“That’d be nice,” you say. This is where you’d don a pipe and forlornly look to the sky. But you don’t have a pipe, and you’d look silly staring at the roof. You wonder, though, how different it would be if you lived in a world that didn’t hate you—but you don’t dwell on it for long. There’s no use dreaming about what could have been. What can you do anyway? Change yourself? Hah, good one. Gods don’t change. People do.
Hieda’s definitely miffed because she doesn’t like your answer. Real hard to please, that woman. “Don’t make it seem like it’s not your problem,” she says.
“But it’s not?” you reply. “Why should I care about humans think about me?”
“Because you’re a god. Really, is it too difficult for you to stop acting so detached about everything? Don’t you suppose that life would be a lot easier if you stopped trying to alienate every human you come in contact with?”
“Nah. Because that’s how I am. It’s my nature.”
“She’s right, though,” adds Tewi. “Some humans are okay. Especially the kinds that you can sucker into doing something dumb.”
“I especially don’t like those types of humans.”
“You’re implacable,” Hieda says with a sigh, propping herself up with a hand on the desk.
“Then what do you think I should do, Tewi?”
“You’re putting the responsibility on me?” the rabbit says incredulously, taking a step back.
You take a step towards her, not letting her retreat. “Aren’t you my current priestess? You gotta shoulder some difficulties for me.”
“She’s—?” Hieda, in her fit of surprise, lets her hand slip out from below her chin, catching herself just before she loses her balance. “She’s your priestess?”
“Yeah. What did you think she was?”
“I—I don’t know.” She tilts her head slightly, losing herself in thought. “Your moral support?”
“You’re not too far off on that one.” Tewi then points to you. “So, if I get to decide, why not try and be a little nicer to humans? I mean, it can’t hurt to at least make an attempt?”
You shrug. “Sure, but I won’t make any promises.”
“Then why not start now?” Hieda cooks up a real schemin’ grin. “Lately, there’s been some rumors about a certain ‘something’ that goes around at night and terrorizes the people in the village. From what I recall, items have been reported missing or broken, and small creatures have been killed.”
“Why not ask your local shrine maiden?”
“Reimu says that it’s probably ‘no big deal’ and told me to stop bothering her.”
“If it’s not a big deal to her, why do I have to?”
“Because you said you’re going to try and be nice.”
Oh, yeah. Right.
[ ] Help out. [ ] Tell Reimu to do something about the problem. [ ] Nah, you’re not interested. You’ll find a way to be nice without having to work for it.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/05(Mon)07:00
“Okay. Out of the kindness of my heart, I’ll help out. Good for you, Hieda, since there’s a god as great and magnanimous as me around.” You blow Hieda a little kiss, to which she swats away as if it were a mosquito.
“You’re lucky I had no other options because, trust me, I would’ve went to them already.” She, seeing that you left her chair open, secures her spot before you could steal it again. “Anyway, I think we’re done here. Any more of you, and I think I’ll go mad. You’re not good for the heart—for both me and my servants.”
“But this time, I only broke a wall—and not all of it, too!” you whine. “Compared to the other time when I accidentally killed you, this is waaay better, right?”
“Any guest that thinks that smashing their arm through my wall is a good idea is still a nuisance. You can’t downplay it just because you’ve killed me before.”
“Just let it go, Hieda. You can’t keep holding a grudge just because you died a little sooner than you should’ve. Twice.”
“Just—” She forces herself to breathe slowly. Inhales in through the nose then out through the mouth. Apparently, you’re not good for her blood pressure either. “Just leave already. And take your box of whatever-it-is, too.”
Tewi arches up an eyebrow. “You mean, you don’t know what’s inside?”
“No. I don’t.” Hieda grips her booklet tightly, her hand quivering as she closes her eyes. Then, she reopens them to narrow her eyes at you. “And, after taking care of it for hundreds of years, naturally, I was curious. Hakurou told me I shouldn’t dare opening it. But I had to. I couldn’t resist. At the end of my fifth lifespan, I peeled back one of the talismans. And do you know what I got? Twenty-four hours of being plagued with retching, bleeding through the eyes, and feeling like I was poisoned by an entire coil of snakes before I died. So, indirectly, I ended up being killed by Hakurou three times.”
“To be fair, you were asking for it that time,” you say. “I told you that you’d be wishing that you’d never tried opening it in the first place. Now, if I were the old me, I would’ve cursed your entire lineage and every one of your subsequent reincarnations, but that would’ve been in bad taste. You got off easy, methinks.”
“So let me get this straight: You basically threatened her to hold onto something for a thousand years, and you punished her for it?”
Hieda and Tewi stare at you blankly.
“Okay, yes,” you confess, “but that’s because you two know how I am with humans. I didn’t know how to talk to them at the time. Plus, I needed to leave it somewhere safe, and I thought, ‘Reincarnating girl’s place? Probably a good idea.’ Anyway, if you want to know, what’s inside the box, then it’s just my raiments. Happy?”
“A thousand years of waiting just to find out that I was a living closet.” Hieda slumps her shoulders in defeat. “You, out. And you too, Inaba, by extension.”
“Okay,” you say. “I’ll let you know if you got any more tsukumogamis up and about in your pad.”
Tewi waves goodbye, a rather complex smile on her face. “We’ll probably come again. Just a warning in advance.”
“Great,” Hieda moans.
So you got a case. Looks like your target’s gonna be around at night, so you have a little time to kill. It’s still evening, so you have maybe an hour or two before the sun sets.
[ ] Go around and investigate the food stalls. [ ] Go around and actually investigate. [ ] Secure the border of the Human Village
It's almost 4 A.M. here but I got two updates out. Not gonna lie, I don't know if I missed any typos, so, if they exist, pretend they don't. No new timer needed: I'm still going to try and meet my update deadline before it ends. \\NANOWRIMO/
Ability: The ability to create curses Threat level: Very high Human friendship level: Very low Main place of activity: None
A self-proclaimed god with no home. Unlike other gods, he does not require a shrine to hold physical form. There is much speculation as to why, but no theories have been proven to be true yet. ____________________________________
“Hakurou” seems to be the amalgamation of different gods, but this is not confirmed. Myths have stated that the original had devoured other gods who now reside in him. However, he remains an elusive god and, due to the unreliable nature of Hakurou and his worshipers, nothing is truly confirmed. _____________________________________
He has the ability to control curses. Compare with Suwako Moriya, who has the power to control curse gods. In theory, this may seem rather similar but consider that Suwako must act as a mediator for the curse gods, whereas Hakurou can freely manipulate curses at will. _____________________________________
There has been mention that Hakurou once took on the form of a wolf, but there is little evidence that confirms this, so again, it remains a rumor. For the last thousand years, he took on a form of a wolf youkai, similar to a white wolf tengu, with silver-white hair, bright crimson eyes, wolfish ears, and a thick-haired tail. _____________________________________
His personality is unreliable at best and intimidating at worst. This seems to fluctuate with his mood. If he speaks first and spouts meaningless jokes, he is most likely in a good mood. When he is in a bad mood, he will remain silent until spoken to and will always maintain direct eye contact. Beware when he smiles and bares his teeth. _____________________________________
His ability to curse rivals or even exceeds that of the Mishagujis. It seems as if the afflictions are to his choosing, and the symptoms of the curse cannot be cured by conventional medicine, even if it seems as if it were a common illness. _____________________________________
Unrelated to his ability, he also has demonstrated the capability to blow gale-force winds like older tengu can. _____________________________________
Be on your guard since he behaves erratically. Common sense will not help you. _____________________________________
It is actually unlikely that he will target you as long as you keep quiet and do not attract attention to yourself. _____________________________________
For your best interest, do not mention anything about shrine maidens. _____________________________________
Despite his malicious ability, he is rather reluctant to use it. _____________________________________
If you manage to anger him, try to entertain him. He is easily amused, so throw aside your dignity and do something absurd. However, do not tell him a bad joke, as it will only make him even more upset. _____________________________________
Despite his low level of friendship with humans, he is rather amicable to those that do not slight him.
Night’s about to hit. And you know what that means: dinner time. You’d love to swing around town and investigate, but you can’t do that on an empty stomach, right? At least, that’s what you’ll tell yourself when you go check out the food stalls.
You wiggle your fingers goodbye. “I’ll see you later, Hieda. Or maybe not, who knows?”
“Just leave already,” she groans. “And, by the way, it’s Akyuu, thanks for asking.”
“My name,” Hieda says, folding her arms.
“Ain’t gonna remember it, Hieda-poo. Also, don’t write about me, 'kay? Not yet, at least.”
She sends you off wearily. “You’ve been saying that for a thousand years already, Hakurou.”
You’re escorted back to the manor entrance by the servants, but really, “escorted” is a loose description of what they did. They were at least twenty paces ahead and frequently looked back at you. Man, is this what the world’s come to? Awful service and treatment just because you ripped a chunk of the wall off? But you’ll let them go for now—you have plenty of chances in the future to get on their good side.
Once you’re outside, you make a sharp left deeper into the village, pulling Tewi along. You think about hiding your ears and tail, but that’d be way too much work. Plus, it’s nice being the center of attention—even if it’s behind hushed whispers and waaay too much staring. But you think they’ve gotten more rude since you came here—they’re now running away into houses and shutting their doors closed. Isn’t that a bit too much? You didn’t even do anything yet!
Well, whatever. At least there’s still food. You find the most suspicious stall, and, braving the new frontier, you take a step in its direction. Whoever is fanning out the smell of freshly cut pork is doing a fine job.
“Hakurou.” Tewi nudges you with her elbow. “What are you doing?”
“You’re investigating ‘Ninomiya’s Food’?”
“Yeah,” you say, unwavering. “You can feel it too, right? Something is off.”
“That’s just the smell of food in the air,” she says.
“You know me too well. But it’s too late.” You take her hand with both of hers and start dragging her towards the stall. “We’re going to eat and drink and have a merry time, and you can’t stop me!”
“Do you even have money?”
You stop dragging her and let go. “M-Money?”
She rubs her thumb and index finger together. “Money.”
“Well, I was thinking we eat, and if they ask, I growl at them until they stop asking.”
Tewi gives you an efficient glare, turning up both the irritation and the disappointment. “What about ‘being nicer to humans’?”
“Uh.” Damn the humans and their shiny metal circles, preventing you from getting food in your belly. You check your person for any valuables. Aside from your odachi and the clothes on your back, you have nothing.
“...I can barter,” you say, touching the scabbard of your odachi.
“You’re going to trade a sword for a meal.”
“Two meals, plus drinks… maybe?”
“You’re so useless.” Tewi giggles. “Maybe next time, try finding a way to eat without resorting to threats?”
“Easier said than done.”
“Tell you what, I’ll help out.” Tewi prances over to the stall, motioning for you to follow. She hops onto a stool and shouts, “Ninomiya!”
Three heads turn. Two ladies look over to the rabbit and stare quizzically before the man further inside the stall waves them aside. He rushes over, a broad smile on his face. The guy’s built like a bull—dude has hulking shoulders and a thick neck. You’d think the guy was a woodworker, but he’s behind a counter instead.
“Inaba!” He slaps the table, laughing heartily. “How long do I have to keep telling you to call me Kousuke? We’re all Ninomiya, so it confuses the girls!”
“Right, right,” she chuckles. “How’s business?”
