]need
to relax, and simply resting isn't going to cut it. If I'm going to do this, I need to do it now, before I get too high up to even attempt to float. It takes more effort than it has in a long time to lift myself up, and not for lack of will. Perhaps the secret to flight is in breath, or perhaps the air itself works to lift fliers. Perhaps it's simply psychological, some instinct disallowing us from traveling too close to the sun. Regardless of the reason, there's a limit to how high one (or at least this one) can fly, and I'm at it. Taking a slow, steadying breath, I begin gradually, as to take in the scenery with my eyes instead of my spirit for another moment. As good as the vantage was from my tree, it's far more spectacular in panoramic.

It only takes a moment for the thrill to grip my lungs stiff, an indomitable grin forming and growing with each extra push. I know what's coming, and no matter how many times it happens, it's just as magical. The world begins to blur as I pull in my limbs, and I could swear I even manage to shoot further up. If people didn't already think I was crazy, I might travel like this all the time. Everything around me blends into the spin, that wonderful feeling of momentum drawing in the trees and sky and fog and gdfhk;uj.srtgsgfiuaetq-9nkcvilkofSTOP. STOP. STOP IT PLEASE NO DON'T PLEASE STOP PLEASE PLEASE please



i don't want this

it shouldn't be like this


It takes a long time to slow down, my usual smooth transition forced to a shuddering, staggered one by...I don't know what to call it. I don't even want to know any more. I don't want to think about it. Whatever is going on with that static, I don't care. I just want to go home, but the river is nowhere in sight even from this high up. It's apparent that I'm not leaving until I find the Yama, if I'm even allowed to leave then. At the very least, I managed to get some vertical distance before crashing into the ground. There's a momentary sting, but compared to the pain that I already deal with every day these little scrapes had may as well have been kisses. At the very least, I figured out what isn't there. I can't see or feel a single curse, no matter how hard I try. In a way it's nice; the weight of the world has been lifted from my heart, and the skies aren't stained with hatred. In another way, it's the most discomforting thing that's happened yet. I can't remember ever feeling like this. Even when I'm not concentrating and I allow myself to forget about them, like the feeling of a chair underneath me, they have a constant influence. It's going to be more difficult to ignore the lack of pain than its presence.

Of course, there's still that static, but even thinking about it makes my throat tighten. In an instant, it overtook everything else around me, pulling me in every direction at once and yet crushing me with its weight, thunderous silence pounding from inside my head, my sense of space blocked off by otherworldly cackling a great bleeding eye an icy embrace nothingness. I don't know how I didn't see it approaching, but I won't allow myself to miss it a second time. I can't allow it. Never again. Never.

Shake it off, Hina. You've been through worse...haven't you?

My trek continues on foot, aided by an already-pounding heart. The forest is still unnaturally thick and just as silent – whatever sounds I hear must be products of my shaken head. At least, that's what I tell myself. The terrain never gets particularly rough, but the path never levels and the trees never thin. They get shorter, to be certain, but beneath the canopy it's as dark as night, aside from a few errant streams of light. Thankfully, it's enough to keep me from tripping over roots and rocks, but the darkness still wakes a primal fear that all residents of Gensokyo have learned to listen to. Not even I'm immune from the whims of a feral youkai, or one that simply sees me as an ally to humans and humans alone. It wouldn't be the first time I've had some very narrow escapes before, and I've taken away lessons from every one of them.

In (far too much) time, the mountainside opens its gaping maw, the jagged rocks around its entrance smoothing as they extend into a pitch-black cavern. It's one of the only departures from its eerily homogenous makeup since I started climbing, but there does seem to be more mountain left to climb...not terribly much, though. This could very well be the office I'm looking for...

[ ] ...Which also makes its investigation mandatory. Joy.
[ ] ...So let's come back to it if there's nothing higher up. No need to delve into darkness just yet.
[ ] ...Or it could just be nothing.
[x] Listen to the cave mouth.
Barring any enlightenment,
[x] ... let's come back to it if there's nothing higher up. No need to delve into darkness just yet.

(yama, n. mountain. Thus perhaps this high-up cave mouth is the actually the Yama's mouth? Shiki is supposed to be a यम rather than a 山, but you never know...)
I'm starting to think going off the beaten path was a terrible idea.
It's not like you weren't warned about Higan.
[x] ...Which also makes its investigation mandatory. Joy.

Meanwhile, in Silent Hill...
[X] ...So let's come back to it if there's nothing higher up. No need to delve into darkness just yet.

Roger said the Yama is on the highest floor, so let's start at the top and work down.
[ ] ...So let's come back to it if there's nothing higher up. No need to delve into darkness just yet. 
[X] ...So let's come back to it if there's nothing higher up. No need to delve into darkness just yet.

He also said to take the elevator. Hina is taking the stairs.
The update is finished (or close to it) but I need to do some editing and finalization after not looking at it for a while. Soon, I promise.

Weekend's not over yet by my clock, so you've still got time.
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Or. It could not be.

Just because I've been hiking...well, flying and then hiking, for what feels like days (although I know it couldn't have been more than a few hours, if that) doesn't mean I should jump on the first thing I see out of the ordinary. Then again, nothing around me has been ordinary. What is ordinary supposed to mean, then, if not something mysterious and likely to be dangerous? By that logic, this cave is the safest thing I've encountered yetwhat am I thinking. This place is making me lose my mind...But this is Gensokyo. Probably. Maybe that's what I need to do. As much as my instincts tell me to leave, as much as I want to walk away – run, really, but I'm too old to be running from geological formations – something in me refuses to go. The warm air wafting from inside makes it seem all the more like the mouth of some enormous beast, and growling echoes almost too faint to hear at all draw my ears closer. Despite my fears, something is inviting me in, something is making me too curious to ignore it. Something has to be down there, but what?

...not a top-floor office. Move along, Hina. You'll thank yourself for it. Probably.

