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{-} Embrace the dark side... wait, no, do the exact opposite of that.

Thankfully, I do have a certain amount of practice at controlling at my emotions. Unstable emotions make for unstable magic, and safety aside, the secret sealing club's budget puts a hard limit on explosive misfires per month. Look, the point is, I was able to wrestle my irritation under my control.

I still did need a focus for unleashing the magic, and the first thing that occurred to my mind was programming class, of all things. Just like testing a program, things would fail for the most idiotic reasons, and things had to be hooked up just right to-

[Placeholder Sign - Hello World]
Huh. That, just... huh. It really was that simple. Plain blue bullets literally spelled out "Hello, world!". Punctuation included, even. Considering the bullets did absolutely nothing else, I don't think it even qualified as an attack.

Hina looked at the pattern in some confusion. "Um. Well, it worked, but is that what you were aiming for?"

My bemusement turned to embarrassment, and I dismissed the spellcard with a wave of a hand. Excellent. If I ever wanted to make myself look like a complete joke, I now had exactly the spellcard to do it with. "That was just a test to get the system working. Also, um, you were right. Thanks, I guess."

"It's no trouble. Really."

That resulted in one of those silences that was destined to turn awkward, but the Koishi doll - no wait, it was Mary now - came flying out of the house, hovering next to Hina. She offered it a headpat. "So there you are. Just where did you go, anyway?"

The doll ignored the question, opting to lean into the headpat. That was adorable enough to make a dent in my irritation. I found myself smiling as I called out, "Aren't you a little old to be playing with dolls?"

Hina paused with a small blush, but Mary flew in for the hug, and after a moment of hesitation the goddess wrapped an arm around the doll. "Aren't you the one giving her directions?"

That actually raised a really good point. I hadn't spared much time for thought on it what with everything else going on, but the Koishi doll was acting remarkably un-doll like. I could still control Mary like the puppet she was, but when I wasn't, she was actually doing things on her own initiative. It wasn't out of the question that Alice had given her dolls some sort of default behavior, but while I could see that covering threat assessment or using the enchantment attached to the doll, somehow I doubted that went all the way to angling for headpats. If this wasn't normal, then the obvious culprit would be Greg's enchantment. Which really shouldn't be possible, but the normal laws of reality had been crying in the corner for long enough to be diagnosed with depression.

Or then again, maybe Alice was just a cuddler. She didn't seem the type, but well-adjusted girls with lots of friends didn't grow up to create an army of dolls for company.

"Sumireko?"

"Oh! Uh, no, I had nothing to do with it. Just lost in thought."

"I'm sure."

I raised a hand, thought about it for a second, and made the executive decision that there were more important concerns. Like spellcards. "Whatever. I do need to steal Mary from you, though. I want to see if I can work her into a pattern."

Hina seemed a little disappointed as I summoned the doll back to my side, but I might have imagined it.

"Alright then, Mary. Let's see how far we can push this."





Danmaku is weird. The usual rules for what should and shouldn't cost energy are almost entirely suspended, but with odd caveats.

For instance, shooting bullets in a spiral is easy. I can throw out an arm and fire away, and there's basically no limit to the amount of bullets I can toss out. (At the very least, it's significantly more than I'd be able to do without the spellcard system.) However, if I want to do two spirals, rotating in opposite directions? All of a sudden, increasing the bullet density becomes exponentially more difficult, to where even Greg could probably slip through the holes in the net.

Which is a pity, because it would have been a simple way to trap an opponent.

Other attempts are no more successful. Making walls of bullets is difficult yet possible, up until I try to use them to box in an area, and then it fails instantly. It turns out I can make simple nodes that fire bullets for me, and I can make a whole bunch of them, as long as there's a clear pattern to it. Randomness is difficult to do. I can throw in a little, but the more I add, the more difficult a pattern becomes to hold on to.

There's other oddities as well. For instance, those rules against walls? If there's a hole in the pattern, a safe spot that I never touch, I can do whatever I want elsewhere, up to and including flooding the rest of the area. There's a pretty hard limit on how fast I can send an individual bullet flying, unless it's part of an already-set pattern, in which case it can approach the sound barrier. Also, I can't just shift strategies mid-spellcard. I can ramp things up, but it has to be along the same lines, and while I can tweak things, it needs to stay within a theme.

Mary ends up being my test dummy for this. It works pretty well, as I do need a moving target to test out ideas with, and she's surprisingly good at dodging. I actually lose track of her from time to time, and I'm a little irritated that my spellcards yet to even graze her. Though it's worth noting, I can also use her as part of a pattern. The doll ends up being a secondary focus for the spellcard, and lets me produce more complicated bullet patterns from a distance.

Still, the number of possibilities here is fascinating. In terms of sheer variety of projectiles, it might actually be more versatile than magic. You can have bullets home in on targets, deflect off of objects and each other, explode, duplicate, stick together, and more. Apparently a few patterns even have the bullets themselves just teleport, and Hina swears up and down that there's a couple people who can use curved lasers.

Speaking of which, Hina was the one that explained a lot of the 'why' behind the 'whats' I was discovering. While I don't believe that danmaku is actually about beauty, I will admit that the spellcard system seems designed for fair play. Once I started thinking about it as a game, it just clicked. The player needs to have a chance to react and learn the rules, and while I can let them screw themselves over, the situation itself can't just be unwinnable from the get-go.

Alright then. I understand enough of the groundwork to really start crafting spellcards now. But what type should I focus on?

{-} Survival spellcards. I've already seen how useful Greg's orb of midnight card is. Being able to buy a minute or two is a long time in a fight, whether it's to rethink my strategy or to run. The downside is that they're typically less dangerous to the opponent, as they have no option but to wait it out.
{-} Trick spellcards. A number of spellcards have a specific trick to them, where they're relatively simple to dodge once you know how, but much more difficult before realizing it. They won't have a ton of staying power, but they'll be very effective against an unprepared opponent, and how many people am I going to fight more than once?
{-} Pure tests of skill. All tricks aside, I should be able to come up with something that'll overwhelm anyone who's not at my level. And those people I probably shouldn't be resorting to danmaku against anyway.
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[x] Pure tests of skill. All tricks aside, I should be able to come up with something that'll overwhelm anyone who's not at my level. And those people I probably shouldn't be resorting to danmaku against anyway.
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>{-} Survival spellcards. I've already seen how useful Greg's orb of midnight card is. Being able to buy a minute or two is a long time in a fight, whether it's to rethink my strategy or to run. The downside is that they're typically less dangerous to the opponent, as they have no option but to wait it out.
These are a hail mary option, not something you take as foundation.

>{-} Pure tests of skill. All tricks aside, I should be able to come up with something that'll overwhelm anyone who's not at my level. And those people I probably shouldn't be resorting to danmaku against anyway.
It's easy to forget, but despite being a competent occultist, Sumireko is still a student first. Danmaku is a specialty of those that fight in this place. Sumi would straight lose in a battle of skill no matter how good we are. Thus...

{x} Trick spellcards. A number of spellcards have a specific trick to them, where they're relatively simple to dodge once you know how, but much more difficult before realizing it. They won't have a ton of staying power, but they'll be very effective against an unprepared opponent, and how many people am I going to fight more than once?

We're foreign people on a (hopefully) short trip back to the real world. There is no NEED to become a legendary sorcerer right now. Magical equivalent of kicking people in the dick is good enough. And the more dick kicks we can do, the better.
Note that trick spellcards won't help much against Sakuya because she can just stop time and think about how to face them. But none of these three options will help in a fight against her, and it's the most useful option from these three to face the others.
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[x] Trick spellcards. A number of spellcards have a specific trick to them, where they're relatively simple to dodge once you know how, but much more difficult before realizing it. They won't have a ton of staying power, but they'll be very effective against an unprepared opponent, and how many people am I going to fight more than once?

Let's be honest here, we STARTED this incident being about as close to being a direct threat to the Hakurei Border as you can get without Reimu going full "Fantasy Seal: You Loose." And well, that was before we got stuck here in full fight for our lives.

Now that this incident has spiraled far beyond our control to the point that there are people with a vested interest in removing the spell card system, we really need every advantage we can get. And well, turning ourselves into the tricky Stage 5 boss that would make Seija proud really is our best shot here. We haven't been in Gensokyo long enough to rely on pure skill at danmaku and while having a full build of survival cards sounds hilarious, we're more likely than not to be in a worse position after stalling for time.

Besides, acting like a Stage 5 boss is a wonderful defense for dealing with an irate Reimu. "We may have started the incident, but that was all for fun and we didn't expect someone to try to use this as an excuse to destroy the spell-card system" is a lot stronger defense coming from a Stage 5 boss.
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[x] Trick spellcards. A number of spellcards have a specific trick to them, where they're relatively simple to dodge once you know how, but much more difficult before realizing it. They won't have a ton of staying power, but they'll be very effective against an unprepared opponent, and how many people am I going to fight more than once?

As a magician she'd probably know alot of tricks :p.
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{X} Pure tests of skill. All tricks aside, I should be able to come up with something that'll overwhelm anyone who's not at my level. And those people I probably shouldn't be resorting to danmaku against anyway.

Bear in mind that Greg is the one who uses tricks and deception. Sumi is a lot tougher and has more fighting experience. She has a much better fighting chances in a face to face confrontation as compared to him.

And besides, by learning how to play danmaku proper, it helps to even the playing field by alot.
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{x} Silly youkai, tricks are for high-schoolers.

Necessity of playing the game aside, I wasn't about to pass up any advantage I could find. And while beating monsters in a game of reflexes was questionable at best, I'd bet my life I could outsmart them. No, seriously, I would probably have to. At least this way, I'm playing to my strengths.

So the question then became, what would be a good gimmick for my spellcards? On the one hand, I needed something that was iconic. The clearer the idea, the easier the visualization, and the stronger I can make the spellcard. But at the same time, it had to be an idea that the youkai wouldn't spot, because if they figured out the concept behind the spellcard, it would make dodging it significantly easier.

I'd just have to leverage the one thing I knew the youkai here didn't have. A high-school education.

Once I had the ideas together, refining them into something good was pretty simple. I still wasn't catching Mary with them, but I was chalking that down to her getting enough direction from me to know what I was up to. Still, the scientific method demanded I test them a bit more rigorously, and Hina was actually nice. Which meant...

"Hina, could you grab Nitori for me? I'd like to give these spellcards a real test before we start playing for keeps. I should give Mary a recharge."





Mary was, in fact, low on magic. Perhaps it was due to the high activity, but it did make me wonder if either I was missing something about charging the doll, or if the extra enchantments on her were draining more power.

One more thing to look at if I could find the time, I suppose.

Anyway, the pestilence goddess came out with the kappa in short order. "What's this about you making spellcards?"

"Just for practice," I called out, giving Mary a bit more energy and letting her loose. "I've done plenty of fighting already, but if I'm going to be diplomatic, I should do things within the rules."

The kappa shrugged. "If. You're about as diplomatic as Reimu."

I did not ignore the insult, I'm just going to pay it back with interest later. "Oh, I think I might surprise you. The thing is, I'd like to get a little practice in, and you did okay against Satori yesterday."

"Really? I know you're a potential customer, but you're really asking for it."

"Figuratively and literally," I confirmed. "I'm feeling a lot better after the trauma-in-a-bottle you gave me, and I think you want this fight as much as I do."

Hina clasped her hands, looking worried. "Sumireko, don't-"

I held up a hand. "Don't worry, I won't hit her too hard. I am paying for her help later."

Though the thought of giving Nitori a literal taste of her own medicine was very tempting.

Nitori gave me a cocky grin. "What makes you think you'll be the one getting hits in? I've seen first-time spellcards before. They're nothing much."

I returned the grin. "I take it you're game then?"

The kappa nodded, bringing a remote out of her pocket and pressing a button to- she has a water-based jetpack?!

Honestly, I want these toys. And I really want to see what she can build with modern technology.

I realized I'd missed whatever Nitori had said, so I just went for setting the rules. "Three spellcards each, to knockdown or surrender?" The kappa nodded, so I flew up into the air, cracking my knuckles. "Then try this one on for size."

[Quantum Sign - Bullet Uncertainty Principle]
I shot out a dozen or so large, slow bullets out. They were massive things, fuzzy white spheres, each the size of a car, wobbling across the clearing like a fog moving in. Nitori darted around the edges for a bit, firing her own bullets as she went, but that only gave her a little more time before they cornered her.

"Hey! How is that a real spellcard? There's no room!"

At this point I was the only one grinning, and I gave my doll a quick pat. "Just wait for it."

