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File 160140659430.png - (0.96MB, 674x920, lion-dogue.png) [iqdb]
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Stone and more stone together made stronger stone — or so the logic went. However true it was or wasn’t, it was the sort of logic that would appeal to someone made of stone. It would easily and concisely explain why such an individual would be climbing the Youkai Mountain, otherwise lacking in ready excuses. Thinking of excuses was, after all, difficult when your brain was also made of stone.

Komano Aun, the stony lion-dog defender of sacred spots in Gensokyo, was such an individual, possessing little in the way of wit owing to her gravel-filled head. She didn’t particularly feel a need for excuses but did have a desire to be stronger. Being one rock on top of a much bigger rock, she did feel stronger in some way, though it still wasn’t enough. It would never be enough, she was sure. Otherwise, she would have been able to do something about the problems that tormented others and thus her. She couldn’t, though, and so she had taken off from the Hakurei Shrine, her tail between her legs.

Thinking it over again made Aun slow her steady ascent. Being of very little brain, thinking didn’t do her much good beyond inducing her to sigh and pine to be back at the familiar shrine, staking her usual spot near the torii. There were other places in Gensokyo where she could do the same — she was heading to one just now — but it was the inability to do so there that pained her stony lion-dog heart.

This process of thinking, slowing down, and sighing repeated for the whole sojourn up the mountain. She was so lost in her thoughts that the wolf-people who usually harangued her said very little this time. They looked at her with pity and stepped out of her way, allowing her to continue on her way with nary a comment or entreaty to leave their mountain peacefully. All of this escaped her notice, mostly. It wasn’t until she was near the bounds of the Moriya Shrine that she even saw fit to heed that she had put some distance between herself and the other shrine.

To any human visitor, a shrine’s torii would evoke the hope that either ambition, desperation, or longing bring out. However, among the emotions it would draw out, comfort wasn’t one of them. No human could feel “at home” there. A shrine was, after all, the domicile of beings largely different from themselves. That was why a visit to a shrine was for prayer. Asking the enshrined for protection, favour, or mercy was something removed from the ordinary business of being a human. To think of it in terms of the everyday was outside the realm of possibility. For Aun, it was the opposite.

Gazing on that boundary between the pure world and outside had an effect almost therapeutic to the lion-dog’s stony little heart, particularly at that moment. Where gods and Buddhas made their home was her home. It was where she was wanted, if not needed. Her tail wagged weakly at the thought. Surely, she reasoned, if not elsewhere, someone needed her here.

The Moriya Shrine was as she remembered from her last visit some months ago aside from the obvious change of the seasons. Whispers of autumn were visible in the trees, the faint yellow and red beginning to show in some leaves, others already falling and littering the grounds. Aun had crunched through numerous piles of the early jumpers on her way up, and they continued to gather in small lumps from the stairway all the way up to the donation box. Were she of a different mind, she might have dove into the leaves and began rolling and kicking them, sending them whirling into the air to be batted at as they came down.

A sigh puffed its way out of her nose. No, she certainly didn’t feel up to it right now, as fun as it would probably be.

Putting any thought of play from her mind, Aun seated herself in front of the torii, rump down and front paws out, allowing her senses to become one with the shrine’s. For a while, she reverted to her original stoniness as she conversed with the shrine. She wanted to hear its grievances if it had any. At the very least, she wanted to hear if all was well. Had visitors been coming? Had there been any disasters? Had everything been kept up as it should?

It was hard to say. Shrines and temples all had their own character. Some were very open, others required much coaxing to divulge anything. While Aun largely felt at home with the Moriya Shrine, the shrine tended to be reticent towards her. Having never had a protector like her before, it seemed to treat her like an introverted, well-mannered child greeting a stranger would, but she was patient with it and did learn something now and again. They would probably never be the best of friends, much as she would have liked that to be the case. Still, when pushed, the shrine would tell her what it felt comfortable letting on about.

This time, the shrine was queerly silent. Try though she might, Aun struggled to get any answer from it. There was something in its manner that struck her as odd. She couldn’t put her paw on it, but she thought the shrine seemed irritated about something. It was dodging any enquiry that she posed with a total lack of response. It was trying to shut her out with walls of stone, ones that did not strengthen her as she would have expected in her lion-dog logic.