The first few steps are difficult, and not only because of the continued upward slope. It almost feels like walking under water, the unbreathably thin air somehow finding the strength to grip at me, pulling me back with invisible tendrils. As I manage to make some distance, it seems to recede some, but the sensation lingers like a sore. That felt far too bizarre to brush off, and the mountain itself isn't giving much in the way of distractions. Not a single step reveals anything noteworthy, nothing breaks away from the same frozen landscape that I've been looking at since I began. The peak is still out of sight, the sun is still setting, and those people still won't shut up. I have to keep convincing myself that abandoning the cave was in fact a good idea, especially when I realize how little distinguished its location from the rest of this endless forest. There's no way it was what I'm looking for, if it was the top of Roger's invisible imaginary but I'm really the one that's imaginary aren't I office building that reaches higher than the clouds and makes you remember things that never happened or did they...(did what?) What is this place supposed to be anyways? Nothing's happening at all.

Maybe that's the point.

That's it. No denying it. I'm hearing things. I mean, actually hearing things. Things that were noises, not thoughts.

That doesn't mean they aren't real, you know.

If you're real, then who are you? Where are you?

Come now, you haven't said a word.

...That's right. I really am hearing things.

If you can't believe yourself, then what can you believe?

...So you're some kind of mind-reader? Is that it?

You and I both know it isn't that simple.

Then what is it? I've just about had it with this confusion for the sake of confusion. What are you trying to tell me?! Maybe I thought I was ready for this, but all I've encountered is nothing.

Now, now. You shouldn't think of it like that.

How else am I supposed to think about it? I may be patient, but I expected a little more...direction. How is anyone supposed to get judged, wandering around endlessly like this?

...not that I want to be judged, or anything.

No one's going to decide for you. Don't wait around for them; they're not gonna be waiting for you.

What does that even mean?

It means whatever you want it to mean. Whatever you decide it means.

...Sure. Fine. Whatever. What's the point in questioning it any more?

Nothing is pointless.

My rock plummets through the trees with a snap, disappearing under the leaves. I realize what I've done only an instant after it leaves my hand, but I still feel completely awful about it. Of all the people in all the worlds, how could I let myself snap like that? It doesn't matter that there was no one there to get hit by it (probably), I still threw it in anger. What if there had been? What if...

What if, nothing. Accept it and move on.

Who are you?! A face, a name, a figure, anything! I can't stand this any more!

Oh, I'm just a guy who can't stand to see a pretty girl cry.

I wasn't crying. Much.


Well. That's the end of that, then...Probably. Once again, I'm alone with my thoughts, although it isn't such a comfort any more knowing that no one can just pop in for a visit. If nothing else, I can take some small comfort in the fact that the terrain is finally changing. Grasses and herbs overtake the trees, and every step I take brings more light down on me (or up to me, I suppose). Just as quickly, though, brown tramples green, and my footing turns rocky. Every step kicks up dust and dirt, as careful as I am not to, and quite literally before I know it the ground flattens underneath me. After all this climbing, I've finally reached the peak. It's less scenic than I'd hoped, although it's certainly impressive.

Up this high, even the sun has to struggle to reach me, leaving the ground pitch black and the skies red, yet thick with windswept dirt and almost painful to breathe. The earth itself had may as well be a ghost; even what little truly barren places I've seen have been more lively than this. It's as though no life has ever found this place, and all of its attempts to do so have ended with every breath being squeezed from it by those same invisible tendrils. Looking across the range doesn't reveal much more through all the static, although admittedly I can't summon the strength to try very hard. Maybe I'm on a higher peak, maybe I'm lower. It doesn't matter after I notice the first grave.

Strange, how things can disappear when you look directly at them, as though they don't want to be seen. I almost didn't see it at all through the filth, but a gust of wind caught something red and frilly, which in turn caught the sun and my eye. A simple wooden stake stands against the elements, and from the looks of it this isn't its first century doing so. The wood is as pale as a drowned man and cracked as a burnt one. There may have been characters written on it or scratched into it, ages and ages ago – there's space for them, at least – but time has worn the whole thing down to splinters. Were it not for a single long, red ribbon, tied taut as can be, I'm not confident that it would be anything more than dust by now.

Nearby is another grave, this time a great marble cross that looks to have been carved just yesterday. When I stand close enough, I can see blood, hidden against the sky the edges are sharp enough to cut, and the surfaces glisten, untouched by the filth surrounding them. The whole structure is taller than I am, and thicker than my waist along the whole thing (even with the dress). I'd ponder how this even got up here, if I had a single idea to go on. What bothers me far more than that, though, is the long, red ribbon, tied taut as can be around the intersection of its arms.

A tombstone stands nearby, a simple rough slab rounded at the more jagged bits but by no means carved or chiseled. It sits lopsided, the earth under it clearly giving way but not having quite given up. No words adorn its face, as far as I can tell, but it's clear that it extends quite deep into the earth judging by the soft mound that its steady decline has tilled up, and a long, red ribbon is tied taut as can be around a slight indent in its side, as though it's been tightened as its own pressure wears it away, seating it deeper and deeper as the years pass.

Myriad graves reveal themselves, the almost silty air obscuring the expanse of what may very well be a plateau rather than a peak. Travelling deep enough into the graveyard obscures all of the slopes I might have climbed, making me that much more concerned about finding my way back. All I can do is focus on the graves, which isn't much more comforting. Each one is different; cheap and expensive, new and old, small and large, all sizes, sorts, and styles accounted for, but none of them are marked with anything but a long, red ribbon.

Except the mausoleum.

[ ] Mmmmthat cave is looking pretty inviting right about now...
[ ] There must be some kind of an explanation for what's going on...maybe I'm just not approaching this right.
[ ] You belong in there.


Once again, file not actually NSFW. Please open it, now that you've read the update.
[X] There must be some kind of an explanation for what's going on...maybe I'm just not approaching this right.