There really was nowhere else to go, and one of the giant bullets connected, only to pop, revealing a smaller black bullet in the center. Nitori was surprised enough at the initial lack of contact that she had to swerve to the side to dodge that, taking her through the path of several other fog bullets. Each of which in turn popped to reveal their own payloads.

The initial wave was only a dozen or so bubbles, so Nitori managed to salvage it with some frantic dodging. Unfortunately for her, the second wave was well underway, and I figured it was time to demonstrate the other part of this spellcard.

"Mary, if you would?"

The doll snapped off a salute, and charged towards the kappa. Nitori easily dodged my little assistant, but Mary's charge had also gone through a number of bubbles, popping them and adding her energy to the black cores they revealed.

Nitori was definitely not ready for that. Again, she was able to dodge the first barrage, but then Mary came in from the side, popping the remaining bubbles that had stuck around, and roughly tripling the number of actual projectiles heading for Nitori.

She looked around frantically, muttering, "There's got to be some trick to this."

"There is! It's all about proper observation!"

Which was true, if you knew the context I'd borrowed from quantum mechanics. The idea was that the real bullets don't show up until they're observed, by either Nitori or Mary entering through the outer sphere. However, the very act of observing the bullet changes its path, by adding some of your momentum to the bullet.

If you charge the wave and pop the bullets yourself, you can stop most of them dead and the spellcard becomes very simple. But if you don't...

"What does that even mean?!" the kappa shouted, shortly before the bullets swarmed her. And like any good swarm, it was impossible to dodge, and left a couple of welts you'd really feel in the morning.

[Kappa - Dried Shirikodama]
An orb of water circled Nitori, shooting out a bunch of tiny green balls. And the moment that happened, I recognized the stench. So this is what that paste was made out of. What exactly was a shirikodama, anyway?

Mary tapped me on the shoulder and shook her head rapidly, leaving me non-plussed. Was she warning me about the spellcard, somehow? Or did she actually know what that thing was?

Regardless, it was a question for later. Right now, I had to dodge. Which... wasn't all that bad, eye-watering suffering aside. It's clear the kappa chose the card for psychological warfare, not for its difficulty.

Still, the problem was, it was doing a really good job of neutering my spellcard. All those small green bullets the kappa was shooting were popping my fog bubbles as soon as they were forming. I could just keep dodging and continue the stalemate, but... no. Just no.

[Electromagnetic Sign - Opposites Attract]
Mary glowed bright red, before rushing off to tag Nitori and transferring that glow to her. And after doing so, both the doll and I shot waves of blue bullets. The pattern was simple, if coming from multiple locations. What wasn't simple was the way the bullets would home in on Nitori. They weren't initially aimed at her, but they would unerringly home in on her, just from the electric charge they contained. Even after she dodged, they'd slow to a stop and come at her from the other direction.

With her staying stationary, her spellcard broke in short order, and she had to flee as more electrical shots came homing in. She did figure out she wanted to bunch them up as much as possible, and she managed to misdirect a couple waves into the ground or one of the trees around.

That said, she didn't figure out how to get the shots to circle around harmlessly, and as the next wave of bullets came in, she called up her second spellcard to avoid the hit.

[Water Sign - Water Carpet]
Nitori called up lines of water bullets, dense enough for my electricity to discharge into them, but kept spaced away from the kappa so she didn't get shocked. Clever. What's worse, the shock also traveled down the lines of water she was maintaining. I was away from the worst of it by virtue of being under her, but I winced as my doll got zapped and fell to the ground.

After a moment, the lines of water broke and fell apart, the individual bullets meandering their way towards me, even while they sparked with electricity.

I canceled my spellcard before I electrocuted myself, and instead elected to fight this one out normally, shooting my tarot cards at Nitori as I dodged between the lines. Again, it really wasn't that difficult compared to what Marisa or Sakuya had been throwing at me. Even without the flight cape.

"Is that all you've got?" I called out. "This is easy after the last couple of days I've had!"

Nitori grimaced as her spellcard broke. "Fine, then! But remember, you asked for it!"

[Drown - Trauma in the Glimmering Depths]
Waves of water bullets came at me from both sides, sliding towards me in a sinusoidal pattern. (Or, you know, like an actual wave, but what's the point of learning how a sine wave looks if I can't work it into my vocabulary?) This time the bullets were dense and didn't leave much room to slip between the waves, and Nitori fired down a spreadshot of large bullets to make things worse.

I'll admit, I was actually having some difficulty on this one. The pockets formed by the crisscrossing waves were tiny, and I just didn't have the precision necessary to dodge Nitori's barrage in such a small area. With my cape, it would have been different, but as it was...

The bullet that clipped me did hurt, but it wasn't crippling. It was like taking a punch, and not the rib-breaking kind. All the same, I chalked up dodging this one as a loss, and went into my final spellcard to counter.

[Astronomy Sign - Solar System]
First, I seeded the battlefield with small fireballs. They didn't move, instead staying in place, representing stars. Then I conjured up three large rocks to act as planets, which I sent into orbit around me at varying distances. The third planet even got a smaller rock as a moon. And then I started firing lasers. Small, narrow ones, that would bend from the gravity of the planets and reflect off of the moon.

Unless you realized you could hide between the earth planet and the moon, the spellcard just looked like absolute chaos. (Even then it wasn't simple, you still had to dodge the stars while following the planet's orbit.) While the lasers bent in predictable ways, they did not bend in reactable ways, and Nitori was out of spellcards to counter with. And having to weave through the stars while dodging just made everything so much worse.

I almost felt bad about it. Almost.

{-} Savor my victory with only a moderate amount of gloating.
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Beating anciant japanese legends with the power of higher education
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{X} Savor my victory with only a moderate amount of gloating.

Ohohoho this is the true power of high-school girls. Don't underestimate the most powerful being on Earth.
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{X} Savor my victory with only a moderate amount of gloating.

This is how you cheese out wins as a novice to danmaku. Through the power of a high-school understanding of science.

...watch as the first person we end up dueling with these cards ends up being Sanae.
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{x} Savor my victory with only a moderate amount of gloating.

As Nitori crashed down, I touched down, flexing my knees as I dropped to the earth and enjoying the lack of pain that came with it. On my face was the smug satisfaction the kappa had earlier.

Nitori groaned, taking Hina's hand as the goddess pulled her to her feet. "What was that?"

My smile got wider. "Talent."

Hina's smile was a bit more gentle. "That's why I didn't want you to fight her seriously."

Nitori shook her head. "Those weren't my best spellcards. She wasn't supposed to be anywhere near that good!"

"Ah, yes, the 'I wasn't actually trying' excuse." I waved her off as I walked over to Mary, picking her up and checking the doll for damage. It shouldn't actually be too bad, but considering she did take a decent bolt of lightning, I'd better check.

Even Hina raised an eyebrow. "Have you ever actually seen her fight?"

"Well, no. But Aya said she'd been popping up and getting smacked down just about everywhere!"

I rolled my eyes. "I guess Gensokyo really is a land of fantasy."

Nitori said something, but I ignored her. Let's see... oh, interesting. Alice had carved the runes on the doll's back, under the dress. The full design was... intricate. Greg and I have done a lot of enchantment work, and I've learned a lot from it, but this was a masterclass on the subject. But even without understanding their function, all those runes looked okay... hm.

Aha! More runes on the inside of the dress. And some of those were in fact damaged. So she put the more volatile stuff on a separate surface that can be replaced without damaging the doll. Clever! And they weren't visible from outside, because she'd actually managed to work two layers of fabric into the tiny dress, and the runes were only on the inner one. A couple of those were clearly burned-out safeguard runes, and I could fix that with a needle and thread in five minutes. This would be like fixing my cape, just on a smaller (and thankfully easier) scale. Hm. You know, the stuff on the dress was more similar to things I'd done before, in terms of protection, offensive, and mobility enchantments. Assuming Alice's dolls were all done in the same way, that meant any given doll model could very well have modular capabilities; mix and match the right set of enchanted clothing, and she could have a very versatile army with only a handful of actual doll models needed.

More to the point, I might be able to pull off the same thing with Mary! It'd take some time, but I could copy out these runes, and tweak them to focus more on firepower, or maybe throw in some different utility like a freezing spell. All I'd need is a few additional doll-sized dresses, and... wait. Hm. That could actually be an issue.

I looked over to where the other two were talking. "Hey Nitori, are kappa any good at making clothes?"

"Huh? What does that have to do with anything?"

"It's unrelated. Now answer the question."

"I'm not. Maybe one of the others? I don't know, it's been a while since I've been clothes shopping."

I looked her up and down. "I can tell."

The kappa sputtered a bit while Hina interceded. "You know, if you need a new outfit, you could borrow one of my dresses."

Oh, right, I was still wearing the shrine maiden garb from Eientei. Bloodstains and knife slits included. "That... would actually be great, thanks. But I was hoping to get some outfits for Mary."

Nitori laughed. "Wait, you're seriously playing dress-up with your doll?"

"No, it's not like that, I need an easily enchantable surface, and because the clothing is in continuous contact, it'll conduct... you know what, I'm not bothering explaining this to you."

Hina didn't laugh, at least, though she was smiling. I swear, I get no respect. "The only person I know with doll-sized outfits would be Alice. Maybe you could find some baby clothes in the village?"

"Yes, well, if I could link back up with Alice, a number of things would be simpler." I sighed. "I suppose it figures. Though I will take you up on that offer of a change of clothes for me."




We ended up taking another hour or so before leaving. I took the time to tune up Mary, fixing the damaged runes and giving her a full recharge, while Nitori tinkered with my phone (I'm still a little irritated that I'll need to buy another new one when I get back), and Hina made lunch. It ended up being a salad, these little spiced meat-filled dumpling things, and (to general amusement) a batch of cinnamon rolls.

Naturally, I ignored the salad in favor of the real food, and took the time for planning the attack on journey to the Moriya Shrine. Nitori was initially useless for this, as she was currently occupied by picking all of the cucumbers out of the salad bowl.

No, seriously. Every last one, studiously ignoring our host's stern look as she did so. So I promptly took the opportunity to thank Hina for her hospitality and compliment her on the meal.

"I know it's not much," she said, clasping her hands, "but I wanted to do what I could before seeing you off."

I froze mid-cinnamon-roll-grab. "Wait, you're not coming?"

She gave me a sad smile. "It wouldn't be a good idea. I am a misfortune goddess, after all. If I'm not actively suppressing it, just my presence brings bad luck. My reputation will not help your case."

"Are you sure? I mean, we're going to the gods of the mountain, they have to know-"

"They do, but I'm still a rival god. And one the Moriya shrine doesn't want to be associated with."

Oh. Politics. Well...

{-} Accept Hina's logic.
{-} Try to convince her to come anyway.
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{-} Try to convince her to come anyway.
shut up and lets go
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[x] Accept Hina's logic.
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{-} Try to convince her to come anyway.

That Danmaku sequence + making of spellcards and explanation of the system was good. I liked how Sumi stumbled her way through the game logic until she found a way to twist it in her favor.
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{x} Accept Hina's logic.
do not trip on a twig and die of broken neck
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{-} Try to convince her to come anyway.

We our still overflowing with bad luck thanks to Tewi. If Hina is not there to suck all of our misfortune up, we might collapse into a bad luck singularity. We need Hina with us to help us not die.
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Oh no, black hole surmeko
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[x] Accept Hina's logic.

don't really see a reason to bring her along other than general numbers. Would be nice to have another mind to pick through for spellcard ideas. But if the cost is a debuff to luck (which we're already short on) then it's probably not worth it.
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>>203693
nah lets integer overflow back to maximum positive luck
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Oh gosh this is such a tough choice... I'll just let Lost Soul break the tiebreaker instead
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{X} Try to convince her to come anyway.
Hina pls
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{-} Accept Hina's logic.
- thank her for the help.
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aand it's tied again, guess I'll vote

{x] Accept Hina's logic.
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{x} Be conflicted over it.

I took a bite of the cinnamon roll as I thought. Hina did have legitimate points. It's easier to hide with fewer people, and if she has to actively suppress the misfortune she gathers, she probably isn't much of a fighter. But even still...

"I don't care about your reputation." I said, putting the (absolutely delicious) treat down. "Even aside from however I've been vilified, I've been traveling with Satori! And you're nothing like her."

Hina shrugged. "I don't really know her, I'm afraid."

"You're better off that way," Nitori chimed in. "She's the worst."

I snorted. "There's probably worse, but I can see why she's disliked."

