Topic: Rising Star (Complete At Last)  (Read 18820 times)

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Himekanken

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Rising Star (Complete At Last)
« on: February 02, 2010, 11:35:05 pm »
This fic serves 2 purposes:
- Experimenting with a first-person POV
- Why the hell do we still have so little UFO backstory fiction?

More has been written, but for now I'll test the water.

---

A lot of humans assume by default that youkai are extremely intelligent. That they have the brain to go along with their brawn, and that they're capable of useful, witty conversation.

More often than not, they're wrong. While there are occasional youkai who are particularly knowledgable, in general they're about as smart as your average wild animal. As such, you end up getting your typical packs joining together for the sake of group interest, the only conversation usually being an unpleasant grunt if the guy across from you is cutting into your share of the meat. It's a happy enough existence, if a brutal one.

But group interest or not, every pack has a leader. Without someone in power to look up to the system would collapse entirely. It doesn't matter if it's because they're stronger or smarter - there has to be an alpha male in every pack.

That, in short, was my role. As the eldest and most trusted of my people, I was wordlessly dubbed the leader of my own little tribe of youkai. I was the highest of the band of tigers.

A shining star amongst my people, so to speak. Not that a mere beast was anywhere near smart enough to appreciate that sort of imagery...

---

"Gao~!"

I let out a triumphant roar as I led the tribe onward. It was business as usual for us, moving on victorious after feasting on a passing pack of deer. The ground shook slightly as nearly twenty tigers moved together, steps in perfect unison and their stomachs much fuller than an hour ago. It was a sight to frighten away even the bravest of men.

"Rawrr!"

An angered cry from one of my followers. I tilted my head slightly, seeing one of the young cubs breaking towards the pack in my direction. His green eyes had a flame of rage encased behind them.

I growled lightly to show I was listening.

"Grr....grarrl!"

He started biting furiously at some sort of invisible snack, before turning his head to a smug-looking cub hanging at the back of the group. There was a tell-tale strand of meat hanging in his teeth, and his walk had a notable pride.

It would take a human a whole sentence to pass on this message - 'That guy over there stole my meat!'. To us, all that was necessary was a growl and a glare. Ugly, but efficient. I nodded, allowing it to slip back into his place before I acted.

I stopped. Immediately everyone behind me froze in their tracks, sitting upright. They knew I would not stop them if there was not a transgression to point out. Turning, I could see dozens of eyes looking towards me with respect. Looking back, I think my heart must have risen a little - it shouldn't have, not with the mind of an animal, but it did anyway.

Maybe that was the first sign, but I didn't notice it then.

A slow, deliberate walk into the midst of the waiting tigers. They shifted to the side without being ordered to - my intent was obvious from my body language alone. I could see the thief's eyes widen, and he paused slightly before moving out of my way.

That was enough to confirm what I'd been told. The innocent have no reason to worry.

I stopped and stared him down with my own golden eyes. He shuddered visibly, almost stepping back out of fear. Every member of the pack was watching us, either in anticipation or out of a hope that the tense atmosphere would come to a stop.

I raised a paw, and in a single clean swipe slashed marks into the thief's face.

He roared in pain, slipping backwards wincing as blood started to spill down his cheek. But he had no intention of fighting back. The point had been made, and the whole pack were witnesses to it.

I nodded to the criminal. He shook a little, but eventually returned a nod in response. As intent as I was to punish transgressions, I was not willing to reduce my numbers based on a mere tablescrap. The injury was all I was going to enforce upon him. It would be enough to convince him to keep to his own share of the food.

I turned again, to the tribe who had watched my judgement. I raised my head, giving off another mighty roar to show that all was well.

"Gaooo~!"

"""Gaooooo~!"""

The pack roared with me. We were siblings, blood ties or no. Each of us would give our life for the sake of the pack.

Which I would end up doing far sooner than I had intended.
« Last Edit: August 12, 2010, 03:32:04 am by Roukanken »

Himekanken

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2010, 12:56:08 am »
Okay screw it, I'm putting up the second part anyway. >_>

-----

As tiger youkai, each of us would normally have been strong enough to take on any hunter that would dare to oppose us. So logically there wasn't even any need for us to stay together - we could easily have stayed alive on our own.

But each and all of us had an enemy in common. One we feared, one none of us could hope to take on single-handed. One who took up residence far too close to our territory for us to be comfortable.

Our enemy was a god.

We had no name for Him, but He was known among humans as Vaisravana. A god of fortune, but at the same time a warrior willing to punish any who acted against His will. Our resting place had an old, worn-down statue of Him, gripping tightly at His spear and taunting us with the pagoda in His hand.

We liked to take turns urinating on the statue. It was about all we could do in terms of acting against Him - He was a god, after all, and none of us had powers that could match the divine.

When our prowling path passed the temple built in His honour, we all became tense on instinct alone. There was fear, panic that one day He'd come down on us and strike us all down with that foreboding spear of His. Some of the younger tigers stopped in their tracks, almost wanting to turn tail and run.

I held back the urge, staring up the staircase leading to the temple with anger in my eyes. If a god were to have a fight with us, I would fight against Him with every ounce of energy I had, and then some. As long as it gave my brothers a chance to run.

I blinked, my eyes misting up slightly. For a moment it seemed almost as if someone standing at the top of the staircase. From this distance, though, it was only a pale grey dot, so I couldn't be certain.

I moved onward, not wanting to hang around here for any longer than I had to. I was unable to make out the figure at the temple, let alone the pale red eyes she was observing me with.

"...Interesting. There's potential there..."

---

Dusk quickly fell, and the pack retreated to its usual hiding place. We rested at a small cave roughly ten minutes walk from the temple, ensuring that even a god could not take us by surprise.

Already we were tired from our prowling, and most of us were happy to rest. A rota of night-watch was quickly determined, and as the first and youngest of our cubs stood guard what remained of us helped ourselves to a well-deserved slumber.

Most of us, at least. I tried to, that was for certain, but it was this night in particular that something rather unusual came to me.

A thought.

--I'm tired.

I jolted awake, convinced for a moment there was a hunter in the cave.

It was an experience that I was unable to describe in any way - not through a growl, nor through a cold glare. Not even with a turn of my head or stamp of my paw. It was very much unlike anything I had ever done before.

There was a voice. In my head.

What's going on...?

There it was again. My eyes scanned the cave, looking for any source of sound. All that surrounded me were the sleeping bodies of my fellow tigers. Nothing that could produce a voice like this.

Maybe there's a bird on my he-

"Gao!?"

A few of those lying nearby shook a little in their sleep, nearly awoken by my outcry.

I-It's me! I'm the voice in my head!

Humans take the concept of free thought for granted. Up until now, my way of life had simply been 'eat, sleep, repeat' - I'd never thought about it or considered it. And now, suddenly, I'd almost evolved to a point that none of my fellow brethren would be able to recognise.

Most would have considered this a magnificent transformation. Me?

I-I'm nuts! I'm going nuts!

Not so much.

I'm going crazy...talking to myself like this. I should be sleeping for the hunt tomorrow...

I started walking in circles, staying quiet to keep the pack asleep. My mind was racing - for the first time ever, no less.

There was one other disadvantage to being able to think freely - your mind naturally jumps to things you don't want to think about.

Ah...what if someone tries to wake me up in the morning?! If they get too close, they might...they might find out that-

But my internal monologue was interrupted by a yelp of fear.

"Rawr!!"

Whatever was happening to me, my primal instincts weren't dulled in the slightest. That sort of cry from the guard could mean only one thing.

Danger!

Thaws

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2010, 03:33:26 pm »
Really interesting point of view!
I never really thought what would it be like to suddenly to able to think...
Look forward to seeing what happens next.

Himekanken

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2010, 12:43:21 am »
One person interested is officially enough. Plus, well, I like this idea and wanna keep going with it. :3

---

I was lucky in that I was already awake, and I dashed over to the mouth of the cave. The cub who'd been watching had charged ahead, ready to take out the threat himself. I had confidence in him - he was one of us, so nothing besides Vaisravana himself should have been able to stop him.

"Alright, big kitty. Stay down or something."

A voice came from the distance - the sound of our target. It was a girl, apparently not a very happy one either. For a moment I wondered if our overambitious cub had just decided to take a midnight snack as I heard him pounce.

Then he flew past the mouth of the cave as an impact sounded, and I decided I was thoroughly mistaken.

By now the rest of the pack had awakened, still woozy but generally aware. They'd realised they were a member short, and turned to me for answers. I was too busy poking my head out of the cave to answer, observing the monster that had sent one of our warriors flying for a good twenty feet.

The grey dot from earlier...!?

Her outfit certainly matched it - a dull one-piece dress with pink sleeves, and in each hand an overgrown rod with letters hanging at the ends. A pair of large mouse ears poked out the back of her head, and one of her clenched fists was held in front of her - presumably how she'd created such an impact.

Instinct would otherwise have left me drooling over the thought of such an overgrown meal, but I knew full well that right now I was the prey. For the first time I could remember, I was petrified with fear.

The hunter placed her hand back at her side, sighing.

"...Geez. I just wanna talk, that's all."

...?

I tilted my head a little. Apparently whatever deity there was up there had decided that all good surprises come in twos, and that thinking for myself wasn't all I'd learn to do tonight.

She...wants to talk?

The day before, I had viewed the sounds of other youkai as indecipherable - a language I couldn't speak or understand. Now, though, it seemed almost as if this new voice in my head was translating for me, and suddenly I could understand this girl's words clear as day.

I'm dreaming, obviously. Right? ...Right?

The mouse took steps towards me, scratching behind one of her ears. I could make out a strange blue pendant hanging around her neck, which seemed to almost be glowing as she approached. I looked back, seeing 38 frightened eyes looking at me.

My head said that if we had no chance of winning we may as well try anyway and go down fighting. More than likely this girl was a servant of Vaisravana, and that meant she was dead meat to us.

But once again, the new voice in my head spoke up, offering me a point of view which I'd never stopped to consider before.

...Why do I hate Vaisravana again?

I'd taken it for granted before. Simply assumed He was trying to get in on my territory. Had I ever stopped to consider that maybe He wasn't out to get me after all? That maybe He was a decent enough God, at least good enough to leave me al-

"You with the dumb face. Who's in charge here?"

The voice was directed to me. I resented the 'dumb face' comment, but it was enough to bring me back to my senses.

...We should at least try to talk. We don't really have any other choice...

I looked back, giving my fellow tigers a slight nod. It was the symbol to assemble, and although they seemed uncomfortable with it they trusted me enough to comply. As always, I stood slightly in front of the group to show my dominance. The mouse bit her lip.

"...Huh. Wouldn't have guessed otherwise."

