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This is probably among the most I've ever written in a single post, even competing with some of my earlier walls of sheer text.
You assume a thinking pose, trying to figure this riddle out. Let's see, Momizi is 172 years old, if you remember correctly. The ritual happens once every ten years, so that females that are of age can give birth to the next generation. Females can only give birth once. So...
...wait. You're seeing it now. Momizi is 172 years old. The ritual is happening now, and has only happened once every ten years, meaning that during Momizi's first ritual, she was but two years old...which...which means...
A look of shock enters your face. You take a step back, looking back at Momizi. If that's true...then...
"You...You weren't born anywhere near the previous ritual..." Momizi closes her eyes, and confirms the truth.
"Yes. That is correct. Most wolf tengu pregnancies last between six to twelve months. Since we can only conceive once every ten years, all the tengu born into this race are of mostly equal age. Except me. I was born...an entire eight years afterwards." Kabuto looks over at you and starts finishing the rest of the explaination.
"It is imperative that Momizi here gives birth to as many children as possible. Her parents were able to defy the very laws of nature by not only being able to conceive during an off time, a time where it should be impossible to become pregnant, but after a time where her mother had already become pregnant and beared an earlier child!" You look back over at Momizi, who is looking back at you with a saddened face.
"My mother died shortly after I was born, my sibling had died a few decades after being born, and we determined that my father wasn't of any actual cause to it. So...the judgment lays upon my head alone. I may be the only one who could bring the wolf tengu out of turmoil."
"Her mother may have passed on," Kabuto continues, "but those genes still reside inside her. She still has the capability of breaking the painful curse laid upon us. If she can give birth to a new generation that can conceive at any time, and give birth as many times as they wish..."
"But...!" You shout, stepping forward. This is all so ridiculous! Momizi should have the choice! And yet...
"But what?" The chief tengu says back, narrowing his eyes at you. "Would you dare step in the way of the tengu's only hope of prospering with a population that isn't dwindling? Momizi here carries our only chance at putting this ritual behind us once and for all so that we may finally leave this fear of underpopulation!"
Your heart hurts. But you can only imagine how it must feel for Momizi. When given the choice, would you sacrifice everything you wanted to save your heritage?
You just stand there. Feeling frustrated that there's no way you can help. You can't say anything. You have absolutely no right to. The air falls silent for a long while. That is, until a knocking on the large doors occurs. A voice shouts from behind them.
"Chief Kabuto! Lord Kotoha is requesting your presence!" Kabuto seems to be rather surprised about this news.
"K-Kotoha? Now? Don't just stand there! Let her in!!" The large doors burst open and a massive gust of wind suddenly blows right in. It's creates a small whirlwind in the hut that introduces you to the three crow tengu that swiftly flew in. The frontmost one is, what you assume to be Lord Kotoha. Long, lusterous black hair, a pair of large wings, wearing getas, a knee length skirt with an autumnal design on it, and a white button shirt that has long, kimono-style sleeves covering her hands. Around her neck is a similar tengu mask to that of Kabuto's. Her face is of a mature and sultry look, wearing what appears to be eyeliner to boot.
What interests you is the two ordinary crow tengu behind her at both sides, one of them just so happens to be Aya.
"Kabuto...long time no see." The voice of Kotoha's is the very voice of what would seem like a seductive vixen's, the very embodiment of voluptuous. Suddenly, you find yourself stepping aside, with Momizi stepping off to the other side, as Kabuto gets up and approaches the much smaller crow tengu. Most surprisingly, Kabuto then gets down on one knee, kneeling before the woman, bowing his head.
"Lord Kotoha, you bless us with your presence." W-Woah, a guy this big is treating this woman like she's his master. She must be truly scary beneath that provocative frame.
"Cut the formalities, Kabuto. I came to observe the festival and make sure that all goes well, even though we're without our precious mountain." While the two talk, you can't help but stare at Aya, and she's staring back too, but with a blank expression on her face, much unlike yours, which happens to have hints of contempt in it.
"It would be an honor to show you around, Lord Kotoha." The chief says as he gets up. He then looks over at you and Momizi. "We shall continue this discussion at another time. Please excuse us." Just like that, he turns around and walks out with the lady crow, her two lackeys in tow. As Aya leaves though, she looks back at you, and just before she disappears outside, she gives you an annoying, obnoxious smirk.
URGH! You can't stand her! She's messing with you, you know it!
You take your focus off your frustration for now though and look over at Momizi, who's looking down in shame and worry. This doesn't look very good.
