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File 163409320649.jpg - (240.60KB, 2000x2265, croaker.jpg)
(A short outside of /shorts/.)

It was noontide over the sacred mount of Iwanagahime, and all about her burgeoned the brilliant life of Gensokyo.
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At her broad and bountiful windward foot, the deific sisters of Autumn busied themselves with the turning of the season.

From the hem of her forest skirt up to her high timber line, a hair-thin thread of momentous kappa artifice stitched its steady way along, attended in some way or another by nearly every species of her denizens.

And, in much deference and homage to the immortal vapours which rose unceasing from her never-sundered summit, there wafted three things eternal in the gambling-house of the Komakusa-dayuu. Smoke, indeed, from finest-shaven Mountain tobacco. Fortune, naturally, from the purses of her patrons. And, most freely and candidly of all, the lively conversation from their tongues.

“I warned the blustering ass,” said one: a crow tengu in the editorial business. “I told him myself—the only scoop he’d get there is a pair of Bohemian earspoons down his nape. But he went thundering off anyhow, and we’ve not heard from him since.”

“Because we jailed him for a week,” said the white wolf across the table from her. “Fold.”

The kappa beside slid forward a pair of scored and painted wooden chips. “Call. Is that why the Tsuimaru hasn’t been out?”

“Call,” said the crow, doing the same. “You really consume that dross?”

“I get it for the puzzles. You know—Nurikabe and the like.”

The yamawaro (of course) rapped her knuckles on the table, the action being echoed twice more in turn. “The Zakumaru runs cleverer ones,” she pointed out.

“All right, all right. He has got a … particular way with words,” admitted the kappa, producing a tinily vicious smirk as she did. “Who else could describe the cobwebs in a shed you’ve been putting off to clean as lost time’s lonesomely-spun brocade?

“You should hear the stanza he wrote to complain about the food,” said the wolf, and flipped open her notebook to a page which she read out from aloud.

(The dealer—a mujina guised as the Yama of Paradise—dealt out the river, and waited patiently.)

“Ahem … Sympathise with me:
one feels deep nostalgia
for katsudon; but
cruelly one is rationed with
millet and water. How come!

The kappa cackled until it became painful.

“Mixed—hah—mixed up his file with some—some tremouring drunk’s, did you, hey?” said the crow, raising a finger to wick a tear from the corner of her eye.

“Nothing so underhanded. He did up some routine licensing-renewal forms sloppily on purpose, then kicked up such an enormous row when we turned them back we charged him on the spot with being odious and egregious.”

“Is that a charge?”

“Damned if I know. The chief says it is—cracked it out for just such a special occasion like that. Puts every spare moment he gets these days to reviewing records and back catalogues, out of sheer bloody-mindedness I suppose.”

“But a whole week for it to be sorted out?”

“That’s the nasty bit. The particular statute he’d cited had bled through onto the last good copy of some musty old sumptuary proscription that never actually got around to being lifted, so he argued it was all still in full force. And, can you believe it—the superintendent took his side. … By the way, you’d better not wear any twills in Prussian blue if you’re flying out in public for the next month or so, unless your name rhymes with ‘Iizunawaru’.”

Bloody-minded doesn’t scratch the surface of it,” muttered the crow, in frank and present awe. “Check. But, you know, it is a collar on all the rest of us, too,” she added, frowning. “And it isn’t going to get them to cancel the ropeway permit; after all the beast is being hammered up right as we speak. Couldn’t you slacken up just a little bit?”

“Nothing doing. We’ve got to present a unified face. If they’re going to turn our whole week into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Friday, Monday—then that’s just what they’re going to get.”


“But we’re not them,” protested the crow.


“Look, if you need anything then I can see what I can do for you,” gave the wolf.

This mollified the crow tengu greatly; and she prepared to launch into another anecdote, but was headed off at the pass:

“Must your entire organisation be powered so utterly on spite?” the yamawaro started up—and not a little abruptly, if one might tell from the stares that stiffly came her way.

“… Yes; just think what else we could power by it,” the kappa attempted to joke. “It’s an untapped resource, only begging to be harnessed.”

“You know, that’s just the problem with you river-dwelling amphibians.”

“Now, now—”

“What’s this?—”

“All you care about is production,” the yamawaro pressed on. “But what about the relations of production?”

“… What about them!” exclaimed the kappa.

“They are dismal, are they not! … The daitengu declare a ropeway—a ropeway it must be! And we are left scrambling to meet up with their demand.” She turned back to the wolf tengu: “Even you are suffering for it this time.”

“What are you getting at?” asked the wolf, the little hairs bristling on the back of her neck. “I don’t enjoy your tone.”

“Now you white wolves sulk behind the letter of the law, hoping to get your way by petty obduracy. But in doing so you only work double shifts in reproducing the very relations of production which enable our exploitation and yours!”