“Booming, thanks to you!”
“Me? Shucks. I didn’t do anything.”
“Heck, don’t be so modest! And—” His eyes fall to you. “Whoa!”
“Yeah, I know.” You flash your best human-impressing smile. “‘What a sight for sore eyes!’ right?”
“Hah!” He grins. “Who’s your joker friend?”
“He’s… um.” Tewi looks to you for help.
[ ] “Wolf tengu detective Shirou Amatsuya, at your service.” [ ] “Friendly youkai, Fumiya Hidetaka.” [ ] “Masaaki Kunyomi. Just the coolest wanderer around.” [ ] No introductions needed. Just waggle your eyebrows at him.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/07(Wed)07:00
You don’t say anything, but instead you just waggle your eyebrows at him.
The man lowers his gaze and puts a hand to his stomach, bending down slightly. Then he explodes laughing, holding onto his gut for dear life. He’s dying, and all you had to do is wiggle your eyebrows a little. Man’s easily amused, ain’t he? You almost feel bad because he has to stop himself by covering his mouth with his arm, hiccups of laughter still slipping through.
When he’s able to breathe, Kousuke pats Tewi on the shoulder. “Oh, man. I can’t believe it. The Inaba, finally nabbed herself a man! An absolute riot, too!”
“Oh, he’s not my—” Tewi says, before you cut her off by tapping your knee with hers. She looks down to stare under the counter for a brief moment before she continues. “—sorry. I thought I saw something. Anyway, as I was saying, yeah, I’m surprised too. Guess it was fate.”
“Really? Fate?” He guffaws. “I’d never thought the day would come when I’d hear ya blab about’cher man and fate.”
“Me too,” she says, throwing a quick glance your way.
“But enough talk. I’m sure you aren’t here to have a nice chat.” He hands over a menu to both of you. “What’ll you two have? It’s on the house, as long as you don’t order everything.”
“I’ll get whatever this is,” you say, pointing to the only printed image on the menu. It looks like rice and something else, but you can’t tell what it is because the image quality isn’t great. Works for you though—it’ll surprise you. “And sake, if you have any.”
Tewi, without looking at the menu, says, “Just some miso soup and mochi.”
“And sake,” you add.
“Got it! Lucky you—business is slow at this time, so it’ll just be a moment.”
“But it’s evening,” you point out. “What about dinner time?”
Kousuke’s smile somewhat falters. “People in the village usually have an early dinner nowadays—way before the sun sets. There’s been nasty rumors circling around about a monster roamin’ about. Now’s about the time I’d close up shop too, but I saw Inaba. Can’t turn down an old friend of mine, ya know? Plus, you got that sword hanging around your waist, so I figured you could use that thing in the worst case scenario.”
“Right, right,” you say as you tap the odachi’s hilt. “So what have been people saying about this monster?”
“What’s confirmed are three things: One, it likes to smear blood on the walls of buildings. Seems like it mostly stays near the north side of the village that faces the lake, so the food stalls were mostly spared. Two, some signs looked to be scratched up. Had some deep-looking claw marks. And three, a bunch of dead animals started appearing around the border of the village. Ranged from birds, to snakes, to a full-sized deer.”
“So… it’s a cat. A big cat.”
“That’s what I said to the other folk!” He laughs. “Anyway, I’ll be back with your food soon.”
Tewi waits until Kousuke is out of earshot. “So? What do you think?”
“I’m thinkin’ that maybe I should’ve gotten something else—I don’t even know what I ordered. What if I hate it? That would be such a waste.”
“Uh-huh. And about the monster?”
“It’s definitely a big cat.”
Tewi shakes her head. “I meant how dangerous it is.”
[ ] “It's probably harmless. After all, it's never laid a hand on humans so far.” [ ] “Even you could beat it.” [ ] “Won’t be dangerous to me, at least.” [ ] “Can't be sure until I see it in person.”
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/08(Thu)08:00
You don’t think that this monster, whatever it is, will be a problem, but your big ego has gotten you killed before, so maybe you should be a responsible god for once and exercise some caution. You don’t know how successful you’ll be at being careful, given that it’s hard enough to act nice of all things, but you’ll at least try.
“Can't be sure until I see it in person.” You wonder what kind of cat it’ll be. You heard there was a tiger in the area—not that you think that it’s actually a tiger, but you can hope, right? And, if it isn’t a cat, the monster will have to face your wrath—or maybe just your disappointment. Really, either can subdue a monster.
Your ears twitch as a girl comes waltzing through the noren dividers and takes a seat next to you. She’s got brown hair and eyes that match. Girl’s a real cutie, but she loses mega points for her outfit. The red dress and green cap make her look like one of those gaudy signs at a red light district, especially because she’s about as tall as one. Most importantly—
“Um. W-What?” The girl probably noticed you drilling a hole into her with your eyes. Too bad, though, because you’re about to make things real uncomfortable.
“Excuse me,” you say, as you lean over her and take a big whiff.
The ladies behind the counter start squawking, and the girl who sat next to you does her best to imitate a broken record.
“Yep. I knew it.” You grin and snatch away her hat, revealing a set of ears underneath. “You’re a cat.”
She hastily swipes her mob-cap back. “So what! I—I just wanted to get some food while I was tracking down the monster around here! Just because you humans don’t like us doesn’t mean that—” She trails off as she looks over to you, fixating her gaze heavily on your ears. Her eyes widen, and then her eyes widen some more as they shift over to Tewi, who gives her a pitiful smile and a wave. “Um.”
“A rabbit, a wolf, and a cat walk into a food stall.”
“Don’t say any more,” the cat mumbles miserably.
“So, what’s up with you terrorizing the village?”
“Me?” She looks offended. “No, no, I didn’t do it. In fact, I’m trying to help. That rumored monster's giving the rest of us bakeneko a bad name. I used to come around the village without a hat, but nowadays everyone screams and runs! They think it’s me just because I’m a nekomata! Can you believe that? So I’m here working hard to set the record straight.”
Kousuke comes back with food and drink, sliding you a tray with a heaping bowl of rice, half-filled with stock and nimono. On the side are slabs of thickly sliced pork—bless this human. This is what you wanted to eat all along—and you’re not saying that just because it’s in front of you now.
"Another one of your companions?" he asks the rabbit.
"No, I'm not that popular."
The cat calls to Kousuke as he’s passing a tray over to Tewi. “Mister! Smoked salmon on rice for me!”
“Got it!” he shouts before disappearing to the back of the stall.
“Working hard, huh?” you say to the girl. “All I see is a cat checking out the food stalls.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
“Coincidentally, I’m also investigating the rumored ‘monster’ that’s been showing up recently."
The girl’s eyes light up. “So what you’re saying is that we should team up?”
Tewi puts a hand over your shoulder and leans over you. “But, like you, catty, what he was really doing was checking out the food stalls.”
[ ] A cat should be able to find another cat. That’s how they work, right? [ ] This cat’s cramping your style.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/09(Fri)08:00
“Sure. You’re in as long as I can get some of that salmon you ordered.”
“But, but! It’s mine...” The cat lowers her head, crossing her arms as she mulls it over. Then, with a defeated exhale, she says, “Fine. But we’re really a team now! You can’t go back on your word!”
“Alright. I’m counting on you, since a cat should be able to find another cat. That’s how they work, right?”
“N-No,” she says. “That’s not how we work.”
“Then what are you good for?”
She stops to think. “Fighting?”
“I don’t need any help with that. But what you can do for me is something only you can do. Since you’re a nekomata, you can help me deal with the cat. Maybe talk it down if it’s aggressive.” You doubt you’ll really need her assistance because she doesn’t seem very capable, but if anything, it’ll be amusing to take her along for the ride.
“And what if it’s not a cat?” says Tewi.
It’s definitely a cat. But you’ve just started eating, and you don’t want to bother explaining when you’re busy stuffing yourself with pork and rice. “You explain, cat,” you say in between mouthfuls to the nekomata.
“M-Me?” she says.
“Yeah. You’ve already figured it out, right?”
“Um.” She collects her thoughts. Seriously, it’s so fun watching her squirm. “It’s nocturnal, so that’s already a big hint. And the monster kills pests—I think it’s been confirmed that it’s been killing birds and mice.”
“And snakes and deer,” Tewi adds. “If you can even call deer ‘pests.’”
You slam down the rest of the rice. Good. You’re not starving anymore—just hungry. “So those are good reasons and all, but that’s all conjecture. She is right, though—it is a cat. And how I figured it out was easy.” You tap your nose. “Even before this cat sat next to me, I smelled the nekomata stink from a mile away.”
“Stink?” The girl grabs the hem of her collar and sniffs at it. “I don’t smell bad, do I?”
“You don’t smell bad—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. You smell delicious. But also, you smell just like a nekomata. So I knew you were a cat before I knew, well, you.”
“‘Delicious,’ he says.” The girl worriedly looks over to the rabbit.
“Just ignore him when he says or does anything weird. Which is, by the way, all the time.” Tewi then turns to you. “Now that’s great and all—that you like smelling cat girls—but it still doesn’t explain why you know the monster is a cat.”
“Our monster is more than just a cat—it’s a nekomata, to be exact. I smelled two of them lurking around the village. One is accounted for. Smells faintly like flowers. The other one? Smells like animal blood.”
The sound of humans shouting in the distance breaks the relatively peaceful evening-bled night. Tewi, the cat, and you all turn your heads towards the noise. Seems like it’s on the other side of the village. Though you can’t make out what exactly is going on, it’s probably not anything good.
“Speak of the devil!” The cat claps. “Let’s go!”
“But what about the salmon?” you ask, but she’s already outta there. For all that contemplating about sharing the salmon, she sure forgot about it easily.
And, the thing is, the other cat—not the cat that just left—is quickly approaching the stall. Man, you really should’ve asked for the first cat’s name. Too many cats prowling about.
[ ] Go to the commotion and find Cat One. Tell the staff to hide the meat and save the salmon for when you get back. [ ] Stay here and defend the smoked salmon from Cat Two. Food stall livelihood is at stake here.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/10(Sat)08:00
There’s no way that you’re giving up your smoked salmon—after all, Cat One promised you that she’d give you some. And if Cat Two wants to put up a fight for it, then she’s in for a world of hurt. Plus, you should also protect the food stall. There’s not much point coming to the village if the only food stall who’ll treat you for free gets ransacked. Ninomiya’s Food should be thankful. It’s not often that you provide protection for humans.
“Are you going to follow her?” asks Tewi, just starting on her miso soup.
“Nah. Lucky for us, the cat—the one we’re trying to find—is coming straight for us. Or maybe the food stall. Either way, we can just sit here and look pretty until the monster shows up.”
“But what about the other cat? You know, the one that’s a part of our ‘team’?”
“We’ll find her later.”
“Should I go find her? I think you can handle this alone, right?”
“Nah,” you say, though it’s much a surprise to you as it is to Tewi. “Don’t go.”
Tewi, who was moments away from walking off, re-seats herself and stares at you with a hitched eyebrow. “What’s the problem?”
“Uh. I don’t know. I just got some wicked deja vu, maybe. But in any case, we’ll find her later. Right now, I gotta keep my eyes on the prize. We’re gonna hunt a big cat.”
“You mean that you’re going to hunt a big cat. I’m going to keep eating.”