The mysterious voice did say that "it means whatever you want it to mean. Whatever you decide it means", so maybe The Pale Oarsman Roger sees this place as an office because it's his workplace and he's part of the bureacracy while Hina subconsciously expects something else. That's why she's wandering through a graveyard on a mountain instead of just taking the elevator to the top floor.
[X] There must be some kind of an explanation for what's going on...maybe I'm just not approaching this right.
Probably should have made it clear in any way at all, but that was intended to be a semi-write-in: Just how should you approach this mystery?
[X] There must be some kind of an explanation for what's going on...maybe I'm just not approaching this right.
-[X] Those ribbons are the common thread for all these graves. I should examine them.

>By that logic, this cave is the safest thing I've encountered yet
>You belong in there.
Lines like these are making me think of one thing: DRR DRR DRR.
[x] There must be some kind of an explanation for what's going on...maybe I'm just not approaching this right.

Touch one of the ribbons. Examine the graves. Keep looking for words, see if "finding meaning" really is that easy.

Goooood update.
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Do you have any idea how encouraging that is
I don't know what to do or say or vote for.

But I just wanted that these last few updates have been a fascinating sort of fucking weird. You have also been making good use of formatting options, although it couldn't hurt to go over your posts again after you've posted them. Sometimes that formatting's gotten away from you.

But please, take heart. You are doing a good job, and even if you don't make it on time, well. I won't lose faith on you.

...After all, I'm a be-liiiiiieveeeer ​ ​ ​ ​ ~ ​ ​
[x] >>24773

(all of it)
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It's odd. When I step back, so to speak, fear recedes past hate frustration, which recedes past curiosity. There has to be more to this than I'm seeing. It's the land of the dead, damn it, there has to be. What kind of cosmic superpower would create a world where the recently deceased wander aimlessly, seeing things and thinking, 'Oh, how queer.' It's not enough to simply be afraid and back away. It's not like I don't deal with death (well, potential death) every day. What, then, is so paralyzing about this place? Why can't I stop running, physically or mentally? Was I always such a coward? Will I ever STOP?

The answers are already must be there. I'm just not looking at them. Probably.

...But where are they? My first instinct would be to spin, but thoughts of the static daddy that horror...Well, let's just save it for a last resort. Instead, I find myself drawn toward the ribbons, fluttering in the prevailing yet gentle breeze. The closest one to me is already within arm's reach. Its grave is very nearly a monolith, but it's crowned with marble claws, reaching tirelessly toward the heavens as though they could ever get there despite time having chipped away some of their fingers. The survivors (ha) grasp for one another – and their ribbon. There are no words on it that I can see, but intricate runes border the entire structure. Something about them is too familiar to ignore just like the ribbons, but whatever connection I'm making is too vague to pin.

My attention is on the ribbon, though. Once it has my focus, it's hard to break away from it. That fluttering is entrancing, and the shade of red is just gorgeous. Either would make it impossible to inspect from a distance, but in tandem they make it positively ethereal. If I could just get a good grasp on it, maybe I could remember discover something, but it seems like it has a mind of its own. Every time my fingers circle it, no matter how close to the knot I try to grab it from, it flutters through them without ever making contact. It takes a good while, but the damned thing finally manages to get me to give up on it.

The graves, then. Maybe their mere presence is having some effect on me, or maybe there are some words written on them that I just refused to couldn't see...much like the graves themselves. Tearing my attention from the ribbon (but not straying too far), I give those claws a good look. A set of three pairs, each unique against its sisters but injured identically. One is thick and scaly with cracks, darker than the others though perhaps only by coincidence, and dripping with blood. There's no fingers, no palm, hardly even a joint by which they could articulate. It seems to be purely an instrument of death, gripping desperately to the next.

The opposite pair does the same, though it's thinner and more elegant, like a skeleton wrapped in sheets only just loosely enough to hide its joints. Its fingers bend in ways that fingers ought never to bend (I should know), and though its nails are short, the edges glisten in the sun. Its fine carving is perfectly smooth in the spots that haven't been chipped away, catching the sun in a way that makes it feel almost as though it's moving. The center pair is simply a set of my human hands, reaching past the other two – or perhaps only trying to. It hurts to look at for too long, and not only because of the bloody furrows extending from its wrists all the way to the grave itself. My head feels like it's in a workman's vice (a feeling I know all too well) when I try to inspect it too closely.

Looking away but never letting it escape my view, I take a steadying breath and get a sharp sting for my troubles. My reflex is to try to ignore it, even if I fail. On the next breath, I focus perhaps a little too hard on it. Funny how quickly a lack of pain makes me turn away from it, like it isn't already a part of who I am. A fire settles in my lungs and lingers for as long as I let it, settling halfway through into the gentle burn that plagues me most every day. It's hidden under the sheer filth in the air, but it's an embarrassment that it didn't occur to me without having to focus at all. This is the feeling of a curse. It's directionless, stagnant, stale, and strangely sad, but it's a curse. Trying to absorb it proves as difficult as drinking the ocean. When I pull, it pulls back with enough strength to send me off balance, as though it were absorbing me.

...They can't do that, right?

No. No, I'm imagining things. There's no way.


Now would be a good time for a mystery voice with some answers. Or at least some distractions.

No? Well, okay. A few more attempts only wear me thin, making my body feel heavier than it already was and teaching me that this isn't my duty I'm really not strong enough, or else not good enough. I can't track it to its source or its destination just by sight or feel; once I notice it, it's in every breath I take. It's all around me. I can't know its effects without absorbing it. It's the first time in my life I've been so completely confounded by something so simple as a curse. It's in my very nature to understand them. It's what I exist to do. My only choice is to keep trying to ignore it, as much as it pains me to do so. In a way, the slow burn of denying myself is a comfort, and in another it's more agonizing than anything a human has ever thrown at me.

Convincing myself that I'll address it later doesn't help much, but it certainly helps me look at it more as a distraction than a failure. Turning my attention back to the grave doesn't do much more for me. The runes around its edges are completely foreign to me, no matter how carefully I look. No one symbol is repeated throughout the engraving, making me doubt that this is any kind of language at all (unless it's a terribly complicated one), and running my fingehukdgr6q34hljku/.tedgsd6wpu'GSDOJrkness surrounds me. The air is stale, and reeks of mud and sweat. At the very least it's warm. My back is pressed hard against something terribly uncomfortable, and I'm not sure I want to know what it is.