Greg would say I'm being unfair, but quite aside from general unpleasantness, I couldn't imagine Hina kidnapping anyone.

"That's kind of you to say, but others won't see it that way."

"You mean the Moriya Shrine, right?" I waved a hand dismissively. "Sure, politics will be politics, but if the shrine's unreasonable enough to reject you out of hand, they probably wouldn't hear me out in the first place."

Hina hesitated, so I doubled down on the point. "If anything, the people open-minded enough to actually hang out with you are the ones I should try to speak with."

"That's too short a list," she said with a sigh, "And Kanako's still at the top of it."

I started to speak, but she held up a hand, interrupting me. "It's not that simple. It... people don't mind a small amount of misfortune. They'll complain about it, but they won't really believe in it. A bad roll of the dice is just a bad roll of the dice. But when you combine bad omens together, they get worse. A broken mirror and a black cat is a far worse sign than either one alone. And reputation is the same way."

Nitori nodded. "It's why no kappa will take Reimu as a business partner. We'll sell at the shrine, but that's it."

That distracted me for a moment. "Wait, isn't she a really important figure? How can her reputation be that bad?"

Hina laughed. "It's not that. Reimu is... not good with money."

Nitori sighed. "A poverty god would have an easier time making money than her. It's actually ridiculous."

I chuckled. "I'm pretty sure that's impossible."

Hina and Nitori glanced at each other, then said in unison, "You can't let common sense hold you back in Gensokyo!"

As they dissolved into laughter, I was more than a little non-plussed. It was obviously a reference of some sort, but-

"Don't worry about it," Hina said, still chuckling. "When you meet Sanae... well, she's a dear, but you'll see."

"Anyway," I tried, "getting back to the point-"

"Right," Hina said, regaining control of herself. "You shouldn't just surround yourself with outcasts, Sumireko. I know it seems like your only option, but it'll make it harder to win over anyone else, later on."

"Why not? Even aside from the point where neither of us deserve it, that's how you fight a bad status quo!"

"That I'd pay money to see," Nitori said. "Unexpected skills or not, you aren't that strong."

I thought back to the occult balls and clenched a fist. "You haven't seen everything I can do."

Hina shook her head. "Even if you could, you don't want to commit to that. Gensokyo's status quo isn't a bad thing. It's already unusual you've been pursued so much."

"Just spitballing here, but it might have had just a little tiny, infinitesimal bit to do with a kidnapping!" Nitori said brightly.

I tossed a napkin at her. "Oh, stick a cucumber in it."

As Nitori shot me a smirk back, I ignored the peanut gallery and refocused on Hina. The problem was, at least from a purely practical point of view, she was right. But this wasn't really about being practical, was it?

"Honestly... it would be good to have someone I can trust."

"Hey!"

"Oh, come off it. I literally bribed you to work with me, you'd turn for a better offer." I sighed. "And it's the same thing with Alice and Satori. I mean, I've been working with them, but I'm worried someone else will give them a better offer. Marisa, Sakuya... they've already escalated to kidnapping and attempted murder. What's a bribe compared to that?"

"And you trust me?" Hina's voice was quiet.

"You didn't take me in because you thought I'd do something for you. You didn't even know who I was."

Hina hesitated, and for a long moment, nobody spoke. "I understand, I really do. But if you trust me, then please, trust my ability. It wouldn't end well."

I was about to speak when Nitori cut in. "Sumireko, could I talk to you privately?"

Disappointment turned to irritation. "Can't this wait until later?"

"No, it can't. Now, please."

Nitori got up from the table, leaving half a cucumber behind. I glared at her receding back and took another bite of cinnamon roll instead. Hina laid a hand on my shoulder. "Please, talk to her. I know you've had a rough start, but she's better than you think."

I sighed again. As much as I wanted to prove a point here, saying no just didn't feel possible. It was like dealing with my Mom, Hina wouldn't be mad, just disappointed. Also, if I really was going to work with Nitori, there was a limit to how far I could push the kappa.

Nitori was waiting outside, and her scowl made her intentions clear. So I beat her to the punch. "Let me guess, you're feeling offended and want to argue you're actually trustworthy."

"What? No." I smirked at her and the kappa went back to scowling as she realized what she'd just said. "Well, actually yes, you're an ass, but that's not why I called you out here."

"Then what?"

"Quit trying to guilt Hina into following you around!"

"Why? So you can extort more technology out of me anyway? Because I'm not about to believe you care about my reputation."

"Of course not!" Nitori spat and drew out a crowbar. "It's about hers! She doesn't do the incident thing! And not just because she wants to avoid adding bad luck into the mix! You're so damned clever, what do you think happens when people see a bad luck goddess in the middle of an incident?"

That math wasn't hard to do, and I flinched, protesting, "It's not the middle of the incident! I just wanted-"

"It's your incident, of course it's the middle! You're the one who said she saved your life! Are you that selfish?"

I clenched a fist, summoning a fireball in my other one. "Say that again, I dare you."

"She saved your life and you're dragging her into your mess." The kappa leaned in closer, "Are you that desperate for warm bodies to throw at your attackers?"

I swore and threw the fireball. Nitori flinched and tried to interpose her crowbar, but it wasn't aimed at her and sailed past her into some bushes. Which proceeded to catch fire.

Right, BAD luck. I swore a little less emphatically and a little more frantically as I ran over. Okay, conjuring water, I could do that. It had been a while, but if I did a phase transition to find liquid, I just had to disallow oil, and-

Nitori doused me and the bush with a spray of water. Cold water, in mid-autumn. She didn't even smile as she leaned on her crowbar, staring me down. "And that's the other reason she shouldn't come. You're welcome, by the way."

I gritted my teeth as I turned back to the kappa. "Fine. You wanted to look trustworthy, right? Convince me."

The kappa rolled her eyes. "You know the important thing about running a business? Being good for your word."

"Even if you get a better offer?"

"If you've already made the agreement? Yes. Especially then."

"Yes, because I'm sure the rest of Gensokyo would rush to condemn you for breaking faith with me."

The kappa shrugged. "I know when there's no sale to be made. Just remember, Gensokyo's not this monolith you seem to think it is. Hina should be proof enough of that."

Like I was going to take her word on that. I narrowed my eyes and focused. "I'll take it under advisement."

She smirked. "You just hate me because I'm right."

The kappa made to leave with the last word, before tripping because her shoes were tied together. That got a moment of pure confusion out of her, considering she wore galoshes, which didn't have laces in the first place.

Mary flew the rest of the way towards me with a spool of red thread in her hands, and I gave my doll a well-deserved head-pat. "Believe me, kappa. If I hated you, you'd know."

Sure, it was petty... but I'm still the queen of petty one-upmanship.

{-} Prepare to leave.
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Mary being the MVD (Most Valuable Doll) as usual. Great way to resolve the tie.
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I knew having faith in Lost Soul was the best decision. Anyways let's go ahead and move out. TO THE MORIYA SHRINE

{X} Prepare to leave.
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Life has been busy lately, so I haven't gotten around to writing just yet. Going to aim for an update this weekend.
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{-} Prepare to leave.

There wasn't much to be said after that. Hina was gracious enough to pretend she hadn't noticed our little spat outside, and neither of me nor Nitori brought it up. Or spoke to each other at all, really. That said, given that the kappa had accidentally stumbled into a point, I didn't press Hina any further about joining me, and the remainder of the meal passed in silence. Well, except for Mary's antics, who was successfully angling for attention from Hina. I even found myself on the verge of a smile despite myself.

The remaining preparations weren't all that much, really. In terms of actual combat potential, Mary and I were as good as we were going to get, but Hina was kind enough to provide me with an extra change of clothes and a couple days of food, both of which ended up in Nitori's backpack. (How she has a backup backpack with that much tech, I'll never know. Also, I swear it's bigger on the inside.) There were also a large number of cucumbers Hina had offered Nitori, probably as compensation for putting up with me.

It wasn't until Nitori had made her goodbyes and gone outside that I finally said something.

"For the record, I've... been a terrible guest. I'm sorry for all the trouble."

The misfortune goddess shrugged. "You haven't been that bad."

"Your guests usually set your garden on fire?"

"Um..."

"That's what I thought." I sighed. "I just don't get along with Nitori. She hates my guts, which... fair enough, really, at least she has a reason, but the point is..."

My voice trailed off, not sure how to continue. "Greg would be so much better at this," I muttered.

"Oh. Is he your friend?"

Huh. I could have sworn I'd mentioned Greg's name before this. "Yeah. He's the one good at all the diplomatic stuff. He's... a little too eager to please, honestly. At least he won't get in trouble for back-talking Sakuya or something stupid."

"You're worried about him."

"Yes, well, I'm only human." I took a couple of deep breaths. "I hate this. I hate this, and I hate her."

"Nitori's not-"

"Not her, she's just a nuisance. The others. Sakuya, Marisa, all the rest of them. Them and their wild-west sanctimonious vigilanteism!" I swore. "Magic was always this wonderful thing, you know? It was something amazing, something different, dangerous to be sure, but always within reason, always worth the risks."

I started pacing. "Finding this place, this world, it was going to be it. A better frontier than space, the greatest discovery since Columbus found America. What magic could do for the world... heck, or what technology could do with this world. Five minutes with Nitori should give you an idea of that. And then we found it, and it's a bloody death-trap! Greg was kidnapped, I almost died, and all we were trying to do was get him medical treatment! Meanwhile, Sakuya put a couple rabbits at knife-point and stabbed Marisa a bunch, but I don't see a hit squad out for her. No, she's all right, just screw me in particular, huh?"

Hina bit her lip, looking at me and glancing away. "I don't think... hold on, give me a minute."

After saying that, Hina started intently at me, enough to make me uncomfortable. "Hina, what-"

"Shh," she said, continuing to stare.

After a minute or two of this, suddenly her knees buckled and she fell. She caught herself on hands and knees, breathing heavily. My eyes widened, and I rushed to her side. "Hina! Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she said, pushing up to one knee.

"You clearly aren't! You collapsed!"

"I'll be fine", she repeated, as I pulled her to her feet. "But more importantly, you will be too. It's going to be okay."

I grimaced. "You don't know that."

The misfortune goddess raised an eyebrow. "I've got a pretty good idea."

I sucked in a breath. "I thought you just sensed luck. Does... does it actually work like that?"

Hina put a hand around my shoulders. "This kind of thing is never certain, and it takes a lot out of me, but the magnitude of the misfortune around you... it's not that bad. It'll be rough, but it doesn't feel like death. Yours or his."

Oh. So that's what that was. She read the future just now, and the expenditure of power made her collapse, and she did it to... I felt myself tearing up a bit, and blinked it away. "Greg... he knew coming here was a trap, from the start. I hope to all the gods here you're right, because I dragged him into it anyway, and if he dies, then..."

Hina pulled me tight into a side-by-side hug, and I let it happen. When I spoke, my voice was unsteady. "It's been a long time since I've felt this helpless," I admitted. "But I'm just not strong enough. I... think I can figure something out from Sakuya. I can't hope to fight her and everyone else at the mansion. Which means I have to get allies, I have to do the diplomacy thing, even though I'm terrible at it. And that means I have to find a way to make nice with all these youkai, when I really just want to tell them which part of my ass they can kiss."

Hina chuckled. "It won't be that bad."

"You are literally the only person I've met who hasn't been involved in a fight in some way."

"An honest appeal and a good spellcard counts for a lot in Gensokyo. You'll do fine."

We stayed like that for a minute, until I finally straightened up. "Hina..."

False start. I swallowed, and tried again. "Hina, you've done a lot for me. I just... look, if there's anything I can ever do for you, please let me know."

She gave me a kind smile. "If you end up staying in Gensokyo, just visit from time to time. That's enough."

"I will. And I'll bring Greg when I do, I think you two would get along."

She nodded, and spun in place, before growing serious again. "One more thing. Looking at the misfortune ahead of you, I couldn't see much, but there's going to be one person in particular you shouldn't trust. I wasn't able to see who."

I opened my mouth to speak, and she cut in, "It's not Nitori."

"Is that your ability, or your personal experience?"

"Both," she said, giving me a look.

I felt a little chastened, but this was important to know. "So does that mean everyone else is trustworthy, or..."

"It's not really that simple," she said. "Just be careful, okay? If you trust her, things become a lot worse."

"Ah, so it is a her!"

Hina started laughing, and I belatedly realized just how little that narrowed it down.



After a final, more standard good-bye, Hina didn't see me to the door, electing to take a rest in one of the living room chairs. That was fine, we'd said everything that needed to be said. I took a moment to compose myself, and left. Away from this unexpected little island of safety, and back into this crazy, dangerous world.