“Can’t you at least fire a luck beam at me or something?” you ask, to which she responds by ignoring you and returning to her soup.
“Smoked salmon here!” Kousuke shouts. He finds himself returning to an empty seat so naturally, he turns to you with a puzzled expression. “Uh?”
“She’ll be back, but I advise you to hold onto the salmon for now. A youkai is coming, and it’s the cat we’re talking about.”
“It is?” The man wildly jumps behind the counter, almost throwing the smoked salmon into the ground. Thankfully, he has good hands and catches the dish before it tips and splats onto the floor. He shouts at the girls working their stations to come hole up inside the stall. “You, uh—heh, you can keep us safe, right?”
“No worries,” you say, resting a hand on your odachi’s hilt. You can smell it. The nekomata’s close. Ten second passes. Then a minute. Then five minutes, and then Tewi finishes her meal, looking at you sorely disappointed-like.
“Is it coming?” Kousuke whispers from underneath the grill.
“It’s still close,” you say.
Kousuke replies with a solid thud, and several utensils go flying into the air before they land with a clatter. You sneak a look over the counter. The guy’s face down on the ground, taking a spontaneous beauty nap. Several thuds echo the first, and suddenly, all the humans around start the playing-dead exhibition. You’d think they’re really dead, but Kousuke’s loud snoring gives it away.
“Am I being pranked?”
A figure shoots out from above and tries to jump over the counter. You, however, stand firmly between it and the humans, causing the thing to leap back.
“Guess not.” You size up the nekomata. Her skin tells a story—she has several scars all over, the most distinct one crossing right below her left eye. None look too shallow, though they’re all mostly sewn up. On her head, she has two twitchy black ears with hair and a tail that matches her black color. On its tail is a charming red ribbon. Cute, but you’d think it’d be cuter if she wore clothes along with it.
Her ears twitch as you take a step forward and maintain eye contact. Two ruby eyes match yours, much to your surprise. Bakeneko usually shrink away from direct eye contact, but this one held a level gaze—at least, until it yawns.
[ ] “So you’re here for the fish, too?” [ ] “I’ll fight you for the salmon.” [ ] Yawn back aggressively. [ ] You bet you could pet her and get away with it.
You suck in air until your face gets tingly. Then, opening your mouth, you blast a yawn straight at the cat. The ground quakes in deference, dust settling when you finish. This is where lesser youkai would flee in terror or submit to you, but the nekomata holds her ground. Alrighty then, color you impressed.
But the cat isn’t done. In fact, she returns your mighty yawn with another one of her own. Your eyes fall to her tanned skin as she arches her back and stretches. Guess she’s a new youkai—really, girl has no sense of shame at all. But if she thinks she can catch you off guard with her feminine wiles, then, well, she’d be right.
The cat takes a light step forward. You keep a hand on your odachi’s hilt and your eyes trained on the nekomata. The problem with these buggers is that they’re always so unpredictable. Damn cats, doing whatever they want. She takes another step, but this one is heavier than the one before. She takes her third step, and all the agility she previously had is gone, replaced by an awful sluggishness.
“This cat is sleepy,” are her first words. “Too sleepy to eat.”
“Well then.” You let the hand on your sword fall and take measured steps closer to the cat. “If you’re sleepy, why not come on over and sleep with me?” Now that you can get a better angle on her, you can see that her tail is starting to split. The forked portion isn’t fully there yet, but it’ll be no more than a month until she becomes a fully fledged nekomata.
The cat’s parted tail swishes around as she thinks. “Does he mean that this cat can use him as a resting spot?”
“Sure, that works. All you have to do is stop terrorizing the humans.”
“This cat?” She points to herself. “Wrong. This cat would never—” There’s a moment of epiphany as the nekomata connects all the pieces. “Oh. This cat understands the problem.” The cat flicks her tail around her waist and towards her belly. She holds it where the tail starts to fork. “Problem,” she declares.
“Go on,” you say.
“Before, humans thought this cat was cute and gave her food. But after, humans looked at this cat different. This cat found it scary, so she made humans sleepy—like her.”
“Oh, so all the humans lying around taking a surprise nap—that’s your doing.”
She nods. “Yes. But this cat would never hurt humans.”
“She loves humans very much.”
“Were you a housecat?”
“No. But humans raised her. They would come by the river to say hello or give food to her. And every once in a while, littler humans would come to play.” She puffs out her chest, and you take a nice look at it. “This cat watched the little humans turn to big ones, but they always came back to play even when they had big human things to do.”
You drop your usual tone and adopt a softer, more sober voice. “You were cherished, weren’t you?”
“Yes.” She flashes a smile. “Humans loved her.”
“Good,” you gently say.
The cat yawns once more, but this one is ragged and wispy—it comes out more as a terrible exhale than a yawn. Then she takes an uneven step back, staggering, until she loses her balance and falls to the ground.
“Are you okay?” you say, though it’s more of a formality.
“No. Big problem.” Of course, the nekomata is confused. You just watch silently as she struggles to keep her eyes open, but, little by little, the sleep overtakes her until she’s fully dozing. Once her eyes are fully closed, she topples over, and as she collapses, the nekomata starts to lose her physical form, returning back to what it originally was: a cat—though she still retains her forked tail. She’s sprawled out on the ground, breathing in, then breathing out, slowly.
She is and will be okay. It’s rather convenient for you that she conserves her energy with her more portable animal form because it’ll be a real cinch for you to pick her up and carry her elsewhere.
Or maybe not.
[ ] Be nice. [ ] Take her into your hands and devour her power.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/14(Wed)07:00
I'm really tired, I just got off 14 hours stuck in planes and airports, but update's out. So I'm behind like two updates which isn't really that bad because I think I can make that up by the end of this weekend.
You take her into your hands, and a more primal force overtakes you—just consume, consume, consume, you say, like a metronome, never stop, eternal—no, wait, actually.
You’re supposed to try being nicer. Of course, that offer only stands for humans, but you can always make exceptions. Plus, you’re not really out here to sap a poor cat of her power. You can always do that later, and, no, you’re not procrastinating.
“Hakurou?” Tewi takes a step out into the night.
“Why are you dangling the cat by her front legs?”
“Uh.” You plop the cat onto your shoulder. Dumb cat’s purring in her sleep—if she can do that, then she should be able to wake up too. “I was trying to wake her up.”
“What are you going to do with her?”
“Well, I was thinking that I’d learn how to be more responsible by adopting a housecat and learning what its needs are.”
“No, really,” she says as she rolls her eyes. “What are you going to do with the nekomata?”
“Oh, you were eavesdropping?”
“It’s hard not to when I was three meters away.”
You stroke the cat’s head, who responds by going into full-on kneading mode. “I need to do something about this?”
“Don’t we? The nekomata turned back into a cat, and all the humans around are having a youkai-induced sleep.”
“Don’t worry about all that. The cat’ll be fine. I just put a curse on her to weaken her.”
Tewi goes wide-eyed. “You… put a curse on her?”
“A small one! Don’t get any weird ideas. Once she finishes her nap, she’ll be alright. It’ll be as if it never happened!”
“Uh-huh.” She doesn’t look fully convinced, but she moves on. “Then what about the humans?”
“Eh, who cares about them?” You don’t like the ugly look Tewi gives you, so you tack on some extra clarification. “The cat can make people sleepy, so all they have to do is sleep until they’re not tired anymore. It’s a rather boring resolution, I know, but the good part is that I don’t have to do anything. Of course, some of them lying on the floor might have stiff backs when they wake up, but that’s about it.”
“Okay. So now what? Are we done here?”
“Kind of. We still have two problems. The more immediate problem is that we have to go retrieve that dine-and-dashing cat. The other problem involves our sleepy friend here.” You point to the cat draped over your shoulder. “Lemme ask you a question: What kind of nekomata turns back into a cat when they’re weakened?”
“Don’t know.” Tewi shrugs. “I’m no expert on cats.”
“Yeah, well, me neither,” you say, getting a move on. You have a second cat to catch.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/15(Thu)08:00
The southern district of the village is a lot more barren, or at least it seems that way because it’s mostly just empty space. Between farms and the occasional house, all you have is flat land—which is rather nice because it makes locating Cat Two as easy as pie. You have a general feel for where she was, but with all the buildings outta the way, you spot her playing guard for a rickety shack and its family, sandwiched between the humans and a particularly nasty thing.
It’s a youkai, but “monster” is a better name for it. It vaguely resembles an animal, sporting furred ears and matted hair, but its face is featureless, an unsettling black mist instead permeating from where its eyes and mouth should be. The thing walks, digging up the ground beneath it as it lugs its stocky legs one by one. And, as it slowly approaches, it’s one stride closer to the cat. Then two. Three. The cat's shoulders clench closer to her body. She’s not looking too hot—her dress is bloodied, and the way her battered right arm is quivering probably means that she won’t be able to use it well.
It would have been easy enough for her to run, but she has human liabilities to take care of. The monster, with a surprising amount of speed for a lumbering wall of flesh, slams its arms down. The cat dodges—and then undodges, jumping back in front of the humans. She raises her right arm to bear the brunt of its smash. More or less a smart move—it’s useless anyway, so she might as well start using it as a shield. However, she’s but a tiny cat in the path of a youkai three times her size, so she gets sent crashing into the wall, her body crumpling onto the floor.
“Do you see that?” you say.
Tewi squints in an attempt to get a better look. “Yeah. I do.”
“I wasn’t talking to you, Tewi.” You take the cat off your shoulders and flip her around, resting her on your chest. Her head lolls back as you shake her. “Huh? Do you see it or not? Your precious humans are about to die. And that other cat? Gonna get ripped to pieces, too. So are you going to do something, or are you going to keep sleeping and do nothing?”
She doesn’t respond because she’s just a dumb cat. You roll your eyes. Always gotta do everything around here. Lifting the cat up, you lean close into her ear, and say, “Wake up, you fool.”
She stirs, an eye wearily creaking open. But then she closes it, shivering all the while.
“I don’t think you understand, cat. When I tell you to do something—” You put your face close to the cat’s, and then you smile. “—you do it.”
You drop the cat, but as it falls to the floor, it disappears, replaced with a nekomata—a real one. She steadies herself on a knee, blinking away her grogginess. You say nothing as she clutches your robe to get herself to stand.
The cat sputters out a cough. Clearly, she isn't quite ready to be a nekomata again.
"So, cat. What are you going to do?"
"This... this cat will do it,” she growls. “This cat will save humans.”
“Then just go already. You’re already late to the party, so you shouldn’t keep them waiting, right?”
You watch as she grunts, scampering away into the night.
“Hakurou,” says Tewi.
“You know the answer to your question, right? ‘What kind of nekomata turns back into a cat when they’re weakened?’”
A set of claws rake flesh off the monster, who shrieks in pain and whirls around, swiping the air around it. But the cat’s already in the sky like a shooting star, fluttering for a second before diving down at the monster.
“This cat will save humans! This cat will save Noboru!” she says as she plants her feet on the monster’s shoulders and slams it to the ground. The ground quakes as it cracks open to reveal the darker mud beneath the dirt. The cat, without pause, sinks her nails into the youkai’s throat, scraping past its soft skin. Blood sprays the cat as she penetrates through tissue, but before she could continue, a hulking arm grabs her wrist and wrenches it to the side.
