Everyone’s waiting for you to continue. The thing is, you didn’t have anything to follow up after that. But you don’t want to disappoint, so you say the first thing that comes to your head.
“And then we can beat him up,” you conclude, earning the respect of battle-happy shrine maidens across the world. You’re sure Reimu’s clapping in her head with the approving nod that she’s giving you.
“...Him?” The badger sputters. “As in, the other guy… and not me, y-yes?”
“Do you want to be beaten up too?” asks Reimu.
With a somber expression, he shakes his head slowly and silently.
“Good.” The shrine maiden jerks a finger to the mountainside. “Now take us to your boss, leader, or whatever you call him.”
Despite how talkative the badger initially was, he does not say a word through the forest’s passage and the climb up the steady hillside. With Reimu following right behind the badger, it looks like he’s being walked to his execution—and the shrine maiden, his executioner. He stops at a patch of open area. Around is conspicuously clear of brush, as if all the foliage was trimmed away. All that’s missing is quiet in the forest, a dark mist that permeates through the woods, and you’d be wondering if you’re experiencing a serious case of deja vu.
A horned figure steps out from the cover of the trees. Just like the badger described, the youkai has a ruddy, taurus-like face. Dark splotches color the sides of the man’s face like oil, finished with a black muzzle that juts out. Mino, you think for a second before discarding it.
His eyes narrow at the sight of the shrine maiden and protracts his gaze, meticulously scanning each person before curtly saying, “...Guests.”
“Y-yes,” the badger says, lowering his head.
“You invited many.”
“I—I wouldn’t say that I, um, invited them, but...” The badger trails off as the bovine-headed youkai stares straight at him with his beady eyes.
After he silences the badger, the youkai turns to you. “Have you come to seal my fate?”
“Not this time, kudan.” You toss your head to Reimu’s direction. “She’s the one you want to talk to. I’m merely here to observe.”
He glances over the shrine maiden, but his eyes remain trained on Tewi. “And the rabbit?”
“Same boat,” she says, patting your arm. “I’m with the wolf.”
Lastly, the kudan rests his eyes on Reimu. The badger, in the meantime, is smart enough to scurry over to the side, hiding himself from view.
The shrine maiden readies her charms. “I don’t suppose you’re willing to give up now and stop attacking the village?”
He crouches down. “Would you back down if I said that I cannot? Even if I wished to?”
“By force it is,” she says.
There is a half-second where the entire forest is still. Then, sound breaks, and the bovine lurches forward, trampling through the grass. The beast-man scrambles low to the floor, wildly using its hands to push off the sediment. The ground shakes with his movements as if he were a charging bull.
Reimu leaps back to throw several needles down the kudan’s path, each sinking into leveled grass. The bovine slips to the left with an almost graceful sidestep, careful not to touch any of the still-glowing projectiles. A brief respite falls between the two as they assess the situation. Then, in silent agreement, they resume.
The shrine maiden does not allow the youkai to close distance as she circles around the open field, using her weapons as obstacles to slow the kudan down. As she readies her next set of needles, she throws her charms from her opposite hand. They whirl through the air with an invisible force guiding them to their enemy. Unable to finesse his way past the homing amulets, the youkai jumps back. His legs find solid matter as he finds his back pressed to the tree, so he uses its trunk as a base to jump from, kicking off the tree.
But Reimu is already prepared—rather, she has been waiting for this. The moment the kudan leaps into the air, she reveals a red-and-white slip to the air, and the parchment disappears to dust. The light that peeks through the forest trees starts to dim as Reimu puts a hand out in front of her—a cosmic, blue orb shimmers into tangibility. It is like a vortex: The orb sucks in the light around it to expand until it is twice the shrine maiden’s height.
The kudan, realizing his error, could only shield himself with his arms and brace for contact. The moment he touches the luminescent light, he is repelled—hard. The bovine ricochets back with added whiplash until he crashes through one tree and slams into the second, exposing the bark with splintered cracks.
Dust settles, and the two participants are looking real confused.