Speaking of crazy and dangerous, I almost ran into Nitori, who was right outside and looking supremely uncomfortable. In no small part due to Mary ineffectually trying to pull her away, but even aside from that, extremely awkward. I gestured, and the doll stopped, flying to my side and giving the kappa a stern look. It wasn't hard to figure out why.

"You were listening in," I said.

If there was any doubt, Nitori's sheepish look quelled it. "No, I just wanted to make sure you didn't... try... anything?"

I rubbed my eyes and sighed.

{-} It's not important, and I'm tired. Just let it go.
{-} We should probably straighten this out now. Clear the air.
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[x] It's not important, and I'm tired. Just let it go.
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{X} It's not important, and I'm tired. Just let it go.
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{x} It's not important, and I'm tired. Just let it go.

(Pic related) Me on the top right. Had some chicken too.
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>>203744
{-} It's not important, and I'm tired. Just let it go.
sometimes you got to learn to shut your mouth
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{X} It's not important, and I'm tired. Just let it go.

What I like about this story is that you take time to focus on characters that aren't generally popular and write them well. Great job Lost Soul keep it up
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{x} It's not important, and I'm tired. Just let it go.

I didn't bother replying. There were sarcastic remarks to be made, (with "Whatever helps you sleep at night" being my first impulse), as well as the potential to more seriously hash things out with my perpetual eavesdropper, but I kept them all back. It was all Hina's fault. She's got the same sort of aura, for lack of a better word, as Greg does. Not with the misfortune thing (though sometimes I wonder), but the whole kindness thing. He always manages to be so damned nice about everything in a way that makes me feel guilty for snapping at people. Even when they're absolute idiots and thoroughly deserve it.

He'd better be okay. Hina's parting reassurance on that front was hopeful, but...

I sniffed, shaking my head and gritting my teeth. It did me no good to think that way. He was going to be okay, and I was going to all but tear his head off for getting his helpless ass kidnapped in the first place!

Mary gave me a sympathetic pat on the back, and I sighed, gathering my wits and taking off.

"Uh, Sumireko?" Nitori started.

"What? Was my good-bye too emotional for your tastes?"

She flinched, turning and pointing behind her. "The Moriya Shrine is that way."

Oh. "Right. Seeing as I've never been here, maybe you should lead."

Now I was feeling guilty again. Which was definitely Hina's fault. She was just too nice for her own good, and everything would have been so much easier if she didn't somehow like the kappa. Instead, it was breaking my mental categorization model. I sighed. At least I could throw myself into something productive. Three spellcards wasn't going to be enough against the stronger youkai around, and while I couldn't really practice new spellcards while flying, I could work on the ideas, at least.

Nitori did seem like she had something on her mind, but she didn't work up the courage to actually say it, and I didn't care enough to ask, so we flew on in a rough approximation of peace.

The forest was pleasant enough. The combination of thick woods and fall colors could have been gloomy, but the sun was hitting at just a high enough angle to filter in between the trees, giving us light to see by, and letting us fly underneath the tree cover. Well, okay, I'm selling it short. In all honesty, the scenery deserved to be described with extra flowery language like "mixtures of reds and oranges, reminiscent of the warmth of a campfire", or maybe "painted in shafts of golden light". Between that and the mountain in the distance, a landscape artist would probably be weeping with joy. Mary was definitely enjoying herself, flying from tree to tree, peeking around trunks, and occasionally stopping to look at some picturesque view or other. As for me? Despite Mary's antics threatening to lift my mood, I mostly wanted to sulk in peace, and having to maneuver around the various branches wasn't helping. Still, it was better than being spotted.

I'm not sure how deep we'd started within the forest, but it was maybe half an hour when we emerged by the river. From there it was a significantly faster flight upstream for a bit until Nitori suddenly stopped. She looked around for a minute, and nodded to me.

"Stay here. I've got a few tools hidden away, and I'd like to grab them before we go near anything too dangerous. It should only take like fifteen minutes, tops."

With that, she jumped into the river, powering through the water like a submarine. There was a fairly narrow hole in the opposite bank, which meant a tunnel... which also meant I could follow her, if I cared to do so.

{-} I've done underwater breathing enchantments before, and I want to see more kappa tech. I'm totally following her.
{-} It might be better to wait. Aside from not pissing off the tentative ally, I do need to work on these spellcard ideas a bit more.
{-} Or, you know, I could just hook up a scrying enchantment to Mary and send her to track the kappa. Considering how much the doll acts on her own, I'd even have plausible deniability.
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>>203761
{x} It might be better to wait. Aside from not pissing off the tentative ally, I do need to work on these spellcard ideas a bit more.

I wanna roll on a random encounter table. I wanna roll, I wanna roll!
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{X} It might be better to wait. Aside from not pissing off the tentative ally, I do need to work on these spellcard ideas a bit more.

Let's play nice, cool off. And not piss off our only temporary ally at the moment any more than we already have?
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{x} I've done underwater breathing enchantments before, and I want to see more kappa tech. I'm totally following her.

She's been listening in business that isn't hers, we're snooping where she doesn't want us to be. This is to get even with the Kappa.
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{X} It might be better to wait. Aside from not pissing off the tentative ally, I do need to work on these spellcard ideas a bit more.
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{-} It might be better to wait. Aside from not pissing off the tentative ally, I do need to work on these spellcard ideas a bit more.
{-}While at it, think of a couple of petty lines regarding ‘trust’ and ‘privacy’ to guilt trip Nitori when she gets back.

I’d like to see a possible vitriolic friendship develop here XP

Though speaking of friendship, I’m wondering if Greg already being Sumireko’s friend changed any of the opening visits she had into Gensokyo. Haven’t played the game myself, but from tvtropes read that Sumireko ended up befriending Mokou and being somewhat upset when Mokou ended up being pulled back, but Mokou hasn’t been mentioned so far here. Did Greg’s involvement change the opening routes of ULiL?
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>>203774
Nothing set in stone, but I was working with the idea that all the opening routes of ULiL happened as they normally did in the game. I just haven't really gotten around to working Mokou into the story just yet.
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{X} Or, you know, I could just hook up a scrying enchantment to Mary and send her to track the kappa. Considering how much the doll acts on her own, I'd even have plausible deniability.

I feel this is the more smart idea.
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{x} It might be better to wait. Aside from not pissing off the tentative ally, I do need to work on these spellcard ideas a bit more.

I watch Nitori disappear from sight, and managed to not follow her. Look, contrary to public belief, I can do self control. At least, when there's a valid reason, and tactical advantages do fall under that category. No matter how much I want to snoop on Nitori. After all, turnabout is fair play, and if it upsets her, I can tell her where to shove it, because...

Because petty acts of revenge should totally be my first priority right now.

Mary paused in her haphazard flight around, and I sighed, gesturing for her to just keep on with it.

Seriously, what was I doing?

I shook myself. "Snap out of it, Sumireko. You're better than that. Better than her too, not that there should have been any doubt."

Right, refocus. I need to stay active, for my own sake's as much as Greg's. What can I do that's productive?

Spellcard practice, obviously. Going through various scientific tricks has been working out so far, but coming up with workable ideas has been difficult. That said, the river seems like an obvious theme, maybe I can do something with viscosity? Or perhaps the water cycle? Hm.

"Come on, Mary," I said, summoning the doll over. "Let's get this figured out."



Five minutes later I was getting nowhere. There was a workable idea there, I was sure of it. The idea of turning a slow stream of bullets into a fast one by narrowing the stream was too good not to be useful. But despite that, I just couldn't focus. I already know my magic depends on force of will, so I guess it's not too much of a surprise that danmaku is the same way.

Mary looked over at the trees again longingly and I sighed. "Fine, fine. Go play."

The doll gave me a hug and made a beeline for the trees, while I considered my other options. I think I had a needle and thread on me, so maybe I could sew a few runes into my own clothes? I did, in fact, have them, and I'd just gotten them out when someone spoke.

"What have we here?"

I didn't recognize the voice. All the same, when you're on the run from what passes for the police (in an anarchy-tyranny dystopian sort of way), that is not a phrase you want to hear. I froze, took a deep breath to steady my nerves and turned around.

The immediately obvious point was that she was a youkai, the black wings proved that. She had shoulder-length black hair, red eyes, and one of those weird tiny box-like hats. Her color scheme dress-wise was largely white and black, with the exception of a fan she'd tucked under her arm. that looked all the world like a giant autumn leaf.

All of that was tentatively okay. Far more worrying was the predatory look she was giving me, as she turned over to a fresh page in her notebook and took her pen out from behind her ear.

"Aya Shameimaru, Bunbaru News. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"

"Says the spider to the fly," I muttered.

"What?"

I coughed, raising my voice. "I said, 'You just did.'"

The crow tengu stopped short. "Really?", she asked, exasperated.

I was quite happy to keep the discussion on small talk. "When your job requires you to be precise, you take refuge in pedantry."

"Even to the face of a youkai?"

"If you turn around I could do it behind your back instead."

"I see," the tengu said, scribbling on her notepad. "And just what is your job?"

Damn! I glanced down at the needle and thread I was holding, and held them up as evidence. "Nothing special. I'm just a seamstress."

She nodded, walking forwards. "Ah, I see. Just starting out then?"

It's not like I could make a claim to being recognizable. "You could say that."

Another step. "Under the village seamstress?"

I looked at her warily. "What's it to you?"

Really close now. "Oh, nothing, nothing. It's just that Yuuka Kazami is a good friend of mine. I know she's getting old and grey, but I hadn't expected her to take on an apprentice."

Oh, come on. Why would this random youkai know even more random humans from the village? I gritted my teeth as I smiled, "Oh, not an apprentice as such, just helping out a little, picking up a few tips, that sort of thing."

Aya nodded. "Like clearing out the flowers in her backyard."

"Exactly."

"Alright, then." Aya licked her finger, turning to the next page of her notebook and re-readying her pen. "Not that that wasn't entertaining, but why don't you tell me why you're really here, Sumireko?"

{-} Play dumb, and if necessary, refuse to answer.
{-} Give her the truth, or at least a decent chunk of it. After all, I've got some stories about Sakuya she might be interested in...
{-} "Alright, alright, you've got me. You see, I'm actually a shrine maiden."

And if things go south:

{-} Blast her into next week.
{-} Teleport and make a run for it.
{-} Stall out for Nitori.

Alternatively:

{-} Write-in
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{x} Play dumb, and if necessary, refuse to answer.
-{x} If she gets mad, break out the wide, annoying grin and "Why so serious?".
{x} Stall out for Nitori.
easy to forget that this is still tengu mountain
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[x] Play dumb, until she gets mad.
It's called we do a little trolling

[x] Give her some truth about Sakuya/SDM, nothing important, just enough to get her interested.
I'd say 'tell her about Greg and Satori's kissykissy, as that would probably be enough scandalous gossip to keep her entertained, but Sumireko doesn't know about that. (Yet)

[x] Stall out for Nitori
Teleporting is too risky, and we'd lose our one (kinda-willing) ally. A 'sucker punch and run' strategy wouldn't work, Aya is too fast, she'd catch up as soon as whatever spell or magic wore off.

[x] If things go really south, use the Koishi doll as a distraction.

Just gotta hold out long enough for Nitori, between her box of mechanical contraptions, and the fact you're right next to a river so she won't be nerfed, the two of you could probably beat Aya, or at least knock her around enough to successfully run away.
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{-} Give her the truth, or at least a decent chunk of it. After all, I've got some stories about Sakuya she might be interested in...
Meanwhile, while she's trying to get the scoop,

{-} Quietly cast an underwater breathing enchantment
Then, dive into the river, find Nitori, and either wait till Aya gets bored and leaves, or plan some sort of ambush. I would assume you could talk underwater with that sort of enchantment. If not, at least Aya probably isn't going to follow into the river. Unless tengu can breathe underwater as well......
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{x} Play dumb, and if necessary, refuse to answer.
{x} Quietly cast an underwater breathing enchantment

Do not trust the media; contribute fake news.
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{x} Play dumb, and if necessary, refuse to answer.
{x} Stall out for Nitori.
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{x} Play dumb, and if necessary, refuse to answer.
{x} Stall out for Nitori.

Nitori backup izza go
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hot damn, Aya got us good. Pretending Yuuka was the village seamstress? Asking if we help clear out her flowers? she sure as hell knows we ain't from the village.
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{x} Play dumb, and if necessary, refuse to answer.
{x} Let's go find Nitori, shall we?