I didn't understand what exactly she meant by that. Maybe she had a voice in her head too. Behind me, I could hear my pack growling, ready to pounce at any moment. Our target didn't seem threatened, only annoyed.

"Look. I'll make this simple. I'm with Vaisravana."

It was a good thing no-one else had a clue what she was saying, because otherwise twenty tigers would have been laying into her right now. It was best not to let them know - pointless bloodshed wasn't the answer here.

"And, well, we kinda screwed up with you guys. You're scared, and that's bad for all of us. So I'm here to offer a deal."

I heard some of my fellows behind me lowering, growling unpleasantly. The girl's uninterested expression did little to earn their trust. They would not attack her, though - not without my command, and as yet it remained ungiven.

Assuming that the offer was reasonable, it would stay as such.

"We want the best outta you youkai to join us. Pledge loyalty Vaisravana. You get to work alongside a god, and we get faith from the rest of the pack."

"Gh-"

I cut my cry short, struggling not to show my shock to my fellow tigers.

Recruitment?!

"You're probably too out of it to know, but Vaisravana's pretty fond of tigers. You're getting a great offer here."

I pondered what sort of use a god could have for a mere tiger youkai. Pet? Mascot? Bodyguard? Considering He already had subordinates like this mouse, the last option seemed unlikely. And what sort of god was Vaisravana anyway? He had simply been an enemy to us before, we'd never taken the time to determine why.

The mouse used her rods as a balance, planting them on the ground in front of her and leaning on them. She yawned. Apparently she'd been intending to get some sleep around now as well.

"You guys have a right to refuse, sure. But then we're just stuck in the same position with you scared shitless of us and us not getting worship from you. It's win-win, really."

She tapped a finger on the rod incessantly, bored out of her skull. She had no guarantee any of us could even understand her, so it was reasonable. In fact, if she'd come to us with this offer yesterday we'd have probably had nothing to do with it.

It was an incredible, miraculous coincidence.

Maybe even...divine.

I weighed the options in my head - pretty difficult for a first-timer. Without a doubt I'd have to go - for all I know I'd advanced like this because I was meant to go. The pack would lose its leader, yes, but they'd likely react as if I'd died in battle - everyone simply moved up a rank. There were others who could take my place.

And if I refused? Then nothing. The same old day, same old hunt, same old trudge back to the cave to rest before repeating the same over and over again. It was my life. It was all I knew.

And suddenly, I didn't want it anymore.

A new wave of perspective came over me - the thought of living the same day over and over was sickening. So boring, so pointless - was that any sort of life at all?

There was no choice whatsoever. As I was now, I'd go mad trying to go back to how I was before. This wasn't just the right choice for the pack - it was the right choice for me, as well.

"Anything going on behind those shiny eyes of yours, or can I just go home now?"

A hint of irritation slipped into the mouse's voice. I'd taken longer to think the situation over than I'd planned. Startled, I nodded.

"Good to hear. Then you'd better tell your friends that you're leaving."

The tigers behind me may have not understood the conversation between us, but they were able to see that my shoulders had slumped slightly. Even if it was the right thing to do, saying goodbye to the family I'd known my whole life was still painful.

It dawned on me that I had no way to tell them I was going to work for Vaisravana. The concept of leaving your pack for the sake of a god was one I couldn't put in terms they could comprehend.

So I passed on the closest thing I could. It was a technical truth at best, but it was all that would work. I made complicated movements and gestures, realising at last that body language had its own limits.

In the end, I told them that I was offering myself as a sacrifice to appease Vaisravana, and as a result He would smile down on us from now on. Initially there were responses of shock, and one of the cubs nearly attacked mouse-girl in retaliation, but slowly the realisation dawned on them that this was clearly in the tribe's best interest. One life in order to earn the favour of a god? Those were fantastic odds.

As each of them came to terms with the plan, they hung their heads as they faced me. This was a ritual we performed for our fallen - what is known in human terms as a 'funeral'. Perhaps they simply saw it fitting to do it now, since I would never return to the pack again.

I saw one cub still uncertain. The scars from this morning's incident still hung on his cheek. I had dug in deeper than intended - that sort of wound could possibly remain for months, maybe years. Perhaps it was respect that left him so unwilling to accept my passing - or perhaps it was fear of whoever would take my place. Regardless, he slowly bowed his head along with the rest.

Then, in sync, the rest of the pack let off a quiet moan.

"Gaoooo~...."

It was a final farewell to me. A farewell to their fallen leader, never to return. I could feel my eyes watering as pride and sorrow began to well up in me at once. It was a new feeling, a bittersweet happiness that no experience afterward would be able to match.

Everyone...goodbye...

And with that, our ties were broken. I turned to the mouse girl (now nearly on the verge of sleeping where she stood) and gave one last nod. I noticed the pendant getting brighter still as I approached.

I'm ready.

She mumbled something beneath her breath, shaking herself awake. Looking down on me she seemed as bored as ever.

"So it was you. Who'd have thought?"

If this was surprise on her part, she didn't seem very emotional about it. Lifting her rods from the ground, she started on the path back to the old temple. I followed briskly, occasionally looking back at the ever-shrinking sight of my former pack.

Memories ran through my head, memories of the years we had spent together. My life from child to leader of the pack, a long line of hunts and fights. I was slightly offput when I finally noticed how similar many of them were, but regardless they were still valuable to me.

In a way, it was better that I left like this. They were in the dark about what had happened to me - how this night had changed me.

And...better yet, they don't know about that either.

I couldn't see them anymore, not even as dots on the horizon. Looking forward again, I saw the stairs leading up to the rickety temple which was supposedly to be my new home. They'd never seemed so welcoming before.



That night signified my death, the night the eldest and most trusted member of the tiger youkai passed on.

But beyond that, it was a rebirth. The beginning of a new life.

Of my newfound alliegance to Vaisravana.

Dorian

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2010, 10:34:05 pm »
Really interesting perspective.
But one thing makes me wonder how fits a abstract concept like a god in such a simple mind?
Bella gerant alii, tu felix Gensokyo nube. Nam quae Mars aliis, dat tibi diva Venus.

Himekanken

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2010, 01:32:28 am »
But one thing makes me wonder how fits a abstract concept like a god in such a simple mind?
I always assumed they'd just assume He was someone really, really powerful, and as such they'd be terrified of him.

Anyway, 1:30 AM update~

---

It was a good few minutes climb to reach the temple, and I was unused to this concept of stairs. My paw never seemed to find a fitting place, the step always being too small for me to get a proper grip on it. I could still feel the dust on the stone, though - this path was clearly an unpopular one. Whether that was the fault of my fellow tigers or Vaisravana I couldn't be sure.

"Finding it hard?"

The mouse again spoke very matter-of-factly. There was no sign of genuine sympathy in her voice, though I hadn't seen much emotion from her in general. She observed my paws, seeing them slip and slide with every step.

"I guess I have no right to talk. I got carried all the way up here my first time."

She looked away, apparently not having anything else to talk about. Or maybe she just saw no point in having a one-sided conversation with a tiger. Regardless, we finished the trek to the temple in silence.

Any grandeur the building had from a distance was lost as I approached it. Windows were boarded up and broken, and moss had run across the walls unchecked. Was I honestly meant to believe that this place could support life at all?

The mouse reached out to the entrance screen. I half-expected it to tear in her hand, but apparently it at least still worked properly. The entrance chamber was about as misused as the outside would have suggested, but its resident didn't seem to care in the slightest. She tip-toed across broken pieces of ceramic and torn, tattered manuscripts to make it further inside. With twice as many feet, I wasn't able to make the journey quite as quickly, and she was generous enough to move on without me.

I get the feeling I'm not going to like this girl...

"Hijiri, I've brought him."

My heart jumped. Sometimes this whole higher thinking thing wasn't good for you. Hearing people talk about me like that made me feel a little ill now that I was aware of it...

"Oh, excellent. You're certain he's the one Vaisravana chose?"

Another voice entered the fray. An older sounding woman, whose voice was strangely calming whatever tone she was using. Even as I heard her speak, my awkwardness regressed slightly.

Eventually, traversing the labyrinth of dropped and broken valuables I made it into the main prayer room of the temple. It at least had been given a little more care than its neighbours - there was nothing to step on, and the walls seemed to have been cleaned fairly recently. The mouse was nodding to who I assumed was the owner of the other voice - a woman whose form I had to stand still and observe momentarily.

Her hair was the first thing to stand out - it started at a light-brown near the bottom, but as it rose it faded more and more into a murky purple. Her eyes, a light shade of brown, seemed devoid of any malice, almost childishly so. Her dress was particularly unusual - black and white, with black strips along the middle and white along the sleeves. The cape on her back seemed unnecessary, but it completed the outfit nonetheless.

I didn't have much experience with other youkai, but even I could tell that this woman was incredibly beautiful.

She turned to me, and her face seemed to brighten instantly. It was a youthful smile, the sort that no-one could avoid catching if they were faced with it head on. I, of course, was no exception. A tiger's smile may not be as enticing as a person's, but it was an unusual thing for me to do. Just being in this woman's presence made me feel more relaxed, more at home.

"Oh, here he is now. Good evening to you, tiger-kun."

She walked over to me, calmer and more relaxed than any creature ever had before. The instinct to tear her to pieces was still strong at that point, but the gentle presence she gave off forced that thought into the back of my head, never to be seen again. She rubbed her hand along my head, scratching me behind my ears. I purred - it was a pleasant experience I'd never had before.

"I hope it wasn't difficult to bring you here - I understand Nazrin is hardly the best negotiator, but she has the best intentions in mind. She's difficult to understand, but she'll certainly grow on you."

The girl in question had waited for her superior to start fondling me before pulling away another screen into what were presumably living quarters. Wasting no time in getting some shuteye, it seemed.

"Ah, but where are my manners?"

She stood straight up, bowing with a surprisingly mature strictness.

"I am Byakuren Hijiri, faithful servant of the great Vaisravana. It's a pleasure to meet you."

She held out a hand in front of my face. Now I realise she was probably hoping I'd offer a paw in some sort of handshake, but at the time I didn't understand the gesture and licked her palm instead. Byakuren giggled slightly as she pulled her hand back.

"Ehehe...so that's how your kind says hello, is it? I've never worked with tigers before, so this is a learning experience for me as well."

Her laidback nature didn't seem to fit given where she was. This sort of woman seemed the type to be trying her best to find a husband and have kids, not take vows and live in some ascetic monastery.

I looked around the room more carefully. There was an altar in the centre of the room, on which was standing a statue nearly identical to the one my pack had been desecrating faithfully for years. This one had been kept in good condition, though - now Vaisravana's spear seemed outright deadly, and the stone pagoda He was holding almost seemed to shine.

"Gao?"

But where's the man Himself?