The monster then takes the nekomata by her arm and turns its shoulder, using its full wingspan to lift the cat into the air and ram her back down, making a visceral crunch as she reaches the ground. She starts struggling to escape its grasp, but the thing lifts her up once more and smashes her back into the dirt. It lifts her up again, but this time, she swings forward to deliver a swift kick to the monster’s stomach. Not clean hit, but it forces the youkai to stagger and release its grasp on the cat. As soon as she’s free, she darts back to get some distance between her and the thing.
The nekomata’s not in great shape. In the brief moment she was caught, the girl took an awful beating. Even if she got away, all she can do now is keep herself from collapsing.
Tewi grips your sleeve tightly. “Aren’t you going to help?”
You stroke her hair, and you say gently, “Just wait.”
The nekomata drops to the ground, finally giving into her exhaustion. But as the monster lifts its arm up into the air, a second figure—Cat One—tackles the thing, knocking it off its feet.
“If only Master were here. Then I’d crush this thing.” Cat One says, sighing. Though she’s ragged, the cat stands up straight. She’s more resilient than you thought—guess she is good at fighting after all. Cat One keeps her eyes trained on the monster, waiting as it stands back up. “Are you okay?”
“This cat is alright,” says the darker cat.
“Daiki!” a young voice rings out. It comes from a thin boy, who is no further than his teens. He pokes his head out slightly to get a better look at Cat Two. “Daiki, that’s you, right?”
“Noboru? Yes. You are Noboru.” Cat Two turns slightly, keeping one eye on the monster. “This cat—she is Daiki. And she will protect Noboru.”
The human family starts exchanging whispers until the monster roars, bellowing out a harsh gurgle that silences everyone.
Daiki remains unfazed as she places her hands to her chest and closes her eyes.
You raise an eyebrow. You feel the same power you felt when she decided to make all the humans take a nap.
The monster notices too, and it runs a direct course to Daiki. Cat One, assessing the situation, runs up behind to stop it, but because of how worn out she already is, she’s quickly swatted away. You reckon she bought enough time. With each passing step, its strides become shorter. The distance isn’t very far between them, but the thing was already slow from the start, so by the time it reaches Daiki, the monster collapses as if an invisible weight was crushing it.
“Is it dead?” Cat One asks.
“No,” says Daiki. Her eyes, though, say, I have to kill it. I have to. She lowers a hand to its head and grabs it, trembling all the while.
[ ] You step in to kill the beast. [ ] You take the beast away. [ ] You let her face the consequences of her actions.
[x] You take the beast away. Fucking really guys? You're going to make her murder it in front of the humans? Shouldn't we preserve that innocence and take the beast away? If at the very least, we let Hakurou kill it because we know he won't give a fuck either way.
She is a Youkai, a creature born of mankind's fears... But she loves humans and was loved for them so there's probably another way. And for that she needs this.
Now, consider the situation of those villagers. They were attacked by a monster and saved by someone whom they recognize as a pet. However, she looks like a monster and if she kills in front of them, they will put her firmly in the "dangerous" category.
Cat Two isn't too far away from being just like this wild youkai. I kinda think it would send her a bad message if we just acquiesce to her killing it so easily. Not to mention the fact that, being a "newborn" and all, she probably doesn't even realize there are other options is these types of scenarios.
You wave a hand in the air, creating enough of a gale to get everyone’s attention. It also makes Daiki fall on her butt, which is a plus. You walk over to the crime scene, Tewi following along, while everybody’s flustered by the wind.
“Hey, Cat Two,” you say, and two nekomatas turn. Damn it, there’s too many cats around. “...Daiki,” you clarify reluctantly. “Don’t worry about that nasty thing. I’ll take care of it—you deal with the humans, okay?”
“But this cat—and then youkai—needs to—!” she sputters out. Frantic doesn’t even begin to describe her. Obviously, the girl’s pumped up on adrenaline and all she can think about is killing the thing right in front of her. Gotta calm her down, you guess.
“Look at me,” you say. Daiki remains shaky, darting her eyes from you and back to the monster. “I said, ‘Look at me.’”
Daiki shrinks back but obediently does what you ask. Sheesh, you always have to resort to using that tone with mortals.
“Good.” You close the distance between you and the cat. “Now stop thinking about the youkai.” Softly, you add, “Don’t worry—I’ll take care of it. Okay?”
Wordlessly, she nods and lets you take the youkai away. You hoist the thing over your shoulders. Surprisingly, it’s lighter than you thought—there isn’t much mass behind the thing, but you guess that you don’t need huge brawn to swing two cats around.
“Also, human,” you call out to the teenage boy. His name’s Noboru, if you aren’t mistaken. He comes forward but keeps his face down, as if he were ashamed of something. Well, he should be. “Are you just gonna stand around looking like a fool? Come on, take off your coat and give it to your cat.”
“Is—Is that an order?” The young boy asks, though you can barely hear because he’s talking into his chest.
“What do you think?” You stand there, awaiting an answer. He responds by awkwardly shuffling his feet, so you sigh. “It wasn’t. It was a request. I’m not going to eat you, unlike this sleepy guy on my shoulder.”
“Um. Okay,” Noboru says after a pause. He takes careful steps to Daiki, untying his coat as he does so. Then he just stands there, conflicted. Typical humans, always so indecisive about everything. You’re about a second away from yelling at him again when he finally drapes the coat over the cat’s shoulders and clothes her. “Daiki.”
“I just want to say, um. Thanks.” He lifts her up by the hand. “For protecting me.”
She stands straight and pulls him in for a big hug. For a moment, he doesn’t know what to do. Then he hugs her back. Cue the rest of the family huddling closer to the cat, albeit hesitantly, with awkward hugging all around.
Noboru smiles. “And thanks for protecting my family, too.”
“Think nothing of it. This cat has been doing it since you’ve been born.” Daiki hmphs, but there’s some obvious tears trickling down her eyes. “It’s—It’s only natural,” she says as she wipes her eyes with her coat sleeve, getting blood and tears everywhere.
“All’s well that ends well, right?” Cat One laughs and starts to step away.
“Hey cat, before you leave.” Tewi waves over to Cat One. “What’s your name?”
“Che—ow.” She rubs the side of a bloody cheek. But still, she smiles. “I’m Chen,” she repeats. “You?”
“Tewi. Are you okay?”
“Mostly.” Chen grins and throws up a peace sign. “Like I said, I’m good at fighting. I hurt like heck, and everything’s sore, but I’m not gonna die. I’d, uh, come over and shake your hand, but I’m covered in blood.”
“No, it’s fine. Come over here.” Tewi waits patiently until Chen’s about two paces away. There, Tewi taps on Chen’s right arm, which elicits a sharp cry from the cat.
“Hey. What are you doing?” she hisses.
“Knew it. Lucky for you, I know somebody who can treat those injuries. So you’re coming with me.”
Chen adopts a wary look. “Is it free?”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff. I miiiiight use you for some manual labor after you’ve been treated, but that’s a small price to pay, right?”
Chen looks to you for guidance, but you only shrug. She turns back to Tewi suspiciously. “And I’ll be fine to do manual labor?”
“You’ll feel like brand new by tomorrow,” Tewi promises with a wink.
“Well… okay. As long as you can guarantee that, I guess. Then should we head out now?”
“Um, Miss Chen!” shouts Noboru. “Thank you too! For helping us!”
“Uh, Miss Chen?” Chen rolls her eyes. “Don’t get too ahead of yourself. I protect the weak, that’s my job… kinda. And, you!” She glares at Daiki. “We’re having a talk tomorrow. Stay here—I’ll come find you.”
“What a coincidence!" you say. "Daiki and I need to have a chat, too.” Right. You should probably talk to Hieda about all this. “So don’t run away now.”
“Okay. This cat will be here,” Daiki replies, still sniffling a little.
Chen bids the family farewell, and everybody sets off for the night. You split paths with Tewi and Chen, since they’re going over to Eientei and, well, you’re not. You’d love to go with them, but Eientei, to put it simply, isn’t a shrine, and, even more so, it isn’t your shrine. Plus, you have some baggage to take care of—a real chip on your shoulder, frankly speaking.
Halfway to the middle of nowhere, you drop the youkai on the ground and almost laugh at how pitiful it is. The thing already seemed like a husk when it was fighting the cats, but now that it’s sedated, the youkai looks like it’s deflated. The black miasma that emanated from its face is gone so you get to take a good look at its featureless face. There’s nothing apart from flesh. Boring.
You grab the thing by its throat and squeeze, applying force until it starts thrashing instinctively. If you really wanted, you could do this until it died, but that’s not really what you’re going for. You want to practice being nice, so you’re doing something new. Of course, being choked probably isn’t the nicest thing to do, but you don’t have a choice—it’s just how you work.
At some point, it realizes that its death is inevitable, so it stops struggling and lies limp. You seize that moment and devour. Its life, strength, and soul—you take it all for yourself. Its spirit courses out from your hand and through your body, so you slacken your grip on its throat. Bitter. It's bitter, as if its soul soured a long time ago, or if it were left out in the sun for too long. The youkai's spirit lashes out, still angry and confused. You silence it one final time as it disappears into the void. Physically, you release what’s left of the youkai.
On the ground is one of those brown-faced dogs you’d see walking around with humans. They're usually the dogs that patrol the village for youkai. There’s something silly about that—a hunter dog becoming a youkai. You lightly tap its chest with your foot, and it exhales through its nose.
Normally, you’d abandon this poor sucker so fast that its head would be spinning by the time it realized that you were here, but you guess you’re feeling some semblance of responsibility for this mess. Besides, after you stripped the youkai away, all that’s left is a normal dog. It won’t even remember the fact that it almost ripped two cats and a family to shreds. Talk about some bad amnesia.
You take it into your arms and head home, flying at a leisurely pace. Being a wolf, maybe you have some kind of sympathy for your distant canine brother or sister. Curiosity getting the better of you, you flip it over to make sure. She’s a sister, that’s for sure. During your inspection, she tries to nuzzle your chest, but you stretch out your arms to avoid the dog’s sleep cuddles. Fur’s gonna get everywhere, y’know?
Unsurprisingly, a half-sleeping dog makes for awful company. You think about Daiki to alleviate your boredom. She’s pretty strong for how young she is—already, you think she’s about as strong as that other nekomata, Chen. Granted, Chen seemed like she was buying time instead of fighting. She might have been waiting for something or someone, maybe? In any case, most youkai don’t develop any special characteristics until they mature, so Daiki’s already ahead of the curve with her sleepy powers.
Still. How long can she prolong her inevitable fate? She may be chummy to humans, but that’s not going to change what she is: a youkai. She needs power from humans, whether she likes it or not, to maintain her human-like form. You know her likely answer: She’ll use their affection and sympathy, or something sappy like that. But what would happen if they—she and the humans, that is—don’t share the same sentiment?
That’s enough thinking for the day. Any more, and you’ll get needlessly contemplative. You fly down, dog in hand, to the Hakurei shrine and think up of an explanation for your new acquaintance. You’re considering the “She followed me home, can we keep it?” strategy.
You catch Reimu inside the shrine, clad in her sleepwear. It’s a tasteful white robe that exposes little, if any, skin. You can’t say that you’re not disappointed.
Reimu obviously isn’t prepared for your sudden arrival. She immediately straightens out her robe and tightens the sash at her waist. “Uh.”
