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The kappa worked as if in a daze. Mechanically greeting customers, giving them stupid knick-knacks and taking their coins. She wasn't sure why she was here. She wasn't sure where else she would be.

She took one of the glass balls decorated with bits of sand and shell, rolling it on the countertop. The little kappa in the center spun with it, stubbornly staying put and smiling even as its world was shaken. Stupid little reptile.

A shadow fell over her and she plastered a smile on before looking up.

"Can I help you?"

It was a mother with a snotty brat, the little terror all but lunging for the "sandglobes" in an effort to slime-coat
and scatter all of them. There was only one possible reaction when the kid behaved like that, and-

"Which one did you want, dear?"

Called it. She pitched her voice a couple octaves higher, to do due justice to her client's intelligence. "Oh, the Nitori one is very popular. That and Marisa are our best sellers."

With a "mgribl!" the kid surfaced from his mess, clutching a sandglobe in each hand, presenting them like the treasures they weren't.

"Oh, sweetums, I said one!" The mom sighed, patting the kid's head, glancing at her hand, and then pulling out a handkerchief.

As the mom proceeded to wipe down the squirming brat's face, the kappa grimaced. This was what they were getting belief from. This. What a crowning acheivement. She wanted to kick them both out - no, summon danmaku and blast them down the street. She chuckled darkly. As if that would accomplish anything.

After a minute or so, the greatly soiled rag went back in the purse, and the slightly cleaner kid promptly started slobbering on his plunder.

"Oh, well, if you really want them..." the mother sighed, turning to her. "I'm sure you have a bulk discount?"

For two items. She just knew that the woman was both delusional and prepared to argue the point to the death. The kappa gave her a flat look, glanced down at the child, and then at the bustle in the street. At all the other kappa, swarming with customers. "Sure. Buy one get one free."

Of course, speak the forbidden word, and the devil will appear. She'd barely gotten the words out before a certain someone started yelling her name. As for the woman, she was just looking blankly at her, shocked. A pause that lasted just long enough for the brat to knock one to the floor, the glass shattering. That jolted her out of her stupor, "It'sadealthanksgoodbye!" as she yanked her spawn behind her and ran for it.

Maybe she should have done the same.

"Piper! What are you doing?!" Nitori burst in with her usual charm.

She sprawled across the countertop, closing her eyes. "What."

The counter rattled as Nitori slammed a fist on it. She didn't bother getting up. "You can't just give away merchandise! And she broke something, she has to pay for that!"

"She's gone."

"So find her and drag her back here to pay!"

She cracked an eye open, getting a glimpse of her red-faced boss. "You want me to accost a mother and small child. In this crowd. In front of the Hakurei shrine maiden."

"Fine then! You can pay for it!"

She closed the eye. It wasn't like she had any money. "With what."

"I'm sure there's something in your little collection of maps." Nitori snarled. "Or failing that, there's always overtime."

She shrugged. "Whatever."

The ranting paused. "... whatever? That's it?"


There was silence for a few seconds, and she almost thought Nitori had left, when... "Are you sick?"

"Like you care." Piper lifted her head to glare at her. "Just let me get back to selling this junk."

"It's not junk," Nitori said, her voice trailing off as she bit her lip. But she backed off, ducking out of the stall and starting to run.

Piper watched her go with detached boredom. Then she laid her head back on the counter.

It was all too soon that another kappa came in. This one with green hair, taller than usual, and frankly unfair assets. "Miss Piper?", she asked melodiously, "Are you quite alright?"

Damnation, it was Cai. Polite, yet stern. Simultaneously kind and understanding, yet completely unable to relax and let things go. She was an absolute stickler for duty, and would be perfectly easy to hate if she wasn't so nice about it. So Piper settled for straightening up and rolling her eyes.

"I'm fine," she said, putting up her best customer smile for the half-second it lasted. "So you can tell Nitori to shove off."

"Yes, well..." Cai gave her a short bow, hands clasped together. "Nitori asked for me to take over for the day."

Piper looked at her, the statement not registering. "What?"

"Nitori wishes you to take the afternoon off."

She shook her head, still dazed. Nitori, asking her to not work? Was she being fired?


"Just come on." Nitori said, shouldering her way into the stall and grabbing her wrist. "Thanks Cai, sorry for the short notice."

"It's no trouble," Cai said as Nitori started dragging her out.

After another second of bafflement, Piper shrugged and surrendered to the pull. If Nitori wanted to yell at her somewhere else, so what?

She was dragged through the crowd like a pebble being tossed around by rapids, the humans cheering and hollering as a couple of stronger youkai fought overhead. The Buddhist monk and that new Taoist, if she remembered correctly. Why they cared, she wasn't sure, but they acted like it was the most meaningful thing in the world, obsessed over their favorite fighters and whoever was winning lately. The sheer pettiness of it all was completely hopeless, but Nitori had taken one look at that mess and smelled money. Hence her current little venture.

A venture Nitori was now ignoring as she dragged Piper out of that crowd to a calmer section of the marketplace, away from the crush of people... wait, this street was practically deserted. Was everyone in the village watching those peacocks fight?

And it was there Nitori turned her around, grabbing both her wrists to stare her down directly. "Piper, what's wrong?"

She looked away. "Nothing."

"You can take that crap back to the Animal Realm", Nitori said, scowling. "Piper, what's wrong?"

She glanced up, hesitated, and sighed. She just wanted the busybody to go away. "Just a long day, nothing more."

"That's about as likely as Hina having good luck."

Irritated now, she looked back at Nitori, trying to yank herself out of the other kappa's grip. "Oh, like you know."

"Yes, I do!" Nitori held her fast. "Piper, you have never in your life sat there and just taken it. Not from anyone else, and especially not from me! I have to prod you and rile you up so you'll do a good job just to spite me! The last six times I threatened you with overtime, you told me exactly where I could shove that idea all six times! I can count the number of times you've let a customer walk over you on one finger, and only because it just freaking happened!"

"Don't pretend you care now," she hissed.

Nitori flinched at that, her grip tightening as it did. "So that's how it is," she muttered. She shook her head. "Those bags under your eyes. You haven't been sleeping."

Piper rolled her eyes. That was nothing new.

"Normally I'd suspect you just got caught up in your maps and math, but that typically puts you in a good mood. I suppose it's always possible the last subject of research went badly, but even then, you're usually more fired up to figure it out." Nitori babbled on. "It's much more likely that it's a consequence of whatever's bothering you, which tells me it's serious enough to last for days. Plus this general listlessness seems depressive in nature, so-"

"Oh, you've graduated from sales babble to psychobabble now?"

"You've got to know how people react to know how to sell to them," said with a hint of her usual annoying smirk. "Humans have whole books on the topic, and most youkai really aren't that different."

She snarled at her. "Don't even go there."

"...but I don't need that to see you're upset. Piper, what's wrong?"

She wasn't going to quit, was she? After everything else- "Fine! Fine. You really want to know? My mother died!" she snarled.

Nitori flinched, finally letting go of her. "Wait, in Gensokyo? How-"

"Of course not!" she shouted, flinging her hands in the air. "She wanted no part of this zoo, of being a nice, tame little youkai! She stayed outside, beneath the waves, reminding the humans what the terror of the deep actually meant!"

There was a lot she'd accuse Nitori of, but being slow to connect the dots wasn't one of them. "Oh. She starved."

"Life vests, lifeboats, lifeguards, flotation devices. More people learning to swim, and the ones who can't staying well away from water." Her knuckles whitened as she built up steam. "Nobody seriously fears drowning any more! It used to be a fact of life, a risk you faced daily from intruding on our territory, but now it's unusual! If someone drowns now, they think it's an unusual tragedy, something that could only happen if they were unlucky or foolish!"

Nitori took a step back."Piper, I'm sor-"

"Don't you dare! It's not like they fear us here either, and you're the one who lead that!" She wished she had one of those sandglobes on her, just so she could smash it. "Tell me Nitori, are we youkai, or are we just merchants? When the humans think of us, what do they remember but your toys and baubles?"

