Topic: Rou's Random Shorts  (Read 100480 times)

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #300 on: July 05, 2012, 08:24:47 pm »
I really like it!
I have...a terrible need...shall I say the word?...of religion. Then I go out at night and paint the stars.

FinnKaenbyou

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Rou's Random Shorts (The Trouble With Wednesdays)
« Reply #301 on: September 07, 2012, 09:35:51 pm »
And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

-----

Genius was not a word Sakuya was fond of.

There was nothing wrong with the word itself. It slipped cleanly off the tongue, and it carried an air of authority and power. Regardless, there was only so long she could hear Patchouli use the word before her patience ran dry.

‘Genius’, in Patchouli’s case, had become an excuse. A genius had better things to do than eat dinner with the rest of the household. It was blasphemy to suggest they engage in any form of social interaction. And above all, a genius couldn’t possibly be expected to keep her own library clean. This meant the duty inevitably fell to Sakuya, as chief maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion.

Sakuya sighed to herself. Patchouli was a close friend of the mistress, and as a magician she was just about unparalleled. Neither of these facts stopped her from being a nuisance to work with sometimes. In the last week she’d sent Sakuya off to fetch half a dozen rare ingredients from across Gensokyo, all without a word of thanks. Aggravating was too light a word to describe the feeling.

“With any luck, I won’t run into her today,” Sakuya grumbled. She’d just finished cleaning up after yesterday’s soiree. The mistress tended to hold ‘elegant dinner parties’ for her friends throughout Gensokyo. Like most celebrations, it ended with gratuitous servings of alcohol and a room full of youkai who barely had the mental faculty to stand. The mistress herself would be caught in the throes of her hangover until the evening at the very least.

After a morning like that, the last thing Sakuya wanted was for her normal rounds to be any more complicated. She hadn’t tended to the library for almost a week, and her pride as a maid refused to let it go unchecked for any longer. She made long, confident strides towards the basement, ignoring the gaudy crimson wallpaper that attacked her eyes from every direction. She walked past dozens of identical, unlabeled doors - one of the mansion’s many defense mechanisms. Some led to rooms, others to traps, and others still led to nothing at all. Only Sakuya herself knew the full layout of the mansion, and it was not a secret she planned to share with anyone.

At last the journey brought her to a small staircase, and at its foot was an ornate wooden door. There was an inscription built into the oak in an archaic language Sakuya neither read nor cared about. Paying it no mind, she pulled the door open and put one foot through the doorway.

Immediately a stinging cold struck her leg, and she jerked backwards out of reflex. Her foot was damp, little water droplets falling from her sock. Her heart leaped as she stared through the open doorway.

A wall of water separated the library from the rest of the mansion. The library itself was entirely submerged. Seaweed had emerged through the cracks in its wooden planks. Coral crept across the bookshelves. The occasional fish fluttered past, eyes wide open as if it had no idea where it was.

All things considered, Sakuya handled the discovery relatively well. This wasn’t the first time Patchouli had revamped her wing of the mansion without warning. She’d turned the room into a cavern once, which had been a nightmare for Sakuya to clean up after. It was a Wednesday, too - and if Sakuya remembered her dates, that meant Patchouli was most in tune with the element of water today. With that in mind, flooding the library seemed almost like a natural decision.

Still one that got in the way of her cleaning, though. It would be difficult to tend to a library of this size if breathing was no longer an option.

“Patchouli?” Sakuya came as close to the wall of water as possible, hoping her voice would echo further in. “I think we need to discuss something.”

Of course, Patchouli didn’t respond. Her desk, that slab of wood where she could be found more often than not, was in one of the deepest corners of the room. Sakuya waited for almost a minute, getting no answer for her trouble.

She took a moment to consider her options. Contacting the mistress was not an option - in her current state, Remilia wouldn’t respond to anything that wasn’t a vial of fresh blood. She could visit the kappa for one of those breathing devices they were so fond of, but that seemed like too much effort when it came to cleaning one room. Or she could just leave the room unchecked, but her pride as a maid meant that was the worst possible option by default.

Which left one course of action, one that she hadn’t wanted to try unless there were no other possibilities. She gripped at her temples, making no attempt to hide her frustration.

“Koakuma.”

When it came to naming familiars, Patchouli was horrendously uninventive. Koakuma was the young demon she had made a contract with to serve as an assistant around the library. As a servant, she was utterly faithful to her master - the rest of the mansion, though, was a different story.

Soon after Sakuya called for her, the demon appeared on the other side of the wall of water. She was dressed in a black bikini, along with snorkeling gear from the outside world. Her wings flapped in time with her flippers as she swam towards the entrance, offering Sakuya a casual wave. No bubbles drifted from the snorkel - after all, demons only breathed when they felt like it.

Koakuma stepped out onto dry land, and Sakuya stepped back to give her room. The demon pulled off the mask and snorkel, taking a deep breath as she stretched her arms.

“Ahh, that was refreshing. Haven’t had a good swim in centuries.” She turned to Sakuya, offering a stiff salute. “Morning, chief maid. How can I help you today?”

She had that too-innocent look that Sakuya had learned to dislike over the years. The maid had learned that the best way to deal with Koakuma was simply to give her no room for her usual antics, and thus she kept her words short and simple.

“I’d like to talk to Patchouli, if you don’t mind.”

Koakuma’s eyes widened. “The master? Well, she’s where you’d usually find her.” She motioned towards the doorway with both arms.

“I guessed that,” Sakuya muttered. “But some of us have lungs that we are very fond of.”

Koakuma tilted her head with childish curiosity. “Wait...surely you can conjure a basic water breathing charm? That’s Magic 101, Sakuya. In all the time you’ve been around the master, she hasn’t even taught you that?

Sakuya could almost touch the sarcasm oozing from Koakuma’s voice. It was very tempting to punch her, but she still needed the demon’s help. She took a deep breath, filing her temper into a distant corner of her mind.

“She hasn’t, actually. I’ve had enough work on my plate without being the magician’s apprentice as well.”

Koakuma pouted, every action a little too dramatic. “Aww, that’s a shame. The master is busy right now, and I’ve been ordered not to disturb her.” In an instant her frown morphed into a devilish smirk. “But it’s different if you want to talk to her, and I know a charm or two that’ll get you into the library without that drowning thing you humans do sometimes. Interested?”

This was exactly what Sakuya had been worried about. She was at Koakuma’s mercy now. The devil probably knew several charms that would let Sakuya breathe underwater, and she wouldn’t hesitate to go for the most embarrassing. It would be much less of a hassle if she just said no and let the library clean itself today.

No. Sakuya shook her head, a proud stubbornness welling up inside her. She had decided to tend to the library today. That was what she would do, come hell or high water. Literally, in the case of the latter.

“That’d be great, thanks.” Sakuya bowed towards the devil, wearing a look of false gratitude. “Do I need to find you any ingredients from the vault?”

Koakuma shook her head. “No worries. This oughta be simple enough.” She held her arms out, muttering words beneath her breath, and a dark blue magic circle came into existence at Sakuya’s feet. “Now, if you could just stay still for a moment...”

The devil continued to murmur. The light of the magic circle grew brighter. Sakuya fought to keep her nerves from overwhelming her. It was just a water-breathing spell. There was no way Koakuma could make anything too terrible out of this.

Right?

-----

“I swear, one of these days I am going to learn how to perform an exorcism.”

As usual, Sakuya had underestimated Koakuma’s devilish streak. She gave the demon another glare as they ventured into the library.

“Hey, I gave you what you wanted.” Koakuma shrugged, swimming on her back and staring at the ceiling. “You can breathe now, right?”

“Yes, but was all of this necessary?” Sakuya motioned to herself, taking the chance to look down at the devastation Koakuma had wrought. She had lost almost a foot of height, leaving her around the same size as her mistress. Gone was the maid uniform and all of its quiet dignity - now she was dressed in a dark blue swimsuit with gaudy white frills. She wore comically large flippers, and in one hand she was carrying a magic wand with a pocketwatch built into the tip. She had tried to throw it away before, but the damned thing came back to her as if she was a magnet.

Koakuma pouted again. “Awww, you don’t like it? But I think you look so cute in that outfit. Don’t you like being Sakuya the Time Diver?”

No. No, she didn’t. And ‘cute’ was the last adjective Sakuya wanted connected to her. She did her best to ignore Koakuma entirely as she swam deeper into the library, one clumsy fin-kick after another.

The makeover of the library had been more thorough than she’d first thought. The wooden bookshelves had been encased in a coat of pebbles to keep them dry. The books themselves hummed with power - a simple spell to make them waterproof, Sakuya assumed. Rays of sunlight fell from the ceiling, feeding the plants and weeds with natural light. A gentle current circled around the room - nothing strong enough to stop Sakuya, but enough to keep the schools of fish on one side of the library.

Behind the current, in the furthest corner of the basement, Patchouli’s desk had seen an overhaul as well. Shells and gems were built into its sides, and its surface was covered with sand. Patchouli was in her usual spot, eying over a tattered book and taking notes on it. She wrote with a pen shaped like an octopus’ tentacle, the ink clinging to the paper in spite of the environment.

These were all secondary observations for Sakuya. The first thing she noticed was that Patchouli’s legs had been replaced with a long violet fish-tail. Two fins poked out behind her ears, and a sash across her chest protected her modesty. Her hair bounced about in the water, waving left and right but always keeping out of its owner’s face. All things considered, she pulled off the mermaid look surprisingly well.

In typical fashion, Patchouli didn’t even notice their arrival. It took a long clearing of the throat from Koakuma to get her attention.

“Koakuma, I thought I told you not to interrupt me unless-” Patchouli stopped short, looking up from her study for long enough to see Sakuya. She craned her head forward, squinting for a better look. “That’s strange. I never knew Sakuya had a daughter.”

It took every ounce of self-control Sakuya had not to scream. Her face flushed bright red as she gained a sudden interest in the floor. At her side, Koakuma begin to giggle and prod her shoulder.

“Actually, master, it’s a funny story.” The devil wrapped an arm around Sakuya, using the other hand to ruffle at the maid’s hair. “I found this little girl at the front door and she looked kinda lost, so I was thinking we could adopt her and-”

Sakuya only got one hit, but she made it count. She buried her elbow right into Koakuma’s solar plexus. The devil careened backwards, clutching at her stomach while letting off a tiny howl. Maybe her body was smaller, but Sakuya hadn’t lost an ounce of her adult strength.

Patchouli stared at the limp body of her assistant in the same way a statistician would look at a number. “I thought I asked you to stop abusing my subordinates.”

“Maybe you should ask your subordinates to stop giving me good reasons.” Sakuya crossed her arms, giving Patchouli the sternest look she could muster. Given her current size and outfit, this was much less threatening than she would have liked.

Patchouli sighed, waving one hand in Koakuma’s direction. The current intensified, carrying the devil off into the distance. When her assistant was out of sight, she turned her attention back to Sakuya. “So what reason did you have for interrupting me at work?”

“Well, it was cleaning duty to start with, but I’m not sure what good a feather duster will be in a room like this.” Sakuya motioned at the water surrounding her. “I understand if you want to change up the decor once in a while, but isn’t this a little too far?”

The magician gave Sakuya a deadpan expression. “I can assure you, I didn’t go to all of this effort to improve my feng shui. I’ve been hard at work.” She picked up the book in front of her, turning it around and holding it in front of Sakuya’s face. “Take this, for example. What do you see?”

Sakuya stared at the pages, blinking rapidly. She could make out characters and symbols pulsing on the paper, in yet another language she couldn’t comprehend.

“I don’t get it,” she said plainly.

“Of course you don’t. It’s Atlantean. As in the ancient civilisation.” Patchouli pulled the book back onto the desk. She eyed the page, scribbled more notes, then flipped over to the next one. “They were very secretive, you know. Their tomes were written in a very special ink that’s only visible underwater.”

Sakuya raised an eyebrow. “Then couldn’t you have just used a bucket of water? Or even the pool we had installed in here a while back.”

Patchouli frowned. “On Monday, maybe. Tuesday, perhaps. But Wednesday, the day when water bends to my will?” She rose up from her desk, waving her tail about slightly and spreading out her arms. “I wouldn’t be able to take myself seriously if I didn’t take a chance to test my skills. A genius does not rest on her laurels, Sakuya.”

Genius. Again with that word. Sakuya flinched. When Patchouli used the word, it carried an air of self-importance that didn’t sit well with the maid. There was a certain smugness that Sakuya couldn’t put a finger on, something vaguely annoying she couldn’t find the words for.

She grumbled again. It wasn’t worth thinking about. For now, she’d just do her duties and move on.

“So, how am I supposed to clean up now?” Sakuya scratched at her head. “Should I tend to the walls with a mop?”

“Actually,” Patchouli said with a wave of a hand, “I don’t think you’ll be needed around here today.”

Sakuya hesitated. “...Eh?”

“Did I stutter?” Patchouli said, her ear-fins twitching. “I think the water’s done a good job of washing up the dust and grime around the library. When I dismiss it at the end of the day, it should take most of the dust with it. In fact, it might not be an exaggeration to say it’s done your job for you.”

Sakuya’s mouth hung open. Tending to the library was one of the most time-consuming duties she was in charge of. It could involve hours of hard labour, depending on how long Patchouli had left it unattended for. She’d made plans for the day based on that, only to find that there was a gaping hole in her schedule.

Patchouli smiled. “You were up late making up for Remi’s antics last night, weren’t you?” There was an almost maternal glint in her eyes that made Sakuya gasp. “If you finish up your rounds early enough, you might be able to get a quick nap in before dinner.”

Sakuya couldn’t think of anything to say, and for someone like her that was extremely rare. For an instant she had seen a glimpse of the woman behind the snark - a woman who actually could care for the people close to her. She finally understood why the mistress had placed so much faith in Patchouli. Behind the quips and the jibes, there really was a dependable friend locked up inside that fragile body.

Not that Sakuya would be caught saying something like that, of course. She cleared her throat, letting her blushing subside before she responded.

“Thanks, Patchouli. But while I’m here...” She motioned at herself again, refusing to give her outfit another glance. “Is there anything you could do about this? My self-esteem has been haemorrhaging ever since Koakuma forced it onto me.”

Patchouli squirmed in her chair, as if the request had been an accusation. After a moment of silent thought, she let out a heaving sigh. “Well, since you’ve come all the way out here to check on me, I suppose it’s the least I can offer in reparation.” She held a hand out, murmuring like Koakuma had, and another blue circle emerged under Sakuya’s feet. “I assume you’d like to hold onto the water-breathing for a while longer.”

“That would be wonderful, yes.” Sakuya rolled her eyes.

Patchouli managed another small smile. With one final swing of her hand, she brought the magic circle to life with a flash of blue light. It engulfed Sakuya for an instant, spreading outwards before fading as quickly as it had emerged.

As Sakuya opened her eyes again, the world felt a little smaller around her. She grabbed at the hem of her maid uniform, and immediately she felt relief flood her system. Another minute in that outfit and she would have given herself an aneurysm.

“Thank you, Patchouli,” she said with a nod. “Shall I have Koakuma bring you your dinner when it’s ready?”

“That would be wonderful, thanks.” Now it was the magician’s turn to smirk. “You can take her off my hands until then, if you want. I’d like to be alone with my work.”

That was just the opening Sakuya had been hoping for. The two of them shared a dark smile before Sakuya made her way back to the entrance, retracing her steps towards the library’s entrance. This uniform was a little less aerodynamic than her old one, but it was considerably less shameful.

As she opened the door out of the basement, Sakuya felt the water rise off of her on its own. It left her bone-dry, the droplets floating in the air for an instant before zipping back where they’d come from. Another charm Patchouli had thrown in, she thought to herself. The magician must have understood that a maid in a soaked uniform wasn’t much of a maid at all.

“Surprise!”

Something leaped out from behind the corner with blistering speed. Sakuya saw the camera in its hand just before the flash hit her. She shielded herself, but she was moments too late.

“A-ha!” Koakuma held the camera aloft. “I got it! Sakuya the Time Diver, on camera! Just wait until Remi...” She stopped for a moment, getting a chance to actually look at Sakuya. What she found was not what she was looking for. “Until Remi...sees...this...”

So the devil had been aiming for a public shaming as well. Something else to add to her growing list of crimes. Sakuya stomped towards her with a cool confidence.

“Koakuma, do you feel like helping me with the dusting?”

The demon opened her mouth to object, but unseen energies held her lips together. It was part of her contract - Patchouli had given an order, and Koakuma had no choice but to obey it. She was pale and lifeless as Sakuya took her by the wrist, dragging her along the corridors of the mansion. The look of horror on her face was enough to make the whole ordeal worthwhile.

“We’ve only got the kitchen to tend to now. I’ll let you handle that part.” Sakuya put on a smug grin of her own. “You should be okay. The rats aren’t that big...”

Iced Fairy

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #302 on: September 08, 2012, 03:39:49 am »
Dammit Rou!  Now I have multielemental form Patchy stuck in my mind.  Do you know how long I'm going to spend trying to figure out a proper Sun Patchouli?!

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
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Rou's Random Shorts (Behind Closed Doors [NSFW])
« Reply #303 on: September 16, 2012, 08:45:36 pm »
Consider this experimentation more than anything. Since it's probably ~*~Too Hot For MotK~*~, I'm linking to it indirectly.

Behind Closed Doors (WARNING - NSFW Content)

Dizzy H. "Muffin" Muffin

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #304 on: September 18, 2012, 03:41:06 am »
Hm. That's not quite how I was expecting that to go~
  • Muffiny Miscellany

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
  • *
  • blub blub nya
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Roukanken
  • Gender: i don't even know anymore
Rou's Random Shorts (Nazwatch)
« Reply #305 on: November 11, 2012, 06:46:12 pm »
BACK TO YOUR USUAL FAMILY-FRIENDLY DIVER STORIES

-----

Life was good.

Nazrin stretched her arms out, slipping her tail through one of the gaps in her deck chair. The sun hung over her head, turning every grain of sand a brilliant gold. She absently looked out at the youkai wading into the ocean, splashing each other and giggling like schoolgirls.

She pulled the sunglasses closer to her face, just to make sure no-one saw her ogling.

That fairy has a nice figure, she thought to herself. Wondered when she’d get in the water. Guess she finished burying her friend in the sand.

A smirk rose onto Nazrin’s face. She looked over to a bird youkai who’d lost her bikini-top, and her rabbit friend who was hastily running off with it. A snorkel poked its tip out of the water as its owner surfaced - a well-tanned fox with piercing yellow eyes.

This is the best job in the world, Nazrin thought to herself. I get to look at all the girls I want, and I’m getting paid for it.

The moment that thought ran through Nazrin’s head, a hand smacked into her face.

“Ow!” Nazrin flinched, legs jerking outwards. She pulled the glasses off to look up at her assailant.

“Afternoon, private.” Murasa Minamitsu hung over her, arms folded and eyes adamant. The usual baggy sailor uniform hung from her. A real waste, Nazrin thought to herself. The sailor probably had a decent body hidden under there.

“I haven’t interrupted your sightseeing, have I?” the sailor growled. Nazrin gulped.

“Uh...no, ma’am. I’m just watching for trouble on the beach like I’m supposed to.”

“Then what are these reports of a fairy going missing?”

Nazrin pointed at a heap of sand in the distance with a giant X drawn on it. “She’s in there. Tell her friends they can dig her out whenever they feel like it.”

Murasa hesitated. Nazrin let a smug grin roll onto her lips as she gave the sailor a wink. See? I was paying attention. Internally, she thanked every god she knew that the fairy in question had a cute companion.

“...Regardless.” Murasa sat down next to Nazrin - or at least, she tried to. The ghost could only become solid through conscious effort, so half of her thigh ended up sinking into the sand. “Private, we need to have a talk about your little pets.”

Nazrin groaned. “This conversation again? Boss, I’ve told you a dozen times that the mice are doing a better job of running the Lost and Found than I ever could.”

“They’re mice.” Murasa grabbed at her temples. “When people come to the beach, the last thing they wanna see is a rat running around and picking things up off the ground.”

“And they’re going to be okay if it’s a mouse youkai doing it instead?” Nazrin rolled her eyes and shuffled her glasses back on. “If you don’t want the rats working the stand, get someone else to do it. Just don’t complain when stuff goes missing and stays missing.”

As usual, Murasa went awkwardly silent after that. The coastguards were already running on a shoestring budget. They couldn’t afford another employee, especially not one with all those fancy qualifications that lifeguards were supposed to have. She held her hands up in defeat, floating off the sand and turning back towards the mangy hut they called a base.

“You win this round, private.” Murasa clenched a fist. “But if I see you put one foot out of line, I’ll-”

“Heeelp!”

The threat was cut short by a cry in the distance. Nazrin looked out into the water, seeing a child struggling out in one of the deeper patches. She leaped out of the chair, adrenaline suddenly rushing through her body.

“Sorry, boss. Gotta run.”

She left Murasa trailing in her dust as she dashed into the water, breaking into a swim once she was up to her waist. Maybe she didn’t have a piece of paper to prove it, but she knew what she was doing in the ocean.

The girl was barely keeping herself afloat, arms flapping at her sides as she kept yelling. Nazrin dipped just under the surface, grabbing the girl by the waist and holding her up.

“Aaah-aah?”

The yelling came to a halt the moment Nazrin grabbed her. The little girl looked puzzled more than anything, and didn’t say a word until they were back on the shore.

“You alright?” Nazrin saying, laying the girl on the ground. She had yellow hair with black stripes, and her swimsuit was red with stars running along it. It’d look good on someone older, but this girl was too young for Nazrin’s tastes.

“Uh...umm...” The girl couldn’t get the words out, her face rapidly going red. Nazrin frowned.

“Is it that hard to say thank you?”

“N-No, it’s not that!” The girl grabbed at her chest, looking off into the distance. “It’s just that I’ve never been kissed before, and Mama told me not to-”

“Wait. Kissed?” Nazrin was torn between dismay and bewilderment.

“Yeah. That thingy you do to people when you pull them out of the water.” The child’s nerves got the better of her, and she forced her eyes shut. “Just...be gentle with me, alright?”

Nazrin resisted the urge to throw the girl back into the water. Barely.

-----

It was best to deal with this by the book, Nazrin decided. If Murasa found out she hadn’t ticked every box on her paperwork, it’d be a good enough excuse to throw her out. She led the little girl into the worn-down shack the coastguards called a base, holding her hand the whole way along.

The base had just enough room for Nazrin to fit her new companion in. The wooden hut was covered in poorly-kept equipment and warning signs that no-one bothered to read. She nearly tripped on a stray diving mask, tip-toeing around bolts and screws that had fallen out of their respective gadgets. A metal-plated door separated the main room from Murasa’s office - a ship’s steering wheel had been taped to the front to prevent any confusion as to who it belonged to. There were a couple of chairs in the corner - Nazrin took one for herself and left the other for her new companion, grabbing a towel and throwing it at the tiger.

“OK, let’s deal with this as quickly as possible,” Nazrin said. The time she spent here was time she could spend on ‘duty’. What if that pretty fairy was gone by the time she got back?

“First off,” she said, raising a finger. “What’s your name?”

The girl glared at Nazrin. “Mama says I’m not meant to tell my name to strangers. And if you’re gonna offer me candy she told me not to take that either.”

Typical. Nazrin bit her lip, holding back a profanity. She took a moment to let her temper pass.