Reimu is the first to speak. “...Huh?” she says in quick wit.
“...Uh?” the kudan coughs out.
Real articulate folks you got here.
“Alright, we got him. Good job, Reimu,” Tewi says, clapping politely.
Reimu’s still not getting it. She looks to you for assistance. “What… what just happened?”
“You beat him,” you state.
“No, I mean… how? That was a little too easy.”
“God.” You point to yourself, then her. “Shrine maiden.”
It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together. Reimu, however, is severely lacking in the knowledge department. You can forgive her: She was all alone. If the old Hakurei god would not—or maybe, could not—lend her power, then of course the girl would be surprised by her newfound strength.
“Shrine maidens directly draw on their god’s strength. That is what divine power is. You, on the other hand, have relied on your own abilities—up until now, that is. You’re a lot like your mother in that way. The Hakurei bloodline is impressive, I’ll say that.”
“Then before all this, that means I’ve been more or less resolving incidents as a normal human?”
“As a Hakurei, girl. You are no normal human.”
Reimu lifts a hand up to her face in awe. “So that means I’m really strong, now that I’m drawing from your power?”
“Just a fragment of my power,” you clarify. “But yes. Congratulations, Reimu, you are a real miko now. We should throw a party.”
“...So, is there a catch? To wielding your powers?”
You grin. “You shall do something for me as my shrine maiden. But that’s in the future, and I promise you—nothing bad will come of it. Barring that, you are free to use my divinity as you please. So go crazy and start beating people up with extreme prejudice.”
“I’m not going to do that!”
“But you just did,” Tewi says. “And speaking of. What are we going to do about the kudan?”
Reimu glances back to the scene of the wreckage. “Oh, yeah. Him.”
The kudan looks content to lie there and remain dead to the shrine maiden, but the twitch of sore limbs regretfully gives away the fact that he is still alive.
Reimu prods him with her gohei. “So are you going to ‘fess up what you were doing now?”
“I would have obliged,” he wheezes out, “Without the reckless fighting. Mujina, come closer too. And if you could, please help me up. I shall now clear the situation.”
“Y-yes, sir.” The badger, who would have preferred to remain invisible, reluctantly leaves his shelter behind the trees and joins the bovine-faced youkai, lifting the kudan up from under his shoulder.
“Kudans are destined to die from the moment they are born… as all mortals do. But their deaths foretell of misfortune to come, as decreed by the kudan’s prophecy.”
“I thought that kudans die after their prophecy has come true?” you say.
He shakes his head. “A misinterpretation. They live long enough to foretell the misfortune to come, and when they die, they expel the misfortune they have gathered from the area. It is a curse from the land, if you will.”
“I didn’t know that. Interesting.” You smile. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
—A “curse of the lands,” he says. The kudan is yet another you can wrest control of and consume—
“So what does that do with you ordering the badger to attack?” Reimu asks.
“On the pathway down the mountainside, I had stumbled onto some humans. I do not believe they saw my visage, only the shadow my body drew from the moonlight—it was late at night, I believe—and they screamed of a youkai, running back to their homes. By the next day, they had already spread rumors of an amalgamous beast. I then realized: What if I become this beast? So, by luck, I found a mujina, and used him to spread rumors that a youkai of many forms was attacking the village. By association, that would have been me, who had initially started the rumor. I had to make it authentic, so I threatened the mujina to deliver a convincing performance.”
The badger goes wide-eyed. “You—really?”
The kudan nods.
“Hold on.” Reimu takes a provocative step forward. “Are you saying that you’re trying to… transform yourself to another youkai?”
“If I cease being a kudan, then no misfortune shall befall Gensokyo.” A trace of self-conflict reflects in the youkai’s darkened eyes. “That is all.”
Reimu looks doubtful. “Can you even do that? Just… become something else?”
“You can,” Tewi says in soft assurance.
You look to the rabbit, ready to say something, but instead you drop the matter and agree. “Yeah, it’s possible. A rare circumstance, but it has happened before.”