"And you were part of that decision! You even supported it! You know perfectly well the human village is a safe zone."

"Which is why you sell to them at the Hakurei Shrine. At the Moriya Shrine. At every single festival and event across Gensokyo! You still ambush them at every opportunity, but only for their money! When's the last time you took a shirikodama, Nitori? Do you even remember what it's like?!"

"What would you have us do? The old ways don't work any more."

"And that justifies making our species a joke?!"

"I'm sorry, am I arguing with you or with your mother?"

"Nitori..." she growled.

"The kappa are not a joke, Piper." Nitori said, staring her down. "We have changed, but you know damn well that change has made us stronger. Even if it might have seemed that way to a creature stuck in the past."

If not for that last barb, she might have considered it.

[Trauma Sign - Pulled Beneath the Waves]

As it was, she was going to take great satisfaction in shutting up Nitori's. Stupid. Face!

The other kappa sighed, flying into the air. "I guess I'd better prove the point."

[Heavy Rain - Great War Beneath the River]

She lost. It wasn't really a surprise. Personality aside, Nitori was good at things.

It still hurt. The fact that their duel had gathered a crowd and that crowd was now fawning over Nitori only made things worse.

She was struggling to her feet, ignored by the humans, when Nitori landed beside her.

"Piper..." the other kappa hesitated.

"What." she growled.

"I'm not the right person to tell you this. There's always that tension when things are changing, and... well. I'm the one always looking ahead." Nitori sighed, rubbing her arm. "Look, just... take the day off. Take a few if you have to. And go talk to the Moriya Shrine. The gods, not Sanae."

"What? Why?"

"Because they know something about needing to change over time, and needing to live with the result. And if you want the reason you'll believe..." Nitori smirked. "Because you're not fit to work right now, and I want the productive Piper back."

Piper wasn't completely above taking things from the humans. Their middle finger gesture, for instance. But before she could tell Nitori exactly where to stick her sympathy, a new figure landed.

"You there, kappa!" she said, pointing at Nitori.


"I've finished with Byakuren, and you seem to have gained something of a following with the crowd. Shall we have a match?" asked Toyosatomimi no Miko.

Nitori's deer in the headlights look almost made the whole thing worth it.
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You know, now that I see it in the topics list, I wish I'd capitalized the title. Oh well.

Anyway, you've got the writing advice thread to thank for this one. I saw the musing on kappa stuff, and it gave me enough of an idea that I figured I might as well write it out. And as luck would have it, I already had a side-kappa character ready to go!

This is technically part of the same canon as USiL, but completely irrelevant to the events of that story. And while you might have figured it out from the OP, this is in fact taking place during the Hopeless Masquerade incident.

As far as duration, this won't quite be a one-shot, but it won't be a long story either, I'm guessing somewhere in the 2-4 updates range. As of right now, I'm intending to finish this first, then get back to writing USiL, but we'll see how things go.
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More Piper let's gooooo!

Stalker origin story in the making?

Nitori kinda had it coming; dang busybody.
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Keen to see where this goes. I like Piper
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Your kappa is not nearly complicated and conflicted enough. I wanna see tears. I wanna see laughter. I want Piper's allies and enemies alike to see her as that first ray of sunshine after the flood, as the bloodstained dagger glinting in the pale moonlight on some dark, dark night in December.

Show me the apex, the pinnacle, the singularity of kappa.

Either that or just like...a good story. Waiting and watching on this one. Let's see what'cha got.
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A couple days later, Piper found herself in front of the gates of the Moriya Shrine, hesitating. She hadn't intended to take Nitori's advice. She'd literally never talked to any of the gods here, even if Kanako had talked at her a couple of times.

But... well, she couldn't focus enough to do any serious mathematics, and trying to piece together the drawings for her latest map just reminded her of when she'd gotten the news. Even if this was as stupid as dealing with Nitori usually was, it was a way to kill time.

And if she was honest, Cai had stopped in and been infuriatingly cheerful, and (being one of those people you just didn't snap at), Piper had used the excuse of going on a walk to get away from her. And then she'd kept walking and just found herself here.

Her fist rose to the door and paused there. What were the odds they'd even talk to her? These were gods. They still took themselves seriously, and she was just a kappa. Yeah, this was a stupid idea. She should probably just head back home.

Then the door opened anyway.

"Oh! You must be Piper!" Sanae said. "Please, come in!"

The shrine maiden beckoned her forwards, and against her better judgement she followed. "Um... yeah? How-"

"Nitori said you'd probably drop by!"

"Oh. How nice of her." Piper said, putting another tally in the revenge column.

"Yeah, she's thoughtful like that," Sanae nodded cheerfully. Piper was about to snark when the shrine maiden bulldozed ahead. "I'll admit, I know it's not really the right reaction, but I'm a little excited to actually help one of our believers."

Her plans for more obvious sarcasm were short-circuited by that. "Isn't that just a standard shrine maiden thing?"

"Yes! The thing is, I don't get to do it much. You youkai are always so... what's the word? Put-together, I guess. Like, you know who you are and what you're doing, and I kind of envy that."

Piper gaped at her. "You can't be serious."

"I know, I'm blessed. Literally and figuratively, to the extents of the imagination and the heavens, absurdly blessed!" Sanae gushed, expansively gesturing towards the shrine. "Kanako and Suwako are amazing! I mean, you know that, you believe in them too."

Not nearly as much as present company, but she wasn't about to admit that to their shrine maiden, and inside their shrine. "Why else would I be here?"

"Right! I don't know what Reimu's problem is! I mean, I guess with her natural gifts she might think she doesn't need help, but that just means she ends up needing help from Yukari, and you'd think that would be a bigger problem, but noooo. And she barely even maintains the shrine! Maybe I should offer her a salary..."

Piper grimaced. "Please don't. Somehow Nitori would end up sponsoring the shrine."

That thought got even Hurricane Sanae to shudder. "Er, right. Off topic anyway. Where was I? Right, natural gifts. The point is, Gensokyo's amazing! There's so many incredible people and youkai here, doing their thing for thousand of years, some of which can even contest our gods! And, well, I was just little Sanae. An ordinary girl they gave some of their power. Instead of just kids and school, suddenly there were real youkai! It was so much to live up to, and everyone here just seemed larger than life."

"Does it still seem that way?" she asked, her voice faint.

"Sometimes!" Sanae replied. "It was scary at first, and sometimes still is, but Gensokyo welcomes everything, you know? There are days where I'm out gathering faith, or tending to the shrine, and it feels like I belong here, and other days where I almost can't believe it. When I want to just create a miracle or fly through the air for the sheer wonder of it. Haven't you felt that way?"

"Once upon a time." She sighed. "It was back when my mom taught me to hunt. I remember the first time she let me do it by myself. The smell of blood in the water and the excitement of chasing down prey. I could have just gone for a half-drowned straggler, or some lost child, but I wanted to prove myself, so I waited for one of the sailors to fall out of their boats. I had to wound him slightly so he'd panic, and then back off while he flailed around, while his mates did everything they could to rescue him."

Piper paused, closing her eyes. "There was an art to it, staying close enough to keep him wasting energy, and to stop him from reaching the boat. And the guy could swim. I had to claw at him here, pull him down there, use waves to push him back and make the boat drift away, all while avoiding slings and arrows from his mates. It was like danmaku before there was danmaku, but with actual blood on the line. I felt so alive, and when he was finally exhausted and I could drag him under, mom was so proud. And every time we had a successful hunt like that, she'd do this little thing where she'd take the shirikodama, and slice it into spears, like cucumbers, and they'd just melt in your mouth. It was the best."

She opened her eyes and looked up to see Sanae looking a little green. "Oh. Nothing since coming to Gensokyo?"

She hesitated. Sighed again. "No," she lied.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to Sanae's soft eyes, her voice sympathetic. "I know, it's hard. Heavens knows it took me a while to get used to Gensokyo, and I had the best help! Literally divine aid and all... but still, it was quite the jump. And, well, I was scared at first, but coming here, being the Moriya shrine maiden, becoming part of this world, even!" Sanae smiled and leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, "it's the best thing that ever happened to me."

