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!"
"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."
"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.
Lost Soul!K7yo62LHdE2023/09/04 (Mon) 17:13No. 31764▼
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.
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.
Lost Soul!K7yo62LHdE2023/09/10 (Sun) 03:12No. 31768▼
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."
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
"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.
[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.