I let off a puzzled growl. Byaku followed my eyes, seeing me stare at the effigy. Understanding ran across her eyes, and she nodded to me.

"Ah, eager to get on with it, I see. Well, like they say, no time like the present~"

Byakuren walked over to the altar, standing just next to a small depression in the floor. She motioned towards it with her finger, and still being fluent in body language I took it as a cue to take my place there. I sat in the spot, feeling an unusual warmth almost coming from the floor itself.

Byakuren clasped her hands together, muttering some sort in incantation under her breath. As she opened her hands back out, something began to emerge in the air between them - a scroll whose characters seemed to float on invisible paper. Extending it until it was as long as she was tall, she held it upright and began to recite from it. Her eyes focused intently on the scroll, her brow furrowing. Any sign of her earlier laid-back attitude was gone - she was clearly a devoted servant to her god, and she had the skill and work-effort to match.

"God of fortune, punisher of the wicked, ruler of the north! I, your humble servant Byakuren Hijiri, ask of thee to show us your divine and almighty form!"

There was determination oozing from every word as sweat started to run down her face. This ordeal seemed to be draining the energy from her - calling on a god was a costly process, I thought to myself. The statue in front of me began to shimmer slightly.

"I ask thee to look down upon this faithful and trustworthy youkai, and bestow upon them the powers to act as a worthy disciple! Vaisravana, in the name of the three treasures, heed my prayer!"

There was a moment of silence as Byakuren's words trailed off, the last sentence coming out as nearly a yell.

The ground began to shake.

"G-Gao!?"

It was like a quake had decided to strike at this room and this room alone. Fear nearly drove me to flee, but Byakuren's hand was soon on my back again.

"Don't worry. You're perfectly safe."

And I believed her. I was unable to think this woman could speak anything but the utmost truth, and stood steadfast in place.

Sure enough, within a few seconds the rumbling had come to a halt. There was a humming coming from in front of me, and opening the eyes I hadn't even realised I'd slammed shut I once again looked at the statue.

And looking down upon me, with the same cold and powerful stare I remembered Him having, was Vaisravana.

Dorian

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2010, 12:46:04 am »
I was just wondering how he comes to the term "god" but that was before I realised that the story is written in retrospective.
Now I'm curious what your interpretation of Vaisravana will look like.
Bella gerant alii, tu felix Gensokyo nube. Nam quae Mars aliis, dat tibi diva Venus.

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2010, 01:15:19 am »
By the name of the three treasures, I am very interested in this.

Himekanken

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2010, 01:43:16 am »
Yes this update is longer than usually, mainly because I wanted to get this big segment resolved in one shot~

---

A fitting word for the experience doesn't come to mind even now. All I can offer is what you would need to go through in order for you to feel the same.

Imagine that you owned a chair. It was worn down and beaten, but generally you ignore it and simply make do with the other pieces of furniture you own.

If someone were to click their fingers and your chair transformed into a genie, then you would probably be able to relate with how I felt seeing that statue of Vaisravana look down on me.

His eyes shone with a faint blue light, but His expression was as severe and determined as ever. His grip on the spear tightened, ready to strike me down at any moment, and a light red aura ran across His sculpted robes. The pagoda in His hand now let out a magnificent light, bouncing off every wall in the room. Byakuren's hand on my back drained away my feelings of fear, and I felt something different rising up in me as I witnessed His newfound greatness. A feeling I was not used to feeling for others, but others were often more than willing to give me.

It was respect.

He blinked once, observing me intently. His mouth slid open, as a powerful voice resonated throughout the hall.

"I am Vaisravana. God of fortune. Guardian of the north. Punisher of the unjust."

My heart shook a little at those words. Spoken with such authority, such power, I felt like I was back at the bottom of the food chain all over again. I unconsciously bowed my head toward the god as a sign of honour. It was the first time I had ever felt such genuine humility toward another being.

"I can see your heart, child. I see your honesty, your loyalty, and your passion for justice - all signs of an excellent apprentice. Clearly, my servant has chosen well."

"G-Gao..."

Was I blushing? I didn't even think I could blush. Youkai are weird like that.

"Aw, tiger-kun. You're so cute when you're nervous~"

I-I'm not nervous! Really!

Byakuren giggled again, stroking me down my back. I held in a purr with some effort.

Vaisravana's face lightened for a moment. A smile slid across His face momentarily, but he was soon back to His typical stern self.

"Know this - though I am a god, I am not omnipresent. There are many other temples who would call on me, so it is becoming necessary to train those resident to the area to act as my disciples. To spread the glory of Vaisravana, to bring punishment upon the villains and fortune to the just."

He looked straight at my eyes, and maybe even through them - inspecting my insides, determining my worth.

"Child - can I ask this of you? I see a great potential in you..."

I had been intending to accept the offer long beforehand out of tedium, but in the short time I'd seen Him in the stony flesh it had changed entirely. Nazrin had been impressive, and Byakuren likely stronger still, but both paled in the face of a god. In terms of power and righteousness, He was like nothing I had ever seen before. Even being in his presence filled me with awe.

And, along with it, a desire to become like him.

"Gao!"

I nodded my head excitedly, not taking a moment to pause. If the other tigers saw me as their idol, then Vaisravana had just become mine.

"Excellent! Such enthusiasm shall get you far. Now, let me bestow upon you a pair of gifts..."

He raised the spear slightly, His grip growing stronger still. His eyes closed, a familiar look of determination rising on his face.

He slammed the spear's end on the floor, sending a wave of golden light along the ground. I could see something take shape in front of me, fading into existence at Vaisravana's feet. It was a light orange ornament in the shape of a lotus.

"This is an enchanted headdress. Determined as you may be, it will be easier for you to perform your duty in a somewhat more...practical form."

He raised His spear once again, and this time as He slammed down a green circle swept across the floor. Next to the headdress lay a smaller version of the jeweled pagoda that Vaisravana himself held, though duller and with no light coming from within.

"This pagoda is the source of your power. I trust my servants will be able to teach you its ways, and how to harness my strength to be yours. It may be a difficult task, but I have faith in you."

I nodded once again, smiling.

I'll do by best, Vaisravana-sama!

He smirked one last time.

"It is pleasing to see such ambitious youths here. I wish you the best of luck."

The aura began to fade, and in a matter of seconds the room was once again as it was. The only sign of Vaisravana's presence was the pair of artifacts lying in front of me.

Behind me, Byakuren applauded.

"Congratulations, tiger-kun! I've never seen Him praise anyone so on their first meeting!"

I was blushing again, I knew it. I saw Byakuren slip in front of me and pick up the headdress, ready to place it on my head.

"Well, let's get started. I wonder what you look like as a human~?"

Time froze for an instant.

...Human? That thing is gonna make me...human!?

I leapt away on instinct. Byakuren's eyes widened, puzzled, as she looked across at me.

"Eh? What's wrong, tiger-kun?"

I was shaking, uncontrollably. I knew enough about humans to know that putting that thing on was a bad, bad idea. Unfortunately I'd caught myself in a corner, and as Byakuren slowly walked towards me with the artifact in hand I noticed there was no way out.

"Aw...nothing wrong with being a little pretty, tiger-kun. Don't be so prideful~!"

I-It's not like that! Seriously, I can't wear that thing!

I didn't want to bite her - she clearly didn't know how bad this idea was - but I couldn't think of another way to get rid of her. I had to come up with something quick, something she wouldn't predict-

Pat.

"Gao?"

Clearly I still didn't have the whole 'quick thinking' thing sorted out, because while I'd been coming up with a plan Byakuren had ample time to plop the lotus on my head.

"There we go! Now, this may hurt a little..."

I looked up at it for a few seconds, puzzled. I wondered if it was metaphorical, some sort of symbol of my new life under Vaisravana. Was it a test of some sort, perhaps?

Then the headache started, and I decided it was very literal.

"Gaooo..."

I...need to lie down a little...

The strength in my legs ebbed away, and I let myself slide onto the floor. My body lost all feeling, as if it was no longer my own. My eyes slipped shut, on the verge of sending me into a deep slumber.

Then, suddenly, pain. Everywhere.

"G-GAOOO!"

Burning. Burning burning burning. Fire in my blood, on my skin, on my fur, in my eyes, everywhere. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't see, I couldn't move. Was this a trick, a trap? Did they mean to kill me after all?

"S-Stay strong, tiger-kun! It'll be over soon!"

Byakuren's concerned words echoed in my ears, almost unheard over my own cry of agony.  I grit my teeth. She seemed as shocked as I was at the intensity of the pain, and that was enough to convince me to fight on.

I can't...let them down...!

Admist the pain, I felt something else seeping into me from the headdress. It was power, in its rawest form, starting at the top of my head and flowing through me. My body almost seemed to shift as it moved through me. As it passed through the pain changed for an instant, the feeling of every hair on my body being torn away save a small section of my head - and then it was gone.

As this new strength finished its journey around my body, I hugged myself in relief and congratulations. I felt cold, but the passing of the pain was enough to keep my mind off of it. Looking down, I realised just what I was doing - I saw a pair of arms wrap around my shoulders and I realised they were my own.

"I-I'm..."

As human words slipped out of my mouth for the first time, the logical continuation of the voice in my head, I realised the transformation was complete. I was bare, exposed for all the world to see.

"...human..."

Byakuren applauded again.

"Well done, tiger-kun! I knew you could-"

She cut herself off. She took a look at my body more carefully, shock slowly registering in her eyes.

"...oh. Oh, my. You're a..."

I hung my head in shame, blushing furiously. I felt disgraced, ashamed, humiliated. My secret - the one thing I'd kept from even my own pack - had been revealed at last.

"...Yes," I muttered, beneath my breath. "I'm no tiger."

I wept quietly.

"I'm a tigress."

---

At the time, hiding it had been a mechanical response, one to prolong my life and improve my social standing. As the years passed I eventually assumed the problem solved, and it wasn't until tonight that the old insecurities rose back to the surface.

And in a matter of hours, everything had come tumbling apart.

Byakuren bit her lip for an instant, but eventually sighed.

"...It seems I made a mistake. I must ask for your forgiveness."

"...Huh?"

I lifted my head in surprise, eyes watering. Why was she apologising to me? I had been the liar, and the proof was right here. Hanging from my chest, plain as day - two mounds of flesh that a man was never meant to have.

Despite that, Byakuren stepped over to me, still smiling, and stretched out a hand.

"Come on, tiger-chan. I've got some nightrobes you can wear for now."

I looked blankly at the hand. I convinced myself that it was an illusion, that no-one would be so kind to a liar like me. That now she saw me for the weak young girl I was that I'd be cast out again and Vaisravana's wrath would fall upon me for my falsehood.

I blinked once. The hand was still there.

"It's alright. I understand, and it's okay. You can stop hiding it now."