“Fine, whatever. Just tell me where I can find your folks so I can get you back home.”

The child opened her mouth to answer, then stopped. She pursed her lips, twiddling her thumbs.

“Ummm...I don’t wanna.”

Nazrin ground her teeth together. “I just saved your life. Do you think you could offer me a little cooperation here?”

“I said I don’t wanna.” Now the girl was pouting, puffing her cheeks out and stubbornly staring at the wall. Nazrin was suddenly grateful she had no plans of ever becoming a mother.

“Look, kid, you’ve got two options. Either you help me out, or I send you off to my boss.” She looked in the direction of the captain’s quarters. “And trust me, you do not want to go there.”

The girl shivered. “R-Really? Is your boss scary?”

Nazrin smirked. “Oh, she’s terrifying.” She stood up, holding her arms out and putting on her deepest voice. “The legends say that she died at sea, but she came back to haunt little girls who don’t do as they’re toooold...”

Now the little tiger was tearing up, shaking so hard she looked ready to fall off her chair. That look was enough to give Nazrin a little bit of catharsis.

“A-A-And what does she do to those little girls?” she stammered.

The mouse put on her cruelest grin. “Why, she tickles them. Forever and ever and ever, even when they’re trying to sleep or go to the bathroom or-”

“Hauuuu!” The girl finally gave in, cupping her hands around the back of her head. “O-Okay, okay! Just don’t send me in to see the scary lady!”

Success! Nazrin reached down to pat the tiger on the head as she sat back down. The girl let out a low growl, nuzzling at Nazrin’s fingers. It was cute, in a condescending sort of way.

“Right, let’s start again. What’s your name?”

“Shou.” The name jumped off the girl’s tongue like a bullet. “Shou Toramaru.”

“There we go. Was that so hard?” She scratched behind Shou’s ear, and the tiger gave her a tiny purr. This was almost too easy now. “OK, for the bonus question - where’s your family?”

“In one of those little cottages on the cliff. One of the holiday homes.”

Nazrin smiled. She could be there and back in ten minutes, and still have plenty of time for ‘sightseeing’. Maybe she’d even get a bonus for her hard work.

“Alright, then. Let’s get you home.” She reached out to take the girl’s hand. Shou looked up at it, but kept her hands firmly at her sides. The little tiger’s eyes started to well up.

“B-But I lost my shiny...”

Nazrin’s cheer quickly faded away. Why couldn’t any of her jobs be simple nowadays? It wasn’t enough to save a life anymore - now she had to go on fetch quests for her patients as well.

“What shiny?” she asked, trying to hide her frustration.

Shou looked up, trying to describe the problem with her limited vocabulary. “It was this shiny lamp thingy. Mama called it a pagoda or something. It was really pretty and expensive and-”

“You dropped it into the water?” Nazrin finished the sentence on Shou’s behalf. The tiger nodded, hanging her head in shame.

“I tried to follow it, but I can’t swim very well.” She stopped for a beat, then corrected herself. “Okay, I can’t swim at all. But if Mama finds out I’ve lost her shiny, she’s gonna be really really mad at me...”

Now Shou’s eyes were brimming with tears, and the tiger rubbed her arm against her face as she started to sob. If the girl had been pathetic before, there were no words for how she looked now. Nazrin felt embarrassed simply by proxy. Her first instinct was to push the girl out the door and tell her the pagoda was long gone, but that would mean forcing this teary little child onto someone else.

That was something Nazrin didn’t want to be held responsible for.

“Do you want me to go search for it?” she asked. Shou’s sniffling stopped, and she looked up again after one wipe of her eyes.

“Really? You can do that?”

“We’ve got a few sets of diving equipment lying around here.” Nazrin lifted up a flipper from the pile of junk behind her. “And I’ve got a bit of a knack for finding things. I’ll take a quick look for your little treasure, alright?”

Shou’s face lit up like someone had just turned on the sun. “T-Thank you, mousey lady!” She wrapped her arms around Nazrin’s waist, muttering ‘thank you’ over and over again. Nazrin gave the girl another comforting pat on the head.

“No worries. Looking after kids like you is part of my job. Now how about leaving me alone for a few minutes so I can suit up?”

The tiger nodded, running out of the shack with tiny steps. Nazrin made sure she was out of peeking distance before digging into the pile of junk that she called an inventory.

Let’s hope they’ve finally invested in a larger helmet...

-----

They hadn’t.

As Nazrin stepped out of the shack, the main feeling running through her mind was claustrophobia. It had taken her two minutes to fit her ears into the tiny glass helmet, and even now they were packed in against the side of her head. Her typically excellent hearing had been downgraded to merely average - never mind quite how ridiculous she looked in it.

Shou’s jaw dropped the moment she saw Nazrin emerge. She seemed uncertain whether to laugh or sigh. “Um...that looks sort of painful.”

“Learn from my mistake, kid.” Nazrin waved as she waddled towards the water, wearing one blue flipper and one pink. “If you ever get involved a business, make sure it has a steady source of income.”

Shou was polite enough to avert her gaze. So were most of the other beachgoers, looking up at Nazrin for an instant before making a point of turning the other direction. It was almost a relief when Nazrin managed to enter the water and leave that awkward atmosphere behind.

I hope that kid’s parents are rich. We could really use a donation right about now.

For all her low-budget antics, the gear more or less did its job. The tank strapped to her back would give her about half an hour to search, which would be more than enough if the pagoda was still in the area. Nazrin took a moment to acclimate to her new surroundings, phasing out the gurgling noises the helmet made every time she took a breath.

Even the local wildlife seemed keen to avoid Nazrin. Schools split apart to move around her, and she swore she saw something hiding behind a coral reef to stay out of her way. Grumbling to herself, Nazrin grabbed at the pendant around her neck and focused her thoughts.

Come on, pagoda. Come ooooon, pagoda.

Her ears wiggled against the helmet as she tried to make out a trace of the artifact. The outfit wasn’t just uncomfortable - it was hampering her powers, as well. On land she’d have detected the pagoda in an instant - down here, it took her half a minute to find something that resembled a signal.

When it came at last, the pendant let out a dim light. She could hear a distant humming from the depths beneath her.

Better than nothing, I guess. Shrugging her shoulders, Nazrin dove further into the water. The ocean grew darker as she descended, but never quite far enough to hamper her vision. She scouted out the ground beneath her, looking for the telltale twinkle of something valuable.

When she reached the seabed, there was still nothing to be found. She’d have discarded it as a false lead, except the humming was getting louder. She was getting ready to start digging into the sand when she managed to zero in on the source of the noise.

Oh, for crying out loud...

Lying in front of Nazrin was a giant oyster, almost twice as large as she was. The edges had been decorated with swirls of red paint and what seemed to be glitter. The words “VISITORS: PLEASE KNOCK” had been written across the top of the oyster using a variety of shells and stones.

Nazrin complied, tapping at the roof of the oyster with her knuckles. Within a second it snapped open, and a voice leaped out from inside to greet her.

“Welcome, welcome, welcome to Fumi’s Flotsam Fleamarket!” A young mermaid was seated in the center of the oyster, stretching her arms out like she was ready to embrace her customer. Surrounding her were various bits and bobs - some valuable, some worthless, all relentlessly shiny. “If you’re looking for bargains on air-breather refuse, you’ve come to the right pla-” She opened her eyes, finally looking on her visitor for the first time. Her enthusiasm quickly vanished. “Oh. It’s you.”

Nazrin nodded, her eyebrows furrowing. “Still trying to make a living off of other people’s goods, I see.”

Fumi stuck up her nose, her long blue hair billowing about in the water. “You don’t have to make it sound like that. If you air-breathers threw this stuff away, you obviously didn’t want anything to do with it.”

“I told you not to run your business right on my doorstep,” Nazrin growled.

Fumi raised an eyebrow. “And what law is there that’ll stop me? Finders keepers.”

It was tempting to show the mermaid exactly where she could stick that snark, but fighting a water-breather on her own turf seemed like a poor move. Nazrin sighed, letting the anger seep out along with her air bubbles.

“So can I assume you just got something new in stock?”

Fumi’s eyes glistened. “Ohh, you have a discerning eye, don’t you?” She shuffled out of her shell and rummaged through her private collection. She dug into a pile, pulling out a pristine 5-yen coin, shortly followed by a sewing needle and a handheld mirror. “C’mon, I put it in here somewhere...”

Nazrin floated in place, crossing her legs. She’d be okay with the waiting if she wasn’t acting on a time limit. She looked absent-mindedly at her air gauge until the mermaid finally finished her search.

“Aha! Here it is.” Fumi rubbed at the object with one hand before spinning around to present it. Nazrin was almost blinded as the jeweled pagoda came into view, pulsing with a supernatural light. It was hopelessly ornate, and probably worth more than three months of Nazrin’s wages.

“I happened upon this little sucker just an hour ago,” the mermaid said with a grin. “On a scale of one to shiny, I’m pretty sure it’s right up there. Looks vintage, too. There’s no way I’m letting it go for any less than fifteen-hundred shells.”

Fumi’s eyes sparkled as she looked over the pagoda. She was already in love with it, Nazrin thought to herself. That was going to make this negotiation even harder than it already was.

“I’m guessing you don’t offer a return policy? See, that thing belongs to a little girl, and-”

The mermaid cut her short, holding a palm right against the mouse’s helmet. “I don’t see anyone’s name on it. And don’t gimme the little girl argument - I’ve had people try to cheat me outta my merchandise plenty of times already.”

The mouse groaned, bubbles seeping out of her helmet with a low whine. That argument had never worked before, but it was worth trying. She racked her brain, trying to find some way of luring the goods out of Fumi’s grasp. She couldn’t pay for it - she had no idea what fifteen hundred shells was worth in land-money, but it was definitely out of her price range.

An idea struck her, something just stupid enough to work.

“How about a trade?”

Fumi blinked. “Excuse me? What do you plan to offer me?”

Nazrin smirked, reaching down and poking at her heel. “These flippers, obviously.” She gave them a kick, twirling about to show them off. “They’re designer footwear among the air-breathers. Haven’t you ever noticed that all the divers are wearing them?”

The mermaid’s eyes widened as she nodded along. “Yes, I suppose they do. I always thought it was just their attempt to disguise themselves as one of us, but...” She looked down on her own tail, flapping it up and down, then turned back to Nazrin. “If they’re so valuable, why are you wearing a different set every time I see you?”

The mouse sighed, shaking her head. “Oh, Fumi. Don’t you know anything about the fashion business up on land? Yesterday’s hot trend is today’s laughing stock. Blue-and-pink is only going to be in style for so long. It’s an expensive business, but I pride myself on staying up to date.”

The more Nazrin listened to herself, the more she had to fight the urge to laugh. Clearly she had a special talent for lying to children. Even though she could barely take herself seriously, Fumi was lost in thought over whether to take the offer. The mermaid turned back to the pagoda, a sad glimmer hanging in her eye.

“...Well, a good salesman has to always look her best.” She held a hand out to take the flippers. Nazrin smiled, peeling the fins off and handing them over. The mermaid stuck her hands into the footholes, wearing them as if they were gloves.

“Pleasure doing business,” Nazrin said as she picked the pagoda off the floor of the oyster. “And I have to say, those look great on you.”

Fumi blushed. “Ah, well, thanks. Have a good day!” She reached up for the roof of her home, closing it over to mark that their business was over.

As she swam for the surface again, Nazrin let out the laugh she’d been holding in for an age.

Honestly, is there anything I could tell her that she wouldn’t believe?

-----

“What do you mean, you lost your flippers?”

Murasa leaned back in her chair so far that her back went right through the wood. Nazrin shrugged, still drying herself off with a nearby towel.

“I ran into a shark looking for that girl’s pagoda. Apparently plastic is a local delicacy around here.”

The lie came to her naturally. She could hardly tell her boss she had sold coastguard property to a mermaid.

“Then why didn’t it take half your foot off as well?” the captain asked.

Nazrin’s face didn’t even falter. “It was a very picky eater.”

Murasa’s face scrunched up, like she’d swallowed half a dozen lemons in one gulp. Apparently Nazrin’s lying skills didn’t extend to anyone beyond the age of twelve.

“Well, whatever.” Murasa put her hands behind her head, lodging them somewhere inside her chair. “That girl you rescued apparently has some very well-off parents, so I’m sure their donation will pay for the damages and then some.”

“That sounded almost like a compliment.” Nazrin smiled.

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, private.”

That was as close to praise as Nazrin was likely to get. She saluted, turning on her heels and making her way for the exit. There were still a few nice-looking ladies out there for her to inspect.

“Actually, before you go...” Murasa said.

Nazrin’s ears twitched as she stopped in place. “Yes, boss?”

The ghost held up a poorly drawn sealing amulet. “Could you explain why I found this stuck to my door earlier today?”

Nazrin walked back to the desk, grabbing the paper and reading it over.

Her heart sank.

Begone, foul tickle-monster of the sea!
Haunt our coasts no longer! -Shou


“Well?” Murasa had already cupped one hand around the anchor behind her chair. Nazrin felt a bead of sweat run down her forehead.

“It’s...well, it’s a long story...”

FinnKaenbyou

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Rou's Random Shorts (One Night Lamprey Stand)
« Reply #306 on: March 01, 2013, 08:55:51 pm »
>Ctrl+F "water"
>No results

WHAT IS THIS

-----

The worst part of any gig was the morning after.

For the third time in a month, Mystia swore to herself she would never drink again. Her head ached to the point where she expected her brain to start seeping out of her ears. Every muscle in her body felt withered and dead, and her insides had churned into a fine paste.

When she opened her eyes at last, she found herself in her own little tree-house. She heard the familiar creaking of branches under the floor-planks, the whistling of wind through the window. A cursory glance around the room confirmed that she hadn’t even broken anything.

She sighed with relief. At least she had managed to pass out in her own home rather than someone else’s.

But how had she made it back here? Her recollection of the night came to a sudden halt at the afterparty. One of the oni who’d attended the concert had challenged her to a drinking contest. She’d accepted, of course - her pride refused to let her turn down a fight. Based on her current state, it was probably a safe assumption that she had lost.

She decided that what had happened after that was nothing important. Nothing valuable was missing from her home, and besides the hangover she hadn’t been hurt. She could look into her inebriated escapades another time. Preferably after a few more hours of sleep.

Her course of action decided, Mystia rolled over in bed and wrapped herself up in the blanket. She stopped short when her cheek rubbed against something cold and hard.

“Eh?”

Something was lying on the pillow beside her. Her first instinct was to pay it no mind - among other things, it was surprisingly comfortable to put her head against. In reminded her of her time as a baby, resting on the inner shell of her-

Wait.

A wave of dread washed over Mystia, wiping away her hangover. She craned her neck sideways to take a look at the object that was hogging her pillow.

Lying next to her was a pristine, newly laid egg.

“Eeeeeh!?”

Mystia jumped back far enough to take herself off of the bed, pulling the covers down with her. Her hangover was already a passing memory, the aches and pains fading away as something much more dangerous took precedence.

“What is this thing?”

She spoke to herself, almost in denial. It couldn’t be real. It was just a really elaborate fake, right? One that looked just like an egg, felt just like an egg, and squirmed about like it was just about to hatch-

“Aah!”

As the first tiny cracks began to appear on the egg’s surface, Mystia’s last attempts to trick herself died out. This was no joke. In a few minutes, she would become the mother of a newborn child.

“Oh man.” Mystia walked up and down the room, wings flapping about behind her. “Oh man oh man oh man oh man...”

She’d slept with someone last night. That was the only explanation. It was the only way to rationalise the chick that was about to crawl out of its shelter onto her bed. Even after all the times she’d managed to get herself drunk, none of them had gone as horribly as this.

Looking after the kid would only be the start of the problem. How was she meant to keep up with her normal life? How could she keep the lamprey stand running with a kid to look after? And perhaps most importantly of all, who was the father to her newfound kid?

A knock at the door drew all of Mystia’s attention.

“Myschi, you in there? You told me to check up on you if things went bad last night.”

Kyouko’s voice chilled Mystia’s blood. Of all the times for her bandmate to drop in, it had to be now. She took a deep breath and pried the door just open enough for her to poke her head out.

“Morning, Kyouko!” She plastered on the largest smile her face could fit. “No need to worry about me. I’m fit as a fiddle, see? So you can just go back home and read your sutras or whatever it is you do.”

Kyouko took one look at the night-sparrow’s face and pouted. “You sure? I saw you sink a dozen shots at the afterparty, and that’s about a dozen more than you can handle.”

“Well, I’m home, aren’t I?” Mystia let out a painfully fake laugh. “Doesn’t really matter what I did last night if everything turned out okay.”

Kyouko didn’t buy it for an instant, the little yamabiko glaring at Mystia with unimaginable force. It was hard to believe that she was such a friendly monk when she wasn’t indulging in the punk-rock lifestyle.

Sweat dripped down the side of Mystia’s face. She couldn’t let Kyouko find out about the egg. What sort of rocker would she be if she had to hire a babysitter? If only there was some way to hide it-

Wait...that’s it!

Inspiration struck her like a hammer to the skull. “Y’know what? Gimme a second.” She ran backwards into the room before Kyouko could open the door. There was only one way to keep this secret from getting out.

Slowly, carefully, Mystia lowered herself onto the egg.

“Meep...”

She could feel the chick squirming about inside the shell, rubbing along her skin in a bid for freedom. She folded her legs to be safe before calling out to the door.

“You can come in now, Kyouko. See? Nice and clean.”

Kyouko was at least polite enough not to open the door until she was told. She still looked unconvinced as she stepped in, but as she looked around the room her eyes stopped on nothing incriminating.

“Well?” Mystia put on a big grin again. “What did I tell you? Nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah, but...” Kyouko bit her lip, struggling to find the words she was looking for. “It’s not the house that’s looking weird right now.”

“Oh, uh. Really?”

“Yes, really.” The yamabiko turned towards Mystia again, her arms folded in disapproval. “You’re a really lousy liar, Myschi. Your wings flap like nuts whenever you’re trying to hide something.”

“They do not!” Mystia declared, ignoring her wings almost smacking into her face. “I’m just trying to cool myself down.”

An awkward silence followed. Mystia felt the egg shuffle about more and more aggressively beneath her. Was the chick hatching already? Without thinking it through, she looked down on herself.

That was the hint that Kyouko needed. Her eyes widened momentarily before shifting back to a look of suspicion.

“Myschi, stand up.”

“Don’t wanna.” Mystia folded her arms and looked away with a sullen expression.

“Come on, Myschi,” Kyouko said in an almost pleading tone. “We’re friends, right? Stop trying to hide things from me.”

“I’m not trying to hide anything.” Despite her best efforts, Mystia could feel her face going red. “You’re just grasping at straws, and I’m starting to get offended by your-”

Before she could even finish the sentence, Kyouko’s hands were on her chest. The yamabiko shoved her backwards onto the bed, taking her entirely by surprise.

“Iyaa!”

Mystia’s head landed firmly on the pillow. She righted herself quickly, trying to sit down again before Kyouko caught on. She only needed one glance to tell she was too late - Kyouko was staring in awe at the spot where Mystia had been sitting.

The egg had hatched, and a tiny head was poking up from inside. Two beady eyes stared at Mystia with wonder.

“Mama?” the chick said as it continued to pull itself out of the egg. Mystia had no response - either for Kyouko, or for her newfound child. She felt like all of the bones had been ripped out of her body. She fell backwards on the bed, the reality of the situation finally catching up with her.

Kyouko kept her commentary short and sweet. “I’m guessing we’re gonna have to cancel the rest of the tour. Later.”

Mystia nodded, struck dumb by the whole series of events. She didn’t even look up as Kyouko walked out, closing the door with a resounding slam. Her headache began to surface again, pulsing and throbbing in time with the baby’s cries.

“But I don’t wanna be a mother...”

-----

Success!

Ava pumped her fist, drifting away from her vantage point at the window. Her tiny wings flapped a little harder as she felt elation wash over her.

I can’t believe she took the bait that easily. Guess it’s a good thing she was drunk last night.

The whole thing had been a remarkable stroke of luck. Her child had been on the verge of hatching, but Ava's scavenger lifestyle brought home barely enough food for one mouth, let alone two. When she'd come across Mystia tripping over herself in a bid to get back home, the chance was too good to pass up. Ava had literally carried the night sparrow back home and tucked her into bed - from there, it was a simple case of planting the egg right next to her and letting Mystia draw her own conclusions.

Still, I'm gonna miss that little guy...

The cuckoo youkai began to pull away from the treehouse, retreating to her own nest a few minutes flight away. She picked up speed as she cleared the branches, her long white dress dancing in the wind. She brushed a few strands of her long purple hair to the side, wiping away a tear as she did so.

“Goodbye, little chickie,” she said with a sniffle. “The rich rock lady will give you a better home than I ever could...”

Joveus Molai

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #307 on: March 02, 2013, 01:39:19 am »
This story went from very funny to soul-crushingly depressing in the span of two seconds.  :qq:

Midnight_Splendor

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #308 on: March 02, 2013, 03:38:10 am »
I must agree I started reading that story thinking it would be funny yet at the end I find myself shedding a few tears I hope that mystia takes great care of that chick.

KaiserKnuckle

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #309 on: March 02, 2013, 05:57:03 am »
Well, that's a first in Mystiafiction, I think.

I don't care how many people have said this to you, I don't mind being yet another person to say this to you, but goodness gracious, Rou. You're really paying off, what with all the whiplash-inducing plot twists you laid upon in the (X) stories of yours so far.

I would also love to see how this would play out as a full-blown story, too.
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Rou's Random Shorts (A Sparrow In The Sea)
« Reply #310 on: August 26, 2013, 07:10:40 pm »
[Excerpt from Kawashiro Monthly, Issue 34: Available now at all good vendors]

Mystia Lorelei: A Sparrow In The Sea
Keisuke Mizumura sits down with one of the most unlikely stars of the kappa modeling circuit.

----

When I first sit down with Mystia Lorelei, she’s got her face buried in a fresh towel. There’s a small puddle of water at her feet, droplets still sliding down her arms and legs. When she pops her head up, her hair is a ruffled, untidy mess - but it’s almost impossible to notice for the brightness of her smile.

“I’ve always wanted to be interviewed,” she tells me. “It’s a sign I’ve finally managed to make it somewhere in this business.”

Mystia has just finished an elaborate modeling shoot for Kawashiro Incorporated, having spent the last few hours posing underwater to show off their latest line of diving gear. It’s a niche market, and one that Mystia is an unlikely herald for - most birds wouldn’t even touch the water, let alone submerge themselves in it. As she continues her toweling regimen, I can’t help but notice that her wings are completely dry.

Noticing my attention, Mystia smiles wryly. She digs into the pile of discarded gear at her side, pulling out a length of plastic film. “I wrap these around my wings before I get in the water. Keeps them nice and fluffy.” She strokes one to demonstrate, the feathers still soft and flexible between her fingers.

She dismantles her equipment with a well-practiced hand, undoing a variety of clips and straps. When she’s done all she has left is her wetsuit - a sleek brown and white number that leaves little to the imagination. Unsurprisingly, she keeps that on.