Just when she pondered leaving the shrine alone, a sudden bright point along the outer perimeter jolted her back to animation. Someone was making themselves unwelcome. She was needed, in other words.

Dashing towards the source of the trouble, Aun snaked through the trees and bushes, not bothered in the least by nettles and branches nicking her rocky hide. Her nose detected a familiar scent. A bird? No, not just any old bird. This was a big bird. A tengu, then.

A patch of red atop black showed itself in the bushes as she got nearer. What was it even doing in there? It seemed to be watching something intently. Not even Aun’s footfalls, breaking twigs and crunching leaves as she raced, disturbed it from its work. The fact that it hadn’t yet raced off or attacked brought Aun to a stop.

[ ] Clearly, this bird’s too dumb to pay attention. Pounce on it!
[ ] This has to be some bird trick. Sneak up on it!
[x] This has to be some bird trick. Sneak up on it!

Aun is pure of heart and dumb of ass.
[x] This has to be some bird trick. Sneak up on it!
[x] Clearly, this bird’s too dumb to pay attention. Pounce on it!

rawr owo xd
[z] Clearly, this bird’s too dumb to pay attention. Pounce on it!
Easy enough.
[x] Clearly, this bird’s too dumb to pay attention. Pounce on it!
[x] Clearly, this bird’s too dumb to pay attention. Pounce on it!
Alright, you know what, that's a good enough number of votes with a clear majority. Calling it now for...

[x] Clearly, this bird’s too dumb to pay attention. Pounce on it!

Wait warmly.
File 160270598745.jpg - (1.81MB, 1190x1684, just imagine the lion-dog there.jpg) [iqdb]
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[x] Clearly, this bird’s too dumb to pay attention. Pounce on it!

The gravel turned over and over on itself in Aun’s head. Try as she might to comprehend what the black-headed bird was doing in the bush, nothing suggested itself. All she knew was that it hadn’t moved or even acknowledged her.

She smiled in spite of herself. Clearly, this bird was too dumb to know that you should run when a lion-dog comes bounding over to check on the situation. Poor thing, she thought. It didn’t stand a chance. However, a job was a job, and Aun’s job was to defend the shrine from any nuisance.

Winding herself up, she put all of her strength in her back legs. Then, she loosed all of that stored strength in one massive burst, kicking back to shoot herself forward, rents left torn in the soil where she stood a second ago.

Even as she rocketed closer, the bird didn’t turn to look at Aun. Further proof to Aun that she was superior in sheer ability to pay attention.

Of course, this was a naive thought on the part of a simple, gravel-headed lion-dog. To anyone observing the scene, it would have come as no surprise that Aun found herself surprised. The bird was there one moment, and then she blinked. Aun continued sailing forward, straight into the bush.

There was suddenly no bird to be found. Then, just as suddenly, Aun was on her back, touching the ground, the upper branches of the trees and the sky the only things immediately visible. She felt no impact. She hardly even noticed herself being reoriented. It was all sudden enough that she didn’t even have time to be surprised and revert to her rockier form.

She blinked again. The many questions that she had about her current situation brought the tumble of her simple feline-canine mind to a slow halt. A silence settled over the little grove. Aun had been absolutely certain she was leaping out to catch someone, a bird if she remembered correctly. No, a tengu, wasn’t it? And yet, here she was, lying on the ground without any explanation as to how she’d ended up that way. Like much of life to Aun, it was mysterious.

Some minutes passed by as Aun lay there stunned, unsure what it was she was doing or supposed to be doing. There was the vaguest sense that someone was standing close by, and someone else was walking toward the both of them. What she should do about it, though, Aun couldn’t guess. The reality that she had been swiftly and utterly thwarted in dealing with an intruder simply had no chance of occurring to her.

“Hello? Can I help you?” called a concerned sounding voice through the bushes. It was a familiar voice, but Aun’s dissociated state made it difficult to recall who it belonged to. “You really ought to come around to the front entrance if you want—”

The bushes parted at that moment, and Aun finally placed the voice: It was Sanae. The grassy-headed shrine maiden peered around with an air of suspicion, stopping when her eyes met Aun’s. On its own, Aun’s tail began to wag.

“Oh, it’s you, Aun,” Sanae said, heaving a sigh. Before she could fully soak in her relief, her eyes snapped to whoever was standing just next to Aun — something that made Aun flinch when she noticed.