Reimu chews on a fingernail in contemplation. “Alright. So—tell me honestly. What do you think we should do with you?”
“I do not know,” he says gravely.
[ ] The kudan’s doing no real harm, so let him be. [ ] The kudan needs to stop the pointless attacks to the village. [ ] You could offer to strip away the curse—you are a curse god, aren’t you?
A quick status update: As it turns out, December is a bad month for me. I'm also devoting my writing time to catching up on writing the Nanowrimo rewards for 2018... which is as sad as it sounds. Expect delays as always. You know the drill already.
And yet, you suffer from your own delay. The words, quick to form in your mouth, die when your own mind strikes them down with thoughts of a foolish god—Toyoke. Her name serves as an eternal reminder of your failure, and every character in her name tells you: You are no lord of curses, no. You are—
—merely a curse itself—
Of course you are… or so you lie to yourself. But you find yourself staring straight at contradiction, found in a frilly, pink dress. Her healthy complexion, her cleared, red eyes speak the changes of the present. Were it past still, she’d only be recognized by the mire that dirtied her rags and clouded her eyes. Without you—and you yourself—she would have remained as rot.
Tewi turns, noticing the gaze you’re putting on her, and grins.
“What?” you ask.
“You don’t have to be all shy when you’re looking at me like you got something to say.”
“Right. Sure.” Tewi says, drawling out her words. She couldn’t be any more smug, the damn Rabbit of Inaba.
“I really don’t. Anyway.” You quickly kill your obtuseness and face the kudan. “I could strip away the curse for you.”
The bovine remains silent, though with his increasingly frustrated shuffling, he kindly paints out his emotions for you. “You—you can do that?”
“Of course he can,” Tewi answers back immediately. “He’s done the same for me.”
“Really? It’s that easy?” the mujina badger asks incredulously, a buffoonish look on his face.
Despite your own reservations, you respond. “It is so. Now come, kudan. To me—and within arm’s reach.”
He complies and walks forward, head down and somber.
You put a hand to his shoulder. “It isn’t your execution, youkai, so stop acting like it is.”
Gingerly, he raises his head. “Understood,” the kudan says, though with measured pause.
“Good. As for the rest of the onlookers—I advise you all to take your distance. And, should you find yourself approaching darkness, do not let yourself be engulfed in it.”
“What?” the mujina says, voice yielding to higher pitch. “W-What do you mean?”
You do not dignify him with a response. In but a moment, it will be evident. You grip down firmly with the hand placed on the bovine’s shoulder. And, within the youkai’s self, you find something familiar: It is a feeling of dread—of horror. Not from you, but from the kudan. But you find it—that which plagues the youkai’s being. So you let go of the bovine, but only briefly. You wind your arm back.
And then you plunge it straight between the kudan’s ribs. His eyes bulge out in shock, and the youkai looks down upon his body. Then he realizes: No blood stains his garments. Instead, blackness muddies his clothes until he erupts in a thick mist. The miasma—its temperament is like a swarm of locusts, making angry, helical passes around you. It, however, is only a nuisance. Now that you have freed the curse, you can release its vessel. You drop the kudan, letting the youkai fall to the ground, and take in the curse.
The darkness explodes into visceral, wordless screaming. It twists into itself on the ground, digging its formless claws into the dirt, scrambling back toward the kudan. Before this, however, you take your geta and drive it into its back, forcing it still. Then, much like the kudan, you wrench your hand into its chest. The curse seeps into your being, and you feel your reach extend, letting your jurisdiction, the fog which houses your maladies, roam further and further. You can take more, you can let it run free, you can take more and more and more, consume until nothing is left, and you should not stop it, Hakurou. Do you hear me? Hakurou. Hakurō. HAKURŌ.
“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” you say, waving the voice away.
“Y-You—!” the kudan chokes out.
“Calm yourself,” you reply. The mist, whose tendrils inched towards the forest, retreat back into the shadows at your beckoning. And after doing so, you hear a blood-curdling shriek exploding from the audience.