“The shoot was...strange is really the only word I can use for it.” She sits firmly on a tree trunk, her wings slowly flapping in time with her thoughts. “I mean, there’s an obvious problem with communication. The photographer had to bring a bunch of signs with him so he could point out exactly what he wanted me to do.” She rubs the small of her back with one hand. “And those tanks are heavy, so it’s really hard to hold a pose.”

So what got Mystia involved in such an unnatural hobby for a youkai of her race? When I ask her, she’s quick to specify that it started purely as a business decision; she still runs a small lamprey stand on the edge of the human village, and matching the growing demand proved to be more difficult than she’d expected.

“I was just sticking my face in the water and hoping I’d find something.” She isn’t the sort to laugh at herself, but she lets out a rare chuckle at that. “Thinking back on it, I probably looked like a maniac.”

She was on the verge of losing her business entirely when a friend of a friend happened upon her dilemma and offered her assistance. That acquaintance was Nitori Kawashiro, CEO of Kawashiro Incorporated.

“Nitori had just started her company then,” she tells me, looking up at the sky with the fondness of nostalgia. “She needed someone to test out her gear, to show it was simple enough it wouldn’t take a kappa to use it. Our interests happened to collide, and things snowballed from there.”

Taking a look at the gear myself, I note that simplicity is definitely one of the key elements in its design. Pictures and diagrams are drawn next to key valves and hoses. Even the air gauge has a set of colourful drawings rather than numbers. It’s simple enough that it could be used even by an illiterate.

“It’s not that I can’t read,” the sparrow mutters when I bring it up. “It’s that I don’t see why I should when I don’t have to. The letters are all so small, and don’t the pictures get the idea across anyway?”

It quickly becomes apparent that Mystia’s most defining feature is her honestly - even on subjects most youkai would choose to brush over or outright ignore. I test the waters, so to speak, and ask her about the rumours that her blindness-curing lamprey is in fact a scam.

“Eh? Rumours?” Mystia tilts her head at the question, like it’s in a foreign language. “I thought that was common fact by now. The lamprey doesn’t really cure anything - I give the humans a slight hint of night-blindness, and I take it away from them after they’ve gone through a few plates. Some would call it a swindle, but personally I think it’s just good business practice.”

At this point, I admit I’m a bit bewildered. I’ve done a variety of interviews over the years, but it’s uncommon for a subject to be so upfront about such a dangerous topic. Out of caution alone, I tell her we should probably keep that statement off of the record.

“And why exactly would I do that?” Mystia says. “It’s not like any humans will ever get their hands on a kappa magazine. Especially not one as obscure as Nitori’s. I want the world to know just how snappy my idea is, and it’s your job to put it in print.”

She approaches potential scandal with an almost suicidal bravado. In fact, when I fail to respond to her request, she grabs a fin from the pile at the side and threatens to throw it at me. Her cockiness is unnerving, yet refreshing all at once.

Besides her contributions to Gensokyo’s culinary world, Mystia is also well renowned for her singing voice. She gained a considerable reputation by serenading her customers while they ate, and she’s one half of the cult-classic band Choujuu Gigaku.

“The band was just something that happened,” she admits in a rare moment of humility. “We were two girls who wanted to scream at anything and everything. I didn’t expect people to get so into what we were doing. I suppose there’s a little bit of resentment in everyone, and we’re an outlet for them to let it all loose.”

The sparrow has achieved more in one lifetime than some youkai manage in several. Yet in spite of her success on multiple levels, Mystia does her best to keep her many lives separate from each other.

“I haven’t told her about the shoot,” she tells me, referring to her bandmate Kyouko Kasodani. “It’s like...Choujuu Gigaku is one life, and the lamprey stand is another. It’d be really weird if she saw me wearing something so close-cut.”

And yet she’s fine with flaunting herself to the kappa en masse? “That’s different. It’s not like I’ll meet these guys at band practice or at work. No-one’s going to come up to me and say ‘Hey, Mystia! Your butt looked real nice on page five.’” She chuckles. “Not that I need anyone to tell me that.”

A flirtatious rebel with a hint of business sense: it’s no surprise that Kawashiro Inc. lapped Mystia up to serve as their main mascot. And as the company gets bigger and bigger, their plans for Mystia grow more and more elaborate.

“They’re talking about sending me down in a cage for the next shoot,” she says. “Something about coming face to face with a ‘shark’. I have no clue what that means, but it sounds like fun. Besides, I’ll do pretty much anything if the pay is good.”

So does what does she have to say about her supplier? “SCUBA is pretty cool, yeah. I mean, when I get through the day without drowning, I can only consider it a success.”

At this point, we’re cut short by the photographer coming in to show Mystia the results of her shoot. As I start walking away, I catch her reaction as he shows her the first photo.

I’ve never seen anyone so overjoyed by their own picture.


-----

This was half a response to the lovely picture linked in the headline (Thanks again to Sunderpep!) and half an experiment in trying a different style of writing. All in all I'm pretty happy with how it came out.

Bonus: Kyouko Learns About A Thing She Was Not Meant To Learn About
« Last Edit: August 28, 2013, 08:26:22 pm by Vicekanken »

Dizzy H. "Muffin" Muffin

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #311 on: August 28, 2013, 08:21:42 pm »
Heh, cute ...

The link at the beginning is broken, though. :o
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FinnKaenbyou

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #312 on: August 28, 2013, 08:26:06 pm »
The link at the beginning is broken, though. :o
Indeed it is! The artist likes changing her tumblr name a lot so the link seems to keep breaking. Replaced it with this link.

Tengukami

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #313 on: August 28, 2013, 09:21:35 pm »
This reads like the style of David Simon, one of my favorite journos. Lovely stuff.

Fan Fiction
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"Human history and growth are both linked closely to strife. Without conflict, humanity would have no impetus for growth. When humans are satisfied with their present condition, they may as well give up on life."

FinnKaenbyou

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Rou's Random Shorts (Winter Warmup)
« Reply #314 on: October 22, 2013, 07:07:04 pm »
Threw this one together as a little present for Himiko. Because penguins. :P

-----

“Brr...”

Sanae lowered herself further beneath the kotatsu, arms wrapped around her torso. She looked out the window at the thick layer of snow that had formed over the length of the mountain. The trees around the shrine fluttered about, their branches tickled by a chilly wind.

She wasn’t a fan of winter. Cold was her kryptonite, turning her from a proud shrine maiden into a shivering mass beneath a blanket. She still made the occasional public appearance, but after that she would always need a week or two to recover. The kotatsu had become her safe haven, the spot that no force in Gensokyo was strong enough to pull her from.

She was just about unrecognisable as she was now. Three layers of clothing engulfed her body, scarves on top of jackets on top of shirts. Half of her face was buried under the fabric, and only a strand of her long green hair poked out from beneath her wooly hat. No-one would have thought of her as the same girl who would brazenly flaunt her armpits in the middle of fall.

It was a relief that her gods had understood her plight. Ladies Kanako and Suwako were out tending to the masses, collecting faith in Sanae’s place. The shrine was deserted, giving her all the privacy she would ever need. Sanae felt warmer at the thought, pledging to redouble her efforts went spring reared its head.

That was still a few months away, though. And until then, nothing was going to get her away from this kotatsu. Absolutely, positively nothing-

Knock, knock. The door. A visitor.

Oh, come on. Sanae smacked her head into the kotatsu, her hat neatly cushioning the impact. She waited a few seconds, hoping that the knocking at the door would miraculously disappear. When the knocking continued, she decided that her powers had gone rusty from lack of use.

Knock, knock, knock.

She didn’t want to answer it. Not only would it mean leaving the kotatsu, it’d give some random youkai the chance to see her at her most human. That would be crippling for the shrine’s reputation - especially with the Hakurei maiden still flying about Gensokyo without a care for minor things like hypothermia.

But she’d been brought up too well for that. Leaving the door unanswered was mildly offsetting in a way she couldn’t put words to. There was a voice in the back of her head nagging at her for being impolite, a voice that grew louder with every knock.

Sanae sighed, bracing herself as she rose to her feet. “I’m coming.”

The trek to the door felt like a visit to the North Pole. Sanae shuffled along, barely able to walk in the huge fluffy boots she’d snatched from the wardrobe. Little clouds of water vapour formed in the air in front of her face, and her teeth chattered despite her best efforts to hold them still.

If it’s a tengu trying to sell me her newspaper, Yasaka help me.

At last, Sanae made it to the front door, pulling the worn oak handle back and exposing herself to the elements. The three inches of skin she still had showing stung as the winter chill blew through the doorway. She winced, looking out for any sign of her guest.

A black sleeve popped up from the bottom of Sanae’s vision. “Down here, miss.”

Sanae’s eyes widened, and she craned her neck down. Standing in the doorway was a girl at least a head and a half shorter than she was. Her body was engulfed in a baggy black jacket with a white patch over her stomach. Her hands didn’t even make it out of the sleeves, whipping about as she tipped at her bowler hat.

“Afternoon, miss. I don’t suppose I could ask you for directions? I’ve managed to get a little lost.”

Sanae blinked. The girl’s appearance was surreal enough, but the Moriya shrine was at the very peak of the mountain, with no other landmarks in sight. What would this girl have to be looking for to wind up here?

“Uhh...” Sanae gulped down her surprise, summoning up the cool calmness her duties called for. “C-Certainly. I haven’t been here for long, but I’ve done a lot of traveling around Gensokyo.”

“Great!” The girl grinned, a light shimmering in her emerald eyes. Her hair was long and black, and Sanae struggled to tell where the hair stopped and the jacket started. “I’m trying to get to Antartica. Any clue which way I should be heading?”

Sanae’s brow furrowed. “Antartica? As in the South Pole and all that?”

“That’s the one. Got a birthday party to attend. I’m only...” She looked at her sleeve as if there was a watch on her wrist. “Three months late? Going on four, I guess.”

Sanae was lost for words. She’d have stood there in silence if it wasn’t for the cold. Her arm creaked as she beckoned the youkai in.

“You are...pretty far off the mark.”

“Seriously?” The girl pouted. “Damn, I was sure this was the right direction.” She waddled forward, awkwardly putting one foot in front of the other. As Sanae looked down, she noticed the girl was wearing a pair of sandals shaped like duck’s feet.

“Should you really be wearing those?” Sanae asked as she closed the door. “They look hard to walk in, and it’s awfully cold out there.”

“What, these?” The girl lifted one leg up, looking down at her shoe with a prideful affection. “They’re all the rage where I’m from. Besides, cold is something that happens to other people.”

Her confidence was bewildering, but impressive all at once. Sanae felt sweat slipping down her brow, clumsily pulling away her outer jacket. Strange - the house was a lot warmer than it had been five minutes ago. Maybe the heating was finally kicking in.

“Okay, I’m not sure how to tell you this,” Sanae said, retreating beneath the kotatsu again. “You’re, uh...sorry, I never caught your name.”

“Toriyuki.” The girl tipped her hat again. “Penguin youkai, at your service.”

Sanae raised an eyebrow. That explained the destination, at least. “Well, Toriyuki, you’re in Gensokyo now. It’s sort of its own pocket dimension, split off from the rest of the world.”

“Gensokyo? Are you serious?” Toriyuki rubbed her temples. “I was sure I followed those instructions right. Take a left at Albuquerque, then walk straight for about a thousand miles...man, this is going to be awkward.”

She didn’t seem to have grasped the concept that she was stuck here. Sanae felt a flame forming in her chest, pulling away another layer of clothing. As she pulled the hat away, she had finally returned to the shrine maiden garb people expected from her.

“Um, miss Toriyuki...” Sanae wasn’t sure if it was embarrassment, but she felt bizarrely warm even without her extra layers. Maybe she’d managed to catch a fever or something. “Gensokyo isn’t really a place you leave.

The penguin tilted her head. “I don’t follow. If there’s a way in, there’s a way out, right?”

“Not exactly. If you got in, it was because the youkai in charge wanted you here - and if she wants you to leave, she’ll be the one finding you.” Sanae melted down under the kotatsu, feeling the crispy heat engulf her. It had never felt this good before, even on the best days. What was going on?

“Oh. Huh.” Toriyuki put a sleeve to her chin. “So what’s the best way to get kicked out?”

“By Gensokyo’s standards?” Sanae shrugged. “You’d have to start a war or burn down half the country. Can you do that?”

When the penguin genuinely stopped to consider the point, Sanae admitted she felt a little intimidated. Still, in spite of her aura of confidence, Toriyuki didn’t look powerful enough to do any lasting damage to the big names of Gensokyo.

“Well, I could ruin winter for everyone. Would that work?”

“Huh?” Now it was Sanae’s turn to look confused. “How do you plan to do that?”

Toriyuki grinned. “Watch and learn.” She rose to her feet, standing at her full height of four feet. She stretched her arms out, sleeves still hanging limp as she closed her eyes in focus.

There was a faint humming as the white patch on her jacket darkened, shining a brilliant red. Sanae could feel the heat wafting through the air, warmer than Gensokyo’s fiercest summer. Now she knew how she’d become so warm in the last few minutes - it was Toriyuki’s power, warming up the room even when she wasn’t trying.

“Not bad, huh?” The penguin smiled, lowering her arms as her jacket faded back to white. “I’m thinking I start up here and slide all the way down the mountain. I’ll bring down all sorts of slush and make sure no-one ever gets to build a snowman-”

Her monologue was interrupted by Sanae jumping up and wrapping her arms around her.

“H-Hey! What are you-”

Sanae was too entranced to listen. Toriyuki’s jacket felt like it had been freshly ironed, a heat that carried through her and warmed her heart. She forgot it was winter, arms wrapped around the penguin like a vice, refusing to let go.

“Seriously, let go!” The little penguin flapped about, blushing as she struggled against the shrine maiden. “You’re gonna crease the fabric!”

Sanae paid her no mind, squeezing her with all her might. The pleasant heat had locked her in a trance, smiling like an idiot as the world ceased to be around her. She was still giggling to herself when her gods slipped through the wall, stepping in after a long day’s work.

“Sanae, we’re ho-” Kanako stopped halfway through her sentence as she saw her shrine maiden locked in embrace. “Sanae, who’s this? And what happened to your jacket?”

Toriyuki looked up at the gods with an almost despairing expression. “Oh, thank goodness. You’ve got to help me. This girl’s a maniac, and I’m always three months late for my appointment-”

“Can we keep her?” Sanae asked.

Toriyuki flinched. “Eeeh?!”

Kanako scratched at her head, while Suwako giggled lightly to herself. The frog goddess was just about at Toriyuki’s height, and took the chance to look the penguin in the eye.

“Hm, an interesting specimen.” She smiled, looking up to Sanae again. “You know we’re strict about pets in this house, right? We’re still trying to make up for the time you tried to take in a wolf tengu as a dog.”

“I’ll take care of her really really well, okay?” Sanae pouted, eyes welling up for maximum persuasion. “And it’s just until winter ends. I’ll let her go when the weather isn’t so terrible.”

“Do I get a say in this?!” Toriyuki yelled.

“With Sanae?” Kanako sighed and rubbed at her temples. “Not really. Unless you’re willing to risk the anger of both her gods, that is.”

Toriyuki’s neck jerked around - first to Sanae, then to Suwako, then to Kanako, and back to Sanae. She flailed about more, the bowler hat finally falling off her head onto the floor.

“Muuu...” The penguin grumbled, going limp in defeat. “Maybe I can still make it for next year...”

Esifex

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #315 on: October 22, 2013, 08:17:40 pm »
Penguin shaped space-heater!

...or just a Penguin youkai, trololol

FinnKaenbyou

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Rou's Random Shorts (Rivals With Benefits)
« Reply #316 on: December 28, 2013, 10:45:25 pm »
WARNING! Not quite NSFW but still questionable enough that I had to double check posting it was acceptable. Also diverTouhous, but that should be a given for me by now. Featuring some complimentary Stuffman art as well!

-----

The worst feeling a mathematician can experience is the feeling of being out of their depth.

Ran Yakumo stared blankly at the papers she’d left strewn over her desk. Each page was full to the brim with her working, numbers coming together in a demented shorthand only she fully understood. It was the culmination of hours of theorising and calculation.

And all of it was absolutely worthless.

“Goddammit!”

Her frustrations burst out at once, and she brought her arm sweeping along the length of the desk. The papers went flying in every direction, though she still possessed enough self restraint to keep the inkwell from falling over. She placed her head on the wooden surface, gripping at her temples and mumbling to herself.

She couldn’t think straight. Her brain felt like it was swirling around in a sea of fog, slowly throttling her ability to think coherently. She knew the cause, of course - it was something that happened to her every year, something that led to her locking herself away in her room until the feeling passed. But never in all her years had the feeling been quite this intense.

Deep breaths, Ran. Calm down.

The fox squeezed her eyes shut, whispering the mantras to an old meditation. Gradually the heat passed out of her body, dousing the fire in her veins. She sat up again as she filled her lungs with cool, crisp air.

“Right. That approach didn’t work.” She raised a hand, the fallen papers floating pack onto the desk at her command. With another swing of her wrist the words written on them vanished, the ink rising off the paper and returning to the inkwell. “That just means I have to try something else.”

She picked up her quill, dipping it into the well before scribbling down a new set of equations to solve. Her progress was slow at first, but her momentum grew with each line, the trained mind of a mathematician overriding everything else. It was a simple pleasure, and one she rarely had a chance to enjoy. In that way, this affliction had almost been a blessing in disguise.

She was so caught up in her work that she almost missed the leaf floating through her window, blown in by a wind that didn’t exist. It flew straight towards the inkwell, with enough speed that it easily would have knocked it over.

Ran caught the leaf between two of her fingers without looking up. “Nice try, Mamizou. But I’m not that careless.”

The leaf flapped about in her grip in an attempt to free itself. After a few seconds without success it vanished in a puff of smoke, and Ran found that there was now a tanuki sitting on her desk.

“You’re no fun, y’know that?” Mamizou pouted, folding her arms like a five year old. “Locking yourself up to play around with your numbers. Surely there’s better things you can do with your day.”

Ran sighed. Mamizou was a relatively new addition to Gensokyo’s rogues’ gallery, but she’d quickly made her presence known. In particular, when she wasn’t busy elsewhere, she seemed to take a perverse pleasure in bothering Ran in every way possible. Perhaps it was just a natural relationship between a fox and a tanuki. Or maybe it was-no, she didn’t want to consider that alternative.

“As it happens, I think experimenting with theoretical mathematics is a perfectly good way to spend my day.” Ran straightened her hat, working very hard not to meet the tanuki’s glance. “Though I can understand if a plebeian like you finds that concept difficult to grasp.”

“Plebeian?” Mamizou pulled back, face going white from offense. “I’ll have you know I was inventing compound interest back when you were still suckling at your mother’s breast. Maybe I don’t know all your fancy theorems, but I know enough to make a killing in the world of finance.”

She pulled out a notebook, fluttering through the pages to show several loans she’d given to Gensokyo’s residents and the profit she’d made from each. Both sides had more zeroes on them than seemed necessary. “See here?” Mamizou said, puffing up her chest. “This is what I call practical knowledge. I use what I know to make money hand over fist. All you do is write down stuff that nobody else is ever gonna understand.”

Ran growled, her tails bristling behind her. Not only was Mamizou bothering her, the tanuki saw fit to lecture her as well. She shoved forward to push Mamizou off the desk, but rather than falling to the floor Mamizou simply stayed suspended in the air.

“Is privacy a foreign concept to you?” the fox muttered, one finger tapping incessantly at the desk. “At least bother me when I’ve got the time to spare.”

Mamizou tilted her head, her tail bobbing around behind her. “So you want me to make an appointment, then?”

“Well, that’s not what I meant, but-”

“Sure! That sounds like fun.” The tanuki grabbed the quill off of Ran’s desk and scribbled on a blank page of her notebook. “How does tomorrow sound? High noon at the edge of the Misty Lake.”

Ran raised a hand to object. “I didn’t-”

“Excellent!” Mamizou through the quill back into the well with immaculate aim. She tipped forward the leaf on her head as if it was a hat. “Be punctual, alright? I’ve got a surprise in store for you, but there’s no point if you show up late.”

Before Ran could offer an objection, the tanuki had already disappeared. She watched as the leaf fluttered out of the window again, turning into a dot in her vision within seconds. She watched its movements, following it until even her well-trained eyes could make out no glimpse of it.

Moments later, she slammed the window shut.

“Foolish tanuki.” Ran pursed her lips, sinking a few inches lower in her chair. “Thinks she can order me around. Me! Ran Yakumo, subordinate to Yukari Yakumo herself! It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so pathetic.”

She said everything she could to motivate herself, ignoring the heat that had rushed to her face. Her affliction was already hard enough to control, but being in the tanuki’s presence made its effects even more pronounced. She had theories as to why, but stopped herself from putting them into words for fear they might be right.

“Besides, her whole plan banks on me going along with what she says.” Ran laughed to herself, tails bouncing with every giggle. “Well, she’s got another thing coming. There’s no way I’m heading out for that appointment. Never in a million years!”

-----

Twenty four hours later, Ran felt a queer terror shaking at her bones.

What the hell am I doing here?

The Misty Lake spread out in front of her, its water remarkably clear in spite of the name. Above her, the sun was minutes away from reaching its peak. Luckily there was little in the way of witnesses, other than a few fairies who probably wouldn’t have noticed her anyway.

She wiped a layer of sweat from her forehead. She’d had to rush to make sure she arrived on time, just as Mamizou had asked for her. At no point had anything rational taken part in her thought processes. In fact, it had been the opposite - for the entire journey her brain had been screaming at her to turn around and keep herself locked up at home.

So why was she here? There was nothing for her to gain from this. She was playing right into Mamizou’s plan, whatever that happened to be. Nothing was keeping her here. In fact, nothing was stopping her from turning on her heels and going home right now. There was still enough time to salvage today and spend the rest of the evening plugging away at the Riemann hypothesis.

But it’s a bit of a waste to come all this way for nothing. Ran nodded to herself, finding an answer that her rational thoughts could accept. I’ll wait for her to arrive, then make a polite excuse and leave. That should do it.

Satisfied with her course of action, Ran sat at the edge of the lake, turning her back to the water and looking into the surrounding forest. This had to be the place, she thought to herself. The other side of the lake was home to the Scarlet Devil Mansion, and even Mamizou wasn’t foolhardy enough to venture into those parts.

The fox looked about, twiddling her thumbs. No sign of the tanuki. Maybe the whole thing had been a trick to stand Ran up. That sounded like a very Mamizou thing to do, now that she thought about it. After a few minutes, Ran decided she’d had enough and rose to her feet again.

With perfect dramatic timing, the waters behind her shuddered.

“Kyaa?!”

Ran turned around just in time to get sprayed in the face with lake water. Her robes were soaked through, the fabric clinging to her body unpleasantly. She growled in the direction of her attacker, ready to claw them down in retribution.

She stopped mid-swing as she got a good view of the culprit.

“Shuuuu~?”

Mamizou stood tall in the water, a playful grin etched on her face. She wiped a few water droplets from her glasses, posing in a dark brown suit that clung closely to her body. A metal tank was strapped to her back, attached to a plastic mouthpiece held between her lips. With each rise and fall of her chest the contraption let out a loud, breathy hiss.

“What the...-” Ran lowered her arm, more out of confusion than a desire to stand down. “Mamizou, what are you wearing?

The tanuki offered Ran a salute before spitting out her mouthpiece. “You like it? It’s called a wetsuit. You wear it when you’re gonna get, well, wet.”