Byakuren's patience and kindness were seemingly infinite, holding by me regardless of whatever weakness I seemed to show. It was too incredible, too good to be true. I'd never seen dedication like this in the wild, even between father and son.

Still, as I leapt into her arms sobbing, I was more grateful for it than I could imagine. My once proud war cry descended into a pathetic wimper.

"Gaoooo...I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry..."

My tears slipped onto her dress as I held my head against her breast. She wrapped her arms around me in a delicate embrace.

"There, there. Let's get you to bed for now. You've had a long day."

She led me through to the living quarters, into one of the small bedrooms the temple had to offer. There was little beyond a bed and a solitary table with a mirror on it, but right now that was all I wanted. I caught a glance of myself in the mirror, seeing that no sign of my old form remained other than my hair - blonde with streaks of black running through it - and my eyes, as bright and golden as they had always been.

Leaving me on my own for a few short seconds, Byakuren brought a simple black nightgown from her own room and offered it to me. I slipped it on, still unused to the feel of cloth against my skin instead of fur, as my teary outburst died down. Being in the presence of someone who cared to this extent was a relief in itself, and my composure returned far sooner than if I'd simply been left alone. I sat on the bed, turning away.

"I...I'm sorry. I've already been a burden to you, haven't I?"

I tried to make it come out light-hearted, but my voice betrayed me. Byakuren smiled regardless, sinking to her knees to look at me eye-to-eye.

"Don't hold it against yourself. It's always rough at the beginning. Nazrin was very similar in that regard, and she recovered from it. In a few weeks it will pass and you'll feel right at home here."

I forced a smile. I wanted to believe what she was saying, desperately so. She seemed so kind, so genuine, I couldn't believe she simply wanted to comfort me. She honestly believed that I would enjoy my time here.

"And...it doesn't matter? I'm not going to get struck by lightning or anything for not being a brave manly hero?"

"Of course not, tiger-chan. Man or woman, you still have the promise Vaisravana spoke of. There is no reason for you to be ashamed."

I clenched my fist unconsciously.

"Um...could you stop calling me tiger-chan? It's sort of impersonal..."

"Ah, sorry. It's just that you don't appear to have any name of your own, and..."

Byakuren's eyes turned away from me, looking out of the room's solitary window. I followed her gaze, looking out into the clear night sky.

A single star shone brighter than the rest, earning the attention my newfound fellow disciple.

"...Beautiful, is it not? It reminds me of you, in a lot of ways..."

She looked back to me, a new confidence running across her face as she stood straight.

"You were trusted, loved by your people, weren't you? You were a beacon to them, a shining star to your little ring of tigers."

The metaphor took a while to sink in, but eventually I nodded.

"I-I guess..."

"Then that's what I'll call you."

She stood straight, bowing to me again.

"Star of the tiger circle - Shou Toramaru. Does that sound good to you?"

The words ran through my head. I let the name slip out of my mouth silently a few times.

...Shou. Shou. Shou.

That was me. That was my name. That was who I was. Not the strongest of the tigers, not the latest follower of Vaisravana. I was Shou Toramaru.

"It...has a nice ring to it," I finally managed to spit out.

Byakuren grinned.

"Wonderful! I thought you'd like it."

She ruffled my hair slightly as she took a step towards the door.

"Now, get some rest. We'll start your training tomorrow, so for now you should take it easy."

I nodded, feeling better already as I slipped beneath the covers.

"Right. ...Thank you."

Byakuren shook her head.

"No need for thanks, Shou-chan. Good night."

"Good night, Hijiri-sama."

Byakuren carefully slid the door closed, leaving me to myself for the rest of the night. By now there were likely only a few hours until the morning, so I decided it was worth getting all the sleep I could muster.

"...I owe them. I owe them a lot."

Both of these people had offered me something new in these hours. Vaisravana had been an idol, a goal to strive for. Byakuren had been a solace, a shoulder to cry on. In their own way, they'd each managed to offer me something I'd never experienced before.

"I can't let them down. I won't let them down."

Bring on this training of yours. It's the least I can do to pull it off, right?

Determination began to rise up in me. I needed to get all the sleep I could now if I wanted to get anywhere - no point in showing up for training tomorrow almost unconscious.

Sleep came quickly, and peacefully. The last thought that passed through my mind was an endeavour to please both of them in return for what they'd offered me.

It was only fair, after all.

---

tl;dr - Oh, snap.

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2010, 02:01:06 am »
Hm, I wonder how she managed to keep the other tigers confused.  Meh, I'll just file that under magic.

I'm enjoying this piece.  Shou needs more love, and I how you portray her sense of duty and competence.  And I'm looking forward to see how later events that we know must happen will be portrayed.

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #10 on: February 08, 2010, 02:54:06 am »
This story is very yes.

Christ, I don't have any free time to be doin' any reading nowadays :C

Dorian

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #11 on: February 08, 2010, 04:09:55 pm »
Dramatic change is dramatic.
Indeed it's so dramatic that it puts the appearance of a god completely in to the background.
Bella gerant alii, tu felix Gensokyo nube. Nam quae Mars aliis, dat tibi diva Venus.

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #12 on: February 08, 2010, 04:42:13 pm »
I have fallen in love like never before with Shou,  a deep dramatic on the origins of Shou.
Had I been pondering seriously on writing a fic for Hijiri's origins I would have wanted it to be as detailed and as well written as this in both perspective and creativity.
Therefore, I'd advise you not to look down on your own writing anymore, you are a captivating storyteller, let not others tell you that you are not.
 
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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #13 on: February 09, 2010, 11:18:27 am »
When I opened my eyes, there was no ceiling.

I stared lazily at the night sky for a few seconds, my mind not quite grasping that it wasn't meant to be seeing what it was. I glanced to my left, to my right; my room had apparently vanished in my sleep, and there was nothing but a curtain of stars on either side of me. I saw that my body was bare again, the nightgown I'd worn to bed missing. Pressing my hand down, I noticed there wasn't even a bed beneath me anymore. As I tilted my head backwards I could make out a grassy plain beneath me, approaching at a quickening pace. Besides a single dark-blue dot, all I could see was an endless field of green.

I took in all of this with a surprising lack of interest. Logically, I should have been flailing like a maniac, screaming 'OH CRAP OH CRAP WHERE THE HELL DID EVERYTHING GO I'M FALLING' as the ground came closer and closer. I should have been squeezing my eyes shut and hoping that at least I'd die quickly, or praying that someone would grab me out of the air and save me, or some other act of desperation.

All I did was observe the ground beneath me as it grew larger and larger. The dark-blue dot started to expand, turning into a pool of water. I recognised it - my pack's old watering hole, a forgotten lake that we had managed to obtain for ourselves after some scuffles with the surrounding youkai. By now the wind was almost painful as it flew past my face, but I still remained perfectly, impossibly calm.

It looks like I'm going to land in the lake.

Even my thoughts to myself were civil. Nothing like 'Aah, even if it's water I'm moving too fast!' or 'Crap, I don't know how to swim! What do I do!?'. My mind was quiet, content with looking but not really seeing. I was close enough now to see the reflections of the stars on the water, a rippled replica of the sky above. One in particular was shining brighter than the rest, almost impossibly so. Glancing upwards again, I noticed there was no star in the sky shining brighter than any other. My face registered confusion, even if there were no thoughts to go with it.

The water came up on me from behind, and I hit the lake with a heaving splash.

There was no pain from the impact, not even a feeling of coldness as the freezing water ran across my skin. I was observing what was happening to me, but I didn't seem to have any real part in it. My mouth hung open, and a stream of bubbles hung above me as I sank deeper and deeper. The night sky faded into the distance, the lights of the stars dimming until they couldn't be seen any more.

But I could still see.

I tilted my head back again, and I saw that there was a light coming from within the water itself, brighter than any star. It was the light I had seen on the water that hadn't matched the sky, and now I understood why. I felt curiosity, attraction towards it, without bothering to think about meagre things like breathing.

It drew me in. I was as still as ever, but I found myself unnaturally pulled in by the beacon of light. The world around me grew darker and darker, until it became nothing but me and the light in an endless black curtain. Its source started to take shape - a beautiful five-pointed star, glistening like a diamond from every angle. There was something encased within it, and as I approached I realised it wasn't so much something as someone.

She was sitting within the star, her eyes glancing hopelessly upwards. At this depth she wouldn't even have been able to see the surface, and despair seemed to be holding her back. She tried in vain to pound at the side of her prison, but it was too strong for her to break down. I could make out the tears in her eyes as I approached, finally reaching the star that had been calling me towards it. I knocked at the wall to attract her attention.

The girl turned to look at me, and immediately her eyes widened in fear. Her arms wrapped themselves around her chest as she slid cowering into the distant corner. I couldn't hear her, but her mouth moved as if to say 'Don't look, don't look...'. She was ashamed of herself, ashamed of her own appearance. Ashamed of who she was.

I smiled gently.

"It's okay. There's nothing to hide."

I never stopped to think that I shouldn't have been able to speak. I was too busy watching as the girl's expression of fear slowly faded away, and she pulled herself to her feet. She seemed strangely familiar - those golden eyes, with streaks of red from all of her crying, the unkempt hair, blonde with black streaks running down it. I paid it no mind.

She held out her arm, beckoning me with a single finger. She mouthed another sentence to me.

"Don't leave me. Don't leave me alone."

My hand slipped through the wall of the star as if it had never been there, and the rest of my body followed. She seemed surprised by this, but as she came to terms with it she ran towards me with a look of intense relief on her face. I found my arms wrapping around the girl, consoling her as she wept. There was another feeling of deja vu.

"It's alright...you can cry all you want now. You don't have to be strong anymore."

I patted her on the back, doing what I could to be supportive. The rest of the world was gone now - nothing existed beyond the two of us within that star. The girl took a few minutes to weep, and I silently stood vigil, giving her all the time she needed.

Finally, she looked at me. I noticed that we were looking face-to-face - no height difference in the slightest.

"Will you watch over me?"

She spoke with hope and fear, both at once - praying I'd say yes but worrying I'd say no. She was overjoyed as I nodded my head in response.

"Don't worry. I'll always be here for you."

As I held her close again, I started to feel her slip through my fingers. She moved into me, her body sliding into mine naturally. Her thoughts became my thoughts. Her dreams became mine, her hopes became mine. Within seconds, there was only one girl standing within that star.

"Because...I am you--"

---

"Hey."

My eyes jolted open, quickly falling on the overgrown letter E hanging inches from my face. I could just about make out a disapproving face hanging a few feet behind it, its red eyes looking down on me. It was the mouse girl from last night - Nazrin, that was her name.

"Oh, so you're alive after all. The way you were wrestling around there I was thinking you were having some sort of fit."