“He’s dead!” the badger screams. “I can’t believe he’s deaaaad!”
“Oh shut up, you buffoon.” Reimu snorts. “You just heard the kudan speak. He seems alive and well to me.”
“I am...” he pants out, frantically patting where you wounded him. He desperately tries, and fails, to find a gaping hole where your arm was. “...still alive.”
“It would have been counter-intuitive to kill you, kudan. Unless, that’s what you wanted?”
“No.” The youkai drops his head to the ground, allowing himself to rest on meadow grass. “I’d much prefer being alive.”
“So he’s not dead?” the badger says between hiccups.
Tewi rolls her eyes. “Would it kill you to listen? The kudan’s still breathing and talking right in front of you.”
“No! But I saw—and he—that! The—the stomach! And the gross… thing!”
You direct your gaze at the badger. “Settle, mujina. I did not pierce flesh. Instead, I reached into the kudan’s soul.”
“Arguably even scarier,” Reimu adds.
“Then...” The once-kudan trails off. His face remains contorted with worry. “What happens now?”
You meet his gaze. “You tell us, youkai. Is the curse gone?”
He blows out a puff of air. “It is gone. Decidedly so. But,” the kudan says, anxiety dripping in his voice, “is that all?”
“The more you doubt, the more you are asking for ill fate.”
“...So I shall stay my tongue.”
“Good,” you say. “Then we’re just about done here.”
Reimu, doubt evident in her raised eyebrows, replies, “We are?”
“We could always turn this into an even bigger incident,” you add.
“Forget I said anything,” she says. “Let’s go home.”
“Now you’re getting it.”
But before that…
[ ] Nah, never mind. Let’s call what you did for the kudan “charity work” and wrap up for the day. [ ] Purification comes at a cost, no matter how minor.
Purification comes at a cost, no matter how minor. And for a pair of youkai that could spread rumors like wildfire, you find yourself with an enticing proposition.
“Kudan. Mujina,” you say, stretching out your widest smile. “I have… a favor to ask of you.”
“Are we able to refuse? Or would that be a fatal courtesy?” whines the badger.
“Quiet, you,” the bovine hisses. “Wolf. I follow your will. Merely say the word, and I shall comply.”
“I’d like you two to spread a rumor. Do it as you did your previous work… as if the rumor was spread by the human village itself. And do not worry—no misfortune shall befall you whilst you two are under my protection. I can guarantee that.”
The badger throws a frightened stare at his accomplice. “Really?” he says in a shrill voice. “Why do we need your protection? What rumor do you want us to spread?”
“Many questions, mujina, but here is the only answer you need.” You take a step forward, lifting your index finger up to the air. “I’d like you to spread rumors that the feral youkai invading the lands are the work of the god named Fukurokuju. In particular, I want you to make sure that it sounds like it is of her own doing.”
“What of the other details?” the kudan asks. “I’d like to remain consistent when we spread these rumors.”
“Ah, but those discrepancies shall be the key to revealing her,” you say.
“Never mind the details, youkai, and shred your consistency. In fact, weave your rumors like misaligned tales. Confuse humans and youkai alike. Just make sure that the fault lies on Fukurokuju’s shoulders.”
“Aren’t you asking too much of them?” says Reimu.
“He did save the kudan’s life, y’know,” Tewi points out.
“Right,” you say. “And, for that, I just need a teensy, tiny, little favor. I need to meet with a friend. A reclusive, hermit friend… but a friend nonetheless.”
Reimu groans. “I’m already reluctant to meet them.”
“Don’t you worry your little head. I’ll be meeting them by myself. You can go on and do whatever it is the Hakurei shrine maiden does, and I’ll take good care of her.”
“You say that, but I’m not looking any more forward to it.”
“Good. You can dread the day she comes.” You turn to the other youkai. “Anyway, did you get all of that, kudan?”
“It shall be done,” he replies. “But I am curious. Fukurokuju? A god of fortune? Is he not a man in tales?”