"Momizi..." Momizi looks away for a moment before looking up at you, trying to force a smile past her pain.
"Master Satoshi, let's forget about this for the time being and try to enjoy the festival...okay?" You feel very pained to say it, but...
You want to help her. You want to get her out of this mess. But you think it's just not possible. God dammit. All you can do for her now is try and look past it for the time being and enjoy what life you can.
The festival appears to begin a short while later. A loud horn call signals it's start. In the middle of all the huts is the "tent" with all the tables and lanturns hanging about, earlier it was being worked on, but now it was bustling with life. It was very reminiscent of a party, or a true festival. People were laughing, shouting, drinking, eating, generally having fun. The wolf tengu themselves seems to be very colorful, wolves of all shapes and sizes seem to have gathered here, though for the most part, they all wore rather similar clothing. Must be some sort of dress code among the tengu. You noticed that the three crows you saw earlier all dressed similarly too. Approaching the lively party, you can see just how social all the people here are.
"Hey pal!" You barely hear over the 'ooph' forced out of you by a random tengu briskly putting his arm around your shoulder in a drunken gesture. "Whas a hyooman like you doin' here?!" While he says it with a happy outlook, it still feels insulting, somewhat.
"Uhh, just browsing, I guess."
Momizi helps the drunkard off you and the two of you continue walking through the party. Momizi apologizes to you for that brilliant display of dignity.
"Please forgive anyone who appears to be too brash...the tengu are avid drinkers but not all of them can hold it well..."
"Ahh, it's alright. There's people like that in the human village too.." Momizi suddenly giggles a bit. It's a bit surprising, but it's nice to know she's trying to have a good time, despite the earlier confrontation.
"Ah, we should try some of the yakitori here, Master Satoshi!"
"Does the wolf tengu have a really good yakitori griller here?"
"Yes! He's been grilling for decades now and has only been getting better! I eat at his stand here every festival!"
"I guess that's why you wanted some at the human village, huh? Though that kinda ended in disaster..."
"...I'm so sorry."
For a while, you think you're actually starting to have...fun. You're beginning to forget the earlier depression and starting to enjoy the festival. The yakitori at the stand was delicious, as Momizi kept talking about. The guy who ran it seemed like a nice guy too.
After leaving the stand, you and Momizi walk around for a bit before you stop suddenly. A familiar face has caught your eye, when Momizi stops and looks at where you're staring at, she knows exactly what kind of trouble is brewing.
"Master Aya..." Clenching your fists, you decide it's time you had another encounter with Aya. You stray from the original path and decide to walk up behind the crow tengu, with Momizi worriyingly in follow.
"...Aya." You say flatly to her. The crow turns around and unexpectedly jumps at you gleefully.
"Satoshiii~! How's my little money maker?" You look at the tengu hugging you uncomfortably, with a bright cheery smile on her face. You on the other hand, have an incredibly bemused expression.
"Money maker? Excuse me?" Aya looks up at you happily and explains.
"Of course! The stories I write about you are always so interesting and fun! They always get approved and the papers flies like hot cakes! You're amazing, Satoshi!" As much praise as she's giving you, it's for all the wrong reasons. You have this deathly look of despair plastered all over you. You wish you could hang yourself right now. "Oh! And you're taking care of Momi too! I owe you a lot, don't I?"
"Y-...Yes, yes you do." You studder out a bit, trying to contain your mixture of rage and sorrow. "In fact, it'd be pretty great if you repaid me now." Aya separates herself from you and her hands behind herself, looking at you.
"Alright then. Name one thing you want then. I'll give it to you." You have a few things in mind that you'd want from her, but as of right now, there's only one objective on your mind.
"I want you to be nicer to Momizi." Aya looks at you with a small mixture of surprise and confusion. Momizi herself seems a lot more surprised, on the other hand.
"Ma-...Master Satoshi..." Aya then laughs shortly after, just what you'd expect from her, dammit.
"What are you talking about, Satoshi? Momi is just fine, right?" She looks over at Momizi, and while she's defending her, she can't even look at her, or you, so you know the truth behind this.
"W-Well, Master Aya is, that is to say...she's just fine by normal standards, and-"
"Normal standards?" You say, interrupting Momizi. "Normal standards involve your superior heartlessly ignoring you when you need help?" You look back at Aya, having to stop yourself from growling at her, you're so angry. "If that's how a 'care-taker' should act then what's wrong with you people?! You're supposed to be caring for her!" Aya waves her hand at you a bit nervously, trying to calm you down.