She knew. She absolutely knew. Considering she already knows my name, odds are Aya knew before I even said anything. I swallowed. "What makes you say that?"

"Yuuka is a notorious flower youkai. If you did anything to her flowers, you'd be dead."

Of course the seamstress thing was a bluff! I should have known. "Seriously? A flower youkai can't be that strong."

"And the fact that you can say that with a straight face proves you're not from Gensokyo."

"I could just be visiting from one of the distant corners, like Former Hell."

"Like one of the Oni?"

If I said yes, she was just going to point out how Oni were notorious for hating lies. And my lack of horns, for that matter. "Or something else."

Aya rolled her eyes. "You've been showing your face all over Gensokyo, it's a little late to hide your identity now."

What's the saying? It's never more difficult to make someone admit something when their life and liberty depends on them not admitting it? I took a step back towards the river. "And have you met this Sumireko? Or even seen a picture of her? Or were you just looking for the first human with brown hair and glasses?"

"One moment!" There was a flash, and I blinked as Aya put away her camera. I hadn't even seen her pull it out. "Yes, on all counts."

I took another step back. "Look, just what do you want?"

Aya closed in, following me. "I just want to ask you a few questions."

That still wasn't any less ominous. "Questions about the incident."

"Of course."

At this point, I was moving backwards with each statement. "Questions I'm sure Kasen and Marisa would love to hear the answers to."

"Not just them specifically. I report the news for all of Gensokyo."

I glanced back. A few more steps to the river. "That probably won't comfort Sumireko much, considering all of Gensokyo's after her."

"Again with this..." Aya muttered, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Look, you can talk now, or I can beat you in danmaku, and you can talk then."

There's the threat. I was wondering when it was going to come along. "And if I was just an ordinary human?"

"You'd learn a valuable lesson about not leaving the village."

The reminder of the nature of youkai was oddly reassuring. I closed my eyes for a second, taking a deep breath. "I suppose running is out of the question."

"I am the fastest in Gensokyo," she said, giving her wings a quick flap. "But you could try!"

Naturally. Which meant unless I wanted to fight her head-on, there was only one option left. But I'd need a little time to execute it, and that meant stalling. "Magic's difficult, you know? There's somethings that are weirdly easy, and other things that are surprisingly hard."

"Oh?"

"Transforming things, for instance. Making something look different, or act different, or feel different is simple. Soft metal, or wood you can pour into a cup? It's a great party trick, but really not that hard. And yet making one substance truly into another, like lead into gold, or water into air? Nearly impossible."

Aya gave me a quizzical look. "Fire magic is common. Surely you could evaporate the water?"

"Yes, but that's water vapor, not breathable air." I took a lot of care to research that particular idea before trying it. "But you're on the right track. With magic, you can't just bull your way through problems. Sometimes what you wanted is simply impossible. But that doesn't mean you can't get what you need."

Aya took flight, hovering a few feet in front of me. "And what is it that you want, Sumireko? What is it that you need?"

I reviewed the spells I wanted to cast and nodded, letting the energy flow into my hands. "Originally? I wanted to do some magical research. When I first found Gensokyo, it was like a giant magical treasure chest. Even from the outside, the magical density was astounding, but there was no way in. I had to scour the globe for enough energy to punch through. That... might have been the worst decision of my life."

Aya's eyes didn't leave my hands, but she was scribbling a mile a minute on that notebook of hers. "And now?"

I took a few moments to think on that one, gathering more energy as I did so. "A lot of things," I finally said. "I want peace. I want this to all have been some mistake, just a bad dream, so I can get me and my friend home. I want vindication. I want to wipe the smile off your face, to prove to all the youkai that taking me lightly was a mistake. And I want revenge. Sakuya is going to pay for Eientei."

"And that ta-trickster youkai that trapped me here... well." I paused, thrown off completely. Who was she again? She was a shapeshifter, I was certain of that, but what was she?

Aya filled in the silence. "And you think your magic can accomplish all that?"

I shook my head. I couldn't afford to worry about that right now. "What did I just say? Sometimes magic can't do what you want, only what you need. And right now? I need to survive."

I released the magic in a blinding flash. The magic itself was simple: A barrier, combined with a teleport. The barrier was spherical, centered around my body, but not a lot bigger. The teleport? Right into the middle of the river, twelve feet underwater.

I wasn't lying when I said I couldn't turn water into air. The trick is to take the air with you. The bubble of air enclosed by my barrier was enough for me to breathe for at least an hour, and had the added benefit of not getting my clothes soaking wet. Of course, it also meant I had to use flight to move around, and a lapse in concentration could be deadly, but needs must, and all that.

Above me I heard Aya exclaim. (Which had to be pretty loud to make it through four meters of water.) I didn't care. For all her claimed speed, I was willing to bet she never did any actual swimming.

Speaking of which, it was time to go find Nitori. I grabbed hold of my air bubble, and propelled myself and it down the tunnel the kappa had taken.

{-} To be continued.

((It's not exactly what was voted, but I really liked the write-in, and Sumireko's one of those characters who has trouble shutting up, so...))
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>Ignores journalists
>Teleports into a river
>Refuses to elaborate
Sumi with that sigma grindset
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{-} Kappa hideout? Kappa hideout.

The hole I'd seen Nitori disappear into really did deserve the name of tunnel. From the surface, it had looked like just a small hole in the rock, but there was a bend in it not visible from outside, and from there I could see the tell-tale marks of tools having dug into the rock. The edges were smoothed over, not jagged, so this was probably made a long time ago, but still... I found myself curious how the kappa managed to dig this passage underwater. (Some form of water manipulation, probably. Was their control fine enough to manage a water cutter?) Regardless, I shuddered to think of how long it must have taken, because the passage just kept going, twisting and turning onwards and downwards. The pressure on the bubble was getting stronger, and I was worried I'd have to add a light spell to the ones I was already maintaining, but as I approached the second bend I noticed light up ahead.

It was a night-light. I had to be at least seventy feet underwater, and it was an honest-to-goodness nightlight. With wiring and everything.

From here the path was, if not well-lit, at least visible enough. The tunnel flattened out, and then started curving back upwards, widening out dramatically as it did so. More lights showed up every twenty feet or so, and after a while I emerged back into the day. Or... wait, no, that wasn't sunlight! I squinted and shaded my eyes as I looked up at the giant light on the cavern's ceiling, large and bright enough to imitate the sun. And the cavern itself had been turned into a small village. If the village had been built by a dozen competing mad scientists trying their hand at architecture. From here, I could see a log cabin, a house carved out of the rock wall, a teepee, and what looked like some kind of metal scrapyard. Wait, was that actually a glass house? I wandered forwards in wonder, barely noticing as the rock under me turned to sand.

"Hey! Do you mind? You're disrupting the waves!"

Waves? I shook myself, glancing to the side where a kappa with a surfboard (of all things!) was glaring at me. "No. I... sorry, I'll get out of your way." I flew up out of the water entirely, looking down and getting an aerial view of the entrance. Oh. They'd turned the tunnel entrance into an actual beachhead. Where the water was, in fact, making waves that broke upon the shore. Just how did they get the sand in here, anyway?

The kappa below found a good wave, tried hanging ten and promptly wiped out, to the general amusement of the other swimmers. I took the moment to fly up higher towards the mock sun, just to satisfy my own curiosity. As I got closer I had to look away, and I dropped my air-bubble (no longer being needed, given I was out of the water in any case), instead using some weak magical darkness as makeshift sunglasses.

It really was just a big lightbulb. On a mechanical track, moving slowly across the cave's ceiling. A fake sun, an artificial beach, and a wave machine. I guess that's one way to fake an ocean. Was this just a luxury, or were the kappa originally sea-dwellers? Below me, the kappa ran back and forth across the village. Tinkering, yelling, playing... adults and children both, just living their lives. For just a moment, I felt more like a tourist than a refugee. So, where should I look for her?

{-} Nitori seemed the mechanical type, so, maybe the scrapyard?
{-} Wait, she said she was going to get some stuff. There was a warehouse-looking building back there, so that would be logical.
{-} I was willing to bet Nitori was well known. I could always ask where to find her.
{-} Screw it, I really just want to look around. I'll find Nitori eventually.
{?} Write-in? The kappa have a wide variety of experts, is there something in particular Sumireko's going to try and look for?
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{-} Wait, she said she was going to get some stuff. There was a warehouse-looking building back there, so that would be logical.
Either its in here or she has some sort of personal lab, but a warehouse probably isn't a bad place to start searching.
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{-} Wait, she said she was going to get some stuff. There was a warehouse-looking building back there, so that would be logical.
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{X} Nitori seemed the mechanical type, so, maybe the scrapyard?

Damn kappa are the royalty of gensokyo
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{x} The kappa have a wide variety of experts, maybe there's a cartographer. If fortune is willing they have a proper map of Gensokyo.
{x} Screw it, I really just want to look around. I'll find Nitori eventually.
- {x} Small, easily hideable, and exclusive-to-Gensokyo keepsakes for home.
- {x} I wonder if their foodstuffs are literally only cucumbers.

With a map the next emergency teleportation can be a bit more precise.
The Kappa's hideout seems like a playground I'd like to explore.
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{X} Wait, she said she was going to get some stuff. There was a warehouse-looking building back there, so that would be logical.
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>>203845
I'd just like to say I speedread this series in a whole day, it's been such an exciting read and I love how you write the characters, both when they're allies and antagonists. It's a real fantastic thrill ride.
>It's just that Yuuka Kazami is a good friend of mine. I know she's getting old and grey
I hope when/if we encounter Yuuka, we get the option to tell her that Aya has been calling her old and grey, just to see her reaction.
>instead using some weak magical darkness as makeshift sunglasses.
And Sumi should keep these on, they (probably) make her look cool and intimidating.
Anyways

{X} Wait, she said she was going to get some stuff. There was a warehouse-looking building back there, so that would be logical.
Where ever we go we shouldn't wander too deep in. I was going to say we should avoid any detection, but the other kappas don't seem to mind our presence too much. Nitori might be pissed, but as long as we don't make it look like we're snooping around and explain that Aya happened, it should be fine.
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[X] Wait, she said she was going to get some stuff. There was a warehouse-looking building back there, so that would be logical.
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Sorry for the lack of feedback on my end - I really should have mentioned this sooner, but I'm starting a new job literally today, and last week was something of a vacation for me. So with that in mind, the update is going to be somewhat delayed, I'm hoping to get it done this weekend.

Future update progress is going to depend on how intense my job ends up being; it is at a startup, so we'll see how the work-life balance ends up shaking out. (Insert joke about how writing this means I can't have a life anyway.)
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Best of luck at your new job! So far I've enjoyed this story so I hope you will be able to continue working on it one way or another
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{X} Wait, she said she was going to get some stuff. There was a warehouse-looking building back there, so that would be logical.

I hadn't known Nitori all that long, but anyone could see that she was all business. Which meant that when she said she was going to retrieve something, it was a decent bet that's what she was actually doing. Sure, it was possible she was lying to me for who-knows-what reason and visiting her secret kappa crush or something, but I just didn't see it. (And not just because it's hard to imagine her actually getting a date.) Nitori might hate my guts, but I think she's greedy enough for modern tech to put up with it, and that means not antagonizing me, at least beyond the inevitable verbal sniping.

I took a regretful look at the little mad science-y village below me, hesitated, and flew off towards the warehouse. Then thought better of it, and at least flew through the main streets. It wasn't sight-seeing, it's just that if my first guess was wrong, I just had better chances of spotting Nitori if I took the time to look carefully on my way to the warehouse.

The main street was pretty much a marketplace, though the wares were pretty novel compared to the human version. The most normal part of it was the food on offer - cucumbers were, unsurprisingly, out in full force, though I also saw a decent amount of fish and other vegetables. There was a sushi stall on one end, and next to it were a couple of children eating roasted sweet potatoes. However, everything else on sale was some kappa device or other, most of which looked suspiciously like various modern conveniences. Some of which were clearly altered in interesting ways, like the "kappa air pump" which had probably started life as a handheld vacuum... and then there were the tennis rackets being advertised as giant fly-swatters. "Good for flies and faeries both." I can't decide if it's better or worse that someone actually bought one just as I was flying by.

I'd have spent longer looking, but I was painfully aware that I didn't have any actual money on me (or anything else to barter with), and I'd learned from experience that window shopping for too long led to nothing but envy. On to the warehouse it was.