She pulled the rod away from me, sighing. I was still looking around the room in a panic - yes, this was where I'd gone to sleep the night before; yes, there was still a ceiling; yes, I was still wearing the nightgown that Byakuren had offered me. I murmured to myself, confused.

"What...what was that?"

Memories hung in my head. I remembered falling, falling into a lake, finding a star, seeing myself trapped inside, holding myself - none of it made any sense. What had happened to me!?

"Oh...I get it. You've never dreamt before."

My head tilted as I turned to look at Nazrin.

"Lemme put it this way. When you go to sleep, your brain gets bored waiting for your body to recharge. When it gets bored, it starts playing out little make-believe stories in your head. That's dreaming. I assume you just didn't have enough brain capacity to dream before, but whatever."

She was especially good at throwing in insults to go with her explanations, I had noticed that. Someting about this girl made me feel a little queasy. Slowly I nodded, accepting her explanation.

"Anyway, breakfast is gonna be out in a few minutes. I'm here to warn you so Hijiri won't moan at me for not telling you to get up. Don't go thinking it's anything other than that."

She let herself out, and as the door closed behind her I took a few minutes to grasp exactly what I'd been told.

"So...none of that really happened? But it felt so real..."

I turned my head, flinching when I realised the pillow beneath me was wet. I pulled my head up, seeing a line of salty tears decorating it. The image of the girl in my dream, eyes still wet from all her crying, hung in my head.

When I turned to look in the mirror, I saw the same face looking back at me. There was something else held within it, though - an inner strength, a confidence that the girl had lacked.

I smiled.

"...I'd better get out for breakfast. Don't want to give a bad first impression and all."

I felt strangely refreshed as I stepped out of bed, walking down the corridor in the hope that I could follow Nazrin to the kitchen.

I was no longer the weak, lost girl I'd been the night before, distraught and desperate in Byakuren's arms.

I was Shou Toramaru, faithful servant of Vaisravana.

And no force on earth was going to stop me from paying my dues to Him.

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2010, 04:45:40 pm »
Yet another vividly narrated chapter.

<3 the work thus far.
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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #15 on: February 09, 2010, 07:10:30 pm »
I like how you did this story, it caught my attention easily from the start.

That was really nice use of first-person at the beginning.
I'll come up with an evil scheme later. First, it's time to build a giant robot!

You can't have a good evil scheme without a giant robot!

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #16 on: February 09, 2010, 08:39:22 pm »
Learn to think and you learn to dream.
Did I already mentioned how amazing this story is?
Bella gerant alii, tu felix Gensokyo nube. Nam quae Mars aliis, dat tibi diva Venus.

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #17 on: February 12, 2010, 12:26:01 am »
"Hm? That's weird."

In honesty, I wasn't expecting to see Nazrin still in the corridor when I emerged from my room. I'd spent plenty of time contemplating, so I had assumed she would have just gone on to eat by herself. But still, she was only a few feet away from me when I stepped out, a journey that she could have easily made in as many seconds as she'd taken in minutes.

Presumably she was just lazy or something. From what I'd seen of her, she didn't seem to care that much about whether I got lost on the way to breakfast or not. Whatever it was, I was grateful for the direction and trailed behind her towards the temple's kitchen.

It was about as humble as the rest of the temple, and well-kept to the point of being able to sustain life. There were a few clay bowls strewn randomly across the table in the room's centre, the window light falling on them as if they belonged to the Buddha himself. At the back, surrounded by the cheapest ingredients that could be bought, Byakuren was stirring what seemed to be some sort of sloppy gruel. The food seemed thick and on the verge of inedible, but she looked down at her concoction with something resembling pride.

I frowned slightly, having grown up on a diet of meat. Still, my stomach rumbled to remind me I hadn't eaten since yesterday's hunt, so anything was better than nothing. Byakuren, apparently satisfied with having beaten her meal into submission, turned around as she head the two of us enter.

"Ah, good morning to the two of you! Take a bowl and I'll be round in a minute with your helpings."

I nodded, sitting down at the closest chair to me. I presumed Nazrin would just sit at my side for the sake of convenience, but she went out of her way to sit as far away from me as she could. She glanced at me for a short while, her eyes almost weighing up my soul with how deep they stared into me, but the instant Byakuren laid her food down in front of her I was old news. She looked down at her food, bored again, as if I didn't exist.

I can't say that this upset me greatly.

It was my turn to be served next, and Byakuren dropped a heaving dollop of the meal into my bowl. I took a few seconds to examine it - it was grey and lumpy, and as I prodded it with a finger it offered me a surprising amount of resistance. I wasn't sure if I was still hungry anymore.

"Come on now, Shou-chan! Eat up!"

Byakuren, noticing my awkwardness, stood behind me with a proud grin. I found myself caught between the urge to vomit and the desire to not embarrass myself on my first day here.

I-It's not like it'll kill me, right?

I started to bow my head down towards the bowl, sticking my tongue out. I carefully - and as lightly as possible - licked at the mixture lying in front of me.

To my surpise, it tasted of absolutely nothing.

I pulled my head back, looking at my food in shock. Anyone could cook, true, but what normally separated the good chefs from the terrible ones was whether it tasted good or bad. To make food that had no taste at all was a monumental accomplishment - a sign of a genius, though not one whose food would exactly sell. On the other hand, no-one would ever find anything to dislike about it, either.

But of course, all of that was secondary. There was one thought running through my head stronger than the rest.

Well now that we've got THAT concern out of the way, I'm starving!

I dug my hand into the slop, grabbing a handful and lifting it up. These newfound fingers were incredibly handy for the job, and ensured that I managed to fill my mouth with one easy swipe. Byakuren giggled.

"Oh, Shou-chan. I forgot that no-one taught you table manners, didn't I?"

Cheeks bulging with the nondescript slop, I looked up at Byakuren with confusion.

"Mmf?"

She pointed across the table, towards Nazrin. I saw her wielding some sort of utensil to take small pieces of the meal up to her mouth, one at a time. Byakuren then guided my hand to an identical piece of wood at the side of my bowl.

"See this thing, Shou-chan? It's called a spoon."

I raised an eyebrow in confusion as I tried to chew at my food. It was being stubborn, though, and my speech was marred by my mouth being stuffed full.

"Buh wah woo ah wahn too eeh sloeh?"

(For those who don't speak Eatinglish, that's 'But why would I want to eat slower'?)

Of course, this was only a further social no-no, and Byakuren quickly cupped her hand around my mouth.

"No talking with your mouth full~"

As breakfast wore on, I found myself breaking more and more of these rules for eating - don't eat it if it falls on the floor, don't wipe your mouth with the tablecloth, don't start eating until you say out loud that you've humbly received your meal, don't leave the table until everyone else has finished eating even if Nazrin is taking teeny tiny bites and you're sick to death of waiting for her...all of which seemed perfectly reasonable to Byakuren, but completely pointless to me.

As Nazrin finally got to the last few bites of her food, I groaned and rested an elbow on the table, leaning my head onto it.

"You humans have such weird ideas. We tigers just eat and move on, really..."

Byakuren nodded, while shuffling my elbow off of the table. By now she didn't even need to tell me that wasn't allowed - it seemed like she was taking back every other action I made.

"You'll get used to it, don't worry. After all, Nazrin here used to nibble at her food incessantly. She was so loud back then, but now you can barely hear her."

Glancing back at her, I saw Nazrin bow her head slightly at the mention of her. Maybe my eyes were tricking me, but I could have sworn I saw a hint of red on those cheeks of hers.

I didn't take the time to consider it. Everyone else was thanking some unseen person for the meal...was it Vaisravana? Because even if He was incredibly powerful, offering thanks for something He played no part in was sort of overdoing it.

A prod on my back was the sign I'd spent too long thinking this over, knocking me out of my trance. Nazrin was pointing down the corridor, where Byakuren was quickly making her way back to the main hall.

"It's your first time. Don't screw up."

!?

With those words alone I felt a crushing pressure on my shoulders. Nazrin stared blankly at me, unaware of the strength those words held.

I couldn't screw up, could I? I'd been offered so much by these people. A new home, a new life, a break for the day-to-day hunt for survival I used to call 'living'. If I turned around and fell flat on my face now, I'd be letting them down, wasting the effort they'd put into me. I couldn't allow that.

"Y-Yeah, sorry. Thanks, Nazrin."

Offering her a stuttered piece of gratitude, I darted down the corridor to catch up with Byakuren. If I was late I was putting everything in jeopardy, so I couldn't let that happen.

I would succeed. I had to succeed.

Because...if I didn't succeed, didn't that make me a waste of time?

Himekanken

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #18 on: February 16, 2010, 11:24:16 pm »
I caught up with Byakuren as she stepped into the main prayer hall. The morning light hung on the statue of Vaisravana, and for a moment I almost thought He had returned in person to train me. The lantern I had been left was still in its original place, untouched and forgotten following last night's scandal.

I tried not to let her see I was sweating from my sudden dash to catch up. If there was anything I wasn't used to, it was screwing up - and given I already owed these people, messing up now would just put me further back. I didn't like owing people favours - not out of reluctance to pay them back, but because I didn't like depending on other people. I was a pillar for others to depend on, not the other way around.

"Hmm...I think it should still all be there..."

Byakuren peered into the gap behind the altar, reaching down into it. The first thing she pulled out was a set of what seemed to be robes, a set similar to what Vaisravana Himself wore. It was made of red and orange cloth, with a striped pattern at the waist that reminded me of my old fur. I shivered at the sight of it.

"We can't have you training in that nightrobe of yours. This was meant for a man to wear, but it's...rather baggy. It'll fit you fine."

She handed me the robes before turning back to the altar and digging back into the space between it and the wall.

...I'd better do this quickly.

Watching Byakuren to make sure she didn't turn around, I undid the nightrobe and threw it aside in one swift action. Then came the struggle of pulling the new clothes down onto me, my arms fumbling through the long white sleeves. Sure enough, there was plenty of room in it - whether that meant the clothes were baggy or I was rather flat wasn't a question I felt like dwelling on.

"...Eep."

A murmur came from behind me. My mind froze.

...No. She didn't...

Reluctantly, I tilted my head around to the entrance. The door lay slightly ajar, but despite her best efforts to hide herself a pair of mouse ears were still plainly visible. I bit my lip, blushing.

Just, um...pretend she didn't see anything. M-Move on...

After some struggling, Byakuren finally pulled out what seemed to be a a deck of cards, the kind humans would use to play games with one another. What made this deck different, though, was that it was much larger - just from sight I could make out two hundred, three hundred, maybe even more. They all seemed to be blank on the bottom as well. With her other hand, she pulled out another card of the same make as the rest, but on its other side was a single 5-pointed star.

"This should do!"