“Were Fuku but one person, perhaps. But she is Fukurokuju, Kishouten, and many other names. She bore more than one name to fit the occasion.”
—Like you, Hakurō—
You crack a wry smile. “Like me. Regardless, our business is done here. At least, for now.”
But in the meantime…
[ ] Check up on that foolish cat in the village. [ ] Entertain yourself by whittling away at Hieda’s patience. [ ] Return to the Hakurei Shrine. You’ve had enough Gensokyo for one day.
Good to know I’m not late to the party on all of thp’s good quests. Find it funny that this started on youkai mountain as a total shitpost and ended up somehow getting serious while also going the Tewi route. See you in November writefag.
It’s been a while since you’ve seen Hieda, and you think that she’s rightfully earned some quality time with, of course, yours truly. Free time is the construct of evil, after all. And while you’d love to be spreading misery to everyone else, you actually have something of substance to discuss with her.
“You can head back, Reimu. I’ve other arrangements to fulfill, since we’re done here,” you say. “All’s well that ends well, eh?”
“Sure.” The miko’s face betrays her suspicion, but she stymies her expression in favor of a noncommittal nod. “Well, whatever. I actually have business over at the mountainside, so I’ll be heading there instead.”
You can hazard a guess. “Something about a shrine popping up near the road overnight?”
“…Please don’t tell me that you’re involved in this too.”
“No. Well…” you correct yourself. “Not exactly.”
“What aren’t you involved with? Because it really feels like you’ve been the cause of every incident that’s transpired since you’ve shown up.”
“That is not true at all,” you say, indignant. “For example, uh.”
“More like he’s been the cause of every other incident—which is only half as much.” Tewi nods sagely. “Grossly exaggerated, if you ask me.”
“I wouldn’t even say half.”
Two sets of doubtful eyes stare at you.
“A fourth?” you bargain. “Maybe a third.”
“Half,” Reimu asserts, firmly holding her ground.
“Half,” agrees Tewi.
“Fine. Half,” you say, conceding. “But I’m not involved in this incident. Not directly, anyhow. Let’s just say that I’m, uh, familiar with the perpetrator—or perpetrators.”
Reimu impatiently folds her arms. “Name them.”
“Just go to Moriya and ask.”
“Moriya?” she says, incredulous. “Suwako did this?”
“No. But if you go to her shrine, it’ll be pretty obvious who did.”
“And that is?”
“Now, now,” you chide, “it wouldn’t be as fun if I just told you, would it? Plus, even if I did tell you, it wouldn’t matter.”
“And why’s that?”
“They were before your time. Their names and who they are—it all has no meaning to Gensokyo. Not anymore, that is. Anyway, shoo. They’re not exactly hiding, so just go and ask them yourself.”
“...Right,” she says doubtfully. But Reimu’s a smart girl and doesn’t press you for the little details. With a nod, she instead flies off, disappearing over the rolling hills.
“There she goes,” Tewi says. “So… as you were saying, what are these ‘arrangements to fulfill’ exactly?”
“I’ve something to say to Hieda—before she wildly misunderstands and does something incredibly stupid. She has a penchant for deluding herself into falsehoods so, while I’d love to play coy and leave herself to her own imagination, nothing would change her mind once she records them into history. And, should she come to the wrong conclusion, she will pay the unfortunate price.”
The Rabbit of Inaba pauses to deliberate on your words, staring at you in mild disbelief. “Rare to see you so proactive.”
“My intent is well-faceted. I have… many other reasons to find her.”
“Should I be worried?”
The purple-haired girl lost diligence that day. Though she wore her usual, splotchy kimono, a white blanket covered her thin shoulders and cloaked her horrid taste in palettes. Faint, dark outlines touched her eyes, and, from time to time, she nodded off into short bouts of sleep before snapping herself awake again.
One word from you is all it takes for her to erase the exhaustion from her eyes. They color dimly in recognition before reforming to horror.
“What.” Her patience is quickly tested. “Have you come to bother me again? For no reason?”
