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3546 No. 3546
The sounds of drifting laughter echoed about in the hollow hours of early morning, accompanied by the gradually brightening rays of the false sun’s dayglow streaming through open holes in the dwelling. Probably children; or perhaps it would be more appropriate to call them juvenile youkai, laughing and scampering carelessly in the fresh blanket of snow outside. I envied them and their ignorance, wishing that the contact with Chayot Ha Kadesh never happened last night. I wouldn’t have spent the remainder of the breaking dawn essentially restless and sleepless if it didn’t.

A quick inspection of the upper floors showed the closed curtains of their respective alcoves-for-rooms. I doubted Short Stuff would be able to rise early today; our two way trip to the swampland had done quite a number on her. Of the other inhabitants of the brewery they seemed likewise to be at rest. It would appear that the brief period of peace had done much for both Keizo and his apprentice. Their days of danger were over and they had more or less settled back into a normal routine of unworried laziness. There would be no point in disturbing any of them now, especially my unfriendly housemistress.

Making my way towards one of the ventilation holes of the dwelling I snagged the remains of a long-cold dinner on the earthenware carelessly discarded near where I habitually spent night times, extracting the medallions of smoked meat I had learned was not beef at all. Rather, Reiji had informed me that the meat actually came from some sort of giant arboreal rodent. It didn’t matter much to me; it still tasted like beef but Short Stuff and even Keizo had seemed rather unsettled to learn about the origin of their nightly meals. Food was still food. Complaining about it would never silence a growling stomach.

Washing the day-old meat down with some invigorating ambrosia recently pilfered I stood leaned against the ventilation hole, silently observing the small figures playing about in the snow. Young ones playing without a care in the world, unaware that their time was coming to an end quickly. Soon, the mythical era of Gensokyo would draw to a close and I pitied the adolescent youkai. They would never get to live their long lives to their fullest, damned to a fate worse than death they could not hide from. First the Outside, now here. Poor monsters. No, poor children.

I found a small smile to greet the morning with, bemused by my own sentimentalism. Such human notions had long been abandoned during the passing of my years and finding them again was like digging out a memorabilia from my younger days. Belching out long and loud to expel the foul smell of alcohol, a disgusted voice sounded out from somewhere outside the brewery, startling me out of my little reverie.

‘Good gods, human. You just have the most wonderful of manners.’

Peering through the ventilation hole, I found the huddled shape of Ran sitting against the outer wall of the brewery, right below the hole I was leaning against. The illustrious fox was buried in the snow reaching up to her knees, mixing with the pelted fur arrayed around her as she remained staring at the youngsters frolicking in the snow-blanketed canyon some distance away.

I gave her poofy hat a few tugs, which she tore away from my grip in annoyance. ‘Beg pardon. I’m not used to prancing about all dignified and well-mannered like you youkai.’ She grunted in return, settling back into the warmth of her voluminous clothing and pulling the fancy hat back on. ‘So why’re you all lonely and miserable in the cold out here?’

She gave another grunt in disdain, nettled by the fact that I still needed to ask even when we both knew why. ‘Very funny. I don’t need to remind you about Yuugi’s disposition towards us.’

‘Right, right. So where’s our gapping wonder?’ I queried the poofy hat below.

‘Yukari is about somewhere in the village. She was up all night, thinking. She wanted to be alone.’ The hat turned a little, the only indication that Ran had made an attempt of sorts to face me. ‘I cannot understand how you can still be so at ease considering what you told us the previous night.’

‘About the all-evil world eating monsters? The clichéd countdown to apocalypse?’ I didn’t really know why myself. Perhaps it stemmed from the fact that I had already accepted the promise of death soon to come long before I found out about False Dawn’s fate. The prospect of judgment ahead of schedule just didn’t seem all that disturbing in light of how long I had already been evading it. Everyone and everything’s time would come eventually. Rilofene’s words from a long time ago came back to me and I could almost hear her voice as I recited them word by word. ‘Nothing is forever, for that would indicate a system is stagnant. There must always be a cycle for the universe to continue with the process of death and rebirth. So we might die. What’s the use of getting your bloomers into a panicky knot now?’

The fatigued face turned upwards to look directly at me this time, somewhat impressed. ‘Coming from you, that’s surprisingly deep.’ Eventually, she returned her gaze to the children in the snow before continuing. ‘So you think this is our fate, and we shouldn’t fight against it? Is that why you’re not even worried?’

Fate was the one thing I had never believed in and was constantly in conflict with for ages. ‘Not at all. I’m a firm believer in the adage “If I’m still kicking and screaming, then I’ll keep on kicking and screaming”. It’s not that I’m not worried. I just don’t see a point in being all gloomy about it.’

The words weren’t meant as a reassurance for Ran. Rather, it was more of my philosophy when it came to survival but it had the unintended effect nonetheless. ‘I suppose you’re right. As long as we still have time, there’s a chance to turn this crisis around.’ She paused momentarily, seemingly deep in thought. ‘So how did you manage to “speak” with the obelisk? Both Yukari and I have spent years studying them to no avail.’

It would be pointless to be honest with Ran regarding the Arks. I shrugged lightly, deadpanning, ‘Could be simply because they were originally humans. It’s instinctual for a species to reach out to its own, after all.’

She drew closer into her huddle at the mention of the distilled human souls massed within the Ark. ‘They sought to accomplish the impossible. How can humans possibly hope to transcend gods?’

I felt a wry grin form at her words. Of all the people who could disbelieve the outrageous Ran hardly seemed like the type who would, even more so as a youkai. ‘Nothing is impossible. Look around you and tell me. Is Gensokyo possible?’

‘I suppose you have a point there.’ Her head turned a little towards the general vicinity of the village square and I knew who she had on her mind at that moment. ‘She might not look like it, but Yukari is overcome with guilt at the realization that she had a hand in the death of the Outside world. For the first time, I think she’s… lost. Clueless on how to deal with our crisis. I do not like seeing her like this.’

I mused on that for long moments, surprised that the legendary schemer could actually be put in a checkmate by circumstances beyond her control. Sunshines would be desperate to save her beloved Gensokyo at this point and I hoped she wouldn’t actually start considering turning in Short Stuff just for the sake of buying some more time to work out another unorthodox solution. There would be no point in that; Chayot Ha Kadesh had explicitly stated that every attempt at rebalancing the scales had only served to further complicate things.

As much as I hated to admit it, Short Stuff was our proverbial ace in the hole. If she truly had the power to deal with the Visitors then there was even more purpose in coaxing her to master them, and if what Chayot Ha Kadesh had claimed was true, then there was a way to stunt False Dawn’s growth for the moment at least. For that to happen, I had to first find out just what lay within False Dawn. If there really was a central existence for the Visitors inside of it, then perhaps they can be put out of commission long enough for something to be done.

False Dawn and the last Hakurei. The lock and the key.

Nevertheless it still didn’t answer the question on how we could approach False Dawn without getting swarmed by an entire legion of Visitors or how we could actually pull the sun Outside back into Gensokyo. The transplanted sun had to be somehow rejuvenated even if returning it back to its throne in the skies of Gensokyo was truly possible, raising more questions on how the improbable could be accomplished. But first things first, it was time for a long-overdue chat with Sunshines alone.

I thumped lightly on the head below with the now-empty bottle. ‘Hey, think you could do me a favor?’

‘What favor?’ she inquired.

‘There’s someone in a funky peach hat who’s been lurking outside the village for a few days now. Why don’t you go and say hi to her?’ There was a dual purpose in my offhanded request. It would give me some time alone with her master and possibly, scare our mysterious stalker away if she was directly approached by Ran.

'Tenshi Hinanai? I suppose it's a good time to see what she's up to, at any rate.' Despite how I had tried to hide it, she knew well enough what I was trying to do. Getting up to brush snow clinging onto her dress, she turned back to address me, 'Not that I would want to intrude on your talk with Yukari anyway.'

That got me flustered for a bit. 'Uh, thanks then.'

Clasping her hands in the folds of her sleeves, she bade me a temporary farewell with a small nod. 'Perhaps we'll see each other again tonight.'

'Yeah. Later.'
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>> No. 3547
"I loved to write, a long time ago. My joy was my newspaper. That had died with all the happiness withering away with Gensokyo's gradual decay. Lost years of joy much like the vanishing dews of my passion.

There's a lesson in this; an underlying fact that no matter how long we may live or exist, we are not a permanent force. We all live, we are all subject to change, and we would all die someday. My fond farewells to you, good readers. May we meet again in the skies of Gensokyo someday under happier circumstances."


-Aya (Epilogue column, final edition of Bunbunmaru Newspaper)


She eyed the stout figure surreptitiously from some distance away as Tenma engaged him in a hushed conversation, uneasy with the presence of the imposing elder. He looked young, even more than Tenma but she knew it was nothing more than an illusion he often used to unsettle those who gathered around him. As one of the Triumvirs, he would logically be far older than both her and Tenma combined.

Despite all implications of his actual age, his voice was nonetheless one which belonged to a young man. 'The Hakurei offspring is here then?'

Tenma walked to the edge of the drop which opened into a wide valley below them before replying, 'So the celestial informs us. Momizi has taken the liberty to reconnoitre and confirmed that they are indeed hiding somewhere in the village. We have had unsettling reports of sightings of Iyen-Shuren's progeny during our journey as well. Despite what he might lead us to believe, it appears he still hasn't entirely given up on the Hakurei child.'

Signs of a small frown briefly touched the elder's face before smoothing over. As he turned to address Tenma, he momentarily caught Aya's stare and she hastily averted her gaze. Even though he was nothing less than their de-facto leader, there was always something about him that didn't seem right.

He carried on with no indication that he had taken an offense at her. 'I would expect him not to. He is a persistent one, annoyingly so and even more resilient than roaches. Minor setbacks would be nothing to him.' Giving Tenma a casual wave to dispel his concerns, he went on. 'How many of them present?'

'We cannot tell for certain. The rebels alone would account for three. There are also two humans in addition to the Hakurei, a male and the witch I spoke of before.' He paused momentarily to paraphrase his report, 'Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that there would be four of them who would be a threat to our efforts in extracting the Hakurei. It is foolish to discount the witch merely because she is human. The harlot is capable of anything in order to strike back at us.'

At the mention of the witch, Aya tensed up and sought to hide her resurfacing anger. Whatever the witch had done that night to attract the black ghosts, it had ruined their ancestral home and robbed many of them of their lives. Brethrens, families, friends, loved ones. All lost. She wanted nothing more than to inflict the same sense of loss on the witch now. Before the elder could reply she spoke up to interrupt them, careful to keep the rising edge in her voice low. 'Let us go after the child, Vana. We have a favour to return to the witch as well.'

A short period of silence fell on the three figures as much as the drifting snow did. Tenma spoke up at last to break the uncomfortable stillness, 'I understand how you feel, Aya. We all do. But there is no sense in risking our lives while Yukari is with them. The battle would be detrimental to the villagers there.'

Vana remained impassive at their exchange, seemingly deep in thought. Aya started another protest but the elder cut her off before she could launch into it, 'Tenma is correct. The lesser elder would not easily give up the Hakurei offspring after all the trouble she went through to rob her from Iyen-Shuren. If we approach her in
force, she would react in force as well.' A small smile played about his lips as he considered his alternatives. 'I shall leave the three of you to deal with the youngsters while I distract the lesser elder.'

Tenma looked disturbed at the notion of Vana personally stepping forth into a potential battlefield. 'There's no need for such a drastic measure. I'm sure Aya, Momizi and myself coupled with the tengu escorts will be enough for them.'

'No. Leave your followers in the fringes of the canyon and let them watch for any signs of the bastard satori or his progeny. They must delay him and his ilk if he makes any move to interrupt us.' He turned back to look down at the distant speck that stood out amongst the snow-bound scenery, smiling at the barely-visible village as he did. 'It is a good thing the nomad brought so much white into the area, wouldn't you agree?'

Aya had no idea what he had meant by that and neither did Tenma from the look on his face. Nevertheless, he saw fit to form a response of sorts. 'Fortunate indeed.'

'We move tonight, my friends.'
>> No. 3548
I caught sight of the golden waves of hair buried in the midst of a group of younglings as they clustered about Sunshines, laughing and teasing as they played with her and offered her various fruits. She seemed unperturbed by their pestering and instead, looked to be enjoying the attention as she returned the affection in her own way, giving them an occasional rub in the head. At my approach, the entire group of juveniles gradually grew silent and turned to stare at me before she stood and sent them away with gentle pushes, motioning for them to return to their homes.

Conscious of numerous youkai eyes regarding me from the shadows of their dwellings, I motioned towards the spring somewhere uphill from the village square, indicating she should join me there and she complied without a word, well aware of the attention I was drawing as well. Coming to walk beside me, she tossed me one of the delicacies the children had brought her. 'Pear?'

Momentarily fumbling with the fruit, I fingered the smooth skin absent-mindedly but made no attempt to chew on it. 'Pretty popular with the kids back there. What a shocker,' I remarked innocently.

She laughed low at that, undisturbed by my obvious needling. 'Despite what you may believe, not everyone dislikes me.' Sighing, she thought about it for a few moments before amending her words, 'Well, a small number of them at least. I've done much to preserve the tranquility of Gensokyo all these years and as a result I've stepped on more toes than I can count, to put it figuratively.'

Finally deeming to bite into the yellowish fruit, I spoke and chewed slowly, delighting in the sweet flavour running rampantly through my taste buds. 'Ran tells me you've been up the whole night. Maybe now you can tell me what the hell all of this is about.'

Tapping the folded fan against her chin, she considered my request as she paced along. 'Where to start, hmm? About ninety years ago, when the Visitors first appeared in Gensokyo, I had embarked on a fact-finding mission. I sought to find out how and why they came to be but over the years I had accumulated more questions than answers. The Visitors had no apparent purpose and no goal but their numbers kept growing. Frustrated, I realized perhaps I was looking for my answers in the wrong place. That was when I first came across the obelisks, one of which I destroyed in the swamp last night.'

'So you thought they were the source of the Visitors,' I concluded for her.

'At first. Certainly, there was no worldly explanation for their presence and their appearance in tandem with the arrival of the Visitors was too obvious to be considered a mere coincidence. Thus, I shifted my attention to them and studied them for years to no avail. They would not give an answer any more than the silent Visitors
would.' Casually flipping her paper fan open, she took her turn to ask me a question. 'Coin for a coin. Now tell me what the obelisks are.'

Trying to trawl for information now, was she? Two of us can play the same game. 'What you suspected them to be all along. Human weapons. Arks carrying weaponized souls to be exact. Sent into Gensokyo to initiate a change so profound it would forever alter both our worlds.'

A frown grew on her face, tinted with a hint of anger I could not be sure of. 'Weapons to what end? The Visitors and the death of False Dawn you mentioned?'

I shook my head, pondering the wisdom of being completely honest with her. I supposed at this point, we really didn't have anything to lose by being truthful. 'No. Merely a weapon against the barrier protecting Gensokyo; nothing to do with the Visitors, at least not directly. The Lemegeton Protocol was intended to restore your sun to Gensokyo and life to the Outside. It was supposed to return everything to normal.'

'By creating a being above gods? Preposterous,' she sniffed behind her paper fan.

That drew a smile from me, for she sounded just like Ran earlier. 'Is it now? So quick to discard the improbable, are we? If all ten of the Arks made it into Gensokyo they might have succeeded. You would've been freed from your current dilemma. They had the technology and more importantly, they had the knowledge, flawed it may be.' Sunshines started to ask something else, only to be interrupted as I held up a hand. 'As you said, coin for a coin. Now why the lies with Enka?'

'Do you recall the night Ran pulled you both away from the plains below the Youkai Mountain? Something else became aware of Yuhiko's presence when she slipped through gapspace.' She saw the understanding in my eyes and confirmed what I was thinking. 'Yes, wanderer. The Visitors plainly saw her during the brief seconds she was passing through the gap. It took no less than a few minutes before they converged on both ends of the gap. Our original destination wasn't Hakurei Shrine. It had been Mayohiga. We had to flee my own home as the accursed black ghosts began penetrating the shielded borders, as impossible as I had thought it was. In the end, we relocated to Hakurei Shrine using more conventional means. That is why I fear transferring the child using gaps, for they are somehow able to see her when I do.' Shrugging lightly, she concluded as best she could, 'So we merely used a white lie to alleviate your worries. Understand, we knew almost nothing about you then. There was very little reason to be honest that time.'

Briefly, I wondered if it was just another convenient half-truth of hers. But there was no other apparent explanation in her refusal to directly aid Short Stuff. The revelation did bring to light something else though. If slipping through Yukari's gapspace does nullify Short Stuff's protective charm in some way, then it should explain why she was briefly visible to the Visitors. Either that or the Visitors have a more solid existence in gapspace itself to be able to eschew the use of their curious sensory methods and plainly see Short Stuff for what she was. Another interesting nugget of information despite the ambiguity. Perhaps Yukari was more closely linked to the Visitors than she realized.

Then again, there could also be an ulterior motive in her reasoning and her act of sending us away. The only other explanation was that she wanted us to stumble across the three Arks lying in the harvest fields. Was that the sole reason behind her bringing me to Chayot Ha Kadesh?

She broke my chain of thoughts with her question she was about to ask earlier, 'What else did the so-called Ark tell you about the Visitors?'

Tearing the last bit of juicy flesh from the pear, I tossed it aside nonchalantly before answering her. 'Nothing more than what I already told you last night. Our days are numbered. Unless we can find some way to deal with them, that is.'

Sunshines held a defeated look now, nothing plainly obvious but I could see signs of it on her placid face. 'Impossible. What do you think we've all been doing for so long? Fighting them means death, their numbers have only grown, and now they're killing our only source of sunlight. I had thought at first the obelisks might be able to convey you our long-desired answers, but it is aggravating to know that after so many years, the answer still lie beyond our grasp. Instead, we are rewarded with the knowledge of imminent doom for our persistence.'

'No,' I responded shortly and she turned to look at me sharply, stopping in her tracks. 'No, there may be a way. Chayot Ha Kadesh was unable to rationalize an explanation for the Visitors but it was able to reveal something else. It's possible to purge False Dawn without sacrificing Short Stuff like what Three Arms had intended to do all along.'

There was a curious light of hope in Sunshines' eyes at my statement, eager to see what I could offer her now. 'Tell me,' she ordered sternly.

Her sudden passion was unsettling and very unlike her normally composed self. So she was obsessed with preserving Gensokyo after all. 'Chayot Ha Kadesh had theorized that the Visitors may have a centralized existence, and it lies within False Dawn. The shadows we have been running from may simply be just that; their shadow cast down on Gensokyo using the illuminating ability of False Dawn. An ingenious utilization of the sun they're incubating within, I have to admit. That would partially explain why they're so hell-bent on defending False Dawn as well.'

She drew a quick intepretation from my hypothesis. 'And the reason why they massacred the Hakureis. The priests might not be a threat to their shadows, but they were to whatever is lying within False Dawn. That was why they acted in advance when False Dawn's infestation was still unnoticeable.'

That had been more or less the conclusion I was about to make. 'Exactly. See now? They're exhibiting calculating intelligence; not the seemingly mindless monsters everyone is making them out to be. They chose the very thing which we would loathe to destroy as their stepping stone into Gensokyo, sending their far-reaching shadows out to eliminate the Hakurei priesthood as well. They're exploiting the fact that we cannot willingly remove False Dawn, because that would be equivalent to a slow death for all of Gensokyo while they're safely growing within the false sun. They didn't come into Gensokyo knowing nothing.'

'But why False Dawn?' Pacing about impatiently, she muttered as she thought hard, 'It doesn't make sense. What good would come out of killing all of Gensokyo? They would still be limited to the edge of the Grand Boundary if growth was their sole concern. If they're as intelligent as you make them out to be, surely they must realize they would be trapped as well in the end.'

I had the very same doubts all night long. The Visitors' actions were rampantly counter-productive if their only purpose was to expand. Gensokyo was nothing close to a limitless expanse of land. The Grand Boundary was essentially the total size of this world, and that was tiny in comparison to what lay Outside. There was no point in growing if they already knew their growth would soon be stunted at the boundary's edges. In a way, the Visitors were almost acting like what was partly detailed in the Lemegeton Initiative, Project Lemegeton's fail-safe; To grow and co-opt everything in Gensokyo.

No. Chayot Ha Kadesh would have recognized them for what they were if that was true. Their purpose would remain a mystery for now. 'Beats me. Would it really matter anyway if you're about to evict your "guests"?'

'So we get inside False Dawn and have Yuhiko perform a ceremony of purification or sealing on whatever is within,' she concluded as she stopped pacing about.

Shrugging, I pointed out the obvious holes in her reasoning. 'Maybe. Except getting anywhere near or through False Dawn's solid exterior is a headache you'll have to first deal with, not to mention the kid still knows next to nothing about being the shrine maiden of paradise she was supposed to be this generation.'

'And that would be our other problem now, wouldn't it?' she smiled sadly. 'Our local mikos are long dead. How is little Yuhiko supposed to learn anything?'

The short end of the stick again. I muttered low to Sunshines, 'I'll handle that.'

She gave me a surprised look as she appraised me anew, 'You're a shrine maiden?'

'Not exactly, but I know enough.'

Abruptly snapping her paper fan shut, she gave me a weary smile born from her new wellspring of hope. 'So it appears not all is lost after all. We have a chance now, however slim it may be. It is most fortunate fate had brought you here during our darkest hour, wouldn't you agree?'

I waved a dismissive hand at her. 'Don't start believing in fate now. She has a nasty habit of coming back to bite you in the ass at the most inopportune of times. At any rate, that's only half of our problems. There's still the three-armed freak out there hounding us.'

Batting her eyelids demurely, she hummed slightly behind her fan. 'And that, my friend, is something I'll handle. His days are numbered if all goes according to plan. Iyen-Shuren will have more than just us to deal with soon enough. It's just a matter of time now.'

At least that was one good news in the string of bad ones lately. Looking up to peer at the object of our fascination, I judged it to be sometime around mid-morning by now. Our little chat had taken longer than I had expected it to. Time to go stir up a certain miko-in-training and maybe steal a little bit of ambrosia if I could chance it. 'Want some sake? Yuugi's brew is worse than opium.' I received a slight shake of her head before making my way back to the brewery alone.

Sunshines shouted out suddenly before I could get too far. 'Do you think we have a chance to make things right this time?'

I kept my back turned as I shouted back to her. 'Nope.'
>> No. 3549
"I'm tempted to believe that within every one of us, humans or youkai regardless, all hold a sense of compassion no matter how evil or inhumane we may seem to others in common. It is a granted fact that not everyone chooses to live a life of good and charity, but at the very least our underlying convictions for doing the right thing always remain somewhere within ourselves.

Or rather, it would be more appropriate to call it our conscience."


-Hakurei Reimu (Of Piety and Divinity)


The thick mists surrounding the Blood Lake all year long always made visibility poor. Shou had often wondered why the spirit favoured such places. Perhaps it had something to do with her original lifetime and subsequent death bound to an ocean. Was Minamitsu attracted to what she once loved in life, or did she simply wanted to be near a large body of water to waste away the remainder of her existence in solace? The lonesome ghost should have crossed the Sanzu River many years ago and yet, she never did. Shou could attribute that to her attachment to Byakuren.

That would be meaningless now. Their long-time friend had unexpectedly passed beyond.

She found the white silhouette soon enough, propped against a sapling of a tree facing the placid waters. How long has it been since they had last talked to one another?

'Too long,' the spirit answered her unvoiced question, getting up wearily to greet Shou, wearing hints of a smile at the sight of her old acquaintance. 'It's been a while, Shou.'

'Indeed.' They moved to clasp hands, drawing one another into a light embrace. 'It's a pleasure to see you again.'

Letting go together, Shou saw the spirit frowning at her as she spoke in consternation, 'You're still with the abomination? Leave. Leave him. Let us return to the temple together. He doesn't deserve you by his side.'

'Return to what?' Shou sighed. 'Byakuren's gone. There's nothing left there but a bitter reminder now.'

Turning to walk towards the edge of the Blood Lake, Minamitsu echoed her sigh. 'I know... I know.'

She gave a strong shake to clear the muddled thoughts. There were more important things to deal with at the moment. 'I need your help. I need the Palanquin ship and you're the only one it would respond to.'

Minamitsu turned to face Shou with a questioning stare. 'That's impossible. The ship's grounded. You know as well as I do. The ship was remade into Myouren Temple.'

'We need to pull it free from its earthen mooring and rebuild it. Go to the human village and get a woodsmith to do it somehow. It shouldn't be too hard for you to mix with the villagers. You still look more or less human.' Shou took hold of her arms as she implored softly, 'Please. Do it for Byakuren if not for me. I don't have much time left.'

'I... I'll try,' she stammered in reply. 'What's wrong? What's happening?'

Releasing her grip, Shou answered softly before turning to leave, 'Too much. Trust in me for now and save the questions for next time. Restore the ship. I'll find some way of getting back to you soon.'

Minamitsu watched her departure in silence. There would be no getting her to reveal anything when Shou was in such a mood. For now, at least there would be something to look forward to instead of an insensate eternity.

She would soon be reunited with the Palanquin ship. The memories alone were enough to breathe life back into her static existence.
>> No. 3551
"So like, I got up one morning and I looked at the sun in the horizon as I made pancakes. It didn't make any sense ya know. The sunrise was supposed ta be behind ma house so THEN I opened the window on the other side and went all batshit crazy 'cuz there was like another damn sun shining at me. How 'bout that huh?"

-Rob Anders (Who Needs To Dine In Hell?)


The afternoon wind had gradually intensified into a strong gale and by the time Ran had finished her rounds beyond the far reaches of the canyon, snow had begun to accompany the indiscriminate gusts of wind as well. There would be a blizzard tonight, and still no signs of her quarry. Where had the celestial disappeared to?

She shook her head in disappointment. There would be no meeting her today and a part of Ran secretly hoped that the nomad had grown bored with stalking the fringes of the village. The fewer problems they had to deal with now the better it was for the welfare of everyone. As she turned to leave, something materialized beyond the peripheries of her vision limited by the bad weather.

'Looking for someone?'

Breaking slowly into a guarded stance, Ran edged closer to the still figure. The outlines of a billowing blue-white dress came into view, followed by undulating waves of blue hair as the gale tore at them mercilessly. 'Hinanai Chiko,' she breathed out the name.

'That's Tenshi for you,' came the curt reply. 'I hear someone's been stalking me.'

'What do you want?' Despite her sudden appearance, the celestial remained standing casually, arms crossed. If she had hostile intentions, she was ill prepared to execute them. Nevertheless, Ran retained her caution around the celestial.

Her expression was well-hidden by the gloom and weather. Ran couldn't tell if the celestial was grinning or not, even though the sound of her voice indicated such. 'Only to warn you. Vana is preparing for a raid. He knows the Hakurei child is hidden down in the village.'

'Lies. I've been awaiting the child's arrival as well. They're not here yet,' she replied carefully to test just how much the celestial knew, edging closer all the while and hiding her gradual movements in the billowing snow.

'Oh? I must have seen a ghost then,' came the nonchalant reply. 'Enough games. I suggest you return to her side immediately before it's too late.'

Whipping forth in an indistinguishable blur, she brought the celestial crashing downwards into the snowbound ground with one hand, pinning her there with her body as she grunted in anger. 'You told him she was there!'

She could plainly see the celestial's grin now. Not even bothering to fight back, she replied casually, 'Yes. Like I said it's high time you returned to your master's side before Vana and his cohorts reach the child.'

Leaping off of the prone celestial, Ran cursed out loud as she took explosive bounds back towards the canyon, struggling against the onslaught of the gale which threatened to slow her down. She knew not why Tenshi had just told her that, but she would return to deal with the celestial soon enough for her treacherous act. The safety of the Hakurei child took precedence now.

Watching the fox youkai speed off into the gloom, Tenshi indolently dusted her clothing. Now the chess pieces were beginning to fall into place. She would savour their performance sooner than she thought would be possible.

'Let the dance begin,' she whispered to no one in particular.
>> No. 3557
Goddamnit, I'd pay for the chance of seeing (reading) Tenshi and Aya getting their asses kicked. Goddamned whores.

...sorry. Nice update.
>> No. 3561
I actually meant to finish the first thread by hitting the suto-sage mark with the next few updates...

But this is good too. Can't read it at the moment, but I definetly will when I have the chance.
>> No. 3566
Oh, Tenshi, you silly bitch. Still trolling it up, I see.
>> No. 3568
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3568
god damnit tenshi
>> No. 3570
Oh tenko you tool. Anyways, someone flood the old thread so it doesn't get bumped accidentally?
>> No. 3588
>>3570

Nah, leave it there. It may be useful later.
>> No. 3597
Good news is that I think Murasa will be helping the group soon. (Shou doesn't care to be under three-arms' thumb much)

Though the Tengu being under the other youkai lord isn't a good thing (since our heroine has effectively pissed off both major sides now)
>> No. 3604
>>3597
>Though the Tengu being under the other youkai lord isn't a good thing

We've known this for awhile I'm pretty sure
>> No. 3605
Those anecdotes are another part of the story I love.
>> No. 3606
>>3588
In what way could a possible confusion causer be possibly useful in any way?
>> No. 3608
>>3606

Drop her behind the enemy forces.
Be happy.
>> No. 3617
>>3604

Not really, since it wasn't mentioned what faction the Tengu were affiliated with until now, since it wasn't until after the heroine and Short Stuff left the Tengu's turf that she found out about the Youkai lords.

But I wonder which plan would win out since aren't there various plans in action, though it doesn't look good for Yukari and Ran unless there's an ace up their sleeve.
>> No. 3619
>>3608
I don't think you looked at that chain of posts fully.
>> No. 3620
>>3619

Actually, I haven't even finished reading the update yet. The bad part of having to wait for more updates, is that there is no urgency.
>> No. 3764
Busy, or building more word-filled space elevators?
>> No. 3768
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3768
>>3764
Both actually; I've been flying around a lot lately. But we'll have an orbital elevator Memento Mori won't be able to destroy soon enough!
>> No. 3770
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3770
>>3768
>> No. 3782
‘I think there’s a storm brewing.’

Glancing upwards at the dull sky heralding the arrival of dark clouds told me she was right. We would soon play host to a snowstorm or even a blizzard judging from the increasingly turbulent breeze whistling through the canyon, a possible precursor to the gale force winds that would soon follow. It looked like we wouldn’t get to spend most of the evening out here. Probably a good idea to wrap things up early and head back before the storm hits. ‘Forget the weather. Pay attention.’

I took another swig from the pilfered bottle before returning my attention to Short Stuff. Time to put her mental primer to the test. ‘You know the drill. Tear that plate apart. Remember what I said before?’

‘Focus is meaningless without conviction. Belief is baseless without faith. Power only lends itself to those who can truly wield it,’ she recited with rote perfection. Even so, hints of self doubt and uncertainty still clouded her soft features. Regrettably, it didn’t look like tonight would be any different from our other sessions. A failure waiting to happen.

Running a hand through my hair in frustration, I leaned closer to where Short Stuff sat rooted to drill the words into her once more. ‘You’re just repeating what I told you. It’s easy to see you don’t have an ounce of confidence in them.’ She gave me a look that plainly mirrored my disappointment. There was no doubt about her sincerity in wanting to learn but something was blocking her efforts. Sighing and setting the bottle down, I looked up to address the formally-seated figure. ‘Tell me, what’s holding you back?’

Turning away from me, she took a few moments to finally answer. ‘Fear. Fear that I may end up using the seals to kill someone else.’

Reaching out with a hand to ruffle her hair, I forced the head to look back at me, staring her straight in the eye as I tried to hide my own uncertainty. ‘You don’t know if she really died that night at Eientei. She’s a youkai after all.’ Short Stuff had merely tried to help me, but did she really believe that? For a normal human, their first time in taking a life would be one of those moments which would forever haunt them for the rest of their existence. Giving her cheek a little pinch, I went on, ‘It was self-defence. You tried to save me and you did. There’s no guilt to be had in that.’

‘But it doesn’t make embracing the power to kill any easier. What if it goes off accidentally one day and takes the life of people I care about?’ Her eyes glazed over slightly as her voice dropped to a near whisper, ‘Like how I almost killed you along with her.’

‘What if I told you your abilities could be used to save lives instead? Power cuts both ways; it’s simply a tool, not a perversion of instincts.’ Pressing down on her shoulder, I went on in a more reassuring tone. ‘People themselves decide how tools are to be wielded, not the other way around.’

‘What do you mean “save lives”?’ she asked, slightly unperturbed by my emphasis on the words. ‘It has something to do with the Visitors, doesn’t it? About how I should purify False Dawn.’

‘Listen.’ Taking her other arm, I turned her entire body to face me directly before I went on. This was something she would need to hear sooner or later anyhow. ‘You have the unique opportunity to change the course of events unfolding lately. Like it or not, yours is the hand fate had deemed to bless with our survival.’ Pep talk had never been a thing I liked to do, but the words had a riveting effect on her as she fixed her gaze on me. I felt slightly guilty at using her affection to manipulate her mindset, but it was a small enough sin in contrast to what hung in the balance. ‘Our survival or our extinction, you have it in you what it takes to decide our future.’

She gave a short nod after a period of silence and I rotated her back towards the waiting pottery, gripping her arms reassuringly as I whispered into her ears, ‘Now let it flow. The proof of your heritage. Remember our conversation about youkai. Trust in yourself and your bloodline will in turn, trust in you. Gensokyo will do the rest.’

I couldn’t see her features from behind her, but I knew her eyes had drooped close as she cleared her mind in focus. Releasing my hands, I leaned backwards to observe the sealing ceremony, hoping for the best. Once more, the dichromatic glow from her invoked abilities fused with the ground and drew forth the etched lines of radiance, marking the boundaries of her circle as it spun slowly around her. Unlike her previous attempt, the glyphs had reconfigured into a primed state much faster than I anticipated she would have been able to do. Not bad for her fifth try.

Observing the rapidly transposing glyphs with great interest, I sat back against my usual tree and snatched the cold bottle of sake up with an idle hand, bringing it to my lips before the ground all around us erupted in an unexpected blinding flash. In reflex, I dodged instinctively just in time to feel something whirl through the air with a high-pitched whine where my head had formerly been. Briefly, the sensation of a sharp sting permeated my right cheek as the flash rapidly dissipated. Twisting about in alarm, I found Short Stuff sitting awkwardly a bit away from where she had earlier been, legs splayed out and balanced on her arms. The explosion of light had startled her as much as it did me and I turned my gaze over to the source of it.

A few feet away, the formerly whole earthenware had been sliced clean in half, with the intact portion resting on the ground. As for the rest, I noticed one of the fragments had embedded itself in the tree I had been propped up against along with numerous others scattered about the clearing. Damned flying shuriken of a pottery had almost become a permanent part of my head. Feeling a warm, moist sensation on my cheek followed by additional stinging, I reached up to feel the drip of my own blood from the gash the fragment had tore open in its flight into the tree.

Short Stuff came back from her bewildered trance and experienced a sudden infusion of life as she crawled over to me frantically, excitement lining every crease of her young face. Animatedly, she blabbered quickly without noticing she had almost given me a new facial ornament. ‘It worked! It does work! I don’t believe it! I-‘

Her voice slowed considerably and died down as she noticed my dim anger and the open gash lining my cheek. A familiar fear in her eyes resurfaced as she drew back slightly from my rapidly growing frown. Her lips parted slightly to say something. An apology, an excuse, anything. But nothing came forth from the silently moving mouth.

One hand went up unconsciously in preparation for something, and as my fingers closed into a grip, Short Stuff reacted in much the same manner as she had at Heaven Cradle, closing her eyes and turning her head meekly to offer her cheek so she could receive the blow as she remained rooted to her spot like some lost kitten. Flashbacks from that night came and went in the space of a thought and I relaxed the clenched fist, running both hands through my hair to smooth away the haze of anger. What the hell was I about to do?

Silent seconds drifted by and she eventually cracked open her eyes to return her fearful gaze to me, hesitantly coming over to my side as she did. My apparent lack of action was somewhat of a reassurance to her but it did little to ease her anxiety. Kneeling down, she reached out slowly to touch my gash before her hand darted backwards as I winced at her caress. Still at loss for words, she looked to be hanging halfway between making a hasty break or just to remain as she was, feebly awaiting a response of sorts.

‘Good,’ I broke the silence at long last, causing the small figure to jump slightly at the sudden words. ‘Now we’re getting somewhere. That was a subset of the Hakurei divine arts, the one they called a Demon Binding Circle. Remember it well.’ Seeing the lingering fear dotting her frame, I gave her a reassuring rub in the head. The tension inside of her seemed to instantly deflate and she found words of her own to meet mine.

‘S-sorry. I didn’t mean to…’ she mumbled and trailed off, reaching forth to dabble at the gash with a silken rag. Enduring the sting, I allowed her to soak up the freely-flowing blood before taking the rag away to press it against the wound.

‘Not your fault.’ Wincing anew at the pain, I briefly wondered if I would need a good set of stitches for the gash. I couldn’t tell how big it was but judging from all the blood, it had to be a goodly-sized one. Fortunately, there was a personal doctor just sitting in the brewery somewhere down below waiting to sew me up. I would get him to attend to it later. Giving Short Stuff a forced smile, I repeated my praise. ‘Good work. Don’t forget how it was invoked; the feeling, the sense of belonging. That came a bit faster than I had expected it to, but build on it nonetheless. It’s a good start.'

Looking downwards with shifting eyes, she muttered her apologies again, obviously upset at the little accident. Comforting children felt completely out of character and was something I was never good at, but I gave Short Stuff another rub in the head and tried to sound gentle as I brought her head up. ‘Don’t worry about it. Just an accident.’ Prying the rag loose, I gave her a full view of the raw flesh as I added jokingly, ‘I’ve got something to freak Reiji out with now, see?’

Her face was anything but amused at the ugly wound and she looked to be visibly disturbed by the sight of it. Hastily covering it up with the rag once more, I drew closer to her and spoke low, seeing the last bits of her fear vanish as she finally realized I bore her no grudge for the accident. ‘Look. Keep this to yourself. Don’t show anyone; not Keizo, not Yukari, not even Nue. No one must realize you’ve regained control of your sealing abilities, not until the time is right.’

She queried in confusion, ‘Why? I thought we could trust them with something this important.’

‘No.’ I shook my head, repeating with a strong emphasis, ‘No. Trust flows far too easily between them. They may look like allies now, but once they realize you’ve been properly primed, you could become more and more of a tool in their view.’ Pressing a finger against a question forming on her lips, I went on, ‘When the time is right, when you’ve matured enough both in terms of your naiveté and your abilities, only then should you decide on who’s best to trust. Until then, don’t believe in anyone so easily. Not even me.’

‘I trust in you,’ she declared indignantly.

That was rather unexpected. Did a bit of what I had told her even get through her head? ‘Now that’s just stupid. Look. You’re valuable in everyone’s eyes. They all want a piece of you and the only advantage you have now is the fact that there’re three rebel youkai who’s going out of their way to keep you alive because you're worth a lot to them in many ways.’ I shook her hard in the arms as I grinded the words out, knowing just how much she would hate to hear them. ‘Use them, use me, to survive. Keep yourself alive long enough to establish a solid alliance with those you know will support you until the very end but for Pete’s sake don’t believe in everything they tell you or let them know too much about you.’

‘But you’ll stay with me until the end, won’t you?’ she pleaded softly. Something in her voice betrayed a desperate longing or need and I sighed out loud at that.

‘I can’t even protect myself from a flying piece of pottery shard,’ I scoffed. ’There’s no guarantee I’ll stay alive long enough to see things through with you. Now promise me, no matter what happens you'll keep your abilities an absolute secret. They're all you have to rely on if you're ever in a pinch or if our mutual friends should turn against you. Deal?'

Nodding a few times, she indicated she understood but given her personality it was obvious she would never consider using them to kill again, not even in self-defence. There would be no point in trying to convince her otherwise, at least not until she had matured enough to know that the possibility of taking a life would be inevitable during our troubled times now.

Giving her a slight push, I motioned for her to head back to the brewery as I stood and went back to where my bottle of ambrosia lay some distance away, staining the snow underneath a dull gray as the precious contents seeped out. It looked like I would have to secretly relieve my hostess of another bottle of her excellent brew once I got back later.

Bending low to sweep the emptied bottle off the ground, a sudden gust of wind far stronger than the consistent breeze pushing through the canyon brushed past my side, prompting me to glance at the empty space uneasily as the forgotten bottle rolled back to the ground in silence. Something didn't feel right and turning around to check the clearing revealed the sight of a figure in white running off and preparing for a take-off as it rushed beyond the clearing and down the pathway to the village.

And Short Stuff was missing.

Time slowed to a standstill as I realized the little bundle of red and white the escaping figure had clasped under one arm was Short Stuff.

Oh. Shit.

Everything fled my mind. Words emptied and nothing but a blank slate was left. The only thing that came close to a manner of attempted movement was the first of my strides which eventually broke out into a full-throttled run as I chased after the fleeing figure, catching the sight of a swinging white tail as a small break in the dark skies cast forth a bit of moonlight.

Too late. With its next step, the figure took a launching leap and in a blur of white, cleared the ground as it sailed gracefully into the air with its precious cargo.

My cargo. Damn it all!

Heedless of anything, I kept running.
>> No. 3784
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One moment she had her eyes on the swaggering figure of the wanderer as she made her way slowly to her fallen bottle and the next, something huge and soft filled her vision for a fraction of a second before all the air went out of her lungs as it slammed into her hard. The sensation of being twisted around and wrapped tight in the strong arms of something mixed with the clearing dizziness and as the world came back into the focus, so did a pair of sprinting legs. Not hers, but someone else's.

They belonged to the person who had her clutched under one arm.

Attempting to move or turn proved to be futile with the vice-like grip about her and a frantic gaze upward revealed the grim features of her kidnapper. It was the same tengu whom had first rescued them from the Visitors so many distant weeks ago during her first encounter with them.

'M-momizi!?' Yuhiko grunted out with the bouncing rhythm of her pace.

The inu didn't even look downwards but she barked a quick apology. 'I'm sorry for doing this, child. Bear with it for now!'

In a single heart wrenching lurch, the ground grew smaller and Yuhiko knew they had taken flight. Why, she thought to herself frantically. In panic, she continued to struggle against the inu in vain before resorting to kicking and screaming but the youkai ignored her outburst. She was being abducted and the silent inu was making a point to ignore Yuhiko's protests about it.

One hand brushed the side pocket where she had previously stuffed the amulets the wanderer had given back to her the day before and a desperate idea came about. Her struggles were no longer random now, but a calculated move to wriggle backwards and get enough room to pull the whole stack of crude amulets out. The inu remained oblivious to her newfound purpose, regarding the bout of mid-air wrestling as just another one of her pointless struggle to dislodge herself.

Oily smooth paper brushed against her fingers at long last and giving a strong buckle, she managed to startle the inu into loosening up long enough to pull them loose and smash the entire stack of amulets into her back. There would be no bright flash of red this time. Instead, there was a goodly eruption of light and shockwave that sent the two of them twirling out of control in mid-air.

She was free from her captor, only to sail back into the rapidly-approaching ground as a result.


----------------


I had begun to lose all hope until the momentary glare surrounding the abductor forced me to avert my gaze, followed by a wave of compressed air which rocked the snow loose from the surrounding cliff faces. Breaking into a sudden stop, I managed to catch sight of the flighty figure as it pin wheeled in the air before Short Stuff rapidly detached from it to drop back to the ground like a sinking rock. Their current altitude was barely above the lip of the canyon but the fall would still be enough to break her neck if she hit the ground the wrong way.

Renewing my desperate sprint, I made a beeline for Short Stuff's point of impact, keeping my eyes on her limp figure as it made its rapid descent. Mere seconds before she hit the ground, I threw myself down bodily and slid through the snow underfoot, praying I would make it in time to break her fall.

And break her fall I did, as her small body thudded painfully into mine before we both slid to a stop. Wheezing from the impact on my chest, I felt the gash on my cheek bleed anew at the recent exertions but that was something I couldn't be bothered to check on at the moment. In panic, I drew Short Stuff's body over and inspected the limp figure, noting the bruise on her head as I did. Still breathing with an irregular pulse, but out cold with a probable concussion. Heaving a sigh of relief, I returned my eyes to the skies, scanning for any signs of the white-clad figure.

Something else rapidly drew into view and I thought our little kidnapper had returned but something looked all too familiar with the approaching object. Another youkai, another attempted attack. Black hair swirled about and in the intensifying hail of snow, outstretched wings in the same black sailed forth through the dim twilight, one hand reaching backwards as it closed the distance between us.

Aya.

Releasing Short Stuff and rolling to the right, I drew in handfuls of dirt and gravel beneath the blanket of white at the same time. As Aya changed her trajectory and aimed for me directly, I could almost feel the heat of her hate through the cold of the new blizzard. She was using her velocity as a weapon and there was no doubt she intended to rush at me in a melee attack. The tengu would not risk throwing danmaku with Short Stuff so close to me.

Scant seconds before her outstretched arms reached me I brought the clenched fist up from the ground, flinging debris into her flight path before rolling out of her way once more. Carried by her speed, she took the cloud of sand and earth head-on and with her vision momentarily obscured, crashed into the ground beyond only to execute a graceful back flip and land on her feet some distance away.

Clearing her irritated eyes in anger, she returned her attention to me with a baleful gaze and one hand rose up in a clearly hostile gesture. She was going to try putting holes in me all the same.

In panic, I dived back towards Short Stuff and brought her unconscious form up as a shield, muttering a silent apology to her as I did. She wouldn't mind being used as a shield, or at least I hoped she wouldn't. Dragging the inert body up as I stood faced against Aya, I began a slow retreat from her as the petite tengu advanced towards me threateningly. Her hand remained pointed at me regardless of my newfound protection.

'You would use the child as your hostage?' she hissed with unmitigated anger. 'If only she were awake to see you now, witch. See you as what you really are, a conceited abomination who would do anything to save her own skin!'

'So says the yahoos who just tried to steal her,' I countered coldly, careful to edge around her and keeping Short Stuff positioned between the two of us. 'What the hell do you think you're doing?'

'That is no concern of yours,' she cut further questions off in fury. 'You will pay for all the sorrow you brought us at Heaven Cradle.'

Knowing full well I wouldn't hurt Short Stuff, she lunged directly in my direction, fully prepared to end my life with a swift strike to my jugular evident from the posture she had assumed. Her moves were easy to read, for even in her hatred for me she had readily made use of the knowledge I had imparted to the tengu. Crude melee manoeuvres I could easily counter by playing dirty.

The crunching snow and her loud stomps gave away her intentions just before she could reach me; Aya would take a quick sidestep before darting to her left, her dominant side where she would execute her fatal strike. Still the same Aya. Fallible, gullible, and predictable.

Her shape blurred one last time as she got into position and I chose that moment to push Short Stuff towards her violently. Short Stuff's unconscious form lurched forward a single step before toppling over into the oncoming Aya who broke her attack off in sudden surprise to avoid accidentally maiming the Hakurei maiden.

That would be her first and last mistake. Following Short Stuff's fall a split second behind her, I reached out with an outstretched hand as I darted towards the startled Aya who had momentarily broken her momentum, catching the tengu's arm and watching her shocked gaze follow my movement scant moments before I gave her arm a desperate twist that sent her into a single somersault before landing on her back.

Before Short Stuff could even hit the ground behind her, I had mounted the dazed crow with a loud grunt, pinning her lower body down with my legs before proceeding to pummel her face in with both fists. It was my one and only chance to put her out of commission before she could regain enough sense to pump a handful of danmaku into my head now that Short Stuff was no longer around to shield me from her wrath. As the pretty face grew increasingly bloodied under my sustained hammering, she moved instinctively to throw me off, bringing her own bunched fist crashing into my solar plexus. Dim sparks of pain flared into an infernal agony as the blow travelled through my body, culminating in another strike into my ribs which sent me toppling to one side.

Despite the numbing pain, I pushed myself through the agony to turn back towards Aya in time to catch her pointed hand in a desperate lunge, forcing it upwards just as a release of superheated air indicative of danmaku release exploded harmlessly into the sky, momentarily lighting up the low visibility through the pouring blizzard. The hate in her fine features was clearly engraved; there was no doubt she wanted to kill me.

Her other hand came down in a head-crunching blow which I narrowly dodged as I gave her an uppercut with my elbow, staggering her momentarily as she took involuntary steps backwards. Desperate not to lose my newly-gained momentum I threw myself bodily against her, grunting out loud as I forced her to remain off-balance and pushed her into the jagged canyon wall, delivering additional blows to her ribs. The ensuing impact with the rocky face elicited a pained grunt of her own and her rigid form slumped downwards momentarily, exposing her folded wings.

Anger and a desire to kill coursed through my blood once more. I remembered the feeling well, for it was the very same one which had visited me when I was about to slaughter the nameless tengu in cold blood so many moons ago back in Heaven Cradle. Someone was feeding the ancient instinct into my very being and in the dim bloodlust I knew it could only be Rilofene. Heedless of anything else I reached for Aya's left wing, gripping it hard and preparing to tear the feathery limb off in the heat of my fury as I bent closer to her slumped form to hiss to her in breathless delight, 'First your wacky wings come off. Next your arms and legs! I'll leave you your limbless torso, monster!'

Pouring my strength into the grip, I was well prepared to deliver my threat before a cold voice sliced through the void my rational mind had formerly occupied, paralyzing my muscles for what seemed to be timeless seconds.

'STOP! Aya doesn't deserve this! Her only sin is blind loyalty to the one she follows!'

Involuntarily, my grip relaxed before I forced myself to tighten it anew. The stupid old hag within just couldn't understand that Aya had to be crippled if my survival was to be ensured. Still, I fought with the idea for brief moments as I formed a retort to redirect at Kanako before Aya's own voice sounded out weakly.

'What're you waiting for? This is what you do best, is it not? Bring death. Death, pain, and suffering to all around you.' Bleary eyes and a bloody face turned upwards to look at me, her weakened hands hammered away at my grip ineffectually. 'You betrayed us. Used us. Discarded us. And when the time was right, you used us once more. So many died because of that, because of you...' Her words trailed off as the blood on her face mixed with sudden tears before it lowered in defeat.

I could remember the same tear-filled eyes from our last encounter so many years ago. There was no hate then, only a sad confusion and longing to understand why and I realized Kanako was right. Aya did not deserve what I had been about to inflict on her. Everything stemmed from me and her fostered hatred was simply a direct result from my less-than-noble actions. Despite my common sense screaming at me, I slowly released my grip on Aya and brought my elbow up instead. She might not be losing any limbs, but I could still damn well put her out cold for now.

The cold bite of steel settled on my exposed neck before I could deliver the knockout blow, followed by an even colder voice. 'Let Aya go, witch.'

Turning my head slightly, I managed to catch the protruding edge of a blade rested against the left side of my neck. Someone else, probably the figure which had went down with Short Stuff earlier and none too happy from the sound of the female voice. Stepping backwards away from Aya with exaggerated care, Aya's accomplice gave another cold warning as she continued to guide my steps.

'Keep your hands visible. One wrong move, your head comes off.'

Collapsing onto her knees, Aya managed several inaudible gasps and coughs before pushing herself onto her feet, taking note of the figure behind me before staggering over to where Short Stuff lay crumpled, giving her a momentary inspection as she lifted the still body from the piling snow. Turning to give me one last unfathomable look, she gave my captor an order I had been dreading to hear before she took off into the blizzard.

'Momizi. Kill her,' she ordered as she disappeared into the inky blackness of the twilight sky with her precious cargo.

There was no response from the figure behind, but there was little doubt death would be coming soon. The blade repositioned slightly and my captor uttered an uncharacteristic apology before she lifted the blade free to lop my head off. 'Bear me no grudge, human.'

Parting slightly from my neck, the blade whined back unerringly with uncanny speed.


----------------


The brief change in the gale's direction brought numerous scents drifting all about the brewery and Reiji lifted his head in sleepy surprise. He knew someone or something was amassing beyond the confines of the canyon as the wind carried their scents down into the village. Two he could identify well enough, that of the wanderer and the Hakurei maiden but the others did not smell the least bit friendly. Hurrying out into the snow-covered yard, he poked at the sleeping chimera nestled in one barely-warm corner of the maze of barrels.

The leathery eyes peeled wide open and she lifted her head to regard the little oni, a question she had been about to ask rapidly drifted apart as she caught the unfamiliar scents herself. 'We've been found,' Nue whispered in alarm as her malformed body undulated fully from its curled-up position.

Reiji experienced a sudden rush of anxiety. He had truly believed the days of danger were long gone. 'What do we do?'

Nue turned back to address the nervous oni. 'You will do nothing. Get back inside and make sure Keizo does nothing foolish as well.' With pounding legs, she sped off and took an abrupt turn up the pathway leading to the outer fringes of the village. Her voice did not betray her panic but Reiji knew well enough the chimera was trying her best to hide it from him. Still hesitant, he harboured fancy ideas about following Nue to help before a concerned voice stopped him.

It was Yuugi, evidently drawn to the new scents she had detected as well. 'Don't even think about following her.'

'But-' Reiji began in a half-hearted protest before being cut off by the advancing figure of the older oni.

'But nothing. You will put yourself in no danger,' she spoke tersely before softening her voice and resting a hand on Reiji's shoulder. 'The oni are a dying race. There are so few of us left and you are the first of the new generation. Please, don't throw yourself into the reaper's embrace so easily.'

He was torn between his need to run off after Nue and to heed Yuugi's words. Keizo came to stand in the crude doorway in silence, grimly observing the exchange between the two oni, still unaware of the developing situation beyond the cramped confines of the village. At the very least, Reiji could bring Keizo up to speed before he returned to thinking about disobeying Yuugi later. 'I won't,' he gave his ambiguous promise to Yuugi instead.

Keizo's questioning gaze conveyed all the words he would ever need to Reiji. Motioning towards the interior of the brewery, he silently directed his apprentice to seek him out once Yuugi would no longer be in close proximity to overhear their words.

From the looks of things, he knew what Reiji would be able to tell him wouldn't sit well with him.


----------------


There was an overwhelming sense of wrongness about the village, as if an overbearing presence had decided to meld with the raging blizzard. Several gaps later, she still couldn't pin the unidentified presence but as she emerged from the last gap, Yukari would find something all too familiar; the masked presence of the one most youkai called the Ardent Trickster, Vana himself.

So the other elder had chosen to move after the failure of his rival, far sooner than she thought he would have been able to. She experienced an uneasy feeling that someone had acted independently to accelerate the developing events as of late. No time for worries now. There was only one reason why he had led her around on a wild goose chase.

Vana was buying time; probably to delay her intervention in the brewing altercation taking place somewhere far below in the canyons she could sense now. In silence, she cursed herself for falling so easily into her current predicament. This was now a two-way battle; Vana would not let her go free until he was sure the Hakurei child was securely in his possession and at the same time, she had to buy the rest of them enough time to converge and deal with the individual threats developing below.

A possible checkmate, but one she had to risk if they were to emerge with the upper hand from this confrontation.

Yukari allowed the gale to carry her drifting form towards the waiting silhouette.


----------------


Despite the urge to go after the Hakurei child, Ran had to set aside the nagging insistence for the time being to dive straight at the source of the killing scent. They owed the wanderer that much to at least save her from death this once. With a bestial snarl, she hurled herself down the canyon and straight at the smell of impending death below, plowing hard into another figure as she tackled it to the ground in an earth-rending smash. An iron blade clattered loudly to one side as she pinned her target down.

Next to where she was tangled with the trashing figure, an inu from the looks of her, the wanderer shot back up in alarm after she had taken a quick dive to one side in a last-ditch attempt at avoiding the decapitation, staring at Ran and the inu she was wrestling with in momentary wonder. Their eyes met briefly and she knew there would be no need for words. They were well aware of what had transpired and what took precedence for the moment.

With barely a wasted second, the solitary figure broke off into a staggering run towards the incoming presence Ran could sense approaching with great speed beyond the blinding blizzard. It was up to her and Nue to retrieve the child now. Ran had to deal with the inu instead.

For a brief second, the inu's hands broke free and the ensuing smell of ionizing air alerted Ran to what was coming. Rolling aside just in time to escape the aerial dance of danmaku which had formed behind them, she launched herself into the nearest wall and kicked off into the air from there, sending her own reply downwards in a wave of flashing bolts.

Demonstrating surprising speed herself, her target made a rapid recovery and spun out of range before making a quick roundabout turn to face Ran and she allowed the face-off with a grim smile. It was time to test the mettle of this one.

A kaleidoscopic show of radiant light lit the night as they fired their answers of death simultaneously.
>> No. 3785
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Fag's Notes:

So I realized I may have missed a couple of questions in the previous thread. Thought I might as well answer them here since I'm taking a little break from flooding the Tower of Babel.

About nicknames. It was supposed to be a naming-deficiency associated with our nameless wanderer; as in, she wouldn't be able to remember anything longer than five alphabets but I may have skewed this slightly out of laziness lately. Yup, I'm a lazy tard.

Also, the lack of choices (or rather the rarity at being offered some). It felt like a nice change of pace to be able to direct most of the flow of the story by myself (also, I get to avoid lack of votes/selfspam votes). Don't get me wrong though, the choices made so far did alter major events I'll highlight at the end so they're not completely a waste of time.

Third; I can't remember what the third was. Har har!

At any rate, here's to hoping we'll have speedier updates for the next few weeks now that the holiday season is drawing closer. Thanks for reading, good Anon!
>> No. 3787
>>3785
>Also, the lack of choices (or rather the rarity at being offered some). It felt like a nice change of pace to be able to direct most of the flow of the story by myself

Actually, I kinda like this. Feels more..."proper"? It makes the choices meaningful.
>> No. 3788
File 12599699543.jpg - (387.58KB, 1000x707, LOOK THE EAST IS BURNING RED.jpg) [iqdb]
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FUCK YEAR BEATIN' UP AYA STORIES
>> No. 3822
I wonder, can thing ever become friendlier between the Wanderer and Aya/the Tengu? Probably not. After all that happened, such thing sounds impossible, specially since Vana happened. The relationship of hate and revenge will only end after one of them is dead.

And I'm kind disppointed at Yuugi. Even if she wants to preserve her species as much as possible, letting Gensokyo die won't do much to help her, since that would kill everyone including the oni. Doesn't she know what is happened or did he Wanderer not tell her t all?

Last thing. I both love and hate that the Wanderer is 'named' like that. It's badass, but the lack of name/nickname is always a downside for me. While it's not a problem that most characters call her like that, how can she and Yuhiko become even closer if Yuhiko can't address her with more than "you/she/her"?
>> No. 3823
>About nicknames. It was supposed to be a naming-deficiency associated with our nameless wanderer; as in, she wouldn't be able to remember anything longer than five alphabets but I may have skewed this slightly out of laziness lately. Yup, I'm a lazy tard.

This is working well actually, it's...nice.
>> No. 3827
Wanderer once referred to herself as Pandora when talking to Akyu, regarding her past.
>> No. 3830
I just call her The Wandering not-a-Jew.
>> No. 3842
The dismal visibility coupled with the accursed gloom made running straight an arduous task, much less keeping track of the now-vanished Aya. A new sort of panic tore at me now, struck with the realization that Rilofene’s protection from the Visitors was now steadily being borne away from us at an alarming rate. I had to get to Aya and Short Stuff before they could pull out of range. Easier said than done; I had no clues as to how I was supposed to keep track of or catch up with the speed demon of a tengu. My only hope now lay with Nue or Sunshines.

’Aya is still bearing west-northwards about four of your human minutes away from us. The blizzard is hindering both her orientation and flight. We can still make it.’

At least the old hag could serve as my radar for now. Bringing up an arm to shield my eyes against the sting of the wind I pressed onwards, thrusting all other speculation and doubts aside as I refocused on my run. Aya may be hindered by the weather but so was I; the snow underfoot had grown thick enough to make breaking through them a tremendous effort but like much of the other things happening at the moment, I had no choice in the matter but to take it head-on.

A sense of danger, a silent scream within, a primordial sixth sense bred into humans all shouted a sudden warning on what was approaching from behind; the sensation of impending death. Without really knowing why, I forced my knees to buckle and rolled to one side of the narrow pathway just in time to avoid twin lances of light searing the ground, turning earth to blackened slate as they ripped downwards from where I had formerly been running on the pathway. Alert to the presence of a new threat now, I pressed hard into a crevice of the canyon wall, scanning the darkened skies in futility. Who the hell-

An all too familiar voice shouted a stern challenge, momentarily disorienting me as the words echoed about the canyon. ‘Come out, witch. There’s nothing you can do now.’

With Aya around, there was no surprise as to who the new interloper was. It could only be Tenma, come at last to fulfil his promise of my execution. Even then, why had he missed me on his first attack? Unless he was having great difficulty trying to see through the storm as well. Tenma favoured aerial superiority over the ground; he would not come down unless he had no other choice. I decided to test my assumptions.

I gave a quick shout from my hiding place. ‘You’re just like Aya, Tenma! Single-minded and incapable of seeing things from another perspective!’ Darting surreptitiously out from the crevice a moment after, I moved along the canyon wall stealthily as I frantically searched about for my next hidey hole. One came up soon enough in the form of a shadowed recession in the rocky face which I proceeded to press into. Scant seconds slipped by before my previous hiding spot exploded in a shower of rocks and light. So Tenma was having visibility problems after all.

Taking advantage of his momentary confusion, I lunged out from the recession and bolted down the path as I threw all pretence of stealth away in a suicidal rush. I had no idea how far away I was from the village but there was little room for further thought now. Short Stuff was getting further and further away with every moment I wasted with Tenma.

His confusion didn’t last long; giving a loud curse I could hear all the way from where I was he lashed out once more, this time in random. Webs of crisscrossing light from behind carved through the narrow defile, flinging rocks and debris into the air in their violent sweep. A quick backward glance was all I needed to guess the trajectory of the incoming beams of death before I managed to avoid the first wave with frantic sidesteps and a last second dive to the side.

My momentary evasive dance was all Tenma had needed to catch up with me; the infuriated tengu carried a vortex of snow and rock dust with him overhead as he sped past me and broke into a complete stop just a few feet away in the air. He wouldn’t even waste time to gloat, pivoting around and preparing to pass his long overdue judgment on me as the air around us waved from the displaced temperature of danmaku generation.

The silent silhouette rapidly forming behind him would never give him a chance to finish. Sliding to a stop behind Tenma, Nue lashed forth with all three of her snake appendages, whipping Tenma out of the air and straight into the nearest rocky outcropping. My erstwhile antagonist vanished in a shower of pebbles and porous debris as his body became a new addition to the canyon wall.

Nue effortlessly tore through the snow towards me, followed by a quick shout. ‘Where is she?!’

Her arrival was a fortunate turn of events. I had feared that I would take too long in backtracking all the way to the village but she had saved me the trouble by coming here herself. Momentarily surprising her as I latched onto the malformed body, I pointed back at the village as I mounted the scaled back despite her protests. ‘Get going or we’ll to lose her!’

Regardless of the developing situation, she chose not to waste more time as she complied, spinning around with an agile turn that almost threw me off her back before I could right myself. Rapidly picking up speed, she repeated her former question in desperation, ‘WHERE?!’

I couldn’t tell where the gale was blowing from but if Nue couldn’t pick up their scent it could only mean Aya was downwind. Frantically, I picked at my mind in vain as I tried to remember what Kanako had said earlier. Fortunately, she chose to make things easier by giving me a new update on their positional fix.

’West slightly north-westwards. We’re lagging behind by six of your human minutes.’

‘Go through the village square and up the western path!’ I shouted to the leather-bound head as I gave Nue a hard slap. With a clear path picked now, she pounded at the ground with renewed purpose, steadily picking up speed and forcing me to grip harder on whatever I could find on her scaly body.

Without warning she angled left and right before leaping into the nearest wall, bouncing off of it explosively as the all too familiar lances of light begun their renewed assault from behind. Our mutual friend hadn’t taken long to recover from Nue’s blow. With a quick glance to her rear, she grunted out loud in rhythm with her pounding legs. ‘We’re taking to the air. Hold tight!’