[ ] Static got me here. Static will get me out. Find some.
[ ] This is too much for one day. Just...give me a minute to gather myself.
[ ] This is too much for one day. I have to throw my hands up at the whole affair. Whatever happens, happens.


Say that you love me?

Nah though for real. Thank you for your kind words. Just an occasional atta-boy really does wonders in making me feel like people are reading out of more than habit or boredom.
>[x] Static got me here. Static will get me out. Find some.
This place is a colossal NOPE for Hina without someone to help her through it.
Seems to me that Divine!Hina is struggling with the tattered remains of Mortal!Hina. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

In fact, I think this entire graveyard is actually a representation of Hina herself, although I'm too tired to think of the specifics of how.

I'll come back and look at this again after I've gotten some sleep.
[ ] Static got me here. Static will get me out. Find some.
[x] Static got me here. Static will get me out. Find some.


>In fact, I think this entire graveyard is actually a representation of Hina herself, although I'm too tired to think of the specifics of how.
I wonder if it's related to Eiki's mirror, somehow, or if this is what it's like to be subject to her powers--maybe Hina found the office no problem, and this is what it's like to be examined by the judge. It seems like a cross between some of the more esoteric bits of Buddhism and The Inferno, which all fits, seeing as that's more or less where she is.

Or maybe this is what happens when the living enter hell before they're dead; lots of shit goes wonky in freaky ways.

You remembeeerrred~
[X] Static got me here. Static will get me out. Find some.

Because the other two options feel a lot like just giving up. And when you're basically visiting the afterlife, "giving up" seems like the last thing you should do.


I also believe it's something like that. That this whole place is representative.
Of what I have no idea, but there is a meaning behind it. We just don't know it (yet).
[x] This is too much for one day. Just...give me a minute to gather myself.

That first option reads to me like "[ ] Tear up the last tattered fragments of your sanity and psyche, and cease to meaningfully exist."
>Why can't I stop running, physically or mentally? Was I always such a coward? Will I ever STOP?

...Guys, maybe we should just stop for a while. I'm not sure running away is going to help.

Not to mention that the static is where that thing lives.


>Because the other two options feel a lot like just giving up. And when you're basically visiting the afterlife, "giving up" seems like the last thing you should do.

The way I see it is;

>[ ] Static got me here. Static will get me out. Find some.

Run away, try to get back to Higan proper. Probably get lost and/or have something unpleasant happen.

>[ ] This is too much for one day. Just...give me a minute to gather myself.

Take a short break, think and try again. We'll keep going, stubbornly trying to understand.

>[ ] This is too much for one day. I have to throw my hands up at the whole affair. Whatever happens, happens.

Give up. Throw in the towel. Maybe we'll be lost here forever. Maybe giving up will finally let us figure out what's going on once we stop lying to ourselves. Who knows.

I'm voting for

[x] This is too much for one day. Just...give me a minute to gather myself.

as it's the option I think is least likely to fuck us over.

Right I'm gonna go out on a limb here and give a little speculation.

>This is the feeling of a curse. It's directionless, stagnant, stale, and strangely sad, but it's a curse. Trying to absorb it proves as difficult as drinking the ocean. When I pull, it pulls back with enough strength to send me off balance, as though it were absorbing me.

My theory is the curse is one Hina laid upon herself; The curse of absorbing the misfortune of others. This has some support in the following excerpt, as we have another crossed out thought:

>A few more attempts only wear me thin, making my body feel heavier than it already was and teaching me that this isn't my duty I'm really not strong enough, or else not good enough

So yeah, my theory is that this curse is "The Divine Spirit that is called Hina", or at the very least is a part of Hina's fundamental motivation for absorbing curses. Thus why Hina feels like she's being absorbed; she is trying to absorb the curse that is her own existence.

I suspect that the ribbon represents Hina's ideals or dreams. Perhaps her happiness? I dont know, but whatever it is, it's something she's reaching for but can't seem to attain no matter how hard she tries. I'm not entirely sure what the hands represent besides Hina's own. Maybe it represents Hina as a curse, Hina as a goddess and Hina as herself? Or perhaps something she's trying to beat? I don't know.

I think the graves might represent curses absorbed by Hina, but that's probably the shakiest of my speculation.

Even if all this speculation's wrong, It's pretty clear that the truth is hidden in the parts Hina denies. Or perhaps the strikethroughs represent something else manipulating Hina?

Anyone got anything else to point out? Anything I've missed or glossed over?
[X] This is too much for one day. Just...give me a minute to gather myself.

Nothing good comes from the static.
I wonder how a trip to Higan wound up being a big dose of Mindfuck and Mystery.
How could I forget? We're like musical arch-rivals.

Now, now. Hina just had this conversation with Roger. No giving up. As an advocate of vote clarity (though I'm a little late on this one), I should step in here. "Gather myself" is Hina admitting that she's overwhelmed and exhausted, and needs a break somethin' awful. "Whatever happens, happens" is her deciding that whatever's going on in here is just going to be beyond her, and she just has to press on without worrying about it too much. The only thing she's giving up there is pursuing an understanding of all this.

Looks like someone remembers I'm from the Old Guard.

To what thing could you possibly be referring~?

Hey, man, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve. I'm not all preschoolers and pretty descriptions.

As the author of this story, I spend hundreds of hours pondering the possibilities for my characters, from their deepest inner workings to their futures. To see others choose to spend their time doing the same makes me simply elated. Unfortunately it's also my duty to resist getting into a conversation about this, so I will simply thank you - this, too, is unbelievably encouraging.

You guys have just been great. Thank you for reading, thank you for voting, thank you for thinking and discussing, thank you for choosing to spend your precious time with me, and thank you for coming back time after time despite my bumbling through this thing. This is one of the longest-standing projects I have ever pursued, if not the longest; a vector that's inked my lifeline for almost four years now, and I couldn't possibly have come this far without you.