Piper wasn't blind to the comparison. It just took her a second to process the sheer gall of it. When she replied, her voice sounded faint, even to her. "And I suppose you don't miss what you left behind?"

"No- well... a little, if I'm honest. Sometimes when things are hard here, I miss when things were simpler, when it was just a little girl and her gods. But I shouldn't. Compared to everything we have now... well, what we used to be just doesn't compare."

Shock gave way to anger. Her next words were still soft, but with a very different undercurrent. "You're suggesting I give Gensokyo a chance."

Sanae didn't notice, still smiling widely. "Yes! I'm sure you'll find something you-"

"To abandon the old ways, everything a kappa used to be." she snapped. "After all, it's not like what we used to be compares!"


"I have to admit you're right on that count, at least. The kappa of old never sold baubles. They never set up stalls in the marketplace, mingled with humans like equals, or had their hair pulled by drooling infants to charm some empty-headed bitch! Your parental figures might approve of your changes, but mine would weep to see what we've become."

Sanae was still at a loss for words. That was fine. Piper had plenty. "I've lived here longer than you've been alive. Every stupid scheme of Nitori's, every skirmish with the tengu, the never-ending social game in the human village... I know them far better than you, you or your gods. I know perfectly well what the kappa are here in Gensokyo. And our history before it is an order of magnitude longer. Are you really going to suggest I cast all that aside because it's inconvenient?!"

Sanae took a deep breath and faced her directly. "But it's more than just inconvenience, isn't it?"

That stopped her cold, and Sanae took that as confirmation. "If all Gensokyo had to offer was convenience, or even a better way, none of us would be here." She raised her chin, hair swishing behind her. "Because if things stayed as they were, if we'd remained behind... we'd have died out."

"You have no right to say that." Piper said, trembling. "You haven't lost anything!"

Sanae held her hands out in what was meant to be a placating gesture "Listen, I know you've had some trouble adjusting, but-"

"Trouble adjusting! Is that what Nitori told you?!" Piper was going to kill her. She was going to strangle her and parade her body through the streets.


"Sanae!" a new voice snapped out, and the shrine maiden flinched.

"Yes, Lady Kanako?"

The Moriya Shrine's goddess emerged from out of the main building, taking the situation in at a glance. "The next time we ask you to keep an eye out for a specific visitor, you'd do well to escort them to us immediately."

Sanae flinched again. "It's just... I thought,"

"Think sooner next time," she said. "And in the meantime, check the human village again, but without joining the fights. I want to know if there's been any change in the incident."

"Yes, Lady Kanako." Sanae said, taking off immediately.

The goddess turned to the kappa. "As for you, Piper, Suwako is waiting for you by the lake."

It took Piper a second to realize the goddess was expecting a reply. And another to bury her anger enough to sound civil. "Thank you, but I don't want to impose, and if you're busy with the incident-"

"Don't be ridiculous," Kanako said, both scolding and magnanimously. "It will never be said that the Moriya Shrine turned away a believer seeking counsel."

Piper swallowed. She wasn't entirely sure if that was a threat, but Kanako had made it clear that polite refusal would not be accepted. Not trusting herself to speak, she repeated Sanae's bow, and started walking towards the lake. It didn't help that Kanako kept an eye on her the whole way there.
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Really liked this update, especially Piper's reminiscence
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Poor Sanae, so trusting and optimistic.
Too green to understand what was really going through Piper's head.

Her trip down memory lane was pretty cool.
A visceral retelling, literally and figuratively.
I was actually under the impression that kappa in general didn't like eating shirikodama very much from the way Nitori talked about them in Wild and Horned Hermit.
So it was pretty cool to hear the viewpoint of a kappa that does/did enjoy them for their taste and cultural significance.

Kanako is really exuding that godly pressure, and I'm excited to see what Suwako is like when she isn't in a murderous rage.
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Yo this is pretty good. You don't really think about the lives that youkai used to live before coming to Gensokyo. We get very few cannon examples from the games/Mangas, but the vast majority of the Touhou cast is a blank slate ripe for fanon interpretation.
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I haven't read USiL (might after seeing this tbh) but this Piper character is really interesting. Very much enjoying the tone, the characters, and the interactions.

Warmly watching this thread.
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I kinda want to see divinely awe-inspiring Suwako. Most of the fanon cast her as a no-thought, head-empty Loli bereft of the power and cunning associated with her canon history. Suwako and Kanako are supposed to represent the historic clash between the native gods, and central myths born from the faith of humans/yokai, but you never really see that kind of interaction.
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If you haven't read USiL yet, I'd highly recommend it to you.
Same to the anon above you.
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Hifuu Detective Agency on ao3 had a good Suwako. It's a translated long time running jp fanfic following Renko and Maribel taking spectator seats during incidents
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Suwako was indeed waiting by the lake. Piper hadn't really been sure what she'd been expecting... maybe for the godddess to be meditating, doing some project, in a meeting with worshippers, or even just waiting for her own arrival.

She was skipping stones.

Piper found herself tongue-tied. As she watched, the child-sized goddess picked up another rock, flinging it across the lake.

After a few more rocks, Suwako glanced up and smiled. "Are you just going to stand there all day or what?"

"Just... thinking of what to say," Piper managed.

"Take your time! The lake's not going anywhere."

She watched a few more rocks being thrown. The goddess was actually pretty good at it. Five skips, seven... she had yet to see one that didn't bounce at least a few times. With no sound but the wind and the waves gently lapping against the shore, the scene was downright calming. Enough so to clue her in.

"This is to set me at ease." It wasn't a question.

A corner of Suwako's mouth quirked upwards. "Yeah, pretty much. Can't really get someone to open up while they're riled up."

A response felt required. "It's a nice place."

"I like to think so. Don't tell anyone, but I do live here."

She gave it a few seconds before asking what was really on her mind. "How'd you know?"

"That you were bothered?" Suwako glanced back to see her nod. "You had to deal with Kanako. It was an easy guess."

She snorted. "No, really."

The goddess reached down for a much larger stone the size of a melon, and heaved it overhand. It sailed a few hundred feet before dropping into the lake with a satisfying splash. "A few different things. Your teeth were looking fit to grind grain, for one. And Kanako sent me a message while you were walking over."

"Wait, how?"

"Got to keep some secrets, don't I?" she said with a wink. "Gods have to be at least a little mysterious."

She bit her lip, thinking. She hadn't seen Kanako do anything, so... maybe a silent prayer? Or perhaps something with the earth, considering Suwako's earth goddess nature? It could even be some outside world tech in play, though she wasn't sure how they'd establish a connection in Gensokyo... Ugh, now this was going to bug her.

"But in all seriousness," Suwako said, "Nitori did tell me what you've been going through."

She felt the anger rising again, but contained it. "She may have just been setting me up. I promise you, I've had no trouble adjusting to Gensokyo."

Suwako met her eyes as she replied, "Actually, what Nitori said was that you were having trouble reconciling the past and the present."

"So adjusting was just-"

"Sanae's interpretation, yes." Suwako sighed, dragging a hand through her hair. "Sanae's a wonderful girl, but she's always been a happy one. She's convinced that the future is going to be bright and amazing, and I'm glad for that, but it means she's not equipped to deal with grief. Or regrets."

... come to think of it, Nitori had told her to talk to the gods, not the shrine maiden. "But you are."

Suwako slumped back into an earth chair that literally shot out of the ground to meet her. "Kanako and I both had to change a lot over the years. Me a bit more than her, though."

"Plus if she did it, it'd ruin the bad kappa image she's got going on," Piper muttered.


Piper flushed. She hadn't meant to say that out loud. "I mean, you two are doing the old good kappa bad kappa routine. The bad kappa's job is to be intimidating, to rattle and scare the target so they'll hurry up and make a deal with the nice and friendly good kappa. Plus, if you need someone on your side for any sort of serious conflict, having a youkai you're terrified of fight for you is a big reassurance."