“Don’t mind me. I was just passing through on business and thought I’d get some shots while I was at it,” said the tengu, a vaguely familiar black-haired woman with similarly black wings on her back, which she spread as if waving to Sanae. She had on that strange costume that tengu could be seen wearing from time to time.

A flicker of some emotion ran across Sanae’s face before she froze, cleared her throat, and stood erect to offer a curt bow to the tengu. “A pleasure to see you as always, Ms Shameimaru. Though I really would appreciate if you didn’t stalk around here.”

“You say that like I was trying to be stealthy.”

“In any case,” Sanae said somewhat sharply, though she caught herself and softened her tone, “since you’re clearly here on business, I may as well pour us some tea.”

“Maybe your adorable guard-dog can join us, too!” The tengu gestured at Aun, amusement evident on her face.

At that, Aun’s presence of mind snapped back into focus. She sat up, shaking the leaves and dirt off, and shot the tengu what she imagined was a fierce glare; in reality, it was more of a pout. “I’m a lion-dog,” she protested.

“Like I said, adorable!”

“Of course,” answered Sanae. She nodded to Aun and beckoned her to follow as she turned around, an order the lion-dog didn’t hesitate to obey with her usual gusto. If there was anything Aun needed at the moment, it was a friendly face.

Minutes later, they were all sitting on the veranda of Sanae’s house, cups of tea perched in their hands. Aun had tried to lap at hers, but her tongue was too sensitive for the hot drink, and she settled for merely letting it warm her paws. Sanae showed no interest beyond an initial polite sip, electing to absently balance it on her palm as she silently watched the tengu, Ms Shameimaru. The only sound coming through the silence was the occasional less-than-silent slurping from Ms Shameimaru, a noise that made Sanae wrinkle her face in discomfort, a fact that drew a smile from the former.

Clearly growing tired of the lack of conversation, Sanae turned to Aun. “I bet Reimu’s getting ready for autumn festivities, isn’t she? Maybe she’s as busy as me,” she said with a short, uncomfortable laugh. “Really, though, I hope she’s alright. I haven’t had time to visit lately. How is she doing these days?”

It was the sort of question Aun least wanted to have asked. She raised the still-warm tea to her lips and gave it an experimental lap, finding it hadn’t cooled very much to her poor tongue’s liking. Lacking the stalling tactic of a long drink, finding some other way of averting the conversation was pummelling the gravel in her head into sand. The sole saving grace, if any, was that Sanae wasn’t looking on expectantly for an answer; she seemed to be looking around for something.

“She’s okay,” Aun managed to say in a low voice after much thought.

Sanae’s attention immediately snapped back. “I dunno. Is she really? It didn’t seem like there was much going on last time I was around. Did she put on another exhibition or something? She was talking about something like that.”

“Something like that,” Aun repeated without much conviction.

“So, she did.”

“Sort… of?”

The lack of confidence in Aun’s voice caused Sanae to pause and stare, searching Aun over for something. After a few seconds, she leaned in close and lowered her voice. “Did she tell you to say that? It’s okay. You can tell me if she did. If she’s in trouble…”

“Reimu? In trouble?” asked Ms Shameimaru, sniggering to herself as if at some private joke.

“Reimu’s not in trouble!” Aun barked back forcefully enough to make Sanae jump backwards. Recognising that she was being a bit hysterical, her cheeks flushed. She bent over her cup of tea, hoping the steam would serve as mist to hide her face. It mostly just succeeded in making her eyes sting. “She’s not. I’m in trouble. I made her mad.”

“Oh no, how could she ever get mad at you?” Sanae was speaking with a conciliatory tone, but her eyes were wandering again. She absently reached out and stroked Aun’s sometimes-stony hair.

“I, erm… tried to help her with something but couldn’t.”

Aun leaned away from Sanae’s hand, wanting the whole conversation to end. Even if she enjoyed the petting. That didn’t mean couldn’t find the topic uncomfortable, too.

Ms Shameimaru scooted closer to the two of them with a wry grin on her face. “Oh? Reimu mad at her guard dog — pardon, lion-dog. I wonder if there’s as many crazy things going on over there. Why, I’ve heard about a thing or two at this very shrine that got people talking.”