‘No!’ I shouted back at her before she could launch us upwards. I had reasoned that we would be more of a disadvantage in the air compared to the ground. The skies were Tenma’s stomping grounds and my added weight on Nue would only impede her flight. At least here on the ground, we had the blizzard to partially shield us and Nue wouldn’t be in an even more exposed place for danmaku fire. Thinking quickly, I gritted out my words with great effort, struggling to make myself heard above the cacophony of our run. ‘Stay grounded, go through the village square. Break through the western path into the woods and we’ll have a chance there!’

With a guttural roar she barrelled down the path without question, choosing to trust my judgment for now. Behind us, Tenma gave no indication of letting up, continuously pouring forth waves of plasma in an attempt at pinning us down. The scales had tipped in my favour now, for he would now need to deal with Nue’s inhuman speed as well as his limited vision and mobility. I could almost smell his frustration and hear his inaudible curses as he kept the desperate chase up. There was no doubt they were after Short Stuff; Tenma would do anything in his power to impede our chase now that he realized I had the means to reach her.

It hadn’t taken long to break past the outskirts of the village and into the village itself. From Nue’s rhythmic pumping it was easy to see the chimera had put her singular focus into her speed now, ignoring the toll it was taking on her body. Tenma had momentarily ceased his harassing attacks, probably due to his predictable reluctance in bringing innocent villagers into the fray. The sights of the village rocked past at an alarming rate and we had slipped past the brewery within a matter of seconds. I managed to catch sight of the master-apprentice pair standing and watching the commotion with wide-eyed wonder before we went out of sight, but there was little time to stop and explain everything.

We thundered past the brewery and subsequently, the village square before the path sloped upwards once more. The hounding figure above resumed his chase as he finally realized where we were heading towards. Without pausing, Nue proceeded to sweep all manner of village junk skywards with quick whippings of her rear appendages before turning to spit gobs of what looked like gray snakes at the random objects. I watched with wordless awe as the common garbage flickered in and out of sight in a small chromatic cloud whenever one of the independently moving vipers wrapped around them. The blotches of colours were playing tricks with my visual perception and much to my shock, what eventually emerged from the puffs of black turned out not to be worthless everyday objects, but massive black butterflies which proceeded to ascend towards Tenma.

The swarm momentarily obscured his line of sight and flight path, buying us enough time to rapidly tear our way up the exposed pathway leading into the woods beyond.


----------------


‘Perfect,’ Keizo muttered low at the rapidly disappearing beast. He had thought they had long graduated from such a mess. Turning to his apprentice, he urgently propelled the oni towards the brewery with one firm hand. The boy stuttered in protest as he was swept back into the dwelling.

‘We’re just going to leave them like this?’

‘No, boy. You will.’ Keizo wasn’t sure he could do much against youkai but he could only try. A more rational part of him nagged at him to calm down and sit things through, but the other wilder part of him would have none of it. ‘Get me Yuugi's crossbow and sit tight. I’m heading out. Hurry.’


----------------


There would be no room for error.

She had to be honest with herself. There was very little chance Vana could be easily taken out, and no reason to do so as well. She still needed the elder to play his role in the coming conflict and she had to keep herself alive long enough to buy precious time. Eyeing the well-built figure warily, she mirrored his every move as they danced a stately waltz in the blizzard-filled air above the canyon, swinging about in a slow circle as they faced off.

Even across the roaring winds, Vana's voice carried through loud and clear, seemingly defying the winds themselves as he spoke effortlessly. 'I've heard much of you especially since of late. It is gratifying to finally be able to see you in the flesh, my beauty.'

Yukari froze momentarily at his words. Did Vana know? Was he merely testing her reaction, hoping the twitch of the eye or a glazed frown would expose her charade wide open? No, he couldn't possibly suspect she was Enka all along. The doppelganger had been perfect and had performed flawlessly throughout the years without drawing so much as a hint of suspicion.

She swung her parasol in a half arc to point it at Vana, both a threat and a greeting at the same time. 'I know why you're here. You're not getting her; none of you will. She's mine.'

The elder gave a short laugh, unperturbed by her claims. 'So quick to call her your property. First Iyen-Shuren and now you?' His casual expression solidified into a serious mask, belying his youthful appearance. 'Know your place, infant. You are addressing one of the First Three. Did your mother put you up for this? Stand aside or I will strike you down here and now, daughter of Enka or not.'

Despite the growing anxiety within herself, she found a moment to experience pleasure. So he was still oblivious after all. Smiling sweetly to the figure hovering in the solitary night, she replied demurely, 'Surely you won't try to harm little old me now, would you? The Triumvirate would not take the news of your brash assault on a helpless lady well.'

At her words, Vana seemingly lost all manner of composure and his face grew stormy. The blizzard's veil of white could barely cover the anger that was boiling forth. In an instant, the snow-shrouded silhouette melted out of existence only to reappear right before Yukari, whipping forth an open palm in her direction, stopping just short of her chest and drawing a quick finger in a random pattern, leaving tiny trails of ghostly light as he did.

In alarm, she glided back several feet from the still form of Vana in a split second, instantly popping open the parasol to brace against what she suspected must come next. Innumerable snowflakes previously tearing through the wide open space slowed, stilled, and pulled together to form a solid glacier in the space of a thought and she barely had time to brace against the open parasol before the wall slammed right through her.

The cascade of shattering ice from the aerial avalanche tumbled about the night sky for long moments and she waited patiently behind the damaged parasol as she closed her eyes and tried to peer through gaps in space, attempting to detect where Vana would strike next despite the overwhelming din of cracking ice threatening to disrupt her concentration.

There, right above her, preparing to compress all the ice still falling all around in order to crush her within the unnatural glacier. Drawing a slit behind her, she allowed herself to fall earthwards as she spun the useless parasol nimbly and flung it with inhuman strength directly at the elder. The improvised missile went through layers of ice effortlessly and right into Vana just as the gap slid shut.

The impact barely staggered the elder, but he would still spare a moment to look down at the makeshift spear before lifting a hand to pull the annoyance free, simultaneously beginning his relocation into a new offensive position. He would never get to move. A presence behind him grasped the other end of the parasol, stopping his relocation before speaking in a near-whisper.

'Bounded Field - "Curse of Dreams and Reality"'

Ripping the parasol free from Yukari's grasp, he managed to dislodge himself just in time to see an explosion of light erupting in his face. 'YOU WHORE!' he managed to roar out in fury before the concentrated spread of annihilating plasma blew the upper half of his body apart, sending smoking chunks of crusted meat sailing backwards.

Sliding free from the gap, she dropped back into the blizzard-filled sky, watching the rapid descent of Vana's remains as it fell to the village directly below. A sense of great unease gripped her. That had been too easy. She turned immediately to make her retreat.

‘I jest. Did you enjoy your short-lived rush of victory?' a snide voice from behind her commented at the same time a hand had settled on her right shoulder. This time, she felt a twinge of true fear. Bringing her other arm swinging about, she tried to ward off the iron grip and pump a fistful of danmaku into Vana's torso.

Too late. He breathed out in disdain. 'Die for me, pretty thing.'


----------------


The object of our momentary refuge finally came into view; the sparse woods littering the western portion outside the valley. With good coverage from the foliage overhead and a navigable terrain underneath we were now in a far better position to resume our pursuit. Soon enough, Aya. Soon enough, I thought grimly.

'Hang tight!' Nue rasped in her berserker speed and I did, clinging onto the leathery neck in desperation. The scenery sped-by so quickly I could hardly see what the blur of brown and black was. Trees or rocks, I cared not. The only thing that mattered now was the object of our hard chase, getting further away with every passing second.

'Faster!' I screamed back to her amidst the pounding sounds of hooves and paws. 'We can't be separated too far from each other!' Behind us in the blizzard-filled sky, Tenma continued to rain his projectile in a wide arc earthward, trying blindly to hit us through the camouflage the trees provided, obviously unwilling to descend past the foliage into the complete dark. If there was one thing about Nue I could be thankful about, it was the fact that her chimera form possessed night vision compared to the nearly-blind bird antagonizing us. The noise of danmaku impact echoed in tandem with Nue's endlessly pounding legs and I hung onto dear life as we continued to tear through the darkness. 'Faster!' I repeated.

Kanako spoke once more, having sensed Aya's bearing during her brief respite.

'West-northwest, four minutes at our current speed. It's no use; Aya's still faster in the air.'

I cursed in silence as I formed my frantic thought. 'We don't have a choice. We have to try.' Out loud, I shouted the directions to Nue, 'West-northwest! We're losing her!'

In a roar of fury Nue sped up even more, forcibly dredging up whatever she could find within some hidden well of strength to try and keep up with the speed demon of a tengu. Bouncing along with the rhythm of her exertions, I turned slightly to keep an eye on Aya's boy-toy, watching the winged silhouette blaze through the night sky every time a gap in the foliage appeared overhead. He was getting close as well; the ruckus from our pursuit would still be clearly audible even if he was essentially blind.

A new barrage of danmaku tearing through the greenery told me he was coming close to nailing us; one or two more sweeps through the trees and he would essentially catch us in a wave of danmaku as we ran right into it. Even then, I knew the effort of keeping up with the desperate chase was tiring him as well on top of the added exertion in trying to corral us into his annihilating rain of light. We had to randomize the path we were taking to avoid certain death within the next dozen seconds or so. Gripping the scales painfully, I screamed at Nue once more. 'Cut north for twenty seconds, turn north-westwards and north again!'

'What!?' she rasped back breathlessly. 'We're going to gain even more distance between us and Yuhiko!'

'Just do it, Tenma is trying to narrow down our approach trajectory! We need to confuse him a while more. He's tiring quickly!' I retorted impatiently. There was no time for idle debates.

Nue swallowed her protest, kicking out powerfully with two mismatched feet and making an impossibly agile turn, angling sharply northwards without even breaking her stride. The abrupt turn almost flung me off of her back but I managed to compensate in time as I pressed myself against her malformed body, swinging dangerously to one side before righting myself once more. Overhead, Tenma's follow-up spray of death ripped through where we would have been scant seconds ago if Nue hadn't altered her course.

The twenty seconds had barely elapsed before Tenma caught onto our ruse. He would probably be cursing out loud now as he attempted to adjust to our evasive manoeuvre and recommenced his interception. 'Turn! Ten seconds and angle back northwards, and then go after the crow bitch again!' I shouted to Nue. Her response came in the form of another perfectly-executed turn just in time to outrun Tenma's subsequent flushing bombardment.

'Hurry. She continues to gain dist- Hold! Aya is turning back, maintaining speed.'

The tengu was up to something, I was sure of it. Nue as well, evident from her sudden decrease in speed and tensed body at the confusing change in her prey. What the hell was she planning? Our now-opposing approach rapidly decreased the distance between hunter and hunted. In a few seconds more, Aya would be right on top of us.

I gave the scaly neck a hard slap as I suddenly realized what they were going to do. 'Go right, they're going to try and catch us in a pincer!' The spur rattled Nue and she pulled a third sharp turn, roaring a deep grunt in tandem with her burst of speed. Lances of light crisscrossed from above and the chimera narrowly avoiding being sliced clean as she ducked low and slid through an X-shaped pillar of plasma. If I hadn't been pressed tight against Nue I would be missing my upper torso as well. The smell of superheated air was plainly tangible as we slipped through the deadly show of light.

'Great, we're being double-teamed!'

'Thank you for the enlightening observation, Miss Obvious!' Nue retorted in anger as she began to assume a randomized escape path, now the hunted instead of the hunter. 'Any more wonderful ideas!?'

I waited for the din from the two crow’s subsequent assault to pass, thinking hard even as I struggled to cling onto Nue. She was rapidly tiring as well despite how much Nue tried to hide it. So that was Aya's gambit; instead of trying to outrun us, she decided to just put an end to us right here and now and escape with Short Stuff unmolested once she did. From the looks of things, she was close to succeeding. Once Nue could no longer keep up with the evasive manoeuvres, they would move in for the kill together. Another diversion might be necessary to buy us a little more time. 'The vipers you spat in the village. Do it again!'

'The seeds are useless now, he won't fall for the same trick twice!' came the guttural reply.

Damnable birds. Mentally, I trashed about for a way out of our latest predicament. At the very least Rilofene's shroud of protection had returned to us for now, alleviating one of my many worries.


----------------


They were blessed with a small moment of peace and quiet as the air cooled down considerably. In the sudden stillness, Ran knew that the inu had no intentions of winning or running. She recognized that her opponent sought the same thing she did; to delay the opposition and prevent the other from moving to assist their allies.

Dropping low into the endless expanse of white covering the ground above the canyon, she waited for the first signs of telltale movement which would give away the presence of the inu, thankful for the fact that her mostly-white garments made for excellent camouflage. Unfortunately, the same could be said for her opponent. Was it fate that decided they should be at an equal advantage?

Amidst the stirrings of snowflakes came a barely-visible puff of white in the far off distance. Instantly, she kicked out in a powerful launch and tore towards the sign of movement. True to her animalistic nature she slipped agilely through the expected wall of danmaku that came in response to her approach. With an extended hand ostensibly hardened into claws, she gave one last jump and saw her quarry in range.

A splash of silver rose to greet her attack, the accursed blade deflecting the downward swipe with an audible clang. It wasn’t enough to wound the inu, but Ran could see that her blocked strike had staggered her opponent slightly. Taking advantage of her momentary stumble, she lashed out with a low kick and sent the figure in white sailing a few feet backwards in an audible grunt of pain. Determined to deliver the finishing blow, she grimly sprang towards the helpless inu, ready to punch out her hammering heart.

Instead, the white-clad figure quickly spun on her earthen bed, executing an impressive recovery and flipping backwards to bring her blade to bear against Ran’s incoming rush. For a brief moment, Ran saw her buried feet spread into a bracing stance and the next, a hail of brown and white rose to greet her as the sword swung upwards in a neat arc. The loose earth and snow had responded well to the compressed shockwave of air she had let loose to break Ran's attack.

Momentarily blinded, she broke her rush and dove aside, tasting the iron in the air as the inu’s next retaliatory strike glassed the debris still tumbling back to the ground. Additional pinpoints of radiance swept through the space next to her as she continued her desperate roll. Her opponent was forcing her to remain grounded as she followed up with consecutive sweeps. Unable to get a solid footing, she couldn’t chance springing back towards the inu. A few more seconds now and she would be caught by the torrent of wildly-flying danmaku.

Remarkably, the assault stopped for brief moments and Ran took the opportunity to force herself up into the air, catching the sight of her opponent as she did. The inu had paused in surprise, staring at curious protrusions on her chest before a stain of red washed through her white hakama. Crossbow bolts. In alarm, she turned away from Ran to scan the darkness behind her, reflexively sending a flushing wave of danmaku into the blizzard without an apparent target in sight.

Intent on making use of the new opening, Ran dove straight at the inu with the hardened hands once more, reaching backwards and pouring strength into the iron-like fingers before swinging them into her opponent’s head. In her growing bloodlust, she relished in the feeling of ripping away her opponent's flesh.

Despite the brutal speed of her attack, the blow was barely avoided with a quick sidestep and Ran’s hands tore through the space the inu had formerly occupied with nothing more than a few drops of blood and skin instead of an entire gout of meaty head. With panicky haste, her opponent reassumed an offensive stance after her close retreat, swinging the blade upwards in an attempt at cleaving Ran apart. Mirroring her earlier actions, she bent at an awkward angle to dodge the counterattack, simultaneously losing her balance and slipping on the snow. One frantic hand-sweep in the direction of her opponent sent a narrow column of danmaku outwards, momentarily denying the inu a second chance at a counter-attack.

Nevertheless, the figure recommenced her advance without so much as a pause to catch her breath, blurring slightly in a high-speed feint to bypass Ran's poor attempt at a defence before reappearing with a raised hand even as Ran struggled to reposition herself into a favourable spot. Before the outstretched hand could deliver a round of deadly danmaku, several more wooden protrusions sprouted from it without warning, accompanied by an audible twang and the swishing of projectiles in flight. The inu’s cry of pain and anger followed almost immediately as she reeled to one side from the impact of the bolts, her sword collapsing soundlessly on the fresh snow as she lost her grip on it.

Lunging towards the now-vulnerable inu, Ran bent low and forced all the strength she could into a counter-clockwise swing, sending her opponent spinning upwards as the powerful uppercut struck her head forcefully and flung the inu insensate into the air for a few moments. Scant seconds after the flailing body had succumbed to gravity's pull she took hold of the fallen blade and prepared for the finishing blow, fully intent on loping the inu’s head off before she could recover.

A hand intercepted her grip on the iron moments before it could swing downwards with full force, forcing her to redirect her bloodlust at her new antagonist. In a dizzying wave, she fought the urge to lash out as her gaze fell on Keizo’s grim face. The healer hung onto an intricately carved crossbow with his other hand. In haste, he hissed at her quickly to calm her down, ‘Easy! Easy! No reason to give her the Iron Death.’

Her head cleared some more and the grip on the blade relaxed as she let the weapon slip to the cold ground. She finally realized she had almost permanently killed the inu in her mindless rage before Keizo stopped her in time. Seeing the figure stir slightly, she gave the inu an inhuman stomp in the heart, instantly crushing the beating organ and her opponent grew still as she exhaled her last, soft breath the gale effortlessly carried away. Next to her, Keizo visibly winced at the raw demonstration of brutality as he took a step backwards. She might not deserve a permanent death, but it didn’t mean they could let her run loose for now. It would take the inu a few days to recover from her crushed heart.

Turning towards the healer she pulled her disarrayed clothing back into place before asking him, ‘How did you know I was here?’

‘You can thank Reiji for that. Boy has a good nose,’ he replied grimly as he kept his eyes on the fallen youkai. ‘What the hell is going on?’

Ran wasn’t sure, but she would find out soon enough. ‘Later. My thanks for your assistance, but get back to the brewery and stay there. We’re not out of danger yet.’ So saying, she left the healer as she lifted into the dark skies without another word. There was something wrong with her master; she could almost smell it. Worried, she made haste towards the two presences she could feel in the far-off distance.

Keizo saw her off silently before returning his gaze to the inu, in conflict with himself over a new dilemma. If he helped the fallen youkai he would be adhering to the healer’s code but it would also mean assisting an obvious enemy. Shrugging mentally, he flipped the surprisingly light inu up onto one shoulder and made his way back to the shortcut. He would deal with the headache later.
>> No. 3843
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3843
It had been years since she had last engaged in an aerial duel, much less against an opponent equally powerful if not more. She slid quickly in the air between openings from his probing attacks. He was good, she had to admit. Far better than most she had ever had the opportunity to duel with, including Reimu. But where Reimu was organized and confident, Vana was unorthodox and unpredictable. There was no pattern she could work out in his attacks.

'Amusing isn't it? How everyone is suddenly interested in the last Hakurei when they found out she still lives.' Pausing momentarily to regard Yukari, he went on, 'What would be your interest in her, I wonder?'

Pushing three fingers into a newly-formed gap on her right side, she tore open additional gaps as her hand went further into the inky blackness. All around Vana, the sequential gaps she forced open littered the airspace and widened simultaneously as she pulled her hand downwards. 'A far better fate for her compared to what you and Iyen-Shuren have in store for her.' With a flick of her wrist, she extracted her hand from the hole and the numerous gaps ringing Vana released their contents; point-blank sprays of Vana's own captured danmaku he would have no space to evade.

He made no attempt to run as he endured the relentless assault for a full five seconds, unleashing horrendous screams as body parts tore away from his torso culminating with a blown-off head. Yukari observed the scintillating spectacle of chromatic lights for long moments, only to suddenly remember what had happened earlier. Spinning about in the air abruptly, she kept a wary lookout for his return. She would not be caught by surprise a second time. Death was cheap for Vana. Through the graces of some unknown power the elder held, he could return almost instantly even from complete obliteration.

Her caution was well rewarded; she caught sight of an outstretched hand partially hidden in the blizzard some distance below her, followed by an inaudible word. The night sky lit once more in silence as spreads of death tore upwards. Yukari was almost a second too late to frantically rip a gap anew before the onslaught, swallowing parts of the barrage that would have otherwise caught her unaware from behind. The intense heat from the hail of danmaku cooked even the cold night air, singeing parts of her hair as she edged backwards slowly.

The last streams of his bombardment slipped through and Yukari ground to a halt to eye the bent figure warily. Likewise, Vana took advantage of the momentary break in their fight to further taunt Yukari with a confident grin. 'You fight well for an infant, but enough games. This will be my last offer. Back away and you shall be allowed to live despite your rebellion. What say you?'

Yukari could sense a change in the far-off pursuit for the Hakurei child. Instead of fleeing, Aya had turned back to eliminate her pursuer instead. Yukari had no other choice than to put Vana out of commission as quickly as possible and move to assist Nue and the wanderer.

'I say...' Yukari trailed off for a few seconds before continuing with her reply, 'Bounded Field "Mesh of Light and Darkness".'

The lances of plasma caught Vana squarely in the torso and his head, causing him to roar out loud in seeming agony as he proceeded to twist himself free from the superheated beams, jerking in painful spasms as he did. It would do nothing to defeat him, but it should buy her enough time to gap to Nue's location.

'We'll play again next time,' she hissed and dragged a quick hand through the space in front of her, forcing open a new gap. The familiar purple-black darkness greeted her as she began to slip through the gap.

Vana's screams of pain ceased almost instantly to be replaced by a rapid stream of words cutting through the blizzard clearly, 'Ebon. Obey and obstruct.' Multiple arms grew from the black void of Yukari's gap, forming a barrier to prevent her crossing just as a larger one whipped forth to grip her entire head and swung her downwards into the earth in one smooth motion. She didn't even have time enough to be surprised or react to Vana's counter as her body sped towards the snowbound earth and rocked everything with the tremor from her impact.

Coughing repeatedly, she pushed herself upwards and spat out globs of youkai blood. Blood. When was the last time she had seen her own blood? Swinging her gaze skyward, she scanned the blizzard frantically for the vanished elder. No, she had to chance another escape. Lifting a shaking hand upwards, she tried to dispel the muddled state her mind was in and perform the necessary mathematical calculations to open a new gap.

Another hand darted forth to seize hers, gripping and twisting powerfully and Yukari heard something she had never heard before; the sound of her own scream as ancient bones cracked and broke with the bending of her tender flesh. A swift follow-up kick completed the torture and sent Yukari flying backwards from the fresh crater her impact had created.

Rolling to a complete stop, she turned back painfully to face Vana's approach, gritting her teeth to deal with the pain of her maimed right arm. 'Why?' she hissed in anger and confusion. All she ever wanted was to protect what she treasured. Gensokyo, Ran, and especially Chen. Why must fate decide that someone like Iyen-Shuren or Vana be the one to unravel everything? How long must she keep fighting against insurmountable obstacles before a better future for her young charges could be carved out? In frustration, she screamed at the approaching silhouette, 'You are part of the Three! Why do you care nothing for our future!?'

Her words brought him to a halt and he replied casually, 'What makes you think I don't? That is the problem with you youngsters. So quick to label what's good and evil. So short sighted and unwilling to make sacrifices for a greater good.' Taking the last few steps, he came to stand before her crumpled figure, regarding the waves of golden hair drifting about in the strong winds. Kneeling and bending low, Vana snatched handfuls of the golden locks to sniff on them deeply before leaning lower to whisper into Yukari's ear. 'Rest easy, my beauty. The child will not die a spiritual death, for she will live on as an important part of the Harvesters. She, and They, will carry us into the new future you so desire once she gives birth to the Heresy Dragon. We would finally be free of filthy humans.'

Swinging her good arm upwards, she let loose on a futile barrage of plasma and Vana melted away before the pinpoints of light could graze his sturdy figure, solidifying once more a few feet away from Yukari. Giving a short laugh, he spoke serenely to her, 'That was a poor choice for last words. Now, the Iron Death for you, traitor.'

Closing her eyes, she awaited the inevitable. It would end now; all the unfulfilled wishes and the joys of her long life. She would never see the skies of Gensokyo again, no longer able to share tranquil moments with her two shikigami, lost to her beloved Gensokyo for all time. If only she had more time. There was so much she had wanted to tell the two of them. She whispered a single name as the deathblow came down.

'Ran.'


----------------


He had finally caught up with the two. It had been a hopeless venture at first; their pursuit had been far too fast for him to catch up with but from the scent of things drifting downwind, they had unexpectedly doubled back and were barrelling towards him in unmitigated speed. Grimly, he ran faster, painfully tearing through the undergrowth without a regard for obstacles. Tree roots, rocks, and fallen trunks burst into splinters as he forced his way through everything. Yuugi and Keizo’s warning was all but forgotten in light of his desire to assist them.

Gritting his teeth, he sprinted forward with inhuman speed, rapidly closing the remaining gap between them and the unfamiliar scents of additional youkai reached his nostrils, accompanied by the tangible stench of cooked air. Danmaku. They were in danger.

Leaping over a brackish pond, he took several more jumps to clear the numerous obstructions underfoot and on his last one, something huge, leathery, and dark exploded through the trees and sailed gracefully through the dim gloom. In absolute slow motion, he turned his head in mid-jump and caught the wanderer staring back at him in surprise as she clung onto Nue.

Reiji would have no additional time to gape at the sight. A subsequent explosion of flaring light just a few feet away from where he was sprinting towards threw him backwards a good distance and his petite body slammed into a tree, breaking his involuntary flight.


----------------


'Reiji!' Nue shrieked his name with a quick glance backwards. Despite the gravity of our situation, I was momentarily shocked. There was true concern in her voice and I could almost feel her urge to double back to the little oni through the rippling muscles of her chimera body. So she does care about someone else other than Short Stuff.

I shouted back at Nue once I felt her slowing down for a 180 degree turn. 'No! Keep going for now, angle left after ten seconds and turn back towards him after fifteen!' Shit, what the hell was he doing here? Nevertheless, Reiji's sudden appearance was something I was determined to make full use of.

As if to block her backtracking, the crow duo sent down additional encouragement in the form of blazing projectiles, punching holes in the foliage and forcing Nue to angle sharply to where I had directed her to. Tearing through the darkness, she grunted to me hoarsely, ‘Whatever you intend to do we can’t risk involving Reiji again! This isn’t his problem!’

‘Bloody too late for that now. He’s here and we might as well use him!’ I shouted back angrily.

‘Damn you, human!’Reaching the designated time, Nue executed a full turnabout and hammered the ground hard once more, sliding past through the forest back to where Reiji had stopped. Our abrupt retreat momentarily confused the crow duo, but they caught on soon enough, performing an impressive Immelmann turn to home back on us.


----------------


He was barely back on his feet before the black shape hurtled past Reiji once more and he managed to hear the wanderer give a short shout to catch his attention before the two disappeared into the gloom further ahead.

‘Reiji, HAUL ASS!’

Wasting no time, he launched himself in the direction they were recklessly running towards, matching Nue’s speed side-by-side as they continued to weave around the volleys of danmaku ripping through the foliage in random intervals. The chimera cursed at him loudly, heedless of the danger overhead. ‘You dimwit! I told you not to come!’

‘Save the arguing for later, we’ve got bigger problems!’ he shouted back in the middle of his high speed sprint.

That elicited another curse from her, but she saw the merit in his words and gave up for the moment. The wanderer cut in before they could go off on another tangent. ‘Reiji, remember Eientei?’

He gave a nod before he realized the wanderer wouldn’t be able to see him in the gloom. ‘Why?’ he repeated his question once more, even louder when the ruckus behind swallowed up his word.

‘Listen! I want you to tree the bastard to our right once he makes his next pass. Do so when we split up in the next half minute and stay there!’ She waited for the newly erupting explosions to die down before continuing, ‘We’ll make a figure-eight and double back for you and when we do, I want you to catch and toss me at the other crow, got it!?’

‘That’s insane!’ he protested at her.

‘Just do it!’ she retorted and gave the signal. ‘Now go for a tree!’

They broke off from each other, with Nue barrelling into the dark towards his right. Reiji increased his speed, bracing himself as he used his velocity to hurl himself bodily into the nearest tree in his path. The aged wood groaned and splintered with the force of the impact, instantly uprooting and toppling over. He wasted no time as one of the overhead silhouettes began its pass just as predicted, preparing to angle back towards Nue once more.

Before the tree could even hit the ground, Reiji had his fingers buried into the wooden trunk, ripping wood and bark alike as he used the handholds to break his speed and begin the swing. With a mighty turn, he completed the first revolution and began to dig his right foot into the earth to brace for the subsequent spins, trying to get the bearing of the rapidly-distancing tengu before letting loose the wooden projectile.


----------------


Something huge, shadowy and solid glided through the air and the satisfying loud thump followed by a very audible grunt told me a certain tengu had just taken an entire tree in the face. Right on cue, Nue completed the winding retreat back towards Reiji and I squinted in the dark, finally able to see Reiji in plain sight with light streaming through the huge hole he had just made in the overgrowth. Loosening my grip I prepared to leap off of Nue, hoping Reiji would be able to catch me just as planned.

Time for my last words to Nue. ‘Get the kid when she drops, leave her with Reiji and deal with Tenma. I’ll try to keep Aya occupied.’ A series of rattling grunts bubbled forth as a reply. Was she laughing? ‘You’re crazy, human. I’ll give you that much. Pray your insanity will work!’

I wished I had time enough to grin, but there would be plenty for that later assuming I would live through this. Pushing myself up into a half crouching, half prone position, I gave a strong kick and leapt off of Nue just as Reiji reached out towards me before Nue could rush past him. I found a brief moment to utter a small prayer to no one in particular as I hoped for the best.

Contact! Despite my fears, Reiji had managed to latch onto my arms as I sailed past him and he proceeded to go into an immediate revolution, deeming not to waste the velocity I already had. 'Fly!' he roared heartily with a half-swing and a loud grunt, catapulting my flailing body like a ragdoll into the air and straight into the path of the rapidly-approaching silhouette of Aya. With Tenma temporarily out of the picture and myself camouflaged by the blizzard, I would finally have a chance to get in close and personal with the smug crow.

The ensuing collision between human and tengu sent the two of us spinning out of control. Thudding into the surprised Aya rewarded me with a dazed head and breathless lungs threatening to pull me into a sea of unconsciousness before I ricocheted off of her. The impact had likewise knocked the wind out of Aya and she lost control of both her flight and her precious cargo as her stunned body involuntarily twisted and pin wheeled in the air. Short Stuff slipped through the limp grip and begun her free fall towards the waiting embrace of the ground, only to be caught in time by Nue breaking through the foliage, once more back in her human form.

Regrettably, there would be no one to catch me and Aya as we plummeted downwards through cracking branches and eventually impacted the packed earth below. The fall drew an audible crunch from somewhere within me and I hoped I hadn't broken anything again through the scrim of pain. At the very least, I was gratified to know that Aya would have gotten a small taste of what she had done to me during our first reunion.

Pushing myself up frantically, I whipped my gaze about in the partial darkness slightly illuminated by the fresh holes from our crash. Some distance away, Aya had begun to stir from her dazed fall and I forced myself into a hobbling run towards her, launching into a flying tackle the moment she became aware of my approach. An upward swipe from her arm sent me flying backwards as a sharp torrent of tearing wind ripped past my charging figure. She followed up with another downward swing, this time flinging deadly pinpoints of light in my direction that would have punched neat holes in my body if it wasn't for another darkened figure crashing into my sailing body, sending us tumbling out of the way of the funnel of danmaku Aya had unleashed.

Struggling in the bush we had crashed into, I groped about frantically in the dark and my searching fingers eventually brushed against what felt like smooth ivory or bone structures of some sort. It had to be Reiji and the little oni was inexplicably still now amidst my growing feeling of unease. Further probing of his body confirmed what I feared most; five or six fist-sized holes in his torso. There was no way to tell in the dark if he had suffered even more debilitating damage or not. In disbelief, I brought my hand into the dim light and watched the slick fluid drip down from it.

Blood. Reiji's blood.

A little flashback of someone pushing me out of the ravaging funnel of death Aya had delivered went through my mind.

Reiji, who had carried Short Stuff without complaint for so many days, who risked his life unquestioningly at Eientei when he could have just escaped. The beaming smile of a boy who still had innumerable years ahead to grow and mellow out. His little compliment about how pretty my one smile had been came and went in a flash.

He was barely out of his juvenile years; he would not have the power to recover from the damage Aya had dealt. The little oni was no longer breathing from what I felt and I could no longer slide along a more rational line of thought like I always had as everything in sight throbbed with a red tint. The only thing swirling in my head now was a surge of rage I hadn't felt in ages and for the first time in years I felt true hate; hate towards Aya mingled with the desire to inflict the same sort of wounds she had on Reiji. Heedless of anything else, I broke forth from the constricting greenery with a roar and charged straight at the still-recovering tengu, dragging a fallen branch I had pulled free from the bush. She turned about in confusion at the sudden cacophony of echoes, giving me the window I needed to smash the crude club into the silhouette of her head with unmitigated force.

The splintering of my makeshift weapon and the satisfying sound of wood smashing into flesh barely sated my bloodlust. Grabbing her clothes hard, I reeled the tengu in and let loose a bunched fist in the same place I had struck her with the club, repeating the torturous barrage as she whipped back and forth like a helpless spring. Deep down, I wished I still had access to the divine gifts I once commanded as Rilofene's avatar of death; no matter how much I loathed them now. I would've boiled her blood with a mere touch, tore holes in her soft meat for a body without resistance and flayed the skin off her face with a glare. As things were now, I could only content myself with the puny blows I could manage as a mere human on the youkai.

With one last blow on the unyielding flesh of her head, I let the tengu slide free and stagger backwards to fall flat on the patch of light streaming through the hole in the foliage overhead, gasping in fatigue and pain from my ineffective melee. I had barely dented her face and the only sign of injury on her head were a few bloodied bruises and a small cut from where I had splintered the branch against her head. It would have taken a lot more to mess her up beyond recognition, but at least she was dazed to hell and back now.

I went on all fours as the adrenaline drained out of my body, crawling over to where Aya lay. The tengu's eyes repeatedly went in and out of focus. Her own exertions coupled with all the pummeling I had given her the whole night had evidently taken their toll on her. Overhead, flashes of light and thunderous booms had commenced, indicative of Tenma's return and Nue's subsequent duel with him. Something wasn't right, but I couldn't figure out what wasn't for the life of me at the moment. I would worry about it after I had permanently ended Aya's existence.

'You killed him,' I hissed to her at last, backhanding the dazed tengu and forcing her to focus on me. 'You hear me? YOU KILLED HIM!' Without really realizing it, I had delivered several more feeble blows as anger washed over me once more. 'He was barely more than a kid,' I grunted in fury as I took hold of her clothes and repeatedly hammered her body against the ground before reaching towards her neck. Youkai biology was very different compared to humans but I had studied enough about them to know how to completely starve their most crucial organ for regeneration; their brain.

Dragging over the broken branch, I pushed the splintered part against the first of the many major arteries which made up the network of lifeblood connecting to her brain, preparing to push it through her flesh and dig out the pulsing vein in a grotesque parody of a surgery. Aya whispered something inaudibly before her body went slack without warning. All the better for the crude tool to pierce her previously-tensed flesh.

’If you give her the Iron Death now, you'll be no different from the rest of them.’

Instead of forming the thought at her I gritted the words out loud instead, annoyed beyond belief at Kanako's interruption. 'Shut up you old hag! She deserves this for what she's done to Reiji.'

’As much as all the tengu you had indirectly killed at Heaven Cradle? Aya may be misguided in her actions, but so are you now.’

Something far more primal than the urge for revenge pushed at me to just carry on with the kill, even as an equal part of me chided the misguided sense of vengeance in light of the lost goddess' words.



[ ] Get it done and over with. Reward Aya with death for all the suffering she had wrought up to this point.

[ ] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.
>> No. 3844
File 126029058352.png - (248.58KB, 600x450, [] - 夜雀と白狼.png) [iqdb]
3844
Fag's Notes:

YOUR MESSAGE IS TOO LONG /headdesk
YOUR MESSAGE IS TOO LONG /headdesk
YOUR MESSAGE IS TOO LONG /headdesk
YOUR MESSAGE IS TOO LONG /headdesk

Anyway, wasn't too fun doing this update. Gotta break the habit of writan before bedtime. It messes up the head, yo.

Somewhere in the middle I sort of lost track and went off on a tangent. This was originally a single-post update.
>> No. 3845
[x] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.

Hate begets hate, and the cycle has to end somewhere. And Kanako's advice is one of the few things that can be trusted.
>> No. 3846
[x] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.
>> No. 3847
[x] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.
>> No. 3849
[x] Get it done and over with. Reward Aya with death for all the suffering she had wrought up to this point.

Our MC spared Aya once, hearing Kanako's suggestion and Reiji is dead for that reason. The human, the tengu, the dead goddess, they're all guilty and they all must pay.
The human's flame will be extinguished within a year due to outsiders, wildlife or Youkai or within 20 years, due to her reduced lifespan. With her death, Kanako will cease to exist as well. However, who can tell how long will Aya live? If they manage to save gensokyo, she can still keep going for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Hasn't she proved time and time again that she's beyond redemption? Is her crime to be punished with kindness? No. The tengu must die here and now.

Payback's bitch and so are you Aya, go fuck the devil in his hell.
>> No. 3850
[ ] Get it done and over with. Reward Aya with death for all the suffering she had wrought up to this point.

Yeah, well, fuck you bitch.
>> No. 3851
>>3849

Err... what?
>> No. 3852
[x] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.

Kanako is right though, if we kill Aya now, we'll be no better than her.
>> No. 3853
[X] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.

Such as taking down Vana. I have the feeling he won't be content with all the humans gone, he'll want to become a youkai god as well.

Or he has a greater tie-in with the 'Visitors' (or 'Harvesters' as he calls them) then we know.

And Palingenesianonymous? This is short by your standards. Longer ones are a couple posts longer.
>> No. 3856
>>3853
>Such as taking down Vana

Hahahahaha. You are a great comedian, you know that. Do you really think that is possible right now?
>>3852

We aren't.
>>3845
>Hate begets hate, and the cycle has to end somewhere. And Kanako's advice is one of the few things that can be trusted

Yeh, and if we let Aya live she will surely become an ally and everything that happened between the Wanderer and the Tengu will be forgotten. Wake up kid, Aya, no, the whole Tengu clan (or what is left of it) will still be after the Wanderer's head after everything that happened.

And Kanako's advice are indeed great, nothing bad happened after the Wanderer listened to her instead of killing the bird bitch!

[X]Kill Aya quickly to prevent anything else from her in the future, then get back to more important things.

Also, how the fuck can things be explained to Yuugi? She won't like this one bit, specially if she learns that we let let Aya live instead of avenging Reiji's death.
>> No. 3859
File 126031964777.jpg - (188.97KB, 576x432, Its over aya is finished.jpg) [iqdb]
3859
I wish ran had just finished off momiji, then I would have absolutely no problems killing aya.


[X] Get it done and over with. Reward Aya with death for all the suffering she had wrought up to this point.
>> No. 3861
[X] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.
>> No. 3862
>>3856

But killing her would ensure Tenma and the Tengu will hate us even more deeply than before and then they will try harder to kill the wanderer and whoever she's with, perhaps as far as slaying the Hakurei in their hate-driven rage.

And have you been reading this story? I remember there being no other choices to kill or spare. This is the first time such a thing has come about.

And I'm sure not following the advice will be sure to hinder us royally.

And it's a bit foolish to assume that Yuugi might react the same way, but in the end there's bigger things to worry about than petty vengence: Such as getting Short stuff back.

As far as Vana goes? We have a Hakurei in training, and once upon a time Vana no doubt was given pause by the power of the Hakureis.
>> No. 3864
[ ] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.
>> No. 3865
>>3862
>Tengu will hate us even more deeply than before

Is that even possible? After poisoning Tenma, stealing their sacred treasure, and indirectly killing countless tengu, do you think it will make any diference? They have been disgraced beyond repair.
>> No. 3866
[x] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.

Wow, assumptionfags right, left, and center.

Especially >>3849 . What the fuck are you going on about?
>> No. 3867
>>3865

Killing a lover would indeed make it worse, and the state of mind of Tenma now would be mildly annoyed compared to the rage he'd feel.

And if it gets bad enough, chances are he'll be blind to Vana's orders and the reality of things just to kill or inflict similar suffering on to the wanderer. Since despite her efforts to stay aloof, some might tell that she cares for the last Hakurei.

On a related note, if Yuugi indeed wants bloody vengeance, chances are she'd want to do the task herself.

But let me put things into perspective.

Guy A in the course of fighting Guy B, ends up killing B's friend, Guy C.

Guy B is enraged and swears revenge on Guy A, and the next time they meet, Guy D (Guy A's friend) tries to help Guy A but ends up killed.

Now we have two pissed off guys out to kill each other. If no one interferes, chances are they'd more or less kill each other. If someone tries to interfere, they'd end up getting killed and the cycle goes on.
>> No. 3869
[x] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.

Why kill her?

Yuugi cared deeply for Reiji.

Yuugi is/used to be a hell oni.

There are fates far worse than death. She will get her comeuppance. Death is too easy.
>> No. 3877
[X] Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.

Putting her out of commission for the next few days will likely help us. When she is back, the situation may change in a way for her to help protect Gensokyo on the Wanderer's side.
>> No. 3879
{X} Listen to Kanako and render the tengu insensate. Get back to more important things.
>> No. 3882
> Something wasn't right, but I couldn't figure out what wasn't for the life of me at the moment.

This is something that's worrying me deeply. If Nue is fighting Tenma, who is protecting Fuhiko? Even a greater doubt, is she fighting Tenma indeed? Wasn't he supposed to be under a tree right now or something?

Also, what about Iyen-Shuren? Wasn't he planning to attack when Vana distracted everyone? I have some bad feelings about this.
>I would worry about it after I had permanently ended Aya's existence

This is the proper course of action. Killing Aya will remove a great obstacule in the future and who knows, maybe the wanderer will become deadlier? Becoming closer with Rilofene and all.
>> No. 3885
>>3882
You speak as if becoming closer with Rilofene is a good thing, it's not. This is the goddess that would have killed Fuhiko if not for the wanderer recovering control and Kanako's assistance.

We want to save the young Miko, not splatter her all over the place.

And the sheer damage the wanderer did ensures that Aya will not be butting in anytime soon. (Do remember that Youkai are weaker in this era due to vastly decreased faith from the outside world. As a result they don't regenerate as quickly, not even an older one like Aya.)

We're not quite sure what's going on with Nue.

We can drag Aya to Yuugi so in the case the Tengu gets too uppity, well then it seems Yuugi'd have a new punching bag.
>> No. 3893
>>3882
>>3885

>Fuhiko

I'm sorry, who?
>> No. 3894
>>3893

Isn't that the Short Stuff's name? Or is it Fumiko?
>> No. 3895
>>3893
>>3894
> 'I.. I'm not... Sleeping Beauty. My name is Yuhiko.'

After re-reading the first thread to remember her name, I see I got it wrong by just one letter.
>> No. 3899
You have to admit, some of the former abilities of a death avatar are pretty balling.
>> No. 3910
>>3899

Yeah, that kinda annoys me. All she has left from the times she was a killing machine is the knowledge and hauting nightmares. Shouldn't she have something more?
>> No. 3915
>>3910

Perhaps but from the sounds of it, she never really fought anything too inhuman during those wars, since it seems Gods back then fought wars via human armies or priestesses.

So it might be possible that asides from some combat kill, an unholy fervor, and some boosted strength, the wanderer didn't have much else.
>> No. 3916
>>3910
Somewhere in the story she mentioned that she is cut off from magic and spiritual powers because she is an anomaly in the system, and supposed to be long dead.
>> No. 3927
Never in my long life had I wanted to kill someone as much as I did with Aya. Unconsciously, my taut fingers took on a life of their own as they pushed the crude surgical tool into Aya’s neck without my prompting. A quick flip brought forth the throbbing vein and I barely caught a glimpse of Aya’s wince as I reached towards the reddened protrusion with twitching fingers. Kanako’s voice could no longer reach me amidst the cacophony of echoes within me, shouting a single word without rest nor respite.

Die, die, die, die, die!

Aya managed to get off another whisper, slightly louder this time. Even with the crackling din from Nue’s duel, I could hear the words. ‘I… I meant the boy no harm…,’ she sobbed softly.

Infuriated, I tore the first of her arteries apart all the same, losing control over the flood of emotions as I screamed back into her face amidst her own screech of pain. ‘Should’ve thought of that before you decided to pump him full of holes, bitch!’ My fingers jerked towards a second artery and the splintered wood bathed her neck in a swath of red as it went in deep, gouging out the pulsing flesh. Irritatingly, Kanako managed to push through my efforts at blotting out her voice at the same time.

’STOP THIS! Her death will change nothing! Have you forgotten our talk of redemption so easily? Reiji’s death was an accident! Leave your senseless vengeful rage and-’

I roared back at her before she could go on, ‘Shut up, SHUT UP, HAG!’ In mindless desperation, I swung fiercely at anything, whatever, ardently wishing I could physically lash out at Kanako as well. The sight of a maddened silhouette flailing about mindlessly beneath the darkened canopy must seem like an extremely odd sight but I could care nothing about such thoughts now as I collapsed onto the hard ground, crawling around pathetically and repeatedly banging my head into the packed earth in a vain attempt at silencing the dead goddess’ incessant nagging and preaching about morality even as the river of emotions within me wrestled with the voice of conscience.

Fingernails tore apart as I clawed away at the hard earth, grating out obscenities at both Aya and Kanako for a long minute as I spent my rage. Eventually, I found myself exhausted back at Reiji’s side, listlessly dragging the limp body out of the bushes where he had fallen before shifting him into a more comfortable position, coddling the cold body regretfully. ‘I’m sorry,’ I breathed the words into the unhearing ears, hugging the little oni whom had given so much and asked for nothing in return.

And his only reward would be a senseless death in the middle of nowhere, killed by someone he didn’t even know for the sake of someone who never really deserved salvation.

The slight exhalation brushing my cheeks surprised me. Small, almost lifeless, a brief struggle against the chains of death but it was there. Drawing backwards from him revealed the sight of his open eyes and the tiny hint of a grin as he reached up with a weak hand to poke at my lips. ‘Smile… Stinky. Makes you… pretty.’

Despite how much I tried to drag the muscles in my face into some semblance of a parting smile for the oni, they remained as unresponsive as my mouth. His time was coming and I couldn’t even manage a smile for him, much less words of regret or comfort. I could only pray he would be able to read everything I felt now from the distant look in my eyes, which he finally acknowledged with a slow blink. Dredging up one last breath, he forced the words out of his chest.

‘Yuhiko. Back… fallen tree. Run.’

I managed to put the smile on at last, but something in the glazed eyes told me he had passed beyond before he could see it. A single tear creased my cheek before falling free onto the oni’s unfeeling hand, a final aria to an innocent soul robbed by the cruel mistress that was fate. Wiping the single streak of dampness with one finger, I stared at it for long moments. Was this the best I could do to mourn his death?

Pathetic. Useless. Stoic abomination.

Reverently closing the dead eyes, I let the little oni slide to the ground as I pulled away with a silent apology, shifting his cold hands into a crossed repose of death. Reiji’s sacrifice would not be in vain. I would come back for him later, once the more pressing matters at hand had been dealt with.

Perhaps then, I would finally be able to find tears for him.

Walking past the still form of Aya, I gave her limp head a tremendous kick as I focused the entirety of my renewed rage against the tengu, enough to rattle her brain loose in her skull and render her senseless for hours. She had lost a lot of blood from the torn artery but she would survive. The desire to kill her had fled with Reiji’s last words and in a moment of lucidity, I could only wonder why Aya hadn’t taken the opportunity to kill me during my period of vulnerability.


----------------


Ran shouted the name into the gale force winds once more, worried by the lack of response and the sudden disappearance of the two presences a few minutes ago. The prevalent sense of emptiness was the first sign that something had gone wrong and the absence of her mistress only served to confirm her worst fears.

‘Yukari!’

Only the roaring winds resounding in her ears served as a reply of sorts. The hoped-for voice of her mistress didn’t even tint the audible hearing spectrum in the area.

A quick inspection of the surrounding revealed obvious signs of a heated battle, but no bodies in sight. She had half-feared the possibility of finding Yukari in a bloody headless pile of corpse parts and the absence of such a grotesque display did little to reassure her. Her link with Yukari had been unexpectedly severed which gave all indications of her receiving an Iron Death. She covered her mouth in horror, trying to dispel the thought from her mind. There had to be another explanation. There had to be.

Momentarily abandoning the dismal train of thought, she hurried off towards the distant specks of light in the far west indicative of a hard duel between two youkai going all out. Worrying would have to come later. She had a crisis to resolve first.


----------------


Between my muddled thoughts and navigating the infernal woods in complete darkness, I had no time to worry about getting lost. Realizing my dismal bumbling about in the inky blackness, Kanako finally chose to offer some help, initially hesitant about reaching out to me after my spectacular display of insanity earlier.

’Keep following the small break in the canopy to your left. You should be able to see the light from the hole Reiji made earlier soon enough.’

Following her instructions to the letter, I made no attempt to form a reply at her, forging ahead in grim silence and enduring a dull ache in my heart I couldn’t attribute a source to.

’I’m glad you didn’t kill-’

This time, I found no difficulty in shooting a venomous retort at her. ‘Shut up and be gone. I don’t want to hear your god-damned voice.’

The sudden emptiness indicated her reluctant departure as she melted away into the multitude of memories with a lingering sense of hurt. I had no idea why I said that; an unconscious effort at venting out frustration or anger had momentarily taken hold and the words came about automatically. I would sort it out later. There was too much going on to bother with such inane things now.

Eventually, the patch of light came into view. Within the space of a few dozen minutes the blizzard raging overhead had filled the artificial clearing with a blanket of snow and I realized for the first time the sounds from Nue’s battle had ceased. Was she the victor? Or was Tenma finished with her and coming at me now with undue haste? Useless thoughts. The only thing that mattered for now was getting to Short Stuff.

Drawing closer to the spot Reiji had cleared earlier revealed the sight of Short Stuff propped against a tree, stirring slightly at my clumsy and noisome efforts in breaking through the greenery. The bump on her head had grown to an enormous proportion and the swimming pupils I could see as I drew nearer told me her little concussion may prove to be a serious hindrance in our eventual escape. It was taking her some time to reorient herself with the unfamiliar new surroundings; I could spare her a minute or two at least. Kneeling down next to her, I proceeded to inspect the egg-sized lump on her head.

‘What happened?’ she finally managed, wincing in pain as I accidentally nudged the bump.

Drawing backwards, I was about to give her a hurried answer until I noticed the slight widening of her eyes as they focused on something behind my shoulder.

Something shot into my body, a feeling unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Almost a sensation of being stabbed, yet the pain was amplified beyond logical proportions. Reflexively, I jerked back and forth before I had the presence of mind to look down through the scrim of agony. Running through my chest was an otherworldly gleam of light, radiating in an equal amount of gold and red. Something about the design underneath the sword of light looked familiar, and reaching forth to grasp the blade in surprise proved to be a futile endeavour. The metallic edge seemingly swam away from my grasp, almost as if it was airy or liquid to some extent.

Mercifully, the unearthly weapon pulled back through the hole in my chest, ending the jarring agony which had spread everywhere and the last thing I would see was a Hakurei maiden rendered mute by shock before her scream echoed into the pits of unconsciousness as I thudded clumsily into the cold earth. I welcomed the momentary release from the physical and mental pain wholeheartedly, willingly throwing myself into the black void.


----------------


Gripping the shrieking child by her collar before she could run off, Tenshi dangled the noisome creature by the scruff of her collar before bringing the Sword of Hisou up to point at her face, waving it threateningly. ‘Keep it down, will you?’

Indolently, she hung onto the Hakurei maiden even as it tested her tolerance with her unceasing protests and feeble struggles for long minutes. Eventually out of patience, she gave the squirming child a strong backhanded lash, rattling and sending her spinning listlessly in Tenshi’s grip as she fell silent. Dropping the child down next to the prone figure, she wished the satori would hurry up and finish off tonight's business. From one corner of her eye, she saw the child surreptitiously tie something to the unconscious figure’s wrist but thought little about it. As long as she didn’t act up again, Tenshi was content to let her be.

At long last, the source of her wait appeared from the darkness beyond, striding up to her with careless grace before glancing down at the little figure, receiving a look of fear in return. ‘So it was worth the wait after all.’

Tenshi gave an uncaring shrug. ‘And a long one at that, but I did enjoy their performance.’

Whipping forth a fist in one blurred movement, the newcomer sent the child reeling to one side, delivering the carefully calculated blow to render her senseless. She would not risk having the same thing happen to her as it did to her sister. In a flat melodic voice, Satori went on. ‘What of the others?’

‘Mostly taken care of, I guess.’ Giving the wanderer several nudges with her booted foot, she directed the satori’s attention downwards. ‘This is a hardy one for a human. It’s a shame you couldn’t exact your vengeance, eh?’

Returning her cold glare to the celestial, she spoke in a cracking voice which disrupted her rote melody. ‘You weren’t supposed to kill her. She was mine for the taking for what she and the Hakurei child had done to my sister.’

‘I heard,’ Tenshi replied sardonically with false sympathy. ‘Sorry about your loss.’

Easily hefting the child with one hand, the satori turned her back on Tenshi without another word as she melded into the shadows once more. There was nothing left here now; the object of her quest was safely in hand and the only thing she hated was not being able to personally avenger her dead sister. At the very least, she hoped she would have the chance to do so on the other party responsible once Iyen-Shuren was finished with the child.

Waiting in silence to ensure the satori wasn't lingering around, she finally moved and dropped low to force the wanderer up, quietly hissing into her ears as she did.

‘What awaits beyond the boundless depths of memories?
The womb that shelters its children,
A golden path, the sacrificial vessel to a new future,
The end of the twilight, beyond the furthest reaches of despair,
What lies in the deepest recesses of blackened hearts?’

Her words didn't even elicit a twitch from the still body. So the wanderer doesn't remember after all, or was this just a part of a grander design she knew nothing of? No matter, at least she was still alive. With the object of both Vana and Iyen-Shuren’s infatuation safely removed from her and the latter believing her dead, perhaps the pieces would finally slide into place a lot smoother now. Tenshi dragged the limp doll off the ground, dangling her by one arm as she took off into the cold blizzard to seek the approaching fox youkai. She muttered cheerfully to the seemingly-dead girl.

‘Life’s a bitch, eh? Never goes the way we want it to.’


----------------


Certainly, she hadn’t expected to meet the celestial again under such circumstances, much less find her holding onto the wanderer’s arm who looked to be lifeless by all appearances. She gave an unnerving smile and a little wave to greet Ran. ‘Hi.’

Darting her gaze between the body and the celestial, she tried to appraise the situation around her as well. Was this some kind of trick? She couldn’t pick up the scent of anyone except Nue and the two in front of her right now. ‘You killed her,’ Ran accused threateningly.

Making a face of mock surprise, the celestial swung her arm and eventually tossed the body over to Ran with a dismayed remark, ‘I did? But you’ll find that she’s quite alive, contrary to what you believe. Unfortunately, your other friend is rather dead down there, but that wouldn’t be much of an issue for you youkai I suppose.’

Hastily catching the body with great care, she gave the lifeless figure a cursory inspection. There was a small pulse, despite how dead the wanderer looked. Returning her gaze to the celestial, she found herself staring at thin air. There would be no questioning her now.

Shaking her head, Ran descended to where she could smell Nue and found the petite figure impaled into the broken trunk of a rather large sapling. Numerous holes on her body resembling the one in the wanderer’s chest proved that Nue had desperately fought against not only whoever it was that had accompanied the inu, but the celestial as well. She had made a valiant last stand even after sustaining several weakening strikes from the Sword of Hisou. A futile effort, she realized sadly. They had lost this time. The child was gone.

Gently easing the chimera free from the tree, she gave the area one last look before leaving in silence. Whoever had antagonized these two had saw fit to make a hasty retreat as well after procuring their prize.

At long last, the storm’s fury had abated enough for Ran to have some peace of mind as she made her way back to the village with the two casualties. There would be much to agonize over soon enough.
>> No. 3928
"The blooming saplings grounded in these sterile lands wither away. Young barks peel free as a mockery of dead skin and their tiny leaves succumb to the gentle caress of an idle breeze.

How different is it for a youkai who leave us so? Especially for those who have only lived a mere handful of decades. We love as humans do, we grieve as the lofty creatures do. And yet, such is the cruelty we must endure the loss for years many times beyond a human's lifespan.

Why must we live such long lives?"


-Yakumo Yukari, Rondo of the Cosmos


His patient had gotten up without a word, wearing an expression beyond description. No longer the permanent frown he was so used to seeing but something else entirely, almost a conflicting mask of agony hovering between every describable emotion in a human's repertoire. He knew better than to try and stop her despite her condition, following her out wordlessly into the gradually lightening storm and taking great care to keeping a respectful distance between them. Something in her expression told him she wouldn't spare a thought in gouging out the eyes of whoever it was foolish enough to try and impede her silent march back into the western woods. At the very least, he would be there to drag her back to their shelter if she collapsed half-way.

Keizo wouldn't need to ask where they were headed to; he already knew in his heart based on Ran's reluctant report. They were returning to where Reiji had fallen. Despite how he felt about the boy he had been prepared for the worst when he had came back to the brewery just to find a frantic Yuugi setting out to search for the disappeared oni. She hadn't returned yet and he had no doubt that there would be a bigger storm landing after this physical one had abated. The boy knew what he had been getting into when he left the brewery despite all their warnings and he would honour his dedication to what amounted to strangers instead of grieving for him. Grief would have to wait until they could get their dishevelled mess straightened out.

The confining canyon walls opened up into broad plains before the woods hemming the fringes of the small flatland came into view. Lethargy obviously sapped away at the hunched figure dragging her way across the infuriating blanket of snow but she kept the mindless march up all the same, uncaringly breaking a path he could follow after. The neat wound all the way through her chest had probably reopened judging from the stain of red spreading through the bandages and dirtied clothing. For a moment or two he was tempted to forge ahead of her and break the way himself to ease her progress, but one glance at the murderous aurora hanging over the hunched wanderer made him think better of it. The only thing he could do now was watch in silence.

At long last, they found some respite under the sheltering canopy of the woods, slipping past shadowed husks and looming shapes indicative of nature's usual companions as they bore silent witness to the mismatched couple's lumbering march into the darkness beyond. He couldn't see a damn thing in the utter dark, but the passing of the relentless storm had created brief breaks in the clouds far overhead, allowing the occasional illumination to stream down and pierce the dense canopy. In contrast, Keizo's long-time patient seemed to know exactly where she was going despite being in the dark most of the time. Some nocturnal sense of direction unique to her? Or was the prevalent smell of death hanging about the hunched ghost guiding her towards Reiji's corpse unerringly? He knew not and supposed it mattered little now.

Abruptly, his quarry broke into a stop and Keizo followed suit soon after, glancing about in an unremarkable patch of woods no different from the rest of the dismal span of trees ringing the western fringes of the village. The only things of note were twin holes in the canopy, barely the size of an average human and he knew at last they had arrived at their destination. Briefly, he caught the silent figure staring at a small disturbance in the earth some distance away, seemingly searching for something she thought would have been there before moving to one side wordlessly. Keizo momentarily averted his gaze from the crumpled lump of shadows his companion had proceeded to kneel down next to. Reiji, he thought with a catch in his throat.

She took hold and bore the corpse away with obvious difficulty and he fought with the urge to wrest the body away from her, allowing his companion to brush past him with the lifeless body of his apprentice dangling from her cradled arms. Retracing their steps, they turned around and begun their slow march back to the village.

He could only wish he wouldn't need to witness Yuugi's fury once they reached the brewery. Reverently, he prayed the oni wouldn't descend into an irrational and murderous rage at the sight of her dead charge.
>> No. 3929
"What does it mean to be human? Is it the fear of our mortality? What drives man to desperate extremities when confronted with a scenario of doom? The youkai believe otherwise, foolishly clinging onto their belief that they are capable of defeating destiny itself because they claim they are the superior race.

Ironically, they are lying to themselves as much as a human would. I know, for I am of both. As infallible as the youkai may profess to be, they succumb to the very same things which drives our human neighbours over the edge, for the Reaper's scythe cuts both indiscriminately."


-Keine Kamishirasawa, private exchange with Fujiwara no Mokou


'I had great faith in you, Tenma.'

'I know it was an inexcusable failure,' he begun with great care, hoping the elder's legendary temper wouldn't flare in light of the dismal setbacks. 'We didn't expect Iyen-Shuren to be able to act so swiftly. Someone-'

Vana remained relatively calm despite the damning situation. Suffering casualties, losing Momizi to the disorganized band of misfits and most important of all, the celestial's report that Iyen-Shuren's progeny had been able to spirit the Hakurei child away from them. It wouldn't last long; his placid face grew stormy and with a withering look directed at Tenma, he brought the tengu to his knees as the earth rose up to crush his feet, cutting off the tengu's words in his scream of pain. "A failure is still a failure. Your spectacular flop tonight only serves to illustrate your incompetence. We were so close and you let a mere satori rob us of our success?' Vana swung one pointed finger at the crippled tengu, causing the object of his enmity to momentarily cringe as he continued to hiss venomously, 'To top it all off, your so-called trained escorts couldn't even delay her advance. They might as well go back to their mothers if they can't even stop a single youkai!'

'I... I...', he tried to form words out of the pained rictus, feebly lifting an arm up to the elder beseechingly. Vana gave him a disparaging look and released the tengu from the earthen embrace, allowing him to pull free gasping in pain.
Unexpectedly, the elder mellowed out almost instantly and gave Tenma a cold smile. 'My bad. Sorry about that. Did it hurt?' He received a frantic head-shake as a response and went on conversationally with a random gesture or two, 'Now then. What's done is done. Get your mess together as soon as you can and mass the leftovers from Heaven Cradle. We must strike Iyen-Shuren within the week before he can use my precious treasure on his misguided ritual.'

Despite the enmity flowing from the elder, Tenma chanced a protest in desperation as he struggled to one knee. 'But they have yet to recover from the black ghosts' attack! Please, let my people-'

'Your people?' the elder turned back to face him with invigorated fury. 'YOUR people? "Your" people, in case you've forgotten, are nothing but a mere extension of my glory. "Your" people wouldn't even exist without their progenitor. "Your" people owe you no allegiance, for they serve only me. Is that understood, ignorant child?'

Swallowing further arguments, he decided against testing the elder's temper once more. They would have no choice but to submit to his will as they always did, forever a slave to a hierarchical system which had long lost its meaning over the many centuries. The words flowed out almost automatically in a sad attempt at placating his progenitor. 'I hear your words. My apologies.'

'Good!' he received the cheerfully out-of-place reply and looked up out of reflex, only to find empty space staring him in the face. Vana's echoing words came from somewhere beyond the meeting chamber as the twin doors at the end opened up to swallow the elder's retreating silhouette. 'See to it there would be no further failure, boy.' The ornate doors started to swing inwards, offering Tenma a brief glimpse of the guarded contents beyond. Some sort of massive steel cylinder stretching into the darkness of the underground cavern's ceiling. He never understood the elder's endless fascination with the worthless tower of metal.

It was done now, and his silent departure from the empty hall went unnoticed. The underground city was mostly vacant, even more so in the recent years as its inhabitants had moved further into the warm embrace of the geothermal depths below, content to abandon a world they perceived as decaying. Drifting with the underground air currents, he let himself hover several feet in the air as his crushed feet dragged behind until he arrived at his destination, a comfortable stone dwelling which had probably housed a populous family in the past. As things were now, the silent interior played host to a solitary inhabitant; a recuperating Aya.

Tenma took great care not to brush against the decorated entryway as he passed through; he had no desire to disturb the sepulchral serenity the city quietly projected in the slightest. A few doorways and decorated rooms later had him standing next to Aya. He struggled slightly with standing straight, careful to keep his damaged feet hidden from her questioning stare. Idle fingers brushed the healing wounds on her neck, almost reverentially. Forbidden knowledge of youkai bodily workings, he shuddered at the thought. The witch had obviously wanted to kill his beloved but at some point, had mysteriously relented instead and let Aya live. Ironically, if there was one thing he could thank tonight, it was the witch for sparing Aya's life.

Disturbed by the new presence beside her, the raven-black eyes opened to regard him in confusion, whispering softly to accentuate the general atmosphere of silence around them. ‘I still live?’

Tenma gave her a reassuring brush in her cheeks as an affirmation. Like her, he wouldn’t pretend to understand the reasons. ‘The witch spared you. I know not why.’