"No, no, you've got the strategy right, I just hadn't heard the terms." Suwako trailed off into laughter. "I'm absolutely telling Kanako she's the bad kappa later."

She paled. "Please don't, I want to live."

Suwako waved her off. "Oh, don't worry. I'll wait a few weeks, talk to some other kappa first. You'll have plausible deniability. Besides, if you know the roles, you know the 'bad kappa' isn't really as intimidating as they act."

"That doesn't make going through the act any more pleasant," she grumbled.

"True, true." Suwako said, still amused.

"So..." Piper hesitated, then decided to go for it. "You were saying something about changing over the years."

"Ah." Suwako sighed, then gestured and a second seat rose up right behind Piper. "You may want to sit down. This will take a while."

Piper obliged, and the goddess launched into her tale.

"No offense, but you strike me as a younger youkai. I'm guessing a century or two?"

"Three." Well, almost.

"Eh, close enough. The point is, I've got you beat by an order of magnitude. "Three thousand years ago, I ruled a kingdom. I'd gained my power by taming the Mishaguji, but I still needed to establish faith. Which wasn't the easiest thing to do, given I was mostly curse goddess." She gave Piper a grim smile. "I had to do it the old fashioned way."

The cue was obvious enough. "Blessing those who follow you and cursing those who resist?"

Suwako shook her head. "That was how it worked after a few generations, but you need to have belief for people to accept that. If you're not starting from authority, those kinds of demands just make people resent you and look to break free."

Piper thought about that for a moment. "But people don't trust a curse god to be altruistic. Hina's proved that much. So how-"

"Why, by cursing everyone." Suwako said, a glint in her eye. "I gave the land a few years of plague and famine. Pregnant women found their strength failing in childbirth, while their husbands labored to pull a few withered stalks from the ground. Instead of being a force of nature you could work around, I made the Mishaguji a scourge upon the people, made them desperate for relief, for someone, anyone to save them."

Piper snorted. "My mother would have loved that."

"Maybe from a couple countries over," Suwako retorted. "The drought I caused nearly dried up the river."

"Regardless," Piper said, "You've made yourself hated. I suppose that's a kind of belief, but then what?"

Suwako raised a hand. "Who said anything about me? It was the Mishaguji that the people hated. At the time, 'Suwako' was just a minor earth goddess having some small success defending her worshippers from all the curses."

"Which was enough to get them to flock to you," Piper realized. "And since you already controlled the Mishaguji, it would be simple for you to remove the curse and frame it as a blessing."

"True, but you're not thinking with enough showmanship." Suwako said. "After that level of suffering, the people needed saving, but they wanted catharsis. So after enough worshippers had flocked to me, I staged a public fight with the Mishaguji, right in the capital city. We made it looked good, levelled a few buildings, but at the end of the day I 'killed' one, made the rest submit, and undid the dam I'd made a few hundred miles upstream. The entire country heard of the fight, and saw the river come back. By the time the year's harvest came in, every soul in the country was devoted to me."

Piper stared at her. "How on earth are you the shrine's good kappa?"

Suwako laughed. "You were more right about the 'good kappa, bad kappa routine' than you realized, girl." Suwako said. "I'd been doing it for centuries before Kanako entered the picture. And, well, had she been a different sort of god, my role here might look very different. Now let me ask you a different question. But first, are you aware of how Kanako and I met?"

"I know the basics," Piper said with a nod. "She beat you in combat, and took over your country."

"Close enough. But the real question. Why didn't I just retreat? Bide my time, tear apart her army with curses, and destroy the land out from under her? She could beat me in a straight fight, but she couldn't control the Mishaguji. And if she stayed, eventually she could lose enough faith for me to drive her out entirely."

"And all the while, your people would blame her for everything." Piper murmured. "You'd have been the hero once again, saving them from the foreign invaders."

The kappa thought in silence for a minute, her fingernails curling up strips of dirt as she absentmindedly clawed at the chair made from Suwako's power. "The logic checks out. The benefits are unquestionable, and it's far less ruthless than the method you used to gain power in the first place. There has to be some other fact that differentiates the two scenarios."

Suwako chuckled. "Maybe you're too young to see it, then. But this was over seven centuries later. I'd had twenty seven high priests live out their lives in my service. Nearly as many generations of faithful worshippers. When hundreds of thousands of people think the world of you, it leaves a mark. Every morning, every evening, I could hear thousands of prayers directed to me. From children playing in the mud to farmers in their fields, from soldiers on their campaign to newlyweds on honeymoon. Pleas for blessings, pleas for justice, and thanks for watching over them. I did everything I could not to disappoint them, first out of practicality, and then because I grew fond of them. My powers had even grown from their faith, becoming more in tune with the earth, more than just a curse god. And in the end, I found couldn't sacrifice them any more, not even to remain their god. I'd changed too much."

Piper clutched at her chair, looking down into the dirt. "Saying you lost your kingdom because you changed isn't a great argument in favor of changing."

"You have it backwards. The kingdom survived because I'd changed. The old me would have fought to the end, and it's unclear whether I'd have won even then."

"Then what does any of that have to do with regret?!" she snapped.

"Believe me, I'm not such a martyr that I was happy to hand my world over to Kanako. It was the end of an era... the end of my era." The goddess sighed. "Believe me, I was furious at her for a long time."

Piper swallowed. "They couldn't have just accepted it, could they? You had to have real believers who'd have fought tooth and nail for you, who'd have stuck to their ways to the death! Shouldn't you have backed them?!"

"There were some," Suwako confirmed, her face grim. "I dissuaded those I could, and tried to ease the transition as much as possible, but there were a few who persisted, who I had to let Kanako deal with. To back them would have ended in a lot more death."

"But they were devoted to you!" Piper pleaded. "They'd have come to your side in a heartbeat, and you left them. You should have stayed!"

"Is that what you wish you did?"

She leapt to her feet, snarling, "Answer the question!"

Suwako stood up, and at a stomp of her foot the ground rumbled, both chairs disintegrating. She spoke, and the warmth in her tone was replaced by steel. "There's a certain amount I'll overlook for a believer, particularly one who's currently grieving. But remember who you are talking to."

The kappa cringed back from the Moriya Shrine's goddess, but the words came all the same. "Just... why? They did so much for you and you left them."

"And that's why this has to do with regret," Suwako answered with a sigh. "I hated leaving them at the time. I heard every prayer, every last plea for help, for me to deliver the nation from Kanako. But there wasn't a better way. I thought on it for centuries, and I never came up with a better alternative. If I lived it all over again, I'd do it the same way... and hate it just as much."

A silence stretched out after that. In the end, it was the goddes who broke it. "And now, a question for you."

She looked up, the energy having drained out of her. "What?"

"Why did you come to Gensokyo, Piper?"

"Didn't Nitori already tell you?"

"I'd like it in your own words."

"Survival." she said dully. "Humans had become too good at boats, too careful around water. There weren't enough people drowning any more."

"Did you regret it at the time?"

"I should have."

"Because not all kappa felt that way? Or perhaps because one kappa in particular didn't feel that way, and never changed her mind?"

Piper looked up and glared at her. "She did tell you."

"Yes. But you need to admit it."

"Admit what?! I should have-"

"Should have what, Piper?!" Suwako demanded. "What exactly should you have done? The youkai who refused to come to Gensokyo were the ones most dedicated to the old ways. The ones who loved the hunt, who were the best at scaring humans, who never would have dreamed they needed to change. And they all died out. You staying behind would never have changed that."

"But I should have convinced her! There had to be something!"

"Can you imagine anything that would have convinced your mother to come to Gensokyo?"

"T-there had to be something," Piper repeated, sniffling. "There had to be."

"Just because you feel there should have been a better way doesn't mean there was one."

"Is that just it, then? You just have to live with it?"

"Unfortunately. Time will dull the wound, but not truly heal it."

Under her breath, Piper's sobs mixed with bitter laughter.
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Nice update. Always good (in my book) to see Suwako acting like the god she's supposed to be.
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[X]So this is the immutable truth of Gensokyo? A Kappa's lot in life is that slavery in service of a goddess who's power amounts to little more than parlor tricks? No. I refuse. War is coming to Gensokyo, Suwako Moriya. The Kappa will rise again.