Sanae whipped around to look right at the tengu, a tension in her otherwise smiling face. The edges of her eyes were twitching slightly. Aun had never really seen her like this. She took the opportunity to squirm away from Sanae’s reach and park on a further edge of the veranda.

“I’m not sure I know of any such talk,” the shrine maiden retorted, her voice kicking up into a wispy, genteel tone.

“Being this close to everything on the mountain? That’s almost news in and of itself. Why, I just ran into some returning visitors the other day who were dubious about the state of your roof tiles.” Ms Shameimaru touched her finger to her chin, feigning deep thought. “What was it they said? ‘Imagine them having money troubles, too,’ I believe.”

“They were quite mistaken. I assure you our finances are quite in order, and we keep our shrine in prime shape. I see to repairs personally, I’ll have you know.” Sanae broke eye contact with Ms Shameimaru to look over at something, a gesture the tengu mirrored with more subtlety.

Ms Shameimaru’s expression lost any and all pretense of not simply being a smug grin. “That’s the other thing. If you handle the upkeep all by your lonesome, then the other things I’ve heard don’t make sense. You see, a few people have been under the impression that they’ve seen a second Sanae running around here. But that doesn’t make any sense, now, does it?”

Sanae took a deep breath suddenly. For several heartbeats, she simply held it, as if unable to release it until a certain number of seconds had ticked by. She was no longer looking at Ms Shameimaru. Aun had seen that look before; it was the look of an animal being hunted. She could practically smell the fear. The shrine maiden wanted to flee.

She opened her mouth — but still didn’t speak. “And just who are these people you’re referring to?” she didn’t ask.

Before saying anything, Sanae quickly stood up, set her cup down, and gave another quick glance around, this time paying heed to neither Aun nor her tengu interlocutor. When she did finally speak up, it was in a very distracted, off-handed way. “Oh dear. I think I heard Lady Kanako calling me. Please excuse me.”

“A tengu’s ears are pretty sensitive, but I can’t say I heard anything just now,” Ms Shameimaru replied.

“It’s a… god thing. You wouldn’t get it.” Sanae didn’t even bother looking back as she hurried away. Within moments, she had retreated around the other side of the shrine offices and was out of sight to either of her guests.

Once again, the only sound that could be heard in the wake of Sanae’s departure was Ms Shameimaru loudly sipping her now-lukewarm tea. Aun sat there, unsure of what to do, considering she hadn’t even managed to drive away the intruder. What could she do? The more she tried to think about it, the more that same sense is dispiritedness settled over her. Perhaps there was nothing left for her to do. If that was the case, then there was little difference between her remaining there on the veranda and sitting out by the torii. So, there she lingered.

Glancing over at the other loiterer, Aun noticed Ms Shameimaru watching her, the smarminess of her smile turned to something resembling pity. She stared back, only giving back the flinty blankness of a lion-dog in her natural habitat.

The tengu drained her cup and set it down next to Sanae’s abandoned tea. “Reimu’s mad at you, huh.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Aun growled.

“Just saying,” said Ms Shameimaru, holding up her hands defensively. “Seems real unfortunate.”

Aun stared down into her tea, which was now stone-cold. Lapping at it and finding it less agreeable than she’d hoped, not having any fondness for bitter things, she sighed and added it to the pair of cups sitting on the veranda. She’d only wanted to do her job. That was one of the few things that made sense. Now, it seemed like nothing made much sense.

“I don’t get it.” Aun settled back onto the veranda, sitting in her accustomed pose, albeit somewhat drooped over.

Ms Shameimaru’s pointed ears twitched in interest. “How’s that?”

“If Miss Kanako was calling Sanae, I should have been able to hear it. I didn’t hear anything. It makes no sense.”

“See, if you’d just let me get about my work, I could have maybe told you more,” the tengu jibed.

That would have drawn a look from Aun, but she had no intensity left in her at the moment. She fell limply against one of the posts. “I was doing my job. Or I think I was. Then Sanae came and made me stop. It’s all really weird.”

“If you think that’s weird, you ought to see these pictures I’ve got.”
poor depressed liondog.
File 160592310983.jpg - (234.96KB, 565x800, purdy pictures.jpg) [iqdb]
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Aun was unsure. The almost conspiratorial way the tengu had offered to let her see the pictures bothered her. It was the way dishonest people told you to trust them, and she did not trust any bird as far as she could throw them — which wasn't very far at all, considering how hard they were to catch. Not growling and baring her teeth at Ms Shameimaru felt very unnatural at that moment.