“She followed me here,” you say, taking the dog’s paw and waving it at Reimu. “Can you do something about this?”
“You say that, but the dog’s obviously sleeping. Didn’t you just carry her here?”
Well damn. She got you.
“Let me guess: it has something to do with youkai?”
“Oh, you’re good. Lucky guess?”
“I’d like to call it intuition,” Reimu says with a yawn, covering her mouth with her hand. “Anyway, I can keep it for a while—at least this one’s cute, unlike all the other freeloaders around here.
“Great, it’s settled then.” All things considered, that was easier than you expected. “I’ll give you the whole sit-down explanation tomorrow, but the gist of it is that it was a dog, then it became a youkai, and now it’s a dog again. Oh, and a couple of cats happened too.”
Reimu blinks. Definitely didn’t get it. “Yeah, just tell me tomorrow. I don’t think I can really figure it out from just that.”
“Sure,” you say, ready to hand over the dog. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
“Aren’t you going to stay?”
“Look, I’m flattered, but I’m going to have to gently turn you down.”
“Didn’t mean it like that,” she says without missing a beat. “You don’t have to be so distant. You’re this shrine’s tentative god, right? Might as well call it home.”
“If you put it like that, then I guess you’re right. Do I get a room?”
“Yeah. But you’ll have to share it with the dog.”
“Fine with me. And, Reimu?”
“I have a question. I’d like you, as a shrine maiden, to answer this.”
[ ] "Do you really think a god's home is his shrine?" [ ] “What do you think the true nature of youkai is?” [ ] “Think youkai can co-exist with humans?” [ ] "Do you think wolves and cats are a good mix?" [ ] “Do you think I’m hot?”
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/19(Mon)08:00
An awful time to get sick because I promised myself either two updates today or tomorrow. Not sure if it'll happen this weekend, but what can ya do? At least I'm still (relatively) on pace for Nanowrimo.
[x] "Do you really think a god's home is his shrine?" Hakurou is in his shrine and all is... probably not right with the world.
Also, unsolicited opinion: The line between a god (in the Japanese animist sense, not restricting ourselves to western notions of 'deities') and a youkai is a very thin one. Gods, after all, can have multiple facets to them that actually manifest as different beings. One usually represents a blessing bestowed upon those who honour its presence, while the other represents some kind of curse, disaster, or otherwise Bad Phenomenon that requires veneration to stave off. And then, of course, there are those who are literally those things to begin with; i.e., gods can be literal phenomena rather than anthropomorphic 'spirits'. For the most part, youkai can also be those things, and gods can be or become youkai in a sense, especially those who don't have faith and essentially turn/are 'feral'. This all begs the question of just what the hell the difference is, and to my way of thinking and general understanding, it's more an arbitrary label than a factual division. Reimu would probably disagree, but Reimu is special; she can, in some circumstances, see into the Hidden World that gods, divine spirits, and the like inhabit. Our feeble human minds can only say that they're both things we don't truly understand, and probably can't except in very superficial ways.
I have spent far too much of my life reading about East Asian religion.
“That’s a hell of a question to ask me before bedtime.” Reimu pinches the bridge of her nose. Obviously, she’s enthused. “Youkai are just youkai. Nothing more and nothing less. You’d get the same answer if you asked me about the true nature of humans, too.”
“Then catch this thought—do you think youkai are bad?”
“If they can’t think for themselves, then they’re no more than glorified animals. Simple as that. The smarter ones are a mixed bag, but you could say the same for humans. It just so happened that, once upon a time, humans were the prey and youkai were the predators. That’s why we have shrine maidens like me. We’re supposed to keep the peace—even though that isn’t really our job.”
“What is a shrine maiden’s job, then?”
She smiles. “Protecting the shrine—a god’s home.”
“I like that answer, miko. Buuut,” you drawl, “I don’t think most people feel the same way.”
“They do in Gensokyo.”
“Ever thought about challenging that belief?”
Momentarily, she’s taken aback. “Not really?”
“I just remember, in older times, shrine maidens were a god’s vessel. They’d soothe their god and communicate with them. In return, the god would provide good fortune and protection to the miko. It was less...” You motion to Reimu vaguely. “Like this. And—hey, wait a second. I think I know the problem with this shrine.”
“You’re too strong. Nobody’s going to start believing in the Hakurei god because it seems like you’re a one-woman team. You do all the work.”
Reimu keeps a humble smile and brushes aside her hair. “Unfortunately, I’m too much of a genius.”
“Yeah, I have that problem too. So… every once in a while, after you resolve an incident, maybe you should nonchalantly just say, ‘Yep, couldn’t have done it without my trusty god!’”
She scoffs. “What am I, a living advertisement?”
“That’s what a shrine maiden is nowadays. But anyway, I got sidetracked. Back to the main point: I got one last question for ya. Here’s one to chew on before you go to sleep. Let’s say you have a youkai, and it’s a real chap to humans. But one bad thing happens, and suddenly everybody starts believing that they’re bad news—evil, human-eating, the whole spiel. What happens to the youkai?”
“Well, it would—”
“Tut, tut!” you cut her off. “Don’t answer. Just think about it for a while and let it simmer. Now lead your dog-and-god combo to their room before you start nodding off.”
Reimu looks like she’s got something to say, but she stomachs it and slides open a door to a simple tatami mat room. It has a futon, though it looks like somebody just recently slept on it. You don’t mind—a bed’s a bed, even if you have to share it with a dog. “Well. Good night.”
You wave her good night with the dog’s paws. You place your temporary companion on one side of the futon and then slide the door shut. As you hop inside the covers, you think back to that nekomata.
That said, I wonder what they'll all do? Reimu, the dog and cat Youkai... he's pushing them in the right direction, but they'll have to walk the talk themselves... Heh, he's a more respectable god than I thought
You wake up to something soft. Half-asleep, you pet what you thought was the dog until you realize that’s it’s too soft. No sir, that’s not fur—you remember that it was more rough to the touch and bristly, too. You creak an eye open to confirm the obvious. Yeah, that’s a girl, alright. You’re familiar with her flowing orange hair and two protruding horns that miraculously didn’t stab you in the face yet—it’s either Ibuki, or it’s Shiva wearing an orange wig. It’s probably the former, given how she smells like she took a bath with liquor.
You turn the other way, only to squish a dog with your body. Muffled whines come out from underneath your robe—and there you are, oni to one side, dog to the other, covered in bitches. Again. You’re tempted to stare at Ibuki until she wakes up because she’ll definitely hate seeing your ugly mug first thing in the morning, but you decide otherwise. When she sleeps, she sleeps hard. Who knows when she’ll actually wake up?
It’s about time to get up anyway. You wriggle out of the covers, dog following you soon after, and head to the main room where Reimu’s sipping on some tea first thing in the morning, reclining back on her chair.
“Morning,” she says with a yawn. “Sorry about the unexpected guest. She’s Suika, by the way. Real swell oni, as long as she’s sleeping. Came in late in the night and needed a place to stay, she ended up in the same room as you.”
“Don’t worry about it. Ibuki and I go way back, so I don’t mind. We’re real good friends, see?”
“No,” you say, chuckling. “We hate each other. But I’m just surprised that she was willing to climb into the same bed as me.”
“I don’t think she was sober enough to realize,” says Reimu, imitating a drunken wobble. “I even told her that we didn’t have space for her, but I don’t think she heard me because the next thing you know, she’s stumbling into the guest room.”
“Lovely. Glad to see that she’s the same as always. But enough talk about our favorite li’l oni.” You take a seat next to the shrine maiden. “Let’s talk about yesterday. Did you hear about what happened yet?”
“Considering nobody came crying to my doorstep, no. But it seems like it was resolved, thanks to you.” She nods her head over to the dog, who is busy prancing around her chair legs.. “I’m guessing the doggie was involved?”
“I’ll start from the beginning. Originally, I was wandering around because Hieda told me—”
“Hold on,” Reimu gives you some serious eyes. “You met with Akyuu?”
“Yeah, but that’s not as important. Long story short, I know her too. Anyway, she was telling Tewi and me about some freaky thing messing with the village at night. I guessed it was a cat, and whaddaya know, it really was a cat. Oh, but we made friends with this other cat—Chen was her name—but she ran off. And guess what! She disappeared right before her meal came. How can you even forget to eat like that? I know I couldn’t. So, the cat we were looking for, Daiki, was actually a newborn nekomata, right? But she was real friendly because she was one of those cats that people loved to coddle, so we managed to talk her out of doing anything bad. But it didn’t really matter anyway, because she turned back into a normal cat.”
Reimu sighs. “Can I interrupt again for just a quick second?”
“Go for it.”
“You’re awful at telling stories. Just give me what happened, and only the facts, please.”
“Fine.” You stick out your upper lip at her. “Tewi and I were searching for a monster. I assumed it was a nekomata, and I was correct in my assumptions. We sat down at a food stall to find Chen, who we befriended before she quickly ran off because she heard something. Then we found the newborn nekomata, Daiki. She wasn’t malicious, so we talked to her before she fell asleep and returned to being a normal cat. I took her along as we searched for Chen. Chen was protecting a family from a youkai—the dog—and was about to collapse before Daiki regained her youkai form and stepped in. Daiki fought hard and barely won against the dog youkai, if only because Chen helped at the very end. I stepped in to stop Daiki from killing the youkai, Tewi took Chen to get treated because she took a beating, and Daiki stayed with the human family. Finally, I took the youkai and stripped away its powers, so it turned back into the dog.” You stop to exhale sharply. “There. Factual and listy enough for ya?”
“Better,” she says, finishing the last of her tea. When she’s done, she rolls the empty cup by its rim, using a finger to twirl it on the table. “Why’d you stop her from killing the youkai?”
“Dunno,” you say, shrugging. “Just felt like it. Guess it’s something for you to think about, huh?”
“I won’t lose too much sleep over it.”
“I’ll give you a few hints. One, she has a special ability—something that no normal nekomata should have. Two, she’s rather friendly for a newborn youkai. And three, she’s the kind of youkai that doesn’t need to feed from fear, faith, or myths.”
Reimu shakes her head. “I don’t really get it.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll get it sooner or later.”
She only shrugs.
Well, whatever. Since you still have some time to kill, what should you do?
[ ] You still have some time. Time to wakey wakey, li’l oni. [ ] Get lost in the Bamboo Forest and have one of the bunnies save you. [ ] Head to over to where Daiki is staying. [ ] Give Hieda the juicy details too. [ ] Walk the dog.
“Hey, Reimu. I’m going to wake Ibuki up.” It’s been a while since you’ve bothered the oni, so you might as well make the most of this chance encounter and bug the shit out of her, right?
“You don’t think that’s a bad idea?” says Reimu, visibly distraught. Still, she doesn’t stop you from being stupid.
“It’s definitely a bad idea. But I’m gonna do it anyway. Wish me luck!”