She ran a hand down her side, and Ran found herself unconsciously following her finger. The outfit clung to her like a second skin, leaving nothing to Ran’s imagination. She saw Mamizou’s every curve, her well-formed chest and her plump behind-

Agh! Ran shook herself out of her trance, covering her eyes with one hand. There was never a good time to be caught ogling another woman, but this moment happened to be especially inappropriate. She recovered admirably, clearing her throat and putting on an expression of bored nonchalance. Her awkward glance had lasted only a moment - too short for Mamizou to notice, surely.

“Oh?” Mamizou stepped forward - or rather, she waddled. A pair of plastic flippers were strapped to her feet, presumably to improve her mobility in the water. “That wasn’t the response I’d expected from you.”

“And what were you looking for?” Ran asked, with a smidgeon of curiosity.

“A clever quip, if I’m honest.” Mamizou shrugged. “Something about how I looked like a drowned rat, I was going to wager.”

“I’ll keep that in mind for next time.” Ran looked down at her soaked robes, the fabric weighing her down so much she struggled to move in it. “Now is there anything else you wanted from me, or is this my cue to start trudging on home?”

“As it happens, I had something I wanted to show you.” Mamizou pointed out into the depths of the lake. “But we’re both gonna have to do a little swimming to get there.”

Ran raised an eyebrow. “So you get all the fancy equipment, and I have to swim in my undergarments?”

“Of course not, silly.” Mamizou stuck her tongue out, pointing to a nearby bush. “There’s another set of gear hidden over there. All tailored to your size, of course.”

“How do you know my-” Ran got halfway through the question before deciding the answer wasn’t worth knowing. “Never mind. I assume I don’t have a choice in the matter?”

Now it was Mamizou’s turn to eye up the fox youkai. “You can leave if you want. But I’m pretty sure that outfit’s gonna need a few hours to dry out. And you may as well find something else to do in the meantime, right?”

Ran sighed. Of course Mamizou had considered that option. The tanuki knew her well, almost disturbingly so. She raised her hands in defeat, trudging towards the bush to hide herself.

“For the record,” she said, her eyes glowering with scorn. “If I catch you peeking in on me, I’ll make you wish you’d never been born.”

“Oh, please,” Mamizou answered with a smirk. “Why would I ever spy on you in a way you’d be able to notice?”

That did little to make Ran feel more comfortable, but she tried her best to brush it off. She walked into the foliage, making sure she was properly hidden from sight before beginning to undress. Losing the water-logged clothes was a relief, but she didn’t feel comfortable staying undressed for long.

Sure enough, a similar set of diving gear had been hidden among the roots of the branch. The main difference was the colour; where Mamizou’s wetsuit was a dark brown, Ran’s was instead a shade of deepest black. There was also a plastic mask designed to go over her eyes - probably what she had to use in place of Mamizou’s glasses.

Thankfully, most of the equipment was self explanatory. Within a few minutes she had nothing but the tank to contend with. Though it took her a while to figure out where all the straps were supposed to go, she eventually managed to emerge from the bush with all her equipment in check. She took a quick breath from the tank as a test, letting out the same hissy breaths that Mamizou had demonstrated earlier.

“Oh my~” Mamizou giggled childishly, a very obvious blush rising to her face. “You look even better in that outfit than I’d imagined. If only I’d brought a camera with me...”

“Don’t even joke about it,” Ran said with a growl. “I wouldn’t let anyone see me dressed like this.”

“So you mean I’m the only one you’ll dress up for?” Mamizou smiled. “Aww, I always knew you cared, Ran~”

Ran grunted. She’d walked right into that one. The longer she dallied, the better the odds of her embarrassing herself again. She shrugged the thought off, taking her first awkward steps into the water.

“Let’s just go,” she said, biting down on her mouthpiece before she could say anything else that could be used against her. The sooner Mamizou showed her whatever was so impressive, the better.

“Okie dokie,” Mamizou said, taking Ran’s hand and leading her along. She gave the fox a playful wink when they were up to their shoulders in the water. “Stick close to me, alright?”

Ran nodded begrudgingly, squeezing at Mamizou’s hand as they fell beneath the surface. I just know I’m going to regret this...

-----

At first Ran had to overcome the feeling of clunkiness. Her kicks were sloppy and graceless, giving her almost nothing in the way of velocity. She held her breath for as long as she could, trying not to rely on the tank until she had no other choice. Luckily the contraption worked as advertised, as with every breath she let out a steady stream of bubbles trickled from her mouthpiece.

In comparison, Mamizou seemed much more comfortable in the water, pulling the struggling Ran along behind her. Ran paid close attention to the form behind her swimming, her flippers cutting elegantly through the water. The fox did her best to emulate that posture, and while it wasn’t a perfect copy it was enough to let her keep up with the tanuki.

After a few minutes, Ran was comfortable enough that she could match Mamizou’s pace without much effort. Now she had her a chance to focus on her surroundings instead. The visibility beneath the water was amazingly clear, even before taking the mask into account. She reached out at a passing school of fish, tickling at their scales as they swam by. A smile rose to her face unbidded, a small giggle gurgling out from her lips.

“Hrrrmbbl~?” Mamizou looked back at her, gurgling with a sly grin as her tail bounced about in Ran’s face. The fox blushed again, refusing to meet the tanuki’s glance. For a moment it had looked suspiciously like she was enjoying herself, and that was a victory she wouldn’t allow Mamizou to have.

It was only when Mamizou looked away again that Ran attempted to relax. Her breaths were faster and sharper than they should have been, and she put a hand to her chest to quell her racing heart. This was the feeling she’d locked herself away to conceal, the feeling that had tricked her into humouring Mamizou’s ‘appointment’. She knew exactly what the source was - and from the glint in Mamizou’s eyes, the tanuki had figured it out as well.

No. She knew from the beginning. Ran looked up at Mamizou again with a frown. That’s why she dressed up for me like that. She knew I wouldn’t be able to turn her down...and now I’ve walked right into her trap. She grabbed at her temples. Dammit, why can’t I think with my head rather than my hormones?

She was so caught up in berating herself that she barely noticed the path Mamizou was leading her through. The pair passed through caverns built into the rock, and at one point a mermaid swam by, eying the two newcomers with some confusion. By the time Ran’s attention had returned, Mamizou was already leading her up through an air pocket, out into an underwater cavern.

“Puhaaa~” Mamizou took in a long deep breath as she spat out her mouthpiece. “Man, there’s nothing quite like fresh air, is there?”

Ran weakly nodded in response, pulling off her mask and mouthpiece in rapid succession. Her eyes lazily turned to the walls, getting a grip of her surroundings. It didn’t take long for the sight to strike her dumb.

“Wow. Just...” Ran blinked. “Wow.

Structurally, it was just an ordinary cave, similar to any other. But the walls had been decorated with almost impossible brilliance, icy spirals forming beautiful patterns across every inch of the surface. It was a perfect fractal design, every edge of the design serving as the root for a smaller version of itself.

“Not bad, is it?” Mamizou pulled herself out of the water onto dry land, unclipping the tank and laying it on the floor. Clearly she wasn’t planning to get back into the water any time soon. “Apparently it’s the work of a local ice fairy. She’s since moved on to another hideout, but she left this little masterpiece behind.”

Ran nodded along again, taking off her tank and placing it on the ground beside Mamizou’s. Neither of them bothered to take off their flippers, walking slowly and carefully across the uneven earth.

“It’s a real sight,” Mamizou said to herself, hands on her hips as she puffed her chest out with pride. “I was quite happy with myself after I found it. Figured it was worth sharing with someone, and the folks in the temple weren’t interested, so-”

“Enough of the charade,” Ran said with a sigh. “I know why you called me out here.”

Mamizou stopped in place, biting her lip for a moment, before turning around with a sigh. Droplets of water still clung to her suit, the fabric fitting her even tighter than before.

“I don’t get why you hide it,” the tanuki said at last, scratching behind one of her ears. “Being in heat, I mean.”

Ran shuddered. Even the phrase was enough to make her feel uncomfortable. She rubbed at her forearm, her fox ears drooping down as far as they would go.

“It feels...dirty,” she said, practically spitting the words out. “I’m one of the strongest magicians in Gensokyo. I should be above carnal desires like that.”

“Now that’s just being stubborn.” Mamizou frowned, tutting as she waved a finger about. “You still have to eat, drink and, uh, answer the call of nature. Sex shouldn’t be any less natural than any of those.”

“I know, it’s just...” Ran found herself blushing harder still, twiddling anxiously at her thumbs. “I’ve never found somebody that I’d feel comfortable giving myself to. And I don’t want to rush into anything and-”

“Wait.” Mamizou’s eyes widened as she wiped her glasses clean. “Are you saying you’re a virgin?

Now Ran was turning redder than a beetroot. “Have you ever seen a male fox in heat? They’re lusty and abusive and-” She froze. “Wait, why am I telling you this? You pulled me all the way out of here just so I’d embarrass myself and-”

Before she could finish, Mamizou swooped forward and kissed her on the lips.

“Mpphnn!?” Ran flailed about at first, brain ready to explode in response to the assault. But before she knew it she was sinking into Mamizou’s embrace, the tanuki’s grip firm but comfortable. She began to lean forward into the kiss, her tongue pushing forward to press against Mamizou’s.

After a few seconds, Mamizou pulled away and smiled. “Ran, be honest with me. You like me, right?”

The sheer upfrontness of the question left Ran stunned for a moment. She forced herself to remain sane, to keep her hormones from overcoming her rational thought. Only when she felt sufficiently calm did she attempt to reply.

“Well, you’re a nuisance,” she said. “You refuse to leave me alone, and trouble follows behind wherever you go. You’ve made it your personal goal to frustrate me every chance you get, and ever since you arrived in Gensokyo I haven’t had a moment’s peace.”

She smiled. “But my life’s been a lot more interesting with you around. And it’s been a long time since I had another trickster to test myself against.” She put a hand on Mamizou’s side. “That and, well, you’re pretty attractive for a tanuki.”

Mamizou chuckled, reaching back to brush at Ran’s tails. “And you don’t like being locked away in your room, right? No matter how much you love your math, I’ll bet you wish you had a choice in the matter.”

Ran gasped slightly at Mamizou’s touch before nodding again. “I think I know what you’re going to suggest.”

The tanuki stuck her tongue out. “Aww, and here I thought it was going to be a surprise~.” Her hand dropped a little lower, grabbing firmly at Ran’s backside. “That is, if you’re okay with it. I don’t wanna force you into something you don’t want.”

For a moment, the playful smirk fell away from Mamizou’s face, giving way to a look of genuine concern. Ran smiled. Perhaps the tanuki had a conscience after all. “Do I have your word that no-one will find out about this?”

“Why did you think I brought you out here?” Mamizou’s bright smile returned. “This can be our little hiding place. And I swear on my honour as a tanuki that I won’t speak a word about anything that happens within these four walls.”

Ran felt a weight lift from her heart. She’d found a way to relieve herself of this burden, and nobody had to know about it - well, she knew one person who’d be watching in, but there was nothing she could do about that. She leaned forward into Mamizou, resting her chin on the tanuki’s chest.

“You understand my honour forbids me from thanking you, I assume.”

“Of course, of course.” Mamizou slowly lowered Ran onto the floor, leaning above her as the tanuki began to join in with the panting. “But don’t worry about that. I’ll make sure to get my share of fun out of this as well.”

She hung close, and Ran felt her whole body catching alight. This was an experience she’d held back for centuries, and now all that pent up excitement was going to be let out at once.

“Come now, Ran,” Mamizou said, with a confidence that came with centuries of experience. “Let me show you just what I can do with this tail of mine...”

-----

“Oh, my. How unabashedly lewd.”

Yukari giggled to herself as she watched the scene play out from the warmth and comfort of her own home. Both participants were too caught up in the moment to notice a small violet gap hanging above them, occasionally shuffling about to make sure she had a good angle.

“It’s about time, though,” the youkai said to herself, nodding as she folded her fan in one hand. “Ran’s been a pure flower for far too long. Maybe an experience like this will help her to get out more.”

She watched the two youkai embrace with a mixture of curiosity and surprise. The tanuki certainly seemed to know what she was doing. Clearly, Ran wasn’t her first partner - maybe not even her hundredth. Both of them were going at it with immense amounts of energy - it could take them hours to finish at this rate.

“Nyah?” A voice rose up from the hallway as Chen poked her head in. “Miss Yukari, what are you watching?”

“Oh, Chen.” Yukari beckoned the shikigami over with a finger. “I’m indulging in a little bit of voyeurism, if you must know.”

Chen walked forwards, puzzled at first. As she came closer, and the figures in front of her became more distinct, her mouth opened to form a tiny O.

“Eeeeh?” Her tails swished about behind her. “What are they doing with each other?”

Yukari smirked. “Well, you see, Chen, when two people love each other very much-”

“I know what sex is,” Chen said before Yukari could finish. “I’m not THAT young, miss Yukari.” She looked back towards the screen. “But why is miss Ran doing it with the tanuki lady? I thought they hated each other.”

Yukari nodded. She’d thought the same herself at first. But plenty of time among the living had taught her that the emotions of love and hatred weren’t that far apart. Both of them involved one person taking up every waking thought - the only difference was if you wanted to cuddle them or kill them. And sometimes, even that much wasn’t clear.

She wondered to herself if the relationship would last. Maybe they’d be back to yelling at each other in a few days time. Or maybe - just maybe - that was what made them so appealing to each other.

Not that any of it mattered to her right now. She was going to enjoy this little exhibition while it lasted.

“Take a seat, Chen,” she said, patting at the pillow beside her. “You just might learn something from this.”

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
  • *
  • blub blub nya
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Roukanken
  • Gender: i don't even know anymore
Rou's Random Shorts (The Best Story Ever [Citation Needed])
« Reply #317 on: January 17, 2014, 07:19:21 pm »
Listen. You hear that?

That's the sound of meta.

-----

“Hear ye, hear ye!” Sango yelled, smacking her palm against a tree trunk for emphasis. “I hereby call the first meeting of the Gensokyo Interracial Literature Reciprocation Committee to order!”

The sole member of the audience rolled her eyes. “You could just call it a story swap, you know.”

“Quiet, Jozu,” Sango said. “Big words make it sound more impressive.”

“Well, you sure did a great job calling in the masses, didn’t you?” Jozu motioned out across the Crystal Waters, at the various youkai and fairies minding their own business. Most of them seemed to be making a deliberate effort to keep their distance from the coast where Sango and Jozu were holding their meeting.

“It’s our first event,” Sango said with a shrug. “These things always start slow.”

“Riiiight.” Jozu fidgeted with her breathing device, unable to meet the dolphin’s glance face-on. “What brought this on, anyway? I never pegged you as the writing type.”

Sango put a finger on her chin. It had been one of those momentary impulses that didn’t have an obvious source. Generally that meant it was somehow Koishi’s fault, but she wasn’t confident enough of that to pin the blame.

“I’m just trying something new, I guess. Never really done a lot of writing.” Sango’s eyes widened. “Honestly, I’m more surprised that you were up for taking part.”

“Yeah, well.” Jozu blushed slightly, scratching harder at her neck. “I’ve actually done this a couple of times before. Never shared it with anyone, but I guess now is a good time to start.”

Sango nodded. “Good to hear.” She puffed out her chest. “Though I think I’m pretty talented myself, so don’t get too overwhelmed by what I’m about to show you-”

“Just gimme the story already.”

“Alright, fine.” Sango pouted, handing over a few sheets of paper. “Do you enjoy cutting me off every chance you get?”

Jozu smirked. “Maybe.” She pulled out her own work, written on a few slices of well-pressed seaweed. Sango had no idea how Jozu managed to write underwater, but the answer probably wasn’t much more complex than ‘magic’.

“OK, then, let’s see what we’re working with...” Sango gave the story a quick look-over to start with. Jozu did the same, examining Sango’s writing from a distance before she started to nitpick.

In the space of a minute, the blood flushed from the dolphin’s face.

“Uhhh...”

She scratched at her head, biting her lip. What she was reading was...well. At least the spelling was consistent, and the grammar only faltered once or twice. But as for the story itself, calling it ‘mediocre’ may have been too much of a compliment. “Awful” was probably closer to the truth.

I hope she’s not feeling awkward, the dolphin thought to herself. She looked up when Jozu seemed distracted, trying to gauge her partner’s reaction.

Instead, she saw Jozu grimacing with an expression very similar to her own.

Uh-oh. Sango gulped. I don’t think I’m going to like what she has to say.

It was a few minutes before either of them made an attempt to comment. Sango pretended to take longer reading than she actually needed, looking for any excuse not to be the first one to break the silence. Unfortunately Jozu had the exact same idea, and the awkward atmosphere between the two just grew harsher with each passing moment.

Eventually Sango decided to take action. “You go first.”

Jozu twitched. “You sure? I mean, you said before that you were a beginner, so I don’t want to scare you off.”

“It’s my committee, and I say you go first.” Sango folded her arms. “Those are the rules.”

The shark tensed visibly, then finally sighed in resignation. “OK, not going to lie. This is going to be brutal.”

“I guessed as much.” Sango tapped anxiously at her arm. “Just get it over with.”

Jozu looked down at the papers in her hands, with the look of a doctor bearing bad news. “Well, the first thing is the characters. They feel a bit...familiar.”

“Um, really?” Sango looked away. “I don’t know what you mean-”

“You called then Ognas and Uzoj.” Jozu frowned. “A dolphin and a shark. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out who you’re talking about.”

“Oh, that’s what you’re getting at.” Sango laughed awkwardly. “Sorry. Coming up with new characters is difficult, so I try to just write what I know.”

Jozu sighed, visibly struggling to find the right words. “Normally, I’d be fine with that. But these two characters...” Now it was the shark’s turn to blush. “You’re writing about them as, uh, partners. Of a romantic nature.”

Sango tilted her head. “What’re you getting at? They’re not us, Jozu. Just characters that look kind of similar, that’s all.”

Jozu’s grip tightened on the paper. “Well, does it have to be so...graphic? I mean, you never shut up about how pretty they are. You wax poetic about things like her ‘heavenly sighs’ and how she has ‘the skin of a goddess’. It’s all so...” Jozu tickled at her breather. “Showy-offy.”

The dolphin raised an eyebrow. “But I thought using pretty words like that was what good writers did?”

“I dunno who taught you that, but they were wrong.” Jozu’s eyes glazed over as she tried to skim through the story again. “Honestly, half the effort that goes into reading this thing is deciphering what you’re trying to say.”

Sango looked for a defense, but she knew that Jozu had a point. She sighed, long and hard, finally conceding the argument. “OK, I get it. I’ll wind down on the fanciness next time. Anything else you want to crush my spirits with?”

“Not particularly.” Jozu put down her copy of Sango’s story, rolling her eyes as she prepared for the barrage to follow. “I’m guessing you’re not very happy with what I’ve written, either.”

“Well, it’s...” The dolphin sucked in a breath. “It’s not terrible, but it’s just very bland. A lot of it is just ‘he did this, he said that’. There’s no real flow to the writing, and it reads like some sort of instruction manual.”

The shark pinched at her nose. “Yeah, I admit that I sort of rushed most of the story. I wanted to get to the part with the-”

“The muscles, yes. I was getting to that.” Sango pulled at her collar. “You...you like well-sculpted men, I assume.”

“You don’t?” Jozu flexed. “There’s just a real passion to seeing men get together like that. It’s a forbidden love, you know what I’m saying?”

No. No, I don’t. Sango’s throat felt dry. She hadn’t thought of Jozu as a fan of...this sort of fiction. Maybe she would talk the shark into writing something different next time; otherwise, this committee could earn itself an unpleasant reputation.

“Anyway,” she said, forcing herself to change the subject. “The writing gets better when you get to the...” Sango felt her cheeks heat up. “The fornication, but there’s a lot going on here that doesn’t make sense. I mean, what the heck is an twelve-pack?”

“I thought that was obvious,” Jozu said with a frown. “It’s like a six-pack, but twice as good.”

“Is that even possible?” Sango said, scratching at her head.

“I dunno, but I get shivers thinking about it.” Jozu stared off into the distance, a warm grin stuck to her face. “Ooh, those pecs...”

Sango hesitated, waiting for the shark’s trance to subside before she spoke again. “Well, whatever it is, you spend way too long talking about it. I just checked, and you spent a page and a half talking about one guy’s biceps.”

“That’s still too much?” Jozu pouted. “Man, I thought cutting that segment in half would be enough.”

“No. It really wasn’t.” Sango grimaced slightly. “I get that you really like this sort of thing, but it’s really distracting to someone who doesn’t share your interests. It feels like the whole story exists just to let you fantasise.”

Jozu let out a long, deep breath. “Point taken. This is the first time I’ve let anyone else read my work, so...yeah.”

Silence fell over the two youkai. They looked towards each other, then their stories, then back to each other again. Ultimately it was Sango who put words to the thought lingering in both their minds.

“We’re not very good at this, are we?”

Jozu shook her head. “Not really.”

Sango sighed. Honestly she’d been expecting a result like this - she could hardly expect to be a professional writer without any sort of experience. But the criticism still stung nonetheless.

“OK, so I think we’ve both got some lessons to take from this,” she said, trying to accentuate the positives. “I need to be a bit more original with my characters, and tone down on showing off my vocabulary.”

Jozu nodded. “And I need to take into account the things that I like reading about might not be the things people want to read.”

“Sounds about right.” Sango took a deep breath of fresh air, feeling rejuvenated. “Anyway, unless anything else comes up, I’d say this is the end of-”

“Heeeeeeeeey!”

A voice from overhead pulled away Sango’s attention. Looking up, she saw a red blur charging through the sky, headed straight for her like a human sized bullet. It pulled away at the last moment, and Sango felt the wind brush past her face.

“Hey there is this the-” The newcomer didn’t have time to finish her sentence before momentum ran its natural course, and she slammed headfirst into the ground. A cloud of dust blew up around the point of impact, and Sango teetered backwards to keep her distance.

Jozu stared at the crater with a bizarre lack of surprise. “Afternoon, Briar.”

As the dust cleared, Sango could make out the form of a fairy standing in its midst. Mud and dirt trailed along her long read dress, and there were leaves caught in her messy pink hair, but she still stood tall and proud in spite of it. Her usual dive tank was nowhere to be seen, but she still wore the shoe-like flippers that had practically become her trademark.

“Briar Rose, reporting for duty!” The fairy saluted towards the two youkai, both of whom were well over a head taller than her. “This is where I’m supposed to go for the Intraracist Litter-ture thing, right?”

Sango’s jaw hung open without her intending it. “It’s, uh, the Interracial Literature Reciprocation Committee.” Her eyes widened as she finally recognised the figure in front of her. “Wait, aren’t you the fairy that tried to steal my magic snorkel a few months ago?”

“Huh?” Briar put a hand on her chin, having to think the point over for a few seconds before she responded. “Oh, yeah, that did happen, didn’t it? Well, you got it back now, so it’s all water under the bridge.”

Sango was unable to put words to the sheer bewilderment she was experiencing. That sort of ‘no-one got hurt, so it’s fine’ ideology could only have come from a fairy - well, maybe Koishi too, but Koishi was her own category of ‘unusual’.

“Jozu, we’re not going to let her take part, are we?” Sango looked back at the shark with a frown. “I’m not sure I can feel comfortable around someone who tried to rob me.”