“Do we, now!—”

“Every hour-long hassle at a conjured-up checkpoint—every petty proscription about Prussian blue twills—every elementary little trifle demanded in neat bloody triplicate—it is an inculcation of the assumption which need not be, that we are beholden, always, to certain classes; subject, always, to certain classes—classes held always, always unimpugnably above our reach!”

“… Well, it isn’t a perfect system,” said the crow, uneasily; but now the wolf broke through at last.

“Look here—would you rather we return to naked force in all things?” she challenged. “When we competed by count of heads instead of reams delivered? When even daitengu cadets maintained themselves by hostage-taking and banditry?”

“Oh, don’t remind me,” said the crow queasily.

“When the yamabushi-tengu marched in force and burned down presses instead of operating them?”

“Oh, don’t remind me," said the crow, more queasily.

“We’d be no better off than when the oni held us all in vassalage!” The wolf licked her lips, and hastily rubbed her nose. “I don’t relish the thought of having to patrol all up and down the bloody ropeway; but it’s no great cause to … what? What is it now?

The yamawaro, still snickering, slid her gaze smugly over to the kappa, who clicked her tongue petulantly and grudged a quartet of chips across the table.

“Only a little side bet. I told her all it takes to get a tengu—any tengu, no matter how disgruntled—to start doing yeoman’s work arguing for the status quo is to start carping about it from the outside.”

“It’s more like you’re just expert at baiting up an argument.”

“… Well, I’m glad to see one of us turning a profit from all this,” groused the crow, and glanced very belatedly back down at the board. “Raise.”


“Fold,” said the kappa, and turned to discuss with the white wolf tengu the finer merits of bad poetry.

… At this point, any ordinary human player who is ably versed in the rules of ordinary human poker, and who has been witnessing the game unfolding before us, has probably been brought to some not inconsiderable sum of confusion. What are they doing? Why are there so many cards on the table? Doesn’t the hand end after three stages have been dealt?—the flop, the turn, and the river?

But a game among the Mountain youkai, and among tengu especially, could never have remained so blessedly simple. When the rules of Poker were arrived to the Mountain, blown in by the apocryphous winds which these things do ever ride upon, they were quite understandably judged as piecemeal and incomplete. For after the flopping dead and the turnings of the Road of Liminality, what good can it do to stop short at the River Sanzu? So, of course, the rules were collectively emended: to include the Shigan; the Higan; the Ministry of Right and Wrong—and the Trial of the Ten Kings, which after all must decide the fate of a soul before any reincarnation may be had.

And so too must Heaven and Hell have their equal parts, in this wild youkai sporting at cards. Thus, in due time, when judgement was to be made, the dealer flipped a bicoloured token, and declared its last result.

“White,” she pronounced, which signified the end of play.

The yamawaro won by high card.

* * *

A rubeous old yamabushi-tengu joined in the next hand, and was immediately detected using his teacup for divination. He was additionally detected, after an ad-hoc but thorough joint investigation between select members of the press and of the gendarmerie, as really being the ascended miscreant, serial burglar, gambling cheat, and general nuisance Kaku Seiga—beneath a hardened layer of red shellac paint and an admittedly convincing wooden false nose. The hermit was detained by main force of mechanical arms, had her scowling visage duly photographed, and was escorted off the premises at the twin points of halberd and harquebus.

(All this, of course, after a curt snap of hand-fan from the tayuu Komakusa.)

“You don’t really mean all that about…?” asked the white wolf of the yamawaro when they were outside, leaning slightly on her polearm.

“What do you think, friend?” she replied, and extinguished the match cord; decocked the serpentine with a quiet click.

“I,” said the wolf, and clicked her teeth likewise softly shut.

The yamawaro smiled, and patted the wolf behind her tall shoulder.

“Why, there’s a rare face to be glimpsed beneath those fuzzy ears,” crowed one from the table, when they returned to it.

“She’ll make a candid friend out of you yet,” teased the other.

The wolf only snorted as she seated herself, and said, “Deal.”

And so their play continued. None folded this hand—all guarded their positions well—and once more they were brought before the Trial of the Ten Kings, raptly awaiting the Yama’s judgement as it turned and overturned dharma-like through the air.

“Black,” pronounced the dealer.

This time, the two non-tengu groaned out their despair. For such a verdict meant that the game would proceed in series through each of the manifold Narakas, or realms of purgatorial Hell; and indeed it is said, within the ancient sūtras, that one must dwell within each of these subterranean realms of exquisite torments for a time eightfold longer than in the respective realm previous. And if this is not true of the Hells themselves, then still it will be attested with great conviction (and a slightly haunted quaver in the voice) by those who have personally witnessed such games where tengu have been involved.

It is no great wonder, then, that a verdict of Black is also generally understood to mark the time for switching to hard liquor.

The dealer unsealed a fresh deck; augmented it to the deck in play; shuffled—and then, all together, they descended.