This weekend's update may or may not be delayed on account of my brother's wedding, and may or may not come on time on account of a few (slightly) torn ligaments that have given me the day off work. I'ma try and get it out for y'all, though.
In that case, I'm changing my vote to
[X] This is too much for one day. Just...give me a minute to gather myself.

I'll delete the old post if you want.
I'm just too paranoid after seeing a general trend in situations where things go weird and/or bad and "I'll just rest a while" means "not getting back up again".
If it was a plain vote, you should definitely delete it if you can. (But mention that you've deleted it, in case the author needs to know to recount.)

If it had important and/or replied-to text in it, you definitely shouldn't delete it; but you should at least link to it in your retraction-vote, to specify which one it was.
[X] This is too much for one day. Just...give me a minute to gather myself.

>To see others choose to spend their time doing the same makes me simply elated. Unfortunately it's also my duty to resist getting into a conversation about this, so I will simply thank you - this, too, is unbelievably encouraging.

No problem. I kinda enjoy speculating, although it's kinda hard to concentrate on it considering how terrible my life is at the moment.

>You guys have just been great. Thank you for reading, thank you for voting, thank you for thinking and discussing, thank you for choosing to spend your precious time with me, and thank you for coming back time after time despite my bumbling through this thing

Love you too man. There really isn't anything I would rather do with my time. This is a great story and you should feel great. So don't worry, I'll always be here to stare at you disapprovingly everytime you break your promise to update.

>This weekend's update may or may not be delayed on account of my brother's wedding, and may or may not come on time on account of a few (slightly) torn ligaments that have given me the day off work. I'ma try and get it out for y'all, though.

No worries. Enjoy yourself, and don't worry about updating if you can't find the time.

Just don't disappear for a month without any explanation again, it makes me worry about you. ಠ_ಠ
Man fuck this week.

Updates soon.
I've been working on this one, I promise. This week totally turned around, featuring far-flung friends visiting one after the next, but didn't leave much time to write. My first draft is complete, but the editing process is proving quite difficult. It should be posted within the next couple of days, barring something positively horrible happening.
Alternatively, my computer can shit the bed, scare me half to death, and not get turned on again until my paycheck allows for repairs. We've got more coming. Mooore coming...

How are the computer repairs going?
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The computer is up and running, and I am out of a job. Again. Great timing, there. I could make some excuses, but I've made my choices on how to spend my time every day. Updates will happen when my self-loathing overcomes my combined distractions and laziness. Or, if that's not good enough: This section is forcing me to go to some places that I have a lot of trouble getting to. I don't know that I will ever be happy with the next update or two, and as such there will be delays for scratching of heads and staring longingly out of darkened windows over snow-covered trees, sipping contemplatively on half-decent scotch.

I'm still trying. I promise.

>Updates will happen when my self-loathing overcomes my combined distractions and laziness
>I am out of a job

That's a pretty legitimate reason for not writing, so don't worry so much. Just don't disappear for months at a time, it makes me worry. Come back and give status updates every once in a while.

>This section is forcing me to go to some places that I have a lot of trouble getting to. I don't know that I will ever be happy with the next update or two, and as such there will be delays for scratching of heads and staring longingly out of darkened windows over snow-covered trees, sipping contemplatively on half-decent scotch.

Well that sounds ominous. Unless you're the type of writer that has trouble writing happy fun time or something.

...My money's on the former.

>I'm still trying. I promise.

It's cool. I'll just be waiting here till you come back.

I wish you good fortune, it seems like you might need it.
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Of course. Why wouldn't something like this happen.

A tired sigh escapes my lips unbidden, the soreness in my muscles making itself all the more apparent. Images of a warm, soft bed, a nice strong tea, a crackling fire, and a hot meal flash through my head, and it's difficult not to enjoy them as slowly as they deserve to be. As soon as I catch it, though, I banish it. I can't afford even a moment's weakness. I need to find my way out of here (wherever here is), and I think I know what that way is. A second sigh follows my revelation; one of a deeper and more tired sort than I had dared to dream possible.

That static. It got me here, it'll get me out...probably.

Pushing myself back to my feet is a monumental effort. Never mind the weights that hang themselves on tired limbs, never mind the mental exhaustion I've been forced to fight thanks to the wringer this damnable place is putting me through. There is a very real force pushing me down that's all the more oppressive after trekking through the almost nonexistent mountaintop air. It assaults me like a torrent with none of the float; even breathing feels like drowning. The feeling itself is not at all unlike that cave, only instead of inviting me toward it, it's pushing me away. That alone convinces me to push back, no matter how painful. It's more intense by far than the last time, as wildly tenacious as it is unmerciful. Where the last gave up after a short distance, I'm only just managing to struggle closer to the source, feeling bruises form at the weaker points in my body as I walk despite everything within me screaming to stop. I've only felt this way once, before...

It's unlike anything I've ever felt before. It resembles a curse, in the way that the tengu's tunnels resemble an anthill. To call it something so simple and thoughtless would be an insult; not even the flood that pours from the bamboo forest compares to this monstrosity. It contorts the world around it, drawing out shadows into sinister grins on imagined maws, sharpening stones and making even light seem hostile. It happens now and then in a small way; enough hate in one place and the stream of energy itself puts monsters in every window, haunts dreams, conjures ghosts. Even a human can feel the presence of a curse if they're beaten over the head with it, and it's an utterly terrifying feeling to the uninitiated. It's easy enough to ignore, when it's every night of your life.

This isn't much different, then, I tell my heart. You can slow down some.

It's no big deal, I tell my lungs. You can stop clenching.

We've got this, I tell my legs. You can't hope to carry me through this if you keep shaking like that.

Blinking away the burn of welling tears (it's just the wind) I force another step.