Closing her eyes, Aya could plainly see the maddened face staring back at her with all intentions of death etched into the grim features. Aya had taken the life of the juvenile oni, accidentally rather than intentionally, but it didn’t change the fact she had his blood on her hands. She had thought it would all be over then but yet, she retained her life in the end. ‘I killed her companion. I killed the boy,’ she groaned softly, rubbing a feeble hand in her face. ‘I had thought she would do the same to me then.’

Easing himself down at the end of the cot, Tenma tried to shift into a comfortable seating position despite his legs. The pained gesture didn’t miss Aya and she gave him a concerned look. ‘What happened to your legs?’

‘Vana was none too happy with our failure.’ He shook his head to dispel her worries, ‘They will heal in time, as will you.’ Unwilling to meet the piercing stare he went on hesitantly, doubtless that Aya would not take the news well. ‘He intends to mobilize the rest of the tengu and retrieve the child by force. We don’t have a choice but to comply, lest we risk being cast out from the youkai commonality.’

Just as he had suspected, she mirrored his earlier protest with a voice growing ever stronger. ‘He can’t be serious. They need time to pull together and recover from the witch’s disaster!’

‘We don’t have a choice in the matter,’ he repeated sternly, waving a hand to indicate the topic was closed to debate. ‘We do what we always do, what our laws dictate as distasteful as it may seem to be.’

‘And is that the right thing to do?’ she countered softly. ‘Risking our own people on the whims of a self-professed leader who had abandoned us for centuries? Tainting the legacy of the Hakureis with our barbaric acts? We don’t even know why Vana is so obsessed with the child to begin with! Reimu would be turning in her grave now.’

‘What would you propose to do then?’ he shot back heatedly amidst his own growing doubts. ‘Alienate ourselves from the youkai commonality like the band of rebels? Be outcasts and reviled like them? Have our ancestral home taken away by the encroaching kappa? We obey because Vana keeps the balance between the youkai factions under him as much as Gensokyo keeps the balance between humans and youkai. Is that not enough for us?’

Her subsequent silence was all he needed to hear. There would be no further discussion about their course of action. Tiredly dragging himself back on his damaged legs, he shuffled out of the room and stopped at the doorway to deliver his farewells. ‘Take a few days to recuperate. I need to return to the mountains for now and see to my tasks.’

Aya let him go in silence, fingering the raw meat around her neck absent-mindedly before closing her eyes again. For the first time, she found doubt and the courage to question their supposed loyalties. As much as she hated the witch, it was quickly becoming unclear just how much of that hatred stemmed from her own need to blame the world’s injustices on someone. The witch’s unusual dedication to the Hakurei child coupled with her unexplainable mercy towards Aya only served to amplify her self-doubt. More and more, it was beginning to seem as if the lines of morality weren’t as clear cut as she had first thought them to be. It was no longer a simple question about who was right and who was wrong, but something far deeper.

But that had always been their dilemma, hadn’t it? Made to serve a power unquestioningly for the supposed sake of the whole. That was what their existence amounted to these days; mere chess-pieces to be moved about on a board whose edges they couldn’t even see, much less the players on both sides. Aya felt a momentary twinge of jealousy over the object of her enmity.

At the very least, the witch was her own player.
>> No. 3931
“Being drunk all the time is a virtue in and on itself. A drunkard is forever beyond the reach of sorrow’s embrace.”

– Suika Ibuki


So it would begin now, Keizo thought with a pang of anxiety as he stared at the emotionless figures facing off. Yuugi stared down at the wanderer and her clasped burden coldly, earning nothing but an expressionless mask in return. His companion’s slurry of emotions had seemingly leeched away with the last vestiges of the storm. Her customary frown was back in place as she offered Reiji’s rigid body to Yuugi, who remained motionless after she had stormed up to the wanderer.

He had thought about trying to defuse the brewing altercation by moving forward and relieving the body from his silent companion until he caught sight of Yuugi’s eyes. Her façade of emotional stability was betrayed by the hard glint in the glazed orbs. As much as Yuugi tried to control her feelings, and was doing admirably up to this point from what Keizo could see, the seething rage was quickly eroding her self-control. He took a step backwards as Yuugi finally took hold of his lost apprentice gently, taking a brief moment to look down at the lifeless face.

It finally happened. The horned oni darted her gaze up and lashed forth with a backhanded fist, sending the wanderer reeling to one side and into the white blanket underfoot. Droplets of blood stained the serene span of snow. ‘Get up,’ Yuugi commanded coldly.

The bloodied figure acquiesced wordlessly, struggling back to her feet as she swayed about. His fine stitch work on her chest was all but ruined now as blood flowed freely. For her obedience, Yuugi rewarded her with another strike, sending her reeling out of control once more before moving up to the grounded girl and repeating her earlier demand. ‘Get up.’

Their brutal ballad would continue a few more times, littering the pristine snow with specks of red. Yuugi clearly had no indication of stopping and the wanderer looked to be enduring the abuse not because she felt obligated to, but because the distant look in her own eyes gave all indications of her being a place beyond pain now. Unwilling to let them go on, Keizo forced himself to march up to Yuugi and intercepted her raised hand with a hard grip, earning a hostile glare from the enraged oni. ‘That’s enough! You’re going to kill her!’ he barked into Yuugi’s face regardless of the possibility of earning some of her enmity as well.

‘Enough?’ she repeated as her contorted face came back under control. Yuugi gave her dead charge another glance and returned her attention to the wanderer down on all fours as her hand relaxed and lowered slightly. Sighing with relief internally, Keizo released his grip as well.

He thought it had ended, but apparently not. Whipping forth the lowered hand before Keizo could register the move, Yuugi drew the wanderer up and reeled her in forcefully, flinging the unresisting figure backwards into the neighbouring dwelling with careless ease. His companion sailed straight into the second floor of the dwelling, painfully breaking through the aged stonework in a cloud of debris.

Yuugi wouldn’t even bother with a glance as she returned to her home, ignoring Keizo’s shocked reproaching stare. ‘Now it’s enough.’
>> No. 3932
File 126052449054.jpg - (417.45KB, 600x600, 粗茶@あ~る絵企画 - 神奈子様の事??.jpg) [iqdb]
3932
Fag's Notes:

Regarding the issue about our questionable lack of power, I always intended for things to be solvable within the logical limits of what a human would be able to do. The notion of having a generic shounen power-up esque thing just doesn't sit too well with me. It's enough to have a bunch of touhoes who can do that for now.

Being just human and accomplishing the impossible seems far more impressive than having pwnish powers, IMO. Though I'm sure many would beg to differ. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference.
>> No. 3933
Woohoo, this one came fast!
>> No. 3934
Not only Reiji, but Nue died too? damn...

And I had a feeling Aya would start having doubts after we spared her. Which is why it was the better choice.

Excellent writing as always though.
>> No. 3935
>>3934

Yeah and it seems Vana has some sort of plan, I suspect that tower or metal is one of the arks. And that the Tengu are chaffing underneath the rule.

But I wonder what Tenshi is doing under Vana, since I figured Celestials would be free of any Youkai obligations. But it does seem that Tenshi has her owns plans, for what ends is unknown.

But I wonder what they meant by the Kappa (We haven't learned much about them in this time zone)

And if this is Koishi, it's little wonder she was able to sneak up and steal the Hakurei.

But it seems Tenshi's sword affected the wanderer in a bad way (I don't recall the sword having the power to steal souls)

>>3932

I like this, since the factions are wary of her just due to how resourceful and knowledgeable she is; she even knows how to perma-kill a Youkai the hard way.
>> No. 3938
Frankly, it was predictable. All hero's allies start dying one by one while he's forgiven several times ('You're not worth the time' 'You deserve a worse fate!' 'Letting you live will be more cruel!' 'I'll not kill you until you remember!') Eventually, he runs out of meat shields so he has to fight for itself.
This update still hurt though. Guess that's merit to you, writefag.

>>3932
I guess Anon's idea isn't about merit: the objective is to win, no matter what. Powers just make that easier that's all.
When you win all is forgiven. When you have won, you can make your own excuses, and apologies and whatever you want. Nothing will change the fact that you won and the other side lost.
The end justify the means, y'know? Unless the means are to sacrifice a main character, that's is.
>> No. 3939
So now the visitors are gonna wreck this small town, oh dear.
>> No. 3940
I do suspect Vana's gone insane and worshiping the 'visitors'.

While Three Arms while far from saintly, has a sane if TERRIBLY misguided plan.

But I must remark again that the only flaw I see in this story is how this Trio of Youkai elders exist. It's a hard break from canon and such. But everything else is interesting enough that it can be overlooked.
>> No. 3941
>>3940

This is hundreds of years in the future, so of course things will be a little different.
>> No. 3942
>>3941

But the notion of these folks just doing nothing until everything goes to pot is a bit absurd if they did exist.

That and the notion of Vana basically making Tenma his bitch is a bit hard to swallow. Only say the Oni lord could try something like that.
>> No. 3943
>>3940
>I do suspect Vana's gone insane and worshiping the 'visitors'.
Well... yeah. That was sort of obvious.
And even if it wasn't, the bipolarity he exhibited while smacking Tenma around was kind of a hint.

I'm wondering what the hell the giant metal tube Vana hangs out with is.
>> No. 3944
>>3943

I suspect it's one of the arks, since it's clear that not all of them made the jump but that there's more than one of them. It's quite possible that contract with the souls in it might have driven him nutty.
>> No. 3949
>>3932
Having those kinds of powers wpuld make things too easy, any enemy would be on even level. I'm glad the wanderer is fairly human and can't learn danmaku etc, the effort to succeed makes the story more interesting and relatable.
>> No. 3970
>>3949
I think it's more like not really bothering too, and in these times, the play fighting that danmaku is has no real place.

Though it's most likely the whiplash from being an abnormality doing it as well.

She's grown more used to using her cunning, and whatever is around her. In short if everyone else are superpowered heroes or villains, she's Batman.
>> No. 3973
File 126068780959.jpg - (45.83KB, 600x423, 3 PLASMA CANNON SHOTS.jpg) [iqdb]
3973
I think the only complaint I really have with the story is how danmaku turns from energy blasts to LEMAN RUSS EXECUTIONER, but it isn't really that far-fetched I guess.
>> No. 3974
I appreciate your feedbacks, good Anon.

I believe I did previously mention what the OC's are there for, and their function as plot devices but I suppose this evidently didn't go down well with some readers. I was always predisposed towards expanding slightly on the canon universe instead of sticking rigidly to it (more or less what doujin does). It gives a certain amount of freedom to build an imaginative world instead of rehashing the same old Yukarididdit formula, as a simple example.

It's a bit too late to retcon that even if I wanted to, so we'll have to live with this for now.


>>3938
As much as I try to deviate from it, I do tread into such cliches during writing every now and then. There's only so much originality one can spin before they eventually cross over into well-trodden and predictable plot lines. A bad habit of mine, I'm afraid.


>>3973
I lol'd for a moment there. Reading back a bit, I realized I may have gone overboard with LAZOR BEAMUs. Then again, it's hard to write a captivating and lengthy scene when the only thing a touhoe pewpews are lazor beamus and shiny things.

Speaking of shiny things I remember a time when I actually ran out of descriptive words for them during writing.


All in all, my thanks for the feedbacks.
>> No. 4006
>>3938
>Frankly, it was predictable. All hero's allies start dying one by one while he's forgiven several times ('You're not worth the time' 'You deserve a worse fate!' 'Letting you live will be more cruel!' 'I'll not kill you until you remember!')

But the Wanderer was not 'spared'. She's just being used by someone. And I really don't think that Yukari, who also happens to be one of the Triumvirate, losing was predictable. I was honestly expecting her (and Nue too...) to return a bit too late.

Which remnd me, Vana used the gap-space to defeat Yukari. The Visitors were aware of the Wanderer and Yuhiko's presenc when they were gapped. Who else think they are a part of the gap-space? Ok, maybe not a part, but maybe living in it or using it?
>>3935
>And if this is Koishi, it's little wonder she was able to sneak up and steal the Hakurei

First of all, your posts are horrible to read. Secondly, did you not read the story well enough or did you accidentally Satori's name with Koishi's?
>> No. 4007
>>4006

Satori could be refering to the species; it wasn't that clear to see during the weather. And out of the two, Koishi could easily sneak up during a heated battle and do such a thing.

But I could easily be wrong here, no need to be anal about it.
>> No. 4009
>>4007
>Satori went on
>S
>> No. 4018
On vacation; be back in a week or two.

Merry Christmas people.
>> No. 4019
>>4018

Merry Christmas!

This is gonna be the saddest of all christmas I've ever had. ;_;
>> No. 4161
I was going to post something about the Triumvirate and the Visitors, but I managed to forget whatever it was when I entered the thread.

So instead, I've decided to simply say how much we're missing you right now.
>> No. 4162
>>4161
Sorry about that. Came back from my vacation only to get swamped with overdue work issues. Things've been slowing down since this week so I should finally get some time to sit down for an update soon enough instead of crashing right into bed every night.
>> No. 4163
>>4162

Write-fag is preparing. Please wait warmly while walls are being raised.
>> No. 4164
>>4163

A 'Hooray!' does not suffice to express my current elation.
>> No. 4170
>>4162

Don't worry man. Knowing you're around is already a big relief.
>> No. 4186
>>4164
A million, million times this.
>> No. 4199
‘How’re you feeling?’

‘Like someone who just took a stab and got tossed into the side of a cliff. Oh wait, that sounds familiar,’ I muttered sarcastically, pulling the blankets closer before turning away from the sympathetic voice. Even with the gradual disappearance of the weather anomaly the temperature was still taking its sweet time to return to normal. Spending the last three days camped out in the clearing which had became my usual haunt hadn’t been what most would call an enlightening experience, but Keizo had deemed it a necessity. He had been adamant about keeping me out of Yuugi’s sight while he attended to my injuries. Frankly, I couldn’t have cared less.

‘They interred Reiji in the burial caves yesterday,’ he started carefully, keeping his voice neutral and sounding like someone who was making idle talk about the weather instead of a grieving friend. I chose not to respond, suspecting he would prefer it that way regardless. We had fallen into the habit of treating Reiji’s passing like some sort of taboo subject, intentionally avoiding even accidental mention of the little oni. A sad little charade at pretending his death had never happened. Even then, I knew he had his share of grief in his privacy as much as Yuugi did. As for me, the loss had more or less become another facet of the chaotic jumble that made up my recent experiences. Briefly, I wondered if they would have taken offense at how fast I had been able to put the incident behind me. In some ways, my brief association and lack of attachment to the lost oni was probably a good reason why.

‘How’s Nue holding up?’ I changed the subject abruptly, fingering Short Stuff’s parting gift; a small bit of her charm bound to my right wrist she had somehow left on me before she was taken away. For once, I was thankful the kid had the presence of mind to do some quick thinking and provided Rilofene the means to remain undetectable to the Visitors before we were abruptly separated when Peaches had chosen to run her fancy sword through me. I had no idea what sundering her charm in half would do in the long-term, although Rilofene had uneasily proposed that the two halves would gradually become powerless, becoming little more than useless strips of fancy silk in due time. By then, there would be no hiding from the Visitors, no matter where Short Stuff and I could dig ourselves into.

He sighed worriedly before delivering his report, interrupting my own chain of thoughts. ‘She started breathing earlier today but the stab wounds and the rest of her aren’t mending naturally. I’ve never seen anything like it before.’

I had my suspicions on why she was having difficulty in recovering, attributing it largely to the fact that she had been run through multiple times with the Sword of Hisou, a celestial-forged weapon designed to reveal the weakness of whatever it struck and Nue’s subsequent defeat in her weakened state. I wasn’t envious of the chimera; having tasted the sword’s cut before. Despite being unable to remember the blade that night, the revelation of what it was had dawned on me during my period of respite, a fact later confirmed by the old hags haunting me inside. ‘She’s going to take a long time to recover from them. A very long time. What about Ran?’

‘Gone. We thought it would be best if she took her leave as soon as possible, seeing how much Yuugi hates her guts as much as she does yours now.’ Keizo gave me an apologetic glance as he settled down next to my crude campsite, reaching out to peel off some of the stale bread making up my breakfast. Throwing a swift glance at his side revealed the stitching kit I had grown all too familiar with in the past few days as I recalled the threaded needle pulling through my raw wounds with a small wince. Heedless of my distaste, he went on, ‘She gave up looking for Yukari and had to leave to attend to something about a doppelganger or some such. Important work, et cetera et cetera. You know how she is.’

So we were essentially diffused now. With Yukari gone to god knows where, Ran would be the only one left to keep the charade of a living Enka going, effectively putting her out of the picture. As for Nue, she was barely more than a comatose vegetable at the moment. Given enough time, she would be able to recover but I had little doubt her eventual recovery would take long weeks, if not months. Too much time to waste waiting for her. Reiji was gone and so was Short Stuff, probably with the celestial bitch or Vana by now. The little band of travellers had quickly sundered over the space of a single night. Thinking about the fateful events had brought up another point I had almost forgotten in light of my absent-minded musings.

Turning back to Keizo and giving him a rigid stare, I asked a question which was sure to unnerve him. ‘Is the dog finally awake?’

He plainly saw the intentions in my eyes, doubtless because Yuugi had probably demonstrated the very same desire for the inu, except being in a far more violent vein than what I had in mind. ‘Conscious enough. I know what you’re thinking. She’s still a patient in my book so let’s keep things chivalrous as long as she stays a patient.’

‘Chivalry can kiss my ass,’ I retorted humourlessly. The inu was my only link to Vana’s base of operations and in extension, Short Stuff’s location and I was determined to get the information out of her regardless of how I would go about doing it. ‘She’s going to tell me what I want to know, patient or not.’ In all honesty, there was little he could do to stop me from using unorthodox methods at interrogating our prisoner cum patient. One way or another, she was going to talk when I eventually got to her.

Keizo took a careless bite out of the cold bread, seemingly at home with the bland taste. Returning his gaze to the vast emptiness of the clear skies, he countered with a dissatisfied tone. ‘And what would that earn you? Someone else to beat up in revenge? How far must things go before we can call it even? “You hurt me; therefore I will hurt you back.” It’s a never-ending cycle of pain.’ With a face pinched in anxiety he turned to look down with an unfathomable expression as he continued imploringly, ‘Enough is enough. Let it go, let the Hakurei kid go. Stay here and live the rest of the days out in peace. I’ve already lost Reiji; it’s idiocy to watch you throw yourself into the lion’s den next.’

Pushing myself up into a seated position, I shot the downcast healer a cold stare, slightly offended by his suggestion and his audacity in making such a decision for me. Instead of giving a suitably crude retort, I chose to ignore the implied order in consideration of his recent loss. ‘That’s no longer a valid decision. I need the kid back and believe me when I say it’s for your own good as well.’

He didn’t look like he understood and I was content to leave it that way. Only the few who had been present during the little gathering at Chayot Ha Kadesh knew about Gensokyo’s eventual fate. Ignorance would help the hot-headed healer a lot more than knowing the truth now. At the very least, it would keep him from doing something suitably stupid and prevent a tragic fate from befalling him, much like his apprentice. Keizo looked like he wouldn’t let the matter go to rest and I decided to just cut off further debate in a stern voice. ‘Enough. I’m leaving as soon as I dig whatever I need out from the dog. Stay here and lay low; I don’t need you ending up like Reiji.’

Fortunately for me, he was already well-accustomed with my stubbornness and made no further attempt to pursue the matter for now, acceding with a disgruntled sigh as he proceeded to inspect the various stitches he had plugged my injuries with. ‘What good will taking the Hakurei back do for you? You’ll just end up a fugitive once more. And this time there won’t be a Yukari and Nue to cover your ass, or Ran for that matter.’

What indeed. The few days spent resting had seen plenty of my pondering on the same dilemma. With all three of them essentially gone, I would have to resort to more drastic measures now but I would first have to steal Short Stuff back before returning to the human village. Her awakened abilities had opened up several options and if the mathematician Yoshino back in the human village remained true to his words, he and his flunkies would have carried on with their work on the circle the dead nun had started. I could only pray to whatever gods who were looking down that it would have been largely finished by now.

There, I could possibly try to make use of Byakuren’s incomplete circle, altered to instead trap the entirety of the Visitors’ shadows within the massive catchment, using both Rilofene and Short Stuff as bait by creating another resonance between them. Should the ghosts fall for it, I would get Short Stuff to infuse the circle with her sealing abilities, hoping the ensuing feedback on the Visitors extended bodies could essentially render their true body within False Dawn temporarily inert. It would probably do nothing but earn Gensokyo a short reprieve but there was very little left to fall back on at the moment, and I would make use of any straw I could grasp at.

All of them mere probabilities and speculations. But what was new? That was what I did best; make do with what was on hand.

Keizo prodded hard at the clean wound in my back to bring my attention back to him, nettled by my continued ignorance of his obvious existence. ‘Ow. Damn it, what?’

‘You heard me. I asked what the hell you were going to do if you can get the girl back. Nothing gets solved.’

I shrugged lightly, careful not to disrupt his painstaking inspection. ‘Yeah, well life’s a bitch. Nothing ever gets fixed the way you want them to be.’ Keizo wouldn’t need to know anything more at this point. His role had been over a long time ago and I would feel a lot better not to have him around to remind me of my guilt in Reiji’s death, however accidental it may have been.

‘You’re avoiding the question,’ he accused glumly, rewarding me with another hard prod at a sore wound as he finally finished up.

‘Maybe. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter. It’s my business from now on,’ I emphasized with another shrug, tugging on the veritable rags my days-old clothing had already turned into as he grumbled disconsolately at being kept in the dark once more, but knowing better than to press the matter any further. Idly, I wondered at the number of times I had gone through a change in wardrobe before dispelling the useless thoughts from my head, turning back to catch Keizo absent-mindedly packing up his pouch of needles-and-threaded horror away. Guess this was the last time he would have the honours of patching me back up. Come the late hours of twilight, I would pay one of his recuperating patients a surprise visit before I left the village for good. There had already been enough time wasted until now; it was time to get back to the more important things.

‘Fine. Leave it that way then. Don’t tell me anything. That’s what you all keep doing anyway; keeping me ignorant,’ came his uncharacteristic reply as he finished cramming the last of his articles into the leather case, surprising me slightly. Evidently, the recent developments had put a good damper on his usual enthusiasm and crass attitude at approaching things. Reaching out and gripping an idle arm in surprise, he struggled to say something more despite my obvious displeasure at being abruptly manhandled. Nothing but silence passed between us for several seconds and his grip eventually loosened before the disappointed figure turned away and marched off, peeved beyond words.

Reclining back on the rough bark of my familiar tree, my eyes followed his retreating form as he made a hurried exit, wondering what that had all been about. Perhaps he had been merely venting some of his suppressed anger at me for my indirect involvement with Reiji’s death. Not that I had the presence of mind to even bother with such humane notions of mood swings at this point. Once this was all over, maybe then I would have the time to be disturbed by such things and seek redemption from all the people I had constantly wronged. But not now, not amidst the chaotic tumble of unfolding events.

Perhaps later, I would have time to feel more like a human instead of an emotionless puppet reacting to everything out of necessity.
>> No. 4201
File 126323592098.jpg - (507.32KB, 634x634, 1742454334.jpg) [iqdb]
4201
"I'm sure you're aware by now that the accelerator segment between the Pan Asian Bloc Facility and the Ural Mountains Facility had sustained critical damage from Unit Seraphim's misalignment disaster. What was left of the investigation teams have finally managed to make it back to the bunker with the black tapes as of 40 hours ago. Regretfully, only two of the original twenty survived the excursion. A memorial service for those we have lost to the chaos outside will be held this evening in the dining halls.

Something worse has come up from the inspection of the retrieved data. It would appear that the accident was not what it seemed to be; there are minute discrepancies found in the firing lag of the Ural Mountains Facility; pre-programmed time-lags which grew with subsequent firings of the magnetic torus culminating in Unit Seraphim's eventual derailment.

This was no accident, my friend. It was sabotage. Why anyone would even want to do something like this is beyond me."


-Eric Lang, report to Project Director



Another dying afternoon, another day passed.

Kicking back discontentedly on an ornate rocking chair, Flynn regarded his latest handiwork with a low grunt, disappointed with the fact that the recently finished oddity would end up as nothing more than another fancy wooden flying contraption fated to rot away into obscurity like every other he had finished in the dusty workshop. Spending the good part of the day pointlessly working on something he would probably never try out hadn't been the most productive way to while away a good business period, for the recent astronomical demand for doors and windows had proven to be a most productive but unwelcome change.

Thinking about his change in fortunes reminded him much about the solitary wanderer who had gone missing months ago, vanishing as abruptly as she had appeared with none the wiser. A real shame; despite her last revelation on her true nature and subsequent disappearance he had come to miss the presence of the largely silent and lazing figure as she lounged about his workshop. A quiet and obscure presence, somewhat reassuring when she was around and much less bothersome in comparison with the other villagers. Ironically, despite being the subject of heated gossip, very few would remember her brief stay in the village now.

So much like the objects of his aerial fascination. Rendered forgotten and abandoned, he thought with an inward sigh as he leaned back into the carved chair. That was the nature of all things unknown; transitional and temporary in their magnetic attraction. Grinning broadly at his unexpected philosophical musing, Flynn kicked out hard, sending the chair underneath buckling momentarily before rocking back into place. Time to call it a day, he guessed.

‘Nice doors. You make them?’

A feminine voice, rigid but clear, startled his balance and sent the rocking chair into an oblique angle, culminating in an eventual and embarrassing toppling of both chair and its occupant backwards into the source of the voice. Lying on the ground staring upwards into the shadowed regions between twin trunks of flesh, it took Flynn some time to realize he wasn’t supposed to be looking up someone’s skirt.

Flushing red and struggling back to his feet at the same time his unexpected visitor took a hasty step in retreat, Flynn gave a quick muttered apology and proceeded to bluster incoherently for a few seconds before managing something legible, righting the fallen chair and proceeding to busy about the random oddities as he kept his eyes averted.

‘Uh. Sorry! They’re not doors,’ he stuttered slightly, hoping his visitor wouldn’t take offense at his accidental violation as he tried to look occupied.

A fortunate turn of events that she seemed to have put the matter behind as quickly as it had happened. Glancing about the cloistered interior, she milled about his crackpot assemblies with an interested air, fingering the neat fittings as she did. ‘You are a wood smith?’ she pondered with barely veiled curiosity.

Flynn took great care to put distance between the two of them, throwing the girl several furtive glances as he did. She had a long travelling cloak about the slender shoulders topped by short hair and he would hazard a guess that her frame was just as graceful. Strange; he thought he caught sight of uncommon clothing in white when he had caught her in a compromising position earlier.

Catching her own gaze in one of his discrete stares, he deigned to answer her earlier question in defence. ‘Wood smith? Oh. Not exactly. I just make wooden flyers.’ Or at least that was partially true, Flynn grumbled to himself. They don’t exactly fly; not yet anyway.

‘But you have the knowledge for carpentry, yes?’ his visitor persisted.

She looked casual enough, but he didn’t miss the slight hint of desperation in her tone, or the small pinch of anxiety in hoping to hear what she wanted to. Shrugging, Flynn guessed it wouldn’t hurt to admit it, if only to put her at ease. ‘Well, sort of. I do all sorts of wood working.’

‘I see,’ the petite figure turned away from him to regard the wooden contraptions once more before going on, ‘What would it take to commission something from you? Something… um, sort of big.’ Her voice faltered slightly at that, tinted with the same desperation Flynn had noticed moments ago.

Big? ‘How big is big?’ he wondered bluntly and found the courage to stare at her turned back now. Great; the last thing he wanted now was less time to work on his obsession due to some weird new commission for something “big”.

Abruptly, the figure whipped about and marched up to him, triggering an involuntary blanch at her rapid approach. Reflexively, he took a step backward before she got too close.

His visitor froze in her sudden march to deliver her words like a sledgehammer. ‘Big. Like say… a ship. A galleon for example.’

Flynn took a moment to recover and push his mouth back into place. ‘Say WHAT? A SHIP? Sorry, I’m not in the mood for jokes.’ All the accumulated shyness and agitation in her presence leeched away, to be replaced with derision and a growing impatience to be rid of her. What sort of idiot would want a ship in a land with nothing but inland lakes and small rivers? Not to mention the time it would take to build something that monstrous. He pushed her out of the way with a silent curse and proceeded to toss his apron onto a workbench, glancing sideways to say his final bit, ‘Look, I’m about to close. You’re going to have to go find your boat elsewhere.’

A supple hand gripping his arm hard told him she hadn’t given up just yet and Flynn felt his eyes roll upwards at her persistence before looking down at the petite figure’s hold questioningly, gesturing at it with his free arm. She caught his rebuke and blushed, releasing their leash on each other. At least she looks cute when she’s flustered, despite her idiocy, he thought glumly.

Half expecting his visitor to march off and finally grant him some peace, she muttered in a downcast voice instead, miffed by his indignation at her suggestion as she backed off slightly. ‘I’m not joking. I want a ship built. Well… reconstructed actually.’ Returning her gaze to his eyes and hardening her expression, she tried to look serious despite her obvious age. ‘Look, I’ll pay whatever you want. Something. Anything,’ she went on in undisguised desperation now.

And what did he expect in payment? Business was already more than prosperous from his newfound venture however accidental it may have been. The only thing he wanted now was time for himself to indulge in his fascination. Looking downwards at her, Flynn noticed her bitten lips and grim expression, lined by expectations for what she wanted to hear once more.

He sighed out loud this time. As much as he hated to disappoint her, he simply didn’t see the merit in wasting more of his precious time on such a worthless project. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered apologetically with a small shake of the sweaty locks. ‘I just don’t have the time for it. You’re going to have to try elsewhere.’ Despite his continued refusal, she remained rooted to the spot and he took her hand in exasperation, pulling the stumbling figure out of his workshop as he made his own way out. ‘Quit standing around like some statue. I need to close this place up.’ In his growing desperation to be rid of her, he failed to notice just how cold her exposed hand was now that they had flesh to flesh contact.

They were halfway through the display shack when she tried a new approach, something which caught Flynn off-guard.

‘You said you build flyers.’

Pausing momentarily to look back at the figure in tow, he went back to tugging her out of his shop like some lost puppy with a pained admittance. ‘Kind of. Well, uh, they don’t exactly fly.’ Not yet anyway, he promised to himself again half-heartedly.

‘What if you could?’ she insisted, allowing herself to be freely pulled along now that she realized she had him hooked onto something.

Despite his common sense grumbling away at him, the curious facet that made up who Flynn was nattered with curiosity and he found his pace slowing down before stopping at the entrance of the dusky shop, releasing his visitor-in-tow with an apologetic attempt at a smile. ‘Don’t we all wish we could? That’s what makes it such a human dream, because it’s unattainable.’

Moving over to right her dishevelled cloak, he gave her a gentle push and prodded her out of his daytime abode. In part, he realized that his little visitor was probably just trying to buy more of his attention, something he was unwilling to grant for free any longer with patience in short supply. Still, it was disheartening to treat her any less than human and Flynn supposed the best he could do was to just politely send her away now. Be a gentleman, he muttered to himself silently and repeated the mantra as he pulled the wooden shutters close.

Hesitant footsteps behind, light and shuffling, told him that his curious visitor had finally given up and he felt a mixture of relief and regret welling up within. Relief at finally being left alone and regret over how he had treated her despite her earnest request. Truth be told, she didn’t really deserve the rough manhandling, he admitted to himself guiltily.

Throwing the wooden bar across the shutters, the late afternoon light of the empty street bathed the place a dull yellow and Flynn took that as a sign that it was time to return to the shelter of the caves for the coming twilight. Weary footsteps of his own fell into a rote march as he took the familiar path.

‘You said you wanted to fly. What if I gave you the means to do just that?’

Good gods, she was obviously going to haunt him until he decided to accede to her unearthly request, he groaned inwardly, running a frustrated hand through his head. Nevertheless, the curious part of him roared back to the forefront this time and he found himself turning to look at her unwillingly, momentarily charmed by how the dying dayglow made her look so much more ethereal.

Until he realized she was just that. Ethereal. Most of the light seemed to pass through her and her petite figure cast very little shadow behind her small frame. Most of it came from the cloak she had tossed over her shoulder.

The urge to flee never crossed his mind and he asked an unexpected question instead, ‘Who are you?’

‘You can call me Minamitsu for now.’ A small hand lifted to beckon at him, gesturing at him and inviting him with a seeming siren call and her next words shattered whatever reluctance he still harboured in wake of the recent revelation that his visitor was not quite human in some respect.

‘Come with me. There’s something I want to show you.’
>> No. 4203
I was typing stuff. Suddenly, vision goes black! A few minutes later, I wake up with a small part of my keyboard printed on my face and a long string of HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH's.

Undaunted, I try again. Unexpectedly, vision goes white! A few minutes later, I wake up with a small part of my keyboard printed on my other cheek and a long string of UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU's.

So instead of soldiering on, I'll call it a night for now. Have no fear Anon, I shall attempt to slake your intellectual lust with MOAR soon.

As soon as I stop falling asleep whenever I sit in front of the laptop at nights.
>> No. 4204
Take some time to rest, we have a decent bit to chew on mentally as it is.

the doctor does have a good point. Though hopefully interrogating Momiji won't be too rough (she's just a pawn, just as Tenma and Aya are realizing now)
>> No. 4205
>This was no accident, my friend. It was sabotage. Why anyone would even want to do something like this is beyond me."

I wonder who did that... and if it has any connections to that's going on in Gensokyo. (Since wasn't it the whole launch of those arks getting fouled up that caused the massive mess Gensokyo's in asides from from Kanako's nuclear stunt?)
>> No. 4207
>>4205

My first thought was Vana, due to his hatred for humans. But that still leaves the question of how he got outside anyway.
>> No. 4210
Why is every character in this so awesome?
Looking forward to the next update.
>> No. 4211
Eagerly awaiting more.
>> No. 4213
File 126328423293.jpg - (44.98KB, 647x481, amazing.jpg) [iqdb]
4213
Palingenesia and QWL updating?

A GLORIOUS TIME
>> No. 4218
Magnificent
>> No. 4220
So I started reading this from the beginning, and though I'm only 1/5 of the way into the first thread, I, uh... I kind of love you.

How much would it cost for a hard copy of this?
>> No. 4222
>>4220

Here's one way!

http://www.sfu.ca/~achanne/projects/bookbinding/
>> No. 4223
>>4222
Alternatively:

http://www.lulu.com
>> No. 4234
Someone once told me that nights were the times when people indulged in their deepest sins and less-than-savoury practices simply because when one wakes up the next day, they would have more or less forgotten their shadowy jaunts the night before. I hadn’t the foggiest idea where that came from as I peered into the stillness of the empty brewery, noting the absence of its usual occupants. Ever aware of my unwelcome presence to the volatile oni, I had no idea how I was going to drag the inu away without kicking up an ungodly fuss. Even in the deep hours of dusk now I would have very little leeway with the dog’s planned abduction. The thought of facing Yuugi’s renewed fury or Keizo’s irritating objection to my questionable actions should I be caught in the middle of the act was enough to convince me that stealth would be paramount in my amoral excursion here.

'I suppose I should reiterate my distaste for what you’re about to do.'

Cutting through the shadowed interior, the tiny aches and dull pain from numerous healing injuries made traversing the small space between the doorway and the beckoning spiral stairwell an unpleasant experience, leaving me very little patience to deal with the hag’s self-righteous moaning. ‘If you’ve got nothing helpful to offer then shut your pie-hole. I’m busy here,’ I thought with thinly-veiled contempt. In another age and time, I would have been aghast at the blasphemy towards what was essentially still a deity, no matter what form she was reduced into. As for the here and now, disrespect towards one of Gensokyo’s resident goddess was hardly something earth-shatteringly disturbing in light of all my recent distress.

'Is this your solution for everything that doesn’t go your way? Get physical? There are better methods for gathering information.'

For a singular moment, I wished I had the power to stick a hand into my head and drag the irksome voice out. ‘Like what? Sit down for some tea and a friendly chit-chat? Now quit yapping.’ Her presence dwindled away as she finally realized she wouldn’t be able to convince me otherwise and I heaved an involuntary sigh of relief at being left alone at long last.

Skittering to a stop near the base of the stairwell, a quick peer upwards revealed more of the inky darkness prevalent at this hour of the night. Massaging a sore ankle, I waited for a few minutes secreted away at the base of the stairwell, watching and listening for any signs of life from the upper floor. Except for the lonely howl of wind making its way through the irregular dwelling, there was every indication of the brewery’s occupants slumbering away with the passing of the night. Now or never then, I thought with another silent sigh. Gripping the brick I had procured on my way through the outer yard I mounted the steps carefully, feeling along the stone-cold granite with my free hand until the abrupt transition of jagged rock to open space happened. Dark silhouettes of the upper corridor’s various furnishing drew into view.

No one rose to challenge my uninvited entry. No enraged oni around to make a new window with my body as a wrecking ball. Everything remained still within the preternatural darkness and a stealthy inspection of the inner rooms told me why. Yuugi was missing, and so was Keizo. Off drinking their sorrows away together somewhere perhaps? I wouldn’t argue with my stroke of fortune and wasted no time in making good use of the unexpected opportunity as I reached out towards the flap of canvas covering Short Stuff’s former room, pushing it inwards slightly to reveal the shadowed form of my good friend, the inu who had almost beheaded me several nights prior.

Despite the urge within to get things done with as soon as possible I still found a moment to wonder why the inu was peaceably sleeping away in what was essentially hostile territory. I could partly attribute that to the fact that Yuugi’s presence probably guaranteed any attempts at being unruly or escaping would be met with a rather violent response. Why would the oni be content in leaving Keizo’s patient alone in the brewery then?

Sliding into the room in complete silence brought something I had missed during my cursory observation into view; heavy iron chains binding the inu to a stone pillar. So much for Keizo’s sense of chivalry, I thought with no small amount of amusement. I supposed that explained why they didn’t mind leaving the inu unattended. The keys to her chains hung off a hook to one side of the doorway; a peculiarly terrible place to keep keys in plain sight of the prisoner, I mused wryly as I lifted them clear of the wall.

At the slight tinkling noise of steel keys bouncing against one another, the inu stirred in the darkness and turned to face my approach drowsily. Sharp ears; not strange considering what she was anyway. A set of glittering eyes opened and sought out the source of the disturbance, only to widen considerably as her sight fell on my stalking figure. In return, I gave her a mocking smile as I gripped the brick hard behind me. ‘Rise and shine, cupcakes.’

Her slight form had begun pulling back in alarm as her mouth opened to word some form of response or protest. Before she could draw out of reach, the brick came down hard in an angular swing, sending the inu reeling to one side and rewarding me with a jarring blow to the arm. By the gods, that had been like hitting a steel wall, I thought amidst the throbbing pain. Somewhere inside, I could almost feel Kanako wince at the impact my new friend had taken.

Instead of dropping over into a gibbering pile of slack flesh the inu actually recovered and turned back towards me, visibly disoriented and braced on wobbling arms as she squinted at me. Her ears begun flapping randomly and I gave her several seconds more to go out cold as I renewed my hold on the bloodied brick. She wouldn’t.

The second swing sent her arcing over to the opposite side and this time, her twitching form lay still. Letting the brick slip free, I bent low and felt for a pulse, hoping that I hadn’t accidentally killed her. Dying right after coming back from her temporary death wouldn’t be fun in the classical sense. There, still alive after all. So much damned trouble just to get some chit-chat-privacy with my new friend, I grumbled softly to no one in particular as her binding chains came off with the clicking of keys in iron tumblers.

Hefting her limp form over one shoulder only served to bring me crashing to the ground; the inu was much heavier than me and evidently well-developed. The sleek body was corded with muscles with no fat in sight, contributing to her overall weight. In the end, I resorted to dragging her by her arms out of the room, through the corridor, and down the stairwell with loud bumps and curses. There was no need for stealth or silence seeing how the two stooges weren’t around to chew me out for now. That wouldn’t last; it was imperative that I moved the limp body to somewhere secluded for our little talk as soon as possible.

Eventually, I settled for the burial caves instead of the clearing outside the village. Tugging my burden all the way to the fringes of the village was far less tasteful compared to the shorter distance to the burial caves, and both would afford an equal amount of privacy. Wiggling and pulling away at the unconscious inu, I hoped no curious villager eyes or late sleepers would be up to notice my little dognapping.

Fortunately, the trip down to our playground had been uneventful and free of trouble. With arms half-screaming, the inu’s body finally cleared the lip of the cave and it took several more long and painful minutes of tugging to get her all the way inside before I could collapse onto the ground in fatigue, hanging my head between my knees from the exertion. I barely had the presence of mind to take a brief look around the burial site.

A solitary torch burned somewhere high above the cool, dark, and most importantly, dry cave. The perfect site for bodies, I thought dimly as I caught my breath. Then again, limestone caves are usually a good choice for burials and the local youkai had evidently made good use of this one. Scores of diagonal slits in the walls held their unremarkable linen-wrapped contents of youkai passed into the world beyond. Was Reiji somewhere amongst the hundreds of decrepit corpses in here? I shook the thoughts out of my head as I returned my attention to my new pet.

Hemp ropes were in abundance and proved to be invaluable in restraining the inu when she would eventually come about soon enough. Binding her anew to several wooden braces of wood holding up parts of the inner gallery of gravesites stable, I took deliberate care in threading several thin strings of hemp through her slack fingers as well, leaving the tail-end hanging free to one side. With body, hands and feet completely bound in hemp rope, she looked more or less like someone indulging in a bout of rope-bondage rather than a prisoner. Time to give her a wake-up call.

Gripping and tugging the length of hemp string sharply provided the desired results. My ex-antagonist woke up with a low howl and her pained grimace settled in almost instantly as her fingers behind her constricted in the hemp’s sharp bite. Giving the crude implement another quick twist, I emphasized my seriousness to her and earned another pained scream in return. Leaning onto her left shoulder, I pressed one cheek against hers and whispered almost demurely, ‘I could easily break your fingers if I twisted hard enough, but there’s very little reason to go to such extremes for now.’

‘You pig!’ she hissed in return, struggling hard against her bonds ineffectually. Another light twist reduced her struggles into a pained grunt and I threw an indolent arm over her shoulder, warning her to keep still or risk earning a new batch of good old pain.

‘I’ll take that as a compliment. Not that I particularly enjoy doing this, but we’ll call it even after how you almost took my head off,’ I returned amiably to her tossing frame. ‘Now, I’m not asking for much. Just some questions answered. Then you go free. Nice?’ It was a lie of course, but no one was going to give a flying damn at any rate.

‘Go to hell, witch. Do your worst,’ came her cold reply.

Wrong answer. ‘Au contraire, I’m going to do my best.’ Running a small stick through the loops at both ends as makeshift fulcrums, I began twisting the knots tighter. The inu swallowed her overflow of pain admirably at first, but eventually broke out into a low grunting and soon enough, a hoarse screaming. Sweat bathed both of us; hers from her torture and mine from the clammy coldness in addition to the exertions. Before she could raise her voice high enough to begin attracting unwanted attention, I relaxed my grip and her scream descended into a light whimper, speckled with occasional gasps for air.

‘It doesn’t have to be like this,’ I muttered into her wet ear, twitching reflexively. ‘Just a few simple questions answered and the pain goes away. You have nothing to lose, see?’

Instead, she tossed her head angrily from side to side, throwing droplets of sweat and light obscenities at me. For a brief moment I wondered if I would really have to resort to some finger-breaking just to get what I wanted from her, something I wasn’t keen on doing despite her hostile disposition towards me. I would live better with one less antagonist in the coming days. With an angry grunt, I decided to try a different approach. ‘Look, I’m not the bad person here. All I want is to get my friend back. That so much to ask for?’

Her struggles found a brief moment of respite as she threw the contemptuous words at me from one side, ‘After your past history with the tengu, I’d say yes. That is too much to ask for.’ In an ultimate sign of rejection, she spat on the ground, doubtless because she couldn’t really expel her hatred at me from where I was standing behind her. Lucky me.

In silence I fingered the twin lengths of wood as I tried to look for alternatives. She had obviously decided to be arbitrarily unhelpful at a crucial moment and my patience was running thin with all the wasted time and effort. Somewhere inside, I could feel both Rilofene and Kanako bubbling up into a new level of awareness, observing the torture with mixed reactions; Kanako seemed disgusted and Rilofene was quietly enjoying the spectacle of pained outbursts. Ignoring their uninvited presence for now, I went on a different tack, still hoping for results without the need to turn nasty.

‘My friend is interred in here now,’ I started anew, gesturing in a random direction from behind. Her head turned briefly to follow my outstretched arm before looking away in a sign of refusal. Nevertheless, I carried on, ‘And you know who killed him? Your precious Aya.’

That got me some sort of reaction as the inu turned towards me slightly, still out of her sight. Slowly moving into her view, I let our eyes meet at last, noting the hatred in her glow-in-the-dark orbs. Before she could look away, I forced her head upright and her shining gaze to remain locked with mine as I went on, ‘That’s right. Nothing but a slip of a kid and Aya killed him.’ I would neglect to mention that it had been more or less accidental but it was something she wouldn’t need to know at the moment. ‘All I want in recompense is some information. Some words in exchange for the loss of a friend. Is that so much to ask for?’

For several seconds her eyes wavered, looking down and then back up at mine and her occasional struggling against the binding rope ceased. Did that get to her somehow? Not bothering to ponder on it, I pressed on with what I had. ‘Just a very small thing I need to know. Then we’ll call it even and we can all get back to our lives. Think about it; what do you have to lose?’

The brief bout of rage drained slightly and she regained enough of her composure to speak normally. ‘You’re nothing more than a murderer and criminal to our people. Why do you even think I’ll help you?’ Regardless, she still held an edge of contempt in her voice as she looked at me in derision.

I gave her a light shrug, not bothering to dispute her claims. She wasn’t wrong and I held no illusions about being all high and mighty. I was all that no matter how I tried to reason with it. ‘Right you are. But no one is innocent here. I have my sins, and so does your Aya. You as well; coming here in force to take the Hakurei kid away against her will.’ Her expression remained defiant; hardening into disbelief at my words as she predictably justified her actions in her mind and I turned away with a disappointed sigh. Time to let the finger-breaking commence.

'Wait. Tell her that she likes playing shogi.'

Kanako’s words came unannounced, a sudden and abrupt stream of thoughts that froze me in my tracks and I shot an irritated reply at her, ‘What the hell does Japanese chess have anything to do with this?’

'Just do it. She will be more forthcoming in due time, take my word for it.'

Back stepping, I returned into the inu’s line of sight with a doubtful face and echoed the hag’s words. ‘You like playing shogi, right?’

Surprisingly, her eyes widened not in anger but in alarm and she stuttered slightly in her reply, ‘Wh- How- This is some sort of trick isn’t it? You’re wasting your time.’

'Tell her about the Festival of Wind at the mountain springs eighty years ago. Tell her about how she was such a quiet watchperson dutifully guarding the southern paths that time, missing out in the celebrations.'

‘There was a festival eighty years ago. A wind festival, and you were the solitary guard at the southern paths of the mountain springs that time,’ I repeated with some confusion, unsure about what this was all going to bring about. Not that I had anything better to go with anyway. Might as well see what Kanako’s words will do to my new friend, I thought with a small scratch of my oily locks of hair.

Her reaction was less than spectacular, but still markedly different compared to her hostility earlier. Her gaze returned to the frantic rhythm of looking down at the ground and back up at me, repeating for long seconds as she tried to reason with Kanako’s peculiar words. ‘How did you know? There was no one there but…’ The look on her face went from confusion to fear, and subsequently, revolted horror as she considered the possibility. ‘No…’ she trailed off. What?

'Tell her I enjoyed our little game of shogi back then, and how happy she was that I had actually paid any attention to an obscure tengu far away from the celebration grounds.'

I finally saw where this was all going, and frankly wasn’t too enthusiastic about the end of it. ‘Uh… you played a game of Japanese chess with your mountain goddess. And you were pleased that she took time to even associate with an unimportant guard during such an important celebration.’

The inu returned my stare with aghast looks, torn between revulsion and an indescribable expression as she realized who was supplying me with the details of her fateful encounter. ‘You didn’t,’ she stated at last, not as a question but more as a fact.

‘I did,’ came my simple reply.

‘You took her into you,’ she expanded with obvious distress.

‘I did,’ I repeated with growing impatience.

‘You didn’t!’ she cried out with a hard shake of her head, in apparent denial that her precious goddess had ended up inside a mass murderer and shameless thief.

‘But I did,’ I returned with an exasperated sigh. ‘Look, this is stupid and an utter waste of time. I need your help; so does your precious wind deity.’ Gesturing wide tiredly, I tried to drive home my point, ‘If you’re so amenable towards her then think of it as helping her instead of me. Just tell me a couple of things, that’s all we’re asking for.’

That last bit shattered all manner of reluctance and refusal in the downcast inu and her frame subsequently drooped low in her bonds, strength leeching away to be replaced by a growing sense of lethargic defeat. Her head remained staring at the ground and instead of going physical again and forcing her to look up at me, I gave her some measure of respect this time, going down into a crouch on bent knees and looking up at her. ‘Where’s the Hakurei? Where has the elder taken her?’

It took her some time to answer as she half-heartedly debated with the wisdom of telling me something of that magnitude. If she had been some random youkai she probably wouldn’t have given a flying hoot and told me everything from the beginning, feeling that a mere human could never do anything significantly damaging. But as a tengu she knew full well all the damage I had caused to them and did not disbelieve for a second that such information would be extremely detrimental to her people in the right hands, namely mine.

She gave up with a soft sigh in the end. ‘Vana makes it a point to stay in the underground city, the ancient city underground. He primarily operates out of the abandoned Palace of the Earth Spirits. I would gather that is where he had taken the child to.’

Finally we’re getting somewhere. ‘What the hell does he want with the Hakurei?’

‘He seeks to prevent a Second Darkening with the child. He tells us that she would be used to cleanse Gensokyo of the Harvesters and stop another outbreak of mass insanity from happening.’ Stopping for a few moments, she carried on with a subdued voice, ‘He promised us that the child would not be harmed in any way. We never had any intentions of hurting her no matter how evil you may label our actions to be.’

‘Second Darkening and Harvesters?’ I repeated with confusion.

‘A term we use to refer to the loss of daylight, something Vana has assured us will happen if the Harvesters are left unchecked,’ she explained at length, obviously for the benefit of Kanako instead of mine. ‘What the Harvesters are, I know not myself. Only the upper echelon of tengu close to the elder knows of the details.’

Interestingly vague, but it wasn’t hard to connect the dots. We were simply using different definitions for essentially the same things. The Harvesters would probably be what I knew of as the Visitors and why Vana had called them such bore further scrutiny, but not at the moment. Their Second Darkening would most likely refer to False Dawn’s eventual death from the corruption.

So Vana was more or less seeking the same thing as Three-Arms. Why bother working separately if they had the same goals then? Something didn’t smell right though what it was I couldn’t pinpoint for the life of me. In all honesty, I couldn’t really believe that the two Triumvirs had noble intentions. Short Stuff was nothing more than a means to an end to them.

‘Your precious elder is lying to you,’ I spoke suddenly, not too sure why I was freely offering her valuable information myself. At any rate, the inu deserved to know a bit of the real truth at least in consideration for everything I had done to her.

‘Sowing the seeds of discontent? I’m not that gullible,’ she retorted with a slight hint of contempt.

‘Whatever. Choose to believe what you will, but Vana is not doing this out of magnanimousness. The Harvesters you speak of are invincible and no amount of killing their shadows in Gensokyo is going to do a whit of good in the end.’ Despite her firmly fixed mask of indifference, I could see that there was a glint of doubt in her eyes. Maybe my words did go through her stubborn exterior. ‘And the Hakurei maiden isn’t simply going to dance for him and perform funky miracles. Whatever he has in store for her, you can be assured that it won’t be pleasant and would go against his little promise of keeping her safe.’

‘I told you what you wanted, now let me go,’ she changed the topic abruptly, earnest to return to her fold now. I let the subject slide, failing to see the merit in convincing her that her justifications for serving her precious elder may be misplaced. If fate decided so, she would know the real truth in time, but it was something I couldn’t be bothered to do personally.

In silence, I returned to her back, eyes searching for something I could use for my last criminal act. She fondly believed I would be true to my words and release her, but it would be a tactically foolish error to allow her to return to her master or Aya with full knowledge that I knew where they were now. Being able to fly would ensure that the inu would doubtlessly reach them long before I could. Patiently, she waited for her promised release as I finally bumped into something suitably hard.

Sorry about this, I whispered to both Kanako and the inu silently as I hefted the goodly-sized beam of fractured timber aloft, balancing it like a baseball bat. With all the strength I could summon, the piece of lumber swung into the side of her head, exploding with a sickening splinter and rattling her senseless before she could utter as much as a cry of shocked surprise. Throwing the broken haft of the crude club aside, I proceeded with the distasteful task of inspecting my handiwork.

Her head bled profusely from one side and she would now sport injuries on both sides in addition to kissing the brick earlier. Kanako nattered away in consternation and I let her reprimand pass unchallenged; I wasn’t exactly the shining example of an honourable heroine here after all and I saw no reason to refute the hag’s words. In contrast, the bloodied inu went slack in her bonds, both ears drooped low and her glittering eyes showed nothing but her whites now. She would play in dreamland like a happy puppy well into the late hours of dawn; plenty of time for Keizo to rediscover her. By that time, I would be long gone from the village to be on the receiving end of his lecture about “chivalry”.

'That was violently unnecessary! You could have just left her tied up in here.'

I knew well enough that Kanako was offended by my disrespect towards her one-time devout worshipper instead of the act of going overboard. Trying to explain that I would be safer having the inu unconscious and bound rather than conscious and actively trying to escape her bonds seemed like a completely trivial pursuit. Most of everyone saw me as a character of ambiguous morals at this point and there would be no changing their perception. Seeking their understanding wasn’t such a terribly important factor, not while I had more important things to accomplish first.

Her grumbles faded away now that the hag realized I wasn’t paying a whit of attention to her. Giving the hemp bonds one last tightening, I left my new friend to the company of the dead, muttering a final word of apology to her. Perhaps when this was all finally over, I would seek her out for amends some day. I wasn’t keen on having another Aya hounding my back if we lived through this after all.

Might as well quit wasting more time, I thought disconsolately. But there are still a few minutes left to burn at the moment.


[ ] Head back to the brewery and plunder something useful before leaving.
[ ] Ditch the village now. Bad idea to head out unprepared but there would be less risk of running into Yuugi or Keizo.
>> No. 4235
[x] Head back to the brewery and plunder something useful before leaving.
Starting such a journey unprepared? That's suicide.
>> No. 4236
>>4220
I kind of love you too!...

In a good-natured way.

Anyway, uh, the free copy is already available right here in Underground.
>> No. 4238
>several nights prior.

I am deeply woried with this. I hope there is an intermission to show how Yuhiko's situation.

[ ] Head back to the brewery and plunder something useful before leaving.

Yeah, as much as I want to rescue her ASAP, going unprepared is no good. But then again, stealing an angry Oni's belongings is pratically suicide. Specially if said Oni already hates you.

Also, I wonder if the Wanderer will meet Suika?
>> No. 4241
[X] Head back to the brewery and plunder something useful before leaving.
>> No. 4245
>>4238

Better dealing with a 80% fatality rate than 100%

[x] Head back to the brewery and plunder something useful before leaving.
>> No. 4249
[X] Head back to the brewery and plunder something useful before leaving.

I'm beginning to think Vana was replaced by a Harvester now for some reason. It would explain why he can revive so quickly and why he wants the Harvesters to become basically Gods.
>> No. 4250
[X] Head back to the brewery and plunder something useful before leaving.

Shit's gonna be so awkward if we meet someone
>> No. 4251
>>4249

Great point since it'd explain the trick he did with Yukari's gap. (Considering how being in gap space is no refuge from the visitors) And perhaps his powers.

And he's playing the Tengu like a fiddle.

But last time I checked, didn't Three arm's faction have short stuff? Since didn't Satori sneak in and make off with her?

This would mean that our 'heroine' (She has yet to progress to true heroine status in my eyes) is going the wrong way, but chances are she'd end up dealing with Vana somehow and getting the Tengu on her side. Yeah it's optimistic, but in the course of sparing Aya, doubt is starting to form at least in Aya's heart if not Tenma's.

In fact Three arms did a great job taking advantage of things, since Vana'd be busy dealing with our heroine to interrupt his plans with short stuff. (If Satori taking her was the case)
>> No. 4256
>>4249

How about he being infected? Considering the Visitors/Harvesters can't really manifest themselves outside of False Dawn in anyway other than through their shadows, swapping places with a normal being sounds not very plausible to me.

Infecting Vana, however, could be just like corrupting False Dawn. But that brings the question: if they can do that, why haven't they done it to everyone else? That leads to the conclusion that Vana is fucking insane.
>> No. 4257
>>4256

I think it's related to the arks, Vana could have been corrupted by the prolonged exposure to it, which I doubt he let anyone else by it, that and outside the underground, no one bothers with that ark that our 'heroine' put out of its misery just recently.
>> No. 4258
>>4257

Well, if the arks and ther visitors are related, then one thing take us to the other.
>> No. 4269
And lootin' and plunderin' we go.

---

“Air conditioning finally gave out. Temperatures have risen to 331 Kelvin. Not that it matters much anyway; what remains of us have lost one too many a screw to give a flying fuck at this point.

Alderson went outside yesterday night and left the bunker unsealed. God knows why the stupid bastard did it. We watched the crazies camped outside tear him to pieces through the security cams. Emergency protocols triggered the blast doors and cut off further intrusion but have effectively entombed us in here.

With the rising heat and dwindling supplies, it’s only a matter of time now. Every passing hour there’s a random gunshot heard through the corridors. People have given up struggling and started offing themselves. I saw Eon eyeing my gun; there’s only one shot left in the revolver.

It’s mine. It’s mine. The bullet’s for me. She’s not getting it.”


-Final words, Unknown


‘And what of the wanderer?’

‘Dead. The celestial got to her before I could,’ Satori spoke softly as she rested her head on his withered lap. A slight stirring and a tiny shuffle had her looking up into his impassive face. Seated upright on his preternatural throne, he paid the girlish figure an almost-fatherly glance before rubbing his leathery chin with an idle hand. Hinanai Tenshi, a curious enigma. The mercurial celestial obviously spared no effort to hide her attempts at aiding both himself and Vana. Why, he mused over it briefly. What was her angle?

Immaterial, he decided. As long as she did not act directly against him he was content to let the status quo remain unchanged. Giving the starkly purple hair a fond caress, he slipped free from her cling, noting the small pout on her face which quickly faded into oblivion. Pacing about the secluded clearing, he added to her words in a pleased undertone, ‘And our Suou has returned as well.’

Satori remained leaned against the elevated platform, snorting with derision at the mere mention of his shikigami. ‘Obviously. Why was it necessary to send her away?’ Briefly, she thought about probing his open thoughts before thinking better of it; Iyen-Shuren did not take kindly to such intrusions even from his own progeny.

He waved her attitude aside with a casual hand, resuming his slow walk around the circled fireplace. ‘Necessary, in a way that she wouldn’t get herself involved. Her loyalties remain divided. Far better for us to acquire the Hakurei while she was away than to risk having her sabotage the endeavour. Now that we have the child, nothing Suou can do will matter much.’ Turning back to give Satori a knowing look, he added, ‘Besides, you know how fond I am of her.’

‘I want to have last dibs on the Hakurei,’ Satori muttered at the reminder, gritting her teeth and curling up into a small ball. ‘Koishi’s death will be avenged. Justice demands it.’

Temperamental child, Iyen-Shuren thought silently. As much as he mourned her loss, there was an overriding prerogative to put Koishi’s death aside for now and focus on more important matters. After all, her passing hadn’t been an entirely fruitless tragedy. The sisters’ antagonizing actions had unexpectedly triggered the latent Hakurei’s abilities, freeing him of the need to activate her himself. Now that the sanctified blood had been primed he would essentially be saved months of effort in what would otherwise been a painstaking and possibly fruitless task. ‘Fortune favours us now. We finally have the key to our dilemma and the means to fit the key into our lock. Salvation awaits us.’ Turning to fix a pleasant stare at Satori, he added as a way of placating her, ‘And if revenge would please you, then you may have the honours of spilling her sacred lifeblood on False Dawn when the time comes.’

Still, there was the issue on the Hakurei’s overall stability. The girl was a mixed bag at best; see-sawing between her primed state and a dormant phase. She had lost all traces of the ability Satori had reported to have killed her late sister and it was crucial to bring the child into the zenith of her power without fluctuations, however risky it may sound. Prudence dictated so; time was a luxury he would quickly run short of soon enough. There was little doubt his underground rival would spare nothing in reacquiring his lost prize.

With a small wave he dismissed Satori, making his way to the malleable wall sitting at the far end of his humble abode. He could hear her unspoken questions ringing in his head as she queried him mentally about where he was going and what he was doing. The child’s unrelenting questions went unanswered; pressing his hand through the wall a new ring of trees resolved into view as the last of him pulled free of the wall.

‘Good evening, dear Suou,’ he remarked conversationally at the figure huddled before the tiny runic cage, walking up to the crude assemblage of carved iron bars to give the occupant a likewise friendly smile. The Hakurei, safely in his possession at long last. ‘And to you too, young lady. It has been many weeks since we last saw each other, yes?’

From one corner of his eyes, he saw his shikigami take several steps backwards from the cage as was customary in his presence, failing to notice the ripple of distress coursing through her face as she did. He wouldn’t need to, at any rate. He knew exactly what his shikigami had been thinking about before he even came anywhere close to this place; escape for the child.

Always, always those annoyingly disloyal thoughts ever since he had first realized her betrayal at Moriya Shrine, he cursed silently as he returned his full attention to the Hakurei. ‘Suou has told you what I need from you, I presume.’

The object of his interest looked up from her huddle at long last, grimly facing him with what he would acknowledge as foolish courage at least. Instead of words, she gave him a strong shake of her head. Not denial, he thought as he circled her little prison resolutely. No, not denial. Rejection. Rejection of what he was asking for.

Rejection of everything he stood for.

‘The obsidian sun dies, child. You would sit and wait for that to happen when you could save us all?’ It wasn’t a request. He worded it well, knowing that it would come across as an authoritative command. Running a hand across the unremarkable iron bars, he watched with disinterest as his touch triggered the binding wards within, wards designed to prevent the occupant from unleashing the full extent of her powers on unsuspecting visitors past their confines, doubling as an effective inhibitor to prevent attempted escape. The cursory caress brought forth playing lights deep in the dull iron as he awaited her response.

Her reply came at last, and he would accept it with a full dose of his legendary patience. ‘I’m not going to let you kill me.’ Simple words, but spoken with utter conviction and a resolved will. The small face betrayed nothing to indicate otherwise.

The child was somewhat changed; Iyen-Shuren noted with no shortage of curiosity. Mere weeks ago she looked to be entirely willing to go along with his demands and meekly followed anything pressed onto her. Something to do from her association with the wanderer perhaps? So the child had matured quite a bit in a short amount of time, surprisingly. A real shame the wanderer was beyond his reach now; she would have been the perfect leverage to keep the Hakurei primed, he thought dispassionately. ‘Do not be so ready to cast us aside, child. Don’t fight the future; our future. I’ve told you before, your sacrifice will serve a far greater purpose and you will preserve many, many lives. Think of the young ones who would have days to look forward to living.’

He exchanged glances with his little prisoner, sure that any further attempts at threatening or convincing would be useless in the face of her newfound resolve. Scratching his scalp tiredly, he made a disappointed face at the child, taking several steps away from the cage to stand beside Suou. There was a reason in keeping his shikigami around despite her ambiguous loyalty; she would be in a far better position to curry the child’s favour given her past association with the Hakurei and the wanderer in general. Resting an open palm on her shoulder, he leaned sideways to whisper to her, ignoring the momentary blanch crossing Suou’s expression. ‘Speak to the Hakurei. Do what you can to convince her otherwise, my dear. It is imperative she regain her primed state before we use her. You have three days to earn her trust.’

There would be very little need to threaten her with obedience or reveal the full extent of his knowledge regarding her betrayal. An unspoken exchange between the two of them was more than enough to convey mutual distrust, but he had the upper hand for now. His shikigami would never be able to go against the conditioning and actively pursue a course of action contrary to his desires.