Damn past Suwako didn't fuck around.

Interested in seeing how this plays out. I mean like, "just go home and deal with it" is true in a cosmic sorta sense, but not really what you want to hear from someone serving in an advising role.
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Piper's visit to the Moriya Shrine didn't last long after that. Suwako had evidently said all she'd meant to say, and the kappa was emotionally tapped out anyway. There was a little more small talk, and the kappa made her excuses and left.

Not to go back home though. She really didn't feel like talking to Cai or Nitori, or... anyone else, really, and staying by herself would be worse. In point of fact, what she really wanted was a distraction.

And so as the sun set, she found herself wandering back to the human village. She'd taken a couple of preparations; swapping out the kappa-standard blue dress, hat, and backpack and backpack for a pair of pants and a simple grey hoodie. Hardly the most innovative disguise, but it made passing for human simple. (Thankfully her black hair was one of the colors humans actually had.) With that she'd have no problems blending into the crowd! Only for there to not be one.

In point of fact, that was putting it lightly. Every shop was locked up tight, every house had the windows and shutters closed, the usual kappa after-market was nowhere to be seen. The cobblestones beneath her feet rattled like bones with every step, and even the animals had fled. The festive atmosphere was gone like it had never been, leaving the place to feel more like a graveyard, only less cheerful.

Piper stared at the barren streets, devoid of sound and movement. It had been a pleasant evening (in-so-far as she could be bothered to care about it) just a few minutes ago. And yet... the light of the moon and pleasantly damp mist had become an eerie glow and a concealing fog. The formerly cool breeze was now sending a chill down her back as it whistled and rattled through the streets. She could feel the dread from here, the sense that things were horribly wrong and would never be right again.

It was a close enough match to the last few days that she had to see what was going on.

The kappa crept through the streets, slinking from doorway to doorway, shadow to shadow. The moon through the fog gave just enough light for others to see her by, making her feel exposed as she snuck towards the center of the village.

Wait a minute, what was she doing? She wasn't some powerless human, she was a youkai! She was a creature of the depths, a monster of the unknown! She should be striding down these streets like she owned them!

A caw sounded out behind her, and she dove for the nearest shadow. The fog made for a great source of water, so she'd just need to mold it into a shield and then fire it forwards against this... bird?

A little chubby raven was just perched there on a bush, with a green ribbon tied around its neck. The raven let out a second caw, tilting its head at her before flying to a nearby rooftop.

Piper let out a breath, and let the water drop to the ground, thoroughly exasperated. Stupid bird. Did she really just get startled by some dumb pet? Stupid bird!

Then again , what if there was something truly dangerous here? It wasn't likely, this was the human village, but still... something was off. And she could swear that bird was following her.

Wait, it totally was. Literally hopping from roof to roof following her. Piper stared at it, and the thing immediately turned around, looking aimlessly in the other direction and... was it trying to whistle?

Was that somehow a tengu, or... wait, could they even take full animal form in the first place? They took themselves too seriously for that anyway. Perhaps a tanuki then? Or maybe...

"Well, well, what have we here?"

Piper whirled around to see a mop of bright red hair and dark red eyes mere inches from her own, and froze. That face leaned in ever so slightly closer, before a finger came in and tapped her on the nose.


Piper stumbled backwards and landed on her ass, sputtering at the other youkai in sheer confusion. "That... what... You're-"

Her assailant started giggling. "Okay, Koishi was right, that is funny."

"You're that kasha from the underground! Miss Kayen- uh, Kaian, uh..."

The cat youkai rolled her eyes. "Just Orin, please. Miss Kaenbyou is my mother."

Piper shook her head, getting back to her feet. "Why are you here?"

"Just being responsible. Places to go, corpses to carry, you know how it is."

"Corpses. In the human village."

"Well, sometimes when people lose hope they take matters into their own hands, and with this aura of despair around, well..."

Piper stared at her.

The cat youkai coughed. "More importantly, why are you here, kappa?"

"It's Piper."

"Piper then. Because I know you feel this atmosphere," Orin said, waving a hand around. "This is an incident, and you're out of your depth."

"It... well, spur of the moment really," Piper admitted. "I didn't know it would be here, and once I found out, I wanted to see what was going on."

"Curiosity killed the kappa, huh?"

Piper rolled her eyes. "You're the last species that gets to say that."

"I like to think I'm the only species who gets to say it," Orin said with a grin.

"So if you're here, I take it that bird must have been the other pet?"

Orin glared up towards the rooftop said bird was occupying. "No. It had better not have been, because the only reason a certain someone might be skulking around would be to 'help', and someone was told very clearly not to use nuclear power anywhere near the village! Don't think I won't tell Satori!"

The bird startled, and flew to the far side of the roof, out of sight.

"All the way home, birdbrain!" Orin called out.

Piper stifled a giggle as there was another flap of wings and the bird flew off, vanishing into the fog.

"So if the nuclear bird thinks you might need help, I take it the youkai involved here is pretty strong?"

Orin turned back to the kappa, her good humor vanishing. "Yes. It's one thing for me to be here, or a Reimu or Marisa, but you could get seriously hurt. You should go home."

It was probably good advice, but Piper had no intention of heading home just yet. Not when there was some real youkai action around. "Not before you tell me what's going on."

Orin hesitated just a bit too long. "You're asking me?"

"You're here, aren't you?" Piper smirked. "And if even the birdbrain knew that you'd be here and that the one behind this is strong enough to give you trouble, I'll bet you know more."

"I told you," the cat protested, "I'm just here to look for corpses."

"Then where's your cart?"


Piper leaned in, smiling a bit wider. "Yes?"

"I... forgot?"

"Is there anyone you know that would actually buy that?"

Orin sighed. "Only the one. Well, two if Cirno counts."

"So what are you really doing here?"

The cat hesitated. "You're just going to make more trouble if I don't tell you, aren't you?"

Piper just continued smiling at her.

"Fine." Orin sighed. "Miss Satori asked me to keep an eye on things here, make sure nothing too bad happens until Reimu or someone figures something out."

Huh. "Is that why you don't have your cart?"

"She wouldn't let me bring it!" the corpse cat wailed. "She said it'd distract me from priorities."

"Why would she care?"

"How do I put this?" Orin muttered. "The youkai behind all of this..." she waved a hand around at the gloomy atmosphere, "it's kind of an unfortunate accident? She lost someone important to her and can't really help herself. And until she's fixed, she won't focus on anything else."

Piper stared at Orin's drooping ears. "She lost someone? Who did she-"

"Did I say someone? Sorry, I meant something." Orin coughed. "Kokoro lost her mask of hope and because of that her emotions are out of whack. She's not doing all of this intentionally, it's because she lost that mask."

"Oh." Piper sighed. "I suppose it was too much to ask that a youkai was actually doing youkai things, wasn't it?"

Orin glanced at her curiously. "Isn't it odd for a kappa to be saying that?"

"I guess you might think so." Piper grumbled. "From what I've heard, you and that bird enjoy being domesticated."

"Well of course!" Orin said cheerfully. "Being with Miss Satori is way better than being off on my own!"

"Even when she doesn't let you bring your cart?"

Orin folded her arms. "She doesn't do that much... and I'm sure she'll make it up to me!"

It ruined it when the cat didn't rise to the bait. "Oh, forget it."

There was a silence after that, and after a few seconds Piper realized the cat was looking at her.


Orin's face showed nothing but honest curiosity. "Do you not like being friendly?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I mean, the humans keep acting scared of me, even though all I'm doing is collecting their corpses!" Orin sighed. "It makes it hard to get to dying people sometimes. But they're fine with kappa. They'll even let you around their kids."

"They don't fear us." Piper said bitterly. "We're barely even youkai any more."

"They don't fear the Buddhists or the Taoists either, and some of them are quite powerful."

Piper raised an eyebrow. "Not going for Reimu or Marisa?"

