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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.


"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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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."


"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?"


"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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{-} 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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{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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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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