“While I’d love for that to be the case, I’m here with purpose.”
Hieda’s still glowering at you, but the irritated hitch in her eyebrows lowers one tick. “Then?”
“How much do you know about recent events?”
“Events?” she asks, voice dropping a pitch. “Or… incidents?”
“Incidents,” you clarify.
“And how recent?”
“Very. A day and some.”
She tiredly points to a scroll, unfurling it across her table. It spills over the desk and onto the floor, rolling until it touches your feet.
Tewi crouches down to examine the scroll’s contents, tilting her head slightly. “Is that just for the last day?”
“That’s quite a lot.”
“Your words have never been more true,” Akyuu says, massaging the bridge of her nose.
“Maybe a break is in order.”
“I would, but this entire week has consisted of me trying—and failing—to catch up on my work. The village has been rife with chaos, but I am not going to let that stop me from finishing my duties before sunset every day. You get it, don’t you?”
“Uh.” Tewi shrugs. “Not really? When I need to take a break, I do.”
Meanwhile, you scan the entire scroll, searching for details about the kudan until you reach Akyuu’s desk. Somehow, it was resolved quietly—a rare and unexpected result. Still, it’s bound to be revealed to Hieda sooner or later, so you’ll explain—if only briefly.
“Have you heard of the kudan that showed up?”
Akyuu, who was busy pretending to be a shored up fish, immediately corrects her posture. “Explain.”
“Let’s just say that peace was made before it even turned into an incident. You’re welcome by the way: Less bureaucracy for you.”
“If—And I really mean if,” she snaps, “it was resolved. You do know that a kudan’s mere existence is an incident, correct?”
“I’m aware, Hieda. Like I said, it’s been resolved without worry. They are no longer kudan. Just youkai. If you wish to know how that transpired, then I suggest re-reading your little almanac of yours—the entry with my name on it, hmm?”
“Right,” she says grimly.
There’s a moment of aberrant quiet. Were it any other occasion, the silence would quickly be filled with discussion—spats, mostly. Hieda remains still, breaking the calm only to recline deeply into her chair and stare at the ceiling in hard thought. Funny. This might be the first time you’ve seen her this peaceful—minus the time she died mid-conversation.
“Okay,” Hieda says, finally. “Then why tell me?”
“I’d love to say that it was out of the fondness of my heart, but I’m not here to joke around. For once, that is,” you add when Hieda narrows her eyes. “You’ll soon find rumors floating around the village, and all of them false. Do not be swayed because you hear a familiar name betwixt them. For your own sanity, ignore it all and don’t pry further. I understand you dedicate your sorry lives to looking into incidents like this, but I’ll warn you this time. Don’t. Else you shall find yourself vulnerable.”
“Do I take that as a threat?” she hisses.
“It’s a warning, but take it as you will. Should you not interfere, I’ll take care of it. Just know that it has nothing to do with you—or the humans that reside here.”
“And why’s that?”
“Because,” you say. “It lies within the realm of the gods.”
“Ever so hungry with the questions, Hieda.”
She continues staring, silently insisting for an answer.
“Meaning,” you say, pausing for effect. “It’s none of your damn business, stupid.”
“…I expected as much.”
“As you should. Now, I have a question for you—as a scholar and not as Hieda. Do you think that man can break the chains of his nature, or is he bound by it?”
Immediately, she answers back. “Even humans can learn to swim against the current, should they drown otherwise. What says the rabbit?”
Tewi, looking perfectly content with being background noise, stammers out, “Me? I mean, I thought it was obvious. Of course they can. Otherwise, humans would be such boring creatures, right?”
“Truly.” In a lower voice, Hieda then turns her attention to you. “And you?”
[ ] “Does the ocean defer to man if they ask?” [ ] “It doesn’t matter if they do.”
[x] “It doesn’t matter if they do." These are ultimately both the same sentiment. I feel like, a tendency for buffoonery aside, the wolf is more apt to being straightforwardly dismissive of man's efforts.