And yet, her curiosity bit at her, working away at any resistance with slow, steady nips until it was weakened. Soon, she abandoned her previous caution and moved closer.

"Has anyone ever told you that you're adorable when you scowl? It reminds me of this one guard. Too bad you can't meet her anymore. She was a hit in her day," babbled Ms Shameimaru, eyes shining with inner laughter.

Aun didn't let up in her stoniness toward the black-haired bird. Huffing impatiently, she eyed an envelope sitting perched on the edge of the tengu's knee.

The tengu shrugged as she undid the string on the envelope. "Not even a little bit of friendly chatter? A bit of petting? I'm a big petter, you know, and damn good at it, if I say so myself."

The word 'petting' was one that floated across Aun's ears tantalisingly, making her tail swing involuntarily. How long had it been since anyone had caressed her horn? Not to mention she was sure the top of her head was starting to get mossy for lack of rubbing. Maybe months had gone by. The thought stung Aun with a bitter loneliness.

However, bitter though that sting might have been, Aun still felt wary with Ms Shameimaru, unsure what her gleaming smile could mean. Though monkeys were her mortal enemy first and foremost, it was the bird that outwitted the monkey and stole its food. Once more, she met temptation with regretful silence.

The pictures emerged regardless. Still retaining her smile, as if blissfully unaware of Aun's barely-suppressed hostility, the tengu pulled out the printed photos, arranging them in a neat stack. One-by-one, she then began laying them out, like some sort of tarot reading with square cards. Aun practically held her breath as the pictures gently came to rest face-down on wood. The line never seemed to end; she counted six pictures thus far. This bird was riling her up on purpose.

Ms Shameimaru's smile quickly reverted to youkai blankness as her fingers hovered over the first of the pictures. "I put myself in real danger to get this shot. When Lady Yasaka was outside, I saw her stuff something into the burnable trash."

With a flourish, she turned the photo over to reveal... garbage. There was no other way of describing it. From one corner to the other, it was a bunch of half-charred odds and ends with a pile of fresher offerings piled on top. The most Aun could say is most of it looked to be paper, envelopes of varying colours and sizes making up the majority of it. The biggest danger facing anyone there would be a paper-cut.

The lion-dog's brows shifted to form a rocky peak above her nose. All that buildup for this — a crow playing in the rubbish. Once again, she began to pity the bird's seeming lack of intelligence. Whatever else could be said, at the very least Aun wasn't the type to play in the shrine's bins. At least, not at the Hakurei Shrine. Especially not after Reimu caught her that one time.

Shaking away memories of swiftly hurled gohei, she met the now-smirking tengu with her own self-satisfied look. "So, what was so dangerous? I just see a bunch of trash."

"What made it so dangerous?" Ms Shameimaru scoffed back. "Lady Yasaka clearly didn't want anyone seeing any of it. Why else would be be tiptoeing around her own shrine just to toss something in the bin? I bet you she would have given me a real whallop if she found me there."

Seeing no change of attitude from the lion-dog, she flipped over the next picture without any pretension of suspense. This one showed a handful of envelopes held closer to the lens, the photographer’s fingers partly visible. They were still unmarked by soot. The envelope closest to the camera was open. Nothing showed inside.

“Empty,” Aun snarked.

“Yeah, sure. They were definitely empty. But!” The tengu stabbed the air with her finger. “Isn’t that strange in and of itself? Throwing out a bunch of envelopes but none of the contents with it? Lady Yasaka clearly kept whatever was inside and wanted to get rid of any evidence that it existed in the first place. It’s the simplest explanation!”

“Sure.”

Ms Shameimaru’s ears twitched. She looked like she might start getting annoyed for a split second, but she instead smiled again, much to Aun’s irritation. “Alright, so, maybe it’s all a bit circumstantial. I can’t understand not believing me. You didn’t see Lady Yasaka shuffling around, after all.”

Aun didn’t bother to look at the next overturned image for a few seconds, choosing to regard the bird with her most pitying stare. This was clearly a case of overestimation on her part; a monkey could probably outwit any bird like this one.