Byakuren walked over to the pagoda, taking a seat next to it and crossing her legs in an unusual manner. It didn't look comfortable or viable...probably another of those weird human things I would have to pick up. She placed the star card on top of the deck, before shuffling it at a speed even my eyes had trouble following. After thirty seconds she placed the deck in front of her and pulled the pagoda over.

"Now, Shou-chan, this should work as the first step in your training."

She grasped the pagoda with one hand, gripping it tightly. It started to let off a dim light - nothing compared to Vaisravana's, but it was clearly spiritual in its origin.

"You should know, first of all, that Vaisravana is a god of fortune. Therefore, if you learn to tap into His power..."

She was gritting her teeth a little as she spoke; apparently this wasn't an easy task for her. Still grasping the pagoda, she reached down to the deck with the other hand. Then, widening her eyes as if reaching an epiphany, she grabbed at the deck and cut it in two.

"...you can come across as impossibly lucky."

She lifted the bottom card so I could see it. My jaw dropped.

She'd cut it right at the star card. The odds of it were hundreds-to-one, but she'd pulled it off on her first try.

"W-Wow...Hijiri-sama, you're amazing..."

Cries of amazement slipped from my mouth, but my mind was caught up in other matters. She honestly wanted me to pull that off? Find one card in a deck of hundreds? Was that even possible?!

"Now, Shou-chan, it's your turn."

She put the deck back together, shuffling it thoroughly again. Standing up, she handed me the deck and the pagoda with a confident smile on her face.

"It might be difficult to channel Him to start, but I have faith in you. Just empty your mind and focus."

"R-Right. I'll...try."

I stuttered out a response as I accepted her gifts. I copied Byakuren's sitting pose, placing the deck in front of me.

"...Okay. Focus. Focus."

I had to pull this off. Byakuren was watching me, and more than likely Nazrin was poking her head in to watch me screw up. Dammit, it was her fault I was so nervous now. I'd have made it fine if it wasn't for her, why did she have to remind me?!

Too much thinking, not enough focusing!

I shook myself, trying to get back to the task at hand. I couldn't screw this up. Look at the deck. Grab the pagoda. Drop your left hand down. Get a feel for the cards. Concentrate. Concentrate-

"There!"

It had to be this one! I grabbed at it, lifted it up, looked at the card-

"...Oh."

It was blank. Byakuren's face fell slightly.

"Well, that's a shame. No-one ever does it right their first try, though. And actually getting a response from Vaisravana with no former training is incredible!"

She was looking at the pagoda in my hand. Looking at it, I realised the light I could produce from it was dimmer still than the original.

My heart sank.

I screwed up, didn't I?

"L-Let me try again."

"Of course. That was the plan, Shou-chan~."

How could she still be so cheery? I was failing her after all the effort that had gone into me. There was nothing to be proud of - I hadn't found the star. I'd failed.

I shuffled the deck again, placing it back at my feet. I grabbed the pagoda again, with more force this time.

I can do this. Empty my mind. Nothing but me and the deck...

I let that last thought guide me, and I let my eyes focus on the cards in front of me. The rest of the world fell out of focus. I had to get this right, I had to-

"Gh!"

I cut the deck again, lifting the top half into the air. It felt better, it felt right this time. I looked upon the fruit of my efforts-

And found myself looking at a blank card once again.

"...Damn it."

I felt my hand clenching around the deck, threatening to crush it in my grasp. This wasn't funny, this was embarrassing. I was looking like a real idiot now, and everyone could see it.

"One more time."

I could see Byakuren's face slipping from pride to concern as I shuffled the deck again. She had every right to be concerned, didn't she? I wasn't delivering. I was messing up.

Another shuffle. Another bout of focus. Another cut of the deck.

Another failure.

"Shou-chan..."

Byakuren's words stung as they reached me. I felt a needle running through my heart. Shame slipped into my mindset.

What's wrong with me? They gave me all this power, and I'm still no good...?

"Again!"

Shuffle, focus, cut, fail.

"Again!"

Shuffle, focus, cut...fail.

"Again!"

I was getting desperate. This was taking far too long. I should have figured it out by now but I was as hopeless as ever. Byakuren held a hand out to me in worry.

"Shou-chan...you can sto-"

"I'm fine! I'll do this!"

She coiled back, as if my words had hurt her physically. Her lip trembled for a moment before she nodded.

"...Alright. You can stop at any time."

With that, she left the hall. I was alone.

I don't know how long I sat there, shuffling and cutting the deck. I saw the morning rays fade into the faint, welcoming light of the afternoon, then into the cold, uncomfortable grasp of the evening.

Once or twice Byakuren had poked her head in, offering me lunch or dinner. I refused as politely as I knew how - time I spent eating was time I spent not practicing this. The look of doubt she wore as she left afterwards made my heart sink even lower.

My legs felt like they were ready to snap off. I hadn't taken the time to stand since I'd started. Every time I went through the same ritual, the same process.

Every time, I failed.

"...Just...focus..."

Looking to my side, I noticed I couldn't even get the pagoda to shine any more. Clearly it had been a fluke on my part, and now my true abilities were showing. Or lack thereof.

I didn't know why I was still trying any more. It was obvious I was never going to figure this out. Or maybe there wasn't anything to figure out at all - maybe it was a setup. I'd checked the cards themselves for clues - ones with rough edges, folds, anything Byakuren could have used. I found nothing.

She would probably have cried if she had found out I didn't trust her. But of course I didn't - her actions made no sense. Why would she take me in and accept me if in the end I'd end up so incompetent? I half-expected her to walk in and throw me back out to the pack any second. That would have at least made some sense.

I noticed the floor was wet at my feet. Had I been crying again? I ran my hand across my face, and winced as I felt tears still running down them.

"...Why? Why can't I do this...?"

Was I being fooled? Was I just not up to the task? Was there some trick I had to figure out before it would work? I closed my eyes as I pondered the idea.

I was obviously more tired that I would have admitted, because I drifted back to sleep in a hurry...

---

I was here again.

I looked around, seeing myself encased in a familiar-looking star. Other than the faint light that its walls gave off, there was nothing to be seen.

There was no feeling of disconnection this time. I was totally aware of everything going on. Looking down on myself, I still saw the robes of Vaisravana hanging on me.

Slowly, I started to realise I'd misinterpreted the dream from last night completely. Yes, I had come to my own aid and strengthened myself. I'd endeavoured to do my best and make Vaisravana proud.

But as I ran a hand along the wall, I found that all I'd done was trap myself. I was asking myself to do something I couldn't, and worse yet there were people depending on me. I had trusted myself, and let myself down.

I was no hero. This wasn't like my life among the tigers, where I'd been a perfect rolemodel for everyone around me. I was a screwup, a washout, a failure. I was no star.

Around me, the walls began to crack.

"Aah?!"

Somehow I knew it was my own doubt that was causing things to fall apart. Dreams apparently gave me insight like that. But still, even as the water started to seep in, climbing up past my feet and up to my knees, I couldn't find any reason to believe otherwise. What did I have to believe in myself for?

The sound of the star cracking filled my ears, accompanied by the roaring waves. The water was at my waist now, and still rising. Last night's trance-like state felt like a distant memory, and now the panic I should have felt then was returning two-fold.

"H-Help! Someone! I can't swim!"

At my chest, my shoulders, my neck-

Crack.

I looked up, hearing a sound louder than anything else.

I had just enough time to see the ceiling come apart before the water came down on me.

"Ah, aa-aglb!"

I didn't even get time to catch a breath before it hit me. I felt myself spinning, getting dizzy even though I'd clamped my eyes shut. The water was freezing, and my arms wrapped around myself to keep some semblance of warmth.

I opened my eyes to see total darkness.

"G-Glb..."

I'd lost track of which way was up after all the spinning. All I could see around me were the dank, black waters. I had no idea where to go, and even if I did I'd never be able to make it in time.

My chest hurt. Why couldn't it be like last time? I thought dreams were supposed to be comforting, relaxing?

If I'd known about nightmares, I'd probably have been slightly less terrified. Not much, but it'd be worth something.

"Gleeelplb!"

I screamed, kicking in the first direction that came to mind. I had no technique, no finesse, and no way to tell if I was headed for the surface.

I knew I wasn't going to make it.

"Uuuglb..."

I felt the strength in my legs fading. They weighed me down like lead, and I started to sink again. The little air I had was trailing away into the distance. As a last effort I managed to outstretch one arm to what I hoped was the surface. My eyes slowly slid shut as I lost consciousness.

For the first time, I felt completely and truly powerless.

Please...someone help me...

That was the last thought to run through my mind. Then, nothing-

---

I still don't like leaving on cliffhangers...expect an update as soon as I can get it out. :|

Esifex

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #19 on: February 17, 2010, 01:49:39 am »
I would kill to be able to have epic card-finding skills like that.

Himekanken

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #20 on: February 17, 2010, 04:15:38 am »
"Shou."

A single syllable jolted me awake. I gasped for breath on instinct, still feeling water clinging to me. It was the feel of the hard wood pressing into my face and the realisation that it was only sweat running across my body that convinced me I was still alive.

"Hah...haah..."

My heart was still pounding. I rose to my knees, wiping my brow as I continued to pant. A hand from above offered me handcloth to wipe my face with, and I accepted.

Did Hijiri-sama see me like that and wake me up...?

I looked up, expecting to see Byakuren's disconcerted face looking down.

Instead, I got a pair of expressionless red eyes.

"...Oh. It's you."

I hadn't realised until now that Nazrin was much shorter than me. Even with me on my knees the two of us were looking eye-to-eye without any difficulty. She was wearing a pair of light-grey pyjamas - apparently she'd just stepped out of bed. Her pendant was still hanging around her neck.

"...I guess I woke you up, didn't I?"

I didn't thank her, mainly because I assumed she hadn't intended to help me. I looked away, feeling yet more embarrassment pile up on top of me.

"I'm awake now, so you can go back to sl-"

"You've been up all night, haven't you?"

There was something new in her voice, I noticed. It was the tone a mother would take to scold their child if he'd been up all night eating sweets rather than studying. It hurt a little to know that even Nazrin was lecturing me now.

"I'm not budging until I figure this out."

The pagoda and deck were still lying in front of me, though I'd toppled both in my sleep. The cards were thrown randomly across the floor, several lying with their blank faces up. There were times I found it hard to believe there really was a star hidden under them all - maybe my eyes had been playing tricks on me all night. I wasn't really sure anymore.

"Get some sleep. You're taking this way too seriously."

"How can I not take it seriously?"

I was already tired of Nazrin's ranting. I was tired, grouchy, and about as unsuccessful as I had been all night. I wanted her to leave so I could get back to this, nothing else. It didn't matter what I had to say, I had to find some way to get her out.