“Eh, she’s pretty harmless when it comes down to it.” Jozu shrugged. “Besides, what sort of writing do you think she’s managed to come up with?”

The idea was enough to turn all of Sango’s preconceptions on their head. A fairy - a creature known for having the attention span of a goldfish while only being marginally smarter - was trying to write a story.

She felt a sudden surge of confidence. As bad as her writing had been, there was no way it could be worse than what Briar had produced.

“Alright, then,” she said, nodding as she turned back to the fairy. “Let’s take a look at what you’ve got.”

Briar wore a smug grin. “If you insist. Try not to get too jealous, okay?” She pulled out a set of papers, even going to the extent of handing out multiple copies of her story. The paper itself was ragged, and the pages came in no obvious order, but after some sorting Sango managed to find the proper order to read them in.

What she happened upon was unbelievable.

“This is...” Sango cupped one hand around her mouth. “It’s beautiful.”

Jozu nodded, looking over her own copy. “It’s like I’m watching a shipwreck in progress. It’s horrifying, but I can’t look away.”

Sango could only watch the story play out. The spelling was atrocious, the plot was nonexistent, and the characters were cardboard cutouts who came back from the dead without any sort of explanation. It was undoubtedly the worst story Sango had ever found herself reading.

And yet it was so terrible that it had an uncanny charm to it. It read as the crazed ramblings of a fairy high on sugar - which, honestly, it probably was - but Sango found herself hooked on every page. Briar had clearly put her heart into this piece, and the dolphin always found herself wondering what insane plot twist would come next.

“So what do you think?” Briar looked over Sango’s shoulder, fluttering in the air behind her. “I wasn’t sure if the dinosaurs had enough lasers to be believable. I tried to get River to give me some pictures to go with it, but she just laughed when I tried to show her the story.”

Sango spent a good minute or two looking for a way to word her feelings. All she could manage was reaching around to give the fairy a gentle pat on the back.

“Never change,” she said. “Just...keep doing what you’re doing.”

“I agree,” Jozu said, giving Briar a thumbs-up. “If you make more stories like this, I’ll read every single word.”

Briar took their words entirely at face value. “Yes, well. Here’s hoping I haven’t disheartened you two with my awesome talents.” She puffed out her chest, honestly thinking the youkai were calling her the greatest artist of her generation.

Which she was. Sort of. In her own special way.

We should do this again some time, Sango thought to herself. This committee just got a lot more interesting...

Stifled Voices

  • Nobody needs to say hello to me.
  • I try to speak, but I can't...
  • Nickname: The Monster Within
Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #318 on: January 27, 2014, 05:22:08 pm »
After reading the Kappa's interview with Mystia, I was wondering if you would do a Mystia meets Jozu story...
« Last Edit: January 31, 2014, 07:40:35 pm by NooneCanHearMyScreams »

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
  • *
  • blub blub nya
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Roukanken
  • Gender: i don't even know anymore
Rou's Random Shorts (The Nature of a Beast)
« Reply #319 on: May 15, 2014, 10:47:04 pm »
So a few days ago I got my first Normal 1CC for Ten Desires at 4 in the morning, in an amazing fight I'll never be able to replicate. As a consequence I'm ever so slightly obsessed with Miko, and when I get obsessed with characters I insist on adding them to my little OC-canon. So here you go. :P

-----

If Miko had learned anything in her travels, it was never to trust appearances. In politics, a beautiful face was often a cover for a cruel and wicked exterior. You had to be suspicious of the folks who were always smiling; they were the ones most likely to stab you in the back when you looked away.

So when she arrived at the foot of the Crystal Waters, Miko was careful not to let her guard down. She’d been expecting something more feral, overgrown bushes and rabid animals around every corner. Seeing the picturesque landscape only made her more cautious, cape wrapped tightly around her body.

When nothing jumped out at her, she was almost disappointed. She’d spent the trip over preparing herself for some dramatic showdown with a bloodthirsty beast, and all she’d found so far were some pretty flowers.

“Is this really where I’m supposed to find the White Death?”

She relaxed slightly as she approached the water itself. Maybe the article had been exaggerated after all. She’d have to get her info from a more viable source. A local, perhaps, or someone else who visited the waters frequently. Luckily, she saw three figures rising up from beneath the surface, and positioned herself at the water’s edge to welcome them.

As the trio rose up into the air, Miko raised an eyebrow. They were fairies, still in full dresses with diving gear thrown on top. It had an eccentric look, even by fairy standards. They ignored Miko’s presence entirely, bickering amongst themselves.

“You’re no fun, River.” Their leader, in the rose-themed red dress, folded her arms and sulked. “The eel just wanted to give you a hug.”

“It was choking me, Briar.” The blue-haired fairy rubbed at her stomach. “Any harder and it would’ve broken my back.”

“That’s just ‘cause it was affectionate.” Briar turned to the fairy in the white dress. “Right, Dandelion?”

“U-Um...” The third fairy twiddled her fingers, looking anxiously at both her companions. “Am I allowed to abstain?”

Briar and River both shot Dandelion a disapproving glare. There was a strange chemistry going on between them, Miko thought. More complex than such simple desires should have allowed, in fact. Gensokyo found a new way to surprise her every day.

“Excuse me,” she said during a lapse in the conversation. “Are you three busy?”

“Eh?” Briar turned towards Miko and tilted her head. “Sorry, we don’t have any openings for non-fairies. Who’re you, anyway?”

“Just a passing hermit.” Miko reached into her cape, pulling out the article snippet she’d attached to the inside. “I was wondering if you could tell me anything about this.”

The fairies gave the paper a cursory glance. None of them were literate, but the picture beside it did enough to get the message across. A grey blur poked above the water’s surface, a set of vicious teeth prominently flaunted.

“They call it the Great White Death,” Miko said. “The tengu say it’s a blood-thirsty monster who’s already swallowed several victims whole. Would you happen to know anything about it?”

Briar opened her mouth to speak, but Dandy was the first to react. Her face went whiter than her dress, the flower on her head drooping into her hair.

“Aauuu...!” She bit her thumb, wings fluttering about behind her. “I’m not delicious, I’m not delicious, I’m not delicious!” The fairy burst off into the treeline with impressive speed.

“Hey, get back here!” Briar yelled. “You haven’t dried us off yet!” She made to pursue, dress still sopping wet as she flew into the distance.

Miko furrowed her brow. “That...wasn’t the reaction I was expecting.”

“They’re idiots.” River’s response was concise and brutal. “Though to be fair, Dandy did get eaten by that thing once.”

“Eaten?” The hermit sucked in a breath. “So the monster is real, then?”

“Yup.” The fairy smirked. “Good luck in there.” She flew off at a much more leisurely pace than her comrades, muttering something about incompetence and schedules. There were some oddly aggressive desires emanating from her; if she’d been more than a fairy, Miko might have been concerned about that.

Not now, though. The White Death was more than a tabloid myth now. Something like that could pose a threat to the humans of Gensokyo. She’d have to go ahead with her original plan - find the creature, and make sure it couldn’t hurt anyone again.

“It’s deeper than I thought,” she said to herself, grabbing at the clip that fastened her cape. “Good thing I came prepared.” She let the cape fall to the ground, revealing the dark violet wetsuit underneath. Grabbing at a bag on the cape’s insides, she pulled out a pair of flippers and slipped them on as well. It was good to have a kappa among the faithful, she thought.

“Alright, then.” She cracked her neck, letting rusty muscles get some exercise. She gave the sword at her side a light pat. “Time to go fishing.”

She stepped forward into the water, and vanished under the surface in an instant.

-----

The view under the water was even more impressive than that from the surface. Rainbows of fish swarmed around, popping in and out of the coral. The weeds seemed to dance in time with the currents, life bustling out of every nook and cranny.

Miko felt alien in this environment, dragging herself slowly through the water. Air wasn’t a problem; breathing didn’t matter much to someone who wasn’t technically alive. But her swimming was slower than she would have liked, and there was a lot of ground to cover. The waters continued downward, so deep that she still couldn’t see the bottom from here.

“And here I was, thinking it’d be easy to find this thing.” Miko sighed as a school of fish flew past her face. She recalled the other hermit who’d visited her temple, the one who could speak with animals. That was a power Miko would have appreciated now.

“Oh well.” She shrugged. “When all else fails, go down.”

Miko descended into the depths, pushing forward with hefty, clumsy kicks. The bright welcome of the Waters gave way to a much more bare-bones look, lightless caverns built into the rocky walls. This was more like it, Miko thought - plenty of hiding spots for a monster to pounce from. She had to be going in the right direction.

“Now, where should I start?” Miko pointed at the various openings in the wall. “Eeny, meenie, miney-”

“Hey, you!”

A voice from below stopped Miko before she could decide. She placed a hand on her blade’s hilt, watching as a young woman rose up to meet her. She had dark skin, a wetsuit similar to Miko’s own, and a jagged fish fin poked out her back. A local youkai, then?

“That’s a nasty sword you’re carrying,” the girl said, arms raised defensively. “You’re not here to cause trouble, are you?”

Miko frowned, giving the girl’s desires a quick glance. The voice echoed in her head, repeating the thoughts drifting in the back of the youkai’s mind.

Get out of here, already. It’s for your own good.

The hermit nodded. From the sounds of things, they had a common enemy. Maybe this was the assistance Miko was looking for.

“Don’t worry, miss.” She bowed her head forward. “I heard you’ve got a predator looming around here. I’m just here to solve your problem for you.”

“Predator?” The girl tensed. “You don’t mean the White Death, do you?”

Miko smiled. “And what if I do?”

“Then you’re making a big mistake.” The youkai’s mouth formed a small, tight line. “This place is super dangerous. You’re gonna get yourself killed.”

“Killed? Me?” Miko chuckled lightly. “Death is something that happens to other people. Trust me, I’ll be fine.” She held out a hand. “Though I’d appreciate your help in finding this beast. I could be here for a while scouting the thing out myself.”

The fishgirl looked almost frightened by Miko’s offering. Unusual, Miko thought; weren’t they meant to be on the same side? Maybe she wasn’t used to visitors from the surface.

“...Fine.” Eventually the girl took Miko’s hand, clasping it tightly in her own. “What should I call you? Other than ‘maniac’, that is.”

“Toyosatomimi no Miko.” Miko smiled. She didn’t get to introduce herself often anymore. “And you are?”

“Jozu Manou. Just call me Jozu.” The fish looked towards one of the dark caverns. “You’ll find the White Death over there. It’s a maze in there, so I’ll lead you around. I assume you’ve got a light source?”

Miko pulled her sword out a few inches, radiant light emanating from the steel. “You could call it that.”

-----

As the girl had warned, the cavern quickly split into several craggy tunnels. There was no light past the first few feet, making it almost impossible to retrace your steps. Jozu took the lead, comfortable with the lack of vision, drifting through the water with effortless ease.

Miko hung behind, using her blade to light the path. Whatever angle she held it, there were blind spots all around her for the beast to jump out of. She stayed tense, ready to draw the sword at any moment.

“So what stories do they tell on the surface?” Jozu asked, looking back at the hermit. “About the White Death, I mean.”

“Oh, it’s very graphic.” Miko stretched her arms out to make the story as dramatic as she could. “There are claims that it eats whole youkai in a single bite. Apparently the journalist who found the thing was lucky to get out alive.”

“I see.” Jozu pouted. “I think I know the girl you’re talking about, actually. There was a white wolf tengu who visited a few months back.”

Miko nodded. “Normally, I wouldn’t intrude on the business of youkai. But there are human fishermen who live near these waters, and they can’t defend themselves against this beast.” Her grip tightened around the blade’s hilt. “If it comes down to it, I’ll make sure it can’t hurt anyone again.”

Jozu gulped. “You, uh...you’re serious about this, aren’t you?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Miko tilted her head. “Besides, I thought we had a common goal.”

“Yeah, yeah. Of course we do.” Jozu turned around, pointing deeper into the tunnel. “This way. Don’t fall behind.”

The fishgirl picked up her pace, pulling away from Miko with blistering speed. She must have been slowing herself down so Miko could catch up, but now she was giving the hermit no consideration at all.

“Hey, wait up!” Miko tried to accelerate, but she’d never be able to swim faster than a fish. Jozu pulled further and further away, turning a corner at the edge of Miko’s vision. By the time Miko made it around the bend the youkai had already vanished into one of the tunnels, leaving Miko to fend for herself.

“Jozu...?”

Miko sucked in a breath. This was too deliberate to be thoughtless on Jozu’s part. But what motive did she have for leaving Miko behind? Did she want to claim the monster’s head herself? Or did she-

Oh no.

The truth hit her moments too late. She’d assumed the White Death was a mindless beast, but it was a good deal smarter than that. And she’d just stumbled right into its trap.

There was a whoosh as something blitzed through the tunnel behind Miko. She spun around, sword in hand, but the water slowed her movements just enough. The creature smacked into her arm, knocking the blade to the ground.

“Agh!”

Miko pulled back, grabbing at her wrist and grimacing. For the first time she saw the true form of her adversary - a great white shark, staring her down with soulless black eyes. It growled, mouth gaping open, dozens of jagged teeth poking out from within.

“Tch. Not bad.”

Miko looked down. Her sword was several feet beneath her. There was no way the shark would give her a chance to grab it. She couldn’t outrun it, either - turning her back was an easy way to get herself eaten. The shark’s eyes were still burning into her, like they were trying to beat down her will before she was devoured.

In that case, the creature had made a grave mistake.

“But the blade was just to save me the trouble of getting my hands dirty.” Miko raised her fists. “I won’t need it to put you down.”

The shark went quiet for a moment before accepting Miko’s challenge. It burst forward, ramming straight towards the hermit’s stomach. Miko swerved to the side, kicking the beast in the side as hard as she could. The shark yelped, but the blow wasn’t enough to do any lasting damage. It spun around, gnashing its teeth as it made to try again.

Miko held her stance, but in truth she wasn’t as certain as she made out. Physical strength was that Buddhist’s specialty, not hers. She was just fast enough to dodge the shark’s strikes, but she couldn’t put the creature down however hard she swung. It’d take something clever to keep herself from ending up inside Jozu’s stomach.

She eyed the ceiling. The rocks were unwieldy, barely holding themselves together. An idea came to her in the heat of the moment - risky, with a good chance to blow up in her face. Her favourite sort of plan, in fact.

“C’mon, I’m right here.” She pulled up the sleeve of her wetsuit, flaunting her forearm. “Doesn’t this meat look real tasty to you?”

The shark’s eyes lost their light. It growled again as it resumed its assault, more aggressive and reckless than before. Miko repositioned herself with every dodge, slowly guiding Jozu towards the wall of the tunnel. All the while she kept up her mockery, making sure her foe didn’t realise she was being tricked.

The hermit pressed her back into the rock, heart hammering in her chest. If she got this wrong, she could spend a millennium buried under fifty feet of solid rock. Again. She held her breath, holding still as the shark swung in for the killing blow.

At the last moment, Miko reacted.

Now!

Miko used the wall as a kickboard, pushing herself into another tunnel. Jozu’s inertia was unstoppable, and the shark slammed right into the wall. The rocks began to rattle above her, a rumble that resounded through the entire cavern. She looked up, and Miko saw the moment she realised what she’d fallen for.

Then the ceiling collapsed, and the shark was buried under a flurry of rubble. It growled once, then went silent.

“Aa...haa...”

Miko gasped, struggling to catch her breath. She’d been lucky that the cavein wasn’t more severe, only just wide enough to subdue her enemy. She swam down to the bottom, picking her sword up and slipping it back into its sheath.

“That was more trouble than I expected.” She swam towards the debris, sword still held close. “Now, let’s make sure the job is done...”

As she approached the rocks, a hand burst out from within. Jozu’s arm reached up, barely strong enough to move. There was no aggression left in her, a tiny wheeze as struggled to remain conscious.

Miko raised her sword. This was her best chance to finish the job. One more stab would be all she needed to-

Wait.

At the last moment, Miko’s ears twitched. She caught shards of desires the shark had tried to hide, too quiet for her to hear normally. She pulled down one side of her headphones, the limiter that kept every thought from pushing into her head.

In a second, she understood.

-What did I do to deserve this?- Jozu tried to dig herself out, but she couldn’t even get a grip on the stone. -I don’t want to hurt...anyone...-

The shark went still, rocks shaking slightly in time with her shaky breaths. Miko felt the adrenaline seep out of her body, shame rapidly taking its place.

“...I see. So that’s how it is.” The hermit sheathed her sword. With a heavy sigh, she reached down and began to pull the rocks aside. “It seems like we need to have a long talk...”

-----

“Nngh.”

All things considered, Jozu hadn’t expected to wake up. By the time the rocks had flattened her, she already knew she was easy prey for the hermit. When she opened her eyes again, her first thought was that she shouldn’t have been able to open them in the first place. She’d have thought it was a dream except for the fact her whole body hurt like hell.

“I see you’re awake.” A voice spoke up beside her. “Are you alright?”

Jozu’s eyes came into focus. She was lying face-down at the surface of the Crystal Waters. Righting herself she found Miko sitting comfortably at the lake’s edge, trying to knock some lingering water out of her headphones.

“Dumb question to ask.” Jozu poked her head out of the water, staying just low enough to keep her gills beneath the surface. “You’re the one that dropped a dozen boulders on me.”

“My apologies for that.” Miko bowed towards the shark, deeply and without restraint. “I must ask for your forgiveness, ma’am. I’ve been greatly misinformed from the start.”

“Misinformed? About what?” Jozu sighed. “You’re right. I’m the White Death. I eat people, and I tried to fool you. Didn’t you say you were gonna put me down?”

“Indeed, that’s what I said.” Miko nodded. “But I only knew half the story then. Now I’ve realised you’re nothing like the monster I thought you were.”

Jozu gasped. “Wait, what? Where’s this change of heart coming from?”

“I got a good look at your desires. All the things you did your best to hide from me.” The hermit reached out and pointed a finger at Jozu’s chest. “You weren’t trying to kill me, were you? You just wanted to scare me off. When it comes down to it, you really don’t want to hurt anyone.”

The shark felt her heart miss a beat. How had she found out all of that? She wasn’t a mind-reader, was she? She’d heard the Wonder Dolphin had a friend who could do that...

“That said, there’s one thing I don’t understand.” Miko shook her head. “Why didn’t you just tell me, Jozu? If you’d explained yourself, things would never have become so...unpleasant.”

Jozu grumbled. She dipped a few inches further into the water, her head barely above the surface.

“I didn’t think that’d be good enough.” She folded her arms and tapped at her elbows. “The fact is I’m still a shark at the end of the day. When I smell blood my instincts kick in, and it makes me really want to eat someone. Sometimes I can’t resist that temptation, and...” She sighed again. “When it comes down to it, those stories are true. I’ve eaten a whole bunch of youkai.”

Miko watched Jozu intently. The shark tensed, ready to dive to safety if the hermit attacked her. Instead, Miko carefully placed a hand on her head.

“Hey, what are you-meep!”

Miko ruffled her hair, and Jozu squeaked on instinct. The hermit’s fingers were warm and gentle, stroking her like she was an overgrown cat.

“You’re an enviable youkai, Jozu. I could learn a lot from you.” Miko smiled. “For you to struggle against your base instincts like that? It’s truly commendable, in my opinion.”

Jozu’s eyes widened. “But isn’t that sort of bloodlust a bad thing to begin with?”

“It’s impossible to avoid evil desires entirely,” Miko said. “But morality isn’t based on what desires you have, in my opinion. It’s about how you react to them, and whether you can resist your darker urges.” The hermit ruffled again. “Your hunger is such a deep instinct, and yet you struggle to contain it. I think you should be a lot prouder of yourself, Jozu.”

Jozu blushed and nuzzled into the hand. No-one had ever given her that sort of compliment. She’d have leaped out and hugged the hermit if it weren’t for all the bruises.

“In any case, I think I owe you a favour.” Miko put a hand on her chin. “Hmmm. How can I pay you back for this...” She clicked her fingers. “I’ve got it. How would you like some personal training? Something that’ll make it a little easier to resist those impulses of yours.”

“Really?” Jozu bit her lip. “Is that okay? I mean, I figure there’d be a lot of problems with trying to train a shark.”

“We’ll figure something out.” The hermit winked. “Just don’t expect to be meditating under any waterfalls.”

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
  • *
  • blub blub nya
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Roukanken
  • Gender: i don't even know anymore
Rou's Random Shorts (The Seabed Ballroom Incident)
« Reply #320 on: December 11, 2014, 07:38:08 pm »
HELLO INTERNET, I RETURN.

So I have decided that I'm gonna start cross-posting my work on Tumblr from now on! If anyone wants to throw likes or reblogs over there that'd be swell and Sango would give you a high five for it. You can find the tumblr version of this story over here.

Anyway, without further ado...

-----

“It’s not a date. Stop calling it that.”

Kagerou was normally the sort to pride herself on her patience. In spite of her lupine nature, she liked to think she had an air of nobility that most other youkai lacked. Unfortunately all women had their limits, and Sekibanki was starting to push at hers.

“Well, what else should I call it?” Sekibanki’s head floated bobbed up and down beside Kagerou’s shoulder, while her body walked along on the other side. She was one of the few youkai in Gensokyo who could flank someone singlehandedly. “A midnight rendezvous with your fishy girlfriend?”

“She is not my girlfriend!” Kagerou raised her voice, then promptly regretted it. She forced out a cough to clear her throat before continuing. “She just needed a partner for some mermaid-dance thing so no-one would try to hit on her.”

“And I’m sure she chose you based entirely on your dancing skills.” Sekibanki folded her arms. “You should really give up on the denial, fur-face. It looks like crap on you.”

The werewolf winced, twiddling her thumbs and running her long nails against each other. Wakasagi was a friend, and for someone with a social circle as small as Kagerou’s, that was worth a lot. So yes, this was just a simple favour for an acquaintance. A favour that came with a few metric tons of romantic subtext and awkward tension and oh jeez she was definitely overthinking this she had to stop right now.

“W-Well, why did I invite you then?” she stammered, nudging away the floating head at her side. “If I wanted things to be intimate, I definitely wouldn’t have brought someone else along.”

Sekibanki smirked. “Because you need someone to bail you out if your inner dork starts showing.”

“I’m not-” Kagerou paused. “Okay, maybe a little. But you understand, right? I’ve never been to one of these super-formal events before, never mind one in mermaid territory. If I look dumb, it’s going to reflect badly on Wakasagi as well.” She forced a smile. “And she’s your friend too, isn’t she? You wouldn’t want that to happen to her.”

Sekibanki blinked uncomfortably, her head floating around and landing in its proper place. She seemed to bury herself in her shawl, covering her whole face from the nose down. “I hope you realise you’re gonna owe me big time for this. I hate these song-and-dance affairs.”

“I’ll make all the arrangements for the next three network meetings,” Kagerou said.

“You mean five meetings.”

“Four. Take it or leave it.”

Sekibanki pondered the offer, then finally nodded. “Deal.”

“Really? Thanks a lot, Seki! I’m so glad that you-ahem.” No, too emphatic. Such raw emotion was unbecoming of an upper-class youkai. “I mean, I’m truly grateful for your support.”

Sekibanki rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure. So where exactly is this shebang taking place?”