"N-Now now, Satoshi. Yelling like that isn't-"
"Isn't thoughtful? Like you ever were. You post inaccurate stories about me on the newspaper all the time! Why can't you be nice to Momizi?!" Aya stares at you for a nice while, before looking over to the side, with an unfortunate smile.
"Because...that's not me." You have to think for a moment on how to comprehend that. You can feel yourself getting more frustrated by her.
"What....what does that mean?! What does that have to-"
"Because!" Aya steps in and stops you from continuing with a foot down. "You're asking me to change myself, how I act. No matter what you do for me, I can't do that. Putting on a fake face just to make someone else happy? The tengu here don't allow that, Satoshi. You don't know how things work around here. If everyone did that, we'd all go insane and kill each other." Aya then steps back to her previous spot with arms crossed. "You still have growing up to do, even at your...old age as a human I guess. In this world, you gotta be yourself, or you'll lose sight of who you are. What do you do then? Huh?" Aya is looking at you inquisitively now, but as much as you want to prove her wrong, it's a difficult question she expects you to answer right away. "Come back to me when you have a real request, huh?" Right after that, she turns around, and starts walking away, merely brushing you off. It's frustrating, both because it's an insult, and because...well, she's still partially right.
"W-Wait, Aya! I'm not done with you!!" You want to argue against her point more, to try and clear things up, but she just raises a hand as she walks away.
"Sorry! Too busy! Just remember that you can't be nice to everyone you meet, Satoshi!! You lose battles that way!!" You're nearly reduced to panting your frustration out. You have to facepalm and try and get over this mess.
"Master Satoshi...please forgive Master Aya, she...she's..."
"It's okay." You erk out, rubbing your forehead. "Aya typically gives me a headache any time we meet anyways. This time is just no exception. I think I need some time alone though..." Momizi isn't very happy about it, but gives you your space nonetheless.
After Momizi leaves you, you have found yourself wandering aimlessly about, the more you do so the more you start distancing yourself from the crowd until you eventually come to a stop behind a massive boulder that separates you from the loud festival going on behind you. There's some distance put between you and the rest of the pack now. It might be some ample time to think. You hope anyways. You just want to relax for the most part though. The sky by now has turned dark, not a star occupying it from the large amount of clouds that's likely blanketing the area. Your serenity here lasts only but a short while when you notice you have a visitor.
"Oh, hello Satoshi. Did I disturb you?" You squint your eyes at the entity before you, trying to make them out in the dark.
"Huh? Uhh...oh, you're that Souya boy from yesterday, aren't you?" The boy seems to smile before sitting next to you.
"You remembered my name! Thank you. Here, I brought this for you." Souya goes and hands you a medium sized bottle of what you perceive to be sake. You look at him in jest.
"Hey now, are you old enough to be carrying around this stuff?" Souya smiles back at you.
"Not to worry, even if I wasn't, it is quite easy to sneak some away during this time." You give off a good hearty laugh shortly before taking a swig of the alcohol.
"Hahaha, wow, that's comforting, isn't it?"
"Indeed. Speaking of comforting though, I wanted to thank you on the pack's behalf for taking such good care of Miss Inubashiri. As you are probably already aware, she is a valuable asset to the wolf tengu and her well being very much concerns us." You can't help but look down with a bit of a sour taste in your mouth though, and you're positive it isn't the sake.
"But is that really all she is to you...?" You mutter, taking another drink of the bottle. Souya heard you, however.
"Oh, no! Not at all! Miss Inubashiri may not have the most upbeat personality at times, but she is among the nicer wolves here with a sense of kindness to her, that's only improved since she went to stay with you, Satoshi." You take a look over at Souya, trying to confirm this.
"She's been with me this whole time, how can you even tell?"
"Trust me, Satoshi. We can probably see things within her that you can't. Don't worry about it too much and drink up, though!" You want to argue some more, but quite frankly, you're too tired. You follow his train of thought and take yet another drink. You hope this won't cloud your judgement too much. You're usually strong against sake anyways.
"I just wish...things could be easier for Momizi. You know? She has it so rough..."
"Yes, I know what you mean...can I ask you something, however?" You take a look over at Souya and he has a serious look on his face for a brief moment, from what you could tell, before smiling gently. "How do you feel about Miss Inubashiri, exactly?"
You look down at the ground and try to gather your thoughts. How do you feel about Momizi, huh? You wonder if you can really form an opinion on that when it hasn't been that long. On the other hand, ever since she came over, your life activity has certainly seen a high jump. You guess you could try to explain it. How exactly do you feel about Momizi so far?