"I got chosen for this thing, so I'm special, right? Then why am I messing up so badly? What sort of servant to Vaisravana can't even find one card in a deck!? I owe it to all of you to succeed!"

The words that had been coursing through my head all day finally found a voice. I was letting out the anger, the hatred that I had been aiming at myself. I didn't even care if it woke Byakuren up right now.

I assumed that she would just walk away at that point. Maybe state her disappointment as she walked out the door, swear she'd pass it on to Byakuren and get me kicked out of the temple.

"Since when did you owe anyone anything?"

Nazrin did nothing of the sort, placing her hand on my shoulder.

"You don't have to give us anything in return. That's what love is all about, right?"

My brow furrowed, and I turned back to Nazrin with a puzzled expression. I noticed something crack a little in that face of hers; an emotion finally seemed to be shining through, and from what I could tell it was concern.

"...Love? What exactly is love?"

It wasn't a term I'd ever encountered in my life as a tiger. We stood up for each other, watched each others' backs, but we only looked out for people who were able to offer something in return. If you couldn't hunt or fight, you were a liability to the pack and you were left behind.

That was the law of the jungle. It was common sense. Wasn't it?

Nazrin bit her lip. I could tell she didn't consider herself an expert on the subject, but she charged forward anyway.

"Love is...it's being able to give your heart to another person. Having enough faith and trust in them that you're willing to show them everything about yourself. It's unconditional, it asks for nothing in return."

All her explanation did was confuse me more. None of this made the tiniest bit of sense to me.

"But that's totally wasteful, isn't it? You could get betrayed by this person who you 'love', and then you end up ruined. And what does this love earn you, anyway?"

Nazrin sighed. She obviously realised that explaining it to me in words was like explaining land to a fish.

"...I'm going around this the wrong way. If you've never been loved, of course you aren't going to understand."

She pressed at her temples, stressed. I couldn't say I was in a much better mood than she was, what with the constant failure and the lack of sleep and the nightmares.

I wouldn't have prescribed a hug for myself at the time, but that's what she gave me.

"Uh...wha...?"

My mind fell into a thousand unintelligible fragments. I'd avoided being close to other tigers beforehand, but that was out of necessity in order to keep my secret shame from being discovered. Now that that was no longer a problem, why was I still so shaky?!

Was the nightmare still getting to me? Was that why I was sweating? Blushing? Gibbering and stuttering like a drunkard? I could easily have wrestled myself out of Nazrin's grip given the height difference, but for some reason I decided against it. Despite everything else that the experience was forcing upon me...I couldn't help but enjoy it a little.

"Shou, I want you to listen to me. I've already told you I'm a servant of Vaisravana, but the power he gave me is kinda different from what you have."

Nazrin's voice trembled as she held her head by my ear - a monumental shift from the cold, uninterested mouse I was familiar with. She pulled herself back, clasping one hand around the pendant around her neck.

"I have the power to find hidden treasures. Mostly it's innate, but this pendant was what He gave to me."

She pressed at its side, and the pendant flickered to life, shining a brilliant blue as it dangled in my face. The red eyes that had been so expressionless up until now started to waver, getting ever-so-slightly misty.

"This thing is what led me to you, Shou. You are precious. You are special. I'm sure that behind all this doubt and worry there's something to be proud of. A diamond that just needs a little polish, or something like that."

I was still struggling to follow her words. Looking back now I realise I must have looked like a total moron.

"Then of course you expect more from me. What does that have to do with love?"

Nazrin's hands clenched into fists as her frustration grew. I was still as clueless as ever. No half-measure was going to convince me, it seemed.

"I...I understand where you're coming from. I was in a similar spot to you once - I was the leader of my own group of mice. We never thought about this love thing either, we just got on with life. At least, until the house we'd been residing in caught fire."

She turned away, getting truly emotional.

"I...was the only one who got out. Apparently it was the fault of a youkai, so they called Hijiri in to catch the criminal. She found me, badly burnt and alone, and she took me in. She gave me a form, a name, a purpose - I owe her a lot. But...I've never managed to feel the same love for her as she has for me."

She was choking on her words. I blinked. Was this the Nazrin who'd been prodding me in the face with a dowsing rod this morning, or was I still dreaming?

"You...may have noticed by now, but I'm not really good at this whole 'caring' thing. I get...scared. That if I care about someone it'll hurt more if they get taken away. I lost a lot of people I trusted in one swoop, and...I don't want that to happen again."

Her entire body seemed to be shaking now. Tears were streaming down her face constantly. Any semblance of severity she had posessed before had vanished entirely.

"But...I can't keep it up. I can't just bottle my feelings up forever. I need to be honest, need to let myself out. And...I don't know, I can't put it in words, there's something ABOUT you. Something I was scared of admitting, for both of our sakes."

I remembered how she'd intentionally kept herself away from me at breakfast. Maybe it hadn't been a matter of dislike after all. In fact, maybe it had been the opposite - it would explain why she had been peeking while I was getting changed earlier.

Still, it was a feeling I couldn't return to her. It was too alien, too obscure-

"Y'know what? I've come this far with you, I may as well go all the way. I'd better not regret this."

A hint of Nazrin's old stubbornness rose up in her as she muttered to herself. She bit her lip, looking at me for an instant with indecision. Then the worry in her face gave way, replaced by an emotion I could come up with no logical reason for her to have.

Acceptance.

She grabbed me again, this time with much more ferocity. She pulled my head in to the point where I could feel her panicked breaths on my cheek.

"I'll do it. I'll risk it. I'll put all the faith and trust I have in you. And you know why?"

She took one deep breath, mentally preparing herself for what she was about to do. As usual, I was unaware of what was about to happen. If I was, I'd probably have forced her away right about now.

"Because I love you, Shou."

She pulled my face right in, held her lips out...

And my mind went totally, completely blank.

---

I was in the water again. Sinking, drowning, dying, lost, alone in an endless darkness. I didn't want to be back here. I was only barely conscious.

I heard a sound of some sort. Kicking? I couldn't tell, in this darkness I couldn't make out a thing. It grew louder, though, coming closer all the time.

Help...?

I wrung out a thought as my brain started to shut down. I felt a hand grab at me, pulling my body towards it. I made no attempt to resist. A pair of what I assumed were arms wrapped around me, holding me tight. I could still feel the warmth, at least.

Then, something wrapped itself around my lips. Something warm, something wonderful. It made me feel stronger, more alive. Power started to seep into my body again as I took in a much-needed breath of air.

Pulling my eyes open, I saw that I was being held in the grasp of another girl, as she locked lips with me. Nazrin's ruby eyes looked at me with relief, telling a story without words.

"Thank Vaisravana, you're alive..."

Tears welled up in her eyes as I came back into consciousness. There was something incredibly comforting about her embrace, something that blew every worry I had out of the water.

I could tell she was doing this at great cost. If I weighed her down we would both drown, so it wasn't fair that I did nothing. I returned the gesture, hugging her as tightly as I could.

Nazrin's eyes widened for a moment, but as she calmed down we found ourselves in a passionate embrace. The pendant around her neck shone with a brightness I'd never seen before, filling the water around us with light.

It was beautiful.

I didn't feel any need to breathe, or reach the surface, or anything. Right now, in this moment, in this instant, I was complete. And the only way I could reach this state was through my feelings for another person.

Suddenly, everything made sense.

I've been such an idiot...

---

I snapped back into reality. Nazrin was still kissing me, holding me tighter than anyone ever had. Somewhere I had begun to hug her in return, and now the two of us were lying together on the floor.

It was the most wonderful feeling I had ever experienced, but it had to come to an end eventually.  I pulled my head back, and the two of us broke away from the hug. For a few seconds we both just lay there, staring at each other.

"Heh."

We smiled like little girls as we looked at each other. So much of my life had been a matter of simply getting by. I'd felt acceptance, even pride at some points. But I'd never felt an overwhelming, joyful experience like I felt right now.

I'd never experienced true happiness before.

"Hehehe~."

We were giggling now, uncontrollably. The experience seemed as new to Nazrin as it was to me; the only difference was that she had heard about it. This was our first time experiencing this so-called love, and it had left us both giddy.

"Hahahahahaha...!"

Maybe we would wake up Byakuren like this, but neither of us cared. Right now, the two of us were happy together, and nothing could take that from us.

Eventually the delirium stopped, and the morning light made its way into the hall. We picked ourselves up, brushing ourselves off. Nazrin fell back into her normal mood, but I could see the first signs of a smile starting to creep onto her face.

And seeing that made me feel good, for no reason logic could hope to explain.

"...Uh. Breakfast is going to be ready soon, so we'd better get moving."

Nazrin was more attentive to the situation than I was, given I was still pretty tired from my lack of sleep. Still, I held a hand up in protest as I stepped over to the nigh-forgotton pagoda.

"One more try."

Nazrin's expression dropped for an instant, but she nodded as she stepped out.

"I'm holding you to that. Don't make me come back and drag you out of here."

"Wouldn't dream of it, Nazrin."

We smiled once more as Nazrin closed the door on me. Once again, I was alone with this nigh-endless deck of cards. I collected them and put the deck together again, lining up the cards neatly.

I felt cleaner, purer than I had ever felt before. I no longer felt any desire to succeed simply because I had a debt to repay. Byakuren and Vaisravana weren't forcing me to succeed on pain of exile, and they were fine even if I wasn't as perfect as I could be. They would give me time to blossom, to grow, to accept.

To love.

I held the pagoda, focusing on the deck as I had so many times already. The rest of the world almost ceased to be, my attention was that focused on it. Now the pagoda shined with a new light - brighter than Byakuren's, and well on its way to equalling Vaisravana's. The feelings of doubt and duty that had clouded my mind were gone. Now there was a confidence, a faith in myself that could only come from outside of me. From another person.

From Nazrin, the girl who'd shown me what love was.

I wasn't even trying that hard as I cut the deck. I lazily lifted my hand, looking at the card at the bottom of the pile I'd picked up.

I smiled to myself when I saw that from an endless stack of dead-ends, I'd pulled out the star from deep within.

-----

I imagined the kissing fantasy scene taking place in swimsuits. It was hotter than a phoenix crashing into the sun.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2010, 04:18:39 am by Roukanken »

Esifex

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #21 on: February 17, 2010, 04:39:29 am »
I imagined the kissing fantasy scene taking place in swimsuits. It was hotter than a phoenix crashing into the sun.
This. Very yes.

Seian Verian

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #22 on: February 17, 2010, 05:29:38 am »
This is amazing. That's... All I can say about it. Keep on writing Rou, I'll be looking forward to the next update~ And every one beyond that.

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #23 on: February 17, 2010, 10:52:30 pm »
Chosen by a god, finds a cute girlfriend and learns how to draw the ace of spades whenever she wants?  All in two days....