You step into the room alone. Right now, Ibuki’s cuddling her gourd—how precious. The dog, probably trusting her instincts, doesn’t follow. Smart of her not to, because what you’re about to do to Ibuki has gotten entire mountainsides razed before. You creep into the guest room quietly, though you’re sure it doesn’t matter because she could probably sleep through a volcano exploding. To demonstrate, you stomp twice on the mats. Yeah, she ain’t waking up without the Hakurou special. You walk over to Ibuki until you’re stepping right over her. Then you grab her by the horns and lift her up. She stops drooling, which is probably a sign that she’s starting to rouse, but it’s way too late for her. You float slightly in the air to get enough height to reach the ceiling, and once you do, you thrust her horns straight through the roof and just barely into the wood interior. You’d go further, but you’re sure that Reimu wouldn’t appreciate Ibuki destroying the shrine’s roof.
You take a step back and admire your art. Jousetsu would be proud. Smack dab in the middle of the room is an oni, still sleeping mind you, hanging from the ceiling by her horns, where the rest of the room is mostly undisturbed. See, the oni symbolizes the looming chaos hanging over a world consumed by their love of routine, and foretells the inevitable destruction to come. Below her is the disheveled bed, which seems homely at first, but once one notices the traces of a wolf youkai who slept on the futon, the fragile semblance of peace is shattered, and they must darkly re-imagine what they once thought was safe.
Of course, the oni won’t get any of that because she’s no lover of art, unlike you.
Probably because of all her blood draining to her feet, she stirs awake. As she blinks the sleepiness away, Ibuki comes to realize that something is amiss. Her eyes fall to the floor, and then to you. There’s about two and a half meters between her feet and the ground, which she figures out when she kicks the air. Then, she reaches up with her hands to touch her horns, sliding them all the way up to the ceiling. Everything starts to click in her mind.
“Haku—” She reaches out to swing at you, but her puny arms can’t reach across the room, so she lets her arm go limp. Instead, she simmers, the earth starting to tremble in her wake. “HAKUROUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.”
“Sup, Ibuki. Long time no see.”
And just like that, she turns into fine mist—you never knew how angry fog looked like until today, but the way she’s buzzing around like an ethereal swarm of bees seems to be an indicator that’s she’s not too happy.
You see that her arms and legs materialize through the mist, flailing wildly.
[ ] Time to do a well-timed high-five. [ ] Get hit. [ ] She has no eyes yet, so you can probably walk out the door.
Despite her erratic movement, you know that Ibuki’s got you in her figurative sights, and you also know that she knows that you know, so the two of you do an awkward dance around the futon, each person circling around the room. But you have the advantage: When she’s an angry ball of mist, Ibuki can’t move as fast. She’d probably do better if she used her physical form, but she’s ain’t exactly using her noggin right now.
You sidestep a stray arm that comes flying right at you—but even though you dodge, the sheer force of Ibuki’s punch gets the walls rattling. Mist might move slow, but her free limbs are still explosive. You grin. That just means that you could do the craziest high-five Gensokyo’s ever known. That also means you’d have to catch Ibuki unaware, but that’s a cinch—all she’s thinking about is how to make you into mince-meat.
A golden opportunity heads your way when Ibuki's hand reels back for a punch. You play dumb, letting yourself get into critical Ibuki range, so she snaps her hand forward and lets it fly. But before she could fully clench her hand into a fist, you give her the fastest up-top quick-draw the world’s ever witnessed, and palm slaps palm. The air goes silent—and it’s not the awkward kind of silent. It’s the kind where you could be screaming but nobody would hear because of the sheer magnitude of quiet. Then the quiet erupts, and a shrieking boom splits the air as cupboards fall, sliding doors fly away, and windows crack. It even manages to knock Ibuki back into her physical form.
She falls butt-first onto the tatami mats, her anger replaced with numb shock. Obviously, she wasn’t prepared for a spontaneous high-five that can break the sound barrier. Admittedly, it was a little rough—her hand was already half-closed, so you couldn’t get the maximum surface area for a true awe-inspiring high-five. Maybe that’s fortunate—a high-five of that caliber would have been destructive.
You and Ibuki stare at each other for a solid minute. She’s clearly trying to re-kindle that immense hatred she previously had when you woke her up, but the oni can’t find it in herself to keep going and sighs, instead resigning herself to your stupidity.
“I’m guessing now’s not a good time to ask you how you’ve been?” you say.
Ibuki says nothing, opting to uncork her gourd and take the nastiest swig you’ve seen since… well, the last time you bothered her.
Reimu comes bursting in with the dog held tightly in her arms. The canine, meanwhile, is trying to escape the shrine maiden’s clutches, whining and wriggling desperately to get free. “So it really was a bad idea,” she says, pointing her irritation at you.
“I definitely acknowledged that.”
“But you went and did it anyway!” she shouts. The dog manages to struggle out of her grasp. She's a second away from hightailing it out of the room, but you glare at her. Reluctantly, she whines but plants her butt next to where Reimu’s standing. “And now we’re going to have everyone and their mother coming to me and asking, ‘What happened? Is it another incident?’”
Ibuki keeps chugging her gourd until it empties, letting out a ragged exhale. She dusts herself off and stands so that she can get closer to eye-level. “Hakurou,” she says, ignoring Reimu’s bout of frustration. Clearly, she’s in a good mood when she can’t keep pace with the conversation. “So why are you here?”
“I know you hate having me around, but I’m not here just because I want to get in your way—even though that’s been the norm prior to today. In fact.” You wink at Reimu. “She can explain this.”
“It’s too early in the morning for this,” Reimu sighs. “I don’t really feel like explaining the whole thing, so I’ll summarize: Hakurou is the shrine’s god, or at least for now.”
“You.” Ibuki looks like she’s one second away from strangling you to death. “Hakurou. I’m glad we haven’t seen each other for a couple hundred years, and I preferred it to stay that way. But, like a chronic illness, you came back. You always come back. Here, there, Gensokyo—everywhere! This shrine was the one place where I thought I’d never meet you. My safe haven! And you’ve ruined it—tainted it with your garbage being!” She rattles her gourd in frustration, probably gauging whether it had filled up already or not.
“Harsh,” says Reimu. She looks half-entertained, half-concerned. “What made you hate his guts so much?”
“His entire being is just the antithesis of mine. He—just—argh! Everything he does and says—I hate it.” Ibuki shakes her gourd again and, after judging that it’s full, she pops off cork and takes another deep swig. “Reimu. I like you enough to tell you that it’s in your best interests if you don’t get sucked into his world. Only misfortune awaits you there.”
You wag a finger at her. “It’s a little too late for that, Ibuki. We’re faith-pals now.”
“Hakurou, just shut the fuck up for a second. God, I sober up just looking at you, bastard.” Ibuki chugs another gourd-full but grimaces as she finishes. “Sake doesn’t even taste good when you’re around. With that said... Reimu, it’s been fun, and thanks for having me, but I think I’ll be elsewhere for a while. Don’t look for me, and definitely don’t look for me when Hakurou’s around.”
“Suit yourself. But remember that you’re always welcome here, so long as you don’t go full-oni on me.”
“Fine. Thanks, Reimu. I’ll remember that,” Ibuki says gruffly. She then walks past you, slamming a shoulder into your body as she does so. Ow—you always forget with Ibuki that, even though she’s the size of a child, she still hits like an oni. “I’m serious when I say to not try and find me, Hakurou. And don’t think I’m like Yuugi. Coming to me for a fight and pouring me a cup of sake after won’t suddenly makes things better between us.”
You laugh. “You think I’m stupid enough to do that?”
“You are. And don’t lie—you know that was going through your head.”
Ibuki disappears through the door, and like mist, she’s gone. The dog, frozen all this time, finally relaxes by drooping its head in relief.
Reimu breaks the silence. “Should I ask?”
“It’s a long story. But if it’s any consolation, you don’t have to worry about it. All I ever do is prove how wrong Ibuki is, her opinion of me included. So all that stuff about misfortune? I’ll show you the opposite.”
“I wasn’t really worried about that in the first place really.” Reimu laughs hollowly. “I’ve been out of luck since birth.”
The dog interrupts with a whine, pawing Reimu for attention.
"What are you going to do with this, by the way?” Reimu says, picking the dog back up.
You point to yourself. “I have to do something?”
“For starters, what do we call it?”
“No, seriously, I’m asking for a name.”
You’re reluctant to bestow a dog something so special as a name, but…
“Alright then. Since you’re telling me to name her… what about ‘Momiji’?”
“Great—wait, not great, no, what are you doing?” Reimu sputters. She calms herself by running a hand down the dog’s back. “That’s awful to both the dog and the tengu. Think of something better.”
“What’s wrong with Momiji?”
“The name already belongs to someone else!”
“So? I knew many Ichirous. It’s not like they had exclusive privilege to their name. So why not have two Momijis?”
“One of them isn’t even a person!”
“You worry too much about the minor details.” Unfortunately, Reimu doesn’t budge against the issue. “Fine. Here, I’ll just throw out a couple of other names, and you can tell me what you think about them.”
Reimu nods warily.
“Awful!” Reimu snaps. “These are all so awful! What's wrong with you? I could play Shiritori with myself and find a better name than you!”
“Look, buddy. I gave you five great names, and you rudely threw them all out as if they were garbage.”
“They were garbage!” She paces around, cradling the dog in her arms. Taking hold of one of the dog’s legs, Reimu jabs an accusatory paw at you. “I’m not expecting anything thoughtful, but can’t you at least come up with something, I don't know, not stupid?”
“I don't see you throwing out any names.”
“I, well, uh," she stammers. “...Pochikosamere.”
You really wish Ibuki were here so that she could've heard that. “Yeah, great, Pochikosamere it is!”
You give your most non-sarcastic smile you can conjure, but Reimu's having none of it. After all of five seconds, she crumbles under the pressure of your mirth.
“Okay! Fine! I admit it: I'm bad with naming things, alright?" You let her wallow in her misery for a while. "Can't you just name it? Please? I don't want to have to live with the guilt that I named her, 'Pochikosamere.'”
“Fiiiine,” you groan. “This is the only freebie you get. Names don’t come cheap, you know.” You look at the dog. With all the attention she’s getting, she starts to wag her tail. Though she’s the same breed as all the other hunter dogs, she’s too small to do anything useful. Funny that she was a weighty monster prior to this. “How about ‘Isara’?”
“No, that’s just—” Reimu stops mid-sentence, waiting until her brain catches up with her mouth. “Actually. I like that. It’s better than ‘Momiji,’ that’s for sure.”
“Good, because the next one I was going to suggest was ‘Snackatha Christie.’” You’re met with dead silence. “Thanks—great crowd, everyone. I’ll be here all week along with my pal, Pochikosamere.”
Thankfully, a couple slaps on the shrine door interrupts you before you—or Reimu, for that matter—could say anything else.
“Guests?” you say.
She nods, and the two of you head outside.
You expected it to be Tewi, Chen, or both, but instead you’re met with an uneasy Daiki.
“What? Another youkai?” Reimu sighs. “Never the right kind of visitors.”
“It’s the nekomata I was talking to you about before,” you say.
You, Reimu, and even the dog all stare at Daiki, who is doing her best nervous-cat-at-the-Hakurei-shrine impression.
Reimu lets Isara free, and the dog immediately goes to cower behind you, putting as much wolf between herself and the cat. Guess she knows the hierarchy around here, eh?
Daiki comes in, gingerly hiking up a skirt as she does so. Well then. She’s more clothed than before. The human kid, or at least his family, must’ve given her something more modest for the night. The only skin you get to see is the kind you wouldn’t turn a head for. Though you’d like her a little more au naturel, watching her fidget in new clothes is also entertaining in its own right.