Hm. Drawing closer to it, it's clear the thing was constructed for sturdiness. The entire thing is just a giant block of concrete and metal, with no design flourishes in sight. There are plenty of windows, but none of them actually look openable, being just thick glass sheets across entire floors. Bulletproof, if I'm any judge. (Which I have gotten pretty good at estimating. Don't ask.) And a glance downwards reveals what looks like a guard, though she doesn't seem to have actually seen me yet.

It's uncertain whether I'd be allowed access, but since I'd already planned on asking forgiveness anyway, I just do a quick flyby across the exterior windows, looking for one kappa in particular as I flit from floor to floor.

I spot Nitori on my second pass across the third floor window, and as soon as I do, I take a moment to concentrate and teleport in.

"So, what are you getting?"

To set the stage a little, Nitori was halfway up a ladder, wearing one backpack, holding a second to her chest, and currently leaning awkwardly off to the side as she tugged at a large crate. My teleport had come in behind her, and aside from the noise my voice had just made, the warehouse was exceptionally quiet.

Which is a long way of saying, my timing was either exceptionally poor, or absolutely perfect. Regardless, both crate and kappa came loose, and when the dust settled, I was holding a large crate with my levitation, and the floor was holding one disgruntled kappa.

"Would you believe that wasn't actually intentional?"

{-} To be continued.

((Small update, but I figured that was better than nothing.))
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For the sake of not leaving this in limbo, I'm officially putting this on hiatus for a month or so. Right now there's just too many things going on for me to actually find time to write. That said, some of the bigger commitments (new job aside), should be done in a few more weeks, so with that plus a bit of a break, I should be able to come back and actually start writing regularly again.

Apologies for the low output recently, and I'll see you guys on the other side.
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{x} Handle the situation.

"You... you..." Nitori sputtered.

I figured I had about five seconds before the kappa got coherent enough to be properly angry. "Hang on, let me just adjust this before more crates come crashing down."

A bit of telekinesis got the contents of the shelf actually secured on the shelf, and I turned my attention to the crate I'd caught. "And I might as well open this for you."

The kappa was getting red in the face, but her voice came out in a harsh whisper. "You can't just-"

"What do you have in here, anyway? Robot arms? Computer parts? Emergency cucumber supply?"

The side of the crate came loose with a tug, and proved all of my guesses to be wrong.

A bunch of dresses came pouring out. And not particularly practical ones either, these were nice dresses. Everything from a silk Chinese number to modern formal wear to a ballroom gown that you'd expect a princess to wear. And I do mean princess, as it came complete with a matching tiara.

"Huh. Didn't expect you to be into that sort of thing, Nitori."

"That's the wrong crate! Those aren't mine!"

I looked down to the side of the crate, where her name was clearly printed. I waited for Nitori to follow my gaze, and then just looked at her as she steadily went more and more red.

"So, why do you have all those dresses?"

"That's none of your business!"

"Is there a guy?"

"No!" Nitori said through gritted teeth. "There isn't."

Huh. Instead of embarassed anger, that last sentence had a bitter note to it. I think I believed her. Maybe there was a guy in the past, or she was still looking for one. That said, I was still certain these dresses were intended to impress a guy. The padding around the chest area was a dead giveaway. Not that that was important right now, I wasn't here to embarrass the flat-chested kappa-

"You know, the usual strategy is to add the padding to the bra."

I wasn't here to embarrass Nitori much. You know, maybe Greg was right about me needing to rein in my reflexive wit.

The kappa was now bright red, and started whisper-yelling. "You- you bottom feeding, brown-nosing ass!"

Come to think of it, why wasn't she just yelling normally at me? Even I can admit I kind of deserve it after that. Look, there was a time (before puberty did its magic) when I was insecure about my assets too, okay?

"You're not supposed to be here!"

Ah, there it was. "As in, there will be trouble if anyone finds out?"

"Yes! This is a kappa warehouse! Damn it, it's a kappa hideout in the first place - I told you to stay put!"

I shrugged. "Aya showed up, and she knew who I was. It was either this, or start up the danmaku."

"And this is the one time you choose not to fight?!"

I crossed my arms. "I don't always jump straight to fighting."

It was Nitori's turn to stare at me, and I took a second to mentally review my interactions with her. "Really! It's just been a rough couple of days, that's all."

Nitori scoffed. "I'm sorry, did you get kidnapped and interrogated yesterday?"

I glared at her. "No, I merely passed out after being stabbed twice. My best friend's the one who got kidnapped, and is probably being interrogated as we speak."

It was a tense moment, but the kappa looked away first. "This is more trouble than it's worth."

Oh, right. I might be winning the argument (well, let's be fair, there's no might about it; I was demolishing her), but a petty argument with Nitori was entirely the wrong battle to fight. I was way too used to having Greg to handle this diplomacy crap.

I sighed, leaning down to pick a dress off the floor. "So what do you need from this crate, anyway?"

"Nothing," she snapped, snatching it out of my hand. "That crate I need was behind this one."

That actually made sense. Which meant me stumbling on the contents of this one was a hilariously unlikely coincidence. "Wow. That's... really bad luck, actually."

Nitori continued packing the crate back up as she grumbled. "Par for the course with you."

I considered sniping back, but diplomacy must and all that. Besides, she wasn't wrong, even without the whole Tewi mess. "Look, I actually wasn't here to spy." Even though it would have served her right. "Getting away from Aya and finding you was supposed to be the option that caused the least trouble."

She sighed. "Look, just let me stock up and we'll discuss it later. The last thing I need right now is for the guard to come up wondering what's taking me so long."

"Well then, which crate do you need? It'll be a lot easier for me to get at it, and to put this back."

"... fine. It's that one," the kappa said, pointing.

With a few quick applications of telekinesis, the dress crate was back on the shelf, and the presumably useful crate was down by the kappa. This one was more generic storage, full of odds and ends, but the main object inside...

"Oh. A replacement backpack." I probably should have seen that coming.

"It's not as good as the one you stole," Nitori said, "but it's something."

I paused. Now probably wasn't the best time to ask, but... screw it. "Do you have a third backpack?"

"No. And even if I did, no."

"What, not even going to negotiate over it? And besides, weren't you using that water jetpack?"

She shook her head. "First off, the jetpack's a single-function device; it doesn't have any of the other gadgets my actual backpack does. Second, you can't afford it."

"Maybe not yet, but once I get back home-"

"There's a limit to how much I'm willing to gamble on that", Nitori talked over me, "There's too high a chance you'll mouth off to the wrong youkai and get your stupid ass killed."

"You underestimate me."

"Doubtful, but all of that's beside the point. All of my mechanical gadgets were either in the backpack you got blown up, or in the Nessie that your friend blew up. You're lucky I'm not charging you for that, by the way. Everything left is hydraulic, which means you can't use it."

I paused. "Hydraulic as in, powered by kappa water powers?"

"Obviously."

That's not what 'hydraulic' usually means, but I had bigger fish to fry.

"That could still be workable. I can move water through telekinesis, especially in a closed system."

Nitori wordlessly pulled a water bottle out of the crate, uncapped it, and poured it out. The water collected in midair, and with a gesture, she bent it into a three-dimensional water sculpture of a rose. Which she then plucked a petal off of and drank.

"Do that with telekinesis, and you can work kappa hydraulics."

I sighed. Game respects game, and while that trick didn't need much raw power, the level of control she'd displayed was impressive. With a month or so of practice, I was pretty sure I could pull off something similar, but I'd need all my concentration to keep the water holding that detailed of a shape. Nitori had done it casually. If the remaining kappa-tech needed that level of manipulation, it wouldn't be useful to me right now.

"If you can pull off a stunt like that, why bother with mechanical engineering in the first place?"

The corners of Nitori's lips curved upwards for the first time in the conversation. "To make things I can sell, obviously."

I'm not sure what I expected. Although, speaking of selling things...

{-} I might want to take a quick look through the kappa market, to see if I can't find {insert object here}. It could prove useful, and there had to be some way I could use magic to pay for it.
{-} Better to just leave. Nitori's irritation aside, I don't have time to waste.
{-} Or maybe it'd be better for me to take an hour or so and see if I couldn't wait Aya out. Avoiding the potential fight would be worth it, and I could see about working out a new magical trick while I wait.
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{X} Or maybe it'd be better for me to take an hour or so and see if I couldn't wait Aya out. Avoiding the potential fight would be worth it, and I could see about working out a new magical trick while I wait.

Even if Aya doesn't go away, some time to prepare to fight her can't be a bad thing, provided Sumireko can focus on preparing, and not start another argument with Nitori or something.

Also, holy shit, you're back! How are things? Did you get into the rythm of the new job just fine? I mean, I assume you managed it since you've returned, but still.
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The new job has been great. I'm really enjoying it so far, and if I'm honest, I mostly needed the break from writing. It really does seem like I go in cycles of being able to keep up an update schedule and being borderline burnt-out.

Regardless, we'll see how the writing goes, but I'm hoping to have something a little more frequent than my pre-break once a week updates. Sorry for the delay, and thanks for waiting!
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{X} Or maybe it'd be better for me to take an hour or so and see if I couldn't wait Aya out. Avoiding the potential fight would be worth it, and I could see about working out a new magical trick while I wait.
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{X} Or maybe it'd be better for me to take an hour or so and see if I couldn't wait Aya out. Avoiding the potential fight would be worth it, and I could see about working out a new magical trick while I wait.

no tengu reporter pls
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"Is there a guy?"

"No!" Nitori said through gritted teeth. "There isn't."

Huh. Instead of embarassed anger, that last sentence had a bitter note to it. I think I believed her. Maybe there was a guy in the past, or she was still looking for one.


https://youtu.be/K1uSgFrwS5c



{x} I might want to take a quick look through the kappa market, to see if I can't find {a map of Gensokyo}. It could prove useful, and there had to be some way I could use magic to pay for it.
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Oh great youre back!!

>>204078
Good idea

{x} I might want to take a quick look through the kappa market, to see if I can't find {a map of Gensokyo}. It could prove useful, and there had to be some way I could use magic to pay for it.
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{x} I might want to take a quick look through the kappa market, to see if I can't find {a map of Gensokyo}. It could prove useful, and there had to be some way I could use magic to pay for it.
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And that ties up the vote. I'll give it until tomorrow for a tiebreaker, otherwise I'll just pick.

Though it is great to see people are still interested after the long delay. Always fun for a writer to have their writing be well-received.

(Also, my laptop has broken a key on its keyboard, which is annoying. Thankfully I've got more than one available computer, so it's not too deadly, but it's still tiresome to deal with.)
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{x} I might want to take a quick look through the kappa market, to see if I can't find {a map of Gensokyo}. It could prove useful, and there had to be some way I could use magic to pay for it.
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{X} I might want to take a quick look through the kappa market, to see if I can't find {a map of Gensokyo}. It could prove useful, and there had to be some way I could use magic to pay for it.

Nitori's gear was ready in short order, and as I put the crate away she turned to me. "Look, can you get out of here without being seen?"

"The warehouse or the village-hideout thing as a whole? The first one's easy, but plenty of kappa have already seen me across the hideout. I literally walked through the market place."

"Just the warehouse," Nitori paused. "Wait, what do you mean getting in was easy? This building has perimeter alarms to identify and record anyone or anything that comes inside."

I had noticed a guard outside, but that was about it. "Is it that important?"

Nitori looked pensive. "This is our secure storage for the sort of projects you don't want anyone else to get their hands on. Whether that's because of confidential information, dangerous technology, or whatever."

"Perimeter alarms, as in, you cross the threshold, you're caught?"

"Exactly."

Interesting, but if that was all, I had a pretty good idea of what happened. "If it's that important, why not guard the inside as well?"

She shrugged. "Privacy. The guard rotates quite a bit, and nobody wants half a dozen random guards being able to peek at your tech. So, we just make sure nobody can get in in the first place, and that's that."

I smirked. "So, how valuable would you say knowledge of this security flaw is?"

The kappa glared at me, but I smiled wider. "Come on, you know perfectly well you'd be doing the exact same thing in your position. It's just good business sense!"

"Are you trying to provoke me?"

Not in particular, but annoying Nitori was one of those things I was just naturally successful at. "I teleported."

Nitori stared at me in disbelief. "Please tell me there was more to it than that."

I gave Nitori an apologetic-but-not-really-your-security-is-idiotic smile. It was a very eloquent expression, particularly compared to the groan and the facepalm it induced on her end. She waved me off. "Fine. Just go and wait by the market; I'll catch up with you there."

I nodded and teleported out.



Fifteen minutes later, Nitori and I were sitting at this little cafe by the marketplace, as Nitori had pointed it out as an excellent place to get refreshments. Once we'd been seated, the kappa had made a point of buying herself cake. And asking me how I was going to pay for anything, with my current lack of funds.