Why must things be so convoluted, he sighed inwardly, hardening his grip on her shoulder. ‘Well?’

Words would be in short supply tonight. He received nothing more than a sharp nod; a clear indication of her displeasure and reluctance and he sighed again, out loud this time. Now for the other annoyingly routine task he must attend to on a nightly basis. The dreaded gathering, he thought without relish.

Giving the two one last disparaging look, he left them to their own devices for now. The disjointed pieces of the grand puzzle were finally within his grasp and he had to accelerate things to an acceptable level before anyone could take them away without warning.

Moulding a future for his people and trying to fight inevitability once more, he thought to himself silently as the wall engulfed his figure. It would seem that a good portion of his long life had been wasted doing just that.

Such a bland existence.
>> No. 4270
File 126374645838.jpg - (281.18KB, 808x942, 吉里 斎。 - 【東方】勇儀【地霊殿??.jpg) [iqdb]
4270
Against my better judgment I found myself pressed against the exterior of the brewery once more, surreptitiously peeking through the ventilation holes for any indication that its inhabitants had returned since my earlier trespassing. All was still silent; so far so good. I needed some things in there, namely supplies and anything good enough to serve as a weapon. Foraging for food in the woodlands would be a foolish waste of time when there were better options at hand, such as stealing Yuugi’s.

I could feel Kanako’s momentary snort of derision at my constant acts of theft. It wasn’t something I could argue against; my petty larceny already involved numerous bottles of sake in the past and this wasn’t going to be anything shockingly fresh. Still, it was a necessity and it wasn’t like Yuugi could hate me any more than she did at the present time.

Mindful of the draining sands of time, I took quick strides and made a beeline towards the small storage alcove I had previously occupied during my recent stay, remembering the neat packets of salted provisions stacked into one corner of the dark recess. A conveniently-empty sack of canvas once used to hold rice for Yuugi’s numerous fermentation amphora provided an excellent means of transporting the stolen goodies, which I proceeded to toss into with undue haste before experimentally hefting the crude bag to test its weight.

I would travel light this time; deeming to cross as much distance as I could by slicing across Gensokyo’s uneven landmass utilizing the shortcuts I could still recall, starting from Yuyuko’s old haunt beyond the village. The mountain caves serving as the official entrance to the subterranean city was too far away to reach on-foot now; I would have to chance going through the alternate tunnels leading underground at the great fissure somewhere to the east of the Misty Lakes. More romping through godforsaken wilderness I had only read before on maps. This was one hike I wouldn’t be looking forward to. And this time, I wouldn’t even have a porter to help with the supplies.

Tying a rough knot with the slack remainder of the canvas bag, I had the presence of mind to rip open an additional packet of the dubious provision and start on a late supper. Better to eat my fill and at the same time, rummage about for an appropriately threatening implement to face future threats. Fresh reminders of my catfight with Aya was enough to convince me that bare fists and melee tools were generally worthless on creatures who could soar the winds and vomit walls of danmaku at will; an appropriately ranged measure would be required for defence, no matter how pathetic it was.

Absent-mindedly chewing the strip of unidentified jerky, I set about looking for the crossbow I had saw Keizo sport several nights prior, at the conclusion of the incident which had visited us. My stealthy searching gradually grew louder with loss of patience at the elusive crossbow and the dark room was filled with my soft curses. Where the hell was that damn thing? Racks were emptied, additional storage alcoves unceremoniously ransacked, and even the amphorae saw me peeking into them briefly. Nothing. Damn it all. Maybe I would have to risk going through the upper rooms now.

Half considering the possibility of abandoning my sought-after prize, a cold voice stopped me dead in my tracks; not a shout or challenge, but a steely question which betrayed neither surprise nor displeasure. ‘Looking for this?’

Gradually turning towards the source of the voice, I chewed the remainder of the jerky as quickly as I could and swallowed hard, gulping down both salted meat and fear at the sight of Yuugi levelling the crossbow at my head. She stood idly at the base of the stairwell, having made a silent descent from her room probably because I had been a little bit too noisy in my search. Great, she just had to catch me with an entire sack of plundered goods. Not that she wouldn’t know who the thief would have been anyway. It was glaringly obvious the only person who would dare chance the oni’s fury was little old me.

‘Uh…’ the last bits of meat went down hard and I nearly choked as I frantically thought of a response, shuffling backwards slightly and trying to keep the canvas sack out of her sight. The crossbow remained pointed at me, relentlessly tracing my movements until she suddenly tossed the ornate weapon in my direction with effortless strength. Reaching out with surprise, I fumbled with the smooth shaft of wood, dropping the canvas sack in the process. A quick inspection revealed that the weapon wasn’t even loaded, something I had missed in the gloom of the brewery and I turned towards my hostess with unconcealed confusion.

She had made her way to one of the windows, peering up into the clear midnight sky at the ever-present black hulk suspended there. Taking a swig from a bottle of her delightful stock, she glanced over to shoot me a stare which clearly translated to something along the lines of “get out of my face now”. Or at least it looked like that; she never really had anything friendlier directed towards me to begin with.

There would be very little reason to further aggravate her now, and I made careful progress towards the exit, slinging her borrowed items over one shoulder and quietly shuffled out of the doorway. Despite not looking at her directly, I could feel her gaze boring into the sides of my head. She remained leaned against the window, bottle and a small saucer in hand.

I would have merrily retreated as quickly as my snail-like pace could have taken me, but a tiny part of me nagged away to at least thank the oni for her small show of generosity. I owed her that much at least for the misfortune I had brought her. Abruptly freezing and turning to regard her still figure, I felt my mouth open to word something suitably grateful. Unknowingly, unexpectedly, I said something else entirely to her frowning face, stony and with a graceful beauty bathed by the twin moonlight.

‘I’m sorry about Reiji.’

For a moment, her neutral composure broke slightly and a twitch rippled in her expression before settling down once more. This time, I could detect something different. Not something visible to the naked eye, but an almost unnoticeable change in her demeanour towards me. Yuugi took a slow sip from her saucer before glancing back at False Dawn, but not before she actually took the liberty to respond.

‘So am I.’

Was that good or bad? I shrugged inwardly. ‘Thanks for this,’ I remarked blandly as I hefted her present.

‘You know how to use that thing?’ she returned in an almost-patronizing voice, indulging in a second round of alcoholic pleasure.

Disengaging the lath and folding it into the body of the wooden shaft with a swift motion, I showed her I did. In vain. She wasn’t even looking anyway. Unceremoniously tossing the entire thing into the canvas bag, I stood in silence for a full minute, unsure if I should just take my leave now.

‘Where are you bound?’ she asked suddenly, letting her gaze drop and swinging her bottle in slow circles, seemingly lost in half-thought.

I pondered on the wisdom of answering her honestly, unsure if it would be such a good idea to give away my destination. Then again, what harm could telling her possibly bring about? Giving another mental shrug I gave her my careless answer, ‘To the underground city. Don’t worry, I’ll be out of your life from now on. I doubt I’ll be coming back, ever.’

She was silent for a moment before launching into uncharacteristic verbosity, surprising me in her reply. ‘Be careful. The ancient city is no longer what it used to be ever since the elder moved in. You won’t find any friendly faces there, if at all. What’s left of the oni there has been driven away a long time ago.’

Well that was helpful. I could only wonder what had suddenly gotten into her. Her good stuff, perhaps. It had always been rather intoxicating. ‘Why so friendly? Thought you had a thing against me.’ Not a question I would have wanted to provoke her with, but I was curious all the same.

Nevertheless, Yuugi let the remark pass unchallenged as she resumed her drinking, unexpectedly tossing me the half empty bottle before staring down into her filled saucer, letting the clear liquid roll idly as fragrant wafts of its vapour drifted upwards. ‘Before he… before he was gone, he talked much about you. About the queer human who, like Keizo, did not fear youkai but accepted them for what they were. You went through quite a bit during your journeys here, no?’

Good kid, I thought silently as I helped myself to her sake, throwing the contents down with noisy splashes. It was a nice change to be freely offered the stuff instead of stealthily guzzling it out of her sight. ‘Quite. You could say we owe him for our lives.’

‘He was our child, in a way. Not a physical offspring, but a spiritual one. His coming into being marked a new turn for the oni as a whole; a new beginning for a people long in decline.’ Her voice wavered slightly as she explained and the catch in her throat was quickly cured with an angry quaff from her dish. ‘It’s a terribly sad thing to outlive a young oni.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I repeated, this time more to the lost Reiji than to her. A guilty but worthless attempt at recompense.

‘He did what he believed in. I try to convince myself that he would have been happy saving one he could call a friend, that it wasn’t a tragedy his life could be exchanged for yours.’ At long last, Yuugi brought her face up and I saw for the first time her slight tear-rimmed eyes as she regarded me. Her free hand came up to wipe the dammed tears before they could streak down her glossy features. ‘I was ready to hate your living guts because I could, but I know his death wasn’t something you wanted as well. The night you brought him back, I could see as much of myself mirrored in you and when you finally apologized just now, I realized that it would be senseless to keep blaming you.’ This time, she actually managed a small smile at me as she added in a low voice, ‘And I suspect Reiji would not want that either.’

Her bottle was all but forgotten as I kept my gaze lowered, driven beyond words over her forgiveness. A rare soul, this oni. Perhaps they all shared a kindred spirit for kindness and empathy. Maybe I should cry for her too. Maybe not. I returned her small smile instead, one born of honesty rather than the mechanically fake one. ‘No, I don’t think he would.’

‘So why do you go to such extremes over the Hakurei maiden?’ she queried in a soft voice, changing the subject, obviously wanting to be free from the distress of her tragic reminder. ‘A mere human, going up against what is tantamount to two thirds of the youkai commonality.’

There would be no shortage of reasons I could offer and most I would keep to myself this time. Like Keizo, Yuugi wouldn’t need to know. All the better for the two to stay out of harm’s way. ‘Who knows? Just something I have to do, that’s all.’

‘Valuable possessions provide little comfort. Fame is a twin-edged sword, and glory fades into ink and vellum,’ she recited as if from memory. ‘Be careful what you seek for.’ Yuugi decided enough was enough, and emptied the last drops of her sake, face steeled and neutral once more. In a stark contrast, her hostility had more or less taken a complete backseat as she bid her farewells and began her habitual retreat to her room. ‘Good luck, wanderer. You’re going to need it.’

‘What will you do now?’ I stopped her with a question of my own, unwilling to let her warmth slip away despite not knowing why. It was something I had suddenly wanted to hold on to.

‘There’s nothing left for me here now. Come the morrow, I’m setting off for the Youkai Mountains,’ she replied, half-turned away.

There wouldn’t be a need to ask why she was going there. No matter how much she had forgiven me, there was a certain tengu she would never forgive now. Sucks to be that individual, I thought with antipathy.

Hefting the dropped sack and grunting slightly at the added weight of the crossbow, I turned away from her as well. For once, I could leave a place on good, well, at least neutral, terms with someone I had wronged. It was a pleasant feeling, one I never had the opportunity to exult in.

Feels good, I remarked to myself as I started towards the western fringes of the village.

‘Sorry for throwing you into my neighbour’s home,’ Yuugi’s voice drifted from behind without warning, as if a forgotten afterthought. I kept to my pace as I said my last words to her as well without turning back.

‘Don’t worry about it. Not the first time I got flung into walls. I kind of enjoyed it.’
>> No. 4271
I see some speculations here and there. I like 'em, I'll have you know.

Anyway, a relatively short update. Didn't want to leave good readers hanging after a voting post. More later.
>> No. 4274
Well the Tengu seem set for a very bad day if Yuugi's going up there for vengeance. But I'm sure it'll end up causing enough chaos keep the two factions off track.
>> No. 4277
I'm waiting for the inevitable Tenshi|Wanderer team up where tenshi gets killed and leaves the sword of Hisou for her to use.

It would be glorious.
>> No. 4278
>>4271

It's ok to take your time to build the walls up, even after a vote. It makes the suspense stronger, and the delivery sweeter. Of course, it can backfire if you spend an entire month, but a few weeks it's ok.

Anyway, gonna read this new update only tomorrow, during work.
>> No. 4280
>>4251
>(She has yet to progress to true heroine status in my eyes)
...Are you that guy who wouldn't shut up about redemption in the last thread?
>> No. 4282
>>4271

> a relatively short update

If this came from anyone else, I wouldn't believe them. Coming from you, who can type up 4-5 walls per update, I say take your time.

My only problem is all the epileptic trees that keep sprouting up all over the place, but that's only because this is like a book where most of the pages are missing, you make things up until you find the missing pages and then find out what really happened.

On that note, I don't think Yukari truly got the Iron Death. Sure, she was taken out for awhile, but not permanently. Vana might think he did so, but we don't know what he thinks right now.

Three-Arms: Well Intentioned Extremist
Vana: Omicidal Maniac(?)

And I think our little Murder Goddess might know a little more than she's letting on about. But that's just me.
>> No. 4285
>redemption

Shit sucks.
>> No. 4286
>>4277
I hope you're right, but I don't that's how Tenshi rolls. If she has to die, she probably would just spout some insults, cry a little moar, and then explode in a hundred little pieces.
>>4285
Well, for what's worth, it was stated (I think) that, due to the sheer amount of sins she committed, it's completely impossible for her to atone within this lifetime, specially since 'twas cut off. Kinda like The Nameless One from Planescape Torment.
>> No. 4287
>>4282
Hard to say what happened with Yukari, but the fact Vana was able to turn her gaps against her isn't a good sign regardless if she survived or not. And until otherwise is revealed, the wanderer will have to rely solely on herself.

>>4286
Well one'd assume that Tenshi'd die that easily even in an era of a weakened Gensokyo.
Perhaps, and that'd explain why she does things in her manner, I think that guy was more about her intent of showing regret/remorse for her actions or not. Still her pragmatism has been useful at times, even if the rest of the time, she handles things in such a manner that Kanako'd shake her head in shame if she had one.
But on the matter of Vana, I think Yuugi's trip to Youkai mountain will pay a key role in our heroine's trip to Vana's realm.
>> No. 4288
>>4286

The thing about redemption that bohers me is nt if it's possible or not. The problem is in searching for it, to actively doing things to redeem oneself. That just sucks, man. What happened to the awesome woman who did things because she has no problems with them? Who is this person who is trying to compensate for something?

The Wanderer wants to save and protect Yuhiko not only because the girl is needed to save Gensokyo, the last place still alive, but also because she cares about the girl. It's a living reason! But redemption, it's more in the lines of an obligation. It's cold and selfish.
>> No. 4290
>>4288
That's a way to look at it, though doing things for the sake of one girl would be considered more selfish by some. But the Wanderer wouldn't really have it any other way, since that's how she is in personality; wary of 'lofty' goals and more concerned about the more mundane things like survival of her and what few friends she has.
>> No. 4292
>>4290
Yeah she does what she wants, as always. It just happens that her latest whims fit with everyone else's view of 'good' and 'selfless'
>> No. 4303
>>4277
Interesting suggestion; one I might try to work on.

>>4282
Speculations dead-on target there. Explaining would take the fun out of things though, so stay tuned for future updates.

>>4288
You raise interesting and good points there. They're not incorrect, but it was never my intention to dwell too much on her redemption as a whole. It will still play a key part in her motivations and events in the near future, but the purposeful shift from a self-centered quest for redemption to a more selfless act of preserving a small insignificant life is just another part of character growth.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading through all the feedbacks. They often give me ideas and I've worked bits of them into our oft-times TLDR; tale. I don't get the chance to check up much on the board and comment back in-depth (updates are usually a write&hit-Post-before-falling-asleep business), but rest assured I take every opportunity to do so whenever possible.

That, and the lack of trolling is a wondrous godsend! (don't take that as a sign to start now, good Anon)

Updates coming soon, maybe tonight time-permitting.
>> No. 4304
> The lack of trolling is a wondrous godsend (don't take that as a sign to start now, good Anon)

Why would we troll the one person on this site that can write multiple walls per update on a regular basis? That's a godsend in itself!
>> No. 4305
>TLDR

Too long, do read?
>> No. 4315
Morning was probably still several hours away by the time I cleared the outer perimeter of woodland groves beyond the village, but False Dawn’s eye had curiously begun pouring forth rays of its unearthly radiance for a good twenty minutes before mysteriously returning into darkness. I wasn’t sure what to make of it and could only attribute it to an erratic cycle caused by its gradual destabilization. The Visitors’ influence on it was growing increasingly tangible. Missed daytimes, uneven lengths of dayglow and soon enough, Gensokyo would probably stop receiving its blessing of life-nourishing light. It was no longer a question of how much time we truly had. Rather, it was whether or not anything could be done to stop the Visitors before they could reach the conclusion of their unfathomable purpose. All I had were half-baked theories and crude plans which required the help of elements essentially dead, incapacitated or scattered across all of Gensokyo by now; Short Stuff chiefly being the major one.

Moving about in the darkness had become more or less second nature and I found very little difficulty in navigating the border growths which alternated between impassably thick and sparsely grown. Progress grew better once the ever-present thickets evened out, a clear indication of having left the last vestiges of the swamplands behind. Lugging my sack of goodies along, I trod the damp earth in silence as I tried to keep False Dawn to my right, the only reliable means of following an absolute path westwards considering the lack of a compass of sorts. Eventually I knew I would reach my first landmark, the grand staircase stretching off into the misty horizon skyward serving as a bridge between Gensokyo and Hakugyokurou, home to the ghost princess herself. I found a brief moment to wonder about the cheerful spirit. Would she still be there, living out her cold eternity throughout the troubled times Gensokyo had gone through? Most likely.

Once more walking the earth alone, I gradually realized how much I missed the typical banter and inane chatter my former companions slung between each other. As annoying as I found it to be at the time, Keizo’s endlessly working mouth was a stark and welcome contrast to the prevalent silence surrounding my march now. Nue’s little bonding talks with Short Stuff as they stayed close to each other always seemed to infuse us with a sense of closeness as she brought her rarely-seen loving side to the fore. And the good-natured oni’s free spiritedness would be sorely missed; I felt a small pang of regret at all the missed opportunities I had in the past to get closer to Reiji, to know more about the oni. It was something I would never be able to do now that he was gone.

Back to being the solitary soul I suppose.

I tried to minimize the time and interval between taking short rests, mindful that stopping for too long in this portion of Gensokyo before the breaking of daylight could draw uninvited attention from its local denizens. Now that I no longer have a danmaku-spewing Amazon Brigade to cover my back I was determined to be far more cautious than I was in the past. At the very least, I should be grateful for the absent pressure from having hunters on my back and keeping a constant watch for them. Nevertheless, moments when I swore something had been following me or scrutinizing me from a distance surfaced far too often to consider them a mere bad feeling or be attributed to paranoia. Someone was there, and whoever it was, it was damned good at shadowing me without giving away any physical indications of itself.

Despite my new inescapable stalker I pressed onwards, realizing that there would be little I could do to stop the shifty individual, short of plugging it with a couple of quarrels from Yuugi’s present which probably wouldn’t do anything much except annoy it. I began assuming a more randomized path, regretting the waste of precious time meandering about but recognizing the need to at least confuse my stalker regarding my ultimate destination. When the opportunity came, I would take my chances and attempt to outrun whoever it was haunting my back.

Much of the following hours and better part of the breaking day would be spent trekking the pristine wild lands of northern Gensokyo which would have probably seen very little human traffic, if at all. I was inclined to believe it was more of the latter; the human villagers would have no real purpose in coming all the way up here outside of the occasional curious wandering soul every dozen odd years or so, much like Keizo. Taking in the sights and sounds of the untainted lands, I could almost forget about the world’s troubles as various aches and pains from my march ebbed away, being too preoccupied with the panoramic beauty this part of Gensokyo offered to be bothered much by physical distress. It reminded me much about the grasslands at the base of the Youkai Mountains and in time, even the nagging thought about my stalker faded into unconcerned obscurity as my mind wandered with my steps. So much thriving life here, painting the landscape a remarkable splash of vibrant energy which spoke volumes about her value as a hereditary treasure to both humans and youkai.

Would it all come to an end when Gensokyo’s silent enigma, the Visitors, attain the great culmination of their raison d'être? The final refuge the world had, consumed by obscene ghosts whose origins remained shrouded in mystery. Countless thousands of years in human history lost in the space of a few insignificant centuries and none would even understand why.

'And perhaps that is the shape of life. All things must eventually come to an end for a new cycle to take place. Another rebirth to replace a world in entropy.'

'They must, for that is the essence of creation itself. A cycle which regulates an eternally recurring system in which we are all a part of. Palingenesia.'

'Palingenesia… an eternal recycling of the world. Transmigration of souls? Such a strange concept for one so enamoured of death to believe in.'

'There is nothing unbelievable to it. Death is merely one part of the cycle. A single transitional stage in the grand metamorphosis all life must go through before they can truly be complete.'

'Perhaps. Humans believe in attaining perfection and enlightenment through the rebirth of their souls, the distillation of millennia worth of experiences and knowledge to achieve an enlightened state. I believe it is called metempsychosis.'

'Metempsychosis. Palingenesia. Two sides of the same mirror.'

Kanako and Rilofene in agreement with one another? The planets must be in alignment today, I thought wryly. Philosophy notwithstanding, I wasn’t ready to just lie down and die regardless of who says what. Not without a bloody fight first. ‘Shape of life or not, I’ll be damned before I let some black Casper-wannabes steal my right to live.’ Unexpectedly, I would earn a short chuckle from the two presences within before they spoke in reply, almost simultaneously.

'Still so fixated on your survival.'
'As you should, for me. For us.'

Rilofene’s sudden talkativeness was a rare, almost unheard-of occurrence. She was never one to freely offer opinions, much less philosophy, except when she wanted something done for her or in some ways facilitate her acquisition of said something. I was immediately struck by a sneaking suspicion that the lost deity might know something more than she had been letting on about the extraordinary events as of late.

The uneven terrain gave way to rolling hills choked with all manners of greenery and climbing one with tired footing brought another spectacle into view. In the far-off distance an endless expanse of flowers dotted the horizon from end to end. To be visible from even here, the fields had to be an illusion or truly massive. Kanako’s soft murmur at our shared sight was the only hint she gave as to just what they were.

Suzuran flowers…'

I left the magnificent view for some other far-off day and refocused on the mindless walk instead, remembering to angle off randomly with a small sigh as I followed the hills north-westwards. Returning my attention to the interrupted stream of thoughts, I prodded away at the other prevalent presence within, making sure that she hadn’t faded away just yet. Not until we had our little chat.

‘Why are the Visitors drawn to you as well?’

'Are we deaf now? I told you ages ago I know not why.'

I believed that when I knew so little about them. Now that much had been revealed, I wasn’t so inclined to just take her words for granted. ‘Really now? How long have we existed as a merged entity? You’re lying.’

'Watch your tone, child! Remember who you serve.'

That elicited another tinkling chuckle from Kanako and I rolled my eyes, hoping she wouldn’t inadvertently tick her counterpart off with a customarily smarmy remark. I needed Rilofene around for now.

'I think you lost all rights to calling her your priestess when you died so long ago.'

'Silence, you essence-raping worm. This doesn’t concern you.'

I broke in before the has-beens could descend into a chorus of insults and tiresome arguments, pressing an annoyed thought at Kanako until she eventually fell silent but I could feel she remained observant and slightly amused all the same as she awaited the inevitable face-off between her other two soul-companions. Redirecting my attention to my old patron, I rattled a question at her once more, keeping a wary lookout for hints of falsehood. ‘Why? The Visitors only recognize threats and danger in their senses before reacting to them. It’s the only thing they can see. And they can look pretty damned far. So why are they aware of you?’

'I don’t know.'

What, that’s it? No angry derogatory slurs at me? No bone-chilling threats? Just “I don’t know”? It was painfully obvious she wasn’t being completely honest. Despite that, I could only go on wheedling her for details. It wasn’t as if I could just get physical with an untouchable presence. ‘They can only exist within the physical confines of False Dawn, much like how the remains of humanity from Project Lemegeton can only exist within their Arks. It’s not just some stupid coincidence. The two are somehow connected, aren’t they?’

'I don’t know. Why should I know?!'

The taste of iron in my mouth was the only indication that I had bitten my lips out of frustration and I cursed silently at both the wound as well as her denial. Was she truly being honest after all and my paranoia was merely a by-product of anxiety spiced by exhaustion from an endless string of life-threatening events? I couldn’t foresee much of a result from pursuing the matter any further and accidentally thought out loud instead of shunting it away.

‘Gods damn you, abomination.’

Half expecting a reprimand or something arbitrarily hostile to spew forth as a result of my incensed afterthought, I received nothing instead. Nothing but the quiet droning of nature’s passage without; another uncharacteristic response from the profane goddess. Carefully tucking away the truckloads of scorn, I directed the rest of my gloom towards the ground, indiscriminately stomping away at the scurrying wildlife underneath in a vain attempt at venting my anger.

'…What lies in the deepest recesses of blackened hearts?'

Pausing in surprise, I caught at her sudden words, startled by her increasingly aberrant behaviour. ‘What? The hell was that?’

But that would be the last bit she had been willing to impart. The familiar presence grew indistinct and was gone before I could even form another string of angry thoughts, taking flight and leaving me to myself once more. I felt Kanako slip away with the uneasy turbulence within, judging that I should be given some time alone to work out my frustrations. Apparently, she was coming to understand me well over the weeks we had been together, something I could be grateful for at least.

Muttering low to myself, I had the presence of mind to adjust the sack of salted goodness into a more comfortable position before proceeding with the next hill climb, glancing skywards and noting the dying glow of another passed day. Only the tired lament of overworked muscles served to remind me that I had nearly walked the whole day without stopping, so taken in by the sights and sounds of Gensokyo I was. Time enough to do that later, once dayglow vanishes. I should be far safer at night now that I had moved into the open hills.
>> No. 4316
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4316
Progress over the next few days was more or less a mixture of being uncannily smooth and annoyingly slow as I attempted to tackle the numerous obstacles which had decided to throw themselves into my path for the sake of being able to do so. Riverbeds gone dry as Gensokyo approached a natural winter made for excellent shortcuts through otherwise impregnable thickets and I made good time from their liberal use. On the other hand, what would have been a simple walk between two points on a map was complicated by deep chasms running almost half a mile deep; scars in the land which had no visible way to cross and only frustrating hours spent backtracking and doing more of the same had me standing on the other side in anger at all the wasted time.

The land grew increasingly rugged as well, with numerous cliffs thriving with greenery and all manner of life serving as natural blockades. Once, when the scaling of one such cliff proved to be necessary in order to move forward, I had almost thrown my sack of goodies down the damned wall of rock in anger, frustrated by the dragging weight until the more pragmatic side of me argued against dumping precious supplies away in a fit of misguided rage. In the end, I emerged victorious as I lay panting and sweating at the top of the wall, thankful that common sense had won over impatience as well.

The open terrain eventually reverted to a more confined smattering of trees and bushes until their eventual integration into a new range of woods, known to the human villagers as the Forest of Magic. Despite its corny name, I knew the hallowed mist-shrouded woods were anything but, playing host to innumerable hidden dangers ranging from quicksand bogs capable of swallowing a man whole in seconds to flora which had an inclination for feasting on its fauna instead of the other way around. I wasn’t keen on experiencing its man-eating plants firsthand and kept a respectable distance right next to the borders of the woods as I made my careful way through. No sense running additional risks now that my destination drew ever closer.

The Misty Lakes, my next-to-last landmark now lay less than half a day’s march away. From there, it would be a straight shot to the great fissures housing the beehive of caves which served as an alternate entrance to the subterranean realm under Gensokyo and subsequently, the ancient city itself. Things were going a lot smoother than I expected them to be, but that was probably because I had been momentarily rid of the single element the whole of Gensokyo seemed to be after for one reason or another, namely Short Stuff. It wasn’t something I was happy about but at this point, anything was better than nothing.

Unexpectedly, I have had next to zero encounters with the more unsavoury elements of Gensokyo’s locals. No fairy, youkai, or the literal bogeyman had made any attempts at impeding my progress thus far and I could only attribute my seeming stroke of luck to the stalking presence still uncannily following me somewhere in the distant rear. Despite the numerous attempts at outdistancing my invisible acquaintance, It always seemed to be able to keep up with my pace. I had my suspicions at first and it was all but confirmed now; whatever my stalker was, It had probably played a good part in keeping the would-be pranksters and human-meat lovers at a respectful distance. I could only harbour mixed feelings of gratitude and fear at that; though I supposed I should be gravitating towards the latter if the motley collection of inhuman creatures could actually fear something other than themselves.

Gradually, the woods thinned once more and the land returned into a more open stretch of geography following hours more of travelling, no less lush in its greenery speckled by occasional trees and bushes in their sparse existence. I would finally acknowledge the screaming protests my legs had been putting forth all day in their march and give them an appropriate rest, seeking out a spot to spend the remainder of the night in. This would be the last time I could reward myself with hard-earned rest. The last of Yuugi’s jerky would essentially be gone after tonight; any further nourishment in my journey ahead would have to come from living off the land but it was something I wasn’t overly concerned about now. My final destination lay no more than two days away and I was determined to marathon it the rest of the way. But for now, I could at least grab a good night’s rest.

The sounds of running water caught my attention; somewhere close-by laid a river or small body of water. Food, water, and a long rest. I couldn’t have asked for a better combination in light of the forced march so far. Peering hard into the thickening darkness, I followed the murmuring gurgle to its source, ironically stumbling on it out of sheer luck instead of triangulation by noise mere minutes later. With quickened steps laced with anticipation, I hurried over to inspect my little finding.

An almost inaudible stream, deep and slow in its meandering, slipped past the area and back into the woods I had left several hours prior. The occasional fish would dart about in the cool confines of the stream before disappearing with the predestined course of the currents. Kneeling down next to the glassy waters for a sip of the invigorating refreshment, I caught sight of my own reflection staring back in tandem with the moon. It had been gods-know how long since I had last looked into a mirror and the sight unnerved me slightly as I unconsciously reached up to massage my ravaged features. The long months spent wandering a dead world Outside coupled with the recent and hectic events in here had reduced me into a gaunt shadow of my former self. The silky locks, once luxuriantly flowing with their own strength had regressed into draggled clumps of oily hair and I rubbed idly at them as the person behind the ripples peered back in her frown. Small wonder I’ve been frightening kids like Short Stuff; I looked like a reject out of a Lovecraftian horror story. A quick bath could remedy that slightly at least, aside from the obvious benefit of easing muscles long hammered into a rigid mass by the forced march.

Peeling off the rags-for-clothing still clinging onto my skin, I sampled the cool waters with an idle foot and the placid surface broke, startling the lurking fish away with the vibration I induced. Rather cold for my tastes, but I couldn’t ask for anything better out in the middle of nowhere. Giving up with a tiny sigh, I slid the rest of the way down into the riverbed, propped up against a smooth boulder before attempting to drive the shivering cold away in a half-slapping, half-rubbing bath. I attacked the various nooks and crannies of my body with vigour, experiencing a fleeting pleasure in a very rare moment of self-cleansing. In minutes, the cold had turned somewhat bearable and I reached over into the discarded sack on the riverbank to pull the remaining strips of salted meat out. Chewing contentedly on the hard jerky I felt for the smooth wooden shaft as well, extracting it from the gloomy depths of the emptied sack and holding it up above the water for a quick inspection.

A well-crafted weapon to say the least; whoever the artisan was he or she had evidently taken great pride in its construction. Sturdily built and etched with minute decorations, it almost looked like something The Village Idiot Flynn And His Pretty Flying Doors had carved. The lath had been integrated into the stock itself as a folding mechanism of sorts, with its entire assembly of gears looking to be in pristine condition. Four quarrels were pressed into the shaft of the weapon itself with another four on the opposing side, lending it the appearance of an antique revolver. If this was originally Yuugi’s belonging, she had obviously maintained it well.

Lazily slipping a quarrel free and fitting it into the firing stock, I found myself thinking about The Village Idiot Flynn. What would the airhead be doing right now? It was a shame Gensokyo’s age of wonders was coming to an end soon; given a few more years I was sure he would have gotten his aviation devices right through trial and error, if he hadn’t hurled himself off a cliff by then. A sad smile found its way to my lips. Maybe I should have just taught him about air lift and wing drag when I had the chance to, rather than brushing the airhead off in annoyance every single time. He would have gotten to live his dreams before everything unceremoniously ended.

Setting the primed weapon on dry ground within quick reach I gave the wreck that made up my face a slow massage, occasionally splashing water onto it. Since when had I become so concerned about people around me? It was never my personality, much less my habit, to think about those who held no less than a passing interest in my long life. Like the youkai, I had come to view humans as transient creatures no different from the innumerable stars in the heavens. No matter how short or long a live they may live, the stars would eventually go supernova. Likewise, some humans were prone to living their brief lives in an explosive glory, in some ways shining brighter than the stars gone nova themselves before their limited time expired. Reimu had been such an individual, and I had no doubts that her great descendant was destined for much the same. Grand events were already coming into orbit with Short Stuff and in time, she would find herself to be in the centre of everything.

And perhaps that was why I was somewhat changed as well, rekindled by her flame, I mused to myself. I didn’t really give Kanako’s claims much thought when she had said something along those lines but I could finally concede that Short Stuff’s collision into my life had been a turning point of sorts. The days spent with her saw me feeling more human than I had ever did in millennia past, harbouring human emotions long thought discarded. Sorrow, care, hate, and perhaps joy. I wouldn’t completely disbelieve for a second that maternal instincts had anything to do with it, but the desire to keep her out of harm’s way was something born from the will to protect what I saw as a kindred soul, so much alike what I had been before my eventual spiral into the weary cynic I was now.

'Or perhaps that is merely another lost part of yourself rediscovered. There is no greater purity, no greater mark of being just human, than the fierce will to protect something you love by fighting beyond extremes.'

‘Pretty words. I’m still doing this for myself, you know. I need her to survive. We all do,’ I returned blandly, nettled by her constant spying of my thoughts. It was beginning to look like her favourite pastime had been reduced into peeking at my life whenever she had the opportunity to do so. As much as I could only feel her, the grin I thought I could see on her face made me want to squish a rodent or an equivalent nocturnal pest.

'Still in denial? Be honest with yourself. You’re not solely living for yourself or your friend in here anymore. The child has grown on you and as much as you try to deny it, you’ve more or less filled Byakuren’s shoes by now. Yuhiko sees you as nothing less for that matter.'

Was that true? Or did she see me as nothing more than a convenient guardian, there to be taken advantage of out of a selfish need she couldn’t even recognize due to her naïveté? For that matter, did I really even care if her feelings were entirely self-serving? No, I admitted at last. Regardless of our motivations we existed for one another during the brief time we had been together.

Twin souls instinctually seeking out one another across the vast, indeterminable distance of our solitary existence for comfort in a ravaged world.

Stretching wide and feeling the steady rivulets of current tickle my bare flesh, I craned a tired neck backwards, not bothering to reply as I lost my train of thoughts. The cricking in my neck drowned out the rest of her words which eventually faded into obscurity along with her presence when she realized I was no longer listening, something I wasn’t terribly sad about missing out but I would ponder on them all the same. Kanako may be right, but nothing would matter unless I could get Short Stuff back first, something I was admittedly clueless about as to how it should be accomplished. More of the usual take-frantic-steps-to-live moments ahead, I thought with no small amount of chagrin. One of these days I should really sit and think a plan through instead of barging half-assed into any given situation. Then again, I was usually plunged into crises when I least expected things to be dangerous anyway.

‘Nice breasts you gotssss...’

A slurred voice rocked me back into awareness and survival mode kicked in without even needing to think about it. My outstretched hand instantly found the crossbow where I had left it and in no time short I had it levelled on the intruder, half-submerged on the other side of the stream. In both natural and artificial moonlight I could clearly make out her features and her most distinct one gave away what she was. Horns; gaudily decorated ones to be exact, topped by an outrageous ribbon on one. How she had gotten there without even disturbing the water I could not fathom for the life of me.

My new visitor made a hasty placating gesture, moving slightly to raise both arms in my direction in a clumsy attempt at showing she meant no harm with barely audible mumblings. Regardless of intent, I would have none of it. She could very well fill me with singed holes just as much as she could lift her arms up in surrender in that same move. Crossbow bolts would do little against her but launching one into her eyeball would provide sufficient distraction for an opportunity to beat a hasty retreat.

‘Stay still. One wrong move and you’re going to be in a world of pain,’ I warned the childlike figure and she dutifully complied, relaxing her arms and settling back down into the stream. She was as much stark naked as I was, but the cold waters didn’t looked to bother her in the least. Pretty flat in the chest too, I thought as I tore free of the water’s embrace to climb back into my rags, careful to keep my weapon pointed at her as I did. ‘You’ve been shadowing me,’ I said, not as a question but as a matter-of-fact.

‘B-b-but I’m lice and sleazy!’ she exploded suddenly in another incoherent slur, wildly flapping her dormant arms and catching me by surprise in the process of tugging the detached sleeves back on. Almost reflexively I made a threatening move, assuming a guarded pose and renewing her attention on the crossbow I had in hand. She recognized the subtle gesture and calmed down slightly, but her pupils seemed to remain out of focus when we exchanged looks. Using my bare teeth to tighten the last of the articulate knots on my sorry excuse for clothing, I waded into the stream towards her, keeping a wary lookout for any sudden movements she might make and ensuring the quarrel didn’t slip out of its locked position. In contrast to my caution, she remained swaying unsteadily in the dull waters, paying no heed to my approach.

‘Lice and… sleazy?’ I echoed strangely. ‘You mean nice and easy.’

That caused her to look up in confusion and she returned in an almost docile voice, tears forming in her eyes for no apparent reason, ‘Mice and… squeezies?’

What the hell? This was the fearsome monster who had been keeping the local wildlife at bay? My dreaded invisible and undefeated stalker? ‘Nice and easy,’ I repeated as I leaned closer to her to take a quick sniff. An earlier gust of wind brought the stench of something I was all too familiar with in my direction and I would almost regret drawing in a sharp breath of air in close proximity to her now. The overwhelming smell of something rancid and heady was prevalent around the wobbling oni; she was intoxicated to hell and back, and a quick look at her own discarded bundle of clothing on the other side of the riverbank brought a curious gourd into view. Judging from the size of the thing, it didn’t seem possible to get his drunk from what little it could hold, unless the stuff transcended the heavens itself in its alcoholic potency.

Not that I could expect much of a coherent answer from her in light of her inebriation, but I tried all the same. ‘Mind telling me why you were tailing me?’ No reply from the suddenly-snoring oni. Frowning, I gave her a small nudge with my foot which only served to topple her into the cool river, breaking the glassy waters in a noisy splash instead of waking her up and with an obstinate curse, I flung my weapon onto her clothes before going back to fish for the submerged oni. Briefly cutting a finger against one pointed end of her horns, I managed to pull the drunkard free from the depths she had been happily slumbering in with another curse, mindful that she would have willingly drowned seeing how out of touch she was with the world at the moment. Pulling and tugging away on her horns which made for excellent handholds, I finally pried her free from the waters and dumped my stalker onto her bundle of clothes, retrieving the ornate crossbow in the process. Good thing her body remained in its undeveloped juvenile stage; I wouldn’t fancy having to drag anything bigger and heavier to dry grounds.

Another oni, a rather unexpected development. Was she somehow associated with Yuugi? According to her, the oni as a race were few in numbers in Gensokyo’s current age, an almost extinct species of youkai given their close to non-existent members. That one of the endangered creatures would actively seek me out wasn’t something of a big mystery. The drunkard was probably tied to the current events in one way or another. Regardless of my stalker’s possible affiliation with Yuugi, I still felt no less comforted by her presence. I could only pray this one hadn’t come after my head over my involvement with Reiji’s passing. Good thing she was abysmally drunk when she finally caught up to me. By now, I had next to no desire in going head to head against youkai, much less a sober oni.

Lifting the unusual gourd off from her side I gave the thing a good shake and was rewarded with the sound of heavy sloshing. Still more than half-full; not quite empty after all. It was hard to believe that a mere one quarter of the gourd had been enough to send my stalker into such a state. A quick inspection of its contents indicated a curious contradiction; the stuff was nothing stronger than Yuugi’s delightful stock. Guess this would be good for quenching the thirst for the last leg of my journey, at any rate. Water from the river behind me could have served even better, but I had grown rather fond of Gensokyo’s unique brew. Plain water was generally easier to come-by anyway.

My possible campsite would be worthless now that I had been found. Fortunately, my stalker would remain out cold for a few blissful hours at least, giving me a new head-start and an unprecedented opportunity in losing her. Abandoning the oni to her oblivious sleep, I returned to my march with no shortage of regret at the unexpected loss of rest tonight but there was little I could do about it. The trade-off between buying additional time and losing a few hours of slumber was too good to overlook. Loosening my left sleeve and tying it to the crossbow provided a rough means of slinging the weapon over one shoulder, something which would facilitate easier travelling from this point onwards.

Hurrying off into the dim veil of twilight, I would follow the moon glow for many long hours as more of Gensokyo flowed past me, her night dwellers observing the passing of an unusual human with placid disinterest.
>> No. 4317
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4317
The afternoon over the Misty Lakes broke in a glorious show of radiant rainbows as the lazy streams of light bounced and angled their way through the suspended mist haunting the famous lake, forcing their way through my sleep-induced eyelids. In the far horizon lay another familiar sight; the ever-present gray and white face of the Youkai Mountains. It almost looked like I had run the full tour around Gensokyo by now and I could only wonder at the amount of hiking I had done thus far. Probably enough to traverse a good portion of the Pan Asian Bloc in the world Outside.

I had more or less collapsed onto a bed of unassuming flowers before the arrival of dawn, slumping down into the oddly comforting mess of grass and poor broken stems bending underneath the might of my fatigued body before sleeping a good portion of the day away. The sudden stop hadn’t been intentional; I had simply been too tired to keep up with the march and had been completely unaware that I had reached my next-to-last landmark when I finally gave into fatigue.

Shaking off the drowsiness, I flipped over to my other side in a vain attempt at letting the stalled circulation of blood to flow through their arterial pathways once more, throwing a numbed arm over and instantly coming into eye contact with something squatted no more than several steps away. What came next was akin to a dilation of time as we both exchanged curious looks, dredging our heads for some recollection or anything which could serve as a reminder.

Someone.

Looks familiar.

Translucent wings.

Where had I seen all that blue before?

Oh.

How strange to meet again under such similar circumstances.

She froze in her act as much as the stalk of sunflower she was pointing at had iced over, giving me a querying look while she remained kneeling next to the object of her fascination. Despite our past history, her current expression gave all indications of having no remembrance whatsoever of our fateful encounter. Unfortunately, like all good things, it wouldn’t last. It took her some time, but the growing horror and shock replacing her mask of indifference spoke volumes about how much she remembered now.

I made a face at her. ‘Boo.’

Giving a small yelp, she fell on her behind in panic and scurried backwards, mimicking a retreating snake in her squirming and frantic kicking. In her urge to flee, it had obviously never occurred to her that she could simply take flight and fly in the opposite direction. It wasn’t as if I could give chase, even if I had any inclination of doing something that unproductive. Nevertheless, I got up lazily and followed the wide-eyed ice fairy with idle steps as she continued her backwards crawl. Not too sure why, except that it felt good to see my ex-antagonist in such discomfort and harbouring this much fear of me. I could almost feel Rilofene’s snicker at the appropriate show of submission.

Ice Cubes eventually bumped into a tree and stopped dead in her tracks, casting panicky sideway glances before returning her gaze to me, still seated on her grassy ground. Immediately, she launched into an unmitigated babble of apologies at my gradual approach, obviously fearing the same fate which had befallen her during our last meeting. ‘Oh gods, gods, gods, gods, gods! I-I-I-I’m sorry! Sorry! S-s-so sorry!’ Throwing her arms over her head, she curled up into a little ball with a pitiful whimper, exclaiming out loud and attempting to avoid all eye contact. ‘Don’t h-h-hurt me anymore!’ Even her wings had seemingly shrunk back into herself as she cowered in fear, trembling like some hamster caught in the throes of a viper’s loving embrace.

‘You brought me an assload of pain before, Ice Cubes. You remember, don’t you?’ I started conversationally. Our exchange was akin to a simple inquiry of the weather. Mundane, idle, and nothing serious but it produced the exact result I was hoping for. She hugged her legs ever tighter and pressed her head into her knees with another whimper, followed by soft sobs this time. I didn’t think it was possible but she withdrew even further into herself, pressing up against the tree as she violently shook her head. The light blue of her short hair tossed freely in the afternoon light, creating a momentary but scintillating show of vibrant colours.

Cute.

I gave her several lazy prods with the shaft of the crossbow. ‘You know how pissed I am, right? Say you do.’

She mumbled deep and low as she continually shied away from every spot I poked her in until I repeated my question, in which she stuttered several times before managing, ‘I do. I do.’

Taking a short break from her harassment, I wondered momentarily what she was doing here. I was fairly sure the fairy had fallen out of Three-Arms’ good graces and in extension, his protection, to be this afraid of me. Doubtless her failure at Moriya Shrine had been the singular cause of her exile or seclusion. If she knew I no longer had the overdose of inhuman metabolism back at the shrine she would probably be a lot less inclined to be in such awe of little old me. No reason she should be made aware of that fact, all the same.



[ ] Give her head the good news again before moving on; this time, with crossbow bolts.
[ ] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.
[ ] Leave her be. There’s been enough wasted time already.
[ ] (Write-in.)
>> No. 4318
[x] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.

Let's buff some information out of her. I wonder if we'd run into Suika again, though I hope it'll be on friendly terms, since one'd think that Suika would be a friend of the Hakureis through the years. And we could stand to use an ally that strong where we're going.
>> No. 4319
[X] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.

Information~
>> No. 4320
Fuck yes, normal sized updates again!

[ ] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.

I so want to use her as target practice, but I can't bring myself to vote for that. Cirno is still Cirno.
>> No. 4321
[x] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.
She still remembers that our MC spared her life during that fight... does she?
>> No. 4322
[x] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.

>>4321
You might want to read >>2731 again. The wanderer crushed and twisted off her limbs before disintegrating her head. I don't really think that can be defined as sparing her life.
>> No. 4323
>>4321

More like she remembers one of the most brutal deaths she's ever suffered. Still I think we can scare the information out of her, though she might not know a lot but what she does know would be more than nothing.
>> No. 4324
[X] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.

Knowledge is power. And we need as much as we can.
>> No. 4326
[X] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.
[X]If she tries anything funny, fill her head with bolts.
Knowing is half the battle.
>> No. 4329
[ℤℯ] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.

Cirno, Suika, and (looking for) Yuhiko? The protagonist is a veritable loli magnet.
Maybe she's Max's mom.
>> No. 4337
[X] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.

Excellent update. Scenic Gensokyo, briefly meeting Suika (and stealing the Ibuki gourd?), and now having Cirno avaiable for info.
>> No. 4339
[X] Talk to her a little. See what you can find out about Three-Arms.

Let's turn Cirno into our slave. And then eventually our friend.
>> No. 4348
Much Cirno lovin' here.

---

Enough with the harassment, I suppose.

Despite our less than stellar relationship in the not-too-distant past, seeing her in such a pathetic state now had more or less deprecated my grudge against the cowering fairy. We had already dealt our fair share of grievous pain to each other by now and any further pursuit of retribution seemed like a trivial waste of time and energy. In all honesty, even if Ice Cubes was merely faking her submissive behaviour I couldn’t really bother myself enough to change the status quo. I was content to let the two of us finally drift on our own ways as long as she didn’t do something appropriately foolish, like filling my back with shards of ice when I turned away from her. As much as I hated wasting valuable and extremely limited ammunition on her, I wouldn’t have much of a choice if she gave away the smallest hint of treacherous intent.

Kneeling down in front of her only served to renew her fearful frenzy but still the remote thought of running away never even crossed her muddled mind once, something I was growing increasingly amused with. She really was rather simple-minded in some ways, despite her apparent cunning and hostile predisposition she had clearly demonstrated in the past. Ironically, she was still a child at heart regardless of her actual age. I gave Ice Cubes a good three minutes to calm down, in which she eventually did to a small degree when she finally realized I was doing nothing more threatening than peer at her tiredly as I remained perched on the ground. Letting slip one final whimper, her sobs died down and she found the courage to glance up at last with tear-stricken eyes. Took her long enough to shut up.

‘All calmed down now?’ I spoke serenely to the timid figure as I made a questioning gesture with my hands, momentarily forgetting the weapon I held. The otherwise-friendly gesture sent her cowering once more as she caught sight of the waving crossbow and I rolled my eyes at the thoughtless move, trying to remedy my mistake by gently nudging the wooden implement at her until she returned her attention to me once more.

Ice Cubes broke the new bout of silence seeing how I wasn’t apparently sparing a whit of effort in doing so. ‘Y-you’re not going to… h-hurt me?’

Mindful of the horrifying crossbow of Doom this time, I shrugged lightly at her, planting the weapon face-down on the ground. ‘I can be reeeeal nasty when I want to, but I’m not really in the mood right now. Just want to talk a bit, like so.’

Dolefully tucking the lower half of her face away into her knees, she peered at me with sceptical eyes, still protectively hugging her legs with arms turned white in their fearsome grip. It was readily apparent that Rilofene’s bout of violence with Ice Cubes as the plaything had permanently scarred her mentally, if not in a physical manner. She would not be able to put her abuse behind anytime soon, if ever. The only remedy for her trauma would be her relatively short memory of things, something I could feel slightly less guilty about for a change. The fact that I had no motor control over my body that night did little to ease that.

She blinked once, then twice at me. Fresh streams of tears rolled free from her reddened eyes. ‘I’m sorry,’ she repeated like a repentant child caught breaking an expensive vase and being punished for it. Guess she really was nothing more than one after all. I gave her a knowing shrug in reply.

‘I’m not interested in vengeance now,’ I spoke shortly as I relaxed into a more comfortable position, but still ready to spring onto her if things turned sour. ‘Want to tell me why you’re playing alone in the middle of nowhere? That three-armed freak kicked you out or something?’ As obvious as the answer may be, I would still hear her side of the story out of curiosity.

‘He didn’t. I ran shortly after I had reformed,’ she started slowly as she stumbled over the violent reminder, but her voice grew steadier as she went on. ‘I’d just suffer something worse if I went back to him; that’s just how he is. So I hid here.’

Dumb kid, I thought silently as I meshed several locks of hair together before reaching up to scratch away at an itch on my scalp. ‘You really think you can hide from a guy who walks through walls?’ I commented in a patronizing voice. ‘The only reason why you can still go about freezing flowers around here is probably because he’s too busy to deal with you now. Or just plain disinterested in it.’

It looked like the thought had never occurred to her as she stared at me mutely. The ice fairy grew anxious once more at the new dose of distress, fidgeting about uncomfortably. ‘Y-you really think so? He knows I’m here?’

‘If he doesn’t already, which I highly doubt, he will in due time,’ I ventured humourlessly. That remark earned me a whimpering whine and she proceeded to sway from side to side, one hand releasing its grip to end up in her mouth as she chewed on her fingernails nervously.

Eventually, she grew still and abruptly darted her gaze to me with hopeful puppy eyes. ‘He’ll forgive me, right?’

Did it looked like I gave a single flying damn if he did or didn’t? ‘Maybe,’ I remarked falsely, a lot more for my benefit rather than hers. I had no patience for seeing her plummet into another abyss of cowardly whining. ‘Where’s the freak now? What was he up to until the time you ran off?’

‘I don’t know,’ she admitted nervously. ‘Iyen-Shuren makes it a point to move about as much as he can; constantly gathering groups of youkai together wherever he chooses to stop. The last place he had set up camp in was the Great Youkai Forest, hosting a gathering or something once every three nights.’

The Youkai Forest. We had practically come within spitting distance of one another when I had first set out on my journey so long ago. I remembered the freak mentioning a gathering of sorts and could only surmise it was what Ice Cubes had just revealed, though for what purpose it remained to be seen. ‘What gathering?’ I pressed her with false genteel, careful not to upset the disturbed ice fairy.

Initially, she looked reluctant to divulge what she probably considered as a closely-guarded secret until she caught sight of my raised eyebrow, waiting expectantly. The blue-clad wonder almost tripped over her own words as she spilled everything. ‘He goes about riling the youkai up in the hopes of having a large enough force to match the Visitors in a battle of attrition. Iyen-Shuren needs them, I think, so he would be free to carry out his planned sacrifice unmolested at the crown of False Dawn, at the shard of living obsidian the hell raven’s corpse is entombed in.’

An interesting nugget of information. It would seem the freak had his fair share of skeletons in the closet as well, attempting to gather a big enough number of youkai under his banner for a not-quite-noble end promised for them. Did he consider them mere expendable assets in his maddening quest to save False Dawn at any costs? Or were those loyal to him now fully aware of their eventual fate as low-tier sacrifices, unconcerned because they were youkai and thus, had no fear of temporary death? Misplaced bravado; if someone like Byakuren could permanently die to a few of the tyrant-sized Visitors there was little doubt Three-Arms’ ragtag collection of freak shows would be effortlessly consumed by the black ocean of death, mercilessly engulfing them should they be foolish enough to provoke the core of the Visitors.

I couldn’t believe for a moment that the elder would be ignorant to that conveniently neglected fact. The cunning bastard knew, and he was fully prepared to throw countless youkai against the Visitors knowing well that they would all suffer a permanent death; a useful titbit that could be turned against him if such an opportune moment ever surfaced. What he would honestly fail to realize was that his presumably-foolproof designs for Short Stuff is doomed to failure; the core of the Visitors did not lie in what I now knew of as their shadows in the land of Gensokyo. Rather, they lay dormant within the false sun itself. His ritualistic expenditure of Short Stuff’s life could admittedly generate a brief shockwave of purifying energies opposing the wavelengths of the Visitors extended bodies, but it would be a temporary victory at most. They would return in time as long as their core remained intact, hibernating within the black sun and by then, Three-Arms would not have another Shinto shrine-maiden nuke to annoy the Visitors with.

Vana underneath Gensokyo; Iyen-Shuren to the far south. And the ever-present silent calamity hovering at the apex of the mystical land. It felt good to finally be able to paint an overall picture of my infuriatingly-vague antagonists. I looked back at Ice Cubes from my musings, and was rather surprised at how calm she looked now in comparison to the quivering mass of jelly a few minutes ago. Looks like having a short span of memory has its saving graces after all, at least when it came to some people or in this case, a particular fairy in blue. Her gaze followed my movements disinterestedly as she playfully drew her finger across the ground next to where she sat, tracing delicate paths of frost in its wake. Seems she had temporarily forgotten about the head-crushing monster in front of her right now.

No point in distressing her any further. Plucking the weapon off the ground, I rose slowly to compensate for the rush of blood back into cramped legs. Kneeling there did an excellent job in sending them to sleep and I waited patiently as the pinpricks of pain died away with the last bits of cramping before giving Ice Cubes one last glance. Her small game of tracing ice on the earth had come to an abrupt pause as she grew still once more, staring at nothing in particular.

Turning to leave, I was surprised by a sharp tug which nearly tore my skirt off and I wheeled around with the crossbow raised, ready to answer whatever Ice Cubes was planning on doing with a well-placed shot. Instead she remained unmoving where I had left her, with one outstretched hand latching onto my clothes, head customarily lowered. A swift circular manoeuvre with my right leg freed me from her grip and slapped her hand away. I waited in vain for several seconds; fully expecting her to pull another stunt she probably thought was funny, until it seemed like nothing was obviously going to happen. Lowering the trained weapon, I grunted at her in displeasure and turned to leave once more.

No luck. The abrupt tug stopped me short once more and this time, I made a quick turn to face her in anger.

‘WHAT!?’

‘You really think he’ll come for me?’ she whispered, completely oblivious to my annoyance.

Not like I would even remotely know or cared for that matter. ‘Go ask your crystal ball or something,’ I snapped back at her as I wrestled with her grip, giving a sharp tug of my own to dislodge hers to no avail. Her clutch had hardened into a desperate latch of sorts, unwilling to let me go for gods know what reason as we played a tug of war with my rags. Out of patience, I proceeded to press the tip of the crossbow against the top of her hand and hissed a quick warning at her, ‘I’m going to give you five seconds to let go.’

Not that I was really going to waste precious ammunition on something this trivial, but I hoped the warning alone would be enough to shake off her curiously abrupt change of behaviour towards someone she had been deathly afraid of until mere minutes ago. Despite that, she stubbornly refused to let go, even going as far as adding her other hand to the vice-like grip. I had half a mind in pulling the trigger until I managed to calm myself enough to decide otherwise, breathing hard to maintain control and pulling the weapon away from her hand. ‘Look. Why take the chance? Go hide in a hole somewhere far away or something, or keep moving. You can fly. Go see the world, whatever that’ll keep you on the move. Maybe the three-armed freak would lose interest before he could find you.’

Despite the ferocity and impatience of my words, they seemed to produce the exact opposite results instead. The distraught fairy actually calmed down visibly and released her grip as my eyes rolled in their sockets. Did she really consider that advice worth following? Damned waste of time.

This time, I backed away from her slowly, ready to leap backwards should she even do something as much as raise one finger to intercept me once more. Instead, she looked up with a slightly-cocked head and regarded me with drying eyes. ‘I… um… I’m sorry… about everything.’

Her apology struck me harder than any sledgehammer could possibly do. I never really harboured any long-term thoughts about vengeance, even towards someone who have had their way with me as much as she did. Consequently, apologies were usually the things which were about as important as a bucket of spit in my list of priorities. Still, if it would help her sleep, accepting it was the least I could do in light of our sins against each other and I gave her a disinterested look as I remarked to her, ‘Right. So is everyone else.’ Her expression eased up considerably with that.

Time to finally part ways I suppose. I wondered if our paths would cross again someday, seeing how she was essentially the first person to come across me when I came back to Gensokyo. Our meeting now was probably another one of fate’s idea of a joke I found to be as humorous as soiled socks. But before we went on our own ways, there was at least something the icy wonder could do for me in compensation for all the pain she had dumped on me.

I shook the gourd I had pilfered from the oni in her direction and her attention instantly snapped over to it. ‘How about making this cold for me if you want to make amends?’
>> No. 4349
“I was bound to the ocean for reasons I could no longer remember, bearing witness to the dreary passing of years without hope, joy or a future to look forward to. In my endless grudge, neither ship nor innocent escaped my caress and in time, humans came to see me as nothing more than a monster, indiscriminately claiming the passing vessels plying my domain. Was I evil? I cared not then.

Then she came. Granted me everything that had been missing in my static existence. A single turning point in an accursed mockery of a life which forever changed me. No longer would I plague humans, capsizing their ocean-borne conveniences confined to the lonely sea. I had a new life with her from that point onwards.

People change, for good or bad it matters not. Regardless of what we may be, all of us are subject to a singular event or moment where our perception of ourselves would be fundamentally altered, turning villains into heroes or the self-righteous into abominable monsters. That is how extraordinary individuals come into being.”


-Minamitsu Murasa


How many days has it been, confined to the tiny cage like some sort of animal? Denied even the basic decency of being treated like anything remotely human; urinating and defecating in the suffocating space, eating raw meat tossed through the bars because the youkai saw no point in cooked food, and being subject to constant observation like a pet on display by the one creature she was coming to hate immensely; the withered specimen who called himself Iyen-Shuren.

She would endure all the same, not out of hope for some far-off miracle or a chance in escaping her penultimate fate. Rather, it had been a comparatively simple little thing which she had come to emulate from the one she could admire. The urge to persist, to live, to fight against factors which threatened to erase her. A stubborn struggle in which one asserts her right to exist against all opposition.

The will to survive.

But it was not all despair. The curious youkai with the gold-black crown of hair spared nothing in trying to make her comfortable whenever she was around, something the gold-black tries to do as much as possible during the period of her captivity. Very little talk passed between the two of them but despite that, Yuhiko knew her companion on the other side of the cage was in conflict with herself, torn between two equally crucial needs for something. A prime example of a dichotomised soul.

Their session tonight would be no more different from the rest, if it could even be called that. Despite how much her companion’s apparent master wanted the gold-black to draw forth whatever in blazes it is he wanted from Yuhiko, she never really pursued the request in a serious manner. Half-hearted and reluctant at best, but mostly a dismal attempt so far at doing something she obviously detested.

The would-be shrine maiden crawled over to the bars and peered between the darkened iron at her agitated companion pacing about the clearing, tracing a rote path in her unchanging walk. ‘What does the man want from me?’ It was a question she had often asked of the mostly-silent youkai, one she never really got an answer to.

And like every other time, Yuhiko would receive nothing more than an agitated glance in return, interlaced with what she thought was sorrow or anger at something. Undaunted, she tried something else instead, shifting slightly in her cage to follow the gold-black’s meandering. ‘What do you want from me?’

That somehow got her attention and the gold-black paused momentarily, frowning hard and rubbing both hands in her face before gliding over to the cage and kneeling down in front of the child. Nothing but silence passed between the two of them as Yuhiko allowed the restless creature a moment to ponder on something. Finally, as if done with some heated internal debate or agony, the gold-black brought a finger up, making sure the child was paying full attention to it before bringing it down to the ground, tapping the gravel once. Glowing outlines in white of a stylized lotus flared on the dark earth for a few seconds before vanishing.

Byakuren’s leitmotif, the white lotus crest.

‘You knew her?’ Yuhiko proceeded sceptically, drawing closer to the figure on the other side.

Instead of answering with words, her companion drew a finger through the gravel once more, tracing out the words.

-FRIEND-

Her behaviour was puzzling. Slightly cocking a head at the gold-black, she voiced her unspoken question, ‘Why won’t you talk?’

A small shake of the gold and black hair before her attention was brought back to the wandering finger, brushing away the previous tracing before starting anew on a lengthier one.

-TOO CLOSE TO THE CENTER OF HIS POWER. CANNOT RISK IT-

She took some time to read the upside-down letterings before peering back at the gold-black. ‘Why are you with him if it distresses you so?’

-NO CHOICE. SHIKIGAMI BOND-

Yuhiko had heard of the term before, but only as a passing reference and nothing in detail; a contract between a master and a servant, of youkai origin. Often a consenting agreement between two youkai but there were exceptions in past history when it was not always so. She could only guess that this was one such case.

So the gold-black was in some ways associated with her former guardian, and was now an unwilling party to whatever the elder had in store for her. Folding her legs and settling back down on the cold ground, she gave her companion a small knowing smile before nodding at the youkai in understanding. The gesture only served to distress her companion further instead of easing her, and the gold-black erased her scribbles on the ground to trace in a new set of words, emphasizing the last one with several urgent taps of her finger before looking up imploringly.

-RUNNING OUT OF TIME. THE MOONFLOW COMES SOON. YOU MUST ESCAPE-

The child wouldn’t understand the urgency, but her companion’s desperation bore little need for explanations. Whatever was going to happen soon, she could only surmise that it would be nothing good and in no way benevolently beneficial for her. But escape? It would be a pointless exercise. She had already tried to invoke the only thing she knew how to, a Demon Binding Circle, on the bars to no avail during the occasional periods when she had been left unattended. The darkened iron only served to absorb the released seals instead of being rejected by them, an almost magnetic attraction to powers destructive or banishing in their origin. Her new friend on the other side of the bars was obviously equally helpless in that matter.

Or was she?

‘Hey.’ The gold-black looked up from her gloomy brooding at Yuhiko’s whisper. ‘Is it possible to be released from your contract with Iyen-Shuren?’

Another headshake and a finger found its way to the gravel once more, tracing out her reply before she swept the entire message away with a foot.

-MUST BIND NEW CONTRACT WITH NEW MASTER ONLY WHEN IYEN-SHUREN IS WEAKENED-

So it was possible after all. Gripping the bars hard, she peered with an equivalent force at the youkai and dropped her improbable suggestion on the gold-black. ‘Contract me as your new master.’

The words surprised the solemn figure for long moments and she finally managed a sad smile, partially amused by the child’s suggestion, followed with a slow head shake.