Orin chuckled. "I think they do fear Reimu, just a little. You know they call her place the youkai shrine?"

"Great. We're less scary than actual humans."

"You say that like it's something to be scorned," Orin said. "My master would have given a great deal to be feared less."

Piper rounded on her. "At least she's still what she's supposed to be! What kind of youkai just gives up what they are?"

Orin went cold. "One who went through far worse than you."

She stared the cat down, feeling out through the fog for water. It wasn't a smart fight, or a necessary one. Orin hadn't even started it, not really. But she wanted it. By the Moriya Shrine, she wanted it, and the cat might just give it to her. Just one more push... maybe a jab about not having what it took to be a proper youkai?

But their standoff was broken by a voice wailing through the mists.

"Hope. My mask of hope."

"Kokoro." Orin growled. She shook her head. "Run, Piper. Or I won't be responsible for what happens next."

As the cat youkai turned back into a cat and darted into an alley, Piper looked back into the mists from where the voice came. And with Orin gone, the dread from before reasserted itself. In the distance, she could see a figure floating closer, glowing faintly as her hair fanned out ethereally behind her.

"Where is it?"

With those words, the aura of despair bent towards her. She had the figure's attention.

Piper figured she also had confirmation that discretion was the better part of valor, and legged it.
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It felt like old times. Even back in what her mother would have called the glory days, kappa were merely one of the terrors in the night, and far from the worst one. It was one of the reasons they'd stuck to the waterways religiously. At sea, a kappa could at least outswim what they couldn't outfight, but on land... well, the only reason the phrase "high and dry" didn't apply was because there would be blood. If you ran into another monster on land, you needed to pray for all you were worth that you were the bigger monster, because if you weren't... Well, that was the sort of mistake you only made once.

And as a mask shot past her shoulder, shattering paving stones and making the pieces ricochet, Piper knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that she wasn't the bigger monster here.

Of course, this was Gensokyo. Youkai were expected to behave reasonably, on pain of shrine maiden. Disputes were settled through danmaku, not disembowelment. She could probably turn around, talk to Kokoro, and even if danmaku was unavoidable, she should still get out with nothing worse than wounded pride and perhaps wounded... wounds.

Grabbing a post, Piper's shoulder wrenched as she redirected all her momentum sideways into an alley, right before a ball of energy obliterated someone's porch. Piper's lungs greedily sucked in air as she glanced back at the crater, and the youkai floating towards her.

Kokoro's masks were swarming around her, and while the youkai's facial expression was neutral as always, she was shaking and clutching her head.

Right. Orin had mentioned she was losing control, hadn't she? Still, it gave her enough time to try something.

[Fog Sign - Lost at Sea]
Piper reached out and bullets flooded forwards, nice thick white ones that ballooned up and slowed down after traveling a few feet. A curtain of white bullets loomed over Kokoro, and rather than admire her handiwork, the kappa ducked out the other end of the alleyway, and doubled back towards the river.

A few seconds later, she heard an explosion and a number of crashing sounds, as she lost the spellcard.

She glanced back, seeing one of the houses shudder and topple sideways as a dozen masks emerged through the back wall.

Yeah, dealing with that was for people who could afford to ignore terms such as "blast radius".

Thankfully, with great power did not come great observation, and it took Kokoro a few more precious seconds to spot her.

It was enough. Piper put on an extra turn of speed as she ran for the river, and while Kokoro's masks dogged her heels (literally, one of them was a dog mask), the youkai didn't have the same power and control over them at this distance.

There was the bridge. All she had to do was get in the water, and she'd be home- why was a kid just standing there?!?

The little boy couldn't have been more than eight and was just staring at her with the survival instincts of a pig in a sausage factory.

Not that running would do him any good now. A youkai of Kokoro's power could smear him across the landscape accidentally.

Piper cursed, making for the center of the bridge instead of straight for the water. Then the brat finally started running, wasting precious seconds as she had to grab the little idiot and drag him to the bridge's edge.

"Where is it?! My mask of hope."

Dramatic dialogue was for people who could survive drama. Piper took the boy and jumped into the river.

The kid squirmed, bubbles pouring from his mouth as he flailed and yelled. Piper dragged him deeper, ignoring him lashing around, even as his hands found her face and started grabbing at it. That state of affairs lasted right up until the brat jabbed her in the eye. Piper recoiled, swearing bloody murder as her assailant swam up towards the surface. He'd barely broken the surface, gasping for air before Piper latched around the kid's leg and pulled.

This wasn't some gentle tug. Piper and the kid shot down through the water, ten feet, fifteen, twenty. His hands latched out again, and this time Piper caught his wrist. First one arm, then the other, forcing them above his head and away from her as each kick of her legs propelled them down and forwards. The kid thrashed as much as he could, but she had his hands this time, and his attempts to kick her shins would have barely stung even on land, let alone here.

With a couple deft movements, she shifted her grip to keep both the kid's wrists in one hand as with the other she grabbed his chin, wrenching it up and around to look at her.

The child writhed, doing his best to jerk himself out of her grip as bubbles streamed from his mouth and tears from his eyes. She let go of his chin, and his head jerked away as he recoiled, and even through the water she could hear his sobs.

This was fear. This was power. This was what a human/youkai interaction was supposed to be. The river had swept them far away from the human village by now, emptying out towards Misty Lake. Humans that strayed from the vilage did so at their own risk, and there was no shrine maiden, no hermit, no monks out here. She could finish the job. Drag him to the bottom, pull out his shirikodama, and consume him, a little piece at a time. There was nothing stopping her.

The child was still thrashing, but his struggles were growing weaker. She kept hold and kept watch as his kicks stopped and he slumped in her grip. Within a minute, the only part of the child still moving was his lips, and out of curiosity, she leaned in to hear it.

"Mom. Mom please where are you I'm sorry mom"

That didn't mean anything. So what if the boy was missing his mother. It wasn't like it compared. There was no reason for her to care; she was a youkai and he was her victim and that was the end of it! If she hadn't done anything, he'd have died to Kokoro, or drowned in the river on his own, or found another youkai downstream, one who wouldn't make things quick! It was better this way! This is what she should have wanted - would have wanted - did want!

She looked at the child's head bobbing in the water, hair floating away, eyes shut. She let him go. No movement, just the drifting of the current. Unconscious, soon to be dead.

Clenching her fists so hard her nails dug into her palms, Piper leaned towards the boy, her mouth opening wide.

And breathed air into his lungs.

Breathing for the boy, the kappa wrapped an arm around the child's waist and swam towards the surface.
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Ooh, the kiss of life. Could this be how Piper's creepy stalker crush started?

No wait, Piper is supposed to have a crush on a big strong muscle man in the future, and the Hopeless Masquerade incident probably wasn't long enough ago for the kid to age much. So this must not be the guy. Not unless puberty hits this kid like a truck anyway.

...Does puberty hit this kid like a truck in the future?
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Big yikes on pulling a spellcard against someone who clearly isn't intrested in playing the silly little danmaku game.

Like imagine if the police pulled out a nerf gun in an active shooter situation.
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The farmer had been enjoying a quiet night in after a hard day's work. Stoke up the fire, pour out a little sake, and kick back in his absurdly comfortable leather armchair. Admittedly, it took a lot for him to get even a mild buzz, but with the sheer bounty of this year's harvest, he was willing to put in the effort. Even if drinking never was as fun alone. Pity about the whole village situation, but what could you do?

It was then that someone knocked at the door.

He almost dropped his sake, but managed to save the precious liquid in time. And after a brief moment of internal debate, he downed the rest of the gourd and picked up his fireplace "poker". Admittedly, the monstrosity could only be called that due to being overqualified for the word spear, but hey, it let him stoke the fireplace from the comfort of his chair, as well as making some of the lesser youkai think twice.

And who else would try to visit at this time of night?

Still, it wasn't too big of an issue. Youkai had the whole predator mindset going on, so dealing with them meant making it clear that you weren't a target. Having the poker at the ready would discourage any thoughts of jumping on him, and looking imposing solved the rest. And hey, between his height and the muscles farming had given him, he had the figure for imposing.