I let it be. Sure, I could have ordered something and stuck Nitori with the bill, or simply stolen a bite of her cake, but that would be needlessly petty, and I was above that sort of thing.

"Something on your mind?" Nitori asked, in-between bites.

Absolutely above that sort of thing. It didn't bother me at all.

I took a deep breath, focusing my attention on the bustling market behind her. "Two things, actually. First off, is there a decent way to get a map of Gensokyo?"

Nitori showed surprise for a moment (clearly not expecting me to take the high road), then turned thoughtful as she took a sip of water. "Local map or-"

"Gensokyo as a whole. High detail would be nice, but mostly I want to know where everything is relative to everything else."

"Do you need to know where everything is? From what you said to Hina, I'd assumed you were going to just head right to the Scarlet Devil Mansion. They're not exactly hard to find."

I rolled my eyes. "Nitori, so far I've visited the Hakurei Shrine, the Forest of Magic, the Bamboo Forest of the Lost, Eientei, the Human Village, and now Youkai Mountain. I'm currently on the way to the Moriya Shrine, I know I'll be paying the SDM a visit, and it's at least plausible that I'll end up needing to visit Former Hell for more reinforcements. Point being, I've already been dragged across half of Gensokyo; I might as well find out about the other half ahead of time."

Nitori was giving me that 'this is more trouble than it's worth' look again.

"I guess. Problem is, Gensokyo's dangerous, and-"

I wasn't letting that opening go. "You don't say."

Nitori shot me a look. "No, seriously. If you want to just travel wherever with zero consequence or forethought, you need to be on the level of Marisa. And people that strong aren't usually cartographers."

I scowled, glancing out over the marketplace again. "Come on. I can't be the only person interested in a map, and you'd sell people air if you could find the right way to market it. There has to be something."

Nitori paused. "I don't know if she's got all of Gensokyo, but Piper's probably your best bet. But again, how are you going to pay for it?"

"Let me worry about that."

Nitori gave me a doubtful look, and proceeded to take an extra large bite of her dessert. I didn't take the bait, and eventually she asked. "So what was the second thing?"

"Right. About the tengu, I think we're better off waiting down here for Aya to go away."

Nitori grimaced. "Aya is stubborn. If she even suspects you're still around, she'll stake out the entrance. I'd bet money that any kappa that leaves before you do will get their own interview on whether they've seen you and what you're up to."

"How stubborn are we talking about?"

"Days. Weeks if she can get another tengu to split guard duty with her."

I swore. "Fine. Let's go find Piper first, then we'll figure something out to deal with Aya."

"I guess that's reasonable. We can head out once I'm done with this."

I glanced down at the half-eaten slice of chocolate cake, and back up at the kappa. I'd expected Nitori to make a show out of it, and maybe to drag it out with small bites. Instead she just shrugged at me and ate it normally, looking more honestly happy than smug.

Which was somehow worse, because it implied that the cake was actually just good.

{-} To be continued.

((I'll admit, I strongly considered making a joke about the extent to which the cake was a lie, but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it.))
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>>204089
I am glad you reigned yourself in; unwarranted video game meme references in fanfiction are almost as grievous of a crime as making dad puns while eating dinner after a exhausting day at work or school.
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>>204078
>Huh. Instead of embarassed anger, that last sentence had a bitter note to it. I think I believed her. Maybe there was a guy in the past, or she was still looking for one.
If only Greg was here and found out earlier, we might've gone down the Nitori route. I doubt a Nitori route is even on the cards for Sumi for several reasons, most of which being Sumi's excellent social skills. Oh well, the Satori route has been fantastic so far, I can't complain

>>204089
I'm sure Sanae will make plenty of epic mid-2000s meme references when we get to Moriya Shrine, don't worry. For now, what would be the best way to get past Aya? My first thought is a distraction by causing something newsworthy elsewhere, but I can't really imagine how that could be practically done. There could be disguise but would Aya be able to sniff Sumi's scent? Maybe Nitori could dress Sumi up as a kappa, with a few other kappas accompanying her. Alternatively she could stuff Sumi in a crate and smuggle her out. I'm sure Nitori wouldn't mind being able to toss around and bang up such a crate too, just to give Sumi a comfortable ride.
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>>204094
>For now, what would be the best way to get past Aya?
Just shoot her
With birdshot
Telekinetic birdshot
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I've finally caught up. Damn this is one great story. I shall wait patiently for thy next update!

Also, birdshot doesn't sound half bad an idea.
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{-} Acquire cake map.

On our way to meet Piper, we passed back through the kappa's market. And it all started with an offhand question.

"So how is it that you have such an eclectic mix of goods here, anyway? I've seen entire shopping malls with less variety."

"Kappa are pretty much all geniuses, but we all have different specialties - didn't I mention it?"

Maybe she had and I just wasn't paying enough attention. I shrugged. "So what kind of specialties produce all this, anyway?"

Nitori looked at me skeptically, then she started smiling, and I realized I might have made a mistake.

As it turned out, despite my less-than-social interactions with Nitori, she turned out to know her fellow kappa. All of her fellow kappa. And I'd just given her an excuse to blatantly advertise every single stall in the market. At first it was false cheer, highlighting prices, sales, and expensive items with all the empathy and honesty of a used car salesman. I'm sure it was designed to annoy me over my temporary financial embarrassment, but Nitori's plan had one small problem. I'm used to window shopping. As someone who has maxed out her credit card more than once, I've already had the experience of walking through a shopping center being completely unable to buy anything. And the consequences my parents visited on me for that little fiasco were enough to kill most of my compulsive shopping tendencies. As such, I didn't let it bother me, and to prove that it didn't bother me, I cheerfully asked questions about the more interesting items.

And then something weird happened. Nitori started getting genuinely enthusiastic.

"-and over there, Taniya stocks all sorts of lights. Mostly electrical - that's where the business is, but she stocks everything from flares and fireworks to luminescent crystals and fungi. She works a lot with her sister Mira, who specializes in glasswork."

I looked over at the wooden stall that was lit up like a Christmas tree. Some of the designs might have been nice, but it was hard to tell on account of the stall being covered in flashing lights to the point of epilepsy. Honestly, it was still messing with me less than the concept of a friendly Nitori. After a moment I realized the kappa was expecting a response, so I supplied one. "I suppose that explains all the lightbulb designs."

Nitori nodded. "Some, but a lot of those are recycled from other broken gadgets. You can get just about anything to work as a decorative piece with a little artistry, so Mira saves the good glass for lenses and mirrors, where you really want an exact effect. Or the big projects, like the mechanical sun."

I glanced up to where the glowing orb was crossing the cavern ceiling. "I'd been wondering about that. There's no real patterns in the light, but I saw there was a glass covering. How'd you get a single piece of glass that large?"

"Glass fusing." Nitori folded her arms, giving me a satisfied smirk. "The surface is just a portion of a large sphere, and that means we just needed to make every piece with the same curvature. A couple dozen window-sized curved panes, water cutter to create a custom mold, lay them in the right pattern, and then it was just a matter of melting them all together."

"But you'd need a massive furnace for something that size. How'd you generate the heat?"

Nitori looked away for a second, pausing for the first time in what felt ages. "We might have outsourced that problem. Eventually we got Utsuho to do it. Getting around Satori was difficult, but it was well worth it."

Right. Utsuho was one of Satori's pets, wasn't she? That would explain Nitori's little self-satisfied smile, especially if she'd gotten one over on the deal. "What was the price? I assume it was a bargain and not a favor."

"Nothing too bad. Utsuho just asked if we could source some catnip."

Well, that was a mental image. "You know, I have no idea if this is related, but Satori did mention something about Utsuho melting a hole through her floor."

Nitori's smirk widened, and I found myself sharing her amusement, giggling a bit. Right now, I could believe the kappa wasn't actually so bad. Maybe she really just wanted a chance to talk shop.

However, even the kappa's market wasn't infinite, and it wasn't long before we were into what I was guessing was the residential area. At the very least, most of these structures looked like houses, if you squinted hard enough. The one we stopped at wasn't even a house, it was a tent. Well, in point of fact it was several tents squashed together in such a way as to connect and provide multiple "rooms", but still. A tent.

Nitori simply lifted the tent flap and gestured for me to move in. Against my better judgement I ducked inside, and Nitori closed the tent flap, before calling out, "Hey Piper, business!"

Without entering the tent herself. That rang multiple alarm bells, and I gathered magic, looking around warily. The interior of the tent wasn't quite dark, but shadowed enough to make reading annoying. Maps, notebooks, textbooks, and random scraps of paper littered the room, enough so that any fire-related magic would burn the entire thing to the ground. I didn't actually see the other kappa yet, but there was another tent flap in the back, and it was likely that-

"Nitori!" an outraged voice rang out. "You promised time off until Nessie was fixed, and I refuse to believe it's done already!"

Oh, that was her game. Feeling a little bit foolish, I let out a sigh, and let the magic drain away. Honestly, I should have seen something like this coming. Still, at least it wasn't any thing serious.

"It's been a month! A solid month of back to back to back to back shows, and I don't care how much overtime you're offering, I'm not doing any more! I've got my own projects to get back to!"

I idly picked up one of the scraps of paper and squinted at it. The front side was covered in mathematical notation, while the back contained a couple of directed graphs with little notes such as 'Maybe reduce to a bipartite graph?' and ''Try listing paths of various lengths, sorted by total distance.' I couldn't make too much out of it, but I suppose that proved Piper was serious about her project. I sighed again, rubbing the bridge of my nose. "You do realize-"

"Don't you 'realize' me! I'm close to cracking it, this time for sure! The traveling salesman problem, as applied to distance, youkai, and magical reagents! It's not perfect-perfect, but I'm sure that with a few more tweaks I'll have an algorithm that can give me a near-optimal solution in oh of en squared time!" She paused, and some of the energy left her voice. "at least half the time, anyway."

"Nitori's outside!" I yelled. "You're ranting at the wrong person!"

"What? But-" A sequence of crashing noises sounded from the connected tent, and I winced. "That's going to bruise, ah- one second!"

There were a couple more creaking noises, and I almost went to check if the kappa was okay when she finally emerged into the main tent.

{-} To be continued.

((We'll get back to the point where you guys get to make decisions again soon, I promise.))
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Awesome, a kappa working on computer algorithms!
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{-} Continue acquiring map.

The kappa was short. Maybe four foot six at the most, with a mop of tangled black hair under the same blue cap they all wore. (I'm really not sure why all the kappa had the same blue hats and jackets. Maybe it's their brand.) Though I will note she was more developed than Nitori, despite being like a head shorter. She was fumbling with a pair of glasses as she entered the room; they'd been tied around her neck with a string, and it appears her recent stumble had left the string around the front of her neck and the glasses at her back. Though I suppose that was better than having to search for them in the mess of a floor. It wasn't until she got them back on properly that things clicked and I remembered where I'd seen her face.

"Wait, weren't you at the lake yesterday?" I snapped my fingers a couple times. "Right, you're the one Satori gave a cucumber to. Piper, wasn't it?"

Piper stumbled and gaped at me. "You're one of the ones that kidnapped Nitori?"

I all but slapped myself with how hard I facepalmed at that. Behold, my stunning wit and clever anticipation of blindingly obvious consequences! Surely there could be no harm in revealing that I recognized Piper from the events immediately preceding a kidnapping. Surely my intellect was so far beyond that of the youkai with mad scientist tendencies that she would fail to connect the extremely close together dots!

I'm blaming lack of sleep for this. Passing out after being stabbed isn't really enough.

I considered denying it, but I'd already stuck my foot in that particular mess. "It was more of an aggressive negotiations thing. We really needed some questions answered, and Satori wanted to scare her a little."

"Oh. So you didn't need Nitori as a sacrificial element for an occult ball ritual?"

"What? No!"

"Or to banish her soul to limbo to reinforce Gensokyo's barrier?"

"That doesn't even make sense."

"... lock her up and throw away the key?"

Nitori poked her head in through the tent flap. "You signed the damn contract, Piper! Stop complaining about the work and get over yourself!"

Piper pushed her way past me to yell at Nitori directly. "You can take that contract and wipe your ass with it! It was until you were done with Nessie, and after Satori cooked the contraption, Nessie is definitely done!"

"You know that's not how it works. You agreed to a scaling work hours arrangement-"

"EIGHTY HOUR WEEKS!"

"That you agreed to! Not my fault you didn't ask for enough money."