-IMPOSSIBLE. YOUR POWERS ARE DORMANT. FAR TOO WEAK TO OVERRIDE IYEN-SHUREN. NO HUMAN HAS EVER CONTRACTED A YOUKAI BEFORE-

Yuhiko sank back onto her spot with a disappointed sigh. Wouldn’t she at least try? But deep down she knew the words were true. She was nothing in comparison to the elder at the moment but there was a small chance at least. In the middle of some unnamed forest probably crawling with creatures loyal to the elder, this one was her only link to anything she could call an ally for now, and she was determined to pursue the only course for survival so far.

She could only pray an opportunity would surface soon.
>> No. 4350
I knew I shouldn’t have taken the damned gourd.

It was sheer chance, or maybe another one of fate’s strange twists that the gourd of seemingly limitless ambrosia would serve to bring the two of us together, for good or bad I knew not. But she followed me all the same, and didn’t look like she was planning on having it any other way. Amidst another one of her wailing pleas, I took a swig from her gourd of wonders. The miraculous thing never seemed to go empty no matter how much I guzzled from it and for once, I thanked the heavens for dropping such a treasure on my lap instead of the usual life-threatening crises beings high above seemed to adore dumping onto me.

The oni had found me, far more sober in comparison to the drunk from the night prior, when I had stopped for a short break at one of the various inclines sloping downwards in this land of scars. Her sudden tackle had caught me off-guard, flying into me just as I had her precious treasure poised over my lips as I lay perched on a bleached boulder. Human, oni, and a magical gourd proceeded to tumble downwards into the deeper reaches of the recessed pathway as we wrestled away and for a moment I thought I had been fighting for my life, until I saw my unrelenting hold on the gourd aside from hers. I felt foolish now over how I had been combating a veritable oni over a gourd of alcoholic delights instead of my precious life, one which never really belonged to me in the first place.

One thing led to another, we eventually found ourselves prone on the ground after our short tousle. The oni lay straddled over me, hands gripping her stolen possession, tugging and tugging as she snarled away. It took me a while to realize she was fighting not with the strength exclusive to her kind, but on a far more accommodating level to humans. If she had gone all out on me, I had no doubts that I would have already been sheared in half when she had first launched herself into me or ripped my arm off if she had pulled on her stolen treasure with her oni strength. Eventually, we calmed down enough to finally screech at each other, almost simultaneously before returning to our struggles.

‘Get off of me!’
‘Give it back!’

My glare was mirrored in her face as we regarded each other with barely veiled hostility, but it didn’t take much to see that she was doing a lot to hold back on the full extent of her powers. I hissed in counterpoint to my exertions as I wiggled the gourd left and right. ‘Who-the-hell-are-you!?’

Likewise, she unrelentingly fought my efforts as she echoed her reply. ‘Sui-ka!-Now-give-it-back!’

The name sounded rather familiar and a good amount of mind dredging finally reminded me where I had heard of it before. Reiji had mentioned the name during our initial arrival at the brewery in what seemed like ages ago. So this was someone associated with Yuugi after all. I decided I had had it with the pointless wrestling.

Fastening one hand on her left horn, I gave a sharp buckle and it did a good enough job in dislodging the straddling oni. Before she could recover and mount me once more, I swept back to my feet and pulled the oni up into the air with each hand on her individual horns. The fury reflected in her eyes at the humiliating outrage of having a mere human dangle her in the air was enough to melt even Ice Cubes herself, but she controlled her rage with obvious effort. Lifting the feather-light oni higher, I brought us face to face with one another as I grunted into her furious countenance. ‘Settle down! Why were you following me?’

Reaching up, she tried to grasp my outstretched hands but fell short of a hand’s length of them and she flung a sharp glare at me before sticking a tongue out. ‘Isn’t it obvious!? Getting back something someone stole from me.’

I pulled away slightly as she proceeded to swing her child-like fists in the air, keeping just out of her reach. The reminder that I was the thief here had me flustered for a second before I recovered and restated my question. ‘No. I mean before that. You were already on my tail several nights ago.’

She did settle down somewhat, but only to cross her arms with a disgruntled huff and renewing her glare on me. ‘Because Yuugi told me to watch your back before she left.’

I took a moment to consider her words before letting go of her horns. Instead of dropping to the ground, she remained hovering in the air where I had released her. I suppose that explained why she had been so gentle with me; she was keeping to Yuugi’s instructions for watching over me. Her glower didn’t dissipate in the least and a quick sweep with one foot swung her abandoned gourd airborne before I caught it idly, turning my back on her and proceeding on my way. The caves would still be a few hours away at least, and I had already wasted enough time fooling around with Yuugi’s friend.

‘Wait!’ my abandoned friend cried from behind before flitting over to me, circling me in a slow orbit but still out of reach, probably to avoid another embarrassing manhandling like the one she had just received from me. ‘Aren’t you going to ask stuff? Like “Ooo! Wow, that was so nice of her!” or “Hey, thank you for the thought!”’

Are those even questions? ‘No,’ I replied simply as I returned to my march, eyeing the oni in annoyance whenever she flew past me. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate Yuugi’s thoughtful gesture but by now, I was leery about having anyone else involved with my problems. I had no taste for seeing another death like Reiji. In my foolish belief that youkai were nigh unto immortal in most cases, I had taken their lives for granted and paid for that belief with Reiji’s loss. Shaking off Keizo had been a wise choice. This Watermelon would be better off far away from all the misfortune I tended to attract.

‘Geez. You’re everything Yuugi said you were. A gloomy bag of killjoy,’ she remarked nonchalantly as she completed her second circuit around me and I felt my eyes roll involuntarily at the smarmy remark. ‘Oh well, not that I have a terribly horny disposition for hanging around you, but you just happen to be headed towards where I wanted to go as well.’

Was that her way of saying she was here to stay, whether I liked it or not? ‘What do you mean by a coincidence? I’m going back to the human village,’ I replied indolently, eager to get the noisome creature to leave.

‘Ha, sneaky,’ she snorted with no shortage of delight. ‘Come now, we both know you’re headed towards the subterranean city to look for Reimu’s kid. Or kid’s kid. Something… whatever.’ She snickered knowingly before adding, ‘Plus this is the wrong way to the village anyhow.’

It could only be Yuugi and her loud mouth. Despite how much we had come to accept one another, I found myself grumbling at her loose tongue. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be spreading that knowledge to half of Gensokyo on her way to wherever. I wasn’t keen on having additional hunters or stalkers on my back should this Vana find out I was on my way for a little social visit. Then again, Yuugi probably trusted Watermelon enough to impart the knowledge of my destination and ultimately, my purpose there. I should be crediting these oni for intelligence instead of a loose tongue.

And that was more or less how we had ended up on the same path, bound for the same destination, though she would finally admit that she was going to the ancient city for a completely different purpose all the same instead of helping me out, something she remarked was a secondary priority for now. Watermelon had given in and revealed why, though it didn’t take much to get her to talk.

‘What makes you think Sunsh-, I mean Yukari is still alive? Her own shikigami thinks otherwise,’ I queried her after a brief period of uncharacteristic silence from the trailing oni.

‘You don’t know. Ran doesn’t know or maybe she can’t feel her. But I can. I know Yukari’s down there now. I can sense it,’ she explained as she kept her eyes on the gourd I swung idly with one hand.

‘I said what makes you think she’s alive,’ I repeated the question with an obvious emphasis on the last word.

The oni shrugged slightly as she glided to my side, gesturing wide with her small arms. ‘We’ve been friends for a long time. People like that have a special connection and a knack for knowing such things. She’s alive, somehow.’ Turning to look up to me, she added in a condescending tone, ‘You should know, right? Right? Friends and all. Link transcending time and space with each other. Bla bla.’

Actually I didn’t, but I kept the unvoiced thought to myself in fears of sparking an unneeded debate about the virtues of human connections and the need for having a network with your fellow travellers in life. Despite the oni’s easygoing appearance, she had a tendency to launch into pointless lectures and in-depth explanations about everything she didn’t agree with. I could do with one less oni chortling into my ears about how wrong I was for not building up relationships with other people and the things I was missing out on.

Thankfully, she grew silent as the arching growths of rock high above cast their shadows on us with our gradual passage through the deepening chasm. I finally tossed her prized treasure back to the oni as a reward, which she gleefully received before giving a short childish laugh and hopping in a small circle around me. Watching her indulge in my former possession, I hoped she would get drunk enough to fall flat and sleep the remainder of the day away, a thought I kept mostly to myself as I focused on navigating the lower reaches of the chasm.

I knew the network of rifts running through this part of Gensokyo were caused more by a mystical form of energy instead of a natural geothermal exchange, attempting to emulate seismic movement in order to preserve a gradually renewing ecological system of sorts. The various tunnels and crevices from the past would naturally, be virtually nonexistent today due to the continually changing land, eliminating the need and bother to actually look for an entrance I could only vaguely recall on old maps. I would have to be resigned to looking for a completely new and undocumented entrance. Or make a new one, I thought dispassionately as I glanced at the happily-drinking oni.

Dayglow had almost died away when I finally came across something resembling an entrance of sorts, if it wasn’t for the veritable wall of rubble blocking the crevasse. Pressing one hand against the tight collection of rocks, I could feel a slight breeze coming through the rubble, a possible entrance or an entire clogged tunnel connecting to the subterranean level. Next to me, Watermelon peered at me curiously as she mimicked my movements, likewise pressing her hand against the packed rocks below mine with a serious expression. For a moment, I felt like tossing her into the rubble.

‘Could be nothing more than a cave-in at the entrance. Or everything behind could very well be more rubble as far as the eye can see,’ I echoed my thoughts out loud for the oni’s benefit as I stepped backwards, peering upwards and around for any other openings. None, I thought with disappointment.

‘Want me to check?’ she asked lightly, glancing back at me, her face still fixed in that frown in mockery of my earlier one.

‘You can? Be my guest and take a look then. Just don’t make an ungodly ruckus over it,’ I cautioned quickly before she could do just that and she replied with a knowing grin. She was going to be quiet about it, right? Right? Her careless wave to dispel my worries did the complete opposite.

I took several more steps away from the blocked opening, unsure about what she was going to try and hoping it wouldn’t be something terribly explosive or anything remotely close to it. Instead, the oni held out both hands wide and lifted her head up slightly before undergoing a relatively remarkable transformation.

The flesh covering her frame rippled like water once, then several more times and before I could refocus my eyes on her to confirm the phenomena, the entirety of my new friend washed away in a sudden expansion of purple mist, or dust from the looks of it. Rather impressive, but nothing I wasn’t already accustomed to seeing by now, and I waited patiently as the dispersed cloud of purple seeped through the rubble. Silence returned soon after, and I hunched down slightly for a little rest as I waited for her return, wondering if she had suddenly taken to getting drunk on the other side instead of coming back seeing how long she was taking for a simple look-see.

Without warning, the entire blockade mocking my progress erupted in a shower of flying boulders and white gravel, sailing past my frozen form as I failed to react to the hail of lethal missiles. Fortunately, my reduced silhouette from crouching helped considerably in avoiding the worst of it and I remained frozen in shock as Watermelon rematerialized from beyond the settling cloud of dust, wearing a triumphant grin as she gave me a silly wave. ‘What’re you waiting for? C’mon!’

‘Gods damn it all, I told you to LOOK, not OPEN!’ I shrieked out loud, thrusting my arms wide in a gesture of unmitigated anger at the oni, who remained oblivious to the fact that she had almost killed me with her little stunt.

Unperturbed, she glanced at her handiwork before shrugging. ‘Geez, what’s the difference? We can go through it all the same.’

Dropping into a fatigued slouch, I ran both hands through my hair, not sure if I should be angered, frightened, or pleased at the moment. ‘I! You! You almost-! Uh!…’ I gave up tearing away at my hair. The next time I let her do something would be the day hell froze over.

Casting her several irritated glances, I moved over to inspect the new hole, still partially hidden by the cloud of drifting particles. Amazingly, not only did the oni manage to clear the entirety of the cave-in, but had succeeded in widening the crevasse as well. A quick glance at the interior of the tunnel revealed exactly what she had used for it; a boulder sitting out of place five times her size she had probably utilized as a wrecking ball. I pointed at the thing questioningly, glancing down at her petite frame at the same time.

‘Damrighhht!’ she slurred slightly before letting loose a little giggle.

Maybe she wasn’t quite as sober as I believed she had been after all, I thought worriedly to myself as I watched the oni wobble slightly in her walk. Abandoning the useless thoughts, I hurried after her into the pitch-black darkness with quickened steps, unwilling to lose track of her now that human eyes would no longer be a reliable source of sight in the subterranean reaches of Gensokyo.
>> No. 4351
The winding darkness reminded me much about the forgotten passages underneath the Youkai Mountain, except in this instance I was arbitrarily clueless as to how this particular tunnel should be navigated. Despite my fears of stumbling about in the dark, Watermelon had assuage them by grudgingly allowing me to keep a handhold on her right horn, something she obviously wasn’t thrilled with but she was rational enough to recognize the necessity for it. For a long time, I started to believe I knew what Short Stuff had been feeling when I led her through the complete dark of the hidden passages we had previously traversed. The sensation of completely entrusting your life and existence to a veritable stranger as she took you through unfamiliar and invisible grounds wasn’t something I could call enlightening.

I was beginning to think we had gotten lost after hours of endless walking shrouded in silence when we finally emerged into a cavernous abyss, and the ensuing sight as my eyes adjusted to the dim lights everywhere stole my breath away. I had thought Gensokyo above was a sight to behold in and on itself but her subterranean sister was no less magnificent in her glory. The cavern roof stretched far above into indeterminable altitudes, almost beyond sight if not for the beckoning orbs of light speckling the lofty void like actual stars in an underground sky. All around, empty space encircled the single major attraction lying a good distance away, a charming city of stone and glowing streets. No artificial pillars or natural stalagmites supported the roof of the cavern; something of a physical impossibility. Such a massive hollow in the earth can’t possibly house an unsupported earthen roof, until I realized I was once more trying to explain Gensokyo with science and technology.

A futile endeavour in these mystical lands.

Watermelon hopped lightly past the edge of the natural platform we stood on, something which gave me a momentary lurch in the stomach considering my fear of heights. She remained suspended in the air as she turned back to regard me seriously, all traces of her tipsiness having vanished during our long walk together.

‘This is as far as we go together. I have to look for Yukari now, wherever she is.’ She pointed with her thumb at the illuminated city behind her before leaving me with her final words of wisdom. ‘Proceed carefully and don’t wander off into the outer reaches of the city. Underground youkai have long reverted to their feral selves and unless you fancy yourself a tasty snack for them, stay on the beaten track. The Ancient City is no less friendly now that your good pal has made it his humble abode. Use stealth, and get your Hakurei friend back.’ She gave a light shrug, thinking about whether or not to add something else. ‘Maybe I’ll get the opportunity to help out but don’t count on it. We’re counting on you instead.’

I was at loss for words on how to return her sudden flood of wisdom, so different she was now in comparison to the drunkard I had grown familiar with. ‘My thanks I guess… And hey, sorry about your gourd,’ I ventured at last, abandoning any attempts at wording a proper gratitude.

She swung her prize around with a finger several times as her serious face gave way to her childish grin, pressing her other hand to her hips. ‘Good stuff, no? Maybe we’ll share this again someday and this time, properly instead of stolen.’ Executing an abrupt turn, she glided into the darkness without further words and I watched her go in silence until the fluttering chains she seemed to be constantly attached to was eventually swallowed by the darkness.

Returning my attention to my surroundings, I proceeded to inspect the abyssal void below the platform, feeling another lurch as I hesitantly peered past the drop. A whole slew of outcropping rocks to one side made for a natural staircase to the lower reaches of the cavernous maw and for a split second, I wondered why I had neglected to ask for a ride down from Watermelon. Another brief glance downwards reminded me why; I hated heights, especially flying. Better to just climb down myself rather than confront my foolish and childish fears.

I had no idea how long I had spent precariously navigating the descending steps, but it felt more like long minutes instead of the usual hours. It was only the height which made things stretch on seemingly longer than they actually did and I tried desperately not to keep looking over the drop as I edged along the jagged protrusions in the wall of the cavern. I was more than halfway through when I finally realized the crude staircase wasn’t completely natural; some segments of it had been hammered into the rock judging from the mismatched colour of the stone and wall. A crude staircase of youkai manufacture, at best. At worst, it had been someone’s game of tossing boulders into this part of the cavern walls from some unfathomable distance away. Regardless, they provided me a means of reaching the lower levels and that was the only thing I was concerned about.

A few final hops and one drop had me firmly grounded at last and I took a moment to adjust the crossbow slightly as I peered back into the upper reaches. I couldn’t believe how far I had gone; the endless series of stony footholds stretched into the dark above almost half a mile high and still, no sign of the natural platform was in sight. With a small shake of my head, I turned towards the preternatural glow in the horizon and proceeded with quickened steps, thoughts running in tandem with my pace.

Unfamiliar grounds would necessitate additional caution, and the subterranean void I was in more or less qualified as just that. Freeing a quarrel and fitting it to the crossbow, I had it primed and ready to fire in less than a few seconds, holding the weapon at ready instead of slinging it behind. The unbalanced weight impeded my pace somewhat, but I wouldn’t enjoy having it accidentally go off behind my back and straight into an outstretched foot. With a silent sigh, I steeled myself and went on. No choice but to put up with the discomfort now.

I would finally come across something akin to civilization of sorts as following the glow brought me to a road of sorts, lined with lanterns as far as the eye can see. Stretching off into both directions, it served as a high road of sorts, connecting the official entrance to Gensokyo’s subterranean level with the Ancient City somewhere beyond the other side. Once, ages ago, the silent artery probably would have been bustling with activity as countless youkai made their way to and fro the Ancient City on their pilgrimages of sorts. The stark whispers of wind coursing through the underground space would be its only travellers now, a testament to the life this place had one held in the distant past.

I kept to the high road, but well away from the illumination the ageless lanterns endlessly provided. I had no doubts that more mystical than actual flames burned in those ancient cradles to remain active and unmaintained throughout the solitary years. The light they provided lit up most of the road and consequently, travellers on it, something I wasn’t keen on having happen to me. Good enough that no one seemed the wiser about my arrival; I wouldn’t undermine that by walking in plain view of everything which would happen to look down on the road from the darkness above.

Gradual hours more of walking later, the outskirts of the city drew into sight and while the sight was somewhat enamouring from a great distance, viewed up front it was an enchanting spectacle to say the least. Old, almost ancient as befit of its namesake, the numerous collections of finely constructed stone buildings gave all indications of being a city in its own right. Tall and sturdy, they loomed above the interspaced streets below them and from the looks of things their mysterious builders would require no small amount of credit for making something which truly withstood the test of time. There was hardly an observable flaw to the city in my overall view. Not one of the massive blocks and blocks of stone had so much as cracked, much less fallen out.

Outstanding.

Leaving the sight-seeing for a later time, I worked my way towards the closest street in sight and kept to my little routine of peering upwards into the inky blackness. This time, my caution was rewarded with something and I lifted the crossbow skywards warily to scan above, dropping into a small crouch as dark silhouettes glided silently above in a trio. Roaming the aerial pathways in a zigzagging pattern, they came dangerously close to where I had secreted myself before angling away.

Tengu patrols underground? They were rather far-removed from their mountain home. But given their association with Vana I no longer found that to be anything remarkably strange or noteworthy at this point. If anything, it only served to reinforce the fact that the elder was truly in the palace the happy puppy I had tortured had mentioned.

Giving myself several more minutes of huddling in the darkness, I finally slipped past the outer fringes of the city and darted towards the closest building in sight. Gripping and reassuring myself of my only means of self-defence, I peered past the corners of the ancient stonework, noting more empty streets and dark buildings beyond. What looked like the entrance to the building lay in stark illumination of the street lanterns and I chose a window just within reach as a means of entry instead, hopping once and catching the ledge with an inaudible grunt before pulling myself up and through the hole.

Dropping and rolling to a short stop, I took some time in adjusting to the even dimmer interior, slipping past unidentified shapes in the dark probably belonging to age-old furnishing or some such. Finally finding a door to the room I had dropped into, I made my exit and looked for a way to the upper floors of the building. Instead of stairs, there was nothing but holes in the ceiling, holes the former inhabitants would have used to move between floors. I cursed at the lack of stairs as much as I acknowledged the pointlessness of such conveniences to creatures which were essentially flighty in some ways.

Nevertheless, I would make the ascent all the same, wasting more precious time stacking rickety furniture as my literal Tower of Babel in my attempts at defying the long-dead builders of this ancient city. A table of sorts, several crates and a chair was all I needed to reach the nearest hole, which I proceeded to invade with a goodly amount of huffing and puffing. Above, the particular something I had been so desperately seeking in the building finally drew into view; another window of sorts showing the right panorama of the city as a whole.

Careful to remain within the darkness, I savoured the magnificent view beyond, looking for the elusive palace as I did. It wasn’t hard to find the thing; the palace was essentially the other half of the damned city, a fact I had somehow stupidly missed when I was looking down at it from where I had first arrived underground. Squinting above the palace brought the sight of additional birds in flight into view as well. Tengu guards, random youkai, or just humongous overgrown ravens I cared not. I had no desire to run into them all the same.

With my objective firmly sighted now, I dropped back to the exterior of my vantage point and slipped through the mostly-organized city. It wasn’t hard to find my way around. Truth be told I barely even needed to imagine a map in my head. The subterranean city had been constructed in an almost even grid of blocks separated by streets. All I needed to do was keep travelling perpendicular to the streets in the protective cloak of the darkened alleyways and I would eventually reach the Palace of the Earth Spirits. With mounting anxiety, I increased my pace, wishing for all of this to be over soon.

Tenma’s nameless cohorts grew in their frequency and patrol intensity as I drew closer to the veritable palace. More and more I was coming to find myself stopped dead in my tracks as I pressed into the darkness, waiting for the low voice of their chatters to die away before proceeding onwards. It was a drain of time I was growing ever more impatient with. Without realizing, my old behaviour was resurfacing in light of all the troubles I was once more needing to surmount and I cursed silently at nothing in particular as I forced myself to press the journey.

And at long last, I was there, furtively darting in the darkness and through brief splashes of light like the shameless thief and murderer I was. How appropriate, I thought cynically as I hopped over a low wall and climbed one immediately behind it, cursing once more at the nameless builders. If they had wanted to build a wall, they should have just built one at the height they wanted. I failed to see the point in making a new one to suit their fresh whims and fancy.

Mounting another accursed low wall, I finally found myself within the palace grounds itself and a quick dart to an ornate collection of stained glass windows had me pressed between two of them. Unfortunately, the aged windows wouldn’t budge in the slightest, even with an infuriated pound to see if I could get it to loosen up. Seeing little choice left, I waited for the numerous shapes flitting above in the dark to drift apart before I threw the crossbow against the window to my left, shattering a good portion of the glass with far more noise than I hoped it would produce. Fleeing back to the wall in a panic, I stood ready to make a hasty retreat until it was readily apparent nothing had taken notice of the sudden commotion. Gradually advancing up to the broken window with the weapon at ready, I climbed through the jagged glass carefully, breaking off the more-dangerously protruding ones with the shaft of the crossbow before being able to drop through to the other side.

A silent howl slipped through my mind, a voiceless voice of an unknown familiarity, briefly touching my thoughts before vanishing just as abruptly it had appeared, had me pivoting about and warily training the crossbow on both ends of the empty ornate hallway. Somewhere deep down, Rilofene stirred at the brief contact as well before seemingly fading away. Something told me she had suddenly become alert all the same, a fact she was trying to keep me ignorant of. In the tense atmosphere of my intrusion, I barely had the time or thought to deal with that can of worms. Whatever it had been, I would confront her with it later.

Random exploration would be my only recourse now, lacking any sort of indication or guide as to where the elder would be holding Short Stuff. For all I knew, she could be in any one of the hundreds of empty rooms in this mansion-turned-palace but she would of course, be held in a more easily-guarded location. Tenma’s cohorts would probably do a good job in indicating where that particular somewhere may be.

With the reassuring thought in mind, I started on my stealthy inspection, stopping frequently to scope out empty halls and meeting chambers but nothing I sought came into view and I started feeling uneasy as more time elapsed. Why was the interior empty? Where was the elder and most importantly, Short Stuff? Why bother having that many guards outside and spare none inside? Something didn’t add up and whatever it was, I didn’t like it one bit.

Another meeting hall of sorts soon came into view past twin doors which swung inwardly on their close-to-silent hinges. Unlike the others, this one was much bigger than the rest and had me staring a while at the enormity of the room. A set of ornate doors much like the one I had just passed through lay at the end and with trepidation, I decided that I had no choice but to check it out all the same despite how open the place was to ambush.

The hushed whispers came once more, startling me in my tracks and I whirled about in alarm, pointing the crossbow this way and that at nothing in particular. The hell?

This time, Rilofene chose to respond directly to it. Something was markedly different about her, something I couldn’t place a finger on. Her characteristic disdain and hostility had all but vanished, to be replaced with a resigned tone of sorts and laced with weary regret.

'So it wasn’t fear after all. They never feared me.'

‘What?’ I hissed at her as I pressed tight against the ornate doors. The fell goddess was making no sense and I didn’t want to deal with her added weight under such circumstances.

'There was never any danger. All that running, useless. Worthless. So much wasted time. Mere children.'

‘What the hell are you talking about!?’ I ranted away voicelessly, confusion replacing anxiety and fear.

'Did she plan all this, all along? Was this your grand design? Such foresight.'

Half thinking about ignoring Rilofene, she issued an imperious command instead and the weight of her words instantly floored me, much like how she had struck me that night at Heaven Cradle. As unbelievable as I found it to be, I felt myself floored as sweat poured through my pores. She repeated her command once more, without a hint of her old self in sight. It almost seemed like the former deity had turned into something else completely.

'Open the doors and meet destiny, child. All will be revealed.'

Fighting hard against the suggestion, I found myself reaching for the doors regardless and with a sudden push, the barriers swung away to reveal something which left me in wide-eyed shock.

Once more, a poignant reminder of Project Lemegeton stood before me, the great Ark standing tall and proud as the crown of the vessel remained out of reach beyond the dim illumination. I took a slow crawl towards it, still trying to fight against Rilofene’s suggestion and another shocking sight soon drew into view. Some distance away, Sunshines lay unmoving on the ground, practically dead to the world as her limbs sprawled outwards in an uneven angle. My vision of her was torn away as my head returned to its supplicating bow in front of the Ark.

‘Magnificent, isn’t it?’ a smooth voice came from behind. A maddeningly familiar one and I tried desperately to remember where I had heard the voice from before. Trying to stand and turn towards the source of the voice only succeeded in bringing forth a new flood of sweat.

The answer came in the form of a sharp stab and this time, I wouldn’t need to look down to see what had eaten its way through my torso. A lance of light and flowing metal in yellow; the Sword of Hisou.

The celestial would help me back on my feet by pivoting her sword upwards and I shuddered away in pain as I followed her motion, feebly grasping at the intangible blade in a vain attempt at pulling free. Her voice came from behind once more, ‘And at long last, we are back in the beginning, old friend.’ One of her hands reached forth and tore the other half of Short Stuff’s charm away from my wrist. ‘This damned thing nearly undermined everything,’ she grunted with displeasure.

In a haggard breath, I rasped at her as I struggled violently to fight against pretty much everything. ‘Wh- Hell…! You talking- about!’ I managed before being interrupted by a long string of coughs.

‘It took a long time, but Rilofene finally realized her role in our stately dance. Things didn’t really go that well, especially with your return ahead of schedule.’ She wiggled me in front of the Ark as she continued her senseless words, ‘The two of you weren’t supposed to fight destiny. The events in the past few weeks had been a pointless waste of time. Now that Rilofene is fully aware, things can finally come to their long-overdue conclusion.’

A lengthy giggling interrupted the question which had been hovering on my lips and the celestial brought me closer to the Ark. Despite how much I stumbled in my involuntary march, we eventually reached the base of the great vessel and I could feel the celestial’s breath as she drew close, sweet and tinged with a peachy aftertaste. ‘-What awaits beyond the boundless depths of memories?’ she whispered into my ears, and this time, I knew who she was speaking to.

'A verdant garden of flowing life; Gensokyo.'

‘-The womb that shelters its children.’
'The nurturing shell of our forebearers; the Great Boundary.'

‘-A golden path to salvation, the vessel to a new future.’
'Our black star, the obsidian sun; False Dawn.'

‘-The end of the twilight, beyond the furthest reaches of despair.’
'Mankind's grave and cradle; Ia Terra.'

‘-What lies in the deepest recesses of blackened hearts?’
'True immortality transcending the Maelstrom itself; Lux et Demiurges.'

Incandescent lines of light had begun running through the Ark before the last of Rilofene’s words had faded and I allowed my eyes to follow their traceries around the ancient letters; Unit Ophanim. Peaches gave me a small hug and whispered into my other ear, ignoring all the sweat as she pressed her cheek against mine. ‘Reunited at last, old friend. The Visitors hunger for the love of their lost mother as well. Finally, we would have the power to put to right everything that has gone wrong with Gensokyo and the world without.’

The playing lines of light grew dim before the entirety of Unit Ophanim threw out a single pulse of noise, a reverberating shockwave which further served to render my body even less in control. The Sword of Hisou slipped free at last, allowing me the brief mercy to sink to the ground once more and somewhere behind, Peaches took cautious steps backwards until she was well away from me. A quick glance upwards had me in a new bout of panic as I watched the Ark slide open at various intervals. Liquid dark, black and impermeable, slid through the openings.

‘She’s ready. Take her!’ Peaches exclaimed from the background.

No amount of fighting could defeat what came next, a veritable wall of black coalescing before me and hammering down with unprecedented force as Unit Ophanim exploded in a crescendo of groaning metal and howling voices. A cold beyond words and description washed over me as I stopped breathing completely. The void was something which was unforgettable, and I knew this was the very same thing I had experienced so many weeks ago at the tengu settlement. Rilofene was no longer anywhere I could feel, and Kanako manifested as a tangible presence in the depthless void. With an urgent hand outstretched, she reached for me and tried to catch my arm, only to pass through my flesh like a ghost of legends.

A frown grew on her face, and she spoke to me with critical urgency. ‘There’s no time to waste. All this time with you and I never realized, never knew. We cannot allow this to pass; you lied to the celestial. Lied to everyone. This was all your fault and you have to put things right.

‘What do you mean my fault!?’ I gasped at her as my hand swept through her ghostly figure as well.

Eyes in the void began opening and peered intently at the intruder within and Kanako returned her frantic gaze to me. ‘No longer any time to explain. Do the right thing, do you hear me!? Atone! The child’s influence on you has fragmented your original self and we still have a chance! I’m sorry for what I’m about to do.’

She closed her eyes momentarily and reopened them with a new light of vigour in them. Reaching out to catch my arm this time, she drew me towards her hard, and I felt myself flung far and wide through her and free of the omniscient dark at long last. Her final words reached me from somewhere in the infinite horizon and I knew this would be the last time we would share the comfort we had in the weeks past.

‘This last part of myself I give willingly for you to live. I wronged the world in more ways than one, never once seeking to set things right, never once did I try to change the outcome of fate. Where I failed, it is up to you now to see my journey through. Don’t fail the child. Most importantly, do not lose sight of who you truly are, or who you have become. No matter what you had originally done to both our worlds, you have the knowledge to set things truly right now. Do not go down the same path!

And all returned to a more natural darkness as I floated lifeless in the void, insensate to the world.
>> No. 4352
Something felt terribly wrong.

I couldn’t move a muscle despite how much I tried to lift a hand or twitch a leg. Even the act of opening my eyes required an almost monumental expenditure of energy. It was almost as if my body was dead and growing colder, and my awareness was locked in the corpse I had become, doomed to rot away while I remained alert to the passing of centuries as my bones would eventually turn to dust.

Despite the overall feeling of being dead, I gradually felt the tingling sensation of warmth return to wherever I tried moving. Small at first, but the warmth grew slowly, as if cells were regenerating in defiance of death itself. Life was suffusing my body, and I could begin to experience involuntary twitches whenever I commanded a limb to move. Eventually, I managed to pull my eyelids open before they abruptly snapped shut once more. Forcing myself not to panic, I tried again and this time, they stayed open long enough for me to gaze into absolute darkness.

For some time I thought I had gone blind as well and the panic returned, but I slowly realized my retina was coming back to life as much as the other parts of my body when they slowly adjusted to the darkness and the familiar outlines of the far-distant cavern roof returned into view. Had I been dead after all? This sort of regeneration shouldn’t be possible in my human body.

Human body?

An arm finally gathered up enough strength to lift up into my field of vision and I stared at it in long moments. I didn’t recall the fingers being this long, or my skin tone being this colour. For that matter, I didn’t remember getting a change in clothing. Trying to sit upright only forced an involuntary cough to bubble up and I felt my heart hammer faster at the sound of my own voice. Who the hell had that just been? In a frenzied panic, I fought to push myself into a seated position, succeeding to a degree as I finally managed to get upright, lose my balance, and return to all fours. I had trouble breathing normally. Were my lungs partially dead too?

Something was definitely wrong, and I knew what now. The dragging feeling behind my back came from hair grown unnaturally long, well past my knees and grabbing a handful with a weakened hand had me staring at them in wide-eyed horror. The locks were no longer black.

They were a permeable gold of brilliant sunshine.

Sunshine…

Coughing a rapid series of rasping wheezes only served to unnerve me further as the sound which sprang forth from the bowels of my throat no longer resembled anything of my own. With forced willpower, I crawled over to one of the fragments of Unit Ophanim’s shell, and gazed in shock at what stared back in the reflective surface. Golden eyes the same shade of yellow danced wildly as they mirrored my own eye movements.

Yukari. Sunshines.

‘Sweet mother of… !’ I wheezed out loud in her voice as I brought an involuntary hand up to caress my new face. The Yukari in the makeshift mirror made no movements contrary to my own and my head sank to the ground in confusion as I kept trying to draw in a proper breath. What was still wrong with my lungs? Her lungs? Mine? Whose? Screw all of that, what the hell was wrong with me in general?

Feeling about my chest past breasts much larger than ones I used to lug around yielded the answer to my distressed breathing. With a soft curse, I reached backwards and looked for the straps binding the corset together, spending a good minute struggling with the torturous device and rolling about the ground in desperation before finally gripping the lace tight and pulling hard on it. The crushing feeling in my torso eased up and I drew in a quivering breath gratefully. How Sunshines could even breathe in the damn thing was beyond my ken.

I couldn’t even walk normally. Instead, I resorted to a wild stumbling about and half-crawls as I blundered around in confusion, unused to Yukari’s body. Reaching upwards, I gripped her poofy hat hard and tore the accursed thing off in mind-addled anger before attacking the rest of the laces on her dress, desperate to get the various knots and constricting bonds off so I could move and breathe easier. I fell hard to the ground several times as I danced about like a madwoman around Unit Ophanim’s former cradle, completely forgetting everything which had happened up to the point I had woken up in Yukari’s body. Everything seemed to get in my way; from legs which failed to respond properly to her abysmally long hair getting tangled on every single thing within reach, seemingly of their own volition.

Eventually, I regained enough sanity to quit fighting against her body and sat spread-legged on the ground as I wheezed away, trying to sort everything still churning in my mind. What happened? That last moment when Unit Ophanim had fractured and the wall of black slammed into me was the last thing I remembered.

No. There was something more. Something important I was missing and I hammered my head against the ground hard in an attempt to force the memory forth.

Shit. Peaches and the newly-formed mass of the Visitors. Scrabbling about in mindless panic, I cast a wild glance all over for any signs of them, but the sepulchral silence of the cavern was the only thing which remained from the most recent event. Half crawling, half hopping over to the wall, I collapsed against it before being racked with a new bout of unhinging coughing, trying to smooth the nervous train wreck that made up my mind now.

Something happened. The Visitors, pouring forth from Unit Ophanim and washing over my former body. And Kanako doing something inexplicable at the end to save me. Or my new self, whatever the hell she had meant. What did she mean by everything being my fault? I shook the golden hair away angrily as they continually floundered into my eyes.

I had to do something. Anything. Go someplace. Whatever. I no longer knew what in my confusion. For long moments, I remained sitting against the wall as I moaned my despair, trying to formulate some sort of plan or anything remotely similar to that. The commotion here would undoubtedly draw the attention of Tenma’s flunkies and perhaps, even Vana himself down here in due time. Something had to be done, and fast.



[ ] Get out of here the way you came in. Sort the mess out at a safer place.
[ ] Retreat back to the abandoned city and hide out there for now.
[ ] Look for another way out. Another exit; anything useful.
>> No. 4353
Not much to say, except my eyes are swimming now.

Enjoy.
>> No. 4354
What, another update? So soon? And look at the size of that wall...I love you Palfag.

Also, two choices in a row? Are you, by any chance, trying to turn this into a regular CYOA?
>> No. 4355
[x] Look for another way out. Another exit; anything useful.
We are NOT going back to the surface after all this shit. We need to find the kid more now than ever. .
I wonder what will happen to her original body? Is Yukari really gone for good? Do we have, at least, a fraction of her power?
>> No. 4356
[x] Retreat back to the abandoned city and hide out there for now.
>> No. 4358
>>4355
>We need to find the kid more now than ever

Isn't she with Ien Shuren, at the top of Youkai Mountain?
>> No. 4359
{X} Look for another way out. Another exit; anything useful.
>> No. 4360
[x] Look for another way out. Another exit; anything useful.

This is going to be awkward when we next meet Suika and/or Ran, but I think we got rid of that other goddess now. But we should find a way back to the surface after she can confirm that the Hakurei is in another area.
But it was funny seeing our heroine react to being in Yukari's more 'healthier body'
>> No. 4363
[X] Look for another way out. Another exit; anything useful.

Well, this answers some questions, but creates new ones.
>> No. 4364
[x] Look for another way out. Another exit; anything useful.
>> No. 4366
I just realized: Vana's reaction to seeing our heroine's 'new body'. I kinda hope that not too many choices will come up, since with this story, each choice has considerable weight and a bunch of them would be mentally exhausting.
>> No. 4374
>Not much to say, except my eyes are swimming now.
Yeah, it kind of shows. Not overmuch, but you slipped up a lot on tenses.

Don't be hesitant to take a break, man. You write an amazing story and write an absurd amount of text. We will not be ungrateful if you have to delay it a little to allow for sleep and proofreading.

>>4355
I am wondering most of these things as well. Tenshi and Rilofene apparently knew each other, and it seems we won't get the opportunity to ask her about the shit she was hiding from us.

No idea what Tenshi did with Unit Ophanim, what her goals are, what she did with the Wanderer's original body, or what she did to/with Rilofene.

You know that whole thing about strapping a piece of buttered toast to the back of a cat to create a perpetual motion device? This story feels something like that, but with a frying pan on one side and a merrily blazing fire on the other, and the Wanderer getting dumped back and forth as it endlessly rotates.

But hey, hopefully we'll be meeting back up with Suika.

Also, two other questions for any of my fellow readers with better memories:

1. Was I mistaken or did anyone else get the impression that Akyu had the hots for the Wanderer way back when, pre-Keinechop? I can't point out where or why, but I remember reading something that gave me that impression, for some reason.

2. How exactly did Yuhiko get into Iyen-Shuren's clutches, again?
>> No. 4375
>>4358
see the very last lines of >>4349
>In the middle of some unnamed forest probably crawling with creatures loyal to the elder, this one was her only link to anything she could call an ally for now, and she was determined to pursue the only course for survival so far.
Unless there is some forest on Youkai Mountain I'm not aware of, or wherever the fuck "The Great Youkai Forest" is.
>> No. 4376
>>4375

It's a Great Forest full of Youkai. Problem solved.
>> No. 4377
>>4374

Satori snuck off with her during the fighting between the Vana and the Tengu and Yukari and Ran.

It's clear that Rilofene was behind the project's failure. But my question is: Where is Yukari's soul since her body seems very intact, even down to the dress (which the wanderer finds absurdly impractical.) But whatever the case it was Kanako's final favor, perhaps to give us a form with which to better rally the various fragments that haven't forgotten about what really matters.
>> No. 4383
>>4377
My only question is how is Rilofene so involved in this when she's been stuck with the Wanderer since the beginning of time.
>> No. 4387
Oh god what's going on I don't even

[x] Look for another way out. Another exit; anything useful.
>> No. 4389
>>4383

Not so much stuck, but a fragment of her... perhaps another fragment might have manipulated things to where they are as a final revenge against humanity. The fact that a bunch of other shit was going down was just a nice bonus.

But I think the biggest question is if she could fly or not, since that'd help her get around easily than moving (considering how Yukari's body isn't as used to hiking long distances on foot like her old one.)
>> No. 4392
> The Visitors hunger for the love of their lost mother as well. Finally, we would have the power to put to right everything that has gone wrong with Gensokyo and the world without.

Rilofene is a god of murder. the Visitors are all the human souls that she has corrupted due to influence or having her avatar of death bring them over to her kicking and screaming, both by killing. Once the world is dead, she will rule as an immortal god, with no need for worship, as she will gain faith for all the blood spilled by her 'children' (read: minions/slaves), only to be revived afterward to do so again.

> All this time with you and I never realized, never knew. We cannot allow this to pass; you lied to the celestial. Lied to everyone. This was all your fault and you have to put things right.

For this, I'm thinking Kanako might have mistaken us for Yukari. We may have more in common with 'Sunshines' than we realize.

Both of these are just guesses, easily knocked down with enough proof.

> She’s ready. Take her!

This however, is much more sturdy. My guess is the the Visitors are now using the Wanderers body as a vessel itself, just to keep Rilofene in this realm until such a time when she won't need it any more. And when that time comes, the apocalypse will look pretty good in comparison to what will happen next. The Heresy Dragon will probably be connected to that somehow.
>> No. 4400
>>4375

I haven't read the last two updates yet, those after the meeting with Yuugi. I'm saving them for when I have to work, you know, I need something to keep me motivated.
>> No. 4412
File 126437871356.jpg - (47.90KB, 486x528, What is this I.jpg) [iqdb]
4412
>>4392
oh god
>> No. 4416
>>4354
Leaning towards that somewhat. It's more or less a trial period. I'll leave it up the readers to decide in the end.

I've been making some changes I can afford to in order to address the numerous complaints I've read so far. Unfortunately, it looks like it only served to generate new pet peeves. Naturally, that's the author's fault of course. I'll see what I can do to improve.

Also, being grounded by terrible weather makes for plenty of quality writan tiem. Can't say the same about my lost weekend though.
>> No. 4419
>>4416

Well, I would rather have the story as it was, gigantic walls with very important decisions here and there instead of choices all the time. The few choices had meaning behind them, much bigger and more important than frequent choices would have. That, and you would have much less control over the story, and seeing how good it has been, changes are not needed.

Also, having to improvise would put a new and big weight on your shoulders, which could decrease the speed and quality significantly.

You've been doing great so far. Why change it?

>numerous complaints I've read so far

Complaints? What complaints?
>> No. 4425
>>4416

When we say you make walls we mean that in a very good way. People love that aspect of your story. To change it now would be a crime.
Being in Yukari's body has its own benefits and disadvantages. For one enemies will be more on their guard against the famed gap youkai than a mere human. And the worse disadvantage the possibility of something evil using the Wanderer's original body, having the potential for horrific mix ups. But thinking on it I think that's why Rilofene tried to kill short stuff back then, because she posed a threat to her plans. But I wonder if Vana's possessed by a Rilofene fragment or not.
>> No. 4427
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4427
>I've been making some changes I can afford to in order to address the numerous complaints I've read so far
>numerous complaints
wat
>> No. 4434
File 126448472878.jpg - (280.28KB, 929x740, 183f66582a6463.jpg) [iqdb]
4434
No time left for sitting around like an idiot.

Intimately aware of the precious seconds slipping past, I hobbled over to the first thing which was in sight; the crossbow lying some distance away at the base of the ornate portal serving as both entrance and exit to the Ark’s cradle. Experimentally, I tried shifting into a braced stance before pulling myself upright, a dismal attempt at standing regardless of effort. It was almost akin to walking on stilts without handholds; Sunshines was a head taller than I originally was and as such, my perception of balance was completely thrown out of the window after the unplanned hijacking of her corpse. Corpse? Was she even deceased in the first place? From her outward appearance when I had last seen her in my own body, she had looked deader than dead but she could have been merely catatonic. Whatever Kanako had done to me, I was fairly certain Sunshines wouldn’t be the slightest bit thrilled at the fact that she had been displaced in her own body if she was somehow still alive.

Finally reaching the crossbow, I dragged the weapon over before trying once more to stand and this time, I took deliberate care in exercising my stilts theory. It worked; I finally managed to stand and remain upright, albeit plagued by the occasional wobble as the world seemed to sway under my new height. A quick inspection of the crossbow revealed the reassuring presence of the quarrel still locked in place and primed to fire. I found a moment to wonder if I would even need something like this now that I had access to Sunshines’ body. Then again, even if it was somehow possible, it would probably take long months to adjust to her body enough before I could do anything remotely close to what she had been capable of.

Plus I detested flying anyway, I thought dimly as I gripped the wooden stock hard, pressing against a wall for balance before peering carefully into the corridor serving as the only way out of this dead-end.

With my free hand braced against the wall for support, I made good progress back towards the fork which branched off into Unit Ophanim’s cradle and another corridor perpendicular to the way out. Or at least I assumed it could be considered good progress; I no longer stumbled with every single step I took and I was quickly adapting to keeping myself upright, although I still had a world of problems in emulating the agility I was so used to in my original body. Gradually, I came to realize that something was markedly different with me as well. I could actually somewhat see in the abysmal gloom and my hearing had grown far more sensitive. The neglected floor below grated with an ungodly screech as dust particles scratched away with my footsteps and I cringed visibly at the distressing volume of something this minor. I could only wonder if such elevated senses were exclusive to youkai. Mere humans seemed like blind bats bungling about in comparison to my heightened senses now.

As I arrived back at the fork, my mind had finally regained a small semblance of calm and I could finally work out my options. Pressed against the wall and peering off into the branching hallways uncertainly, I went over what I had now. My original objective still remained; I had to steal Short Stuff back, wherever she was in here. A more pressing need would be to secure some way out of the subterranean city, and not through the way I came in. The disturbance here hadn’t gone completely unnoticed as faint vibrations in the air indicated the presence of shouting tengu somewhere far away, something I wouldn’t have noticed without Sunshines’ ears. Groups of them were making their way down here, headed by something or someone who sounded very, very upset.

Despite the obvious course of action, I chose not to flee. Searching for an alternate exit could be delayed slightly. It seemed like a good opportunity to find out a lot more about what went on around here if the guards themselves would come. They would eventually move to the next thing of importance to check-on when they found no one at the cradle, namely Short Stuff’s location, a fact I could take advantage of. It was now or never, and I threw the voice of common sense away as I retraced my steps to the secluded chamber housing the remains of the Ark. A hasty search brought nothing and nowhere good enough to serve as a concealment spot, except the gloomy depths of the ceiling above. Craning my neck upwards, I tried to find a spot I could use and one came up in the form of a darkened intersection of the numerous wooden support beams high up above. There would be no other choice but to scale something to get there.

I was half-considering building another rickety Tower of Babel with the sparse furnishing until I realized how foolish that had sounded. There was neither the time nor the place to hide something so obvious. Hurrying over to a partially ruined segment of wall instead, I tried to find a handhold in the loose mortar. The packed material parted almost effortlessly at my finger’s push and I withdrew my hand in surprise for a moment. This time, I jammed an entire fist through the wall and easily made a hole in the crumbling stonework. Her body could be pretty useful after all.

Slinging the crossbow behind, I started up the wall using the loose stonework as support at first and reverted to punching through the wall for handholds when the intact upper portion of the wall didn’t allow for such luxuries. I must have ripped away an entire fingernail or three of hers in the process; something I wasn’t overly concerned about seeing how fast I had came back to life from being in what was essentially her corpse. The damned things would heal quickly enough given the chance.

Scaling the last portions of the upper reaches, I pulled myself over and onto the nearest supporting beam before crawling over carefully to the spot I had spied earlier. The vibrating air told me my quarries were coming closer now and I wouldn’t even need to strain my ears in trying to hear their heated exchanges. Nothing left to do but wait now. As a precaution, I slipped the crossbow free and tried to assume a more comfortable position before going prone on the wooden support. The spot provided an excellent shroud of darkness, a somewhat reassuring fact as I calmed my breathing and forced myself to become still.

They finally came, a group of scraggy tengu I could smell all the way up here, or it could just be another factor in my new senses. At the head of the foursome strode an imposing male figure with an air of majesty and authority, seemingly radiating them like a furnace as he marched through the room until he slid to a stop in front of the ruined Ark. The four trailing behind broke to a stop as well and their chatter fell silent as they took to staring fearfully all around. The lead male took several moments in looking around as well, seemingly searching for something aside from taking note of what was left of Unit Ophanim. I gripped the crossbow at ready as I waited for them to talk.

Unexpectedly, their leader whirled around and backhanded one of the tengu behind, sending the piteous creature scuttling across the floor as he shouted at the remaining trio. ‘Where is it!? Where is she!?’ I frowned as I peered hard at the figure which had proceeded to scream and ramble into the face of the intimidated trio. This has to be Vana. And who did he mean by “she”? Short Stuff?

The elder flew into a rage as I watched on, grappling his subordinates, throwing another into an opposing wall and giving the last one the good news with his fist as he shouted away in frustration laced with anger. Despite the abuse they endured, the foolish tengu continually crawled back to him in supplication, as if fearing an even greater punishment should they dare take leave of the elder’s presence without his permission. I felt my heart quicken at the sight; this one was not without considerable power to justify such submissive behaviour.

The rampaging figure eventually calmed down slightly as his rage subsided and he whipped around to face the battered foursome who responded with nothing less than fearful cringes. ‘Go! Gather the others and search for my precious!’ His subordinates summarily complied, darting away from the elder’s outstretched hand, as if fearing a divine bolt of judgment would spring forth from it. Crazy fossil, I muttered silently as I continued to eye the unhinged youkai.

My hopes for new leads of any sort were dashed as I remained still, observing the now-solitary elder. The creature was obviously nothing what someone would call rational or sane for that matter. He paced around the wreckage that made up Unit Ophanim and continually broke into a sob mixed with brief bouts of angered screams and unnerved howls, beseechingly calling for the “will of God” whenever he bent low to caress the wreckage scattered all over. A new sort of panic assaulted me as I suddenly thought about the possibility of the elder spending weeks in here grieving over his petty pile of scrap metal.

Exhibiting another unexpected change in behaviour, the raging lunatic suddenly regained his composure and began talking to himself cheerfully, chatting idly with thin air and dancing shadows before growing still once more, seemingly calm and composed as he drifted into deep thought. Great, trapped in a room with a raving lunatic and I had practically discovered nothing useful from his outbursts. I struggled to remain comfortable and hoped the elder would take his leave soon. I had no wish to delay my search any longer and make an impromptu escape to sort my new mess out.

At long last, the creature made a move to leave, casting one last glance around the room before striding confidently towards the exit and I breathed a sigh of relief inwardly. Unfortunately, Lady Luck had decided that now would be the perfect time to punish my streak of unbroken fortune. Somewhere a few feet away embedded in the stonework ceiling, another fragment from Unit Ophanim which had lodged itself there as a result of the Ark’s fracturing decided it was bored and wanted to come loose just as the elder was about to clear the room. I froze in alarm watching the damnable piece of metal slide free slightly, praying silently for it to remain still. Naturally, it would decide otherwise, sending a small stream of dust and loose rocks downwards and onto the lunatic himself in its irritated shifting.

It was probably just the sensation of time freezing again, but things slowed down considerably as I watched his figure come to an abrupt stop, followed by a gradually turning head which looked up towards the source of the disturbance. Half in panic now, I still didn’t think he would see me in the dark behind the support beam but I no longer wanted to take that chance as I noticed his outstretched hand. Instantly swinging the crossbow over the side before he could as much as let loose a single pellet of light to investigate, I pulled hard on the trigger, feeling the various gears and mechanisms slide neatly into place as they released the tension on the taut lath. True to the quality put into the construction of the weapon, the quarrel flew unerringly towards the elder’s head and tore through his right eye.

He dropped to the ground in a howl of pain at the same time I threw myself down, coming to a ground-rending crash as I landed. Astonishingly, I felt little to no pain from what would otherwise been a bone-breaking drop. Sparing no time to wonder about the phenomena, I sprang up and darted past the grounded youkai in a stumbling dash, once more cursing at my unstable footing. Fumbling with the crossbow, I ripped another quarrel free from the moorings on its side and was halfway done cranking the priming mechanism when something got stuck. In mid-dash, I looked down at the weapon as I breathed an obscenity. Yukari’s lengthy sleeve had gotten caught in the gears.

My attempts to free the weapon as I came within an arm’s reach of the fork past the smaller hall finally succeeded just as something crashed into me from behind, instantly toppling me over as the weapon skittered to one side. The smell of unwashed hair, perspiration and something musky or rancid assailed my nostrils before I could even turn to struggle against whoever it was tackling me. Forcefully turned over to face the elder now straddling me, I stared straight into his pupil-less eyes for a split second before my left hand flew towards his throat, aiming for the critical veins which would be there if he was also an offshoot of the tengu species. In a haze of panic, I assumed that if I could punch through veritable bricks, his flesh would offer little to no resistance in comparison.

His hand came up in defence and intercepted mine, slamming it back to the ground in a locking grip followed by a short laugh. Before I could launch another attack with my free hand, he countered with his other side as well, pinning both my arms to the ground as I regarded him with undiluted fear through the golden strands of my new hair. Vana peered back at me for several seconds before he bent low to draw his tongue up my right cheek in a rough but intimate caress. Holy hell; even if I hadn’t found the gesture disgusting, Yukari’s body had automatically cringed from it. Giving up my struggles momentarily, I made small shifting movements instead, gradually inching towards the crossbow as Vana allowed me the small amount of struggling which he probably found arousing from the maddened grin he wore now.

‘I thought you had died, my beauty. Did you know how sad I was?’ he whispered to my ear before pulling his head up and assaulting my other cheek with his tongue. Ignoring the lunatic’s words, I gave a strong buckle which moved me several fingers’ length closer to the crossbow. He rasped lovingly into the other ear, ‘When your body seemed so lifeless after the Harvesters had tried to claim you, I had abandoned all hopes of having you as my consort. Have you finally accepted them? Is that the reason why the vessel is shattered, precious thing?’

I ceased struggling momentarily to regard him in puzzlement. It hadn’t occurred to me that others were now essentially seeing me as Sunshines instead of my old self and it took a while to digest the fact that the lunatic thought he was facing the gap youkai now.

Something I could make use of, perhaps?

I tried to emulate the sultry overtone I had heard before from Sunshines as I spoke to the straddling creature. ‘What have you done with the Hakurei?’

His grin disappeared into a frown as he pulled up to give me some breathing room. ‘Done with her? I never had her in the first place. But that is immaterial now that you have accepted the Harvesters.’

Blinking at his words, I tried to digest the revelation amidst the sinking despair. Never had her? Then who the hell was Short Stuff with now? Resuming my struggle towards the weapon, I tried to keep him taking and unaware of what I was trying to do. ‘What were you doing with the Ark?’

A series of expressions passed through his face as he pondered the word, ranging from a blank look to a questioning frown. ‘Ark? Ark? You mean the Heresy Dragon’s vessel? Why, nothing. On the contrary, I was simply doing what it told me to.’ Pausing to consider his own words, he glazed over them slightly as he mouthed them slowly. ‘Or… at least… that’s what it told me to.’ With a raised eyebrow, he turned back with a puzzled look to ask a question in a friendly manner, as if he was speaking to a good friend. ‘Correct? That’s what it asked for, am I right?’

It wasn’t too far-fetched to believe now that the lunatic had convinced himself that he was serving a greater cause in bringing about a rebirth of sorts from what he foolishly assumed to be a proxy god. The elder had grew to believe Unit Ophanim’s origin was divine, ignorant to the fact that the Arks originated from the human world and several more were scattered throughout Gensokyo. Was his twisted belief another product of Peaches’ indirect influence on him? Ran herself had mentioned that the celestial had willingly handed me over to her after the conclusion of the incident a few nights ago. To what end?

But if Peaches had wanted me, or Rilofene for that matter to find Unit Ophanim unmolested, then perhaps it wasn’t wrong to assume that she had intentionally delivered Short Stuff to someone else who was an active threat to me and then conveniently neglect to mention the whereabouts of the child to Ran so I would be headed towards where she wanted me to, free from anyone who posed a danger to me.

Someone who posed a threat… like Iyen-Shuren.

Killing two birds with one stone. By giving the Hakurei over to Iyen-Shuren, I would be freed from that danger. By returning me to Ran without knowledge of Short Stuff’s whereabouts, she would be freed to ensure I had an unobstructed path all the way to Unit Ophanim as I made my unerring way towards it. The unguarded palace and my smooth progress all the way in here hadn’t been a stroke of fortune. She had planned it all along, confident in the fact that Rilofene would eventually come to an unspoken acceptance of sorts with something or someone on my journey to the underground city.

Much still failed to make sense. Unit Ophanim had clearly housed what was unmistakably a part of the Visitors, something in direct contradiction with what Unit Chayot Ha Kadesh had claimed. And what did Peaches need my former body for? For that matter, had the fell deity known everything from the beginning? I had the sinking feeling that everything had been lying to me from the onset of my arrival here; even the seemingly-benevolent congregation of human souls within Chayot Ha Kadesh was no exception to it. More questions I would have to save for much later.

I cursed softly at my stupidity as I abandoned the thoughts in light of the rambling youkai straddling me. Short Stuff wasn’t here. She had been with Iyen-Shuren all this time. And it was time to shut the lunatic up with the crossbow I had finally felt with my fingertips. Took me long enough to inch there.

Giving a sharp whistle, I got the attention of the swaying lunatic and he bent low as I stealthily pivoted the crossbow about on a horizontal axis. His rancid breath wafted down with saliva now dripping freely from his endlessly moving mouth. ‘Yes, my beauty?’

‘Come closer,’ I gave him a fake, sultry smile I hoped he found attractive, ignoring the warm splashing on my face dripping down from his orifice. The elder complied like an obedient puppy, breaking into a smile of his own as he drew closer, growing increasingly excited. ‘Closer,’ I repeated.

His head was now perpendicular with my line of fire. ‘You smell so good,’ he laughed low, face hovering mere inches away.

‘Yeah? Well you stink. Eat this.’

He might be some fearsome youkai lord. He might be able to kill with nothing more than a pointed hand. He might have a legion of subservient tengu under him, but the sharp whistling of the quarrel as it launched free of the crossbow and straight into his stationary head spoke volumes about his inescapable vulnerability to such a simple attack. I wouldn’t need to throw him off with a buckle. The impact from such a close-ranged shot flung him wide to my left as he reeled back and rolled to a stop some distance away.

Flipping over into a crouch, I launched myself directly at him, taking my turn in straddling him this time before he could as much as twitch in response. The head with a crossbow bolt stuck through it looked almost comical in appearance as it swivelled over to gaze at me, and I rammed my raised right hand into his throat. I had expected the blow to crush his windpipe but instead, I tore through his flesh and straight into the ground, sending a splash of youkai blood coupled with kibbled bits of his larynx showering upwards amidst my surprise. Wiping some of the droplets of red away from my face with a sleeve, I stared dispassionately at the twitching body which eventually grew still as I got up. Even in death, the head still held that maddening grin.

‘That was most unpleasant, my beauty. There are far more gentle ways to get intimate.’

Eyes widening in disbelief, I whirled over to find my antagonist standing some distance away underneath the ornate doors, fully intact from head to toe. I spared a second to dart my gaze back on the now-empty ground before looking at my right hand. The blood was still there, but the body had completely disappeared. Impossible, I grunted silently as I fell back and broke into an immediate retreat, sweeping the crossbow off the ground in tandem with my frantic and uneven pace. Mindful of what had happened earlier when I had kept my back turned on him, I waited for the right moment as I tried to focus on the air once more, feeling the vibrations ripple from their source. There wouldn’t even be a need to glance back to know where he was.

Pivoting to one side and executing an abrupt turn mid-run, I caught the elder by surprise in another one of his sailing tackle. The glee on his face was instantly replaced by a surprised frown as I fastened my left hand on it. A strong diagonal push broke his flight gracefully and I felt a moment of pleasure in the ensuing impact as I brought a good portion of his body back to the ground in a hammering thud. Killing him again wouldn’t be such a smart move; but rendering his current body into a daze would be a sound method in escaping.

His loose body bounced once, then twice on the ground as I made use of the available momentum to execute a rapid series of crushing ground-smashes facilitated by the ancient stonework below him. Eventually, he recovered enough to retaliate with a sweeping leg, sending me off-balance in anger and before I could make my own recovery, the elder had returned the favour by hoisting me up before slamming me into the nearby wall in his renewed rage. All the breath flew out of my lungs, compounding my already-difficult struggle in breathing. I thought I could feel tears from the pain.

My vision swam in the aftermath of the impact, and for a moment I couldn’t figure out who the howling idiot was in the background until he had a grip fastened on my right arm, pulling me free of the crumbling remains of the wall before swinging me into the opposing wall with goodly force. More shattered rocks and loose mortar erupted from the new hole he had made with me and a new wave of agony washed through my taut flesh. The lungs which I had so painstakingly forced into heaving began failing me once more and I ran short of breath.

Now dazed myself, I could only watch as the raging lunatic came towards me, slavering away in his charge. Almost absent-mindedly, I lifted a tired hand and pointed it at the rushing figure before realizing the futility of it. What now? Shout “pew-pew”? Nevertheless, the very gesture was enough to bring a measure of rationality back to the elder and he broke his charge with wide-eyed surprise, sliding to one side and then back in a reflexive attempt at evading what he thought would be a wall of good old shoot-me-ups. I took the unexpected respite to load a new quarrel and managed to have the weapon primed once more before he could realize what I was doing.

Aware that he had been made a fool of, he renewed his charge at me with a roar just as I had brought the crossbow back to bear on him. The elder drew close and swept the weapon away with a lashing fist before he pulled me free from the wall and lobbed me clear across the corridor. Sliding to a stop a good distance away, I dimly wondered why he would bother with such melee until I realized his infatuation with Yukari probably had something to do with his holding back. Maybe he wanted her undamaged, maybe not. Gods knows. I still felt no better with the battering I had received thus far and I turned over with a groan, pushing myself back up and momentarily catching sight of something high above.

Some sort of lighting apparatus made out of crystal, slightly swaying silently by virtue of a single rusted chain; dark in its neglected centuries and probably equally weak in tensile strength.

Allowing the lunatic to come closer this time, I reached for the crossbow once more. The pathetic sight elicited a short chuckle from the oncoming figure as he mocked the futility of it. ‘Why do you keep bothering with that toy? Shooting me won’t help you in the least.’

Training it on him hadn’t even broken his stride, but he would stop to stare curiously as I levelled the weapon higher. ‘Who said anything about shooting you?’

Once more, the weapon released its hold on the ammunition and sailed true to where I had it aimed. The third quarrel came free with a satisfying twang and ricocheted off the rusted mass of chain, but not before it had gouged out a good segment of the link it had impacted in a shower of brown particles. Vana looked up in puzzlement, clueless as to why I had missed him at this range and stood rooted stupidly as the groaning noise above reached its inevitable culmination.

… and came face to face with the chandelier-like object as the entire thing crashed into his erect frame amidst a tremendous shattering of crystal fragments and bending metal. I wouldn’t waste time standing around to inspect my handiwork or his mangled body. I hoped he was still alive, trapped somewhere under the mess for a good minute at least. Having him immediately come after me completely unharmed in another new body would have negated the whole shebang.

I took the chance to stumble past him and into the third corridor, beckoning invitingly in its welcoming darkness.
>> No. 4435
And still, I couldn’t be rid of the persistent pervert.

It took no more than a few minutes before his disjointed howls could be heard once more, echoing in its increasing intensity behind me as I kept running alongside the corridor walls. I fumbled with the crossbow clumsily, extracting the last quarrel on the left side of the shaft before cranking the device up and at the same time, struggled to keep my view focused on my flight. The fair number of stumbles I had gone through finally had me stopping for a few seconds in frustration before reaching down to angrily tear a wide seam in Yukari’s skirt in order to facilitate my strides, something she never had to bother with considering the gapping wonder’s means of mobility. Behind, the raving lunatic continued to remind me of my pressing need for escape.