The rest was simply attitude. Envision that stern samurai-ish mindset, stand up straight, hold the poker like this, and fling open the door while boldly questioning "Who's there?" to reveal...

A small woman carrying a smaller child, both completely soaked. With the woman featuring a black eye and some bleeding cuts to boot.

She looked down at the spear and raised an eyebrow at him. "Just checking, but you are human, right? Not some oni with a taste for agriculture?"

"You could still be a youkai."

"Why don't you stab me to check? But do it quickly. I don't think the kid will last long."

... oops.

That probably shouldn't have worked as well as it did, Piper reflected. For a powerless human to even open the door to the unknown like that was risky, let alone letting her inside. Even if he was well built. But... well, a child in need had always been the way to short-circuit human logic. And taking a minute to scratch herself up to look more pitiable couldn't have hurt.

The man had insisted on her changing into something dry, even if his clothes were about twelve sizes too large. The wet fabric was irritating enough she hadn't put up much of a fight, which meant she was now rocking back and forth on the couch inside a coat she could almost use as a sleeping bag. He hadn't quite turned his back on her, but he was stripping off the boy's wet clothes and wrapping him in blankets in front of the fire. She'd probably be able to charge him if she actually tried.

She shook her head and looked around the rest of the room. The place was pretty spartan. The fireplace, couch and chair were the only concessions to comfort, with everything else being a combination of wood, clay, and stone. for maximum functionality. The interior walls between rooms were only half-built, and she could see a few iron pans on what had to be his kitchen table. Wood plates, huh?

After a minute her seat shifted and she glanced over at the man who had sat down on the other side of the couch. He was still holding that massive spear, using it to poke at the fire.

"I think you got here in time," he said. "Can't be completely sure until the kid wakes up, but I think he'll be fine."

... at least it wasn't completely wasted effort. She exhaled and slumped back into the couch.

"Is he yours?" the man asked.

"And wouldn't that make me a terrible mother?" She sighed. "No. I have no idea whose child he is. I don't even know his name."

"I see. What's your name?"

She was not attaching her real name to this mess. "Meiling."

"Like the mansion's gate guard?"

As in a name for a youkai that repeatedly failed at their stated purpose? "Purely a coincidence."

"Jin." He looked meaningfully towards the child. "What happened?"

"Stupidity and malicious youkai," the kappa said. "I'd... foolishly gotten the attention of a crazed youkai in the human village, and figured the river was my best bet to escape. The kid was just standing there, so I dragged him with me."

"Oh. Is that how you got that?" he asked, pointing at her face.

Piper rubbed the black eye reflexively. "Not exactly. The youkai was still above the surface, so I had to drag the kid under, and he was panicked. He got a pretty good shot on me then."

"Oh." He looked down at the unconscious child. "Is that... how..."

"I didn't realize why until he quit moving around so much. I made for the surface after, but by then..." The guilt and tiredness she was feeling made hitting the right tone easy, at least. "He probably didn't get a good breath before we went under, and with the youkai on the surface, well..."

"Hey. You probably saved his life."

She was not getting praise for this. "I put it in danger in the first place."

"The youkai might have found him even if you weren't there," he argued. "You shouldn't blame yourself for that."

"Heh." She sighed. "My mom would be furious with me. If I wasn't so weak, this would have ended entirely differently."

"Screw her, then."


"Screw her, I said."

She crossed her arms and turned away. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Really? What would she have done in your place?"

"She never would have hesitated when confronted with a drowning child."

"Is she some kind of lifeguard or something?"

She gazed out the window, towards the river. "She never missed someone in the water. I can't imagine anyone nearly drowning on her watch."

"So? Sure, she sounds impressive, but I'll bet she trained for years to build up those skills. You can't blame yourself for not having them."

"Skill isn't the problem!" she yelled. "Physical ability isn't the issue, but I just can't! Every opportunity in the world and I just can't! I'm just not cut out to be her!"

"My siblings had no trouble, you know. They could follow in her footsteps just fine, but I'd see someone in the water and I'd just freeze. Any of my siblings could get to three people in the time it took me to grab one."

"If your siblings could carry on her legacy, then why-"

"You don't get it! I was the runt, the screw-up, the defective one! I hated it, and I hated her! I ran at the first opportunity and never looked back and never talked to her again and now she's gone!"

She was standing now, glaring at him, daring the man to contradict her. He stood up, towering over her and walked forwards.

Strong arms circled around her, pulling her into his chest. "There, there," he whispered. "Let it all out."

Piper wept.

So she was a youkai after all, then.

Jin guided the crying woman back to the sofa and held her as she continued to sob. The important thing was to just be there and offer comfort. There were some things where trying to fix them only made it worse.

Wait, was it the same for youkai? He was almost certain she was a kappa - admittedly, it had taken a bit for him to place her, but a family of lifeguards in Gensokyo was too much to swallow - and they were friendly with humans, but did they think and react the same way? The local youkai did react to him more or less like people, but those interactions were small things. Whereas this...

... no. Regardless of her actual species, her grief and her guilt were all too human. And he had only human comfort to give.

It took a while for Piper to cry herself out. It was something she hadn't done since she'd heard the news, not fully. The man didn't offer advice, or tell her things would be okay. He just held her and let her cry. But eventually, wailing turned to sobs, and sobs to sniffles. And finally the kappa came back to herself.

"I should go," she mumbled, pushing him away as she made to get up.

And that was almost the end of it. Almost.

"I know what you mean about expectations," he said. "About not being able to meet them."

She turned back and gave him a dull stare and he sighed. "My grandfather... well, he's not really my grandfather, but I always called him that, he wanted me to learn the way of the sword. He's an absolutely brilliant swordsman, a real old monster with the blade. And he wanted me to follow in his footsteps, to really be his successor. And I tried, as a kid. Really broke my back trying to live up to his expectations."

He patted the sofa next to him, and after a moment of hesitation she sat down. "It was both better and worse because he was kind, I think. Not when it came to training, then he was tough as nails, but day to day, he did care, even if he pretended not to. Because trying to live up to his expectations was easier, but realizing I couldn't was worse."

"Why'd you quit?"

"Grandfather left a few years back, some personal errand, and told me to keep training in his absence. And while he was gone, someone way above my level picked a fight with me. I almost died. I just don't have his talent, and I decided I wanted more out of life than a hole in the ground."

"How'd he take it?"

"He doesn't know yet." The man looked away, sighed again. "I'm pretty sure he'll be disappointed. Having a successor meant a lot to him... but, well, I couldn't do it."

"At least yours isn't dead," she said. "You might still talk it out."

"Maybe. If I see him again. It's been years, you know?"

... a few years was a long time for humans, wasn't it? "If you wanted safety, why live out here?"

"Property values." he smirked. "Land in the village is expensive, but I got this for a song. And I got far enough with Grandfather's teachings that I could fight minor youkai, at least."

"Even so, you're surrounded by them, and outside of the village, you'd be fair game. There's no way that should work!"

He glanced at her, bit his lip, looked away. Took a moment to grab that spear again, stir the fire. Finally he shifted around again, looking at the kid by the fire.

"Because while the youkai are monsters, they're also more than monsters. There's more to them than just being something that goes bump in the night."

"What do you mean?"

"Take Cirno, for instance. First youkai I ran across while I was setting up here, and she froze a whole field while announcing I was too weak to be in her forest."

"Oh, yes. The 'strongest'." Piper rolled her eyes. "That had to be fun."

"Actually, yes." She shot him a disbelieving look. "I'm serious! The trick was to play along. Made a big deal about how I was this amazing prodigy trained by a hidden master, a man so powerful even his chicken could destroy trained martial artists, and then I challenged her to an honorable duel. I pulled out a couple of sword tricks, then lost a suitably epic conflict to her, and she was absolutely thrilled. These days the only trouble she gives me is badgering for the occasional rematch."

"She's a fairy!" she protested. "As flighty and thoughtless as they come!"