My initial concern had faded into bemusement and I just stood there and watched them go at it. Actually no, scratch that, this was more amusement than bemusement. Piper was really laying into Nitori, who in turn was absolutely shameless about whatever shenanigans she'd pulled off and firing back with glee. It was hard to tell whether this was actual hatred or just the most vitriolic of coworkers.

"It's not just the money, you imbecile!" Piper was ranting, "You blew up the bloody pond, plus exposing the Nessie hoax, all in front of a crowd! We can't sell anything in the human village until the heat dies down, and that'll be at least a week after a display like that!"

I kind of wished Satori was here, actually. It was the only thing I could think of that would further escalate the show.

"Sell, nothing. We both know what this is really about. I saw the way you were making eyes at that human. You just can't wait to get your hands on his cucumber, can you?"

"GET OUT!"

Nitori was gone an instant before the danmaku shot through the tent flap, laughing the whole way. Piper, meanwhile, was thoroughly red in the face, and outright shaking with rage. That reaction put paid to any idea that this was a show for my benefit. The poor girl was simultaneously furious and mortified. And then she turned back around, realized I was still there, and went even more red.

I decided to kill the awkward silence before it could start. "And here I thought having kidnapped Nitori was going to be a bad thing."

"Can you kidnap her again? Or kill her, killing her works too."

I don't think she actually meant that... though, you know, youkai. "So Nitori's just an ass in general, huh?"

She groaned. "You have no idea. In front of outsiders it's gotta be all kappa solidarity," she waved an arm in a presumably grand gesture, "and unified front, but she's a real slave driver."

"Do I not count as an outsider then?"

"That..." Piper's voice trailed off as she froze, then threw her hands in the air. "You know what, no. You're already in the hideout, you get to see behind the curtain. That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

Must not snicker. Better to seem cool, and unaffected, and not extremely amused. "Works for me," I said, offering her a hand. "I'm Sumireko."

She nodded, turned away, abruptly realized something, spun back around, knocked a set of papers off the table in doing so, and actually shook my hand. "Right! Uh, I'm Piper, if you didn't already hear."

I glanced at the newest addition to the mess on the floor, most of which had ended up by my feet. "Do you need those?"

She waved a hand dismissively. "It was just a small project. I proved that every two-partite Turan graph has the maximum number of four-colorings for any graph with the same number of vertices and edges. It's not really important to anyone, just a fun idea."

What on earth was a Turan graph? For that matter, what was a four-coloring? Was this how others felt when I talked about magic? Whatever. I decided to take her word on it not being important and settled for a nod. "That seems like a lot of work for a small project."

"Oh, proof was just the top few pages. The rest were," she blushed and looked down, "nothing important."

That was possibly the worst thing she could have said. I squatted down to look, and picked up one of the new pages. It looked like a map of the human village, with a few specific places circled and lines connecting them. I turned the page over, and found a detailed sketch of a man. To be specific, a handsome, muscular, shirtless man. Decorated with hearts.

"Hey! That- you don't! I mean can't-" Piper squeaked and covered her face with her hands.

"I can see why you're interested. It's a, uh, pretty good drawing."

Piper squeaked and buried her face further into her hands. There might have been words in there, but they weren't intelligible.

Okay, wow. Greg was harder to tease than this, even back when I first met him. Back when he was really sensitive to... pretty much everything, really. I was starting to feel bad, and I was barely even teasing her! "Hey, look at it this way, at least you're more romantically successful than Nitori."

Fingers parted slightly to let an eye peer through. "Really?"

Nitori, meet the underside of the bus. "Oh, definitely. Nitori's got all these fancy dresses that she never gets to use. Heavily padded, too, if you get my drift. I think she's just jealous."

I couldn't quite make out what Piper mumbled, but it sounded close enough to thanks that I pressed on. "Really, if you've talked to a guy at all, you're ahead of Nitori here."

She nodded, but went even more red. "So, is he actually", I almost said human, thought better of it, and asked an equivalent question, "from the human village?"

"Yeah. That's his farm there." She shyly pointed at one of the circled locations on the map, on the outskirts of the village.

"I see," in the same tones of voice I'd used to calm a scared puppy. "And what's his name?"

"Jin. Rou Jin."

Right. Well, I wasn't going to supply both sides of the conversation forever, and I did actually want that map, so...

"Wait, you're human right?" Piper asked.

"Uh, yes?" I said. "I kinda hoped that was obvious."

"There's some youkai that can pass for human, actually. Whatever, not the point. Point is, since you're human, you must know a lot about how humans mate- I MEAN COURT, right?"

"Date. The word you're thinking of is dating."

"Great! Because Jin's great, and I've been thinking about this a lot, but... well... Ihaventactuallytalkedtohimyetlikeatall, and I need someone to run my ideas past who's not a jerk! And also human."

I stared at the kappa in disbelief. "You haven't even talked to him?"

"I haven't had time to do it properly! You only get one chance to do a first impression, and I haven't finished figuring out everything he likes yet!"

"That's... not normally a prerequisite to saying hi. How would you even figure that out without talking to him?"

"Optical camouflage, obviously." How was that the obvious solution?! "I've got a list of all the other humans he interacts with, the books he's rented, his usual shopping purchases, and..."

The list went on. And on. Good grief.

{-} Gently point out to Piper this is crazy stalker behavior, and that humans don't usually take well to that.
{-} Carefully do not point out anything that could offend the crazy stalker youkai, and prioritize getting that map.
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{X} Carefully do not point out anything that could offend the crazy stalker youkai, and prioritize getting that map.

I don't really know if Sumi has the social graces to handle this hot mess with finesse.
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{x} Carefully do not point out anything that could offend the crazy stalker youkai, and prioritize getting that map.
-{x} Spur on the crazy fangirl. High school girls and shipping go hand in hand.
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I'm supposing that this farmer has a pretty epic chicken too?

{x} Carefully do not point out anything that could offend the crazy stalker youkai, and prioritize getting that map.
-{x} Spur on the crazy fangirl. High school girls and shipping go hand in hand.
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{x} Carefully do not point out anything that could offend the crazy stalker youkai, and prioritize getting that map.
-{x} Spur on the crazy fangirl. High school girls and shipping go hand in hand.

Snap, yep thats going in the bunbunmaru

>>204134
Look, you have a point. But this is funnier.
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{X} Gently point out to Piper this is crazy stalker behavior, and that humans don't usually take well to that.
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{X} Gently point out to Piper this is crazy stalker behavior, and that humans don't usually take well to that.
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So, this isn't canon in any sense, but I had this idea, and figured it was funny enough to post. I might end up doing more random snippets like this, we'll see.

-- Some time in the future --

It was a pleasant night in the Palace of Earth Spirits. Sumireko, Orin and Utsuho were having a "girl's night out", presumably with Koishi joining them. They were probably causing trouble, but it was trouble you'd have to worry about tomorrow. They'd made the offer for Satori to join them, but she'd elected to stay in, and you joined her for a little quality time.

Hence the movie.

You'd managed to pull the necessary hardware from earth proper, and movies had turned out to be a real hit. For people in general (with Nitori, as always, capitalizing on everything), but also for Satori in particular; it turned out being able to watch normal human interaction (or, well, highly dramatized human interaction) without knowing what they would say in advance was a novel experience for her.

Of course, that did mean you had to pick movies you hadn't seen before either, but Sumireko was happy to give you some recommendations, and they were mostly reliable. Mostly.

Still, while this movie was fine, and spending time with Satori was even better, it'd be fun to have a guys' night out at some point. You could invite... um...

Huh.

"So why is it that nearly everyone in Gensokyo is female, anyway?", you asked.

Satori stopped, puzzled for a minute. "I'm not entirely sure. The typical explanation is that male youkai were almost driven to extinction due to being more aggressive before Gensokyo's creation."

That seems rather lacking. It could explain fewer male youkai, but none?

"There are one or two around, but yes. That said, I've not run into anyone who actually knows a better explanation. Plenty of speculation, but no real answers. It seems likely the event was covered up."

"Do you really want to know?" Koishi asked.

You start, having had no idea she was there. "That's... kind of why I asked the question?"

"You'll never be able to see Gensokyo the same way again. Are you sure?"

It's weird seeing Koishi this serious, but Satori's unfazed and just rolls her eyes. "You don't actually know, do you?"

"Oh, sister. One benefit of my status is that I can get into places and hear secrets even you can't."

You're starting to have doubts at this point, but Satori crosses her arms and gives her sister an unimpressed look. "Then by all means, enlighten us."

"Long ago, before Gensokyo, youkai were much like humans. With a few exceptions, the male youkai were considered stronger and deadlier than the female, and thus ruled over their respective communities, wherever they might be found. Things may have continued in this state indefinitely, had it not been for the declining magic of the outside world."

You decide to take a seat and listen, and Satori pulls you a bit closer as she does the same.

"It was then that Yukari Yakumo first proposed the concept of Gensokyo. She was rejected harshly, as the youkai did not see the need for change. For a time, they fought the changing of the times. They gathered in every magical nexus they could find, working to terrify humans, drive off their competition, and fighting for dwindling scraps of magic and belief. Tengu, kappa, vampire, magician - they all clashed, and they all suffered for it. Eventually even the strongest of the youkai were mere shells of their former power."

"Then, Yukari Yakumo once again came forwards, presenting the idea of Gensokyo a second time. This time the suggestion was treated more seriously, with many of the weaker youkai begging for refuge. However, a key condition of Yukari's offer was that Gensokyo was to be her reality, one where she would be supreme. And some of the most powerful youkai that remained considered this an insult."

"This resisted was headed by four beings in particular. There was Sun Wukong, the great sage, heaven's equal. There was Alucard, first-born son of Dracula, and the oldest remaining vampire in the world. The last and strongest of the greek Gods (though still a mere shade of what he once was), Zeus. And finally, the fell spirit of winter, more modernly known as Jack Frost."

That seemed like an eclectic mix of modern and ancient myths, but okay.

"They wished to make their own way, to continue fighting over the remaining magic in the world, and carve out their own petty fiefdoms, to rule a dying world than serve in a new one. And thus Yukari challenged them, her alone against all four of them.

"The winter spirit gathered his might, as the air itself froze and the snow gathered. The essence of snow, and ice and hail surrounded the gap youkai, bringing the battlefield fifty degrees below freezing."

"Zeus then combined that with the fury of the storm, throwing lightning bolt after lightning bolt at his foe. Power enough to run cities, even in his weakened state, coursed through the air and into Yukari."

"Alucard, the vampire, then rushed her, first as a swarm of bats, then in human guise, and finally as an outright monster, crushing, tearing, and biting with vampiric strength."

"And finally, Sun Wukong... did something with that giant stick of his. I don't really know, I wasn't listening at that bit, but let's just pretend he didn't get to do much. It doesn't really matter anyway, the interesting part is when Yukari fought back."

You snort at the sudden loss of tension, and the reminder that it's Koishi telling this. Satori then nudges you, so you settle down and refocus.

"By absolute manipulation of boundaries, not only did the attacks fail to harm Yukari, they never touched her. The snow, ice, and sheer cold melted as the boundary of temperature shifted. Bolts of lightning fell apart as the gaps between electrons suddenly went wild. Even the last recourse of brute physical force failed, as every strike went into a gap, none going near the youkai's physical body. And thus, with the might of her opponents exhausted, Yukari struck back."

"Weaving together a spell that had never been seen before, and never again since, arcane energies clashed as gaps and boundaries once thought absolute first blurred, then shattered entirely. Yukari's counterattack burst outwards in a pulse of energy that slew the ringleaders outright, then went beyond, into every youkai that remained, down into the very core of their souls. There, the magic spread, chaining their free will, and impressing her superiority unto them. This ensured that never again would she be challenged, that no youkai would ever raise their hand against Yukari Yakumo. And with her rule secure, Yukari went on to create the Great Hakurei Barrier, and then all of Gensokyo."

There was a moment's silence, and finally you spoke. "That was an interesting story and everything, but what does it have to do with the lack of men?"

"Isn't it obvious? Yukari works through manipulating boundaries. And in this case, the boundary the youkai were forced through was one of weakness and subservience, even to the point of humiliation. In short, Yukari bitch-slapped the youkai into literal bitches."

A pair of groans and one non-verbal alliance later, Koishi is chased from the room with danmaku, laughing the whole way.
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>>204140
Seiga would be so proud.
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>>204140
Dominating rival gods so absolutely that they become effeminated to the point of turning into women has something very mythology-like.

Congrats on your first non-canon Omake! Nice to see that you are thoroughly enjoying this little narrative world you've been creating.
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