"Face it, Tiger You Just Hit The Jackpot!"

brb, pun related seppuku.

I wonder how long Nazarin's been a youkai.  And how this will fit in with the events that inevitably follow...

Yamachanadu

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #24 on: February 18, 2010, 02:07:12 am »
Byakuren will be much dissapoint :V
<%convider> with the nose on top it looks like a lovecraftian sam fisher

KimikoMuffin

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #25 on: February 18, 2010, 04:37:45 am »
Hee, awesome. I should've come in sooner!

Mimeslayer

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #26 on: February 18, 2010, 04:47:11 am »
Rou, you have something amazing here.

You've taken a character I couldn't care less about, and made her interesting. Please, do not stop soon.

Dorian

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #27 on: February 20, 2010, 12:38:31 am »
I imagined the kissing fantasy scene taking place in swimsuits. It was hotter than a phoenix crashing into the sun.
I must agree but nude it's even better.^^
Bella gerant alii, tu felix Gensokyo nube. Nam quae Mars aliis, dat tibi diva Venus.

Himekanken

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #28 on: February 20, 2010, 02:12:45 am »
The next few weeks were a blur to me.

After that initial starting block, everything just seemed to click in terms of training. Byakuren led me through the finer points of meditation, and I was educated in the literature of the religion itself. I read the tale of the young prince who broke away from the utopia his father forced upon him and, after years living the life of the ascetic, realised that true peace comes from seeking the middle path.

I studied the scriptures both out of duty and from personal interest. As soon as I had come to grips with this newfound concept of knowledge, I found myself craving to learn as much as I could. Even when I was only meant to be memorising the earlier, simpler stories of the Buddha, I would sneak away books into my room when Byakuren wasn't looking and read them in my spare time. She knew, of course, but I think that just made her appreciate my interest even more.

'Spare time', admittedly, was my term for 'time I didn't spend with Nazrin clearing the place up'. The only time we ever got any privacy was when Byakuren was meditating on her own, and during that time we were to work on making the temple habitable again. It was a strange relationship - after that one night of epiphany the two of us shared, things just sort of blossomed. With her fears quelled, Nazrin was actually a rather up-beat, if over-confident girl. She talked to me about anything and everything - what she thought about herself, her opinion of Vaisravana ('I'd understand him better if his head wasn't so far above me') and - this one was a surprise to me - a few well-meant pointers on how to keep myself looking prim. 'I didn't go out of my way to find you so you could walk around with that headpiece out of place' and things like that. Every time she reprimanded me I'd blush a little for getting it wrong, and we'd look into each other's eyes. Then we would laugh until the dust from all the cleaning made us cough.

It was a side of herself she only showed me, though - there still wasn't enough trust with Byakuren. There were times I had wondered why to myself - Byakuren was no more at risk of disappearing than I was, wasn't she? Still, I had a strong enough concept of manners by that point to avoid pressing the issue.

She couldn't keep up the facade completely, though. I noticed it when we ate together - her eyes seemed a little brighter, and a tiny smirk would make its way onto her face. I felt my heart tingle when I saw that smile, to the point where more than once Byakuren had called me out for staring into the distance.

And that was my life, plain and simple. Study, cleaning, caring, sleeping. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

Of course, all things come to an end, and the end for this little lifestyle came one morning as I mulled over my flavourless gruel. She did it in seven small words.

"I have nothing more to teach you."

---

I stopped mid-chew, widening my eyes. I resisted the urge to speak until after I'd gulped down my mouthful.

"N...Nothing? You mean I'm done?"

Byakuren seemed cheerful about it. Perhaps even proud.

"That's right. With all the extra time you've been putting in, you've done all the necessary work far faster than I'd expected. All we need to do is go through one last rite, and you're a fully fledged disciple!"

She talked in between bites of her meal. Nazrin, as always, sat right beside me and paid us no mind as she nibbled at her food.

"I don't remember reading about any sort of final test...unless you mean the vows."

"Well, yes, the vows are a part of it, but there's more. It's...well, rather secretive, I'm afraid."

Secretive? I hadn't imagined Byakuren the type to keep secrets. Concern started to work its way onto my face, but Byakuren realised she'd manage to worry me.

"A-Ah, don't worry, Shou-chan. I'm sure you'll do just fine. After all, you've done great up until now!"

There was something a little too cheerful there for my liking that I couldn't put my finger on. She almost seemed to be trying too hard to comfort me. I pondered it momentarily, staring into my food in a daze.

At my side, Nazrin finished up her breakfast. Unlike us she hadn't stopped to talk, so she washed her bowl and made her way into the main hall. She obviously appreciated that the two of us needed some time alone.

Nazrin was always better at this whole social scene than I was.

Byakuren took advantage of this opening, wearing a different smile altogether. It was the smile of a woman who knew something she wasn't meant to. Changing the subject was an added bonus.

"You two are quite the couple, you know~."

My spoon slipped out of my hand, landing with a plop in the bowl.

"...Huh?"

She giggled, a high-pitched laugh that seemed far too young for a woman her age.

"Oh, you're much worse at hiding it than you think you are, Shou-chan. I see the way she fawns over you. In fact, sometimes when I walk past her room in the early mornings I can hear her mumbling in her sleep about how you'd be so pretty if you didn't just wear those tomboyish robes-"

"I-I think that's enough out of you, Hijiri-sama..."

I was blushing, suddenly grabbing the spoon back up and working my way through breakfast as fast as possible. The sooner I got back to Nazrin, the sooner we could leave this topic of conversation behind. Desperate, I moved the conversation onto a tangent.

"A-Anyway, there's something I was always meaning to ask you. Nazrin mentioned how you two met for the first time once."

"Oh...did she now?"

Was that reluctance in her voice? She sounded uncertain, but there was no way this could be any worse a subject for her than Nazrin was for me, so I pressed on anyway.

"She told me you were meant to catch the youkai that set the house on fire. Do you work as an exorcist or somethi-"

"Let's not discuss this, Shou-chan."

She disregarded the manners she'd worked so hard to teach me, cutting the discussion off before it could begin. There were a few seconds of awkward silence.

"...Right. Sorry."

We both got back to our breakfast, trying to act as if nothing had happened. There was a frown on her face as she ate, and that worried me - I never remembered seeing her look so unhappy. I still wondered to myself what exactly Byakuren was so secretive about, but it wasn't worth the strife it would end up causing.

Besides, I had the horrible feeling I wouldn't like the answer.

---

Nazrin was waiting for us as we stepped into the main hall. A little elbow grease had turned it from an ordinary enough, just about bearable room into a fitting place to worship a deity. Vaisravana Himself had spent some quality time with a cloth and warm water, and the statue was as magnificent as the day it was sculpted.

I gave Nazrin a little wink as I walked past. On the way over Byakuren had told me the first step to this rite was to invoke Vaisravana myself. I had done plenty of reading on the process, and logically I should have been able to do it fine, but Byakuren's earlier nerves had been contagious. I bit my lip as I sat in front of the statue, taking on a standard meditation pose.

I focused my attention on my breathing, noting the flow of air in and out of my lungs. Above all else I made certain to regard that it was never in the same place - it was flowing all the time, one way or the other. This was anicca - impermanence, the first of the three marks of existence. It was one of the most fundamental truths of Buddhism, and I had learned it to a tee.

I felt my entire body become wrapped in a faint golden light. As a servant of a different sort from Byakuren, my method of invoking him was different from hers. I grasped the pagoda, which by now had been firmly tied around my waist. It was as much a part of me as my arms, my eyes, my head. Without it, I was powerless.

It shone with a light reminiscent of the one I had seen all those weeks ago when I met Him for the first time. This would be our second meeting, but it would be one I brought around myself.

"I am a servant of the ruler of the north. The defender of the just. The deity of wealth and fortune. And by the power invested in me I call upon Him to appear before me! Come, Vaisravana!"

A familiar shaking along the ground. Behind me, I could hear Nazrin falling to her knees. It took more effort that it should have to hold in a laugh at her expense as the statue let of its familiar red aura. Vaisravana looked down on me with the same stern face as the day we had met; I was still but a pupil to Him, and this was the ritual through which I would prove myself worthy.

I still felt little tremors of awe as His voice boomed through the room.

"Vaisravana has appeared before you, child. It appears that you are prepared to take the final steps in becoming my true underling."

I raised my head up, looking Him in the eye. There was nothing left to worry about now - summoning Him was the hard part. Everything else was by the book.

"Now, I ask you to undertake your final vows."

I nodded in respect, reciting effortlessly.

"I seek refuge in the Buddha - the example which all of us must follow.
I seek refuge in the Dharma - the teaching which were left to us that show the path to enlightenment.
I seek refuge in the Sangha - those who seek the same goal I do and uphold our teachings.
I, Shou Toramaru, seek refuge in these three treasures."

There was a feeling of relief as the last words passed my lips. A feeling of conclusion, of completion. I had succeeded, I had been accepted, that was it.

But...something was wrong.

I had expected Byakuren to at least applaud or congratulate me, but she had stayed unusually silent. Looking up, I saw that Vaisravana hadn't softened in the slightest either.

"Your heart is pure, and your mind is sharp. Yet there is still one task you must complete."

I flinched.

More?! But there was nothing else in the scriptures!

Vaisravana's hand gripped itself around His spear. It glowed a dark red for a few moments before letting off an unexpected flash of light.

"Aah!"

I covered my eyes too late, and for a few seconds I couldn't make out a thing. Vaisravana's voice continued to echo through my skull regardless.

"You are aware of the concept of Taṇhā. The idea that suffering is caused by desire, by craving. Know also that your mind is an open book to me - I know your thoughts, your beliefs, your hopes, your fears. You cannot lie to me. I know what you desire the most. Or perhaps more fitting is...who you desire the most."

There was a threat hidden in those words. Actually, hidden was the wrong word - He was being very blatant with His disapproval.

There was only one person he could be talking about.

...No. No, no, no.

A painful, horrifying realisation washed over me. I could hear Nazrin slipping towards the door along with Vaisravana's words.

Byakuren grabbed her before she could make an escape.

"I...I'm sorry..."

Byakuren's words of regret made their way to me, redoubling my fears. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the blindness passed and my eyes finally regained focus.

What they looked upon made me want to curl into a ball and weep.

Lying on the floor in front of me was a spear, a replica of Vaisravana's. There was no elegant design, no flashy decorations. This weapon was designed for one thing and one thing only. To kill.

"You must sever your bonds of attachment to her, Shou. This is your final test."
« Last Edit: February 20, 2010, 02:30:10 am by Roukanken »

Chaore

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Re: Rising Star
« Reply #29 on: February 20, 2010, 02:21:46 am »
Inb4Kimikotimeparadox.
Hey. C'mon, let's die together.
I have too many dagons.
 

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