"True. But she's also a surprisingly sweet girl looking for attention and recognition." He smiled. "She decided she'd grant me a boon by helping me out with plowing one of my fields, and made it a full row before collapsing. And then demanded I not work on that field and finished the job herself over the course of a month. Which was too late to actually plant anything, but it's the thought that counts."

She stared at him as the ordinary human farmer continued. "Mystia gave me a good scare one night and conned me into buying a grilled lamprey... but I've got some interest in cooking of my own, and we ended up comparing recipes and talking shop. I've found out she wants to expand her lamprey stand, and she's actually my first youkai customer. Wriggle's pretty agreeable as long as you don't disturb her bugs. I could go on, but you get the idea."

"It can't be that simple! You can't just go up, be friendly and suddenly you're just pals with half a dozen youkai! That doesn't happen!"

"It's not simple. Cirno's given me frostbite twice just playing around. Rumia gave me this," he rolled up his sleeve to show a blotchy scar on his forearm, "when she tried to eat me. Most of the youkai just try to toy with me... but there's a reason I always have the poker in hand when I answer the door."

"Because there is real danger," she said softly.

"They're more than monsters. Not less. And the day I forget that is the day you can start planning my funeral."

They talked for a while longer. Nothing major, just idle chatter. He talked about the crops he was harvesting (mostly rice), she brought up her interest in mapmaking and horror in working retail, the latter of which got a good laugh out of him. She pressed him for some more tales of the youkai he'd encountered. Seeing someone who wasn't Marisa-level actually interact with youkai like this was unusual in the extreme.

After an hour or so the boy started stirring, and Piper used the distraction to slip outside. It... well, this was surprisingly nice, but it would be better if she wasn't here when the boy explained exactly how he nearly drowned.

Thankfully the farmer never showed any sign of working out that she was actually a kappa, so that at least worked out.

Piper sighed as she walked back upriver, thinking back. More than just monsters, huh? Real danger, while still real people? It would never have satisfied her mother, but maybe in some small way it could honor her.

The more she thought about it, the more she wanted to see how this idea worked out in practice. Perhaps she'd borrow Nitori's cloaking device and watch Jin for a while.
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And with that, Piper's story here is complete.

This was interesting to write! Definitely went longer than I'd initially expected it to, but I'm happy with how it came out, as well as with actually finishing a story, even a short one. There's definitely some rough spots in the story; in particular I think the human village section with Orin and the small action scene with Kokoro is probably the weakest part of the story, but on the whole, I'm pretty satisfied with it.

And since I've finished the story, I'm going to take the opportunity to give a few thoughts on how this all came together.

I honestly started this side-story on a whim. Some anon gave a few simple kappa-related writing prompts in the writing prompts thread, and some other anon was complaining that such basic unhelpful analysis would be of no use in making a story... and I pretty much "Challenge accepted" that. The "grief after the kappa's mother died" concept was the most interesting prompt of the three, and I didn't want to use Nitori for that, so that meant using a kappa side character. And given that USiL had already featured Piper, things took off from there.

Piper as a main character was a challenge in different ways than usual. Because she's emotionally on tilt through the entire story, she's very easy to direct into almost any action at any time. Just about anything could set her off while still being believable. However, the big challenge for her as a character and me as a writer is that she's really bad at being honest with herself. She spends most of the story deflecting her own feelings by being angry at other people. At the end of the day, she thinks she's betrayed her mother's memory by not really being a youkai, but the last thing she wants to do is admit it.

This results in two writing challenges. The first is to demonstrate what Piper's problem is without directly stating it. She's not willing to, and the story's from her perspective, so other characters have to figure it out and draw it out of her. Fortunately, Nitori knows her well, Suwako's pretty insightful and got the heads-up from Nitori, and by the time she ran into Jin, she was too emotionally run down to hide it any longer.

The second big writing challenge is coming up with a decent resolution to Piper's problem. Guilt and grief are something that you can't just fix with a pep talk. It took me a while to figure out an ending that represented a path forwards for Piper, especially since I wanted to also set up the whole Jin/Piper thing while I was at it.

By the way, the other ending I considered would have replaced everything after the Suwako conversation with a final chat with Nitori. That would have played closer to the original writing prompt by having Nitori give Piper a shirikodama, and imply that the kappa were still collecting them from humans who strayed from the village, and that Piper could join in on that if she'd rather play to their youkai roots. I ended up rejecting the idea because I wanted something less cynical, and because Piper as a character is mostly harmless despite her best efforts to the contrary.

Speaking of which, a few notes on the Jin/Piper dynamic.

1. Jin is obviously a reference to a certain Xianxia fic, and I'm sure anyone who's read "Beware of Chicken" will spot the similarities. With all that said, the reference doesn't go any deeper than what's shown. He does not, in fact, own an epic chicken, and the grandfather is not Shen Yu. (Admittedly, I did write the story in such a way that he could have been, but that was largely for my own amusement.)
2. Some of the details here regarding Piper and Jin conflict with how they were presented in USiL. This is a casualty of not being able to go back and edit, I'm afraid. I had no idea I was going to write this when I introduced Piper as a side character there.
3. Just so it's clear, Jin is fully aware that Piper is a kappa, and Piper has no idea that he knows. As far as the events of USiL are concerned, she thinks she's going to make a first impression, but it's definitely going to be a second one. He's fully intending to mess with her over it. Especially since her cunning plan to disguise herself is a pair of glasses.

Regardless, thanks to everyone for reading, and it's high time I got back to writing Urban Student in Limbo!
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I think it was a good story. My most immediate thought is that it's odd that Jin only recites encounters with popular characters. I note that it makes the world feel flatter, like there aren't other youkai, or else that this man is improbably 'fortunate' in terms of audience convenience. Like, surely there must be youkai broadly-known to the village that haven't shown up in the games, or lesser-known youkai that he encountered that nobody else would know the name of. He name-drops them like Piper would be as familiar with them as the audience is, which implies that they're well-known even within Gensokyo — and I really doubt that's the case for the minor ones like Rumia in particular.
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>Especially since her cunning plan to disguise herself is a pair of glasses.
I mean it works for reporters.
I'm not a reader of Urban Student, but I might give it another look after reading this if only to say I tried. This was a nice read. ...Haven't really got much to say abut it though that you haven't already yourself. That and the BoC reference went right over my head.
Either way, thanks for the short.
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>>31786 Rumia (as well as all others Jin named) are in the Gensokyo Chronicle, so she would actually be somewhat recognizable in the village (and as the current chronicle is catered to youkai as well as humans then even the non-humans of gensokyo probably would too.)
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Honestly, I just straight up didn't think about it. It is a fair point that there should be other minor youkai roaming around, but it was easier to go ahead and use the established ones. It's something I'll keep in mind if I ever end up writing something extra with Jin/Piper again though. (Though in all honesty, that's pretty unlikely. I figure they'll get another cameo or two later on in USiL, and that'll probably be that.)
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I'm the anon that came up with this prompt in the writing discussion thread. Gotta say, seeing my advice help spawn a story here makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And its a completed story too. There aren't many completed stories on this website, so my advice leading to one is quite the honor. Well done Lost Soul, you did my prompt proud!

I wonder if seeing this story will help that other anon who was having trouble starting a story?

...Psst.. Hey >>/gensokyo/17052 Check it out. My advice helped create a new completed story, despite my "failure to consider any desiderata." Still think my advice is unhelpful and given in bad faith?

I do wonder though. If Piper was in Gensokyo and her mother was in the Outside World, how did Piper find out about her mother's death in the first place?
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Glad you like the results! Thanks again for coming up with the prompt.

The whole back and forth definitely has a bit of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=on4IoQ2MQ7M energy to it, doesn't it?

As for how Piper got the news, it was through Kasen. As part of her responsible sage thing and someone who can get around the barrier, she checks up on the handful of youkai still around outside of Gensokyo, and thus is the one who originally found out and told Piper. (There are a couple of other possible sources for such information like Yukari and Mamizou, but considering the amount of shenanigans happening in USiL, it's better if they're not involved here.)
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