The ground grows unsteady (or is it just me), shifting under my feet so that each step sets me off-balance. I trip and trip again, never being bothered to stand before falling once again on only the most unfortunate stones, their jagged, hooked points stabbing and scraping at my hands (tendons cut nails missing bending backwards no no no) my knees (caps pried away legs won't MOVE) my hips (bone scraped away blood shouldn't look so chunky), my ribs (dirt and moss and mold in my lungs, blood flowing in with every desperate raspy gasp), my stomach (it burns it burns make it STOP), my eyes (blood and jelly leaking from empty cavities) but I know it's just a nightmare.

The ground reappears, and it takes me a moment to gather myself. I can do nightmares. I know I can. Terrible as the game is, at least I finally know we're playing. Another step, and for once I don't trip. Instead, something black and acrid (don't want to know don't think about it) oozes from cracks in the ceiling and melts the ground it drips to, emitting a nauseating smoke and carving a hole in the floor which opens up far too quickly to a bottomless nothingness. The shattered portions that remain fall through the ether with me, faster and faster, organs crowding my ribcage and pressing my throat closed. The collapse flung plenty of the...stuff onto me, which burns my flesh, bubbling and smoking and eating holes through my limbs, but never killing me. When I finally stop, the impact doesn't come from below, but across - the jaws of a great wolf clamp around my waist and he shakes my body like a rabbit, breaking everything in me that doesn't dislocate before finally chomping through me with a single gargantuan crunch. A quarter-corpse, I watch helplessly as he picks away at what's left of my legs, lapping up the blood still pouring out of them (I can't possibly have had that much) before making for my eyes but I know it's just a nightmare.

The ground reappears, and strange, alien clicks and buzzes begin to echo from the depths of the darkness, getting louder and more frequent as I walk. There are more turns and forks than I could ever hope to keep track of, yet the noise seems to come from none of them and all of them all at once. Every step I take is as labored as though I were sinking knee-deep in mud each time I bring my foot down (I might just be, in this dark), and a cold chill runs down my spine when I realize it's only getting harder. Soon, I can't move at all, and the grinding begins. The stone walls move like the ocean, tiny peaks forming and disappearing randomly until one explodes into a swarm of insects. I can't see a single one, but there's no mistaking the flapping of tiny wings or the clamor of thousands of beetles as they rush toward me, finally climbing over me, flying into my hair (stinging and biting all the while), burrowing so deep into me I can feel jaws grinding against bone, and all the while I sink deeper and deeper, choking on mud, clawing for breath with what little muscle they've yet to eat, until the earth finally slips into my eyes eyes eyes eyes line the cave, each unblinking and malevolent, with a barely noticeable glow, and each equally imaginary. Just focus on the feeling of stones underneath my fingers. Close your eyes, Hina. The memories visions keep going, but so does the wall. You'll find something sooner or later.

Something YOU don't want to become embrace find.

There. The feel of it isn't quite the same as it's been, but maybe that's a good sign...Seeing it again makes this torture feel worth it, but the closer I get the more intensely it fights. The pressure picks up almost imperceptibly at first, and a tingling in my fingertips makes me aware of how smooth they feel...too smooth to just be sweaty from the exertion of walking against this force. It quickly begins to sting, picking up in intensity until it resembles a gale hard enough to carry an entire desert from the sun to the moon, burning and freezing and tearing at me with a sharpness that it hasn't known yet. Faster than I can prepare myself, it begins to draw blood and shred my clothing – not that that's much of a concern at this point. Arms raise to protect my face of their own accord, and my belly lay bare for shadowy dogs to tear at my insides. Intestines pile on the floor as they fight amongst themselves for the liver, and all the while I feel lighter and lighter, eroding away. After all that's already happened, I should be able to convince myself it's just a nightmare, but something about it just feels too real...

Nonsense. You've come this far, Hina. Everything I'm rememberseeing is in my head. Just a cruel trick from something more foul than I can fathom. Just...just a few more steps, and it'll be over. Just a few more steps. Just a few more steps. Keep saying it, and eventually it'll be true. Keep telling yourself. Keep pushing yourself. Keep going. Keep goillikog">fpoL"iho:;iku|h;o89[po;eryh0SD&gp89w243jt[pti4[spoil

The cold December sunrise pierces through my window at just the wrong angle, striking me directly in the eyes and shocking me from another restless slumber. It's blinding and unmitigatable on the best of days and perhaps even reaches me a touch earlier than it does the rest of Gensokyo, thanks to my mountainside vantage. I'd move my bed, but then I wouldn't have anything but the dreams to blame for my constant tiredness, and that simply wouldn't do. Besides, this is the best time of day to get some real work done. My gaze briefly passes over the kitchen, a few mostly-empty cupboards with essentials and a couple pots that never leave the stove top. It's enough to keep me going, but nothing special. I wouldn't know what to do with spices even if I could afford them. The big purple door catches my heart far more easily than breakfast, and I ate yesterday anyways.

Opening the door reveals a sky stained red by the rising sun, whose light dances along the clouds and earth alike and reveals streams of energy in the air all the more vividly. Normally sensing them requires a great deal of concentration, but even the sun is affected by their presence. The angle it sits at in the morning is best for my very particular line of work, meaning there's very little time for me to prepare myself for what's to come. If nothing else, I can pray to whatever gods will listen that wherever I land will house a relatively benevolent perpetrator – young, stupid, or if nothing else human. Youkai have an unbearable capacity for grudges. Just like always, though, curses are as ubiquitous as clouds. I like to think I'm making a difference, but...well, let's not go down that road.

There's plenty of others to choose from.

>But which one. Hum ho...
What just happened? Seesh.... the last part doesn't even clue in enoguh to make a real choice.

And I thought the static choice didn't win and the "compose yourself" choice did 5:3
...Huh. My apologies, folks, there was clearly some kind of miscommunication between past me and present me. If you're hung up on it, I could always delete this and start over...
You mean delete this and post an update with the proper choice? I for one would be for it, no idea about anyone else.

Sorry if I sounded overly harsh.
To be honest, composing yourself probably would have just made the scene less heart-rending for me to write. I basically had to compile every concept that makes me want to curl up and die, then write about them in detail. The end point would still be about the same.

