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File 160140659430.png - (0.96MB, 674x920, lion-dogue.png) [iqdb]
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]
[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.

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