“Well, if I got the directions right, it should be...” Kagerou pulled aside a large shrub, revealing the exit to the forest they’d been walking through. “Here!” She stepped out of the foliage, brushing stray leaves off her dress before standing at the edge of the Misty Lake. Even in the dead of night, the full moon overhead gave the water’s surface an almost silvery sheen.

“Oh, duh. Mermaids. Forgot.” Sekibanki peered over the edge of the water. A faint cascade of lights rose up from the lakebed, the first signs of the oncoming festivities. “Anyway, fur-face, I thought you were supposed to be a crappy swimmer-”

By the time she turned back, Kagerou was already pulling her dress off.

“Holy-!” The rokurokubi jerked backwards, her head spinning around to face the other direction. “At least gimme a warning before you start stripping!”

“Seki, what’re you talking about? Of course I’m not naked under this.”

Sekibanki’s head creaked around, looking at Kagerou with the corner of her eye. The dress was lying in the grass beside the werewolf, but beneath it had been a sheer-white bodysuit with red stripes along its sides. A leather bag was strapped to her waist, and she pulled it open to start rummaging through its contents.

“The heck is that?” Sekibanki asked, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s called a wetsuit,” Kagerou answered. “It’s formal wear for air-breathers at mermaid gatherings.”

“You mean a dress doesn’t count as formal?”

“Not when you’re underwater. If the currents get under the dress, it might flare up and reveal some...unpleasant surprises.” Kagerou pouted, speaking from experiences she’d much rather forget. “Obviously the mermaids don’t have anything to hide down there, so they can wear whatever they want.”

Sekibanki looked away for a moment, but made no effort to push the point. Kagerou wiped her brow at that; she’d been worried the rokurokubi would ask why a swimsuit couldn’t do the same job. The answer was that it could, but that would mean Kagerou would be exposing a lot more skin. And on a night like this, she was much...hairier than she wanted to admit.

“So what am I meant to wear?” Sekibanki ran her hand along the hem of her skirt. “I can’t be your wingman if I’ve gotta stop myself from flashing every five seconds.”

“Don’t worry.” Kagerou smiled, pulling a second wetsuit from the bag, this one in shades of black and red. “I thought ahead with this one.”

Sekibanki nodded. “I figured. You’re always the sort to have everything in order before you-” As she took the suit from Kagerou’s hand, a small card fell out of the sleeve and into the grass. “Eh? What’s that?”

“Oh, you’ll want to read that over,” Kagerou said casually. “Some very important information on there.”

“Like what?” Sekibanki’s head hung in place while her body leaned down to pick up the card. “Let’s see...Lady Gurren of the Green Lands, heiress to a small manor in the mountains-” Her brow furrowed. “What the heck is this supposed to be?”

“Your cover story.” Kagerou shrugged. “It’s a very high class event, so I had to...invent some facts about you. They won’t let just anyone in, after all. Don’t worry, Wakasagi will vouch for you.”

“So you want me to pretend I’m some fancy-ass noble with a silver spoon in her mouth?” Sekibanki’s head gradually shifted to a shade of scarlet. “This is not what I signed up for! You lied to me!”

“I never lied, per se. I just may have omitted a few details.” Kagerou winked, a sly grin forming on her lips. “And we made a deal, didn’t we? Can’t go back on a promise. Youkai’s honour.”

Sekibanki’s hands curled into fists, and for a moment Kagerou primed herself to weave away from a punch. The rokurokubi’s face turned bright crimson - then, like she’d been frozen solid, flipped back to a pale white.

“I’ll admit one thing: I’d be applauding you if you tried pulling this shit on anyone else.” She took the suit from Kagerou’s hand, refusing to look the werewolf in the eye as she walked back into the forest to change. “But you’d better sleep with one eye open for the next few days...”

-----

In spite of its meager size, the Misty Lake was much deeper than it first appeared. Sinking to the bottom took a good five minutes, maybe even ten for a swimmer as poor as Kagerou. This was one of the main reasons the mermaids received few visitors from above the surface; even the strongest youkai had to breathe once in a while.

Fortunately, this was one of the many problems Kagerou had taken into account. From the bottom of the bag she drew a necklace with a navy-blue gem in its centre, then carefully clipped it on. As her toe brushed at the water, the gem shone brighter to show its magic was in effect.

“Some fancy jewellery you got there.” Sekibanki stepped up on Kagerou from behind, clad in the black wetsuit. Her arms were folded so tightly that she made look more like a straitjacket. “Water-breathing charm?”

“Obviously.” Kagerou allowed a hint of satisfaction to seep into her voice. She’d spent weeks planning for this occasion, and now she felt like she was ready for just about anything. “There’s one in here for you as well, if you want it.”

“I’ll pass.” Sekibanki casually lifted her head off of her shoulders and sat it on the ground by the lake. A second head popped out of the hole in her neck, and she took a moment to put its hair into place before continuing. “Periscope here will do my breathing for me.”

“Periscope?” Kagerou pulled her head back slightly. “You name your heads?”

“Only when it’s suitably ironic.” The rokurokubi took her first steps into the water. “So are we going, or what?”

“Ah! Right. Yes.” Kagerou stood to attention, following behind Sekibanki with smaller paces. The water was frigid, as she’d expected, but at least her fur did something to stave off the cold. For the first time she could remember, her lycanthropy had actually turned out to be an advantage.

It wasn’t long before the ground beneath her feet disappeared, and she dropped without a fanfare into the waters of the lake. She held her breath on instinct to start, then slowly let her air trickle out as the necklace began to shine brighter. When she finally did breathe in, it was so natural that she would’ve sworn she was on dry land.

“This way.” Kagerou pointed towards the lakebed lightshow, growing more flamboyant with every passing minute. If there was one thing the mermaids were good at, she thought to herself, it was spectacle.

The first few minutes of the journey passed in relative silence. Sekibanki was murmuring details about her cover story to herself, seemingly adding new details as she went along. Kagerou, meanwhile, was trying to conceal the hammering of her heart, keeping herself from smiling giddily. She’d dreamed of being invited to a party like this for decades, and it was finally happening. Her, Kagerou Imaizumi, one of Gensokyo’s high-class socialites! She couldn’t have imagined it more perfectly if she tried.

Naturally, Sekibanki took it upon herself to destroy that illusion.

“So this is the mermaid city?” The rokurokubi snorted as a small outpost came into view. “Jeez, it’s even gaudier than I imagined it.”

Though the houses were few in number, they were all sprawling masses of decoration and extension, as if each was designed to outdo its neighbours. Shimmering stones and hand-carved coral ran across the walls, catching every inch of light from the surface they could. It was a display of opulence so grand that Kagerou struggled to look for more than a few seconds without her eyes hurting.

“It’s a cultural thing,” she said half heartedly. “Merfolk value beauty above all else. It’s not about showing off.”

“Really?” Sekibanki smirked, pointing to the center of the village. “Then what do you call that?”

“That’s...”

Kagerou’s mouth dropped open. In the midst of all these clashing houses was the source of the lights - a massive castle, with towers that went almost halfway up to the surface. Every other brick in the building was made of solid gold, and it seemed like recent work had been done to increase that number. At the entrance sat two marble statues of the realm’s king and queen, each of them twice the size of Kagerou herself. The queen was depicted as a gentle, maternal figure, while the king was lifting a trident over his head and bellowing a war cry.

“Okay, you win.” Kagerou bowed her head as she dropped down towards the castle’s courtyard. “Someone’s seriously overcompensating.”

“I know, right?” Sekibanki stuck her tongue out at the statue. “Like, I bet he’s four feet tall and about as buff as a piece of paper.”

“Maybe don’t say that too loud. That IS Wakasagi’s father you’re talking about.”

“I know.” The rokurokubi smirked. “Still definitely true, though.”

Kagerou chose not to honour that with a response. Admittedly, she’d have liked it if Sekibanki was right on that count. Wakasagi had spoken about her parents being very protective - and more importantly, very critical of the dreaded air-breathers. Kagerou would much rather earn the disapproval of a pint-sized puppet ruler than the epitome of mer-testosterone.

The pair touched down at the front of the courtyard, walking carefully towards the front door. As they made it to within a dozen paces of the entrance Kagerou pulled Sekibanki aside, using one of the statues for cover.

“Now, remember the rules,” the werewolf said. “No swearing, no brawling, and absolutely no self-decapitation. The mermaids have no idea what a rokurokubi is, so you’d definitely freak them out.”

“Aww.” Sekibanki frowned. “You’re really doing your best to suck all the fun out of this, aren’t you?”

“Please.” Kagerou grabbed at Sekibanki’s shoulder. “I’m counting on you here, Seki.”

For a moment, something seemed to glisten in Sekibanki’s eyes. If you looked closely, you might have mistaken it for compassion, though you’d never hear her admit to it. It was gone within instants anyway, replaced with her classic sigh of resignation.

“I can’t say no when you look that pitiful.” The rokurokubi cracked her neck, then pulled her posture backwards until she was standing upright. Her hands fell over each other, palm over palm, and her threatening aura was replaced with something almost docile. Every inch of her form was perfect - so perfect, in fact, that it quickly turned into a parody of itself. “Well, milady?” she said, in a flamboyant upper-class dialect. “Does this tend to thy desires?”

Kagerou furrowed her brow. “Maybe overdoing it with the formality there.”

“Hey, at least gimme points for trying,” Sekibanki replied, dropping back into her natural tone. “Or would you rather I went around talking like one of those damned commoners?”

The werewolf winced. “Point taken.”

“Most excellent!” Sekibanki held a hand out, every motion as exaggerated as her voice. “Now escort me to the promenade like a true gentleman would. Chop chop, dear.”

Kagerou paused, looked at Sekibanki’s hand for a moment, then grudgingly took it and led her on. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about~”

-----

Getting in to the ball was easier than Kagerou had been expecting. She’d been ready for the bouncer to grill then incessantly over their identities, but the guard barely bothered to pay attention to them. “You’re the only two air-breathers on the guest list,” he grumbled. “Not like anyone’s gonna steal your identities.” Kagerou wondered to herself whether or not that was meant to be a compliment as she walked through the front door.

In the corridors mermaids and mermen conversed with each other in small groups, mainly about their latest purchases and how wonderful they were. All of them wore beautiful, billowing dresses or formal suits of the highest caliber. Kagerou and Sekibanki were hugely plain in comparison - but that only made them stand out even more.

“Poor air-breathers,” someone whispered as Kagerou passed by. “Those legs of theirs look so...unwieldy.”

“Is it true they’re friends of the princess?” another girl asked. “That girl must have some interesting tastes.”

Kagerou fiddled with the collar of her wetsuit. It wasn’t a welcoming atmosphere, but that much was to be expected. She was a new face, and a foreigner at that. It’d take some effort before the community really accepted her.

“Does this fine establishment offer refreshments?” Sekibanki said, giving the issue much thought than Kagerou was. “I must admit I am thoroughly parched.”

“Probably?” Kagerou said as she stepped into the ballroom. “There should be snacks for you to-whoa my god.”

Every rational thought dribbled out of Kagerou’s head as she looked into the ballroom. It wasn’t the room itself that caught her attention, with its statues carved into the wall or the brilliant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Her focus was on the woman in the middle of the room, giving the crowd around her the most polite rejections she could manage.

“Sorry, but I’m already taken for tonight.” Wakasagi forced a giggle as the wannabe suitors did their best to lock her in. “Not that I don’t appreciate the thought, but-” When she caught sight of Kagerou in the doorway, her face lit up. “Oh, look, there she is!”

Kagerou became gradually aware that she was staring uncontrollably at Wakasagi. Every inch of her emerald dress shone, the frills bouncing along playfully with the current, making her look almost like a jellyfish. A silver tiara was locked neatly on her forehead, covered in gems that would have sold for fortunes on land. Yet in contrast to the overbearing effort of her fellow mermaids, she made the act of looking beautiful seem almost laughably easy. She looked so natural, so authoritative, so...royal.

It took a hand on Kagerou’s shoulder to snap her out of her trance. “Wha? Uh, hey there, Wakasagi. You look, um...nice tonight.”

Nice? Kagerou thought to herself. That’s the best word you can come up with? Jeez, you sound like a moron! They’re going to eat you alive with a vocabulary like that-

“Ah, thank you.” Wakasagi blushed and looked away. “I was worried you’d think it was a little bit overkill.”

“Not at all!” Kagerou blurted, turning even redder than Wakasagi. “I wish I could look half as glamourous as you do, actually.”

“Heh heh. You’re a real flatterer.” Wakasagi turned to the crowd as she put a hand around Kagerou’s shoulder. “Everyone, this is Kagerou Imaizumi. She’s a very good friend of mine from the surface.”

Wakasagi’s seal of approval was enough to silence the murmurings of the crowd. The nobles all turned to her, expecting an impressive introduction. She took a deep breath, summoning up the speech she’d memorised days beforehand.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you all,” she said with a bow. “I’m Kagerou Imaizumi, and this is my companion Gurren of the-” She motioned to her side towards Sekibanki, only to find herself pointing towards empty space. “Eh? Where’d she go?”

Wakasagi giggled, pointing to a set of dinner platters on one side of the room. Sekibanki was leaning over a dish, helping herself to everything within her reach. For all the fancy words and mannerisms, the one trait the rokurokubi couldn’t conceal was her appetite.

“...Actually, never mind. I have no idea who that is.” Kagerou looked back to the audience, doing everything she could to disassociate herself with the gluttonous display. “Anyway, it’s a pleasure to meet you all!” She had no dress to properly curtsey with, but she tried to emulate the hand motions anyway.

The merfolk whispered amongst each other in response. Mild impression seemed to be the most common reaction. She hadn’t embarrassed herself, but she hadn’t quite won them over either. Kagerou would have spent longer worrying about them if it weren’t for a larger problem presenting itself.

“Ah!” A voice called out from the back of the room. “So you are the miss Imaizumi my daughter has said so much about.”

The guests fell silent, obeying an unspoken command, and split apart to open a path across the floor. Kagerou had her first clear glimpse of the back wall, and the two golden thrones that sat against it. In one sat a wisened old merman, treated poorly by the passage of years but still holding a childish glint in his eye. In the other sat his wife, a maternal-looking woman whose long scarlet tail never seemed to come to rest. Both of them looked down on Kagerou with polite but expectant smiles.

“Go on, introduce yourself.” Wakasagi pushed Kagerou along down the split in the crowd. Kagerou drifted along on inertia, mouth stammering open and closed as she looked for something to say. Honestly she’d been hoping to avoid Wakasagi’s parents entirely - acting properly in front of nobles was hard enough, but in the presence of royalty all her semblances of calm started to crumble. It happened whenever she talked to Wakasagi, and the king and queen were no exception.

“Um...g-good evening, Your Majesty, Your Highness.” Kagerou bowed so low she felt like she was hanging upside-down. “T-Thank you for allowing me to attend as your daughter’s partner-” She stopped, blushed furiously, and bowed lower still. “I mean as her dance partner! Just that, I swear! No connotations or anything behind-”

“Alright, dear, we understand.” The king waved his hand downwards to calm her. “My dear Waka was quite insistent you attend, and who am I to turn down my lovely daughter?”

Kagerou gasped. Looking up at the king’s face, she saw vague similarities to the effigy at the front entrance. Yet there was no aggression or threat in his words, and he spoke gently at every instance. Perhaps time had mellowed him from his war-faring ways.

Thank goodness, Kagerou thought to herself. I was worried this guy was going to tear me apart. Maybe Wakasagi’s warnings had been a bit overdramatic.

A single look at the other throne killed off that beacon of hope.

“I was against the idea, I’ll have you know.” The queen smacked her tail against her throne, tightening her grip on the armrests. “This is an important festival of merfolk culture to celebrate the highest tide of the season. Having an air-breather intrude upon it is-”

“Now, now, Lucia.” The king shot his wife a small frown. “You promised you would behave tonight. We settled our differences earlier, remember?”

Queen Lucia scrunched her eyes shut, taking one deep breath and forcing it out. “Of course, Marlon. My apologies.” Effortlessly, she returned to a docile, gentle grin. “Greetings, Miss Imaizumi. A friend of my daughter is a friend of mine.” She held out a hand towards Kagerou.

“Really?” Kagerou stared at the hand incredulously before slowly gripping it. “Many thanks, Your Highness! It’s an incredible honour to-”

The moment their hands touched, Kagerou knew something was wrong. A cold jolt burst through her veins, like a predator shooting poison into its prey. A voice rang in her head, echoing through her skull so loud her own thoughts felt like whispers.

Listen here, you little runt, said the voice, unquestionably Lucia’s. Maybe my husband’s grown soft in his old age, but I still have standards. If you so much as THINK of doing anything inappropriate with my daughter, I will tear every hair from your body and wear you as a fur coat. Am I understood?

Kagerou felt like she’d shrunk three feet in size. The audience looked on unaware, and Lucia still wore the same calm smile. No-one but her was aware of the exchange that had just taken place.

“...be accepted into your ranks,” the werewolf mumbled, finishing the sentence after a long pause. Her hand slipped limply out of Lucia’s grip as she gradually backed away from the throne. Even as she turned around she could feel the queen’s eyes burning into the back of her head. This was beginning to feel less like a party and more like a hazing ceremony.

“Hm?” Wakasagi tilted her head, blissfully unaware of the goings-on. “Kagerou, you alright? You look a little pale.”

“Y-Yeah, I’m fine.” Kagerou did what she could to get the glare out of her head. The last thing she wanted was to make Wakasagi worry. “The water’s just a bit cold, that’s all.”

“Aww.” Wakasagi hugged the werewolf close. “Don’t worry, you’ll warm right up when the dancing starts.”

The crowd meshed together again, all eyes falling on the royals. The king sat up in his seat, holding his trident in one hand and clearing his throat. “Now that all our esteemed guests have arrived...” He slammed the trident’s handle into the floor. “Let the festivities commence!”

A trio of glowing white spheres emerged from the tips of the trident’s prongs, rising up to dance along the ceiling. Each of them began to chime with a different tone, the sounds mixing to form various chords and cycling through a spectrum of colour. A choir of mermaids formed in front of the thrones, singing to add a final layer of depth to the music. It was a light show and a concert all at once.

“Wow...” Kagerou watched the display in awe for a few moments. Around her the crowd began to split into pairs, each couple clasping hands and beginning to sway to the beat. Kagerou watched them move, following the sway of their tails and their rocking in the currents.

That looks easy, she thought to herself. She’d had no experience with mermaid dance before, but if the motions were this simple she could at least perform a reasonable facsimile.

“Ready?” Wakasagi said.

“I think so.” Kagerou took Wakasagi’s hand, wearing the most confident grin she could manage. “May I have this dance, princess?”

Wakasagi giggled. “I’d be honoured.”

The pair began to rock and swerve in time with the beats. Kagerou’s first moves were clumsy, but Wakasagi stayed slow enough for the werewolf to find her footing. After a few minutes she was almost graceful - or at least, as graceful as someone with legs could hope to be in this scenario. The song ended, and a small pause took place while the song-spheres switched to a different formation.

“Um, Kagerou...” Wakasagi looked away, eyes falling to the floor. “There’s something I should warn you about.”

“Eh? What’s up?”

“Well, see, the first dance is always a warmup. Things are about to get a bit more...complicated.” The mermaid tightened her grip on Kagerou’s arms. “Don’t get mad at me, okay? My mother was the one who planned the dance, not me.”

“What’re you talking about?” Kagerou said, with an air of bravado. “Don’t sweat it, Wakasagi. I’ll be able to handle whatever you have to throw at-”

Then the flips started.
 
“WHOA!”

Kagerou squealed as her partner spun her through the water. Another aspect of mermaid dance routine she’d wasn’t prepared for was the fact that gravity was no longer a concern. Wakasagi led her into a dizzying series of spins and twirls, moves which the other couples were copying to the letter. The mermaid was many times stronger than Kagerou had expected, hurling her about with relative ease.

“I take it back! I can’t handle this!” the werewolf yelled. “Can we at least slow it down a little?!”

“I’m sorry,” Wakasagi said with a pained face. “Please, just try to hold on for a little longer!”

Kagerou had nothing to offer. No clever quip, no casual comment. Right now the majority of her focus was on not propelling the contents of her stomach into the water. Her legs split apart, both kicking wildly, and she began to look more like she was drowning than dancing.

“Look at the poor air-breather,” another mermaid said. “I knew she didn’t have what it took.”

“I know, right?” Her partner scoffed. “It’s a wonder she’s still conscious, honestly.”

Faint laughs started to run across the hall, all of them aimed at Kagerou. The werewolf’s self esteem was being slowly crushed beneath a wave of embarrassment. Lucia did nothing to act, but Kagerou swore she saw the woman grin.

Stop the ball, she thought to herself, her brain barely stable enough to put together rational thoughts. I wanna get off...

-----

This was unquestionably the worst party Sekibanki had ever been a part of.

Admittedly, that wasn’t a very difficult achievement. She had never been sociable at the best of times. In fact, this was the first social gathering she’d attended in centuries. Still, even without a frame of reference, she was confident this was about as miserable as parties would ever get. Even playing the role of an upper-class buffoon wasn’t enough to raise her spirits.

To start, there was nothing to do. There was dancing, perhaps, but a quick look at Kagerou was enough to convince her otherwise. The poor werewolf was being thrown about like a ragdoll, and her face had turned an unpleasant hue of green. Sekibanki made sure to stay as far away from her fellow air-breather as possible to avoid the fallout when the inevitable happened.

Other than dancing, Sekibanki’s options were to eat and to converse with her fellow party-goers. She’d put as much time as possible into the first option, to no avail. All they were serving here were crappy appetisers made of seaweed and algae. There weren’t even any drinks, for crying out loud! What sort of social gathering was this if there wasn’t even a good supply of alcohol?

That left the worst option of all - conversation. It wasn’t even the thought of discussion that put her off. It’d be unpleasant, but she was more than capable of having a conversation with a stranger. The problem was that all the other girls who’d gathered for this event were...well, Kagerou would have said ‘well-endowed’, but Sekibanki was a good deal franker than that.

“Freaking melons,” she muttered under her breath. “Can’t look anywhere without getting an eyeful of fish-boobs.”

The rokurokubi’s hand drifted over her own chest. She’d never been large, by any definition, but the wetsuit just made her flatness even more apparent. And even by youkai standards, the mermaid women were almost unnaturally busty. A small part of her wondered if this was all a joke at her expense, a ploy by the other members of the network to rub in her lack of assets.

Her head wobbled on her shoulders, threatening to pop off entirely. Only a small fragment of self-restraint held her back. As much as she disliked it, she had promised Kagerou that she’d keep herself under control. Things weren’t quite bad enough that she’d turn her back on a promise.

At least, they weren’t until he showed up.

“How tragic. A beautiful rose like yourself left to wilt in the corner?”

A merman in a close-cutting tuxedo skirted over to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. With his other hand he presented a piece of coral folded into the shape of a flower. His smile was saccharine-sweet, and his face was incredibly punchable. Sekibanki had to take a deep breath just to fight her natural instinct to let rip on him.

“Good evening, sir.” She picked up the merman’s hand and wordlessly stepped out from under his arm. “Do you not have a partner to be wooing?”

“I’m afraid she was unable to attend. Busy washing her hair, I believe she said.” He pushed the rose into Seki’s chest. “But isn’t that beautiful? That fate would deign for us to meet, both without a partner, on a night as wonderful as this?”