No clues on this choice, though.
I mean after deleting the update doing the "compose yourself update" in what I'd like to see as it did win.
I'm sorry, I don't follow even a little bit. What just happened? Is this a new arc? What am I supposed to be choosing?
You lost me.
NARH went and wrote the getting out though static choice even though the compose choice won, and as a result Hina seemed to have suffered a massive mind wipe if not worse. Even I can't tell.

I was trying to convince him to write the winning choice.
Oh, but what a way to return to writing. I'll figure something out...


If you'd prefer to just continue from here instead of rewriting, then we can do that too. Just say the word. I don't mind coming up with something if that's the case.
what are you taking about? From the sounds of things, due to the miscounted votes, Hina seemed to have gotten mind-wiped, basically reducing everything before it to pointlessness.
Oh, if it'll get you all thinking a little harder, then I'll write it over all right. I'm just being awful, as usual. Thank you for putting up with me and continuing to glare in my direction. Every now and then I contemplate whether anyone actually expects another update to come, and whether anyone would notice if it did.

Which is why I want to spend a day this week writing a single-thread old-school paragraph-long-updates piece, as a writing exercise. Maybe it'll be a side story, maybe it'll be a completely different situation. The initial concept isn't solid yet, and it won't be planned beyond the first sentence. Yeah, it isn't CFA, but it's a hell of a lot less stressful. There's a couple of other rather important plans that have yet to be made, but by the end of Monday I ought to know when I'm doing this.

Watch this space for more details.
I apologize if I sounded harsh, but I feel it's better to bring up a mistake being made than letting it go unnoticed.
I'd also like to take a minute to wish everyone a happy Easter. Whether you place your faith in God or men (or neither), it's a good day to stop and consider the sacrifices that have been made for you by friends, family, acquaintances, and even complete strangers. There is goodness everywhere in the world, which is why it's so easy to ignore. Thank you all for the time and faith you've given me, and for the pain you endure waiting on each undeserved and unannounced hiatus.
Mmmmlet's call it Wednesday. I figure it can survive on /th/ for one day.
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I'm not certain whether these trips are more or less jarring than being carried by a tengu in a hurry, but that uncertainty alone makes the difference meaningless. With my head still spinning from the “impact”, it's difficult to will myself off the ground, even as all the wrong stones hit all the wrong bones. Why, in some unfathomable way it's actually rather nostalgic, inviting me to lay for a moment longer. Come to think of it, nearly everything I've seen has had that hint of familiarity, barely a whisper in the breeze. I know I should press forward, but...maybe there's something worth investigating here, and just a moment's rest can make such a difference. Hopefully this wretched place will allow me that little. Under my eyelids rests a hovel's roof, a shoddy little thing by any animal's standard, hastily constructed of little more than twigs. The ground beneath me is rife with pests of a nature I'd rather not contemplate, but they pass over my arms, legs, and face without bothering to consider me. The pain from my makeshift bedding subsides beneath the pain in my bare feet (the cuts and scrapes weeping openly in place of my dried-out eyes) which subsides beneath that of my chest, a sharp yet constant ache beneath the bones, beneath the muscle. The rain does little to calm me. Nothing will bring it all back.

Opening my eyes brings it all back makes it all go away.

Just wretched, this place.

Better than nothing, though, I suppose. Nightmares are easy. Pushing myself from the ground takes some effort, though it feels more like the soreness that accompanies a too-long sleep than that of laying on rocks. I couldn't have possibly nodded off that quickly, nor could I have slept that long, but I do feel rather refreshed. Perhaps this was all I needed. Stretching blindly – well, attempting to – reveals that I'm in some rocky corridor, too controlled to be natural but too rough to be called architecture. The walls are close enough together to touch with outstretched fingertips, and the ceiling is easily within reach. As I move forward, the atmosphere changes; the mud becomes less putrid and more fertile, the humidity less acrid and more crisp. It almost feels like a misty day in late winter. Pleasant as it is, I can't assume it's a good sign. This place isn't that kind, as it proudly displays with the following steps. Every breath is more labored than the last, lungfuls of water saturated air thick enough to choke on, and each step is a struggle against some miasma (as I refuse to believe my legs are this tired). It's easy enough to get used to, though; there was...something. A long time ago, but it had such an impact on me. What was it, again? Some injury or another...

It must not have been so memorable, after all. I suppose a few hundred years will do that to you. The passage continues deep into wherever it continues into, wavering between an impenetrable darkness and a mysterious luminosity, its light almost viscous as it seeps from the walls. The floor is consistent only in its inconsistency, the ground shifting beneath my feet to trip me at every step, but my pace is slow enough that keeping my balance is only a matter of mindfulness. Reaching for the walls proves useless, as they too fluctuate like the veins of some great beast. They seem to react to the very thought, pulsing more heavily until a portion tears open with a terrifying silence to reveal a branching path. After a moment's inspection (Not hesitation! Nope, not here. Just caution. Right.) it appears to be no more unsafe than my other choice.

Which snaps shut, sending a quake through the floor.

Well, all right, then.

Perhaps I ought to be more concerned, but fear won't make it any easier. I don't have much agency at this point; may as well try to relax...insofar as one can when struggling to take every motion. After some minutes of lifting one leg at a time (and contemplating whether crawling along would be any easier) a light stinging sensation rises within my limbs, quickly escalating to burning pinpricks shooting throughout my entire body. It's painful, yet each sting is only just that: a single, distinct sting. This is no different than taking on curses, and each one seems to carry away its share of the struggle. My pace becomes more languid than strained, my feet swinging forward smoothly as pendulums. As I cross a brighter section, I can see a mist expelling from me as holes open across my skin, each sting the sensation of another one slamming shut after something escapes it to join the cloud. Seeing it should be alarming, yet it somehow begins to feel relaxing, like an especially hot shower. My legs go on by themselves, trudging over stones as my mind reels, absently following the contours of things I can make out. The sheer strangeness of it all has me simply stunned. The sensation of whatever it is that's happening to me, the idea that I could possibly not mind not knowing just what that is, the graves and the mountains and the everything. The very concept of walking through Higan as a living being...it's actually delightful, in a terrible way. Perhaps it's all finally driven me mad.