Reimu walks over to the main table, motioning for everyone to sit down. Daiki doesn’t get the cue, so she sits on the floor, staring up to the shrine maiden.
“Uh. Hakurou,” Reimu says with an uneasy pause. “Could you get her to sit at the table?”
Daiki gets up halfway, putting her hands and feet to the ground. Then she kicks off, leaping straight into the chair. Miraculously, Daiki doesn’t topple the chair and herself over, though a couple of the chair’s legs got precariously close to coming off the ground. As the chair settles, Daiki sits seiza-style on the cushion to wait for Reimu to start speaking. “This cat knows how to sit, don’t worry.”
“Okay, good.” Reimu doesn’t even bat an eye. “So. Daiki, right?”
“Yes. This cat is Daiki.”
“I heard about you from our wolf friend here. And from what he said, the incident was neatly wrapped up. So... what I'm getting at is, what brings you here?”
“This cat wanted to see him.” Daiki points over to you.
“It’s a little too early for a rendezvous, innit?” You give Daiki a coy smile, which goes right over her head. “Wait, actually. How did you know where I was?”
“This cat followed your scent. She felt uneasy about yesterday, and… wanted to confirm a few things. Such as what happened to the youkai.”
“Which one? You, the other cat, the bunny, or the one that tried to turn you into a pile of cat bones?”
“The last one.”
“I didn’t kill it, if that’s what you were hoping for. So get this: It’s still in this very room!”
“Where!” That pushes Daiki over the edge, quite literally in fact—she falls off her seat but recovers quickly in a backwards tumble that flips her over onto all fours, ready to pounce.
You reach behind you to grab the dog and hold it up for the cat to see. Isara’s trembling, wanting to get away from Daiki’s gaze. With a smile, you say, “This here’s your youkai. Ex-youkai, actually. I took care of its powers, so it’s now back to a normal dog.”
Daiki looks down, then up, and then back to you. Though hesitant, she stands back up and sits back down on her chair, staring at the dog all the while. She’s still on her guard, judging from the way that her shoulders are still tense. You put Isara down, and of course she goes back into hiding behind your legs.
“That is the youkai now?”
“The one and the same.”
Daiki lifts her legs up onto the chair to rest her head on her knees. “This cat doesn’t understand.”
“Frankly, I don’t quite get it either.” Reimu rubs her chin in thought. “A bit weird, isn’t it?”
“Yes. So this cat asks: What was it?”
[ ] A good girl. [ ] Probably a hunter dog runt. [ ] An unfortunate happening. [ ] Who cares?
“A good girl. Isn’t that right, Isara?” you say with a lilt in your voice. The dog pokes a timid face out from behind your legs. She starts with a slow wag of her tail, which increases in pace when you pat your thighs to call her. Isara leaps into your arms when you hold them open to her, somehow forgetting that her greatest enemy, the cat, was right in front of her. But who could resist a good stroke of the fur? Not her, and not you, either. “Who’s a good dog? You are! Yes, you are!”
Daiki, with a blank face, says, “This cat doesn’t get it still.”
“Who can resist a cute li’l pup like this?”
She remains unaffected. You weren’t expecting her to crack a smile, but she could at least humor you. Reimu’s not exactly all grins either. Audience is tough today.
“Not quite a dog person, are you?” you reply to Daiki's silence as you scratch the dog under her chin.
“This cat is a cat.”
“Hey, you could learn to appreciate dogs—even if you are a cat. I’m a wolf, and I’m a fan of cats, dogs, and bunnies. Can’t discriminate, y’know what I’m sayin’?”
“Yes.” Daiki nods solemnly.
“You do?” Reimu says incredulously, looking at the cat in shock.
“This cat does.” Daiki sets her crimson eyes on you. “The wolf is saying that this cat should treat the dog as a harmless creature.”
You grin. “Unexpectedly sharp, aren’t you? It’s true: I’m saying that, if you still have some lingering hatred, you should go pray it all out or recite mantras under a waterfall because this dog—she’s just as much of a victim as everyone else. I have my suspicions that the youkai wasn’t a product of our lovable pup’s malice or anything. Usually, aggressive youkai like that remain in that state of aggression and confusion even after you take its powers away from them.” You watch Isara as you let her go. The dog goes over to Reimu and cuddles up to her leg. “This one stayed benign: I’ve yet to hear her growl or snap at anyone yet. Maybe she was a pet, or a stray like you. So here’s my take on it—this all happened by design.”
Reimu frowns. “You mean that this happened according to someone’s plan?”
“I wouldn’t go that far. I’m just thinking that it might not have been purely an accident that our dog-friend got turned into a youkai. It would also explain why she seemingly came out of nowhere to wreak havoc on a random family. But I’m judging this solely on my instincts, and they’ve been wrong before.”
“Then...” Daiki grabs the collar of her shirt, tugging at it uncomfortably. “Who should this cat fight?”
“How ‘bout me? You could let off some steam like that, right?”
“The wolf is too strong for her. And he is not the one at fault.”
“So if nobody's at fault, then don’t fight,” you say. “Simple, ain’t it? You might think you have to just because you’re a youkai, but you don’t. You have a choice in this. And frankly, you’re better off living in a world where you use your newfound power only to protect your loved ones. Daiki—I know you’re new and all to this youkai business, but I don’t think you’re cut out to be a killer. Youkai, they’re blinded by their instincts most of the time.”
“And what about this cat? Her instincts?”
“Well, I’m talking about a youkai’s primal instinct—the need to induce fear in the hearts of humans. But it doesn’t really apply to you because you’re special, whether you like it or not. There was no rumor, no myth, no sudden rise to your youkaidom. And as cheesy as it sounds, with enough love and affection, even you, a lowly stray, can become a nekomata.” You pause for a few seconds to let Daiki take it all in. “So, with that said, what do you think my next question is?”
Silence from the shrine maiden and the cat. Figures.
You exhale. “What happened when you don't get enough love and affection?"
Daiki tilts her head. “This cat returns to being a normal cat?”
“No.” You walk on over to pat Daiki’s head, stroking her hair. “You’ll disappear.”
Having to rely on the affection of others is harsh. If you don't make true friends, you're one bad rumot away from death. At least she still has Hakurou and Chen. And, by the time those two disappear or lose interest, she should have formed a good relationship with her family. And people defend their childhood friends with vigor in adulthood.
Daiki lowers her head, pausing to lift a hand to her face. She clenches and unclenches her hand, looking rather puzzled at the thought. “This cat will… disappear?”
“Like leaves in the wind, friend. If you thought that you’d get off scot-free without a source for your power, then you’re in for a surprise. You’ve stopped being a normal cat since you took on this form—and you should know by now that you’re well past your expiration date, cat lives or not.”
“She knows that,” Daiki mutters.
“No, I don’t think you quite get it, fool. Why do you think you regained your physical form when you had to save those humans?” You don’t wait for her answer. “Because you felt the need to protect them—because you had no other choice. Youkai live off of strong emotions, see. Love, hatred, ambition—all of that served to fuel you. When that’s gone, all you’ll be is a memory. Do you want to know what I see when I look at you?”
“A nekomata,” she states.
“No. A dead cat,” you say back to her. “Humans are fleeting. Maybe you’ll live for a few decades. But what’s going to happen when the humans—the ones that loved you like family—die? Do you really think their sons and daughters will love you as much as they did? They’re not going to see you as the village cat, you know that? They’re going to see you for what you truly are: youkai.”
“Well, this cat, she…” Daiki murmurs, adopting an unsure look.
“Or maybe not?” says Reimu. “She could be like a family cat—one that exists through generations. Or she could be one of those cats that bless you with good fortune if you keep her around. And if that doesn’t work, I have a crazy suggestion. What if she revealed herself to the humans?” She blushes as you stare a hole into her head. “Formally, I mean. I know it sounds a little weird, but if we can get Akyuu on board, then she could even stay in the village—so long as she doesn’t bother anyone. She’ll be like the village protector. A guard cat, or something like that. Then she won’t have to worry about disappearing, so long as the villagers believe in her.”
“That idea.” You can’t help but frown.
Reimu grins. “I took that last idea from this one statue that’s been guarding my shrine recently. At first, I thought she was a huge pain, but she’s been growing on me. The idea, though—it’s good, right?”
“It’s foolish. What makes you think that humans would ever trust a youkai? One they think is causing trouble for the village? Their emotions are fickle and bend to their own convenience—do you really think that they’ll welcome a nekomata as the village’s sworn champion? The vast majority of villagers can’t even look at my ears without a wary eye. In a better world, maybe it would’ve been a sound plan, but I don’t think—”
“This cat will do it,” Daiki says, cutting you off. “And if the humans so wish to spurn her...” She places her arms behind her back and leans forward to smile at you, her eyes filled with a strange acceptance. “Then so be it.”
If only for a split-second, her smile brought you back to a distant memory—to a place with a timeworn shrine, a garden filled with lavender flowers behind cobblestone, and a person, ethereal, who wore the same smile as the cat did.
You blink, and the memory is gone, as if it had never been there in the first place. But why is it that you’re always brought back to reality with a faint taste of venom?
Aw, damn it. You were being too serious, aren’tcha? You can’t help but blow some air through your nose. “You believe in your humans?”
Immediately, Daiki replies, “She does.”
[ ] Then you’ll help her. [ ] Let her prove you wrong then. [ ] She’s a good girl too, ain’t she?
>>200065 That's kinda a thing that happens to mortals, isn't it?
I have to say; this story is doing an excellent jobs showing how gods think and interact with mortals. MC is lucid and aware enough for meaningful interactions, while still remaining aloof and mysterious. Particularly well-done characterization here.
I was going to save this for the critique thread at the end of the month but..eh..fuck it we'll do it live.
>>200067 Yeah and his suffering and bitterness are pretty realistic too. They're not overwhelming, but they're always present, and do rise when they have to. Good thing we're pushing so hard into making him a better person. God. Whatever.
"You will?" Daiki's ecstatic, arms up to her chest in glee.
Daiki—she’s a good girl too, ain’t she? Looks like you lucked out by accepting Hieda’s request because you got yourself a bundle of cuteness wrapped up neatly in cat form.
“Hey, cat,” you say, waving her towards you. “C’mere.”
“What?” She inches forward until she’s about an arm’s length away.
“Closer.” You wait until Daiki’s a few faces away to wrap an arm around her back, pulling her in. With your other hand, you stroke her hair, to which she blankly stares up at you.
“...What?” She looks like she’s at a loss as to what to do, her tail swishing slowly as she stands still. But hey, she’s not trying to break free, so you must be doing something right. You never know with cats, huh?
“Good girl, good girl.”
“Daiki is not a dog. This cat does not need your… petting. But,” the cat pauses, as if to consider a thought, “she will allow it. After all, she can tell that you are feeling—what is the word… ah—wistful. So she will tolerate it.”
“Me? Wistful?” You almost laugh. Awfully perceptive, this cat. “Who are ya kidding, kitty?”
“It is not a joke,” she says. “This cat, she can feel the emotions of those around her, and those around her can feel hers, too. That is her power.”
“You mean your power isn’t to make others sleepy?”