His hounding screams had reached a new crescendo as they echoed powerfully through the palace corridors. ‘You can’t stand in the way of god’s plans! You can’t stand in the way of god’s plans!!’

Ignoring his outbursts, I returned to my run and kept to the wall, coming back to the outer corridors at long last after several more frantic minutes of infuriating retreat made difficult by the problematic ambulation. The stained glass windows lining them had never looked so inviting and this time, I wouldn’t bother with a stealthy exit. Crossing both arms to shield my face, I threw myself through the nearest pane of glass. My ensuing impact shattered the tinted glass and the shards proceeded to carve painful furrows into my body as they gouged out flesh in my passage through it. With a grimace, I recovered on the earth outside and went back to my feet, hobbling over to the twin walls and leaving a trail of blood in my wake. Nothing serious; they would probably heal in a few hours.

Throwing myself bodily on the inner wall, I managed to latch onto the top with a loud grunt as I hit it, instantly praying the weapon I had slung on my back wouldn’t go off from the impact. A quick pull had me over the higher wall and down below, the outer wall beckoned away. With another jump and a push, I vaulted over the much lower wall and allowed myself to fall free, dropping on the outer perimeter of the palace.

Surprisingly, what would otherwise be a relatively painless drop almost twisted a leg as I fell onto something small and petite, slender in its lightweight frame but the collision would still manage to draw a veritable “Oomph!” from my already-dazed lungs. Entangled with the Something, we rolled back into the lighted streets and came to a stop when I finally had the presence of mind to throw an arm out in balance. Wheezing away and coughing uncontrollably, I looked up and came face to face with a familiar oni.

‘Yukarin~?!’

What? How? Where? Unconsciously flipping the crossbow over with a flick of an arm, I peered all around in confusion as Watermelon looked on with teary eyes. I couldn’t find Sunshines. ‘Where!?’ I repeated with another wheeze, still glancing about the ancient walkway.

Watermelon grew somewhat confused as well. ‘Uh… uh… right here?’

I gave up trying to reason with her words and went back to my panicky retreat as I left her, still trying to figure out where I could possibly run to if my previous path coming here would be crawling with tengu by now, sent into a buzzing frenzy when Vana had issued his infuriated order. Before I could so much as launch myself into the relative cover of darkness in the closest alleyway, Watermelon had flung herself hard on me in a clinging hug as she cried uncontrollably, ‘I missed you so much! I thought you were dead!’

She had brought me to the ground once more, my back on the cold dirt this time and for a moment I experienced an almost uncontrollable surge of fury at being continually bogged down by her, anger I fought hard to control as I pushed myself back up into a seated position unsteadily. Even then, the oni wouldn’t relent in her clinging hug as she sobbed away in my chest, soiling the fabric with her tears. I was halfway reaching for one of her horns to throw the oni off, something which I knew she would be displeased with given my past experience with her when fortunately or unfortunately, the raging lunatic caught up at long last, suspended in the air above the twin walls and looking down at the two entangled females below.

‘You can’t defy the will of God! Are you… are you blind like the rest of them!?’ he shrieked away as he clutched his hair, shaking this way and that in his unsettling rage.

Displeasure or not I flung her away by the horns regardless, but not in an attempt at getting rid of her; rather, it had been the quickest way of sending her out of danger’s way as the cold darkness all around Vana lit up in a barrier of light. I managed to get Watermelon out of range before the wall of danmaku slammed downwards, catching me squarely in the middle. I had been expecting death with no small amount of trepidation, but I felt no pain for a few seconds as I pushed myself back up. That was soon remedied as I howled with no shortage of it, collapsing to the ground on one knee before feeling my stomach with a trembling hand. Blood no longer dripped slowly from the small cuts I had sustained earlier. They flowed freely from two fleshy holes just below where I assumed my now-youkai liver would be. Forcefully cutting off my scream with gritted teeth, I grunted as I stumbled backwards and hobbled frantically for cover. It would seem that Vana had momentarily forgotten about his infatuation with Yukari.

Seething in pain, I managed to escape another hail of light which closely trailed my retreat before pressing into the cover of the stone buildings all around. Nevertheless, I would find no respite as the elder swung into view, wearing a grim look as he pivoted into position in the air. The glossy eyes betrayed his intention to do some serious damage in order to disable me, perhaps even something bordering on death.

Throwing the oni out of harm’s way had been a completely reflexive act instead of a conscious one, a far cry from what the old me would have done, I dimly realized. If I was still the same person from a few months ago, I would have used the oni as a bodily shield instead, confident in the fact that such an attack would do little long-term damage to her. As it was, I would pay for my poor judgment this time with the grievous injuries in my abdomen, I cursed haggardly as I gasped with the pain. Before Vana could proceed with the next onslaught, a high-pitched screeching drew his attention as Watermelon catapulted into the suspended figure, no longer quite drunk but now looking to be beyond furious as she ranted her anger. ‘You’re gonna pay for hurting Yukarin!’

The oni hammered Vana hard with locked fists short of reaching him, knocking the elder in an unmerciful attack which sent him flying into the ancient buildings some distance away. Crushed stonework and crumbling mortar erupted from the newly-ruined structure, a prologue to the blinding cloud of particles which came next. Following-up on her unrelenting anger, she dove for ground zero head-on, determined to put the threat out of commission once and for all. A dull radiance from within the dust cloud provided ample warning as to what the elder was about to do, something Watermelon seemed completely oblivious to in her mid-air charge.

‘GRAZE!’ I forced the scream forth despite how much pain it took to push through. The warning shout caught her attention and she glanced back at me once in surprise before suddenly going into a swerving manoeuvre. It saved her in time as Vana’s web of death weaved through the space around her. The oni could slip through the worst of it; though the attack would still leave her rush temporarily broken.

Unbelievably, something materialized from the darkness behind the oni, an all too familiar silhouette of the mad youkai, rippling in the darkness as he grew distinct unbeknownst to the wary oni. How did he get all the way behind her without us seeing him? Something wasn’t right here. Some trick of light, or an unknown facet of his abilities? Despite the bodily distress threatening to disrupt my concentration, I kept trying to figure out his inner workings.

Fully aware he would catch her by surprise, I levelled the crossbow at his turned back, taking aim with a trembling hand braced by my other equally unsteady arm. Gritting my teeth against a new wave of pain, I gave a soft squeeze on the trigger and the weapon instantly responded. This time, the elder would not be caught unaware. Perhaps it was the sharp twang of taut bowstring going slack. Perhaps the soft whisper of the quarrel gave it away. Regardless, Vana didn’t even bother to look back as he caught the bolt with his left hand in a move faster than my eyes could follow and I made the mistake of staring at him in disbelief. Instantly, he whirled around and returned my present, sending the bolt darting back towards me faster than it had flew from the crossbow through sheer force of strength alone. The quarrel embedded itself in my right kneecap and as much as I tried to fight against another scream, there would be no helping it. I fell to the ground echoing my pain, clutching my ruined knee.

Having dealt with the immediate threat, he turned back quickly to address the other, but my outcry had already alerted Watermelon to the presence of Vana and she summarily spun around to deal with him. Their raised arms almost touched one another as the two pointed at their respective antagonist, shouting something I couldn’t make out through the scrim of pain. For a singular moment, the dark subterranean chamber lit up brighter than day as opposing streams of danmaku streaked through the two suspended figures. Both instantly glided backwards from the force of exchange, darting and retreating to a safer distance before swinging about in their savage aerial dance. Additional bursts of radiance tore through the darkness, far outshining the gaudy light the city streets glowed with.

Pulling my damaged leg closer, I fought the urge to pull the bolt free, knowing that it would do nothing beneficial and would instead, just leave another bleeding hole to add to the two I already had. It was something I would have to bear with alongside all the other pains for now. Using my back to wriggle up the wall, I finally returned upright and almost fainted as the world blacked out once. Up ahead, the two continued to exchange their hail of death and I took the chance to hobble over to new cover. We were running out of time and just as I suspected, Vana had received reinforcement in the form of tengu patrols coming in to join the fray. The first of the shoddy tengu-turned-guardians arrived in less than half a minute and tossed themselves bodily at the weaving oni, catching her unexpected from her flanks and attempting to restrain the enraged oni as the ball of inhuman creatures spun out of control. Instead, she swung the two holding onto each of her arms in a wide circle, easily tossing them like ragdoll away as she lashed back at them hard.

Displaced at long last, I wasted no time in loading the fifth shot, now no longer fully confident that the human toy could do much against Vana. It wouldn’t even provide sufficient distraction this time, but it was still the only thing I had. Up ahead, even more tengu joined in the melee and as much as Watermelon continued to fight against the mounting odds, she was gradually overwhelmed by their increased numbers and was soon brought to the ground in a mess of twisting bodies, thudding heavily onto the hard surface by numerous hands pressing her down. Wasting no time in cranking the loading mechanism, I looked up in time to see Vana make his descent towards the struggling mob. The occasional tengu flew outwards as Watermelon managed to kick one off but she would eventually be fully restrained in a kneeling position before Vana, who lifted a hand to fasten on her head.

I had displaced into a more advantageous position before he had his hand rested on the oni’s scalp, pushing the crossbow into position as I leaned hidden against one shadowed wall. I prayed hard that he wouldn’t notice this shot. Breathing a silent plea to gods long lost, I squeezed the trigger quickly.

And like before, Vana remained turned as he effortlessly intercepted the projectile and my heart sank. The elder turned slightly to give me an adoring smile before refocusing on his captive, who continued to twist and buckle underneath the tengu’s pinning hold. He mouthed a single word.

‘Pop.’

Sinewy hands began their death hold on Watermelon, and her struggles were soon punctuated by a continuous groan of pain as the elder gripped and pulled her head hard in an attempt which would soon separate her head from her petite body.

I watched helplessly, knuckles whitening as memories of Reiji flashed through as a stark reminder of an oni who had given his life for mine.

And now, this one I had barely even known for more than a few hours would do the same. Except this time, I would not have the power to escape my predicament from her sacrifice.

No.

Ignoring all the pain from broken bones, damaged lungs, holed abdomens and a shattered kneecap, I brought one hand to point at the congregation of tengu, palm facing downwards as I attempted to still the disharmonized turbulence within. I had to try.

I wouldn’t let this one pass meaninglessly into oblivion, one with Reiji’s free-spiritedness. One who had watched over a stranger she didn’t even know for days based on the vague instructions Yuugi had issued, instructions she probably couldn’t even remember in her intoxication.

I recalled my own lessons to Short Stuff as Vana prepared to focus his strength in a final pull. I wished hard for something I never thought I would, for someone who had no relations whatsoever to me or my endless problems.

I wished for the oni to live with what little humanity Short Stuff had managed to drag out of my stoic heart.

I asked for the improbable, and Gensokyo responded with the impossible.

The generated heat from the suspended shards of light forming all around barely bothered me. I was far too preoccupied with shock to notice as I stared hard at the nearest one; a glimmering shard of flowing radiance floating unsupported in the air. Returning my attention to the elder, I focused my flowing rage on him and the innumerable darts of luminescent death instantly responded, flying unerringly at the unsuspecting youkai and the entire congregation of tengu. The bastard didn’t even know what had hit him; having assumed that I, or rather Yukari, had somehow been rendered powerless based on the results of our first fight and my continued reliance on what he derogatorily referred to as a human toy.

Shaking my arm in disbelieving wonder, I barely paid any attention to the mass of youkai which had been summarily flung into the background by the unexpected barrage of danmaku. Vana’s nameless cohorts had taken no small amount of pain and had unexpectedly protected Watermelon from my unprecedented attack, piled all around her as they were. Vana fared even less better; in my direct line of sight his back had taken the majority of the punishment, riddling him with bleeding holes in retribution for mine and sending him skittering with the rest of his flunkies.

Determined not to waste my sudden change of fortune, I hobbled frantically over to the recovering oni, temporarily putting the phenomenal event behind. I was fairly sure it was nothing more than a freak chance, perhaps some lingering trace of harnessed power from Yukari’s final battle I had unexpectedly released. I harboured little hopes for another such miracle, but I could make do with the one which had just been granted to me. Reaching the oni, I fell to my side just as she got up to catch me with an expression that spoke of something beyond simple worry.

She was truly concerned and her eyes held the light of anxiety for someone she cared for. Too bad it wasn’t for the real me.

‘Your wounds-‘ she began and I silenced her with a harsh shush.

‘Not now. Not here. We have to escape!’ I tried to urge her as I struggled back to my feet, helped somewhat by the fawning oni.

Watermelon didn’t seem the least bit concerned. ‘Why? He’s…’

‘Dead?’ came a harsh reprimand from behind. ‘You write me off too quickly, you shrunken pea.’

But I was already half expecting his sudden return. I knew now why Sunshines had fallen to him in a one-on-one duel; the bastard was practically immune to death for some reason. I turned slowly, mirrored by the oni as well and I gave her a quick darting glance, indicating the inert tengu just next to her with a sharp glare. She gave an almost intangible nod before our eye contact broke. She had understood.

Bringing the crossbow to bear on the elder one last time, he smirked at it as he continued his approach. ‘Enough foolishness. Return to me, my precious.’

I gave him my answer with the released bolt, which he expectantly caught with an indolent shrug and rolling eyes. ‘When will you lear-‘

The quarrel wouldn’t be the only thing flying towards him. From behind me, Watermelon completed a full revolution with the disabled tengu in hand and flung the body full force towards Vana. It was the one projectile he would have never expected to be used against him and the impact did an excellent job in sending him crashing into another one of the abandoned buildings. I experienced a small period of déjà vu as I gripped on the oni and hauled her along in my frantic retreat before our mutual friend could come back even more pissed off than before. She allowed herself to be led by her arm.
>> No. 4436
Well, she managed to Escape what the real Sunshine couldn't and with using almost no magic.

Not bad.
>> No. 4437
>>4436
Actually, it's not over yet. My bad. I got hypnotized by Blame! and Biomega when a colleague showed them to me mid-update. Crap.

Will finish the remainder sometime tonight, time permitting.
>> No. 4439
Tenshi played them all like a well tuned fiddle.

Daughter of a Whore.

Now we need to find out if it's the Celestial or the Visitors who are the real master mind(s) of the plan.

And how will Sukia take the knowledge that Yukari isn't actually Yukari? Or anyone else for the matter.

And what exactly are the plans of the corrupt souls (Visitors) specifically?
>> No. 4440
Needs more MISSING POWER spellcard.
>> No. 4441
>>4440
While GIGANTIFICATION has crossed my mind, it sort of renders any sense of danger or threats completely moot.

(Drunken Godzilla goes on an underground rampage. PewPewTenguTanks shoots at it before being summarily KRUSSHHHEEEEDDD!!!)
>> No. 4443
>>4436

Then again the wanderer didn't make the mistake of taking him lightly. That's a perk of being an underdog for so long: You never take any foe lightly. Though I do hope that Yukari's body is used to walking alot then if she hates flying. But with what Vana said, it doesn't sound too promising for Yukari's soul.
>> No. 4446
>IV: Desperate Measures

Hooray.jpg

A new chapter goes by.
>> No. 4447
>>4441
I thought that was the point of introducing suika.

NO MINOR THREATS CAN STOP US NOW
>> No. 4448
>>4447

And then Vana pulls his own reality hack out of his ass.

Or the Visitors go after the GIGANTIC TARGET THAT SUDDENLY APPEARED OUT OF NOWHERE! (The bigger they are, the harder it is to miss)
>> No. 4449
>>4448
I said minor threats not EVERYTHING
>> No. 4450
I think until we save short stuff and have per powers function, the visitors would be best avoided. Mere might of any sort will not suffice.
>> No. 4451
But with Yukari's body and Suika's assistance, the going will be easier for the most part, barring Vana and the visitors. I think Three Arms might be a challenge, but I'm sure our heroine could find a way around that.
>> No. 4453
>Blame and Biomega
Blame was good and Biomega was meh. Talking bear was cool, though.

Don't expect to understand just what the fuck happens at the end of either series, though.

>>4419
Pretty much everything he said, to the letter.
>> No. 4454
Guess we see who's overriding the shikigami contract for Shou~
>> No. 4455
Hoping that the tenacious lunatic would finally stay down long enough for us to lose ourselves in the darkened labyrinth of stone, I navigated the organized maze based on nothing more than a whim. It would be all I needed; a random path through the abandoned city would serve to confuse possible pursuers just as well as it did us. In this particular case, the benefits weighted more towards us. It wouldn’t be easy searching for two stealthy silhouettes compounded by the darkness of the subterranean caverns.

Watermelon continued with her insistence that we make a temporary stop to attend to my battered body, something I dismissed in rapid succession as I tried to brush her off repeatedly. She wasn’t the least bit happy seeing how I was carrying on despite my injuries and likewise, I didn’t fancy having her around. Fortunately, she seemed sober enough to recognize the need to keep useless chitchat down until much later. From her eyes I could already read the torrent of questions she had wanted to ask of me.

Deeming that we had finally covered enough distance to chance a brief stop, I chose another one of the selfsame blocks of abandoned dwellings, breaking through the aged remains of an eastern-made door by collapsing through it instead of pushing it open. Despite my fondest beliefs that my wounds were already in the process of regenerating, they were anything but. Instead, it almost seemed I was bleeding even more profusely compared to the time I had first sustained the wounds and I suspected I knew why. Yukari’s body was actively attempting to reject me; a completely natural reaction towards a foreign invader in her normally harmonic system. Like a human body attempting to fight off an infection, the gap demon’s body was undergoing a similar reaction in trying to combat the unwelcome presence within that was me.

I wanted nothing more than to rest for a few minutes, wishing hard for all the pain to subside even if only slightly. Closing my eyes for a moment, I took a brief rest, only to be shaken awake by the concerned oni and I gave her an infuriated glance. ‘C’mon, don’t fall asleep here! We have to get you some help. Those holes don’t look like they’re healing at all.’

Instead of brushing her off again, I returned my gaze to the lightless ceiling and felt for the wounds. My touch drew a sharp hiss and an involuntary tremble as they brushed against the raw meat. In a weak voice, I asked the oni who remained seated next to me, ‘This used to be your city. Where’s the quickest way back to the surface from here? And no, not the main road. We can’t use that with all the commotion out there.’

Waiting patiently for her answer, I accidentally fell asleep, something she would quickly remedy by giving me a strong shake which only served to draw another pained grimace from me. ‘There’s an old tunnel the kijimunaa frequently used to return to the Forest of Magic and the nearby woods up above, about seventeen ri due south from here. That’s the best you’ll get I think.’

Great. Kijimunaa. Banyan tree spirits. The last thing I needed was more pranksters. ‘Good. Now go back to Yuugi,’ I ordered tiredly as I put my mind into its working phase, trying to work out a course of action I could take with the new information. Emerging near the Forest of Magic would mean that the closest refuge would be the human village, another prospect I wasn’t relishing on visiting now that I was no longer a part of the species but I might not have a choice in the matter this time.

The oni remained silent for some time, making no indications of leaving whatsoever before resting a hand on my arm. ‘I’m not going to leave you like this. You’re a complete wreck, Yukarin,’ she stated stubbornly at last.

Ignoring the fact that she kept addressing me as someone I was not, I shot an annoyed glance at her before attempting a retort which resulted in nothing more than ragged coughing and several bouts of wheezing. The oni had almost gotten me killed more than once and nearly lost her life in the process; I wasn’t keen on having her by my side no matter how useful she could prove to be. ‘You almost died back there. Do the smart thing and go home. Stay out of this mess.’

Her lips remained locked in a stubborn line as she gazed down at my bloody holes in consternation. ‘I’m not leaving, and you know you need help. Look at you now; you can barely even walk, much less fly! Can’t you just… y’know, gap us back to Mayohiga for help?’

Oh, right. Fly. And gap. Real convenient. I’m sure I knew all about how that worked, I remarked sarcastically to her in my mind as I heaved a disapproving sigh. ‘Look, not going to happen. Be a good girl and go home before I blow my top or something.’ As if to end the argument, I pushed myself up with a soft groan, resigned to hobbling over forty miles of god-forsaken caverns eluding an insane youkai who couldn’t die so I could remedy the stupid mistake of wasting days in travelling all the way here for nothing.

Well, maybe it wasn’t half that bad. I had lost my real body to a lesbian celestial and was now stuck in a demon whose body was attempting to kill my soul. Meanwhile, the world was coming to an end outside because I had foolishly believed a dead goddess within me had been impotent and incapable of affecting the real world any longer. To top it all off, the three-armed freak was probably having a ball with his precious Hakurei maiden by now. So what was the good news then? Probably only the fact that I would be going to hell a lot sooner than Rilofene.

Filled with despair, I buried my face in my crossed arms as I remained seated, braced on my knees. The oni drew closer and laid her arm across my shoulder in a comforting gesture, mistakenly assuming I was in pain or fatigued. Unwilling to give up, she tried once more in a gentle tone completely uncharacteristic of her regular bawdiness, ‘You need my help. Let me stay.’ A warm sensation on my back and the soft nudging of her horns against my hair told me she had buried her face in my shoulder. ‘I’m… I’m afraid of letting you out of my sight. Not after how you completely disappeared on me for a few days.’

Touching, but I wasn’t going to risk having another tragedy like Reiji’s from happening, no matter what she said. She might be far more worldly and experienced in comparison to the juvenile but the previous scuffle we had barely escaped changed nothing in the fact that she was just as vulnerable as Reiji was. Giving her horn a slight nudge with my raised head, she lifted herself free from my back and waited hopefully for my approval. I delivered my disappointing answer instead and her face fell into a complete gloom. ‘No. Just go back to Yuugi and lay low. I’m up past my ears in problems, problems I need to deal with myself.’

Rejection regardless, she shook her head stubbornly and parted her lips to mouth another protest or another wheedling plea. I cut her off before she could start with a sharp shake of my own and a rebuking glare, pulling myself away from her and getting up to lean heavily on the ruined door frame. ‘Just leave. I’ll manage.’ Somewhat, I thought tiredly to myself before turning slightly to look down on the oni. Telling her to return had brought up memories of the children back at the youkai village. At the very least, there would be something I could do for them and the village, Watermelon inclusive. ‘Go back and gather everyone you can; the children, especially. Bring them back here and don’t return to the surface.’

I couldn’t be sure what Peaches and Rilofene hoped to accomplish with the Visitors, but I knew it would be nothing good for Gensokyo’s denizens. They could at least remain safe from the chaos which might envelop the surface soon enough, or safe for several months more at the very least. There would be no true escape from Gensokyo’s eventual fate regardless.

Wordlessly, she had moved to stand in the ruined doorway, arms crossed and legs firmly planted on the ground before looking up to fix a firm stare on me. I returned her gaze with a puzzled look and waited for her to go away.

She stubbornly stood her ground, blocking my way out. ‘I’m not letting you go alone.’

What was the source of her insistence? Loyalty to who she thought was a friend? Or had my unintentional act of self-sacrifice in throwing her out of danger invoked an obligatorily protective response from her now? No matter what she did, it wasn’t going to change my mind in the slightest. The oni wouldn’t be coming with me, period.

I gave her a charming smile, a pleasantly disarming one Sunshines would have probably used to lull the oni into lowering her guard. Reaching out to caress her head, I kept the fake smile up as I felt the oni relax, who returned my smile with a grin of her own as she foolishly believed I had given into her insistence. Finally reaching the back of the horned head, I spread my palm wide and braced it against the oni’s noggin. She suspected nothing wrong in the comforting caress and loosened up even more.

Letting my fake smile wither away, I spoke my last words to her still-grinning face. ‘Go home after you wake up.’

Reeling in her head at full-speed towards the door frame, I could almost feel the oni’s brains rattle in her skull as the vibration from the ensuing impact between oni and ancient blocks of packed stone shook the foundations of the aged building. Her relaxed body lost even more of its original tension as she wobbled shakily and tried to refocus on me, the swimming eyes in her sockets reflecting her hurt confusion at my inexplicable actions. ’Yuka…rin?’ she managed to mumble. Hardening my grip on her hair, I smashed her head against the stone blocks once more and this time, she finally went out cold and slid clumsily off of the doorway. I made a move to catch her falling body and gently laid her slight frame on the cold floor of the interior, whispering silent apologies to the inert oni all the while. It was the only way, I tried to console myself repeatedly as I stood and hobbled for the exit, giving her one last glance before I cleared the ruined portal.

Once more picking on little girls. It did nothing to ease my guilt nonetheless.

Time to deal with more pressing needs. Leaning against the outer wall and ripping off some of the plentiful frills and laces Yukari’s clothes had seemed to come with no shortage of, I bent low and bit on the intertwined laces in preparation for the agony which would soon visit me in a short few seconds. Fastening my other hand on the crossbow bolt protruding from my knee, I took several deep breaths before giving it a sudden pull. Wood grated against bone fragments and the raw wound around the shaft vibrated sickeningly as the quarrel gradually came free. As the serrated tip of the quarrel made its way out of the damaged flesh, I had to fight to suppress the urge to howl in pain, knowing the echo would undoubtedly give away my position to the seeking tengu. The agony ended at last as the bolt finally came free with a small arc of blood and I released my gritted teeth on the laces, breathing heavily and using the decorative articles as makeshift tourniquets to momentarily stem the flow of blood.

I made another quick inspection on the dull holes in red my abdomen sported, still belching out occasional streams of blood through the rags-for-bandages. I had been right after all. The gap youkai’s body was diverting all its resources into trying to reject me by halting regeneration in an attempt at killing the uninvited presence. Just perfect, I thought angrily as I involuntarily closed my eyes for a few seconds before forcing them open in alarm, not wanting to fall asleep and die a quiet death. Can’t you work with me here, Sunshines?

Trying to catch my bearings, I kept my gaze fixed on the glimmering cavern roof for long moments, trying to determine where south was. By logical association in consideration of the city’s systematic construction, south should be directly to the left of the palace. Tiredly climbing back up, I went back to the nearest street guardedly before looking down both ways. To the left, the faint glimmer of the Palace of Earth Spirits was reflected in the cavern roof directly above a good distance away, punctuated by the occasional groups of shadowed specks indicative of tengu still seeking me out. Following the streets down the other way would be the correct path to this alternate exit Suika had mentioned.

I had started on my way through the relative shelter of the alleyways when the strange thought had suddenly struck me. Did I just remember the oni by her real name? Thinking back, I had failed to realize that several times I had referred to Sunshines by her actual name as well when I had thought about the gapping wonder. Never once in the past had I ever experienced a moment when I could actually remember names and I wondered uneasily if my psyche was slowly being absorbed into the gap youkai as well. I had no wish of losing my original self to Sunshines. Would I eventually cease to exist as my old self in the end if I lost this silent battle of ego? Never, I swore silently to myself.

By the time I had moved almost an hour’s walk away from the palace, I had come to stomach the pain well, although the acceptance still brought no relief whatsoever. Now that I was free from the immediate threat of danger, the hurried but controlled walking exercise gave me the opportunity to gradually adapt and adjust to ambulation in the unfamiliar body. Walking normally and even executing quick bouts of hobbling could be accomplished with little more than a careless afterthought, though more complex movements would still require further practice. In a curious turn of events, my blood loss had fortunately grounded to a temporary stop as well, as if the body had given up trying to kill me out of fatigue. Remarkable as her youkai endurance was, I still felt like hell from all the damage I had sustained and could only praise whatever mysterious factor it was that kept me functioning on the brink of passing out.

The din from my escape had more or less died back down to the lonely sighing of underground air currents as I gained even more distance from the subterranean city’s centre. Increasingly confident that I had somehow managed to elude the numerous silhouettes running their frantic searching high above, I took the chance to slow down somewhat and proceed at more cautious pace. The reduced speed helped somewhat with the numerous pains wracking my body and allowed me to better cover my tracks, vague as they already were. My progress through the garden of ancient stone buildings had gradually returned me to the outer fringes of the city and once more, the shadowed alien landscape of curiously shaped speleothem, cave deposits, rose from the cavern floor like twisted tentacles to greet me.

I had penetrated far into the forbidden zones Suika had warned me against straying into, a fact I could only remember after I had wandered far off the more well-traversed underground paths. The illuminated pathways were now far behind and only a barely-visible glow in the distance served as an indication of how far I had gone from it. I took a moment to survey the surroundings; the cold earth played host to innumerable tiny luminescent mushrooms growing sparsely and their dull light reflected off the unnatural ground curiously. Slowing down enough to sweep a foot through the ground, I caught the scent of something metallic. Almost like ferrite and a sharp undertone of magnesium; this area was probably saturated with a concentrated mix of both metals. I could very well be standing on a plate of iron.

Picking up my pace after the cursory examination, I had almost missed something else in the gloom beyond. Something was there and I could almost feel it, more than one of them from the looks of things. Strangely, the invisible presences seemed to be keeping a wary distance from me, an almost phenomenal reaction to my presence until I realized the unseen ferals in the gloom feared Yukari. I had little doubts I wouldn’t have been able to take a casual walk past their territory if I was still human. If there was something I could call a benefit in my current predicament, it would be the fact that lesser youkai would probably hold a healthy amount of fearful respect for me now. I carried on towards the southern portions of the subterranean cavern, still feeling the burning stares of the invisible creatures like a smouldering torch against naked skin.

I hadn’t gotten more than a couple of steps further when a sudden shrill cry from behind cut through the placid silence, shattering the once-tranquil darkness surrounding my lone figure. The numerous unseen presences suddenly withdrew at the disturbance and for a moment, I thought the lunatic had somehow found me amidst a sinking feeling of despair. Instead of resolving into a howl of anger, the continuous cry grew sharper and escalated into a lilting wail of sorts before something black flew into me, not even bothering to put on some aerial brakes. Once again floored hard with a pained grunt to boot, I wouldn’t even need to guess who it had been.

‘YUKARINNN!!!’ Small fists pounded away at me angrily amidst the continued wailing and I struggled to peel the figure off of me. My discordant curses punctuated the oni’s endless sobbing, mixed with her unintelligible mumblings and angry cries. Instantly I caught a whiff of something strong, intoxicating, and inviting as the air rushed back to fill the void between us. With one last push, I managed to get the oni an arm’s length away and held her aloft like a child by her armpits, guiltily noting the coconut-sized bump growing from her forehead.

I took another sniff just to be sure. ‘You didn’t get yourself drunk, did you!?’

Her bleary eyes greeted me and she finally quieted down with a small hiccup. ‘I…I…’

I gave her a disbelieving stare. ‘Did you!?’

‘Um…’

Of all the times she could drink herself silly, she just had to do so now. ‘You DID,’ I finished for her, half thinking about just dropping her when something else hit me and panic revisited me in an instant.

A strong shake on the cooing oni sobered her up slightly. ‘You didn’t fly here screaming my name all the way, right?’

The bleary eyes told me she wouldn’t have a good answer in stock as she fidgeted in my grasp. ‘I…I…’

I shook her one more time before drawing her closer, throwing quick glances at the pitch-black gloom behind her. ‘Right? Tell me you didn’t.’

‘Um…’

‘You DID,’ I breathed slowly before letting go of her, eyes growing wider at her stupidity as I stepped back from the oni. ‘I should have thrown you into a well or something!’

Disconsolately dropping to the ground, she promptly fell on her behind and sat spread-legged before bawling out at me furiously, ‘Y-you smashed wall into a me!! I mean… s-smashed me into a wall?’ THAT MADE ME REALLY SAD!’ Her head tilted slightly as she pondered her words, pressing a finger against her chin and peering upwards. ‘I m-mean… mad?’

Temporarily at loss for words, I stood rooted to the ground mutely as I thought about what to do with the drunkard when the sight of something huge rising behind the inebriated oni froze my blood. A loud cracking followed by the ground vibrating heralded the arrival of a massive slab of rock, seemingly torn from the ground itself as the looming edifice measuring almost a good hundred metres in diameter tipped towards us. With a loud grating groan, the monolith began its downward fall on the oni and I made a mad hobble towards the oblivious drunkard. Fastening a hand on her collar, I changed my mind instead and picked up the drunk whole, horns and all, before turning to run the other way. Tucked under one arm, the drunkard giggled playfully at what she probably thought was some sort of game and poked playfully at the bandages binding my abdomen.

I wanted nothing more than to bury her in a deep, bottomless well then, preferably one with no way out.

The ensuing crash rocked the cavern floor for a good five seconds before throwing out a massive cloud of dust, followed shortly by a brief rain of gravel. With Watermelon safely in hand, I made it in time to shelter behind a largish stalagmite and instinctively shielded my eyes from the expanding haze of debris. Under my arm, the oni had launched into a bawdy song of sorts before I silenced her with a sharp shush, in which she readily complied with a blush. Turning back towards the shattered monolith-turned-weapon, I tried to search for any signs of our antagonist, to no avail. The gloom was compounded by the haze thrown up from the impact as well.

Despite his advantage in remaining stealthy, Vana inexplicably screamed out his presence instead in a voice which echoed from all directions. ‘You can’t… YOU CAN’T DEFY THE WILL OF GOD! COME BACK!’

As much as I tried to envision some means of escape, I couldn’t risk making a dash for safety this time in such an exposed location. Not with the numerous blood-leaking holes I had and especially not with a burden the oni had become. I would never make it, even if I ditched the drunkard and left her to an ambiguous fate. Peering around frantically to try and triangulate the source of the lunatic’s continued ranting I tried to see if anything else could be turned into an edge against him as well. The drunkard was more or less dead weight now, useless against the elder and I wouldn’t bother with trying to harness Yukari’s latent abilities again, a miracle I knew would not happen twice.

Perhaps it was the sensation of a looming shadow forming on the left that gave it away, but it was fortunate nonetheless that I could sense the threat making its way towards us. Another slab of cavern floor came into view before proceeding on its inevitable downward course with us underneath but this time, I had been forewarned enough to get a head start in my relocation to safety. The new stony edifice threw up another mushroom cloud of particles in its collision with the ground I had formerly occupied. Additional maddened rants followed the ensuing void of silence as Vana continued his senseless taunts from the safety of his hiding place.

In my haste to escape this time, I had lost my footing and control over the happily-swaying oni as well, tripping up just in time to see my cargo slip free from my grasp and bounce a few times on the hard ground before rolling to a stop. Regaining my balance, I made a beeline towards her and dragged the drunkard by her horns into cover behind a small boulder. Trying to calm my rapid breathing, I forced myself to assess the situation despite the mounting panic.

Indirect attacks, very much crude but no less effective all the same. Was Vana somehow reluctant to go head to head with us considering his carelessness the last time? He was playing it safe this time, somewhat fearful of going up against two youkai which he thought could evenly match him. There could be a deeper meaning behind his suddenly-cautious method of fighting; some sort of unexpected vulnerability perhaps, tied to his seeming invincibility. I tried to think about what was different now in comparison to our encounter in the city an hour ago before it hit me. Darkness, or rather, light. It was almost pitch-black now with little to no light available. It was entirely possible the elder had intuitive command over the visible light spectrum, much like the manipulation of light and shadows to induce illusions perhaps. I couldn’t be sure all the same.

I needed a way to hit someone in hiding, and it would require far more than a spray of danmaku in all directions to suffice for such a large exposed area like the one we were in now. Pausing momentarily to peer at the heavy dust cloud hanging in the air from the continued upheavals had given me an idea. I considered what I had discovered earlier; the ground had magnesium in it and the dust cloud was practically laced with the stuff from the disturbances thus far.

A dust explosion waiting to happen. All I needed now was a source for ignition.

Peering downwards, I tried to shake the oni awake. Perhaps the drunkard could ignite the magnesium-heavy haze for me with a well-placed shot or two, but I ran the risk of blowing the two of us up as well if she did. The ignition source would need to be far from us; preferably close to the perverted lunatic’s hiding spot. I shouted out into the darkness to get the suddenly-silent elder ranting once more.

‘Maybe you can get your so-called god to come to you if you can actually get that stench off of yourself!’

That had him ranting uncontrollably once more and a new set of cracking noises from somewhere to the far right gave away his location. The elder had started breaking up the ground there to answer for my insult. Letting the crossbow slide down, I removed the last three quarrels before tearing the lath out with a wrenching rip, instantly revealing the assembly of gears and metallic parts underneath and rendering the beautiful weapon useless. It wouldn’t matter; the exposed metal was the last thing I needed from it now and reaching backwards with it in hand, I stood and hurled the broken weapon diagonally into the cracking noises with as much force as I could muster before taking cover on the other side of the boulder to await the inevitable combustion.
>> No. 4456
Nothing.

I cursed in disbelief. What went wrong? The ruined weapon had struck the ground precisely where I had thrown it and the brief flickering in the distance had told me that the impact of metal against the ferrite-heavy ground generated the exact thing I needed; sparks to ignite the cloud of magnesium. Momentarily distracted by the thrown crossbow, Vana wasted no time in reassuming his frenzied activity and sent another slab of rock crashing into our cover with a hoarse grunt. Once more making a pained dash for safety, I gradually realized in our escape that the haze of debris was too thin for a dust explosion, a factor I had foolishly neglected to consider. I fingered the last three quarrels I had clutched in my free hand, feeling for their iron tips. The next would be my last chance.

Giving the drunkard a strong shake as soon as we had hit our next cover, I wheezed at the oni with no shortage of agony after a goodly slap to wake her up. ‘Sober up! I need you to do something!’

‘Huuu-h…n… whassat?’ she murmured sleepily.

‘Diffuse and spread yourself into the dust cloud around Vana! Fill every spot in the air with your mist or dust or whatever!’ She grinned happily at me before her head rolled backwards and I gave the drunk another desperate shake, ‘You hear me!?’

‘Mmm… who’s Vana?’ she asked dimly.

Great, just perfect, I snarled to myself as I released my hold on her in despair. Why did she have to get drunk now, of all times?

The oni mumbled low next to me, ‘Mist… all purple… I like parties!’

Throwing an angry fist at the ground, I felt all my patience and sense of caution leech away completely as the discordant shouting behind grew louder. I wanted nothing more than to get the thermobaric explosion off now, lethal proximity be damned. Turning back to the oni, I tried in a gentler manner this time, determined to make things as simple as possible for the drunkard. ‘Hey.’

Her unfocused eyes swivelled to me and I spoke quickly with forced genteel before she could lose her attention. ‘Remember how to spread yourself into a fine mist?’ I received a vigorous nod in return. ‘Think you can do it for me now?’

‘Ooh… a party?’ she queried listlessly.

Nodding desperately, I hung onto the word for dear life. ‘A party.’

‘Party,’ she echoed with a growing smile.

Half expecting the oni to go back to sleep, she grew somewhat indistinct instead before rippling slightly and I watched her flesh dissolve into the expanding shroud of purple with mixed amounts of relief and fear. Her mist form rapidly filled the air around us and thickened the haze considerably, reducing visibility to almost nil as I stumbled away from the boulder with as much noise as I could muster, making sure the stalking lunatic would know where I was running to now. Additional ravings from the elder told me he had taken the bait, and I gripped the remaining quarrels between my fingers grimly with the serrated metal tips pointed outwards in preparation for the hell which would soon erupt from the thermobaric explosion. There would be little risk to Suika in comparison to my solid form; the detonation would do little to her except scatter her mist-form somewhat, which she could easily reform from. I wished I could say the same for myself.

Spotting another stalagmite large enough to serve as a blast shield, I took immediate cover behind the towering pillar of minerals, hopping the remaining few steps over to it before pressing my back against the outcropping. Breathing a silent prayer, I hoped it would work this time and braced myself for the worst as I reached over the side, angled them correctly, and flung all three quarrels like darts in the general direction of the howling rants coming ever closer. This time, it worked. The air made thick and dense by Suika’s mist-form compacting the haze and drawing in the drifting particles completed the recipe for disaster.

I had barely retracted my outstretched arm when the ensuing scratching noises from the quarrels grazing the ferrite-rich ground gave way to a momentary rumble lasting no more than a fraction of a second. Total darkness turned into absolute daylight as every corner of the abysmal caverns lit up in a spectacular display of radiant orange lights and my eardrums almost burst from the concussive shockwave which followed the ensuing thermobaric detonation. Enormous gouts of flame with no space for pockets of air between them rushed past all sides of my crude cover and in less time than it took for the drawing of a breath, the stalagmite fractured and gave into the force of the second shockwave as air rushed in to fill the resulting vacuum. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that the bastard could possibly come back from complete vaporization this time.

I could barely feel the shards of minerals driving their way through my body in light of the stunning concussion, but felt them I did as I rolled on the cracked ground almost fifty metres away from where I had taken cover. Every involuntary revolution from the uncontrollable slide drove the numerous knives in my back ever deeper and a particularly violent jarring resulting from the collision with another stalagmite hammered in three of the shards and their intrusion eventually punctured a lung. Mercifully coming to a stop at long last, I reached back to rip free the shards I could grasp before my damaged innards gave up trying to endure the suffering. One violent cough followed by long moments of lying prone on the ground eventually allowed mouthfuls of youkai blood to gush forth. Dizzied, bloodied, and messed up beyond belief, my mind reeled and turned in an attempt at sorting through the new train-wrecked thoughts all the same.

Have to get away... have to get to Short Stuff somehow. In my muddled state, I could no longer think about anything else except getting to her for reasons I couldn’t even remember why. I spared a moment in glancing back at the glowing embers far behind as veins of magnesium flared to life in the aftermath of the explosion, lighting up the ground and surrounding darkness with brief flares of white. Fervently praying that it had been enough to put a temporary halt on the unstoppable lunatic, I dropped the elder out of my thoughts as well as I tried to climb back to my feet.

A futile endeavour. Even my newfound endurance had finally met its limits and Yukari’s body had seemingly decided to shut down before the careless occupant could do irreversible damage to it. I went back to the ground in a crash, accidentally driving another one of the shards of mineral in my back even deeper. The pain was already beyond me at this point. Mind going blank, I started to crawl towards a random direction. Maybe the gods would be kind enough to let this be the correct way out, I thought dimly. If it wasn’t, I would deal with my mistake later if I ever woke up from this fiasco.

Before my mind could shut down completely in a self-defensive measure against the overload of agony, I managed to catch the shrill voice of someone I had come to fear even more than Vana himself, half-running and half-flying towards my collapsed figure and my eyes widened in terror at the oni’s approach. Coming to an abrupt stop followed by several stumbles after landing, she dropped to her knees next to me, face in anguish and confusion as her inebriation cleared somewhat. Visibly upset, tears streaked down her cheeks as she probed my ruined body and I summoned enough desperate strength to strike her arm away.

I made no attempt at hiding the fury in my eyes as I hissed at her weakly, ‘Get away from me! You almost got me killed three times!’

Hurt, still somewhat drunk and in confusion to boot, she almost looked like an immature child as she struggled to take in everything from the elder’s harassing attacks to the hostility from someone she thought was a long-time friend. She reached out to touch me with a trembling hand, ‘B-but I-‘

‘Which part of “go home” are you having problems in understanding?!’ I managed to roar in anger as I staggered back to my feet in an inhuman push before my churning mind gave up its struggle in trying to remain awake as well. That final outburst had been the last straw, and everything within me simply ceased to function in protest to the abuse I had put myself through. Losing control, I watched numbly as the ground rushed in to meet my falling body.

The last sensation I would feel was a slight shaking as Suika’s sobs died away with the droning buzz in my bleeding ears.
>> No. 4457
>>4453
True enough. I gave up pretending there was a plot somewhere past Chapter 10 of Blame.

It's the atmosphere that interests me though. The depiction of a mostly-solitary wanderer (what a coincidence) through mechanical rooms the size of Jupiter has a unique charm of sorts, even though the average word count in conversations per chapter is roughly 5-10.

That, and the pencil-work never fails to gouge my eyes out. Perversely, they hold that same weird sort of charm all the same.

>>4454
If I'm thinking about who you mean, it could potentially be fun to write about seeing the inevitable conflict with a certain fox. I'll keep that in consideration.



At any rate, not too happy with how the remainder of this update turned out; too many distractions this time. Next update might take a while due to some issues. All the same, enjoy.
>> No. 4458
I think The wanderer is rather underestimating Suika due to her size. But Vana is a threat to even Suika that much is certain. I wonder what will become of the two personalities.
>> No. 4460
You know, until I read the last update with tenshi in it, I was thiking that the Visitors were after Rilofene because she could 'erase' them, just like how the Hakurei would be able to.

A shrine Maiden's powers come from divine sources. Rilofene is a god. Rilofene is the divine source of power. But yeah, no more fun because of almost dead existence inside a human. I thought that there would be a way to get ther out, like in Youkai Mountain, and kick some ass inside False Dawn at the end of the story...but now this has been scrapped entirely.

So, it's time for a epiletic tree. >>4392 has done that, but it seems strange that such souls wouldn't have been corrected/purified/healed after all those millenia between Rilofene's time of ruling and the present days. Unless, of course, the wanderer scarred them so much they still haven't recovered. Which makes me wonder how their past lives had been, specially during the Middle Ages...

But yeah, I would say they actually are actually her worshippers. Not converted people, but real worshippers; fanatics to be more precise. Rilofene is one of the first Gods, and the Wanderer's tribe was one of the first human tribes, so it would be logical they are her natural followers.
>> No. 4461
>>4460

Also, the fact that they refer to Rilofene as 'mother' (if Tenshi is any indication), would imply they have been 'created' by her. Considering humanity was created by a God in almost all religions/mythology, it makes my tree grow.
>> No. 4463
>>4457
You should read Paper Eleven by Dan Kim. It's very, very Blame-ish in appearance.
>> No. 4464
>I had lost my real body to a lesbian celestial
Wait, what.
>> No. 4465
>>4457
Why would Wrigle have a conflict with a certain fox youkai?
>> No. 4466
>>4465

It's more like the matter of Possible conflict between Shou and Ran due to the fact the wanderer would be using Yukari's body to override it. And as the last update shows, it's trying to basically get rid of her soul. She also sent off one of the best allies possible and causing mix up. And she is now basically bleeding deep into enemy territory. She must have a real talent for shooting herself in the foot.
>> No. 4473
>>4466
What does any of that have to do with Wriggle?
>> No. 4474
>>4464
Maybe I should have used a better choice of words.

>>4473
Nothing. My brain failed. Orbit decay in 15 minutes. Please wait warmly for FFFFFFFFFFFFF.
>> No. 4476
>>4474
No, I mean I don't get where the "lesbian" bit comes from, even if in a joking or derogatory sense. Is it because she absconded with the body? That by itself doesn't seem... 'lesbian' enough, I guess, even to use it as an insult.

I'm not angry, just perplexed. I probably missed some detail, is all.
>> No. 4486
>>4476

Everydoby is gay in Gensokyo, remember?
>> No. 4492
>>4486
that isn't quite the case in this Gensokyo, with Reimu having descendants, Aya being Tenma's mistress. I wonder who gets less of a break from fans: Reimu or Aya.
>> No. 4494
Maybe Yukari knew that Tenshi was gay and the wanderer has absorbed that knowledge from Yukari? I mean, she already is remembering people's names, presumably from Yukari's memory.
>> No. 4498
>>4494

Yeah very well possible, but it'd be the other way around it seems (Yukari's will/ego/soul is trying to absorb the wanderer's as a defense mechanism)
>> No. 4502
>>4476
No worries. It's just something that popped up at random during writing. Think of it as a derogatory thought towards her.

Although I'm somewhat amused to see people seriously considering if she's gay or not.
>> No. 4504
>>4492

Exceptions, exceptions. Those hve been explicitly stated, so it's ok. Unless stated, assumed they are gay.
>> No. 4509
>>4502
Fair enough. It's just that "lesbian" doesn't work the same as "fag" does, as far as how it's used insultingly.
>> No. 4512
I don't find anything wrong with calling Tenshi a lesbian. She most likely is and that's all that counts to the wanderer.
>> No. 4513
>>4512

I suddenly got the image of Tenshi using the Wanderer's body as a sex toy to pleasure herself.

Not sure if want.
>> No. 4514
>>4509

Personally, I'd just chalk it up the wanderer's attitude. I don't think PC is exactly high on her list.
>> No. 4551
“The airwaves are deathly silent. Nothing but the dull chatter of aged weather satellites broadcasting their decaying messages remain. It doesn’t matter; there’s probably no one left to hear them by now.

The old man died in his sleep last night. It creeps me out knowing I’m the last living thing in this underground tomb, possibly in this whole damned continent. I’m going to take my chances above-ground come the morrow and see what the surface is like now. There’s no longer any point in remaining here; The Sift stopped functioning twenty years ago anyway. By now, maintenance should be the least of that junky behemoth’s worries.”


-G


It wasn’t what most would consider a grandiose occupation, but being the village head has its perks all the same. Recognition, respect and what was that other thing again? Ah, yes; the everlasting annoyance of having to deal with every single little crisis which would pop out of the woodwork every now and then. Not exactly a perk, admittedly.

Grumbling to himself, he made a move to snuff out the last candle with outstretched fingers, ready to call it a night when the sound of hurried footsteps froze him in the act. By all that was good, don’t let it be another stupid village brat gone missing case, he pleaded silently before hoping the approaching idiot wasn’t someone who was looking for him. Maybe the shoemaker in the next residential barrow was about to receive an emergency summons to patch up the incoming visitor’s footed apparel.

Slim hopes for escape, he thought as he slapped an angry palm down on the crude table before looking up to greet the panting figure which had planted himself in the doorway. A somewhat familiar face stared back, bathed in perspiration and he tried his best to put on a friendly countenance for the benefit of his visitor as he dredged through the list of names in his head. ‘Evening. Homura, wasn’t it? What ails you?’

The newcomer wouldn’t even bother with apologies for disturbing him at this hour of the night. Instead, in a voice made shaky from both anxiety and a hearty jog down the long cavern pathway, he delivered his breathless report. ‘We have a problem. A big one.’

Perfect, another dumb kid who decided he was bored and went out of Twilight Hollow past the curfew to “explore”. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes in disgust, he got up tiredly and gestured at the newcomer in a placid manner, trying to smooth over the wound-up tension in the youngster. ‘Settle down, settle down. Now what’s this about?’

Instead of coming in and making himself comfortable, his visitor chose to remain leaned against the doorway and shook his head hard, sending droplets of sweat arcing in both directions before replying in a more insistent tone, ‘Better for you to come and see yourself.’ Removing himself from the entrance, the newcomer gestured wide for the other man to follow. ‘This way, sir.’

Without even waiting for a reply or any signs of acknowledgement, his young visitor had removed the torch from the sconce just outside his living space and beckoned away for him to follow. Suppressing another disgruntled sigh, he proceeded to step through the exit and stoically tailed the bounding figure that had went on ahead, torch wavering in his anxious grip. A round belly from years of careless indulgence soon had him huffing and puffing harder than the youngster in front of him and he struggled hard to keep up with the pace.

What would eventually greet him was not some wailing parent shouting for his or her missing child, but another sight which almost took his breath away. He would have forgotten to breathe entirely if it wasn’t for the slight dizziness from lack of air suddenly assailing him and he finally drew a quivering snort as his eyes widened in terror. Likewise, his young friend had stopped short of the spectacle just in front of the entrance to the shelter, holding out the torch forward as if in an attempt to ward off the demon hunched before them.

A horned creature, looking no younger than the average village brat and of the same respective size to boot, dragged a larger body behind her back as she took slow steps towards them. The monster’s eyes were a blood-shot red and bore evidence of having endured hours of ceaseless weeping. Involuntarily, he found himself backing away from the creature’s approach while his companion remained stupidly transfixed by the sight in an open-jawed gape.

Giving the two of them a brief glance, the inhuman creature spoke at last in a tongue they were familiar with and he was momentarily stunned by the fact that these monsters of legends could actually speak like humans. In a voice which resembled more of a child’s wavering lilt than a hoarse grunt of an unearthly demon, she pleaded to them tearfully, ‘Please. Please help my friend.’

Finally gathering the courage to step forward a few steps, he swiped the torch away from his companion and waved the burning brand threateningly in the direction of the horned creature, hissing a short warning to halt her gradual approach, ‘Don’t come any closer! Have you forgotten the truce? You’re on human grounds and we want nothing to do with your kind!’ In contrast to his false act of bravado, his companion had started his retreat and fell back a few steps, leaving his village chief to deal with the unexpected intrusion. Noting the slight movement from his companion, he had the presence of mind to step back as well, casting fearful glances between his young companion and the demon.

Heedless of his warning, the monster resumed her advance and repeated her plea in an even more subdued tone, now resorting to begging them instead of just pleading. ‘Please! Help me! Help her, please!’

He found a moment to spare in throwing a glance at the burden the creature had behind her; a limp and female form sporting hair of a spectacular translucent gold who looked to be very much dead by all means. The drooped head made it hard to discern who it was. A villager the monster had attacked? No, none of the villagers had hair like that. It was undoubtedly someone from outside the valley and of the same origin as the demon. Confident in the fact that these were outsiders, he made up his mind at last and took several swipes at the creature with the torch, forcing her to back away slightly as he reiterated his denial with a face he hoped was menacing. ‘Go away! Your kind isn’t welcome here!’

Watching the spitting embers fly from the flailing torch, the intruder went on her knees instead of retreating further, enduring his almost-comical hostility with a face which looked to be completely ready to break into a howling sob in a matter of moments. Fresh tears streamed from the inhuman eyes and she begged again in a breaking voice, beseeching them. ‘Please help her! Just this once! I swear we’ll leave in peace if you do!’

He was at loss on how to handle the situation. On one hand, he didn’t honestly believe he could drive the thing and its limp burden away with a mere torch. On the other, he didn’t want these things anywhere in or near the village, or the valley for that matter. A brief scuffling noise from behind precluded the arrival of more villagers bearing menial tools as makeshift weapons, villagers his young companion had probably warned on his way to meet him. Despite outnumbering the slight inhuman child ten to one, he felt no more confident in their boosted numbers than the flimsy torch he had in hand. He issued his half-hearted warning once more, wishing for the thing to just retreat and leave them to their peace. ‘No more words! Leave now or we’ll make you go!’

Exchanging low mutters and fearful glances amongst themselves, the ragtag defenders kept their respectful distance from the creature nonetheless, keeping their weapons up guardedly as they watched the sobbing monster anxiously. For long minutes, they stood there and waited, hoping the intruder would get the message and take her leave. Eventually, her sobs died down into a small whimper and the creature looked up at last to regard the mob before her with a baleful glare, born from her well of desperation and a rapidly-diminishing pool of patience.

She spoke slowly to the assembled villagers with a forced edge in her otherwise childlike lilt, making sure they heard each and every word clearly, ‘If you don’t help her, I’m making sure none of you in here would be left alive before the next morning comes.’ The small hands drew into a grip and her knuckles turned white from the pressure. Darting her gaze between the assembled men, she continued in a cracking voice, ‘I will kill each and every one of you. Man, woman, child or babe.’

The village chief visibly blanched at her words, doubtless that the creature could easily carry out her threat. Mirroring his shock, the others grew increasingly distressed as well; some advancing towards her in putrefied anger while the others fell back slightly, as if wanting to go back to defend their families. The villagers had never been in direct contact with an actual youkai for many long years, but word of their prowess was the stuff of legends exchanged frequently by the populace. There was no longer an illusion of a choice here; either they complied or they would all die. Guardedly lowering his torch, their representative grunted at the creature in disgusted resignation, ‘What in blazes do you want then?’

Wordlessly, the creature slipped her burden free from her shoulders and laid it to rest before them, looking down briefly and then back up at them. Despite their fears, their curiosity overrode common sense and all eyes came to bear on the unearthly female overflowing with golden waves of hair. Next to the magnificent sight, the creature continued to repeat her maddeningly rote plea. The steely threat in her voice had vanished as quickly as it had come.

‘Please help her. Please…’
>> No. 4552
I had finally been granted blissful release from all the staggering pain, or so I had thought before a slight stinging ate away at my abdomen.

‘Ow.’ It was more of a silent complaint than a voiced one. Thankfully, whatever it was stinging me abandoned its attacks and I drifted back into a dreamless sleep gratefully. I didn’t want to wake up and face a world of pain just yet.

‘Ow.’ No such luck, my new antagonist had recommenced its annoying assault and bit into my stomach once more. I waited for a few moments for it to go away before returning to my fugue state of mind. Patiently bearing with the stinging in silence, I was finally rewarded with another respite in due time. The pinprick biting ceased once more and I heaved a small sigh of relief, somewhat pleased that I was once more allowed to float free in the painless void of blissful sleep.

‘OOWWWWWWWWW!!’ I roared out loud and catapulted into a sitting position when the annoying stinging had suddenly exploded into an ungodly torrent of pain. A figure seated next to me tumbled backwards from my outburst and landed with an ungraceful thud on his back before scurrying away in a panic, throwing half-glances in my direction which spoke volumes about his fear of someone as he beat a hasty and disorganized retreat. Something about the fleeing middle-aged man had seemed familiar but I couldn’t place my fingers on just what it was exactly. Instead, I glanced downwards with a small wince, noting the source of the stinging pain. Criss-crossing stitches made rather clumsily, as if by a hand shaking in terror, drew the raw flesh of my wounds together in a tight bind and the last one still had the needle hanging onto the thread. The cloying fragrance of mixed herbs drifted from the closed wounds as I gingerly removed the needle.

Throwing the blanket off and coming to stand unsteadily next to the smallish bed, it took me a moment to realize that someone had undressed me when I had been blissfully slumbering away. Probably the handiwork of the long-gone man who had been patching me up earlier. Spotting a pile of neatly-folded clothing on one chair in the corner of the curiously-familiar room, I sifted through the dull collection of fabric before pulling out a bland yukata which looked to be able to accommodate my size.

Or at least I thought it would have been able to do so. The area around my chests seemed a bit too tight and I had apparently grown taller before waking up, something that shouldn’t be possible considering my essentially-frozen biological development. Pulling the clothes on and tying them on regardless, I had to look into the reflection in a basin of water on a nightstand to remember why I had grown so much. No wonder I had freaked the good doctor out.

Pulling in the waves of gold hanging behind me, I searched about vainly for a scissor or something appropriately sharp to slice through Yukari’s lengthy hair before giving up when the nagging pain from every corner of my body gradually resurfaced. A hard chair served as a good enough place to collapse onto and I prodded away at the stitched holes in my stomach through the clothing, triggering dull bouts of agony every now and then as my fingers explored the bumps. I might not be experiencing spontaneous regeneration, but natural healing could still progress at any rate. Looks like I wouldn’t be dying so soon after all. At the very least, I had temporarily defeated her body’s attempts at murdering me.

Shifting in the chair slightly only served to bring about additional pains and a prevalent sense of being utterly broken before I unloaded a mouthful of dull-red blood in a wracking cough. It took a while before I could muster enough thought to wipe the mess away from my reddened mouth with a rather unhygienic-looking rag. A tender inspection of my back reminded me about the various shards of minerals previously embedded there like a mockery of pseudo-wings growing out of control, shards which were now missing and the wounds had been summarily repaired with the same untidy stitches covering my abdomen. I could only pray the punctured lung had at least undergone some sort of internal healing as well. Perhaps these youkai lungs don’t exactly work the same as human ones do. At any rate, I no longer felt like I had taken a round trip to hell, but the sapping weakness served as a testament to the inhuman punishment I had taken and subsequently survived once more. Somewhat miserably, I wondered if I would ever be free from the constant battering I kept receiving. A week or two of not being flung around, tossed about, being shot at, and bludgeoned mercilessly could be considered a heavenly vacation at this point.

Temporarily freed from the hacking which threatened to dislodge a lung or two, I finally managed to take stock of my surroundings and the immediate thing which drew my attention was an overhanging formation of scintillating crystals. I knew now where I was and why the place had seemed so maddeningly familiar at first. This room was no stranger to me; I had been here before, back in what seemed like another lifetime ago recovering from my close brush with death. It was a strange twist of fate that I would find myself here once again, and this time not quite as the old me. How had I ended up here?

A looming figure sporting a remarkably rotund belly drew into view somewhere within the peripheries of my sight, prompting me to throw a sharp glance at my visitor. Merely a reflex action brought about by my edginess, but in the eyes of my visitor it probably amounted to nothing less than perceived disdained hostility. The bulky figure shrank back from what he thought was a glare and stopped his retreat at a respectful distance away before stuttering a few times in his speech, ‘M-my… my apologies for uh… for…’

He gave up searching for words the same time I gave up trying to figure out what he had to apologize for. I cut off his blustering attempts at rephrasing his senseless greetings with a dismissive hand, wincing anew at the dull throbs of pain reverberating from the movement. ‘Don’t bother,’ I groaned weakly before pausing momentarily to wait for the bout of agony to pass. ‘Who brought me here?’

Despite the general gloom of the place, I could easily see his shifting eyes and wringing hands, definite signs of anxiety intermingled with great fear. An understandable reaction to my presence given the villager’s past history with the youkai in general. As if remembering I had directed a question at him, the nervous old man took several small steps towards me and proceeded to answer hesitantly. ‘The horned dem-‘ he broke off hastily to quickly amend his words, probably fearing I might take offense at the derogatory word he was about to utter. ‘The horned girl did. She… she’s not going to kill us now, right? We helped you.’

I focused my attention on him once more, riveted to the word he had used rather innocuously. ‘Kill?’ This can’t be good.

Gradually, additional villagers gathered behind my visitor, whom I assumed to be the village head and huddled in the relative safety of the only doorway leading out of the healing barrow. Caught between a gap demon and the cloistered spectators watching in nervous silence behind him, the village chief seemed to want nothing more than to melt into the ground itself, freed from being trapped between the rock and a hard place. Despite his obvious discomfort, he soldiered on valiantly nonetheless, determined to show the villagers that he would carry the trust they had put in him. ‘The youkai who brought you here. She threatened to kill us all if we wouldn’t help patch you up.’

Oh fabulous, I thought sarcastically as I palmed my face. The drunk just had to go that far. She had probably instilled a whole generation’s worth of terror into the villagers in the space of one night, terror they never had to experience after the initial incident with the lost sun and the ensuing peace from False Dawn’s creation. This was one misunderstanding I wouldn’t have the patience or time to clear up, even if I wanted to go through the trouble of doing so.

‘The head of the Hieda family has informed me of your identity, Lady Yukari,’ he started anew in a hasty voice, as if to placate the frustration I had unconsciously demonstrated. ‘My deepest regrets for failing to recognize who you were at first. If… if I had known, I wouldn’t have hesitated to extend our assistance to you. But your friend… uh…well, she-’

‘Yeah, I know,’ I returned tiredly in a blasé manner, trying to put the unnerved figure at ease. Truth be told, it wasn’t hard to guess at what he had went through in light of my experiences with the oni. I wouldn’t envy the nervous wreck one bit.

Seeing even more of the villagers forming behind the village chief, I decided to just put their fears to rest. These people had previously sheltered and even demonstrated kindness to a degree towards a veritable stranger crashing into their lives entombed in a ball of ice, never once asking for anything in return. If there was a time to repay that act of humanity, now didn’t seem like such a bad time for it. ‘Forget it. Just give me half a day alone and I’ll be out of your hair in no time, with the oni as well. There’s nothing to fear from her or me.’

My words seemed to ease the thronging mob somewhat. The gathered villagers muttered low between themselves and the village chief almost let loose a silly grin of relief before catching himself hastily and coughing a few times to cover his slip-up. Bending into a bow in gratitude, he exclaimed in a visibly-deflated voice, ‘Our heartfelt thanks for your understanding, Lady Yukari. I- I hope this incident would not compromise the terms of our truce, such as it is now. We would not wish for a repeat of history long buried. Our people have lived peacefully for generations now and it would be cruel to us if our children were suddenly plunged into violence.’

I resisted the urge to snort in disdain at him. If only the oblivious villagers knew they had far bigger problems than a mere misunderstanding awaiting them, they probably wouldn’t be bothering with such respectful formalities and would have taken to scurrying like rats for the nearest hidey-hole. Then again, why start a panic after how I had apparently just prevented one? I would speak with the Child of Miare once I had debated the wisdom of telling her the truth. The villagers can decide for themselves what they should do when the time came.

A brief wave with my hand served well enough to dismiss most of the congregated onlookers behind the village chief and their leader-apparent turned back to herd away the stubborn few that remained before my temporary abode. Giving one last respectful bow, he started to take his leave as well when he stopped abruptly to ask another question which had probably been plaguing him since last night. ‘You can guarantee our safety, correct? I mean, you’re the youkai’s de-facto leader after all. I hope the… the other youkai won’t bother us or think we inflicted those wounds on you.’