In Sañjīva, where the ground is paved with hot iron and one is savaged by demons wielding terrible flaming weapons, the heat did not reach the intensity of gaze between crow tengu and wolf.

In Kālasūtra, where charred lines of black are seared into the body and one is cut up along them by dint of saws and sharp axes, the kappa‘s resolve was likewise dismembered.

Into Saṃghāta braved the yamawaro her bitter way; but was crushed to bloody paste between the mountainlike opposing wills of the two tengu.

The survivors forged on in simmering silence through Raurava and Mahāraurava, in full spite of the omnipresent (drunken) wailing and gnashing of (drunken) teeth; and deep they continued through Tapana and Pratāpana, wherein the blue afternoon was impaled on manifold spears and savage tridents, and heated till it glowed brilliantly red with westward setting Sun …

The dealer burned one last time from the top of the deck, and dealt down the final card.

Now they were properly arrived to Avīci: which is the deepest Hell, and, it is tremblingly said, unending.

But thus have I heard, that even so unfathomably many yojana beneath the crust of the waking world may the mercy of Avalokiteśvara be had:

“Raise,” said the crow.

“Reraise,” said the wolf.

“All in,” said the crow.

And, “Call,” marked the final closing of the play.

When the final pot was sorted, they briskly revealed their positions in turn, and declared convoluted hands comprising veritable war-bands of some twenty cards or more:

Flush Sign [Sutoku’s Revolt]!” bayed the wolf triumphally—

But, “Full House [Insei],” replied the crow.

A minute ticked by between their midst, and then another and a third, coloured only by the sweet prickling of the nose by kiseru-pipe tobacco.

“… It just don’t feel the same,” said the wolf tengu, finally.

“You know the rules,” said the crow, and glanced momentarily to the tayuu.

“She’s righ’,” the kappa slurred. “It ain’ the blerry same.”

The yamawaro mumbled a suggestion.

“Sovereign,” said the crow, and repeated it to the dealer, who bounded over and transmitted it faithfully to the tayuu in turn. Not bothering to rise from her seat, the smoke-belaurelled yamajorou only bent unto their table a summarily appraising eye, and flicked out a hasty calculation on an abacus. Then she shrugged, and jabbed the dragon-snouted end of her slender pipe towards the opened partition that led out to the rear garden.

Now they had their assent. With all balance that could be mustered between the besotted four—which remained considerable, as is proper to even a drunkest tengu—they gingerly lifted up the table by four corners, shepherded it step by delicate step across the hall, and conveyed it precariously above their heads, in narrowly passing between a pair of other tables still in the midst of play. By dint of great concert reaching the veranda, they brought it with the utmost of careful stewardship down the grim and forbidding step onto the native Mountain terrain, and finally lowered it wincingly down upon the balding autumn grass.

A moment was taken to adjust the position of a single card, which had shifted from its rightful place a fractional inch, owing to the slight imperfection of the selected ground.

This done, they brushed and clapped their hands of the effort, and passed a single, utterly shared glance between one another.



“Good f’r it.”

“As ever.”

Then they kicked over the table, and began to brawl.
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This might sound like the most backhanded compliment, but I rarely understand more than a portion of what you're getting at, and yet I always enjoy your stuff. Helps that I got a couple of nice chortles out of this one. Also, I like your take on Mountain society. It's fun to hear about what the peons do, even if it's vague and removed from context. There's a verisimilitude to this that I don't see much. Good on you.
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Sincerely, thanks. I know I moan occasionally about how people just say, "I don't get it," but that verisimilitude is exactly what I try to provide; and for me it's like ribboning up a grab-bag of gifts knowing that each little quirk and detail is going to intrigue or tickle someone out there, even if not everyone is going to get every last thing every single time.
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This made me cackle. I don't know why. Thank you for writing it.
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In a setting which we see only through the lens of incidents, it is refreshing to see a vignette of ordinary (sans the hermit) characters going about life. I'd like to see more of the mountain quartet in future.
Good job OP.
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I see someone is potentially getting some ideas from a certain game.

Excellent little short, like others say, I find the heavy use of early Japanese terminology, while mostly confusing, endearing to an extent to where I can still enjoy the story and get the main focus out of it.
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>certain game
I don't get the reference and am curious.

>early Japanese terminology
Sanskrit. It's all Buddhism stuff. Mostly the names of different hells.
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We were streaming Nioh in the middle of the night a couple days ago in VC. Comfy time.
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Oftentimes, it's not so much the subject matter — I am, if nothing else, an amateur Japanese scholar, albeit lacking in breadth of knowledge and ability to examine much with the appropriate rigour — as the particular modes of expression employed that leave me unsure I understood. That said, your particular way of wording things is part of the charm, so absolute comprehension is probably beside the point.

Or maybe I tell myself that to feel better about being dumb.
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I do appreciate your mentioning it. It's something I'm trying to work at, and I'm very much looking forward to the day when I can get both the poetry and perspicability down without sacrificing out of either one.
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