“Not really,” Sekibanki said. “Simply coincidence.”

“There is no such thing.” The merman ran a hand through his hair. “But where are my manners? I must introduce myself. I’m Roland, 34th in line to the throne. It’s a pleasure.”

“Lady Gurren,” the rokurokubi said, still refusing to look the man in the eye. “Green Lands. Uninterested.”

“My, you’re a brash one.” Roland tutted. “But I think that can be appealing in its own way.”

Sekibanki’s blood pressure was rising to dangerous levels. This was the sort of noble she hated the most; the man who was simply looking for someone to sleep with. He probably thought she was just playing hard to get, when the truth was that she wanted to bury her fist inside his skull. No matter how obvious she made it, he simply refused to take the hint.

“So what’s your family like? Mine’s rich, you know. Extremely rich.” Roland continue to blether, failing to notice that Sekibanki was staring off into the distance. “We have bedrooms the size of this ballroom, in fact. Very extravagant. Perhaps you’d like to visit sometime?”

Sekibanki did her best to ignore the merman’s rambling, but she couldn’t quite turn her ears off. Every word was a grain of salt in her blood, driving her blood pressure higher and higher. Too much longer in his presence, and her urge to tear him apart at the molecular level would be impossible to resist.

“Well, as fascinating as this discussion has been, I fear I have other places to be.” She pulled away, looking for somewhere she could retreat. Maybe a washroom. Somewhere she could scream at a mirror for a few minutes without anyone noticing. “I hope you have a wonderful evening-”

“Wait!” Roland swerved around her, much faster in the water than she’d ever be. “Surely I’m at least entitled to a dance? A drink? Can we at least hold hands?”

“Are you deaf, or merely ignorant?” Sekibanki glared, the shell of her facade beginning to crack. “Why are you so insistent, anyway? Surely you have a dozen other women to bother with your ‘wiles’.”

“You don’t understand!” Roland said, his voice trembling. “I’ve attended dozens of these events, but never have I met a woman of your like. No mermaid could ever hold a candle to you!”

“Oh, really?” Sekibanki raised a finger. “Name one thing I have that they don’t.”

“Uh-” The merman stuttered. He looked back out at the women on the dance floor, then back to Sekibanki. “Well, you, um...oh!” He clicked his fingers. “Your youthful form! Yes, that’s what makes you so special!”

Sekibanki went rigid. “Come again?”

“It’s like I said!” Roland smiled, convinced he’s managed to hit on something. “All the women in this city are milkcows, nothing but breasts and rumps. Compared to them, your body is so innocent, so youthful, so...” He struggled for a clever metaphor, but eventually settled for the truth. “So flat!”

Snap.

Something gave way at the back of Sekibanki’s brain. The word popped in and out of her ears - flat, flat, flat. As if having to watch the mermaids herself wasn’t bad enough, this man had to show up to rub in the punchline. She made a decision in that moment, fuelled by a white-hot rage that made her whole body go numb.

To hell with a youkai’s honour. She wouldn’t sit back and be ridiculed like this.

“...I see.” Sekibanki whispered with a calm smile. “But you know, that’s hardly the most spectacular thing about me.”

“Oh?” Roland clapped his hands together in delight. “Then please, bewilder me with your talents, my dear?”

The rokurokubi smirked. She reached up with one hand, gripping at her forehead. The merman raised an eyebrow, and Sekibanki could already see the empty compliments form on his lips.

They dropped dead the moment she pulled her own head off.

“Tell me,” she said, in a sing song voice, “how many of your girlfriends can do this?”

-----

Kagerou didn’t actually hear the scream that brought the dance to a crashing halt. She still had water swirling in her ears from all the spinning and swirling. At first she thought Wakasagi had stopped as an act of mercy, but after a few seconds her senses came back into focus.

“M-Monster!” A merman cried out, darting away from the dining tables before taking cover behind one of the thrones. “She’s here to devour us all!”

The eyes of the ballroom fell on the dining tables. Where there had once been trays of appetisers there were now only empty platters, each of them occupied by a disembodied head. In their midst stood Sekibanki, arms outstretched, one final head sitting upside-down on her neck.

“Sorry for the inconvenience,” the heads spoke out in unison, a crowd forming from a single voice. “But I had a theory I wanted to test.” Sekibanki licked her lips. “See, I’ve heard that eating the flesh of a mermaid makes you immortal...”

The words had exactly the intended effect - unbridled terror across the masses. Screams and yells broke out as the merfolk tried to flee the ballroom, pushing and shoving each other out of the way. Another swarm of heads gathered at the exit, blocking off the only route of escape. Calling it chaotic was perhaps too generous a term. The only dancers who weren’t falling over themselves were the princess and her partner.

“Kagerou, what’s going on?” Wakasagi hugged Kagerou from behind whispering into the werewolf’s ear. “I thought you said she was going to behave.”

“So did I.” Kagerou gripped at her temples to regain her balance. “Guess we pushed her a little too far.”

Sekibanki continued her pestering, poking her heads right into the faces of everyone present. The screams grew louder and less coherent as merfolk fought each other for right of way. It was probably safe to say that the ball had been a complete disaster at this point. No-one would want anything to do with the air-breathers after this. But on the bright side, Kagerou thought, at least the dancing had stopped before she lost her lunch.

“Stop right there!” The king rose up to strike the youkai down, trident in hand. “You’ll do nothing to harm my-” He tensed, only to grab at his back and slump back into his throne. “Oh, curse my arthritis!”

“Marlon!” Lucia held her husband for support as she looked out onto the panicking crowd. “Someone, please! Stop that monstrosity before it takes away my daughter!”

That last sentence was a light bulb of inspiration flashing over Kagerou’s head. Maybe all her old plans had fallen to pieces, but there was still a way to salvage this. It would just require a small degree of friendly fire.

“Man, these guys are such losers. Is there anything that doesn’t spook ‘em?” Sekibanki relodged her head before beckoning Kagerou in with a finger. “Come on, fur-face. Let’s show these wimps how REAL youkai have fun.”

Kagerou took a deep breath. If she wanted to be heard over all this screaming, she’d have to give her windpipes a real workout. With a crack of her neck, she pointed a damning finger straight at Sekibanki.

“Stop right there, fiend!” she yelled, with dramatic aplomb. “You’ll do no more to threaten the good people of this city!”

Sekibanki blinked. “Wha-”

“What’re you talking about?!” Wakasagi grabbed at Kagerou’s sleeve. “Isn’t she your-”

“Just play along,” Kagerou whispered to the mermaid, before turning back to her adversary. “Hear this, beast! Through the powers bestowed upon me by the full moon, I will destroy you!”

Sekibanki’s heads stared at Kagerou, then turned to each other with puzzled looks. After a few seconds of deliberation they looked back to the werewolf, eyeing her up with twisted smiles. “So you want to play hero, then? In that case, I’m happy to oblige!”

A storm of heads flew through the water, aimed straight at Kagerou. The werewolf dodged to the side, pulling Wakasagi away from the attack in the same flourish. A stream of red bullets trailed behind the heads, flying in random directions, trying to catch her mid-escape.

Kagerou blinked once, and her eyes flashed red. Her feral instincts drew a path through the ensuing bullets, and she followed the route through to the letter. All the while she held the young mermaid in her grasp, protecting her from the onslaught.

When a gap appeared in the pattern, Kagerou leaped on it. Letting go of Wakasagi, she charged through a hole in the bullets like a torpedo. She howled as she raised an arm, making a wide sweep at Sekibanki’s neck.

“Ha!” The rokurokubi chuckled as her head popped off, leaving the claws striking at nothing. “You thought you were going to hit me with that?”

Kagerou smirked. “It wasn’t the claw I intended to hit you with.”

Sekibanki paled. Looking down, she saw a cloud of blue bullets floating in the wake of Kagerou’s nails, hanging between her head and body. “Shit!” Her body pulled back, and a wave of heads gathered to throw themselves over the blast. When the bullets were released they scattered in all directions, but only a few made it through the hasty wall of heads Sekibanki had constructed. Truly, this youkai brought new meaning to the phrase ‘blocking with your face.’

“Not bad.” Sekibanki brushed at her cheek while the heads reformed around her. “But there’s no way I’m letting you get another shot like that!” She reached under the collar of her wetsuit and drew a spellcard. “Harrier Sign [Geeza Guardian]!”

The heads altered their formation, creating a series ring that spun around Sekibanki. Their rotations were too fast for Kagerou’s eyes to follow, and they took turns firing bullets aimed straight at the werewolf. Kagerou swerved and dodged, firing a few bullets of her own to test her opponent’s defenses. Each of them was knocked away by a head before it could reach its target. She threw longer, faster streams, but no amount of quantity was enough to reach Sekibanki herself.

“Come on, that’s not even fair,” Kagerou grumbled. “Why’d you even bring a spellcard to a ball?”

“Why didn’t you?” Sekibanki shook her head and placed her hands on her shoulders. “This is Gensokyo, remember? If you’re not ready for a fight to break out at any moment, you’re doing something wrong!”

Kagerou cursed beneath her breath. Of all the times she had to come prepared-! She thought over a plan of attack as she continued to weave through her opponent’s assault. None of her bullets were fast enough to make it through that barrier. She needed something faster, stronger, something those flying heads wouldn’t be able to block.

“C’mon, Kagerou!” Wakasagi alone stayed near the fighting, waving her arms about as she cheered the werewolf on. “You can take her, no problem!”

Hearing the mermaid’s voice brought Kagerou another wave of revelation. It was a crazy idea that had a good chance of getting her killed; in other words, the best sort of idea. She pulled back from the attack, coming to a stop right in front of Wakasagi.

“Wakasagi, help me out here.” She held out both arms. “We have to dance.”

“Sure, I’ll-” Wakasagi’s eyes popped open. “What did you say?”

“Just do it!” the werewolf yelled. “And no warmups. You’ve gotta spin me as hard as you can.”

Wakasagi’s eyebrows rose so high they almost fell off of her face. “Alright. I really hope you know what you’re doing with this.” She took Kagerou’s hands, making a few small swings to warm up. “Hold on tight!”

The mermaid sent Kagerou into another spiral, flipping her up and down through the water. The orbs overhead played once again, their tempo rising into a desperate allegro. The pair danced between the bullets, drifting slowly closer to Sekibanki while avoiding her attacks. The crying mermaids fell silent, watching the display with quiet awe.

“OK, here’s my plan,” Kagerou whispered. “On my cue, you’ve got to let go of me.”

“Let go?! But then you’ll-” Wakasagi gasped. “You can’t be serious. You’re a lunatic!”

“Thank you.” Kagerou turned around to watch Sekibanki. “Wait for it...”

She focused her eyes, learning the varying patterns of the rokurokubi’s heads. The timing would have to be perfect for this to work. Otherwise she’d end up embedded in the wall with concrete where her brain should be.

“Are you two mocking me?!” Sekibanki and her many heads muttered over each other out-of-sync. “Let’s see how you two get around this!” With a swipe of her hand the rings of heads spread out, each sending a hazy stream of bullets straight toward the dancers.

“NOW!”

At Kagerou’s command, Wakasagi let go of her mid-flip. The werewolf was sent forward through the raw inertia of the swing, while Wakasagi drifted backwards to avoid Sekibanki’s attack. Kagerou was essentially a human bullet, flying through a tiny hole in Sekibanki’s defenses.

“Oh, son of a-”

Sekibanki couldn’t finish the curse before Kagerou’s drop kick caught her square in the chest. The rokurokubi’s body crashed into a stained-glass window behind her, before starting its mandatory one-way trip to the surface. Her assorted heads watched on as their core vanished into the distance, all floating in place with their mouths agape.

“...Dammit.” The main head, still hanging where Sekibanki’s body once was, stuck its tongue out at Kagerou. “Pull back! All forces retreat!” The heads swarmed through the newly-made hole in the window, muttering complaints and promises for revenge on their way out. Silence hung in the ballroom as the merfolk watched their former predator flee home to dry land.

A few seconds later, the silence gave way to raucous applause.

“She’s done it! The air-breather saved us all from that beast!”

Kagerou was buried in a sea of merfolk showing their appreciation. Many hugs were involved; based on the pressure applied to her ribcage, perhaps a few too many. Maybe her plan had worked a little too well.

“Alright, everyone.” Wakasagi intervened before the grateful merpeople could smother their hero. “Give our saviour some room to breathe.” She spoke calmly but with authority, in a manner truly befitting of a princess. The nobles obeyed, pulling away and giving her room to take Kagerou’s hand and hold her upright. “Are you alright, Kagerou?”

“Nothing a little bit of rest won’t fix.” Kagerou said. In truth she was relatively sure she’d broken some bones in her foot, but that was a much less impressive claim to make. Her body healed faster on a full moon anyway; it’d be fixed in an hour or so.

“Marvellous! Absolutely marvellous!” The king rose from his chair again, still rubbing at his back as he bobbed towards the werewolf. “Though it doesn’t hold a candle to how I used to fight in my youth. Why, if I were a few decades younger, I swear I would-”

“Yes, dear, we’ve all heard this one before.” Lucia followed at her husband’s side, ready to catch him if he overexerted himself. She turned to Kagerou with a frustrated sigh. “It seems I was too quick to judge you, air-breather. Our people owe you a great debt.”

Kagerou laughed with false humility, rubbing at the back of her head. “Really, it was nothing. After all the kindness you’ve shown me, it was the least I could do.”

“Hah! Strong and humble. That’s a rare sight nowadays.” The queen gave her a small bow of the head. “You’ve proven yourself worthy. In light of your achievements, you can consider yourself an honourary mermaid.”

“Ah. That’s, uh...thank you.” Kagerou pushed out a reply, but the cogs in her head were still stumped on that one. An honourary mermaid? How did that even work?

“And as for you...” The mermaid turned to her daughter. “Wakasagi, take more care with your taste in guests. Maybe next time we can have a ball without a homocidal maniac on the invite list?”

Wakasagi looked down, blushing as she twirled a strand of hair with one finger. “I’ll try my best, mother.”

“Don’t be so harsh on them, Lucia.” The king gave his wife a heavy pat on the back. “These two are heroes! Why, if we weren’t already in the middle of one, I’d arrange a ball in their honour!”

“Yeah, about that...” Kagerou frowned, looking down at her necklace. The glowing light on the jewel was starting to dim and flicker. “My water-breathing charm is going to run out soon, and I really don’t want to be here when that happens.”

“Hm. That would be unfortunate. I suppose. But keep in mind that you will always be welcome here.” Lucia nodded. “Wakasagi, please escort this young woman to the surface.”

“My thoughts exactly, mother.” Wakasagi took Kagerou by the hand. “And surely our hero deserves a little time alone with the princess she saved, doesn’t she?”

-----

“That couldn’t have gone worse if we tried.”

Kagerou talked as she dried herself off; partially to Wakasagi, but mainly to herself. A wall of shrubs shielded the wolf from view, keeping Wakasagi from seeing her in all her hairy glory.

“I don’t know. I really think you won my mother over.” Wakasagi sat on the edge of the lake, scooping up water with her tail as she waited. “And trust me, that’s a pretty hard thing to do.”

“Yeah, but...” Kagerou buried her face in her towel. “I really wanted to do this by the book, y’know? Win my way into the royal court through style and charisma. That’s how they do it in the outside world.”

“Maybe, but this is Gensokyo. It’d be boring if the rules applied here, wouldn’t it?”

“Heh. I guess you’re onto something there.”

A few minutes later, Kagerou emerged from the bushes in her usual dress. She should have found a better place to hold it, in retrospect; some leaves and dirt had stuck onto it in her absence. Something to consider for next time, she supposed.

“You should probably get going soon, shouldn’t you?” she said, with a tiny frown. “Your folks will probably go nuts if you’re away for too long.”

“Right. I think we’ve put them through enough for one night.” Wakasagi looked down at her hands, tail wiggling about as she began to blush. “Look, I want you to know I really appreciate everything you did for me tonight. I know I put you through a lot of trouble, so I just wanted to say-”

“It’s alright, Wakasagi.” Kagerou leaned down and placed a finger on Wakasagi’s lip. “This is the sort of thing friends do for each other.”

“...Friends, huh?” Wakasagi smiled, her eyes growing distant. “I don’t know if that’s the best word to describe us, honestly.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows?” Kagerou shrugged. “Whatever we are, I’m grateful for every second of it.”

“Me too.” Wakasagi lifted herself out of the water. “Now, a present for my favourite hero...”

“Present? What are you-”

Before Kagerou could finish the question, Wakasagi leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek. The wolf’s heart fell into her stomach, every inch of her body blazing hot. “I, um, aaah...”

“Good night, Kagerou.” Wakasagi pulled back, giving the werewolf one more playful wink. “I’ll see you at next week’s network meeting, alright?” She drifted backwards into the water before diving under again, leaving only a trail of ripples to remember her by.

Kagerou stared at the surface of the water for what must have been several minutes. She rubbed at the spot on her cheek where Wakasagi had kissed her. She laughed to herself, a slow, quiet chuckle that came from the deepest depths of her soul.

“See? I told you she was your girlfriend.”

The wolf almost fell back into the water as a voice popped up from behind her. “S-Seki! How long have you been standing there?!”

“Long enough to see you giggling like an idiot.” Sekibanki had changed back into her ordinary dress, dropping her wetsuit to sit alongside Kagerou’s. “I’m guessing you got the hero’s welcome after you kicked me into orbit.”

“Yeah, kind of.” Kagerou cradled her hands together as she rubbed her toe into the ground. “Look, Seki, I’m sorry about how things turned out. I shouldn’t have thrown you into that situation without any time to prepare. And when you lost it, well...”

“Are you kidding? That was the best fight I’ve had in years.” Sekibanki grinned, giving the werewolf a thumbs-up. “Making yourself into your own projectile? That was some clever stuff.”

“Oh. Well, uh...” Kagerou blinked rapidly. “You’re welcome, then. I suppose that means we’re even now?”

“Not a chance.” Sekibanki grabbed at Kagerou’s collar. “You made a promise, remember? You get to do the prep for the next four network meetings.”

Kagerou gulped. “Y-Yes?”

“Good, because I have a few motions I want to propose.” Sekibanki’s head rose up again, her eyes digging right into Kagerou’s. “And they’re going to involve a LOT of paperwork...”

an unmatched sock

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #321 on: December 12, 2014, 04:02:28 am »
Aaaaaahhhh your writing is still so goooood

no seriously, I love your writing. I can't feel like I can express that any better. You just make great stories.

Kinda makes me jealous...

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Rou's Random Shorts (The Maidens In Black)
« Reply #322 on: April 18, 2015, 06:59:08 pm »
Warning: this topic has not been posted in for at leaOK OK I know stop reminding me.

Anyway, have a short inspired by Mamizou's new getup in ULiL.

-----

“Do all of you guys dress like that?”

Reimu spoke to fill the silence in the endless grey corridor. It felt like she’d been walking for hours, and there was still no sign of her destination. The ceiling lights flickered precariously, threatening to go out at any moment. All she could hear was the echoing of her footsteps on the steel floor, as well as those of the woman in front of her.

“What, the suit?” The woman who’d introduced herself as Mamizou answered the question with a shrug. Her formal attire - an office suit with skirt and pantyhose - was a far cry from the casual tone of her voice. “Yeah, it’s kind of a company thing. Very serious and professional, y’see. Gives the job the gravitas it deserves.” She made inverted commas with her fingers for the last two sentences.

“If it pisses you off that much, why not just ditch the job?”

“It’s annoying, but the pay’s pretty fantastic.” Mamizou slumped her shoulders. “That and my other option is getting stuck behind bars for the rest of my life. Not a hard choice in the long run.”

Reimu furrowed her brow. When she’d been contacted about a job interview, she’d been expecting a greasy-faced forty-something asking her where she wanted to be in ten years. She wondered if she still had a chance to turn tail and get out of here; she’d have done it, too, if it wasn’t for the fact she was four months behind on rent.

“Which reminds me,” she said. “You still haven’t told me what company you’re working for.”

“We don’t have a name.” Mamizou adjusted her glasses. “Not a real one, anyway. That’d be paperwork, and we don’t exist on any official records.”

“So you’re a government agency, then.”

“Something like that.” Mamizou smiled. “Tell me, miss Hakurei. How much do you know about youkai?”

Reimu folded her arms. “That’s a bit irrelevant, isn’t it?”

“You’d be surprised.”

Reimu paused. The woman was talking nonsense, but she did it with a grin that oozed confidence. Either she was delusional, or she actually believed what she was talking about. Either way, it was probably a bad idea to piss her off.

“My parents read me a lot of folk tales,” Reimu said, rubbing at the back of her head. “They run a small shrine on the edge of town, so they’re really into that kind of stuff.”

Mamizou nodded. “And what do you think about it, personally?”

“What do I think?” Reimu snorted. “It’s bullshit, is what I think. I mean, it’s the 21st century. All that superstition is for old fogies and kids who don’t know better.”

Mamizou stopped and spun around, her smirk coyer than usual. “Superstition, you call it?”

“Well, duh.” Reimu paused, then caught the meaning behind Mamizou’s grin. “...Wait, you’re not saying-”

“I’m not going to say anything.” Mamizou adjusted her glasses. “I’m going to prove it.”

The woman clicked her fingers, and a cloud of smoke burst out from the floor at her feet. Reimu leaped backwards, shielding her eyes with an arm. The smoke dissipated within seconds, giving her a clear view of Mamizou again.

“...Oh, you are kidding me.”

Reimu couldn’t hold back her expletives. Mamizou gave her a dramatic bow, in the same outfit a before, but with two very distinct additions. First was the pair of raccoon ears that had popped up from under her ruffled brown hair, along with a large leaf on top of her head. Second was the huge striped tail swishing about behind her, almost as large as she was.

“Impressive, huh?” Mamizou smacked at her chest with a fist. “Bet you’ve never seen a tanuki in action until today-”

“Bullshit.” Reimu shook her head and clenched her jaw. “Absolute bullshit.”

Mamizou pouted. “Hey, at least let me finish bragging before you complain.”

“You think I don’t know what’s going on here?” Reimu pointed a finger, her voice rising to an incredulous peak. “This is some sort of prank, isn’t it? You’re some sort of quick-change artist trying to trick me into thinking youkai are real. I don’t know who put you up to this, but I’m not that stupid.”

Mamizou wallowed in her misery, her tail drooping and wiping at the floor. Reimu paid her no mind, turning on her heels and making her way out. How had she let this woman trick her for even a second? She had a million better things to do with her day than listen to this.

“Not that stupid, you say?”

As Reimu walked away, Mamizou’s voice took on a lower, darker tone. She was probably trying to guilt-trip Reimu into believing her. Well, she was wasting her time, because nothing was going to convince Reimu that-

“Whoa!”

A figure popped out of nowhere in front of Reimu, causing her to stumble to the floor. By the time the shrine maiden had regained her footing, the newcomer was strolling towards her with their hands in their pockets.

For a moment, Reimu thought she was looking into a mirror. The girl approaching her...that was her, wasn’t it?

“You humans are such a peculiar bunch.” The girl spoke with Mamizou’s voice, all of its humour sucked out. “You’re so convinced you can explain everything that you’ve become blind to the supernatural.”