When she did bother to look, its composition didn’t immediately strike her as being anything significant, and yet she felt that there was something off about it. The primary subject was Miss Suwako, the other goddess of the shrine. Aun had always found it strange that the pint-sized goddess wasn’t the resident boss, considering the shrine had her name on it. She had heard a story from Sanae about some squabble between Miss Suwako and Miss Kanako a long time ago, but it proved too long and complicated for her gravelly brain and had lulled her into a nice nap on the shrine maiden’s lap. What she knew for sure was that the blonde goddess was not usually one to be out in the open. And yet, there was the torii and the sky visible in the picture behind her.

The lion-dog squinted and tried to focus her full attention on the picture. From what she could tell, Miss Suwako was suspended in air but not flying. In fact, she looked to be falling towards the earth. Her arms and legs were splayed out, her expression totally blank as she plummeted. Scanning the picture for further detail, Aun noted that the torii looked to have pieces out of its top, splinters still flying in the air as the goddess flew in a high upward arc.

“She was just sitting up there, still as can be, and then she goes and takes a flying leap,” said the tengu, drawing Aun’s attention back. Already seeing a question in the lion-dog’s eyes, she shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine as to why. I just managed to catch it happening.”

While it was all still iffy, the bird has promised weird things, and she at least delivered in this instance. Aun looked the image up and down again in hopes of discerning anything further but strained on the limits of her of already limited imagination. All she knew was that it was definitely weird.

As if doing it incidentally, Ms Shameimaru reached down without looking and flipped the next picture over, standing up and fanning her wings out. “And there’s this one, too, but you can have a peek yourself. I’ve already killed enough time here. It was fun, though. If you ever get back in Reimu’s good graces, maybe I ought to come around and play more.”

The thought broke Aun’s attention from the pictures to give a muted growl at the tengu.

“Easy there. I won’t bother you here. Too much business here as it is these days,” she explained with a hollow laugh.

Seeing that the bird was about to fly, Aun started to gather up the remaining pictures. “Here.”

“Oh, you can have those. I can’t print them since… well, that’s not something I should be talking about. Let’s just say ‘social harmony’ is a big thing with my bosses.”

“Then, why—”

“I’ve still got the negatives!” pre-empted the tengu.

At a speed Aun could barely comprehend, she moved in close. The lion-dog felt a hand caress her horn, a feeling that nearly caused her to roll over involuntarily, though it was but a brief touch. Then, she vanished into the sky with a gust of wind. Aun had no idea what ‘negatives’ even were, but it didn’t matter now that the tengu was finally gone.

Curious, she peeked at the last picture and went wide-eyed at its contents: an apron that she clearly recognised as Sanae’s covered in something dark and reddish. It had been dug out of a hole, splotches of dirt mingling with whatever substance had soaked in. Aun’s lion-dog brain tried to come up with possibilities for what the red stuff was but came up short. The sole thing that she could come up with, but didn’t want to acknowledge, was blood. Of course, it could have been from… meat from the kitchen? Such an explanation was reasonable, but it still didn’t satisfy her for some reason.

The rest of the pictures brought as little comfort as that one. Various bits of the Moriya Shrine that she recognised all showed in states of disrepair, wood split, paper ripped, and shimenawa frayed. None of it resembled the shrine she knew. If things were really like that, then maybe that explained the odd silence from the shrine earlier.

Aun got up from the veranda and went to pace around the perimeter of the shrine, an old and well-ingrained habit as a guard lion-dog. As she circled the grounds, she went over the various things she’d seen — Miss Suwako’s flying leap, Miss Kanako’s suspicious envelopes, Sanae’s blood(?)-splattered apron. Not to mention the damaged parts of the shrine architecture. Maybe there really was something to that bird’s haranguing Sanae. Maybe there really were strange things happening at the shrine.

Tentatively, she tried stopping to commune with the shrine again. Prodding only netted silence again. That was that, then, she guessed. She’d never find out any more and wouldn’t be able to help anyone yet again. The thought put a big stone-sized lump in her throat.

No, leapt in another side of her, this was a mere setback. She may have met with disaster before, but that was no reason to think it would happen every time. If she could take things a step at a time and not try to solve everything at once, why, she could probably do a lot. The important thing was sorting out for herself what was true and what wasn’t. Only then would she be able to do anything.

However, before she could put any such notion into action, her belly gave a rumble. A smell of stew had been wafting about the shrine grounds for some hours now. The sun was already heading down to the horizon, too. In other words, it was dinnertime at the Moriya Shrine.