Daiki moves aside to place both hands on her chest, the same as when she took down the youkai. Then she closes her eyes. You expect her to start glowing or something magical like that, but nothing happens. No ominous wind, no levitation, nada. You do, however, feel something foreign touching at your spirit. It’s similar to the power she used when she made the monster go to sleep, but it’s a little different this time.
You shrug. “I feel it, but it doesn’t seem like anything’s changed?”
“Whoa.” Reimu must feel something because she’s grinning, widely so. “That’s amazing. I feel great.”
“That’s because this cat—she is happy.” Daiki lets herself have a tiny smile. “When this cat is sad, she can make others sad with her. And if she is tired, then she can make others tired, too. But happiness—this is what she wants to share. Though she is disappointed that the wolf cannot feel her joy. Strange. Even youkai are affected by her power.”
“I appreciate that effort. But I think I know why your power doesn’t work on me.”
“Can you keep a secret?” You wink over to the cat.
“I’m actually a god. Might be too powerful for your puny abilities, or something like that.”
“Oh.” Not quite the reaction you were looking for, but you’ll take it.
“But hey, even if I’m a god, maybe your power did work,” you say, chuckling. “Because I’m in a real good mood again, see?"
"Soooo," you drawl real casually, "now that I know your power, I want to test something.”
“Hmm?” Daiki tilts her head.
Consume, consume, never stop, eternal, take what’s undeservedly mine, take it all, all for—
Reimu, Daiki, and you are all taking in some sun near the shrine entrance when Tewi and a bandaged Chen comes floating down from the sky. Aside from the dog, nobody can muster up a spirited greeting. You throw them a lethargic wave as you return to your mini-siesta on the patio.
“Whoa.” Chen gasps. “What happened to you guys?”
“I could say the same to you, sister,” you say, placing an arm over your eyes to shield yourself from the sunlight. “You don’t look too hot after that tussle with the youkai.”
Chen’s bangs are neatly swept to the side which exposes her forehead covered in bandages. Her wraps are dyed a crusty carmine—she must have been bleeding until morning. She doesn’t look better elsewhere. Her right arm is also covered in bandages and is held up by a sling. Her left is scratched up. And you’d find worse things if you looked carefully—she’s lucky that her dress is red.
“You don’t have to remind everyone,” she pouts. “Really did a number on me, didn’t it? But I’m better nOOOO-AAAAA-OOOOow!”
Tewi’s jabbing a finger into Chen’s bad arm. “No need to lie, Chen. Some of these blockheads will believe you when you tell them that you’re feeling fine.”
“...Okay.” She’s fighting back tears. “I’m not better. Sorry.”
“There you go,” the rabbit says, adopting a softer tone. “You don’t have to act tough when you’re injured like that.”
“I have an image to maintain as the toughest cat around. And speaking of,” Chen skips over to Daiki and hovers over the tanned cat’s sleepy figure. “You’re not too shabby! That agility! Despite being a newborn, you got some skills. And I don’t know what you did at the end yesterday, where the youkai fell to the ground, but that was incredible!”
“Um. Thank you.” Daiki sits up, getting awkward with the sudden praise. “This cat doesn’t deserve the compliments.”
“Nonsense. You did good.” Chen says that, but she’s definitely frowning. “Almost makes me forget the fact that you made the village super paranoid about cats—me, mostly.”
Daiki can only blankly stare. “This cat did?”
“Yeah.” Chen glares at the other cat. “Don’t tell me you forgot what you did.”
“What did she do?”
“Well, first of all, you laid out dead animal bodies at the village outskirts.”
Daiki hmphs. “They invaded this cat’s territory, so they served as warnings.”
“You scared the humans to death! They thought I was responsible! Gah.” Chen pulls Daiki up with her only available hand and drags her towards the shrine steps. “Come with me. You and I, we’re having a talk—about cat things, okay?”
“But...” Daiki looks to you, and then Reimu, for help. You both do a synchronized shrug, and then the two cats disappear down the steps.
Tewi watches them until the cats are out of sight and then walks over to you, quietly saying, “So what’s up with the dog? Reimu finally wanted to get a pet?”
“Actually,” you say. “That’s the youkai from last night. Or, rather, ex-youkai. Stuff happened, and I took away its powers. Originally, it was a harmless dog, so it reverted back.”
The rabbit stops to contemplate. “I’m surprised, but at the same time, I’m not. What are you going to do with it?”
“Let Reimu deal with it. I think she likes having a pet around, so I’m gonna see if she’s willing to take care of her.”
“What if it turns back to being a youkai?”
“It won’t.” You smile. “I’ll make sure of that.”
“Got it. And, Hakurou?”
“You, um.” Tewi, maybe out of indecision, pauses for a moment. She rubs the back of her head in frustration, averting her gaze momentarily. In a lowered voice, she continues. “Ugh, I hate being like this, but I just want to ask. Are you okay?”
“Huh.” You raise an eyebrow and pat your face. “Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know.” Tewi’s frowning, but it’s not the usual frown where she’s pointing it at you. Rather, it seems like this one is coming out of genuine vexation at herself. “I really don’t. That’s why I didn’t want to ask—but I had to. I just thought that maybe you weren’t feeling the same as usual. Or something.”
You look at the rabbit.
[ ] “I’m peachy, thanks.” [ ] “Something’s been on my mind as of late.” [ ] “Is it really that obvious?”
“And here I thought that I didn’t wear my heart on my sleeve. Maybe I’ve gotten soft.” You drop the funny business and scowl. If Tewi can notice, then you’re slacking. “Is it really that obvious?”
“No. Not at all.” Tewi’s smile is full of mixed feelings—or maybe you’re just interpreting it that way. “It was a lucky guess.”
You eye the rabbit. “Lucky, huh?”
“Or maybe I’m just perceptive.” She takes a seat on the edge of the patio, scooting next to your side. “I don’t think anybody but me would’ve noticed.”
“If you don’t count people who can read emotions, then sure.”
Tewi sighs. “Don’t tell me: the cat?”
“You’re catching on.”
“I think there’s a pattern to the craziness that surrounds you, Hakurou.” She rests her head on your lap, back down on the wood flooring so that she can face you. “But back to the main point: I, and only I, have you figured out.”
You smirk. “You’d like if that were the case, wouldn’t you?”
“Such as right now,” she says, ignoring you. “You look like you want a hug right now.”
“But I don’t.”
“But you do. See here, normally, you’d be all over me because you can’t resist a soft bunny that says she wants you to hug her. But right now, you’re pushing me away because you’re too busy sulking and making yourself miserable.” Tewi stands up and extends her hands out. “Come on. You know you want it.”
“Just stand up and take what’s being given to you already.”
“I told you,” you snarl, “I don’t want it.”
Tewi, instead of minding her own damn business, takes you by the hand and pulls you up. It’s a first that anybody has flat-out ignored you when you got snappy with them. After she gets you to stand up, Tewi wraps her arms around you and squeezes, nuzzling up into your chest. The rabbit didn’t lie: She is soft.
“Feel any better?” she says as she parts from you.
“I said that I didn’t need a hug.”
“Keep telling yourself that.”
And then Reimu, who was lounging around the patio the entire time, finally decides to speak up. Isara’s snoozing in her arms. “Uh, hey. Am I interrupting something?”
“You’re fine. In fact,” Tewi cooks up a devilish smile. “Want to join? You can hug me and Hakurou all you like.”
“Pass,” says Reimu, heading back into the shrine.
“You mean, you want Hakurou all to yourself?” Tewi mock-gasps. “How greedy.”
Reimu, getting ticked off, replies, “If I didn't have to take care of Isara, I would've beaten you to a pulp by now.”
You watch the two of them squabble with each other. As you do, you can’t help but think back to Tewi’s hug. It’s almost laughable that your emotions were so easily swayed by something so… so—so stupid. All because of that cursed memory.
One hour past midnight for this update which is... less than ideal. I was really tired, so getting this one out was a big fucking struggle. We got one final timer, everyone. It's time to close out Nanowrimo.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/12/01(Sat)08:00
Reimu went back into the shrine to go take care of the dog, which is probably her way of saying, I don’t want to be involved in this cat business. Good choice because the next part is going to be a huge pain in the ass if things don’t go right. Convincing the human village to adopt a cat youkai will be as annoying as it sounds. You know that you have at least one family—Noboru’s—that’s on Daiki’s side. Plus, you can get Hieda to sprinkle around some of her influence too. She won’t like it, but she also doesn’t have much of a choice when you’re the one asking.
The two cats return, and Chen’s smiling and giggling with Daiki as if she were chatting up an old friend. Daiki, however, is more reserved, though you can see her lips start to creep up into a hint of a smile.
“—But you can’t forget that you’re still a youkai. Master really hated it when I went around and scared all the humans for fun.” Chen shrugs. “So don’t go around picking fights just because. You’ll eventually get caught and be beat up by a shrine maiden.”
Daiki nods. “Okay.”
“And if you find feral youkai,” you say, “make sure to not run in alone and get yourself almost killed.”
Immediately, Chen’s ears flatten. “Y-Yeah. Don’t do that. Because otherwise,” she tenderly lifts up her right arm by its sling. “You’ll end up looking as beautiful as I do. So if you’re looking to learn how to be a proper nekomata, don’t look at me. In fact, if you do the opposite of what I do, then you should be set.”
“In the self-deprecating mood, aren’t you?” Tewi says.
“I’m not exactly bleeding optimism after what you did to me this morning, Tewi.” Chen grimaces. “You woke me up at sunrise and made me dig holes with you.”
“I didn’t expect you to heal that slow. Usually, after the doc’s treatment, people are perfectly good to go by the next morning. But at least one of your arms worked, right?”
“Barely!” Chen yowls. “You gave me a shovel, but what use is that if I can only use one arm!”
“Those traps won’t build themselves. But if it’s any consolation, you were a big help, even with your one arm. So thank you.”
“Well.” Chen sticks her head up. “That’s obvious I was gonna be a big help. I’m amazing. And you’re welcome."
“You know,” you say. “You act more like a dog than you do a cat, Chenster.”
Chen turns, glaring at you. “What was that!”
“Let’s see. You befriend strangers easily, you get excited about everything, you act without thinking, and you get into fights.”
“The heck. Don’t make me get Master to come over! And do you know what she’ll do?”
“Probably yell at you for wasting their time?” Tewi offers.
Chen’s distraught, unprepared for the rabbit’s answer. “Actually. Yeah. So maybe I won’t do that. But, in any case, I’m not a dog! You’re a dog!”
“I’m a wolf, actually. But close enough, right?”
“It’s not nice to tease others, Hakurou,” says Tewi.
You give Chen a wink. “I only tease good company.”
With a huff, she says, “Don't think that I'll forgive you just because you gave me a free compliment.”
Now that everyone’s assembled, you should start moving along. Where to first?
[ ] Visit Hieda. She has the most influence on the village. [ ] Visit Ninomiya’s. They were open to youkai, so maybe they’ll help too. [ ] Visit Noboru’s family. It’ll be good for Daiki to check up on them.
Quick status update: We've reached auto-sage and everything awful has happened to me since we've finished Nanowrimo. Sooo, guess what. My car and my desktop both died today. I'll be fixing both throughout the week, but it really dampers my mood, know what I mean? Anyway, it'll be hard for me to get an update out until my desktop rises back up from the ashes.
The only real silver lining in this is that at least it happened after Nanowrimo, eh?