Leader? Hardly anything even remotely close to that. If anything, Three-Arms and Vana were more along the line as far as leader figures went. Yukari would pretty much represent only the minority faction of disparate youkai not grouped under the other two major powerhouses in Gensokyo. I, or rather Yukari, would be nothing more than a proxy leader to them at most. In today’s age, none would have given a flying damn if I had lived or died. Still, why bother overloading the man’s brains with so much detail? ‘You’ll all be fine and stuff. Quit fretting over it. And will you ditch the honorific? It’s annoying.’

I hadn’t intended for my words to border on a rebuke of sorts, but it had come out more or less like that. Assuming my tone to be a reprimand for his continued pestering, he hurried on and moved onto to yet another question, or in this case, a rather strange request as his hands unconsciously recommenced their nerve-wracked wringing. ‘Forgive me for asking so much of you, Lady Yukari, but can you get the other youkai to leave with you as well? I mean, she doesn’t bother the villagers much aside from coming down from the temple every now and then to talk with them. Some of us aren’t happy to have a monster freely walking amongst us.’

Other youkai? There was someone else here aside from me and Suika, apparently. I peered at him strangely before giving him a small shrug. ‘Sure,’ I lied. I wasn’t about to waste time on something that trivial and had no patience for playing exorcist on behalf of the villagers. If this other visitor clearly meant no harm to the villagers, I was even less inclined to bother with their problem, curiosity regardless. I would rest for a while, send Suika away permanently and make a quick reconnaissance in the nearby woods where Ice Cubes had claimed the three-armed freak had made his temporary home in.

Of extracting Short Stuff away from him, I still had no idea as to how I should go about it. Perhaps, in this case, I would have an edge. Where diplomacy was essentially a nonexistent option for me in the past, I had that opportunity now as Yukari. The elder was more pragmatic compared to the unreasoning lunatic underground. It was possible I could somehow convince him to release custody of Short Stuff to me, in light of Yukari’s past involvement with Three-Arms. Regardless of her recent actions against his agenda, I could probably work something out as long as he never found out who was really in here. For now, I had the upper hand hidden away in the gap youkai.

Somewhat convinced that my continued silence would not give way for anything more reassuring than a simple “Sure”, the village chief finally took his leave hesitantly, giving me several more glances before disappearing down the adjacent corridor and back towards the village. At least he was free to get back to his own life now, I thought grudgingly as I eased myself back onto the uncomfortable bed. As the last of the villagers were finally pulled away from their safe viewing zone by the mumbling chief, the dim susurrations of their voices died away and I found myself back in the relative peace and silence of an empty chamber once more.

With some respite at long last, I thought back to the incident the previous night, digging up the last thing Rilofene had sonorously uttered before I lost my real body. Lux et Demiurges. Light of the Demiurge. During my hasty retreat, I had little luxury to ponder on the cryptic words but now that I was freed from the immediate threat of danger, I tried to connect all the disparate dots as much as I could.

The Demiurge, a universal term various humans throughout the ages had used to refer to an all-powerful force of creation and recreation or a godlike entity which would continually create and then subsequently reabsorb the world into itself before repeating the cycle anew, had existed for as long as time itself. Most believed it was an existence surpassing even the deities itself and it was no different for my people in ages long lost. Naturally, Rilofene would be very well familiar with the term given her divine origins, perhaps even having some intimate knowledge on the true nature of the Demiurge.

Why she had chosen to act after the events of Gensokyo’s first incident with the lost sun was no longer such a big mystery. Before I had made my first escape from Gensokyo, I had momentarily gleaned the akashic records to find a possible method in passing through the Grand Boundary. The fell deity had obviously made the best of that unexpected opportunity, secretly delving into the sum knowledge of the cosmos, blueprints of the universe, and discovered a way to escape her eventual decay into nothingness when we would finally die. It wasn’t entirely inconceivable that she had planned to exploit the Demiurge system by using the information she had gleaned and the Visitors as an interface somehow. She had every intentions of abandoning me to my fate while she ascended to a state beyond death, freed from what she feared above all else; permanent erasure and the eternal recycling of deities in the Throne of Gods. Death would be meaningless to something which could recreate the world, or possibly the universe, based on nothing more than a slight whim.

For a brief moment, I was actually envious of her and regretted the fact that she had abandoned me. After all that we had been through together, it was almost inconceivable that she would willingly take the unprecedented opportunity alone and left me to meet the fate we had been awaiting together for so long with trepidation by myself. She had chosen what whore of a celestial over her ages-old servant. In an act of unrestrained anger, I swept a hand through the nightstand, sending the cooper basin over the side in a noisome clutter of metal and sloshing water. Hadn’t I served her with complete loyalty, even going so far as to carry her essentially-dead spark within me for uncountable years? Was this to be my reward for that misguided sense of service?

Another push sent the nightstand crashing to the ground as well before I tiredly closed my eyes in resignation. In the past, I thought I would at least have company when my drastically shortened time finally came to an end. I was doomed to meet that end alone now. Or maybe I wouldn’t have had to, if Kanako hadn’t pulled her mind-boggling stunt of ripping me out of my own body and allowing me to flow into Yukari. I might have gladly played my part in Rilofene and Peaches’ unfathomable designs if I had a small share of the true immortality my patron had so desperately sought for. Perhaps I was originally a party to whatever they had planned after all, and Kanako had unwittingly torn me away from it in an act she had thought would save me.

Or was the real me still essentially intact in my old body, and what Kanako had pulled away were just bits and pieces of the human she saw worth saving? I had to admit that the pre-Gensokyo “me” wasn’t exactly the shining model of what being a human being amounted to. Perhaps this was what she had meant by my fragmented self, the original human who lay buried in the landslide of her other imprinted personalities before her transformation into Rilofene’s slave to murder, someone Short Stuff had managed to reach out to through the morass of inhuman facades I had put together throughout the ages.

I would have kept the useless chain of thoughts reeling and spinning endlessly if fatigue hadn’t overpowered my head as well. Instead of allowing me to drift back to sleep, it threw the metaphorical wrench into the grinding gears of my head, abruptly dispersing the meandering thoughts and I found myself staring mindlessly at the pretty clump of crystals growing out of the ceiling. What did it all really matter now? The best I could do for the time being was to proceed with my act of grand-theft-miko. Anything else would have to come at a later time.

‘Are you going to eat us?’

Lifting my head to investigate, I found another curious visitor of sorts who had somehow found his way here, clutching a bamboo toy in one hand and peering hard at me next to the healer’s table some distance away. The boy looked to be no older than ten or eleven. I was beginning to feel like a zoo attraction with all the uninvited attention. Letting my head drop back onto the hardened pillow, I decided to just let the boy go on his way once he got bored enough from being ignored to warrant leaving.

No such luck; viewing my apparent lack of response as a sign that he was welcome, he drew closer for another look and I tried to turn away from the small figure to no avail. The boy simply circled over to the other side and came face to face with me. Trying to flip to the other side would bring about no shortage of pain from the various wounds on that side of my back and I stared back at the wide-eyed visitor in resignation before trying something suitably crude to drive him away. ‘I eat little boys for breakfast, you know?’

Either he hadn’t understood or the words didn’t perturb him in the least. ‘Well, it’s well past lunchtime now so I don’t have to worry, right?’ He queried honestly with a slight smile before taking another step closer to peer intently into my eyes. ‘I’ve never seen pupils like yours before. It’s a burning gold, like wheat in full bloom.’

‘Yeah? Well eat lots of wheat then. You can turn yours golden someday,’ I remarked wryly before venturing a question of my own. ‘What’s your name, boy?’

‘Kohaku. No need to tell me yours; I’ve heard the others talk plenty about you. You’re Yukari Yakumo, some sort of man-eating demon or thingy,’ he replied with no attempt at politely veiling his words. Not that I would be bothered by something like that, at any rate.

It wasn’t an attempt at keeping the pointless conversation going, but I found myself bemused enough to ask all the same. ‘Do parents still name their kids Kohaku these days?’

The boy broke into a buck-toothed grin at my question. ‘Mine do, I guess.’ He paused momentarily to shuffle his feet slightly before going on, ‘You’re pretty nice even tho’ the adults say otherwise about you.’

I blinked once at him before returning to lying on my back. ‘And what exactly are they saying about me, aside from the obvious fact that I’m a splurging man-eating demon?’

Despite what I had believed about his blatant honesty, he still found himself slightly flustered by what he was about to say. With downcast eyes, he paraphrased his words carefully, ‘Well… um… they said you ate babies to maintain your youth and have fun with humans by seducing them before throwing them through screaming holes in space or something.’

That had my head turned back to look at his pinched face, wondering to myself just how true some of that was. The baby-eating and seduction part were probably just urban legends propagated by some bored villager but throwing humans through gaps didn’t sound too far-fetched and for a brief moment, I thought I had unconsciously flushed with shame at the mention of Yukari’s supposed pastime. ‘I don’t really know,’ I admitted truthfully, surprised by my own words. ‘Maybe it’s real, maybe not. Believe what you want.’

‘I think they’re just funny stories people make up. Youkai aren’t so bad; we have a pretty friendly one that lives in the temple now where the nun used to. She visits the villagers every now and then when she comes down to look for nails or lumber.’ Reaching up with his toy to scratch away at his head, he added somewhat sombrely, ‘Your friend outside the cave didn’t seem so bad as well, except for the scary horns and that constant crying.’

I hadn’t even given the third presence a second thought but Kohaku’s mention of this newcomer making the temple her home did pique my curiosity this time. Another possible link to the dead nun, perhaps. Just how many of these lost friends did she have scattered all over Gensokyo anyway? It was something I might have to take time looking into, but for now, I was far more worried about the oni who had almost gotten me killed again and again. It didn’t look like I could possibly get rid of her anytime soon, if that was even a viable option.

Halfway thinking up a suitable reply to send the boy away, a sharp shout interrupted us before I could finish the thought. A rather panicky man glared at the boy from the doorway before giving me a brief glance filled with unadulterated fear; Kohaku’s father looking for his missing child, doubtlessly. Hastily stepping through the portal, he took quick strides towards the boy and almost snatched him away from the spot he had been standing on, muttering a brief scolding he thought I wouldn’t have been able to hear as he took hold of the child’s arm violently. I did anyway.

‘Stupid brat! She’s a monster!’

Almost immediately, he proceeded to drag his son away despite having to forcibly pull him away. As if he had suddenly remembered something important, he stopped wrestling the boy away and shoved his son behind him before turning back to face me with an apologetic face which was clearly a dismal attempt at a fake. ‘Please pay the boy no heed, Lady Yukari. He has a tendency to run his mouth off.’

Sitting up to regard the two of them, I let the continued mistakes in identity go unchallenged. What would be the point in insisting I wasn’t the golden wonder herself? As things stood now, it would look like I had far more to gain from impersonating as her anyhow. ‘You can be at ease; I meant your son no harm. We were simply chatting.’ Instead of putting him to rest, it did nothing but aggravate his anxiety. Seemingly dumbfounded by my apparent empathy towards humans, he apologized once more before hurrying away with the boy in tow.

The lad still found time enough to throw me one last toothy grin though, followed by a question which he managed to utter despite all the stumbling and dragging he was being forced to go through. ‘Can I come and talk to you again next time?’

I did the best I could and gave him an ambiguous half-shrug in reply.
>> No. 4553
No matter how much I dreaded having to come face to face with the oni once more, it was something I would need to go through regardless if I ever intended to walk out of the village’s underground shelter. Once more resigned to an inescapable fate, I gave up thinking about a way out of my current predicament and decided to just get it over with. I did owe her that much for her trouble in lugging my wrecked body all the way back to the human village after all.

Making my way out through the familiar tunnel, I was struck by a prevalent sense of nostalgia at walking the worn pathway once more. I could clearly recall hobbling through the place as a nearly-crippled human and the black humour in repeatedly ending up back here with critical injuries and being patched back into the world of the living by the same healer did not escape me in the slightest. This time though, I could truly claim I had come full circle; perhaps as a way of saying this was my rebirth; my metempsychosis, my palingenesia. I didn’t want to believe that this had all been preordained, but perhaps my current predicament was simply another factor in fate’s grand design regardless of how little I actually believed in something as whimsical as fate. As myself, I would have the knowledge to effect great changes in Gensokyo. As Yukari, I would have the power to bring about those changes.

The key and the knowledge to work the puzzle together in one place. All I needed now was the puzzle itself, which lay with the three-armed freak.

Half-walking and half-pondering, I paid little attention to the various villagers who had risen late as they trudged their individual paths down to the village to start their business for the day. Once more back to my habitual ways of thinking and planning for the worst, I barely noticed the undercurrent of fear in each and every one of those who came within close proximity to myself and whenever I had eye contact with any one of the random walkers, they would hastily avert their gazes and kept their heads bowed as they moved on. It was a far cry from the friendliness and warmth they had previously demonstrated towards my old self. Perhaps humans and youkai were never meant to co-exist despite it being the general principle Gensokyo was built on. Somewhat bemused, I was coming to find my rather unique position of being both human and youkai at the same time rather enlightening. Undoubtedly, it was something Keine had lived with all her life.

Moving past the stone benches located near the lip of the cavern entrance, I took some time to locate the oni based on what the boy had told me the day before. Eventually, I found her prone form in the bushes a short distance away from the entrance. She had probably secreted herself there to avoid distressing the endless flow of villagers coming to and leaving the shelter. Silently padding through the soft grass, I bent as much as I could without sending waves of agony through my body and peered closely at the oni. She had almost bawled her eyes out judging from the sagging bags under her closed eyes and the smudges of skin turned raw from an endless flow of tears did little to indicate otherwise. From the looks of things, the oni had simply laid down to sleep here from the exhaustion.

Despite my built-up antipathy towards her, I still found a moment to feel somewhat sorry for the oni. Having someone this distressed over me was certainly a new experience, even if it wasn’t really for the real me. Giving her sleeping form a slight nudge with my foot, I tried to see if I could get the slumbering drunkard to awaken before something else occurred to me. The cloud of alcoholic fumes so prevalent around the oni was strangely missing. Had she actually abstained from drinking as she spent two whole days wallowing in her sorrow? I drew in another careful sniff and sure enough, nothing but the scent of the surrounding greenery flowed across my senses. Miraculously, she had lain off her magical gourd for a record-breaking two days.

Another nudge only served to rock her sleeping form slightly and she muttered lightly in her slumber. Reaching down to pinch her nose shut instead, I waited for inevitability to come knocking on her door. It took almost a whole minute before she finally woke up with an explosive snort, gasping for air as I stepped back hastily from the wildly swinging hands. Placidly watching her antics, I tucked my arms away into the opposing sleeves in an attempt at warding off the chilly air.

Suika’s bleary eyes eventually focused on me before they grew wide, slightly jiggling the bags under her eyes and for a moment, I thought the oni was about to start bawling anew. Instead, she did what I had been dreading all along and threw herself bodily onto me, pinning me to the bed of weaving grass underfoot. Struck by déjà vu, I tried to rasp painfully at her and managed a frantic stream of hoarse words to get her to ease off. ‘Horn! Horn! Poking my neck!’

She lifted her buried head hastily and took the offending horn away from its precarious position on my neck. It almost felt like someone had removed a dagger pointed at it. Should I consider this the fourth time she had put my life in danger? Probably, I grumbled silently as I tried to push her away ineffectually. She would have none of it and continued to grasp at everything I tore away from her hands, clothing or limbs regardless.

At least she looked somewhat gladdened now instead of a wreck of an oni. Hanging onto my loose sleeve, her eyes gradually drew into focus and she almost blubbered happily. ‘I’m so glad-‘

I cut her off with an icy glare once I had managed to struggle into a seated position before she could descend into a cacophony of uninterruptible blabbering. ‘You threatened to kill the villagers! What the hell were you thinking!?’

Her joy drained away as much as the blood in her face did and she settled back down on the grass, legs splayed in a clumsy sitting position. The light in her eyes rapidly clouded over and she looked down in shame as she grew silent, fully aware of what she had done and the possible repercussions from her actions. No matter her good intentions, the fact remained that she had almost reignited the hostilities between human and youkai. In a subdued voice, the oni breathed her regret, ‘I never meant to. I only wanted to get them to help you.’

‘Did you know how many months it took for Ran and me to negotiate our peace? We spent nearly five waxing moons talking and talking while humans and youkai continued to die on a nightly basis and you almost threw all of that out of the window with your little funny act!’ I hissed low with a rigid finger pointed at her cringing figure before something else completely unrelated occurred to me and in the space of a breath, I forgot why I was so infuriated.

Wait, what? I felt completely out of place for a moment. I was fairly sure that sort of intimate knowledge shouldn’t be something I was familiar with.

Somewhat confused, I felt an involuntary frown form on my face as I eased away from the oni and waited in silence for another unexpected stream of information or knowledge to pop out from nowhere. Nothing. Merely another isolated phenomenon like how I had inadvertently released danmaku? For that matter, why was I even so concerned about their age-old truce in the first place? I didn’t remember giving the slightest damn about it when I had first heard of it.

Taking my sudden silence as a sign that I had cooled off, Suika looked up timidly and her chains rustled slightly next to her, reminding me of her presence. ‘I’m sorry,’ she muttered slowly before continuing. ‘I… I really didn’t mean to do any harm. But I was confused and didn’t know what to do then…’

I gave up with the pointless reprimanding. Why I had even embarked on the foolish venture in the first place, I knew not why. At any rate, I had to meet with someone before the remainder of the day died away. There had been enough time wasted here already.

Reaching out to finger the crumpled and loosened ribbon on her right horn caused the oni to draw back slightly in an unconscious attempt at evading what she thought would be another reprimanding blow. I heaved a silent sigh as I smoothed over the silky ornament before pulling it back into shape. Unused to the mercurial changes in my temper, she chose to remain silent as she peered at me and then at her fixed ribbon. Hesitantly, she reached up to touch her little decoration the same time I took my hand away from it and her wavering gaze returned to me. ‘You’re not mad at me anymore?’ she started in a small voice.

‘You know what? I’m in enough pain to not want to bother with something like blowing my top again.’ I climbed back to my feet tiredly, taking great care in keeping unnecessary movements to a minimum. I felt bad enough already as things were and her little tackle earlier had probably jarred some bones loose again. ‘Just-‘ I froze before I could launch into another stream of derogatory ranting and rolled my eyes at her. ‘Look, don’t bother the villagers anymore. Better yet, don’t bother me anymore. If you don’t want to go home then stay out of the way at least. I have problems aplenty to deal with without needing to worry about being accidentally killed by someone.’

Hearing my emphasis on the last word, she looked away sadly and spoke in a forcedly neutral tone. ‘I understand. I won’t be a bother anymore.’ Without waiting for a reply, she turned over to one side and flopped back onto the ground, as if to return to her interrupted slumber. I spared a few seconds to stare at her small figure before turning away towards the sloping path back to the village. Even with the growing distance between the two of us, I could still hear her uneven breathing and after a short way down the well-trodden path I caught the sound of a small choked sob before nature’s din swallowed the rest up.
>> No. 4554
I felt like the literal Moses passing through the village, except in this case, I wouldn’t even need the proverbial staff to get the Red Sea of people to part before me. Heads turned, small gasps echoed and playing children on the streets were instantly snatched into slamming doors before I could as much as register their presence. It didn’t take too long for an entire street to go empty simply by standing in the middle of it. The only indication of present villagers came from numerous eyes furtively peeking through small window gaps before they summarily snapped close as well. Guess I certainly made quite an impression on the villagers.

Picking my way through the emptied streets, I tried to remember the way to the Hieda household. With no one left to even ask for directions from, I had to rely on memory alone to find my way there. Unlike the neatly-organized underground city, the human village was a tangled mess in comparison and soon enough, I gave up entirely on logical navigation and simply picked random streets to go through. Maybe I should have put up signboards the last time I was here.

As luck would have it, I wouldn’t need to continue bumbling about the village uselessly for hours on end. The familiar outlines of the mansion and wooden walls soon came into view as I rounded another junction and I slowed my pace before making my approach towards the arched gate. Despite my decision to go ahead with the meeting, I still had no clue as to what I could possibly say to Screeches. The Child of Miare was bound to like nothing I had in store for her in terms of words and I wondered if I could even convince her to use her family’s influence to get the villagers to hide in the safety of the shelter for long weeks, if not months, while I worked on Byakuren’s circle.

Coming to stand before the ornate garden once more, I waited patiently for some sort of attendant or butler to come forth until it was readily apparent none of the servants had the courage to come out and welcome what was essentially a youkai in their eyes. Idly, I scratched away at my scalp and wondered if I should just sneak in and kidnap Screeches again, a course of action I wouldn’t particularly relish in light of my repaired relationship with her. Thankfully, I would be saved from that somewhat agonizing decision by an approaching entourage of servants headed by a single male figure streaming out of a side corridor of the mansion.

The man was obviously used to his luxuries, clad in a rich garment of silk and embroidered designs glimmering in the afternoon glow. His various attendants looked almost gaudy in comparison, plain pebbles ringing the magnificent jewel leading them. As he drew to a halt before me, the milling servants behind came to a complete stop as well and I had to peer up at him slightly. The dinosaur of a man was a head taller than even my increased height and I gave him a relatively broken smile, a poor attempt at being friendly. In contrast, he looked down coolly and despite the hostility in his eyes, he made an abrupt bow before speaking formally. ‘I am Hotsuma, lord of this household. To what do we owe the honour of your presence, Lady Yukari?’

My gaze strayed towards the servants momentarily. Figures they would only find the guts to come out with their master in front as a meat shield. I gave up smiling at him like a retarded cat. ‘Just here to see your daughter. Will you people stop with the honorific?’

He gave another short bow. ‘As you wish.’ He frowned slightly as he considered my request. ‘And which daughter?’

I felt an eyebrow rise at that. I hadn’t realized that Screeches had siblings. The Hieda family looked to be pretty blessed this time around. ‘Uh… the…’ I cursed the fact that I couldn’t remember names now. ‘You know, the eldest one.’

The emphasis hadn’t missed him and his voice took on a slightly hostile edge as he promptly replied, ‘I’m afraid that’s out of the question. No offence meant, but Fumiko isn’t fit to meet visitors today.’ Another bow served to complement his false mask of regret, masterfully crafted as a required skill for someone of his position. ‘Some other time perhaps.’

It wasn’t hard to tell he was lying and the reason for his refusal was plainly obvious. Like all the other villagers, he wasn’t going to chance exposing his children, especially the Child of Miare, to a youkai knowing full well what they were capable of. I had no desire to press him into submission with words or threats; it would most likely fail at any rate given the iron will he had demonstrated thus far. Guess I had to go back to shady methods after all. I returned his bow slightly and echoed his words, ‘Some other time perhaps.’

‘Indeed,’ he replied before gesturing backwards once with a hand, sending the nervous servants away and leaving the two of us alone in the garden. As the last of his attendants disappeared into the various rooms and corridors of the mansion, his demeanour cracked and he finally resorted to using an edgier voice, freed from the need to appear calm and collected before his servants. ‘My thanks for your understanding and show of respect before my serving members. It was the last thing I had expected from a youkai.’

Fine, so we’re all good and happy then. I decided to try again seeing another opening in his defence. Adopting a somewhat threatening posture despite his superior height, I sliced through his unyielding will with as much subtle force as I could put behind the words, ‘Enough with the artificial formalities. I need to speak to the child. I know you don’t trust me in the slightest but you have my word she won’t be harmed.’

This was obviously a playing field the man had years of experience in, as befit of someone of his station. He stood by his decision stubbornly and crossed his arms somewhat rigidly. ‘Anything she needs to know, you can tell me. I’m not about to take a monster’s promise at face value. You’re not going anywhere near Fumiko, period.’

I couldn’t risk telling him the truth. The man wouldn’t have the weight of countless years of wisdom to understand nor would he even give me a modicum amount of his trust in that matter. I needed to tell someone whom I could believe in and could likewise reciprocate that trust, someone like Screeches. Informing her father that I was planning to use the village and the surrounding valley as a massive trap for the Visitors would do nothing but sow the seeds of widespread panic. That is, if he would even believe my words in the first place. ‘Fine, you win,’ I declared exasperatedly as I relented in my push with a wide gesture. Stubborn ass.

Once more, the man gave a respectful bow still very much insincere, but well-faked nonetheless. ‘I’m glad we have an agreement. Understand that I bear you no grudge. Nevertheless, I cannot in good will allow you to come anywhere close to my loved ones. It is a…’ he stopped briefly to search for a word, ‘… human thing. We protect what we love. Now please leave.’

‘Yes, we do, don’t we?’ I murmured softly to him as my gaze wandered away, more as a question to myself than to the rigid figure before me. Snapping my attention back to him, I took a moment to work out some sort of farewell or some similarly lame formality before giving up. Why bother? The man obviously wasn’t going to appreciate anything coming from what he obstinately viewed as a monster. ‘Thanks for your time,’ I ventured briefly before turning to take my leave. He stood rooted to the spot until I had cleared the arched gateway and I made a quick detour to the rear of the mansion once I was safely out of his sight.

Peering up at the wooden walls, I noticed numerous spiked protrusions at the top which I didn’t remember being there the last time I had been here. It was probably a new addition following my previous abduction of the Hieda household’s greatest treasure, a security measure against future intruders running off with their precious Child of Miare. It was working pretty damned well now, I thought glumly. Trying to scale the walls now would only serve to lacerate my arms and body even if my current condition permitted such exertions and for a moment, I wished I knew how to use Yukari’s boundary-manipulation abilities, further reinforcing my belief that the things I needed most would always conveniently remain out of reach. Story of my life, I sighed silently.

Useless to ask for the impossible; I might as well look for another way to meet with her. The front gate would be a bad idea now that the servants and their master were on alert. Barging in using force wouldn’t end up too well for me or the fragile peace the villagers currently enjoyed. Regardless, she would need to return to the shelter sooner or later when the day finally died away and perhaps then, some sort of stealthy visit would be possible. I had very little desire to wait until the late hours of dusk all the same, a few more long hours to burn by my reckoning. There had to be someone else who could get the kid to come out and meet me, someone suitably human and who would actually consider to my request. The village chief or that boy Kohaku perhaps. Then again, where to even start looking for them?

… Or that airhead of a flyboy, whose name was once again infuriatingly eluding me. Finn or Figg or something. Would he actually be willing to trust me looking like this? He might, if I told him the truth but that could compromise my advantage somewhat. After Yuugi’s loose mouth, I was no longer so inclined to be generous with information. If worse came to worst, I supposed I would have to use pressure on the airhead to get him to cooperate.

There was very little left to go with; it was either that or nothing. Mind made up at long last, I backtracked to the village square as best I could, sending further villagers scurrying away from my path. Even the numerous hawkers vending their wares or attending to their food stalls had somehow found an appropriate hole to hide in as I passed through empty noodle stands and mobile yakitori carts into the hushed village square. Word of my presence had rapidly circulated amongst the villagers and I arrived in the village hub which was more or less empty by now, except for a couple of darting figures making their retreat into the numerous alleyways and stores shut tighter than a sealed coffin. I had no idea if this was simply an over-reaction to having youkai in the village or if it was a result of Suika’s thoughtless threat. Whatever the case, it obviously had a profound effect on the local populace.

Finding my way back to the airhead’s workshop wasn’t exactly a strenuous endeavour. I could remember the way back simply by following the scattered noodle stalls I had passed through during my last visit and soon enough, the rundown store cum workshop he typically inhabited during the daytime came into view. The somewhat-neglected store still looked pretty much the same; cheap paint flaking here and there with a slight haze of sawdust hanging in the still air within the depths of the unglamorous building. Advancing into the interior of the familiar place, I had expected to be greeted by the sounds of woodworking streaming from his workshop but the atmosphere was deathly silent instead. A quick inspection of the rear rooms revealed nothing but the solitary presence of numerous unfinished wooded contraptions lying under their canvassed tarps. Of the airhead, there was no sign of him.

Strange that the boy would open his shop and then leave it unattended. The thought that he had probably taken to hiding as much as the other villagers had occurred to me during my half-hearted search for him as I rounded the silent interior, but the work apron he customarily had on himself almost all the time was absent, as were a good number of tools on his workbench. I could only assume the boy had gone off somewhere to work on something, hopefully not his long-overdue task of hurling himself off of a cliff. That would be piss-poor timing now that I finally had a good use for the kid, I grumbled to myself silently.

I was halfway through the workshop’s exit and back into the dingy store when I caught sight of someone rummaging in one corner of the airhead’s store. A slight girl with black close-cropped hair kneeling down next to a bucket of long iron nails, patiently stuffing a leather pouch clasped in her hand with the pointed ironworks. Some villager availing herself to the missing storekeeper’s inventory, probably. Stealthily moving up to her turned back and crossing my arms, I let loose a short challenge to the would-be-thief.

‘You’re going to need to pay for those, you know?’

Abruptly, she spun around in her spot and looked up in confusion at the source of my voice. It didn’t look like it when viewed from behind, but she was less of a kid than I had thought she was, sporting teal eyes which gradually widened as she focused on me. Another smaller pouch she had been holding with her teeth slipped out of her mouth as she scuttled backwards slightly. The contents of the pouch streamed out in a crescendo of tinkling iron and more of the iron nails spilled forth as I looked down at it. This one had a fetish for nails, apparently.

The girl stuttered somewhat as she got back to her feet and started walking backwards. ‘Oh god, it’s the Phantasmal Sunshower…’

I gave her a querying eye as I repeated, ‘Panty-what?’

Clutching her remaining pouch of nails, she turned and fled in an impromptu showcase of stumbling legs and flying dirt. Fingering a hammer next to a banister, I drew the tool backwards and flung it neatly in the direction of the thief, striking her squarely in the back and sending her tumbling down onto the dirt road outside and she crashed earthwards in an unglamorous cloud of dust. Before she could make her recovery, I had reached her and proceeded to haul the thief up by the collar of her curious clothing in white. A slight twitching pain in my back and chest reminded me not to overdo things and I winced briefly as I turned my grip to spin her around. Gingerly dangling her head in front of mine, I gave her face several finger flicks to bring her back to Earth. Her skin was astonishingly cold, almost in a clammy sense.

Her muddled state cleared instantly and her attention drew back to me in a snap. ‘Let me go!’ she grunted infuriately, fighting in vain with my grip all the while as she swayed left and right in her efforts.

Reaching out with my free hand to pull her right cheek, her protests were rapidly diminished into a mewling slur as her faculty for speech elongated painfully. Before she could turn somewhat violent again, I spoke quickly as I rattled her in my grasp, ‘Look. I’m not here to play village sentry. I don’t care if you’re a thief but just tell me something. There’s a man who owns this store. Do you know him?’

Somewhat confused now, her eyes swam left and right momentarily before she returned to our eye contact with an attempted nod.

‘Good,’ I affirmed with faked brightness. ‘Do you know where he is now?’

Another nod followed by inquisitively raised eyebrows.

‘Can you take me to him?’

She wouldn’t bother to nod this time. In her best attempt at an affirmation despite the outstretched cheek, she slurred her assent.

‘Ooogheyh.’
>> No. 4557
>I did the best I could and gave him an ambiguous half-shrug in reply.

Now the wanderer is truly Yukari
>> No. 4558
>>4557

I think she's getting the boon of her knowledge now as opposed to the other way around.
>> No. 4559
>Hearing my emphasis on the last word, she looked away sadly and spoke in a forcedly neutral tone. ‘I understand. I won’t be a bother anymore.’ Without waiting for a reply, she turned over to one side and flopped back onto the ground,
Suika ;_;
>> No. 4560
>>4559
;_;
>> No. 4561
>>4559
We can fix that somewhat in the next few updates.

> Y/n ?_
>> No. 4562
>>4561
If you're the author, yes, it would be nice to do so, maybe.

If not, then don't go around making statements like that, like you know what you're talking about. That >Y/n? doesn't mean a goddamn thing, and making a statement followed by a question isn't the same thing as expressing a hope or asking a question of someone.

I hate that post of yours so much.
>> No. 4563
>>4562
Author, actually.

Y/n? _ is just a throwback to the old days of MS-DOS when users are prompted for input.

I'll work on yes, then.
>> No. 4564
We can't ditch Suika, that's too cruel.
>> No. 4569
>>4561

>n

keeps getting in the way and making stuff harder
>> No. 4572
>>4561
Y. Suika is a powerful ally and a good friend.
>> No. 4574
File 126564795132.jpg - (70.30KB, 624x615, 30e9443243edd6e2cf3d309ef172e0db.jpg) [iqdb]
4574
Y. Do you even need to ask?

Oni in, Hapiness in~
>> No. 4575
>n

Bitch just gets in the way.
>> No. 4577
Y. We need all the help we can get, and at the moment she's the truest ally we can ask for. But we need to tell her not to get so overconfident for the enemies you'll be facing can't be overcome by raw power alone. But our heroine needs to realize that Suika isn't as young or weak as she looks. Even in this age, a thrown tree won't kill Suika.
>> No. 4579
>>4563

That is not something the readers should decide. Palingenesia is such an epic tale because of you, and not us. Sure, there were those four or five options before, and of course they were important, but the one in control here are you, not us.
>> No. 4585
>>4563
It was? Then I apologize. Good thing I threw that possibility in there.

However, my opinion has already neatly been summed up by >>4579.

You know what you want to see in the story, man, so write it unless it's a bad ending.
>> No. 4590
>>4574
You got me sold!

>>4579
I appreciate that, thanks. All the same, I'm usually amenable towards suggestions/implied requests by Anon. It's oft-times entertaining to try and write something contrary to what I have in mind.

>>4585
Nothing to apologize for. I can understand how the brevity of posts in image boards sometimes give rise to confusion.

In retrospect, I should have better worded my post.
>> No. 4594
Oh man, spent couple of hours today catching up reading this thread. Still quite the excellent pacing, moments of quiet transition interpersed with short moments of sheer terror and PLOT. I wonder though, how long is this already in word count, I swear it felt like reading a full novel just in this one thread.
>> No. 4595
>>4594

Well, the first thread is over 1 mb. So I guess this could be a VN.

Maybe we can make the KS dev do this intead of KS. Pal Devs, anyone?
>> No. 4597
>>4594
To be honest, I sort of stopped counting after one half of chapter 2 but a quick copypasta of the stuff lying all around into MS Word shows roughly 230k so far.

If I wanted to sort this mess into a novel-length equivalent, I'd say Chapters 1 and 2 goes into one book. Guess this did go on for a little too long. I'm always worried about stretching reader's interest too much for them to actually have enough left to finish Palingenesia. Pretty sure more than a few have already given up on following this one to the end.

Regardless, I guess I'll just keep going until we hit the grand finale. It's become sort of a habit by now.


>>4595
IMO it's a little too static for a VN. Maybe linear too. (inb4 FF XIII townz jokes)


Updates soonish. Just got back home for the holidays.
>> No. 4598
>>4597
Linearity isn't always bad, look at this story. And most people forget that most jrpgs are linear in nature; just that most have dead end paths and world maps to cover things up.
Ya want real non-linearity? Play something like Romancing Saga even though most would come back complaining about getting lost.
>> No. 4599
>>4597
>Guess this did go on for a little too long.
...Yeah, because long stories are such a pain in the ass! The in-depth detail, time spent for characterization, involved storyline, compelling plot... Man, that shit is for fags. Yeah. Long stories, man.

They totally suck.

>I'm always worried about stretching reader's interest too much for them to actually have enough left to finish Palingenesia.
...Okay, I can't keep up the sarcasm anymore. See, there's two kinds of long stories. One of them is long because there is so much complicated background nonsense and shit going on and every fucking inch of it has to be covered, and it moves so painfully slowly that it is enraging (Wheel of Time series). And then there is something like this, where it is long because there is a lot of story, and a lot of things happening, and it ain't going to be an in-and-out job. That would be this story.

tl;dr, stop fucking worrying. If we are unhappy, you will know. You will not have to guess that we might be, or if only one person whines about it. You will be told in no uncertain terms by several people unless their opinions are wrong.

>Pretty sure more than a few have already given up on following this one to the end.
Their loss.
>> No. 4600
>Pretty sure more than a few have already given up on following this one to the end.

Don't you dare sacrifice quality for accessibility!
>> No. 4601
Wouldn't that be terrible, first the videogames going casual, then the stories?
>> No. 4602
>>4598
>Romancing SaGa
How could you make such a grievous error?

Also, RS3 or RS:MS?
>> No. 4603
>>4600
Yeah, this is known as one of the best written stories on the sight, and among the least cliche ridden.

>>4602
I wasn't ware it was such a big deal, but either RS3 or RS:MS would do, since both are basically highly-non linear. Outside of a few main character specific quests, you can do the other quests in just about any order or number (dependant on event ranks) you want.
>> No. 4606
>>4603
Of course it's a big deal! SaGa isn't SaGa without its inexplicable capital G.

And yes, either one would do.
I know that.
Now: which one were you talking about? You had one of them in mind when you said it, I'm sure.
>> No. 4607
the only romancing SaGa game I've played was when it was called final fantasy on the gameboy.
>> No. 4608
>>4606
Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song. It's the one I know more about and it's only one out of the two in english.
>> No. 4609
>>4607
You must be talking about the Final Fantasy Legend games, which were basically the original SaGa series. I do believe those were more linear than modern games, with the third being basically a normal RPG set up by the team behind FF: Mystic quest.
The main producer behind the SaGa series as a whole got his start with Final Fantasy II (Nes), before starting on the SaGa series.
>> No. 4620
>>4609
>You must be talking about the Final Fantasy Legend games
He is.

>I do believe those were more linear than modern games
They were.

>with the third being basically a normal RPG set up by the team behind FF: Mystic quest.
...That explains why it seemed to have some actual effort put into it.

>The main producer behind the SaGa series as a whole got his start with Final Fantasy II (Nes)
This explains so, so, so much. Goddamn, but FF2's stat system was weird. Though now that you mention it, it does rather resemble the SaGa approach to stat increase.

>>4608
That's a damn shame. RS3 is great.
>> No. 4625
>>4620
I mean nothing against RS3, I did kinda have that on mind as classic RS games.

Also have you heard about the SaGa 2 remake for the DS? There might be a nice chance it'll come out here. Starting with SaGa Frontier, the series has shown up more often in the US, even the infamous Unlimited SaGa (nice music... and that's about it, much different than even a normal SaGa game)
>> No. 4627
/others/ - Palingenesia and video games
>> No. 4653
>>4627
I can't even come up with a witty reply to that. Congratulations, and my thanks for the constantly unfailing reminders.
>> No. 4656
>>4627
I can. Observe:

>/others/
You're doing it wrong.
>> No. 4657
>>4656

Well, shit. Palingenesia has a Gensokyo so different than the normal one, that I always think this is actually /others/.

The fact that I was looking at /others/'s link when posting didn't help either.

Selfsage for incompetence.
>> No. 4663
For when the next chapter?
>> No. 4677
File 126686392237.jpg - (214.11KB, 800x749, つちふまず - あけましておめでとう??.jpg) [iqdb]
4677
>>4663
My apologies. I was out of commission for a few days. I'll try to dig an update out sometime tomorrow if I can tear myself away from the bed.


On a side note, a belated Lunar New Year greetings to those celebrating it.
>> No. 4678
>>4677
Hey, being sick is a very good reason not to do anything, having you break would mean never seeing the story to it's end.
>> No. 4679
>>4677
Sorry to hear you were down and out, glad to have you back, beautiful Shou, Happy Moon Year, and welcome back!
>> No. 4683
>>4677
Don't overdo it now; it's better to wait for a good update to get a flawed one right away.
>> No. 4715
‘The hell did you do to the temple?’

‘Temple? It was never one to begin with,’ she replied cheerfully before pulling her collar low in an attempt at offsetting the discomfort from being dangled in her clothing. Listlessly swinging her legs about, she threw me a sheepish look as a silent protest to my continued manhandling of her helpless body. ‘Um, can you put me down now?’

Carelessly discarding her on the disturbed dirt of the temple yard, I made a move towards the disjointed jumble of wood and lumber cloistered about the former temple, ignoring the grumbling taking place behind me as my guide returned to her own feet. I had to take a moment to marvel at how much the temple had changed from a toasted half-ruin to what was turning out to be a partially ribbed structure of sorts. Somewhere in the depths of the chaotic maze of lumber and planks, a solitary hammer could be heard pounding away in a rhythmic pattern. The airhead would be here, just as the would-be-thief had promised.

During our little trip up to the plateau, I had come to the realization that my guide was not quite human as I had initially assumed her to be, but something akin to a poltergeist or ghost instead. It was the other visitor aside from both me and Suika the village chief had mentioned. Half turning towards the short figure coming to stand beside me, I gestured once in the general direction of the wooded mess with a sceptical air. ‘This your handiwork, Mascara?’

’Murasa,’ she snorted indignantly as she dusted away at her soiled travelling cloak. ‘That’s the third time you got it wrong. Got dropped on your head when you were a kid or are you just that bad with names in general?’

‘Very amusing,’ I muttered before leaving her and started towards the nearest opening in the jumble of construction materials, peering curiously through the haphazardly strewn mess for a way to the source of the hammering noise. Judging from the ruckus the boy was putting out, it wouldn’t be hard to pinpoint where he was exactly.

‘Hey, hope you’re not going to bother Flynn,’ she chimed in as she hurried after my disappearing figure. ‘I have him booked, y’know.’

That was a real shame, because I was going to bother him regardless of what the ghost could possibly say or do. Pushing a pile of stacked planks aside, I dug my way deeper through the maze as the ghost invariably tagged along. I had to wonder why she would bother with something as mundane as walking when she could obviously utilize a more efficient means of mobility, like simply passing through the damned walls. ‘So why’re you building a boat? You’re not going to have anywhere to sail it in Gensokyo.’

‘It’s not a boat. It’s a ship,’ she retorted, somewhat miffed before the traipsing figure stumbled over several half-sawed hull linings. ‘An airship,’ she declared proudly as she rapped a knuckle against the ribbed structure.

‘Right. A flying boat,’ I returned sarcastically before slipping past a low wooden overhang. Abruptly, the stifling maze of lumber broadened up into a relatively enclosed square area ringed by supporting beams embedded in the ground. Next to the neatly assembled hull he had been working on, a hunched figure threw several more blows at the nails before him with the small sledgehammer in hand, sending the iron protrusions sliding cleanly into the woodwork with each ear-piercing knock. As if sensing our presence, he released his hold on one end of the handle and allowed the tool to rest on the ground before turning to face us. In a stark contrast to the reaction I had received from every single villager since this afternoon, his eyes widened slightly in undisguised curiosity and interest at the sight of me before his gaze turned inquisitively towards the ghost coming up from behind. I felt rather odd at the prospect of seeing someone I knew who had no idea of who I was in return.

The two looked to be on the verge of exchanging inquiries or greetings when the boy froze slightly as our gazes met. ‘Sorry. I’ll be borrowing him for awhile,’ I muttered tersely to Murasa before marching up to the airhead and dragging him back towards the overhang. Stuttering half-hearted objections, he allowed himself to be led by the arm all the same, momentarily befuddled and making no attempt at resisting my rough handling.

I had barely gotten more than a few steps away with my cargo in tow before a surprised Murasa leapt forward and intercepted the airhead’s other arm, yanking back violently and bringing me to an abrupt stop along with my prize. ‘Hey! Wait your turn, I need him first!’

Turning to throw the two of them a displeased glower, I tugged hard on his arm to pull him back towards me before the ghost retaliated with equal force, wearing an annoyed look. Looking somewhat like a ragdoll now, he mumbled incoherently to the two of us as he darted his imploring gaze between the females fighting over him. ‘Uh, ladies…’

Seeing the two mouths open to voice their respective protests, I cut them off with another impatient tug good enough to break their balance and they simultaneously stumbled forward a step. ‘Just give us five minutes alone. Then you can have your Birdhead back.’

This time, the opposition came not from Murasa, but from the airhead instead. Fixing me a piercing stare speckled with utter incomprehension, his facial expression underwent a rapid series of changes, going from a confused frown to a shocked look of disbelief. ‘Uh… what did you just call me?’ he asked slowly as he pivoted his arm rigidly, resisting any further attempts at being manhandled.

‘Birdhead. Now let’s go,’ I grunted thoughtlessly before stopping abruptly in dismay to reflect on my slip-up. I could only curse silently at my stupidity, for I had inadvertently used the nickname I had given him during the brief period of time we had previously spent together. It wasn’t in my best interest to let anyone know I was still alive and I wanted to keep it that way. Hastily putting on an annoyed face, I added as way of explanation, hoping it wouldn’t sound too half-cooked, ‘It’s just a nickname someone told me. Now haul ass.’

‘Oh. B-but,’ he stammered slightly before being wrenched off of his feet by an opposing Murasa, who reciprocated my glower followed by a disgruntled huff.

‘I don’t have five minutes to spare,’ she declared stubbornly, keeping her firm hold on our human of interest. ‘Either Flynn gets this sky-worthy soon or he’s not going anywhere.’

Practically out of patient watching our fruitless exchange, I took hold of the airhead’s collar and reeled him in hard before breaking out in an icy voice bordering on hostility, breathing into his blanching face, ‘I need your help boy, and I’m sick of playing tug-of-war with your girlfriend here. If you can’t even spare five minutes to hear me out then make it three.’ Seeing him cringe at the veritable anger radiating out from me, I relented slightly and backed off before adding in a softer tone, ‘Look, what are you going to lose in three minutes? Some neglected nails?’

At least that convinced Flynn somewhat. He lost a good deal of his wound-up tension and gently shook his arm loose from Murasa before turning to placate her disapproving frown with a pleading look. ‘Just a while. I promise I’ll get back soon and make up for the lost time,’ he ventured in a wheedling tone, obviously wanting to defuse the situation as much as he could in light of our shared distress.

Even the stubborn ghost relented somewhat at his reassurance and she stepped back with crossed arms to rest against the partially-completed hull of her ship. Shaking her head at Flynn before throwing me an annoyed glare, she gave an indifferent toss of her short hair and looked away in disdain. ‘Be quick about it. I can’t wait forever.’

‘Why thank you for the courtesy, your majesty,’ I groaned sarcastically in exasperation. Recommencing my pull on his arm, I led Flynn away from the displeased ghost and eventually through the maze of building materials out into the temple yard once more, marching impatiently and paying little heed to the boy’s constant tripping. Despite his obvious discomfort at being dragged along, I could see his reluctance in making a physical or verbal protest in light of my agitation. It would seem my general indifference towards everything had been slowly replaced by a short temper made even more mercurial by an extremely limited pool of patience. I had to wonder uneasily if this was simply a side effect of being displaced bodily or if it stemmed from assuming a youkai’s physiology.

Finally deeming we had covered enough distance to be out of earshot of our mutual friend, I released my hold on Flynn next to the small garden Short Stuff had frequently tended to before turning to face him, greatly relieved that we had finally been spared from additional interruptions. Instead, he cut in before I could sound my unvoiced plea for assistance, peering at me in undisguised concern as he did. ‘Is the girl all right?’

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at the continued delays. ‘What girl?’

‘I… don’t know. She never told me her real name,’ he admitted somewhat sheepishly. ‘You’d have to know her if you knew about my nickname. She just up and vanished that night. No one really knows where she disappeared to.’

I hadn’t realized he had meant me. ‘She’s dead,’ I remarked bluntly without thinking before gesturing for him to stop with the questions. ‘Look, I need your help. I want you to-‘

It looked like he was no longer even listening past my initial statement of my purported demise. The intensely focused eyes in his sockets had glazed over the singular word he paid exclusive attention to. ‘Dead? No, that can’t be true,’ he mumbled disconsolately, disbelief reflected in his voice as much as it did in his gaze. ‘How? She was fine just a few weeks ago.’

‘Will you drop that crap and listen to me?’ The sudden outburst had gained me his full attention and Flynn reluctantly put further questions on hold, returning from his spaced-out look to attend to our conversation. ‘Thank you,’ I grunted impatiently before going on, ‘Now I want you to go to the Hieda manor and seek an audience with the Child of Miare. Bring her over here the moment you do and for gods’ sake don’t tell anyone about who sent for her.’ With an upward glance at the orange skies, I added as an afterthought, ‘Make it quick. Day’s dying.’

With a rather dumbfounded look, he came forth with another one of his incessantly annoying questions, ‘Who am I supposed to say sent for her then? Who are you supposed to be and why can’t you do it yourself?’

I guess I could add clueless to his title of airhead now. It was hard to believe he wouldn’t have gotten wind of the rumours being circulated like free wine in the village since yesterday night, unless the boy actually camped out here working on Murasa’s flying boat. Small wonder he wasn’t afraid of me; he probably didn’t even know who the youkai of boundaries was in the first place. ‘Enough with the stupid questions. Just tell her someone’s looking for Screeches and to follow you. She’ll know what I mean.’

He pointed at me in consternation with a measuring stick extracted from his apron, markedly displeased at being ordered about for no understandable reason. ‘Fine. But I’ll only do this if you promise to tell me about what happened to the girl.’

‘Yes, yes, fine and good. You can hear all about her later,’ I ranted quickly, whishing he would just hurry up and get going already. This was one promise I wouldn’t have second thoughts about breaking. ‘Now hurry, I don’t have all day.’

Naively believing I would keep my word Flynn pulled his apron over his head and dropped it on a clump of tools clustered nearby before proceeding on his way back to the village, giving me a few additional glances as he did. Something in the look he threw me spoke of uncertainty or suspicion but he acted little on it as he wordlessly disappeared down the plateau’s only pathway down. With things going my way at long last, I took the opportunity to plop down to the ground some distance away, gingerly braced against a stack of sawed planks to rest my wearied bones and muscles.

Silently waiting for the airhead’s return with the Child of Miare, I watched the ghostly figure flitting above the half-finished ship discreetly, randomly sliding about in the air as she made her critical inspection of Flynn’s latest work. Something in her ethereal demeanour reminded me much about a certain ghost princess as she danced about gracefully around a magnificent tree of cherry blossom, bare in its branches and ringed by a beautiful garden exploding in a glorious sea of pink petals. Faded recollections of holding a cup in hand as I watched her antics with a two-tailed cat resting in my lap gradually resurfaced and drifted apart as quickly as it had come.

There it was again, foreign memories alien to my own briefly flashing through my head. They could only belong to Yukari. I massaged my temple dully; unsure as to what this was a precursor to. An indication of my losing battle of ego perhaps? Was Sunshines gradually returning into her own body and eroding my awareness of self in the process? Turning my palm upwards, I peered at her slender fingers in concern, free from the blemishes and imperfections usually present in human hands. The notion of completely vanishing without warning was a frightening one. I didn’t want to die just yet, even if it was in a spiritual sense.

I wouldn’t be the only one surreptitiously eyeing someone; several times I had caught Murasa darting furtive glances at me as well during her rounds. She was somewhat wary of me now, and not just because I had temporarily procured the services of her voluble Flynn. The ghost was beginning to suspect that my unprecedented presence in the human village had something more to it than a simple coincidence or an unannounced social visit. Likewise, I harboured my own suspicions about the ghost being linked to the current events in one way or another. Incidentally, her name was similar to one of the listed personalities in the nun’s journal and I was fairly sure this wasn’t a case of shared names. She was here working on the nun’s temple for a good reason.

Even then, she made little effort to interact with me and I left her to her object of fascination as I closed my eyes. Tonight, I wouldn’t get the chance to sleep much if at all. There was still plenty left to do and I was anxious to get it over with as soon as possible. For now, I could get a few minutes of sleep at least while I waited for the airhead to get back. Crossing my arms and flexing my outstretched feet into a more comfortable position, I felt the spinning gears in my head bog down and grind to a gradual halt as I made my momentary retreat into a light slumber of sorts. Just a while, I promised tiredly to myself.

Close to half an hour or so had slipped past when a jarring sensation of sorts rocked me back into awareness. For a brief moment, I thought I could almost sense the incoming presence of the two humans making their way up to the plateau through an utterly incomprehensible segmented world of boundaries I could view in my mindscape, feeling them as if they were no further than an arm’s length away. Almost unconsciously, I started reaching out towards them when the sensation vanished quickly as my comprehension reverted to a more human sense with my dissipating drowsiness. Pulling my unwilling eyelids open, I had to wonder if it was a brushing contact with Yukari’s latent abilities. I had assumed that my knowledge of the youkai was absolute, but it was rapidly becoming clear that understanding one was obviously not the same as being one.

Somewhat curious, I returned to the edge of the plateau for a quick glance and true to the extrasensory phenomena I had just experienced, two gradually emerging figures from the path below started their long climb at the base of the plateau. It could only be Flynn and Screeches. So the boy had made good on his promise with me; it was a shame I couldn’t do likewise with mine. With no small amount of trepidation, I moved along the edge of the plateau to observe their progress, thinking hard about what I should say to Screeches.

Down below, the smaller figure cast her gaze upwards in my direction, perhaps having noticed my presence here. Her steps quickened considerably and she slipped past the airhead in her haste to get here. Noticing Screeches’ surge of vigour, her climbing partner uttered a quick but unintelligible shout of dismay before increasing his own pace to catch up.

I wished I was that eager to see her as well.
>> No. 4716
‘How much time do we have left?’

I gave her my offhanded answer without turning back to meet her uneasy look, stepping over to one of the stone benches set aside next to the temple yard. ‘Hard to say. Three months maybe. A few weeks at worst.’

She tossed her head lightly in disbelief before joining me at the stone bench to take a seat, paying no heed to the frantic hammering sounds which had recommenced shortly after Flynn’s return. ‘This can’t be true. False Dawn looked to be just fine all this time.’

‘Except it’s not. It’s dying, and soon. Pretty sure you’ve already noticed the irregular day-night cycles with it thus far.’ With a light groan, I took up the free space next to her, staring off into the cloudy skies splashed with streaks of orange and crimson from the obsidian sun’s radiant core. ‘You need to convince everyone to hole up in the shelter before things take a turn for the worst.’

She glanced over with concern in her small eyes, remembering well Gensokyo’s Dark Age when absolute twilight had permeated the land for long months. Needless to say, it wasn’t something most of the previous generations of human villagers had the pleasure to experience and the doubt she could actually get people to listen to her was clearly reflected in her look. ‘Can’t you do anything to help us?’

Breathing out an impatient sigh, I turned to meet her worried gaze. ‘I’m doing what I can. I don’t know everything about the Visitors and the last thing I need is stubborn villagers who refuse to stay down in the caves getting in the way.’

‘But you’re doing this because it benefits you, not because you feel obligated to help us,’ she accused with a hard expression which spoke of plain scepticism.

I couldn’t deny that. ‘I’m not here to be your personal Jesus. You get them all away from the surface and it all works out for us. If they won’t listen, that’s their problem.’ Returning her glare with matching seriousness, I took hold of her arm with a firm shake to emphasize on it. ‘I’m going to make use of that thing first chance I get, either way. It’s up to you to make sure none of your people are left in the village when that happens.’

‘Abandon the surface for good? These people have made this their land for over seventeen generations!’ she countered heatedly, shaking my grip off as she did. ‘You can’t expect us to just pack up and stuff ourselves away in that godforsaken hole waiting for everything to go to hell!’

She met my piercing stare with that unflinching fire within her that I had grown so familiar with. Her reluctance was understandable but clearly misguided, wise she may be. ‘Then they all die, plain and simple. I’ve seen what these things can do. You’re deluding yourself with the belief that you can conquer inevitability based on nothing but the human will alone. This,’ I made a sweeping gesture to encompass the village below before going on, ‘All of this is nothing to the Visitors. It won’t even take them more than a few minutes for them to sweep the village bare of life.’

Screeches made no attempt at refuting my rebuttal this time, clamping her tender mouth shut in dejected silence for long moments as she pondered my damning revelation. Turning her gaze to the ground, she broke the uncomfortable stillness in a small voice, ‘What is this circle thing you’re going to be using anyway?’

I nodded once at the temple behind me, drawing her gaze to the partially dismantled ruin. ‘A farewell gift from your former nun. She had planned to use it to form a boundary encompassing the valley surrounding the human village as protection against the emerging Visitors.’ I managed a hollow grin despite Screeches’ despondency at her current dilemma. ‘Ironic how it’s going to be used to do the complete opposite now, eh? Kind of like using the bonfire to keep the big bad youkai trapped in the cave instead of keeping it out.’

She threw an exasperated sigh at my callous attitude towards her dismay. ‘At least some of you stayed the same despite this... this….’ It took Screeches several moments before her bewildered struggle for a proper word came to an abrupt conclusion as she continued to roam her gaze over me. ‘…makeover. Leave it up to you to be able to joke at a time like this.’

Leaning back slightly, I stretched out an arm towards the darkening sky in her view, rotating Yukari’s appendage for her to see before turning to match her candid puzzlement over my bodysnatching stunt with a cynical look. ‘Makeover. Funny choice of word. Not like I wanted this to happen, you know. It just sort of did.’

A hint of a small smile found its way to her lips now as she glanced over me, somewhat tickled by my seeming indifference. ‘I hope you know how awkward this is, seeing you like this.’

I heaved an amused snort at her remark as I let the outstretched limb fall freely back into my lap. ‘If it’s of any consolation, I feel even less homey in here.’

Hesitantly, she reached out slowly to run three fingers in a soft caress over my cheeks, her distress momentarily forgotten over her wonder. ‘So what’s it like being the Phantasmal Sunshower herself?’

‘Oh, pretty fun. Normal food barely does anything for me now and I have this insatiable hankering for raw meat, maybe even human meat. My temper’s always short and I get irritated easily over the smallest of things.’ A light shrug lifted my shoulders briefly before I batted aside her fingering touch annoyingly. ‘Kind of like being on the monthly flow, except permanently. Imagine that.’

She found herself amused enough to chuckle slightly at my exposition. ‘That bad? At least your sarcasm still carried over. What sets you off so much anyway? You haven’t exactly been the friendliest I’ve seen so far.’

That at least, was a question I had a definite answer to for a change. ‘What do you think? Youkai are originally man-eaters. It’s pretty much a given they wouldn’t exactly fit the bill for being model humans with the same civility to boot. The temper and tendency for violence is ingrained in them on a biological level, along with the hostility bred into them.’

‘I wouldn’t know. I’m coming to find your new bellicose personality rather charming,’ she returned jokingly with a small pinch on my arm, which she hastily retracted seeing my pained wince.

‘Har har, very funny,’ I remarked humourlessly to her before throwing a backward glance at the incessant banging emanating from somewhere within the jumbled temple. It didn’t look like the airhead or his girlfriend planned to stop for the impending night and it was about time to send Screeches on her way back to the shelter to work out her thoughts. Clearly, I wouldn’t be the only one losing sleep this time. ‘Look, I can’t sit around and talk all day. Try to see what you can do for the villagers. Speak to them; make them realize the scope of what’s to come and convince them that they may have to leave their surface homes for a long time, if not forever.’

Growing somewhat serious at the reminder, her wandering hand on the stone bench found mine and she gripped it hard, prompting me to return my gaze to her wavering eyes. At first, I thought I had come face to face with her indecision once more until I realized she was no longer in conflict with the decision to abandon her ancestral home, but rather with her growing doubt in herself. In the soft glow of the dying day, she no longer looked like a fellow traveller of the wearying abyss of time, but rather, much like the frightened child she should have been at her current biological age.

‘What if… what if I can’t? What if they won’t listen and how can you be sure we’ll be safe underground?’ she spoke softly, voice clouded with insecurity. Seeing my look drift away in disappointment at her words, she pressed her grip harder to bring my eyes back to hers, struggling to say something through her fear that I would walk away again from her as I always did.

‘You’re afraid,’ I voiced her unspoken words after a period of tense silence. The Child of Miare bit her lips as she nodded hesitantly, partly unwilling to admit her weakness.

‘Yes, I’m afraid. For every one of us.’ Her eyelids dropped low to cover the deep purple of her pupils as she stared downwards, face flushing slightly in maidenly shame. ‘You always do what is necessary to survive, to live, that you never think about people around you and those who care about you. Forget about Byakuren’s circle; we can survive the twilight by ourselves just like we did the last time. Stay with us and forget this insanity; it’s not worth risking our lives for something you can’t even be sure will work.’

Screeches held a look which bordered between hope and anxiety, desperately hoping I would say something she wanted to hear. I shifted my gaze back to the village, thinking hard about her words. Was it right for me to do this to the villagers and in extension, to Screeches? What gave me the right to play God with their lives? I was slightly disturbed by the realization that I had unconsciously assumed some of Yukari’s quiet hubris in regards to human lives.

Would this be any different from the time when I was still a human? I was honest enough to acknowledge that the tengu I had unwittingly sacrificed in my attempts at evading death had been in more or less the same position as the human villagers now were. I had thought little about using their lives so carelessly then, viewing them as nothing more than evolved animals to be thrown to the Visitors for my escape. Reluctantly, I found the courage to admit that I was planning to do the same to Screeches’ people, except that the roles were now reversed. A youkai treating human lives with as much disregard as the human who had used the tengu for her selfish desires, repeating her same mistake. Once more, I was staring at the metaphorical circle in the face.

Perhaps this was something else Kanako had foreseen as well. A second chance to prove that I deserved the redemption I so desperately sought; another scale to balance between my life and those of others. She would have hoped fervently for me to make the right choice this time. Unconsciously, I felt my grip harden on Screeches’ hand as well and I could feel her burning stare settle on me without needing to look at her. ‘I…You…’ I murmured unconsciously before stopping abruptly.

You’re right, this is wrong? The words had been on the verge of spilling forth from my lips before I caught myself in time with a hard shake of my head. No, there would be little time left to spare on being indecisive. I had to make use of the only option available to me even if it came at the cost of some villagers’ lives. After all, what would a few peasants be in comparison to the bloodshed I had wreaked before in the dim past? Merely a few more unclean splotches to add to my lake of sins. I could wish all I want for it to be otherwise, but this was the only way to buy time.

Whispering a silent apology to Kanako and Screeches, I steeled myself and turned back to face Screeches with an indifferent expression forced on to deliver my cold words. ‘No. This has to be done. This isn’t something that can be magically fixed by waving a wand, Screeches. The reprieve I’m trying to buy us will cost something, be it your homes or a few stubborn farmers.’

It took awhile for her face to lose its hopeful countenance, but it happened all the same. My words jarred loose her pent up frustration and she lost control of herself as she bit down too hard on her lip, but the pain and trickling stream of blood from the wound was nothing in comparison to her surge of fury. Leaping to her feet, she flung our linked hand away with a harsh shout. ‘Why!? Why do you care nothing for us? Are our lives worth so little when weighed against yours!?’

Looking away from the accusing stare, I stayed silent underneath the overbearing heat of her anger, knowing full well that hers was the undisputable truth. No matter how much I tried to delude myself into thinking that doing this would also be for the good of Gensokyo, the underlying fact that I was primarily motivated by my own survival never escaped me even once. Out of her view, I felt my mouth move slightly to word excuses, explanations, or rebuttals to no avail. I couldn’t say anything to her in the end.

Seeing my seeming indifference to her distress, she grew increasingly infuriated, giving me a violent but childish push in an attempt to get me to acknowledge her. It barely even rocked me off my seat and she ranted at my side again, ‘Are we nothing but tools to you!? These people cared for you before in the past and you’re just going to use them again now!’

Somewhere in the background, the consistent hammering abruptly stopped, plunging the temple grounds into silence as the other two we had momentarily forgotten about caught a whiff of the brewing altercation. Giving me another childish shove I would ignore once more, Screeches marched off towards the path downhill, stomping hard on the ground in exaggerated anger to make sure I could hear her departure. She turned back to face me at the edge of the plateau, screaming out loud at me from the distance regardless of the two figures which had slipped out from the jumble of timber to peer at the two of us.

‘I care about you! Why can’t you do the same for me!?’

Getting nothing but a brief glance out of the corner of my eyes at her pained admission, she clamped her mouth shut and wordlessly took to the downhill march, half running and half stumbling in her haste to get away from the temple. I watched her retreating figure for a few minutes and caught the sight of her taking another stumble and a subsequent fall somewhere midway down the path. The small silhouette took some time lying on the ground before climbing back up to wipe away at her eyes and hurrying down the path again and I tore my gaze away from Screeches at last to balefully regard the ghost and human pair standing behind, silently observing me. ‘What’re you two looking at?’