Aun yawned and pawed at her eyes, drowsy after such a heavy meal. She’d had no idea Miss Kanako was able to cook. Which was a good thing since Sanae hadn’t been there to make dinner, a fact that had disappointed Aun greatly at first, considering her cooking was second-to-none in her lion-dog eyes. Miss Kanako assured her that she was a reasonable substitute for the shrine maiden when it came to culinary skills.

A goddess’ homey cooking wasn’t something she felt able to wrap her mind around at first. However, Miss Kanako had proven to be the one who’d cause the whole shrine to smell of stew, a simple brownish-red beef hash as luck had it. Ladled over rice, there was no other way to describe it but, well, divine. Belying the dish’s simplicity in terms of ingredients — beef, onions, mushrooms, and little else — there was a richness added to its sauce by something Aun could only just not name. It was wine of some sort, but none she could readily identify, cooked in with elements of the pan to make a fine demi-glace, which the hash had sat simmering in before Aun had shown up. Every mouthful only made her want more.

The atmosphere at table did nonetheless detract from her enjoyment of the meal. Miss Kanako seemed distracted, aside from the moments when she reprimanded the other goddess for some minor trifle. The diminutive goddess was, on the other hand, quiet and sullen the entire time, hardly even acknowledging her counterpart or Aun. The poor lion-dog was left at a loss as to what to say, and so she focused on eating her fill of the hearty fare.

“I’m not sure. She said she had business in the village. Though, that’s been a while ago now. I wonder if she got pulled into some kind of nonsense with that Hakurei girl,” was the reply from Miss Kanako when asked about Sanae’s absence after dinner.

Miss Suwako harrumphed and got up from the table, leaving her dirty dishes behind and without a word of thanks, earning an annoyed snarl from Miss Kanako. That had about summed up the atmosphere of that entire meal to Aun. To keep her mind off of that, she offered to do the dishes, which Miss Kanako accepted without any reservation, swiftly retreating from the dining room to the kotatsu; it was a bit a chilly with the onset of autumn, as evidenced by the Goddess Yasaka wearing a black sweater.

Left with only her thoughts and impressions again, Aun worked her way through the small pile of dishes with a concentration only reserved for the opportunities where she got to exercise her arms. Having her hands occupied, her mind — such as it was — began to wander back to her original pre-meal intention of finding out more about the goings-on of the Moriya Shrine. Dinner had certainly done more to prick her sense that something was off. She gripped the sponge tighter.

Now that the two goddesses were separated, this was as good a chance as any to start sniffing around. Miss Kanako had taken her station at the kotatsu, donning reading glasses to peruse a novel. Down the hall, Aun could hear Miss Suwako rummaging around through some items in the room she shared with Miss Kanako. She would be finished momentarily with the last dish.

[ ] A snug and comfy Kanako is a vulnerable Kanako. See if she lets anything slip.
[ ] Away from her partner, maybe Suwako is less guarded. Stand watch and see what she does.
[x] Away from her partner, maybe Suwako is less guarded. Stand watch and see what she does.

Yay, it's back!
[x] Away from her partner, maybe Suwako is less guarded. Stand watch and see what she does.
[x] Away from her partner, maybe Suwako is less guarded. Stand watch and see what she does.
Though I know Kanako would be an interesting option, I can't ever not vote for Suwako. Sorry, pillar-lady.
[x] A snug and comfy Kanako is a vulnerable Kanako. See if she lets anything slip.
sign me up for a goddess in a sweater
[X] Away from her partner, maybe Suwako is less guarded. Stand watch and see what she does.
I don't trust the frontman/business god to be PARTICULARLY unguarded.
[x] Away from her partner, maybe Suwako is less guarded. Stand watch and see what she does.

mlem mlem
[x] A snug and comfy Kanako is a vulnerable Kanako. See if she lets anything slip.

Comfy Kanakooooooooooooooooo
Oh, right, guess I ought to close this, considering it looks like there's a clear majority. Calling it for...

[x] Away from her partner, maybe Suwako is less guarded. Stand watch and see what she does.

I'll try not to take as long on this one.
hol up, so Awoon's just gonna ignore that there was a picture of Sanny's apron covered in DEFINITELY NOT BLOOD??

girl's head must be made of rocks
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