Oh, but my sanity's always been in question, hasn't it? I wouldn't have even stopped for that old priest if I weren't half-mad. That must mean I'd have to be completely insane to volunteer to
infiltrate Higan. Onward, then, to...wherever the place wants me, I suppose. Sure, not knowing where I am is a touch frightening, but whatever has been guiding me is clearly just bigger than anything there is, living or dead. I'll find my way in time. I might not even need to, if that static will keep swooping in and whisking me along to some other place where I can wander through torturous memories.




You again! But...no. You're different.

Am I really?

You certainly don't seem to be the same person...

Far from it.

Well, what is it, then? Why are you back?

Why are you...?

Why am I what?

Stop ignoring me.

I haven't been. Far from it.


If you're going to take that tone with me, you can at least show me who you are.

You're different.

Is this the game we're going to play, now?

[ ] Because if so, I can just keep walking.
[ ] Because I'm ready to win it.
[ ] Fine. Even this is better than going through this alone.


The direction this segment went has changed from my original plan. Initially, this was because an apology was in order. Now, I feel like the story will be better for it. All of the relevant details are still present.
[x] Fine. Even this is better than going through this alone.
[x] Because I'm ready to win it.

I get the feeling it's a test of will.
[x] Because if so, I can just keep walking.

Lack of attachment is the key to enlightenment. Surely it will help us in our quest to reach the Yama.
Week the first: Everyone and their mother needs my help, all the time, forever.
Week the second: Birthday week, everyone and their mother wants my company. When they don't, cleaning.
Week the third: oh god what's in my head flush it out with nyquil

and now you know. gonna try and get an update out today or tomorrow.
Well hang in there and get well. That and being popular sure stinks in this regard.
Okay, well, the cold is still sufficiently distracting that I have about two hundred words after three hours of writing, which is about as much time as I'm going to spend right now. Progress has been made, and I'm not going to let myself lose momentum this time, he said, thinking back on the hundred prior times he'd said it. Maybe this time it's true.
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I have been writing.

I have not been writing this.

I have been writing something whose pace I can determine at any time, which I can rearrange and trim in its entirety over the entire course of its existence, on a subject which fascinates me, about things that I love. I know what it will look like when it's done, in a vague sense, and there's still plenty of room for it to surprise me. I don't feel obligated to any particular section; whatever I'm inspired with can go in whenever I like. It's really very relaxing, and I've produced some ten thousand words in the last week.

What I'm trying to say is, maybe this isn't the venue for me. The vast majority of the above traits apply equally to CFA, whose characters have captivated my imagination since their inception. I've wanted to finish this story for a long time, and I fully intend to. I just don't know if I'm going to be able to if it remains here, as a CYOA - perhaps even as a piece of fanfiction.

I need to do a lot of serious thinking about the direction I want to take with my writing, because when it goes well it's a source of deep, deep joy, and when it doesn't I'm stricken with a distant, unshakable longing. The story may update a few more times before I take the reigns, or it may turn into something else entirely. Whatever happens, I will not just disappear completely, and neither will CFA.
If you want to make it normal fanfiction it'll be fine by us. Sure we started out a VN-inspired CYOA site but we don't have to stick to such rigid boundaries. There's a few stories that did well here with little or no choices.

Those of us who stuck with this story won't leave due to choices being removed.
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So here's what's up.

I'm going to finish this other thing, which some people on the IRC have already seen much of. It is not fiction, but I have nearly a hundred pages now so I figure it's worth spending some time refining.

After it's finished I'll quietly begin working on tearing CFA down to its base elements and figuring out what makes it tick. Obviously the concepts that have driven it have changed wildly over the years. Years. God. When I know what makes it worth writing to me, what keeps me coming back, determined to see it finished, I'm going to begin it again from square one with more focus and purpose. No choices, no meandering, no stalling for time, no bullshit. Just the story that I want to tell.

Maybe I'll post it little by little, maybe I'll be back in two or three years with a manuscript. In all likelihood, it will no longer be a piece of Touhou fiction. Maybe I'll even submit it for publishing, I dunno. It will, however, be mine, and although that goes against much of what makes this site so unique and fun, it'll make writing it possible for me. At some point my ruminations on the Tengu became too serious to hand their fates to others, and that only led deeper and wider into the story.

Some of what's already been written will be in the final draft, in one form or another. Some will get the axe. A lot will get the axe. I'll figure it out.

I'm sorry if this answer isn't as satisfying as you were hoping. You deserve a better one after all the waiting; not just over the last month and a half but the years I've spent bullshitting my way through this story and promising better things on the way.

Hopefully someone will still be around to see the results.
What seemed to be a normal job wound up being something stupidly big, was that the intention?
That could apply to both the Tengu arc and the non-fiction, but so does the answer: No, but it is now. What was supposed to be a summary turned into an opportunity for some serious globe-trotting. In the case of CFA at least, with more clear thought, careful planning, and a lot of fat-trimming, it could be done much more elegantly. Neither of those things lend themselves to the CYOA format. There's also the matter of my lazy and inconsistent characterization, which was supposed to really drive the story. I let myself get too worked up about what was happening to think about how the characters should act based on their entire history, rather than how I felt in that moment, and as a result very little actually happened at all.
I asked as I got the feeling from the first case that it'd be an episodic thing of Hina helping people but the tengu case prooved to be a story worth it in itself with some mindscrew (Higan's stuff in particular)

Sort of a shame on the old concept not panning out but I have no real complaints about your current plans.
To be perfectly honest, the story started as a short and within a few paragraphs I decided I'd give a CYOA a shot with no particular plans to begin with. Hina got much, much more screen time than I had initially anticipated, and I'm okay with that.
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