Almost simultaneously, the pair blanched visibly and turned away hastily before disappearing into the other side of the jutting hull. It didn’t take long for the hammering noises to recommence, almost frantically as if to tell me they were sorry. Returning my gaze to the village, I felt my mind wander with renewed doubt at what I was about to do to these people. The collection of human dwellings almost echoed Screeches’ words in an inaudible whisper to me. Why do you care nothing for us?

Was it really that hard to feel the same about them as I did for Short Stuff?

Tiredly burying my face into my palm, I reached out almost instinctually for the two deities before I remembered I no longer had them within me. This time, there would be no one beside me to share my inner thoughts with. Their words were lost to me as much as my human body was. For the first time in years uncountable, I was left all alone in the empty void of myself. Rilofene, no matter how harsh, was a comforting aspect which essentially made up who I was and Kanako was someone I had come to miss for her warmth and sometimes-useful guidance.

Wallowing in self pity, how very human. Drawing in a quivering breath to cast aside the useless thoughts, I returned to my feet and made a beeline for the sloping path as well. I would worry about such fallacies when I had the luxury to sit around and drown myself in something suitably alcoholic all day long. The only thing I could spare some worry over now was the hope that Screeches would do what I asked from her despite her misgivings.
>> No. 4717
Following the carved grooves of glassed earth wasn’t a task which demanded much in terms of physical effort, but imaging and piecing together entire segments of the nun’s handiwork was mentally straining to say the least. The intricate traceries of geometric designs burned through the very earth itself allowed me to easily follow them like a road for long hours, well past what I assumed was midnight, keeping a constant eye on the systematic crevices underfoot. To say that Byakuren was well-schooled in terms of the eastern arcane arts was an understatement; she obviously knew plenty about the art and the practical application behind such forbidden practices to be able to construct something of this magnitude.

By the time I had traversed roughly a quarter of her carved circle, I could form a rough estimate on just how large the entire thing was. It had to be at least seventy or close to eighty kilometres in diameter, encompassing a good portion of the habitable areas of the valley and its surrounding farmlands. The lines she had burnt into the earth ranged from an astonishingly precise few centimetres to a hand’s width in thickness, with the actual span of the geometric band girding the valley at a constant five metres, almost the size of a standard road. From the way the lines had been seared and the occasional charred greenery, she had obviously employed an efficient means of searing the earth from the air. The remarkably consistent segments were a testament to both her skills and that of her mathematician acolyte. Nevertheless, the only thing I was surprised by was the fact that she had never managed to start a bushfire from all the trees and shrubs she had to burn through.

I was beginning to assume that making use of her legacy wouldn’t be such a daunting task when the first of my problems arose. Briefly striding through the moonlight slipping past the holed foliage ahead, I finally came across an abrupt termination of the geometric designs, hemmed in by pristine greenery which greeted my arrival at the end of the path with silently waving leaves. Despite my fondest hopes that her acolytes would have carried on with the leftover work after Byakuren’s death, they had apparently abandoned the task altogether somewhere at this point of their menial labour and I gave the strewn tools a dismayed glance. To compound the problem, the segments her acolytes had worked on were dug out with regular farming tools in contrast to the glassed earth gouged out by Byakuren’s hands. Although still conforming to the maddening precision like the portions behind them, they had neglected to reinforce the parts they dug out and nature had already consumed a good portion of the crevices they had excavated, refilling them with the growths and detritus typical of a forest.

I gave a soft curse as I kicked a hoe away, sending the worn tool skittering into the darkened undergrowth ahead. The entire circle was essentially useless in its incomplete state and a nagging worry ate away at me once more. I had no way of telling just how much of it still needed work and even less of an idea on how long it would take to complete the remainder of the oversized glyph, such as it is. Briefly, I wondered if I would be able to do it myself and lifted Yukari’s slender hand slightly to point downwards at the unresponsive earth, half-heartedly willing for some sort of danmaku effect to strike it before rolling my eyes in resignation. I felt like an idiot thinking it could work again seeing how her body constantly fought against my invasion of it. I could only postulate that a base level reaction in her body towards sensing her friend in danger had allowed me that one-time miracle back in the ancient city two nights ago. There would be no second time for me.

The effort in sending another one of the abandoned tools rolling off into the darkness with a frustrated kick only served to renew the dull bite on my stitched holes. I chose a particularly largish log to slump down onto for a short rest, sending numerous insects scurrying away from the rotten wood as I sat heavily on it. Idly, I picked up one of the retreating bugs and held a huge millipede before me as I gathered my thoughts, dangling the poor fellow in the air and peering at its struggling absent-mindedly. I found myself wondering what Yukari would do in a situation like this. Snack on it for supper, perhaps. Fortunate for it that I had caught it instead of her, or maybe not.

I was halfway letting my little prisoner scurry off when a sudden sense of discord struck me, jarring my mind loose and once more, I found myself seeing but not seeing the world through a maddening network of overlapping boundaries. It was the same sensation I had experienced at the temple several hours ago, only a fair bit more intense. It faded far less quickly this time and gave me ample time to pick out the presence of something foreign amidst the chaotic crisscrossing of the forest view in my mind. As the jumble of mental stills melted away and coalesced into my normal field of vision, a splitting headache instantly replaced the confusion of being in all places at once. I winced involuntarily and lowered my head at the sudden migraine, scrunching my eyes shut before the reminder of what I had glimpsed resurfaced forcefully.

I wasn’t alone.

Even then, I couldn’t find it in myself to worry overmuch. I knew that being this close to the village guaranteed a relative measure of safety and my experiences underground had already told me that the non-human locals had a healthy amount of respect for Yukari to give her a wide berth. The villagers wouldn’t be out of their shelter at this hour of the night, which would narrow my unseen friend down to three people. It could only be the airhead, Murasa or the insufferable oni.

I mouthed a silent apology to the struggling bug in my hand and expertly flicked the helpless fellow in the direction of the presence I had glimpsed through Yukari’s unfathomable senses, taking care to aim my throw just at the right angle. Watching the millipede sail through the air in a graceful arc, I waited for some sort of reaction as my undersized accomplice disappeared through some bushes a good distance behind. For several seconds, nothing untoward happened except for the quiet rustling of leaves ruffled by the nocturnal winds, but the silence ended soon enough as a loud yelp followed by a sharp screech pierced the night air. Something exploded from the bushes behind and hurled itself past me to dance madly in the clearing, brushing her clothes and hair wildly as she continued her frantic screeching.

‘Get-get-get-get-GET IT OFF OF ME!’

Taking my sweet time, I let the ghost continue her panicky hopping and brushing for a bit before getting up indolently to stride over to her. A hard clamp on her swinging shoulder stilled her somewhat and a disgusted grimace formed on her face as she froze. Murasa whimpered lightly as my bug-turned-weapon crawled out from her bosom and on to her neck. I took pity on her at last and lifted the object of her terror free from her with outstretched fingers, dangling my recaptured prisoner in front of the cringing ghost and she crumbled to the ground spread-legged as the excitement drained out from her.

‘It’s just a millipede; Doratogonus infragilis, perfectly harmless. Want me to put it back on you?’ I asked casually and brought it near her head for an introduction. Her already pale face grew white and she scurried back slightly before returning to her feet ungracefully with a desperate shake of her head. A spirit who was afraid of bugs, and I thought I had seen everything the world had to offer already.

Shrugging, I loosened my hold on the little fellow and allowed it to go on its way at last as it dropped free to the earthen ground. Murasa watched the bug go with as much relief as her terrorizing nemesis had in its freedom before turning to look at me with no small amount of embarrassment. ‘Um…’ she started and stopped, at loss for words.

‘Um indeed,’ I finished for her humourlessly. ‘This is the second time someone’s followed me and the last time, I didn’t take too kindly to it. I suppose you already know what I’m going to ask you next.’

‘Would that be… “Want to grab some food?”’ she started hopefully with a desperate grin, fidgeting uncomfortably underneath my gaze.

Mirroring her hollow grin, I gave her forehead a hard poke, sending her off-balance slightly. ‘Very funny. Feel like meeting another bug?’

Both her hands darted up hastily in a surrendering gesture as she paled again at the suggestion. ‘Okay! Okay. I wasn’t planning anything weird. I was just sort of… admiring you from a distance.’ My deadpan expression told her exactly how much I believed that and her face fell. ‘Alright already! I was spying on you. Happy now?’

‘Not really.’ Crossing my arms in front of her, I bent slightly to peer down at the squirming ghost. I supposed her motives were understandable at some levels given her probable association with the dead nun. Here I was, someone who was suspiciously poking around the last thing Byakuren had been working on prior to her untimely demise, a perfectly unscrupulous and shady character in the ghost’s perception. It was only natural she would be curious about me. ‘What do you want?’

Most of her discomfort vanished as she took on a more serious countenance, meeting my cool front with her own steely posture. ‘Funny question coming from you. I should be the one asking you that. What do you think you’re doing with the glyph?’

I gave an innocent whistle as I brushed an idle foot through the grooves underneath us. ‘You mean these pretty holes in the ground? Why, I had no idea they were something important. I just came across them on my little walk out here and followed them all the way here.’

‘Don’t take me for a child,’ she retorted crossly, planting her hands on her hips as she took a step forward. ‘I’ve been watching you for a few hours now. You were pacing through them in a consistent manner, almost as if you were retracing them in your head. You know what this is, don’t you?’

‘No,’ I lied, feeling a mocking grin I couldn’t resist form on my lips. ‘Do you?’

Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a smooth silhouette slide down her right arm as her displeasured frown intensified. Murasa whipped her arm in my direction and I stared unflinchingly at the object she held pointed at me, suppressing a smirk as I peered at it. ‘And what’re you going to do with that, beat me to death with your ladle?’

My half-smile wouldn’t last long. She made a graceful downward gesture with the innocuous wooden tool and stepped back several paces quickly as I remained staring at her expectantly until a brief shadow blotted out the moonlight overhead for a second. I would barely have time to glance upwards to inspect the curiosity. An ear-splitting thump rocked the small clearing as something huge and heavy crashed through the small gaps of foliage overhead, breaking branches and earth alike in its impact. Instead of taking a reflexive step backward from the explosion of gravel less than a few feet away in front of me, I remained staring at the upright object which had come to rest on the ground, stupefied by how something this out-of-place had suddenly popped out from thin air.

A lithe hand reached through the settling dust to grasp on the anchor and Murasa hefted it effortlessly, almost as if the logical weight of the object didn’t apply to her. The ghost swung the iron weight over one shoulder and allowed it to rest on the ground behind her with another hard thump before turning over to regard me irately. ‘Not with my ladle. With my damned metal stick. Stop the games and start giving me some answers before I think about pounding you into a fleshy pulp with this.’

‘Well now,’ I started anew in a far more subdued tone, eyeing the enormous bow-shaped iron nervously. From the way she had handled the anchor and the indentation it had left on the earth, I had no doubt that she could easily carry out her threat. I needed no reminders that I had no way to defend myself in my current state and backed off slightly in my attitude with some effort. ‘Maybe we started off on the wrong foot. Let’s not get too excited.’

Her grip on her weapon hardened visibly as her knuckle turned white. ‘Indubitably. Now what’re you doing here?’

Giving a mental shrug, I decided there wasn’t much to lose by telling her a bit of the truth, as long as she wasn’t aligned with either the lunatic or the three-armed freak of nature. ‘Inspecting the pretty circle. Real waste to let it rot unused here and all. Stuff like that.’

Instead of being satisfied she grew even more suspicious as she drew closer, pulling her weapon along and this time, I found myself stepping back from her threatening pose. ‘Is that so?’ Her cool voice was a clear indication on how shallow she thought my half-truth was. ‘I find it hard to believe the “great” Yukari Yakumo would come all the way into the human village out of boredom and coincidentally be poking her nose in something that doesn’t concern her. You’re here for a reason other than sightseeing and I don’t appreciate your presence.’

Seeing her take another step closer, I broke out a placating gesture hastily to stem her growing hostility. ‘Wait, I’m not up to anything funny here and I wasn’t really lying. I only wanted to see if Byakuren’s circle was anywhere close to usable.’

‘You know what this thing is,’ she repeated her earlier question as an affirmation this time. Briefly, the ghost threw a glance at the numerous grooves in the earth before returning her attention to me with undisguised suspicion. ‘How? She couldn’t have possibly told you. The last time she had been in contact with you was over three hundred years ago.’

What, really? Subconsciously, I reached out to scratch at my scalp with an idle finger, thinking about how I could possibly give a satisfactory answer without arousing too much doubt from the already-suspicious ghost. Trust was running a little too thin tonight and I finally decided to take the first step this time, seeing how there wasn’t really any other way out of this standoff. Swallowing once to calm my nerves, I took another step backwards as I opened my hands to show her I wasn’t going to try anything foolish. ‘Look, I’m not here to stir up trouble. We have a common friend, or maybe I should say “had”, in Byakuren and I know you have a lot of questions but I’m not really in the position to answer them. You’re just going to have to believe me when I tell you I’m not a threat to you or the villagers.’

This time, she relented somewhat as her gaze shifted about me, appraising my words in a new light in consideration of my seeming honesty. ‘Trust would hardly be the first thing I’m willing to grant you from all the things I’ve heard about you but let’s say, for argument’s sake, I’m going to believe that. Why your interest in Byakuren and her glyph then? What’s your angle here?’

‘I could ask the same of you. You’re hardly in the position to say that I’m out of place amongst the villagers here,’ I countered softly, subtly evading her insistent question. ‘What’s your stake in all of this? Why are you here yourself? And don’t tell me it’s to grieve for your lost friend. You wouldn’t be tearing her home apart otherwise.’

It wasn’t my intention to do so, but my unexpected retort managed to visibly perturb her steely countenance and she grew slightly flustered by it. ‘Um, well…’ she stuttered before recovering and brought her anchor swinging over her shoulder, plunging one end of the bow-shaped protrusion into the ground next to me. The sudden move forced a brief jump from me and she turned the heat of her hostility back onto me. ‘Hey, I’m the one asking questions here! You’re-‘

‘Yeah yeah,’ I remarked quickly to cut her off, determined not to waste any more time on the useless exchange with her. ‘So I take it we both have questions for one another. Too bad I can’t afford the luxury of camping out here on this sorry patch of earth chitchatting the night away.’ Gingerly sidestepping the increasingly irate spirit, I tried to make a quick retreat to no avail. Once more, Murasa blocked my path with her anchor, planting the crosspiece in front of me with another earth-crashing swing followed by an unmaidenly curse.

‘You’re not going ANYWHERE until I get some answers here!’

Suppressing the urge to roll my eyes at her, I turned back to regard the spirit tiredly. She obviously wasn’t going to let me go easily and being bogged down here with Murasa for the remainder of the dwindling twilight wasn’t something I was looking forward to. I drew an exasperated gesture as I sighed out loud at her. ‘Fine. Then come with me for now. We can talk all you want, but not here.’

Her anger was instantly replaced by a sneaking suspicion as she glared at me coldly, trying to gauge if I had anything up my sleeve with the suggestion. Abruptly, she released her hold on the anchor with a small grunt, mind finally made up. ‘You better not try anything weird, or I’m going to be introducing your face to my anchor.’

‘I’m shaking in my boots,’ I muttered in mock fear as I retraced my steps back to the vicinity of the human village, followed closely by the ghost who had completely ignored her anchor embedded in the earthen ground. I pointed at it briefly with a thumb as I threw a careless remark over my shoulder, ‘Aren’t you forgetting something? You’re going to need it to smash my face in and all that jazz.’

Half expecting to receive another flustered retort, I was greeted by complete silence instead and I broke to a halt before turning aside to face Murasa, who had grown still as she peered at me curiously. Something in her expression spoke of confusion or puzzlement at my words but it disappeared quickly as she returned to her irate self. ‘I don’t need you to worry about that.’

‘Touché.’ All the better anyway if she wasn’t going to keep that thing around to pressure me any further. I returned my eyes to the band of grooves underneath, feeling my mind move automatically onto the next pressing matter at hand as the ghost followed after me. Instead of repeating her earlier questions, she started on an unexpected one in a rather timid tone.

‘There aren’t any… um… bugs where you’re going now, are there?’
>> No. 4720
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4720
The hike up to the rocky promontory hadn’t taken too long and before I could finish counting up to a dozen minutes, I found myself at the edge of the windy outlook peering down into the vast expanse of green rolling out in all directions. Small breaks in the distant roiling leaves indicated the presence of the abandoned Night Road I had traversed weeks ago. I had hoped that the vantage point would allow for a good glimpse of where the three-armed freak had made his camp as Ice Cubes had previously mentioned, but the moonlight illuminating the forest beyond the valley gave no indication of any unnatural breaks in the foliage. Another disappointment, I thought disconsolately as I gnashed my teeth unconsciously.

Dragging footsteps followed by a huffing Murasa materialized somewhere behind and she came to rest next to me in a bent position, resting her arms on her legs. ‘Can you see it?’ she started breathlessly, gasping hard for air.

‘Not a damned thing,’ I returned neutrally, swivelling slightly to look at the panting ghost and asking a question which had been nagging at my mind the entire time. ‘A little out of breath, aren’t we? Why bother walking when you can do better?’

‘Oh shut up,’ she muttered quietly as her breathing grew even and she looked away suddenly, hiding her expression from me. ‘I just don’t…’ she grew still and remained quiet for some time before returning to her feet, face impassionate. Turning her teal eyes to the distant horizons, she exhaled her words slowly and carefully. ‘Forget it. Just don’t ask me that again, ever.’

Ouch. Did I touch a sore spot there? Shrugging inwardly, I roamed my view over the landscape below once more, reflecting on our long chat as we trekked away from the village an hour or two earlier. We had come to an understanding of sorts as the two of us arrived at the conclusion that we had more or less been after the same thing the whole time. The ghost had spoken much about her relationship with Byakuren and someone I hadn’t expected to hear of again, the yellow-black punk Shou, who was also a part of their family apparent. In return, I had revealed as little possible, just enough to gain her eventual trust without compromising my rather unique position and identity. As far as she was concerned, I was still Yukari but she now understood that my motives did not run contrary to hers. She was ready to accept that we were on the same side, at least for now. After all, the golden wonder had been acting in the interest of Short Stuff from the beginning. It had been relatively easy to convince Murasa that the status quo remained as such.

The cursory scan still yielded nothing tangible and I turned to Murasa at last for some help, hoping she would at least have some insight on where the camp was. ‘You’ve been in touch with… uh... with-‘

‘Shou,’ she interjected with a small sigh.

‘Right, Shou. Shouldn’t you have some clues about where she is now?’

‘It’s not that easy,’ she replied with visible disappointment, turning the teal eyes towards me. ‘The one and only time she had contacted me was a few weeks ago, with specific instructions to complete the Palanquin Ship as soon as possible. I never heard from her again after that.’ She planted a hand on one hip before giving the darkened horizon a hard stare, as if willing it to give up its secrets. ‘What makes you think Iyen-Shuren is down there?’

I didn’t need to think that per se, because I already knew from what Ice Cubes had imparted. Even then, I wouldn’t volunteer that information freely to Murasa and opted for a more believable explanation instead. ‘If you were trying to draw together as many people as you could in a short amount of time, where do you think you would you do that? In the middle of a youkai hotspot, naturally.’

She shrugged slightly to acknowledge the merit of my argument before dropping into a crouch to idly sort through the wind-chiselled pebbles littering the ground. ‘I don’t really see how you can get the Hakurei away from him by yourself,’ Murasa ventured in a doubtful tone, casting me a sideways glance at the same time.

‘Neither can I,’ I conceded easily, keeping my gaze fixed on the endless expanse of greenery beneath us. ‘But making things happen for good or bad is what I do best.’ Well, more like the only thing I ever do out of desperation anyway, I thought to myself.

Picking out a fist-sized rock and giving it a good nudge, she watched the rounded stone roll towards the edge of the promontory before disappearing noiselessly over the edge. Abruptly returning to her feet, she moved to stand before me, wearing an indescribable expression as she regarded me with the deep green in her cold eyes. ‘If you’re going to proceed with this madness, I want you to take Shou away from him as well.’

Tearing my gaze away from the horizon at last, I looked down to meet her absurd demand with a waspish smirk. ‘In case you’ve forgotten, your friend is in a shikigami contract with the freak of nature. Even if I wanted to, she may not have the will to disobey him.’

Disappointment bit into her delicate features once more before she hardened her expression, breaking out in an insistent tone. ‘But everyone knows you technically have two shikigami. Can’t you just… um, like take her as a third? Wouldn’t that free Shou from him?’ Somewhat desperately, she added hastily, ‘I mean you do make things happen and all, right?’

Suppressing a slight shiver as the cold night air buffeted the unprotected ledge, I drew both arms into myself for some warmth before giving Murasa a raised eyebrow. ‘What, you think I can just wave a magic stick and make it so? I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work that way.’ Then again, even if I knew how to, the idea of having another youkai tagging along wasn’t in the least bit thrilling to me. I hadn’t even thought about what I should do with Ran when she would inevitably get wind of me ending up in the human village, much less Murasa’s friend.

‘But…’ she tried again, only to fall silent just as quickly. Disconsolately kicking some pebbles out of the way, she returned to the edge of the promontory with a small sigh. ‘I’m sorry. I suppose it was a little too much to ask from you.’

Her resignation came as a relative surprise to me. Given her unyielding hostility during our brief encounter in the woods outside of the village, I had half expected her to draw forth her dreaded anchor to pressure me anew into helping Shou. Backing off so abruptly didn’t seem much like her, but then again I hadn’t really known the ghost long enough to fully judge her personality. I supposed I could at least put her at ease somewhat even if I couldn’t really do anything for her friend. ‘I can’t promise anything,’ I spoke to her turned back, prompting her to swivel around with a hope-filled face. ‘Tell you what. Give me a hand with the kid and I’ll see what I can do for your friend as well.’

That seemed enough to satisfy her for now, as much as she visibly doubted my determination. It was obvious she didn’t have much to go with from the start, at any rate. ‘I guess that’s better than working on the ship for no understandable reason,’ she muttered in a defeated voice as she returned her attention to the horizon, drinking in the view with a small amount of unrest. ‘Let’s get on with it then.’

I had to wonder what the yellow-black punk had been planning with her strange request. A last resort measure against something she had no power to deal with, perhaps. Her proverbial ace in the hole. What good a purportedly flying pile of planks could do for her, I couldn’t tell for certain nonetheless. At any rate, it was obvious the enslaved shikigami would receive little to no help from Murasa and the supposed airborne boat she had Flynn working on. Whatever the case, Shou might be of some use should the need to confront the three-armed freak arise at some later point in time. For now, sniffing out his camp site would have to come first.

In that respect, I would have a little bit of unexpected help at least. Moving next to her, I gave Murasa a quick nudge with my elbow and she spoke without looking at me in a matter-of-factly manner, seemingly predicting what I was about to ask of her. ‘You want me to scout from the air.’

At least she catches on quickly. ‘Yup,’ I confirmed shortly before throwing in something hastily after a sudden flashback of a certain oni crossed my head. ‘Be discreet and don’t make a commotion. Head due east-southeast and cover as much ground as you can before dawn breaks. If you find any sign of the three-armed freak’s camp, return to the village immediately. We’ll meet back at the temple once dayglow hits the valley.’

Murasa nodded her assent quietly as she stepped close to the edge of the promontory. Turning to give me one last look, she reconfirmed our rendezvous and schedule by flashing me a brief grin. ‘Sounds good to me; I like having plans for a change. Dawn at the temple then. See you in a few hours.’ Without waiting for a reply, she stepped off the stomach-lurching drop and disappeared in less than a second as her lithe form cleared the lip of the promontory.

Gingerly stepping near the edge, I peered uneasily over the drop to observe the receding silhouette and her billowing clothes glide into a gentle climb skyward, gradually disappearing into the moonlit horizon as she commenced on her task. It went without saying that she would expect me to cover the northern expanse of the forest from the air as well, something I was incapable of doing and I felt somewhat sheepish as I retreated from the drop and picked a descending path down the promontory. I would have to do it on foot in contrast to her gravity-defying feat. Might as well get on with it now.

I would spend the next several hours clumsily bushwhacking my way through the dense forests, a fact made difficult by my need to stay as quiet as possible and the lack of proper tools as well, compounded by the dismal visibility the woods offered. Nevertheless, it could have been much worse. The gloom which made navigation irritating would be almost impossible to penetrate with human eyes. As it was, my new set of “borrowed” orbs functioned pretty well in the dark. I could almost fancy seeing myself with shining eyes in the impermeable darkness. The thought soon trailed off into trying to categorize Yukari in the extensive tree of youkai species, an unconscious attempt at dealing with the drudgery of picking my way through dense undergrowth. I gave up thinking about it soon enough, being far too preoccupied with sliding through breaks in the shrubs and bushes I had to stomp out with a foot.

Progress was relatively slow, but at the very least nothing seemed to want to risk bothering me in my lonely trek. Several times I had experienced the same mind within mind disassociation that had assailed me twice before and each time, the stomach-churning and migraine-inducing experience brought the view of numerous lower forms of undeveloped youkai in the dim darkness, passively observing my solitary passage. True to my assumptions, they gave off no signs of being hostile and I carried on warily past the invisible watchers. I was coming to appreciate Yukari’s unpredictable extended senses despite the major discomfort they brought each time an episode triggered. Some form of mental conditioning might be required before I could exploit her conceptual ability to see everything, something I wasn’t keen on undertaking given the fact that the conditioning could easily rearrange my brain without too much trouble.

Despite my unseen companions lurking beyond the peripheries of my normal vision, I was able to keep going unmolested for an hour or two more until I came across the first signs of heavy traffic in the dense woods after what seemed like haphazard wandering in a zigzagging pattern. Broken branches, smashed trees, small clearings and curious oddities of youkai manufacture ranging from malformed totems to stacked piles of flattened grass dotted the otherwise virgin forest here and there. I was coming close to something and I could only hope it was the object of my little jungle quest. Slowing my pace considerably, I chose a well-secluded spot between two rotted trunks of an entwined tree to consider my options; to keep going and see if I could confirm my finding or to return to the village first. A brief glance at a break in the foliage overhead still showed a black and clouded sky but I had no doubts that dawn was another mere few hours away. I would need to return to the village soon to avoid the presumed youkai hotspot I was in now. Daybreak would invariably draw the locals back for their resting period and I had no wish to be caught in the midst of that.

Taking note of False Dawn’s position through another break in the canvassing leaves above, I went to retracing my steps quietly as I drew a mental map on my approximate location. I would return the following evening for another look. Despite my desire to keep optimism to a minimum, I wanted to believe that I had found what I sought. If I was right on target, the next visit would require a good deal of stealth to sniff out where Short Stuff was being made a guest in as well as to get a general picture on the layout of the camp site. Things would probably turn ugly soon enough if the situation warranted drastic measures and I was determined to have a good grasp of the surrounding land before I had to resort to desperate measures.

Picking my way through the indiscreet paths I had flattened out on my way in, I drew two fingers through the trunks of the occasional tree I came across, leaving tiny markers scratched out at the base of the thick trunks to serve as pointers. They would greatly facilitate my eventual return back here while remaining inconspicuous enough to all but keen eyes specifically looking for such telltale signs. Of my careless bushwhacking there would be even less problems as very few would pay any regard to it. Unlike humans, youkai wouldn’t bother with such minor things as visual clues when it came to tracking. They relied on their superior sense of smell and hearing instead. Signs of my passage through here would mean little to them and would most probably be attributed to the local wildlife blundering through the bushes instead.

The trip back to the Night Road didn’t take too long, and I found myself back on the disused path in time. It would be an easy walk back to the village despite the neglected state of the road, a walk which gave me a good opportunity to put everything into perspective. As I followed the trail in the opposing direction I had travelled it weeks ago, I allowed my feet to do the mindless march as I turned my thoughts inwards, eyeing the ground disinterestedly in my lonely pacing.

With luck, Murasa should be able to shed some light on the possible location of the camp when we would inevitably exchange our findings at the temple. It would probably take another sweep to pinpoint the exact location of the camp but with the ghost’s assistance, it wouldn’t be a big issue now. What worried me the most was the fact that if Murasa failed to sniff out where Short Stuff was, I would have little choice but to chance a meeting with the three-armed freak himself. I had no idea what to expect from such a drastic move, but with the limited options available, it would be the quickest way to outwit him into revealing Short Stuff’s location. My previous encounter with the elder had already prepared me with the knowledge on how to counter his uncanny mind probing and in that respect, I had a measure of confidence at least. As for actually getting the kid out, it was something which bore a good amount of thinking, more brain squeezing which would have to come after tomorrow. As anxious as I was to get things over with, I recognized the need to proceed carefully as well. No real good would come out of a hasty and half-baked move at this point.

Telltale hints of a lightening sky heralded the dawn of a new day as I slipped free from the edge of the woods following an indeterminate amount of time pacing the Night Road. The prevalent fatigue from bushwhacking in a recuperating body and missing out on more than a day of sleep was steadily catching up and the village nestled in the valley below was quickly becoming a welcome sight. Quickening my march to compensate for the creeping lethargy, I took to the downhill walk with renewed vigour, somewhat cheered by the thought of a few hours of sleep, food and water waiting at the end.

Or at least I hoped I would be able to appropriately hide myself somewhere for a couple of hours evading fearful villagers, an inescapable oni, an airhead whose promise to I had conveniently forgotten and possibly, a certain fox youkai who might be seeking her lost mistress.
>> No. 4721
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4721
Autosaged. Regardless, I'll keep this thread until the next chapter for the sake of continuity.

I promise I'll work like a crazed monkey overdosed on caffeine and Red Bull to get there as soon as possible!
>> No. 4723
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4723
You left out a scene or something where the wanderer explained to Screeches that she is now Yukari. Or she somehow knew, anyway everything else was good.
>> No. 4724
>>4723

She figured it out when Flynn told her Screeches.
>> No. 4777
>>4721

You okay?
>> No. 4783
I was waiting for the next update to ask but...
well, I hope my bad english don't scare you, i'm very rusty ...
Dear Author, I beg your permission to translate this in to my mother language. I'm going to accept all your conditions and restrictions about it, and if you say no, I'm going to respect that decision.
Even if I want to do this for me, no without your permission.

With all the respect, Aura.

PS: are you ok? I'm worried too.
>> No. 4786
>>4723
I left that part out. (Seemed a bit redundant when I went over it after the first draft. It didn't flow too well with the rest of the update that time and I decided to just ditch it and leave the missing part to the reader's imagination.)

>>4783
By all means, feel free to do so.


Anyway, I realize I'm long overdue for an update and rather than bore you people with stories about my dreary schedule, I'll just go ahead and say I suck for breaking my promise instead.

Not to say it's a gone case though. I'm still working on it in my spare time. I'll try to get one done on my next flight home.
>> No. 4787
>>4786
horray!
>> No. 4788
I'm speechless...
Thanks, thanks a lot, I nearly don't believe it...
I'll Work the best I can in it ^^.
>> No. 4815
>>4786

Hey, it was just two and a half weeks, nothing major. There are people who put out a quarter of the amount you put up in twice that amount of time.
>> No. 4832
>>4788
>^^
You're clearly new here. Stop that.

>>4786
Looking forward to it.
>> No. 4837
This good stuff. I wouldn't feel pressured about updating quickly, because the length of time it takes to read a project of this scope is so long anyway, and anyone who isn't reading it should start.
>> No. 4856
“What is tantamount to a sin? Is it when a great wrong comes to pass? Or can it still be called as such when it is preceded by nobler intentions? The others look at me and say they see a murderer. Perhaps that is true in context, for I cannot deny the hell raven’s death by my hands.

It’s ironic how much evil one has to commit in order to create a better world. And that’s putting it lightly still.”


-Yakumo Yukari



The roiling waves of fury emanating from the withered figure could almost be felt from where she stood some distance away. For a moment, Aya was reminded of the former hell of legends their subterranean haunt used to accommodate in times immemorial. From all the ranting and raving her erstwhile progenitor vomited forth, he could almost pass for one of the lost and damned souls consigned to the literal underworld they were in, a notion shared by her silent companion in the cool repose she had assumed behind Aya. The inu’s unexpected return was as much a surprise as the undammed tantrum the elder was throwing forth with impunity at anything within reach in the disused hall they now occupied, another relic of the faded glory the palace once basked in.

‘So much disappointment over the space of a few nights. I fail to understand how you incompetent stumps can continue to call yourselves guards,’ the elder started anew in a seething grunt. In a quick roundabout turn, he gave the circle of assembled tengu another withering glance and ignored their involuntary cringe. Sweeping a fallen candelabrum off the refuse-littered ground, he threw the closest nerve-wracked escort to the ground with a rough swing of the metallic ornament, followed by a loud curse as he sent his punishing tool crashing into the distant walls. ‘The lot of you against an oni baby and a crippled youkai, and still you cannot even hold them down!’

Aya kept her discreet gaze fixed on the incensed elder, unused to how much he had changed in the space of a few hours. From the virile young façade he wore constantly to the repulsive wreck of half-burnt flesh he was now a part of, it was hard to comprehend how much the elder had kept hidden behind his unfailing illusions all these years. As subservient “children” to the elder, they had all known that the Ardent Trickster was far older than he looked, and that his true appearance was always something of a whispered secret even amongst the tengu. Even so, she was unprepared to meet the sight of a raging old fossil disfigured by fire allaying his frustration on his own progeny. Understandably even more so when she had to remind herself that it was her first time seeing his real face, something none of the tengu had experienced in many generations.

Vana’s outburst stayed constant for uncomfortable long minutes as Aya watched her brethren suffer indignities at the hands of the elder, forcing an impassive outlook in light of the abuse they took. Every whip of flesh turned her gaze away slightly; every crunch of angry limbs meeting breaking bones jolted her heartbeat. The small voice of conscience within asked her why they would willingly serve a tyrant, a voice soon stamped out of existence by the silent mantra they all told themselves. It was always the simplest of reasons; to find their own place in the world. And in a place as competitive as Gensokyo, rallying behind a powerful figure was a virtual necessity for survival.

Even if he is a monster, she thought to herself sadly.

Strange that such thoughts would come at a time like this, she had to wonder. The witch’s act of mercy had gotten Aya to think deeply about a lot of what had been going on lately, a fact she wasn’t readily willing to admit. In place of blind obedience, she had found the courage to question loyalty. In the absence of fanaticism, a deep-rooted doubt had settled in. It was no longer a question of serving the People, her people, but one of ambiguous morals. What was right, she murmured silently as she closed her eyes against the sight of a battered tengu curling up in the dusty floor, taking comfort in the litter he buried himself in a vain effort at escaping his master’s torment. Who was really in the right now?

Her companion seemed to echo her unspoken sentiments, taking a quiet step closer to Aya and fastening a grip on her limp hand hanging by her side. The fingers closed tightly in a reassuring or perhaps, comforting gesture. She turned her gaze to the side at the inu, catching a slight warmth passing through her stony expression as hints of a tender smile flashed and disappeared just as abruptly as it came. Aya returned the favour with a gentle press of her fingers before they released their mutual hold discreetly, mindful of the presence of the frenzied figure still ranting half-hearted threats.

The hostilities petered out slightly as the exhausted elder’s temper drained. A quick but irritated wave dismissed the gathered tengu and with a final irate kick on one of the broken lighting ornaments scattered around him, he sent the last of the scurrying figures out from the gloom-cloaked hall. The vanishing tengu seemed to be almost pathetically pleased at being spared further abuse as they hurried away, stumbling after one another.

Momizi turned to follow the last of the retreating silhouettes out, and before Aya could follow suit, a sharp and authoritative voice broke her urgent stride. ‘Not yet, Aya. I still have need of you, child.’

Turning slowly back to face the decrepit elder, she made no effort in making a vocal acknowledgement of his command, opting to keep her gaze on the ground before the elder instead. Far better to appear docile and composed rather than risk another bout of temper tantrum from him, the line of thought passed through her. Somewhere behind, Momizi froze temporarily to throw them an uncertain glance before stepping away hesitantly, allowing herself to linger at the doorway for scant seconds before tearing away from it with a worried look etched in her expression.

Despite his spectacular show of fury just minutes prior, the elder had recollected enough of himself to appear somewhat rational once more, displaying the blasé mannerism he usually assumed under normal circumstances. It was disconcerting, almost uncannily eerie seeing the aged fossil echo such youthful notions of charm as he used to under his younger guise. She had to fight the urge to grimace at the sight and barely managed to do so as the pacing elder abruptly stopped in the middle of the hall.

Another brief wave from the creature brought her towards him with involuntary steps and she soon found herself within spitting distance of the elder. Up-close, the damage he had sustained in his supposed chase after Yukari was even more apparent. A good half of the elder almost looked like he had been flayed clean of flesh, with rippling muscles and pulsing tendons pushing through the wrecked skin sickeningly following every breath he took. It was an unheard-of occurrence in tengu history. There had never been a recorded incident where their progenitor had been visibly seen damaged or harmed in any way. It was even more so when the perpetrator was the youkai of boundaries herself. At the very least, that only served to amplify Yukari’s infamy even more, Aya thought dryly. Especially after how Yukari had stepped on Iyen-Shuren’s toes if what she had been hearing as of late was to be taken as truth. What the Phantasmal Sunshower intended to accomplish by becoming the public enemy of the two most prominent figures in Gensokyo, she couldn’t even begin to guess.

Nettled by her continued silence, Vana drew a quick snort and easily brought her attention back to him. ‘I’m sure you’ve heard of what’s been transpiring down here, emancipated as you were.’ Watching her nod slightly, he went on in a calmer voice, ‘Good. It’s enough that I keep losing prize after precious prize, but having to deal with all the failures around me aggravates me to no end. I have no wish to reiterate them a second time.’

She took in the implied criticism stoically and made no indication of refuting his rebuke. ‘I would offer my apologies, but I gather that’s the last thing you would want now.’

Vana grunted hard at that, but acknowledged her words all the same without lashing out. ‘No. Meek remorse tires me to no end, not to mention infuriatingly boring; hardly the things I need most. What I require now is a stop to all the disappointments. Momizi has brought news of a most interesting development regarding the Hakurei. There’s someone else actively seeking the child out for purposes unknown, our little mountain interloper from a few weeks ago.’

Aya looked up sharply to catch his querying look, not understanding. ‘But what-‘

‘Shush,’ Vana cut her off with a raised hand. ‘There may be more to our nameless wanderer’s interest in the Hakurei. I lost two precious… “treasure”, so to speak, from someone’s intrusion in the Palace of Earth Spirits, something irreplaceable and crucial to our future existence. I have little doubt that the wanderer made it in here based on what Momizi had foolishly told her.’

Visibly stiffening from the mention of Momizi’s mistake, Aya spoke abruptly in the defence of the absent inu. ‘Momizi has little blame to share in that. Her capture was as inevitable as her interrogation and the witch is good with words. It’s not Momizi’s fault.’

‘Perhaps not entirely,’ he acceded to Aya’s argument with a disinterested wave. ‘The fact that she gave away my location to the wanderer remains, but I will put aside her punishment for the time being. I’m far more interested in how the wanderer managed to sunder the vessel, and her deep interest in the Hakurei.’

Vessel? Probably that curious tube of metal he seemed so infatuated with, she thought silently. Aya could hardly summon up the sympathy for his broken treasure. ‘No disrespect meant, but why would that be of importance to us?’ she took the risk in asking. ‘Our intent had always been for the return of the Hakurei into our fold, as Byakuren had entrusted her to us so.’

He turned back to regard her with a certain light of eagerness in his milky eyes before breaking out a tiny grin. ‘You recall how I spoke of regaining our rightful place in the world, about the lost days of being hunted like animals escaping the persecution of humans in the outer world.’ Vana’s expression hardened considerably with his next words. ‘What was once our shared world, stolen away like the vanishing morning dew of our ancestral homes when we had to retreat into this… this pathetic mirror existence you call Gensokyo.’

Without warning, Vana glided across the refuse-strewn ground towards Aya and seized her by the arms. She fought the urge to flinch or back away from the stench of cooked flesh as he continued to rant excitedly into her face with his eerie half-mangled head. ‘We have a second chance at life now, child. Don’t you see? No longer will we need to subject ourselves to the prejudice of humans and their irascible superstitions. Imagine a place where we need not keep ourselves confined to a sorry patch of hardened mountain earth. We have the opportunity to return to our lost lives the filthy humans outside had robbed us of in ages past! Gensokyo cannot keep us imprisoned forever when we are offered the chance for such a great change.’ Finally noting hints of Aya’s discomfort in their close proximity, he backed off slightly and calmed down before releasing his grip on her. ‘I had that opportunity in my hands before the nameless wench somehow cracked my prized golden egg open. Whatever she took from the shattered vessel, I want it back and before that, I need to first take the Hakurei from Iyen-Shuren. She is the key to the Grand Boundary, our passage out of this infernal prison-existence. Do you understand?’

Aya felt a twinge of distress as she gradually realized what the elder wanted from her now. Once more, he was pressing the idea of raiding Iyen-Shuren to liberate the Hakurei child and she suspected he was quickly running out of patience, especially with the recent developments. More than ever, she felt compelled to give the same excuse Tenma had emphasized to the elder over and over before but thought better of it as she caught sight of the glint of half-madness in Vana’s eyes. Nothing good would come from further denying the elder his unreasonable demands. Instead, she took a sharp bow to hide the anxiety breaking through her mask of indifference. ‘I hear your words.’

He looked almost pleased by her lack of expected objections. ‘Good. Now demonstrate some competence for me and return to Heaven Cradle. See to the preparations Tenma had promised me and hurry it along. I want the raiding parties to be ready before the next moonflow, and send Tenma to me within three days as well.’

With a quick wave, he dismissed her as well and turned his back to Aya. Despite being excused, she found herself rooted to the spot as she fought with her indecision, torn between making some half-hearted objections and giving an equally meaningless excuse in order to spare her beleaguered people from additional harm. In the end, she mirrored the elder and spun away from him to make her exit, burying the dull anger burning within as she realizing the futility in trying to convince him otherwise. Vana was not one who took suggestions contrary to his own kindly. She had no wish to taste the abuse her kinsmen had received earlier.

She made her exit with undue haste, eager to be away from the stench of the ruined elder and her gradually surfacing disgust at him. Tearing past the numerous oddities of the once-grand hall, she glanced back in time to catch the sight of Vana recommencing his idle pacing as he approached another figure seemingly melded into the shadows of the ornate walls itself, someone she hadn’t been aware was in the room. She paid little heed to the occurrence and passed through the archway hurriedly, rounding the corner only to run into a white hakama-clad body propped against the wall with arms crossed, patiently awaiting Aya’s departure.

Momizi wasted no time in asking questions, only to be met by a quick head-shake and a finger pressed to her lips warningly. Aya took her by her arm and guided her along, increasing the distance between them and the presence of the elder they could still feel behind. Only two corridors and a few rooms after did she dare risk breaking their stout silence. Releasing her hold on her companion’s arm, she slowed down to a more sedate pace as Momizi followed suit, who drew up next to Aya as they made for the palace’s entry hall.

‘What did he want?’ the inu began anxiously as she glanced to the side at Aya, obviously worried about her failure as of late.

‘He insists on the insanity in attacking Iyen-Shuren, and he wants to throw us at their faction in a raid soon.’ Noticing the worried look she kept receiving from Momizi, Aya added in a voice she hoped was comforting, ‘Vana has decided to put your slip of tongue behind for now. Don’t worry; you’ll be spared his wrath.’ At least for the moment, she thought silently to herself with no small amount of regret.

Despite Aya’s attempt at sounding convincing, Momizi felt no better on hearing her words. ‘In other words, he’s saving the “good stuff” for me later,’ she replied glumly as her gaze turned to the ground sweeping past their pacing figures. Remembering the battered tengu, she heaved a resigned sigh at her inevitable fate before setting the matter aside grimly. ‘This is madness. We’ve already lost a good number of people at Heaven Cradle and to Komeiji Satori’s ambush at the village. Why does Vana keep treating us like expendable animals?’

Aya paused briefly at the mention of the word, feeling a sting unlike any she had ever felt before. In some ways, that’s what they were in the elder’s eyes; mere servile animals. She shook the thought from her head and stopped short of the dining room’s exit they were in, a glazed look coming over her as she momentarily spaced out at the unconscious thought.

Momizi continued to advance several steps more before she realized Aya had fallen behind. Somewhat concerned that she may have struck a chord in her companion, she came back and peered questioningly at Aya, folding her hands in her customary pose as she did. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to sound so crude,’ she muttered lightly.

The inu’s words snapped Aya out of her sudden reverie and she took hold of both the inu’s clasped hands, bringing them up in a prayerful gesture. ‘No. It would be naïve to deny that because that’s what we are in essence. Still, that has been our way of life for so many years it’s painful to admit it.’ Giving her companion a small smile as she pressed her hands in a reassuring manner, she went on in a far more amicable tone. ‘Listen well; I want you to return to the canyon-village and remain there until all this blows over. Keep yourself hidden for now. Hopefully, Vana would have forgotten your sin against him by then.’

Momizi gave her companion a hard look bordering on being insulted. As much as she understood Aya’s goodwill, the notion of escaping the elder’s misguided vengeance by hiding in the middle of nowhere while the rest of the tengu met their distasteful fates unsettled her greatly. ‘You know I can’t do that, not now and not with how things are at our home. I’m seeing things through with you and Tenma until the end. Let me worry about what’s in store for me.’

She lost much of her smile at that, reaching up to run a hand through the inu’s hair before smoothing an ear over gently. ‘As stubborn as ever. If that is what you wish then. If there’s one thing I can be glad about these days, it’s the fact that you managed to return to us.’

‘The feeling is mutual,’ Momizi returned warmly before they resumed their walk, moving past the portal and into the adjoining hallway leading up to the palace’s main hall. She paid scant attention to the forgotten marvels and dusty decorations lining their passage, having seen the oddities countless numbers of times before. ‘Though to be precise, I didn’t really need to escape in the end.’

In contrast to Momizi’s disinterest in the aging décor, Aya ran an idle hand through the numerous decorative articles and grime-choked walls, absent-mindedly thinking about how she would have loved to take pictures of the palace in a time long past. Another lifetime ago, she sighed to herself before refocusing on the conversation at hand. ‘How do you mean?’

‘I thought the witch would leave me tied to a rock at the bottom of an abandoned well somewhere at first. Instead, she left me to be found by the odd human.’ Shrugging lightly at the memories, Momizi tapped a finger against her chin as she thought about him. ‘Strange that he didn’t keep me chained up after the witch left. You would think they’d do worse after our unprovoked attack on them. One simply doesn’t go about treating a presumed enemy’s injuries and letting her go free afterwards. There’s just no common sense in that.’

Inevitably, Aya’s thoughts were drawn back to her encounter with the witch in the woods, of the accidental death of the boy oni and felt an involuntary flush of shame and regret at the reminder. The witch may have wronged them in the past, but the boy deserved an infinitely better fate than a senseless death. ‘It makes one wonder who the real monster is, doesn’t it? A tyrant who treats his children like thralls or a supposed murderess who chose to spare the life of her friend’s killer.’

Aya’s remark drew a sharp glance from the inu. ‘The witch is no different from Vana. Are you saying someone who wilfully brought the presence of the black ghosts to our homes deserves to be put above his level?’ Giving an indignant sniff, she shook her head hard. ‘Preposterous.’

‘Perhaps everyone deserves a second evaluation, a second chance,’ Aya spoke before she realized the context of her words. Greatly surprised with herself as much as her companion was in her, she tossed her head ruefully and went on, ‘Never mind. Look,’ she made a slight gesture at the carved archway before them. The welcoming hall of the palace spread out before the two figures as they drew to a halt. In all its former glory, the intricate geometry and opulence of the once-glorious place spoke volumes about its importance as a hub for the Palace of Earth Spirits.

Making their way down the soot-encrusted marble stairs towards the entryway missing its massive oaken doors, they turned to regard each other at the palace portal, exchanging grim looks. Aya spoke first, her gaze drawn towards the palace grounds and the miles-wide subterranean chamber beyond. ‘I need to return to the mountain and talk things over with Tenma. If there’s a way to avoid bloodshed, then we need to take it. If not, I can only pray we survive our clash with Iyen-Shuren.’

‘We’ll return together then,’ Momizi spoke resolutely. ‘I have no wish to remain here with that-‘ she caught herself before she could utter the derogatory word. ‘With the elder. Home is better than anywhere now.’

‘True. Almost makes you wish we never left it, doesn’t it?’

The inu drew a knowing shrug at Aya’s remark. ‘What choice did we really have back then? The mountain will never be big enough for both the kappa and tengu. We’re bound to have to expand outwards sooner or later.’

Aya gave Momizi an amused look. ‘Even if we have to serve under a partial madman towards that end?’

Momizi’s words drifted behind after her as she started ahead, reminding Aya much about how they had all ended up with their current conundrum. ‘We never had the will or power to oppose him anyway. Far better to serve a demon rather than face it as an indestructible enemy.’
>> No. 4858
"I always believed the age of Homo sapiens would end in utter darkness. Who would have bloody thought we’d all die staring at endless afternoons?"

-G, Aria to a Dead World



‘You pounded the nail below the forecastle wrong.’

‘Oh, uh, thanks,’ Flynn mumbled incoherently with a quick sideways glance at the seated figure propped against one of the piles of unused timber, idly chewing on a stick of yakitori. Shaking his head distractedly and tearing his gaze away from the radiant waves of yellow tumbling all around her, he focused on the offending nail instead. With a hard swing and some rapid wiggling, Flynn managed to free the crooked nail followed with a loud curse as the hammer tore free from the hull only to impact the carefully-stacked planks behind, drawing a visible furrow in the otherwise flawless wood. ‘Damnit,’ he muttered in dismay as he fingered the mishap.

‘Plank at starboard yonder seems to be jutting out,’ the observing figure offered with an off-handed gesture at the fault before attacking the stick of yakitori in her hand.

‘Oh. I knew that. I was going to go back to that later but thanks,’ Flynn groaned as he moved to work on the remainder of the forecastle, wondering how she had gotten hold of human food considering how much an anathema she was to the villagers.

‘Mast looks a bit bent out of place,’ she commented out loud, prompting him into pausing once more.

‘Uh, okay,’ he rolled his eyes out of her sight as he ignored the suggestion. He was harried enough as it is in trying to finish Murasa’s piece of work without another person badgering him about every minor problem every ten seconds.

‘Bit too high too if you want to catch the wind well. Hull looks badly streamlined with all the uneven bending of the planks and improper nailing. No need for a rudder if this thing sails the skies. Cabin’s a little too wide on the deck, might bring some prob-‘ came the torrent of unneeded criticisms.

He spun back to face the youkai spouting her observations, trying hard to hide his irritation. ‘I get it already! It’s not perfect. Okay, I know! Sheesh. I’ve been working with wood for more than ten years. I think I know enough about shipbuilding to see where the problems are.’

The unimpressed figure roamed her gaze over the construction site with a sceptical air, allowing her gaze to linger on the numerous faults in his handiwork so far. She didn’t look the least bit convinced to him, but at least she had stopped in her commenting. ‘Well okay. Maybe I don’t know everything about building ships,’ Flynn admitted sheepishly at last. ‘But I don’t really need your help.’

She popped the rest of the yakitori in her mouth without ceremony, not bothering to swallow before speaking again. ‘Just trying to help, old boy. Your loss.’

He tried not to mind her lack of table manners, no matter how unsettled he was by her utter disregard for maidenly grace. The short few hours he had spent together with her already told him just how rock-bottom important such notions of manner were in her list. It almost reminded him of someone else who was purportedly dead, a sneaking suspicion which had visited him more than a few times already. Abruptly, he banished the thoughts from his head and took a moment to rest on an empty cask before changing the subject. ‘How do you know so much about sailing ships anyway?’

The golden eyes tore their gaze free from his project to rest on him, holding a somewhat disinterested light in them as she tried to decide whether or not to entertain his pointless question. ‘Read some books about them. Knew some shipwrights. Et cetera,’ she explained half-heartedly before getting up to stretch and pace about in a small exercise.

Flynn watched her silently as she walked past him to stand at the edge of the plateau, somewhat spellbound by the undulating waves of gold flowing behind her as the breeze stirred the idle strands. His preconceptions about youkai were limited to village stories and folk tales alone; his last contact with such creatures of legend being years ago in his wee childhood. From all he had heard about the demon of boundaries, the image of such an enchanting siren was the last thing he had expected. He had always painted an image of an aged, twisted half-monster hag whenever the Phantasmal Sunshower was mentioned in passing village gossip.

‘You should really make it less of a habit to stare at people so openly,’ his companion remarked candidly without turning back to look at him, prompting Flynn to quickly avert his gaze with a self-conscious cough. Somewhat flustered, he went back to picking out nails and resumed his solitary labour with a mumbled apology, half convinced that the youkai had eyes behind her head or some such.

The ship’s hull was partially finished by now, a fact which never ceased to amaze Flynn considering he had only worked on it for all of five days alone. Then again, he had to admit that he didn’t really have an established or acceptable schedule for shipbuilding to benchmark his progress in the first place. Pressing numerous nails into the side of the unfinished hull, precursors for his next section of structural reinforcement, he spoke to the suddenly-silent figure hanging at the edge of the plateau in a raised voice. ‘So when are you going to tell me about her?’

‘Later,’ came the abrupt reply. The imperceptible delay in her answer was almost undetectable, but he knew it had been there. He wasn’t happy about being kept out of his end of their agreement the day before, but he had even less wish to antagonize a youkai by demanding a proper answer. Reaching down for the discarded hammer, Flynn hid his frustration behind the pounding of nails, driving them through the hard wood with barely-veiled anger. Why was she so reluctant in answering such a simple question?

Finding some peace in the rhythmic hammering, he gave himself several minutes more to calm down as he pounded the new portion of the hull into place. With an idle flip, Flynn propped the hammer against the wooden boards before venturing forth with another question lodged in his head since yesterday. ‘At the very least, you can tell me how you’re on such good terms with the Hieda girl.’

Instead of another lazy answer, the only thing greeting his ears was the dull afternoon breeze.

Nettled by her sordidness, Flynn looked back over his shoulder only to find himself staring at nothing but a nice view of the horizon beyond the plateau’s edge. The annoyance drained out of him and he gave a soft shake of his head as he turned to glance over the rest of the temple grounds. The missing youkai could almost pass for a ghost herself as much as Murasa seeing how stealthily she could come and go. No great loss, there would be time enough for his answers later. At the very least, his new companion looked to be here to stay for now.

Spinning back to return to his hammering, he came face to face with another figure instead of a wall of neatly nailed wood, hanging mere inches from him with a little grin plastered on her face. Caught off-guard, his arms pinwheeled involuntarily as he stumbled backwards into a mixed assortment of discarded construction material with a startled yelp.

‘Oh, sorry ‘bout that,’ Murasa apologized candidly while helping an entangled Flynn free himself from the jumble of wood and iron poles. ‘Thought I’d surprise you with a bit of food seeing how hard you’ve been working for me.’ Pulling him back to his feet at last, she pressed several sticks of skewered meat into his hands once the befuddled woodsmith-turned-shipwright came to his senses. ‘There are times when I forget humans need to eat to keep going.’

Flynn peered hard at the present before dragging himself over to the temple’s stone benches, followed by an impressed Murasa as she back-stepped alongside him to better take in the view of the half-completed ship. ‘Wow, nice job. She’s starting to look like her old self,’ she gave a cheery praise before joining Flynn at the adjacent bench.

‘Thanks. Least one of you actually treats me all right,’ he muttered in a low breath before catching himself hastily with a fearful glance all around. He found himself hoping his missing, taciturn companion didn’t have extra ears as well as eyes.

‘Yeah,’ Murasa continued without paying attention to him, launching into a sudden stream of criticisms in a fit of déjà vu. ‘But some planks starboard-side seems to be jutting out. The mast looks slanted as well. What did you use to hold the base together? The hull seems a bit out of shape; it probably needs some streamlining-‘

He buried his free hand into his face, wishing he could “streamline” her comments right now. ‘Alright already! I’ve already heard all of that before.’ Heaving a sigh, he dug into the overcooked meat, taking care not to let the distaste show on his face despite the curious taste. ‘I’ll work on the faults later, happy?’ he mumbled between mouthfuls.

She gave him a raised eyebrow before relenting, planting herself on the stone bench with a small plop. ‘Hey, just wanted to help. Your loss.’

‘I’ve heard that before too,’ he groaned in return with a deadpan expression.

A moment of stillness passed between them as their casual conversation petered off. Despite having known the spirit for only a good few days, she was a far more amiable person than most of the other villagers he had known for years. Or perhaps it was just the fact that the peculiar spirit actually liked being around other people. Regardless of her reasons, Flynn found her presence a welcome distraction and admittedly, could come to call her company enjoyable with time. If only a certain someone else was like that as well, he thought with no small amount of chagrin.

Tossing her legs in a little idle swing in her seat, Murasa propped herself at the edge of her seat before glancing around and over at Flynn. ‘So where’s Yukari?’

‘No idea,’ he returned with a shrug. ‘She was around a few minutes ago; been waiting for you since dawn I think. You know, you could have at least told me she was the Phantasmal Sunshower when you brought her here yesterday. It would have saved me a lot of grief.’

‘Aw, don’t blame me for your lack of general knowledge,’ she chided back. ‘How hard can it be to miss her anyway? The stories are everywhere. Yakumo Yukari, all gold, all attitude.’ Murasa broke off for a bit as she looked downwards, somewhat lost in thought. ‘Though the latter doesn’t really strike me as true.’

Casting a glance sideways, he queried her, ‘How so?’

‘I don’t know,’ she admitted after a brief period of silence. ‘Just the feeling that she’s kinda… off? She’s certainly not what all the tales are making her to be from all I’ve seen and heard from her last night. Almost like they were talking about another person here.’

Another person, he pondered on her words slowly. Maybe legends and facts are far more removed from each other than most people make them out to be after all, he thought. ‘I guess. Anyhow, shouldn’t you be looking for her now? She didn’t seem all that happy waiting for you all morning.’

‘Bah, she’s gone now, isn’t she?’ Murasa remarked unconcernedly. ‘She’ll be back soon enough for me. The devil knows where she’s gone to now.’ With one last swing of her feet, she hopped back into an upright position, smoothing her tangled short hair with a graceful sweep of her hand. The gesture was probably nothing significant to her, but to Flynn it was nothing short of a charming emphasis on her hidden self behind the seemingly gruff exterior and male mannerism. She glanced over at him before he could take his stare someplace else and their eyes locked for a brief moment. ‘What?’

‘N-nothing,’ he stammered quickly before going back to his meal with added fervour. ‘S-so, I just wanted t-to let you know th-the ship might take another week or so before it’s finished.’

‘A week seems like a long time, but then again it’s not like I’ll know what to do with it when it’s finished anyway,’ she murmured to him softly, taking in the view of the assembled wood. A small part of her regretted the disappearance of the temple, a place much of her more pleasant memories resided in. ‘Just try to finish it quickly. Anywhere I can help, just let me know.’

He had to ask despite how foolish it sounded, and he believed Murasa would be far more forthcoming with answers in comparison to the other youkai anyway. ‘So why do you want it built if you don’t know what you’re going to do with it? Seems rather counterproductive to me.’

‘Oh, many reasons,’ she answered shortly with a small smile tinted with a hint of sadness in it. ‘It’s for a good friend, and even if she can’t find any use for it, I’m going to use it to free her. Somehow.’

Flynn gave her an uncomprehending look. ‘Free your friend from what?’

‘Ah, that would be telling now, wouldn’t it?’ Murasa winked at him. ‘You let me worry about that. You just worry about finishing my ship, and rest be assured you’ll be compensated handsomely for it.’

‘I’m not really in it for material gains, you know that,’ he reproached her lightly, tossing the empty sticks carelessly to the side before wiping his mouth with the ever-present apron hanging before him. ‘I just want to… well…’ Flynn broke off with a flush of mild shame.

Murasa finished for him with another knowing wink, trying to put him at ease. ‘I know, right? Sail the skies. That’s everyone’s dream.’

This time, he managed a rueful smile in return. ‘If this block of wood really does fly.’

She made a mock face of horror before her customary grin broke out. ‘Your lack of faith is disturbing, as someone once used to quote. It might sound outlandish to you, but the temple used to be an airship before it was broken down into the temple you humans have come to identify as such.’

That got him thinking at least. It wasn’t entirely inconceivable given the fey nature of Gensokyo and a flying boat wouldn’t be one of the things he found to be entirely impossible at any rate. ‘Oh, okay,’ he conceded meekly. ‘There used to be a nun living in the temple, you know. She died in some accident or something a few weeks ago, some sort of animal attack according to the villagers. I suppose it’s just your stroke of fortune to come back and claim the temple at a time when it’s without a caretaker.’

Half expecting some sort of aplomb remark about her impeccable timing, Flynn was instead greeted by a long bout of silence from the chatty spirit. Suddenly concerned by her lack of response, he prodded away at her gently from the side, ‘Uh, didn’t say something wrong, did I?’

The tacit figure gave him an unfathomable look before looking away, venturing to respond as she did. ‘It’s nothing. I was just thinking about someone. Anyway, break time’s over. Don’t you think we should be getting back to work, aye?’

He wasn’t naïve enough to not know that he had touched a sore spot, but chose not to press the matter. It would just have to be one of the many things these people guardedly kept to themselves, never letting him in on them. For a moment, he wished they could be somewhat honest with him. Having a slight clue about what was going on would be a welcome change compared to being shoved about in the dark, a prevalent feeling he had to deal with since the spirit and youkai had unexpectedly dropped into his life. ‘Back to work then. And thanks for the meal, I didn’t know the village served such… um, unique chicken.’

‘Chicken?’ she queried him strangely as they moved back to the half-finished ship. ‘You mean sparrows.’

‘Sparrows?’ he broke in his step and looked at her aghast, feeling his jaws slacken involuntarily.

She took in his strange look without blinking an eye. ‘Fried sparrows; found some of them on my way back here. Damnable birds are hard to come-by these days. I toasted them myself, you know.’

‘Oh god.’
>> No. 4860
So, I'm pretty late and all. All nighters. Constant traveling. No breaks. Final destination.

Here's a little something to keep things slightly fresh. Couldn't work on it much (as in at all), but I'll still try to finish the chapter in one go soon enough.

Thanks for all the understanding though. You guys and gals are the epitome of awesome (when not trolling).
>> No. 4861
Fuck yes Palingesia wall.
>> No. 4862
File 126973554565.jpg - (95.37KB, 500x500, reisen yipee.jpg) [iqdb]
4862
Horay!
>> No. 4863
Nice but it's about time that you made a new thread, at least to notify us of updates in this one.
>> No. 4865
>>4863

>>4721
And just keep it watched.
>> No. 4867
Thanks a bunch, author-person!

...Although you know you're well past auto-sage, right? I'd suggest making a note at the start of the next thread to your readers to make sure that they caught this update.

That, or repost this recent update along with the rest when you start the new thread. No sense in posting in an un-bumpable thread, after all.
>> No. 4868
>>4865
There is no such thing as "for the sake of continuity."

Just make a new thread, please? It's less of a pain all around.
>> No. 4870
Great!
The depth of this story is truly amazing.
The new "chapters" are very good, as good as always be.
Although even if I also think a new thread don't hurt, I'm not share the opinion of "There is no such thing as "for the sake of continuity."" as the Anon above me said. Continuity is the most important thing in an story like this.
>> No. 4871
Best story on these boards
>> No. 4873
>>4870
You have completely misunderstood. Then again, I didn't really clarify what I meant very well. Let me say it a different way:

Posting in the same thread doesn't do anything for continuity. Nothing is preserved or made better this way.

When the thread is autosaged, citing "continuity" as a reason to keep posting there is just stupid.

Make a new thread, please. You won't lose or disrupt anything by doing so, believe me.
>> No. 4874
File 126993009179.png - (747.97KB, 1254x1771, ideolo - ~はたて~.png) [iqdb]
4874
>>4873
When I mentioned continuity, it was more of my personal preference for keeping things neat and tidy rather than a story-related issue. Slapping half of an on-going chapter into a new thread seemed a bit jarring to the neat-freak in me, but I can understand what you're getting at.

New thread will be up with the next update.


Speaking of updates, I'll try to have one up by the end of the week when work finally lightens up enough for some casual writan tiem.

Might be a bit late all the same though. Been playing some Double Spoiler here and there. Damn Trans-AyaAm and her last spellcard.
>> No. 5083
**** what a wall! You sir rival UN Owen
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