Reimu’s throat went dry. The first trick she could write off as a fake, but this was uncanny. They’d copied every inch of her body to the letter, right up to the clothes she’d picked out today. There was no way anyone could have planned this out in advance. But then that meant-

“You tell yourselves that the monsters under your bed are just shadows. That demons and beasts are just stories meant to scare little children into behaving.” The clone pulled a pair of glasses from its pocket, balancing them on its nose. “And that makes you the easiest prey you could imagine.”

Reimu tiptoed backwards. Her face was gaunt, and her heart was racing. This was more than just a prank now. She was staring head-on at something no amount of science could explain. It took all her self-restraint not to simply faint on the spot.

“That’s more like it.” The clone vanished in another puff of smoke, and Mamizou was standing in her place when the dust cleared. “From the look on your face, I’m guessing I’ve made my point.”

Reimu was dumbstruck. How was she supposed to respond to that? Every ounce of common sense in her said this had to be a trick somehow, but she simply couldn’t explain it. And this woman’s presence; no matter how you looked at it, this girl simply was not human.

“...Fine. I’ll buy your story for now.” Reimu grabbed at her chest as her pulse started to die down. “But you really didn’t have to spook me like that.”

“Are you kidding?” Mamizou stuck her tongue out. “That’s the best part of my job. Seriously, you should’ve seen the look on your face. Pure gold, I tell you.” With a casual shrug, the tanuki made her way back down the corridor. “Anyway, if you’ll just follow me for a little while longer...”

It took Reimu a few seconds to decide on a course of action. The adrenaline roaring in her veins told her to run away, but clashing with that instinct was a morbid curiosity. She’d always wished her life could be more colourful, and maybe this was the change she was looking for. A terrifying change, maybe, but since when did she back away from something just because it was scary?

“Sure, I guess.” Against her better judgement, Reimu began to match Mamizou’s pace again. “Though is it cool if I ask you something?”

Mamizou nodded. “Go ahead.”

“You’re saying that youkai are real, and lots of them want to eat us.” Reimu scratched at her head. “If that’s true, why have I never heard about it until now?”

The tanuki grinned. “Because we’re here to stop them before they start.”

-----

A few minutes later, the corridor finally came to an end. A large metal door confronted Reimu, with no sign of a knob or a keyhole. Beside it was a panel built into the wall, its monitor showing a picture of an eye.

“A retinal scanner?” she said. “If you’re a tanuki, that seems kind of redundant.”

“I’m the exception that proves the rule. Or however that saying goes.” Mamizou leaned over, staring into the panel as she removed her glasses. A green light ran down her face before the machine gave a beep in confirmation, and the door slid open.

“Ladies first.” The tanuki stepped aside, motioning to the doorway with a flourish. “Watch your step. It’s a little busy in here.”

Reimu had made all of two paces into the room before her jaw dropped. She stood at the foot of a massive command complex, dozens of monitors firing off numbers and symbols she couldn’t comprehend. At the forefront of the display was a map of the world, centered around Japan with flashing red dots to mark points of interest. Women in suits barged past her, talking over each other about matters of the utmost importance. The floor was so crowded, in fact, that some people chose not to use it at all.

“Uh, question.” Reimu pointed at a young girl flying through the air on silvery wings, carrying a large envelope under her arm. “What is she supposed to be?”

“Just your average fairy,” Mamizou said, before leaning in to whisper in Reimu’s ear. “They’re not exactly smart enough for field work, so we just have them take care of the heavy lifting. Don’t tell them that, though.”

Reimu nodded. It was hardly the strangest sight in the room. Among the crowd of suits were creatures of every shape and size. She saw ears, tails, even the occasional horn. The agents spoke in several tongues, some of which she’d never heard before and some of which didn’t even sound human. If she’d had any doubt left about Mamizou’s legitimacy, it was long gone now.

“So what exactly are these people doing?” Reimu kept to the wall to keep the horde from overwhelming her. “Besides yelling, I mean.”

“This is our control center,” Mamizou said. “From here we can keep an eye on our agents all over the world, as well as rally our forces to take care of any incidents that may occur.”

“Incidents?”

“I told you that there are still youkai who prey on you humans, right? When they make their presence known, that’s what we call an incident.”

Reimu nodded. “And what does ‘taking care’ of an incident usually involve?”

“That depends. On a good day, we just need to wipe a few memories and talk things out with the perp. If they don’t play nice, we lock ‘em up until they reconsider.”

Reimu pondered for a moment. She’d mentioned this before, hadn’t she?

“You said that you’d be behind bars if you didn’t work this job,” she said. “Does that mean that you-”

Mamizou laughed awkwardly. “I may not have come quietly, yeah. Took half a squadron to take me in. I’d have gotten away too if they hadn’t brought in the big fur-face.”

“Fur-face?” Reimu’s face scrunched up. “Who the hell is that?”

“Don’t worry.” Mamizou smiled. “You’ll be meeting her shortly.”

After following the wall halfway around the room, Mamizou led Reimu up a staircase. At its peak was an office with glass walls, its occupant typing furiously at a computer. Nine golden fox tails stood to attention behind her, hopping up and down in time with her key presses. She was so enraptured by her work that she didn’t even notice Mamizou letting herself in.

“Hey, boss!” the tanuki yelled, throwing the door behind Reimu for good measure. “I brought you the Hakurei kid.”

The fox flinched at the sound of the slamming door, heavy creases forming along her brow. “How many times must I remind you to refer to me as Director Yakumo?”

“Iunno.” Mamizou shrugged. “But since I’m still not gonna call you that, I guess you haven’t told me off enough yet.”

The director shot Mamizou a vicious glare, her golden eyes shining with untold power. Mamizou kept one hand in her pocket, refusing to budge an inch under the fox’s pressure. These two clearly had a long and colourful past, Reimu thought to herself.

“Thank you for your work, Mamizou.” The fox woman cleared her throat. “Now, if you’ll kindly give me a chance to speak with the human in private?”

“Aye aye, ma’am.” Mamizou turned to leave, but whispered in Reimu’s ear one last time. “Don’t try stroking her tails unless you want your head used as a bowling ball.”

“I heard that, Mamizou.”

“No idea what you’re talking about, ma’am.”

Mamizou raised one arm above her head, waving the director goodbye as she sauntered out of the office. Reimu let out a sigh as the atmosphere began to clear up, her shoulders slacking now the threat of a brawl had passed.

“I’d like to apologise on her behalf,” the fox said. “Mamizou is an excellent agent, but her attitude is...questionable, shall we say.”

“Seconded,” Reimu replied. She had to admit she found a certain charm in the tanuki’s casualness, but now was probably a bad time to say as much. She took a seat in front of the director’s desk, hands squirming about on her lap. “So I assume you’re the one in charge of this operation.”

“I do have a superior I report to, but in practice I’m the one who gets things done.” The woman reached into her breast pocket and pulled out a small badge. “Director Ran Yakumo. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Reimu Hakurei. The pleasure’s all mine.” Reimu tried her best to look forward and not let her eyes fall onto the woman’s luscious tails. “So one quick question before we begin - what exactly am I doing here?”

Ran closed her eyes for a moment, and swept her hand across the empty desk. A folder popped into existence beneath it, and she pulled it open to the first page. Reimu’s gut clenched as a photo of herself stared back at her.

“Reimu Hakurei. Nineteen years of age.” Ran recited the biography with her eyes still closed. “A certified genius who graduated high school with an unparalleled GPA, only to crash out of college within six months.” The fox shook her head. “I’ve read your file a dozen times, and I’m still mystified. How could a girl with so much talent be so unsuccessful?”

Reimu frowned. She was hoping this conversation wouldn’t come up. “They wanted me to do a shitton of recommended reading. One of my rules in life is that if I don’t care about something, I’m not gonna waste my time on it.” She shrugged. “So I didn’t. Simple as that.”

The fox creased her brow again. “Glaring attitude issues. Just as your file suggested.” She rolled her eyes briefly before continuing. “As for why I called you here, I’d like to discuss your actions on the night of the 23rd.”

Reimu clung to the arms of her chair. “I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t bother playing dumb.” Ran turned the page to what looked like a police report. “You chased a mugger into a back alley and beat him senseless. We had a fairy flying overhead who saw the entire thing.”

Reimu hissed. Even the cops hadn’t found out about that incident. Just who the hell were these people?

“I don’t regret it, if that’s what you want to ask me.” She leaned back in the chair and folded her arms. “If you rob an old lady at three in the morning, it’s only fair you lose a tooth or two. That asshole got what he deserved.”

“That ‘asshole’ was also a highly dangerous youkai.” Ran visibly winced on the word ‘asshole’, but pushed on regardless. “Based on the difference in physique alone, he should have pounded you into mulch.”

Reimu almost fell out of her chair. “Seriously? That sack of shit was a youkai?”

“One we’d been trying to apprehend for some time.” The fox gave Reimu a slight nod. “Many thanks for that, by the way. You saved us a good deal of trouble.”

“...Sorry, I think I’m missing something.” Reimu blinked rapidly. “You’re telling me I beat the stuffing out of some supernatural being? How the hell did I do that?”

“Frankly, that’s what I want to know.” Ran cradled her fingers and placed her head upon them. “I suspect it has to do with your bloodline. The Hakurei family has been blessed by the gods for centuries, but it’s been generations since they produced an heir this potent.”

Reimu wasn’t sure what she was hearing. Was this woman telling her she was some kind of monster-slaying prodigy? She grabbed at her temples, pinching to keep her brain from seeping out of her ears. She had come here for a job interview, not to have her world rocked three times over.

“You never answered my question,” she said. “What do you want from me?”

“Exactly what I told you,” Ran replied. “I’m here to offer you a position in our organisation.”

Reimu raised a cautious eyebrow. “What sort of position?”

“I’m sure Mamizou has told you that we deal with youkai who threaten human society. Sometimes, a simple discussion is enough to make them reconsider. But in drastic cases, we have to convince them through...less peaceful means.”

Ran smacked a fist into her palm. “To that end, we have a team of enforcers. Specially trained to combat and capture the supernatural, they’re one of the most elite fighting forces on the planet.” She pointed straight at Reimu. “And I’d like to recruit you as their newest member.”

“...Huh.” Reimu paused for a moment. “I didn’t think you guys hired humans to work for you.”

“It’s rare, but not unheard of. Humans join our ranks perhaps once a century. That alone should tell you how much of a privilege this position is.”

Reimu narrowed her eyes. “And if I refuse?”

“Then you’ll forget this meeting ever happened.” Ran’s voice took on a new ominous edge. “We’ll wipe your memory and never make contact with you again. You’ll never get to explore your powers, and you’ll go back to your boring, predictable life.” The fox shrugged. “But if that’s what you want, I suppose I can’t stop you.”

Reimu felt her stomach churn. This woman knew exactly what made her tick. “That’s dirty.”

“I prefer the word ‘persuasive’.” Ran outstretched her hand. “So, do we have a deal?”

The young shrine maiden stared at the hand in front of her, weighing up everything that the gesture entailed. This would be a dangerous line of work, undoubtedly. There was a good chance it’d end with her in a body bag. It would throw out any semblance of routine in her life, and fly in the face of every piece of advice she’d ever been given about her career.

And yet she wanted it anyway. She wanted to see how deep this hole of monsters and spirits would take her. She wanted to find out just how strong she really was, especially if she could use that power for good as well. And maybe she was a jerk for thinking it, but getting paid to beat down scumbags seemed like a pretty good job to her.

“You drive a hard bargain, boss.” Reimu smiled before accepting the fox’s handshake. “But I think I like the sound of what you’re offering.”

“An excellent choice.” Ran’s grip was gentle, but authoritative. “In that case, your first order of business will be to visit the company tailor.”

“Tailor?” Reimu tilted her head. “Why are you sending me to a tailor?”

Ran smirked. “To get you fitted for your suit, of course.”

-----

We are the shadows you see in the corner of your eye.

By day, we walk among you. We are never seen, but always felt. We are the faces you can’t recall in the crowd, the strangers brushing against your shoulder. We are nowhere, and yet we are everywhere.

By night, we take up the sword to protect you. We strike down foes you never knew existed, enemies you have relegated to the realm of fairytales. Our presence is always needed, but never praised. When you wake up in the morning, it is because we defended you from the creatures of the night.

We are magic. We are mystery. We are everything you fear. We will risk our lives to save you from your predators - without you even realising we were there.

We are the Maidens in Black. And we are the oil that keeps the gears of the world in motion.

The ⑨th Zentillion

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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #323 on: April 19, 2015, 05:42:03 am »
* The ⑨th Zentillion cues Getting Jiggy With It

Delightful little parody of the almost-start of the first Men in Black film. This was abound to pop up after that bit of ULiL news, but the question was who was going to write it and do it justice?

You did, man. :3
Did you bring a light?
...No...


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Re: Rou's Random Shorts
« Reply #324 on: April 22, 2015, 02:41:08 am »
Awesome. X3

Also, from IRC:
Quote
[22:40:32] * Iced nueralizes
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Rou's Random Shorts (Big Trouble on the Little Princess)
« Reply #325 on: August 12, 2015, 09:44:00 pm »
“I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with S.”

Suika was slumped back in the co-pilot’s seat, one of her horns prodding into Yuugi’s shoulder. Her eyes were half closed, misted over as she looked out at the vast expanse of nothing outside of the ship.

“Is it space?” Yuugi said, with a quiet sigh.

“Wow, you’re good at this.” Suika’s eyes opened slightly as a cunning smirk rose to her lips. “Alright, let’s try again. I spy-”

“Stars.”

“-Whoa.” Suika pulled her head back as far as the seat would allow. “Yuugi, are you a mind reader or something? How come you never told me?”

“I’m not a mind reader.” Yuugi folded her arms. “It’s just that there’s nothing else to see.”

It had been a few months since the pair had left their home planet, but this was the first time Yuugi had realised just how big the galaxy really was. Distant stars twinkled at her from miles away, tiny lights that illuminated the empty blackness of the vacuum. She might have even found it poetic if she weren’t stuck in the middle of it.

“Can I fiddle with the autopilot again?” Suika asked.

“I don’t see how that’ll help.”

“It can’t get any more busted than it already is.”

Yuugi shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

Suika sat herself upright, cracking her knuckles as she looked at the black rectangle prodding out of the ship’s control panel. To be honest, calling it a machine was almost a misnomer at this point - half of its mass was composed of duct tape and anything else that could serve as glue. The lights on its face would occasionally flicker, but it had long since stopped serving its original purpose.

“OK, you mish-mash of microchips.” Suika wrapped her fingers around the metal drive, giving it a firm rattle. “Either you come back to life and send us to the nearest solar system, or I’m gonna-”

Snap.

The brittle machinery crumbled in Suika’s hand, pieces of scrap falling onto the floor of the ship. The small oni stared at her handiwork for a moment, eyes wide open, like a child who’d just put their guinea pig in the microwave.

“Ummmm.” She turned to Yuugi, sweat slipping down her forehead. “Y’think our warranty covers this?”

“We don’t have warranty. We stole it, remember?”

“Oh, right.” Suika looked at the autopilot for a moment longer, then hurled the remnants of the gadget against the window. “Aaaaah, this sucks worse than a black hole!”

She slumped back into her chair again, cheeks puffed out as she curled up into a ball. Occasionally she’d break into a slew of expletives that would have made even the hardiest admiral uneasy. At one point she grabbed an empty beer can off the ground and stabbed it into her horn solely for catharsis.

She’s taking it pretty well, Yuugi thought to herself. She’d reckoned her partner would have descended into madness after this long. Not from the boredom, though, or even the existential crisis of being an invisible speck on the blackboard of the universe. Suika’s concerns were much more...’down-to-earth’ was the polite way of putting it.

“What’s a girl gotta do to get a drink around here?” Suika removed the pierced can from her horn, running her tongue along the sides in search of a drop of alcohol. “I haven’t been this sober in...in...ever.”

Yuugi nodded along solemnly. The oni were a race of hard drinkers. Whereas most people would feel ill after having too much to drink, the opposite was true for them. Three days without alcohol had left Yuugi feeling like she was having the worst hangover of her life, but at least she was still mostly coherent. She was lucky enough to be a lightweight by oni standards. Suika, on the other hand...

“Aaah! Yuugi, do you see that?!” The young oni abruptly jumped to her feet, her eyes shining frantically. “It’s an oasis! An oasis of beer, right outside the airlock!”

Yuugi sighed. I retract my previous compliment.

“That’s not an oasis, Suika.” She placed a hand on her co-pilot’s head, slowly pushing her down into her chair. “You’re just going ever-so-slightly insane from withdrawal.”

“Am not!” Suika pouted, pointing out of the window. “See? Those guys must be here to visit the oasis too!”

“Those guys?” Yuugi raised an eyebrow as she turned to follow Suika’s finger. “What are you-oh.”

The entire window to Yuugi’s left was engulfed by the bow of a massive starship. Its chrome surface was almost painful to the eye, and the needle-shaped cannons along its underside promised pain of the more literal sense. There was a name printed along the side, but the ship was so ridiculously large that Yuugi couldn’t see more than a letter or two of it.

“Somebody’s overcompensating,” she said to herself.

“That’s what SHE said,” Suika added with a snort.

For a moment, Yuugi pondered her options. Being rescued was the best thing she could ask for at this point. But everything about this new ship reeked of sketchiness. Was it really a good idea to trust them?

As it turned out, she didn’t have much of a choice.

“Whaaah!” Suika yelped as the ship jerked to the left, sending her flying into the opposite wall. Yuugi slammed head first into the co-pilot’s chair, the horn on her forehead stabbing through the leather. At least it did a good job of stopping her momentum.

“The hell was that?!” Suika shrugged off what should have been a fatal collision, walking away with little more than a bump on the head. “Besides being really really rude.”

“It’s a tractor beam.” Yuugi pulled herself free, her hands running across the control panel. “They’re trying to drag us into their docking bay.”

Suika pondered the statement for a good five seconds. “Is that a good thing?”

“Given that they didn’t warn us about it? Probably not.”

Yuugi fired the ship’s thrusters at full power, but their engine was too small to escape the beam’s pull. All she could do was watch as the battleship grew ever closer, a hole opening in its hull to swallow them up.

“Looks like it’s my turn to play,” she said, her hands instinctively curling into fists.

“Eh?”

“I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with...” She clenched her teeth as their ship was engulfed in darkness. “Trouble.”

-----

The docking bay seemed designed to be as foreboding as possible. Bright lights flickered and danced from all directions, and the ship’s walls echoed with a mighty rumble. Yuugi counted at least half a dozen gates closing behind them, each larger and thicker than the last. If she was meant to be frightened, it wasn’t working - in fact, the sheer overkill in the design meant she had to fight back a laugh more than anything.

“Why d’ya think they need all those doors?” Suika asked as she scratched her head. “Maybe it’s to keep out the salesmen.”

“I don’t think you get door-to-door salesmen in space,” Yuugi said.

“That’s what they want you to think.”

After several minutes of overly ominous whirring, the tractor beam finally released their cruiser, allowing it to drop to the ground with a quiet clang. Once it was clear the demonstration was over, Yuugi brought up the ship’s scanner and gave their surroundings a quick check. No immediate signs of life, but at least the air was breathable.

“Guess we’re supposed to go inside,” she said to herself.

“I call first dibs when we find the bar.” Suika was already out of her seat, pulling open the hatch door. Her priorities were questionable, but Yuugi couldn’t argue with her course of action. She followed behind, leaning under the doorway to keep from banging her head.

For how large the docking bay was, there were very few options when it came to exits. The only way out was a pair of double doors carefully placed right in front of the cruiser. It reeked of a trap, but it wasn’t like they had any other options. Yuugi pulled open both doors at once, stepping into the room with a mighty flourish.

She was not expecting the confetti that fell all over her.

“Cooooongratulations!” A cheery voice boomed out of a nearby speaker as the floor tiles exploded into colour. “You’re the first ultra-lucky spacefarers to be selected for our crew! Let’s give our new friends a big round of applause!”

The rattling of metal-on-metal brought Yuugi’s danger senses to attention again. Eight humanoid robots stepped forward, circling her as they clapped in her apparent celebration. Just a quick glance at their hardware said that they were relatively advanced.

“What’s going on?” Suika stepped in afterwards, kicking at the fallen confetti before a revelation struck her. “Oh crap! You never told me it was your birthday, Yuugi! I would’ve got you something.”

“It’s not my birthday.” Yuugi stepped forward, hands clenching into fists as she turned to the nearest robot. “Hey, junkpile. Who’s in charge around here?”

The android cut its clapping subroutine short, pointing to a large screen that took up the entirety of the opposite wall. With another flicker it jumped to life, a giant face projected across every inch of the surface.

“You called?”

Yuugi looked the face over for a few moments. It was a little girl, undoubtedly - her proportions gave that away, and she had cheeks that looked made to be pinched. Her hair was tied up in short, clean violet strands, clearly the result of some careful attention. She wore the grin of a swindler who’d just separated a sucker from his life savings.

Definitely a kid, Yuugi thought. But that was no reason to take her lightly.

“Well, that was fast.” Yuugi placed her elbow on the android’s shoulder. It squirmed for a moment before resigning to its new duty as furniture. “OK, kid. You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”

“Of course! I love a good chance to talk about myself.”

The girl stepped back from the screen slightly. A flowing, translucent kimono hung from her shoulders, with a more typical bodysuit visible underneath.

“I am Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, and I’m the captain of the Little Princess. You will refer to me as Captain Sukuna at all times - not Miss Sukuna, not Shinmyoumaru, and NEVER Shinnie. It’s a stupid name and I hate it.”

“You’re the captain of this thing?” Yuugi’s eyes widened. “I figured you were playing around how your dad wasn’t looking.”

“How rude!” Shinmyoumaru puffed her cheeks out. “I’ll have you know this entire battleship is my handiwork. Even the state-of-the-art mechanoid you’re currently leaning on.”

Yuugi held back a chuckle. State-of-the-art? These machines were impressive, but they weren’t THAT good. She’d seen much better in her time travelling. Still, for one girl to be responsible for all of this was somewhat impressive.

“Hey, quit using all those long words.” Suika stumbled over, hopping onto Yuugi’s shoulders in a mandatory piggyback. “Are you gonna share the booze oasis with us or not?”

Shinmyoumaru looked Suika over, her expression paling slightly. “Uh...is she okay? She seems sort of inebriated.”

“You get used to her.” Yuugi gave Suika a gentle nudge, and the oni promptly crashed back to the floor. “So what’s this about being part of your crew?”

“Oh! Well, I figured that was self explanatory.” Shinmyoumaru rubbed her nose before placing her hands firmly on her hips. “The two of you seem like you’d make excellent underlings, and thus I’m giving you both the chance to be my second-in-command.”

“That high up already?” Yuugi raised an eyebrow. “How many crew members do you have on this ship?”

“Dozens of them! I mean, they’re all robots, but that probably still counts.” Shinmyoumaru tugged at her collar for a brief moment. “But you’ll be entitled to room and board, as well as being part of what will soon be the most terrifying battleship in the galaxy! How could anyone turn down an opportunity like that?”

Yuugi narrowed her eyes. Even if she could take this girl at her word, long-term employment was hardly her style. Duty and responsibility were words meant for other people; she was a free spirit, going wherever and doing whatever she pleased.

“I like the cut’a your jib, Cap’n.” Suika grabbed Yuugi’s arm for support as she struggled back to her feet again. “Count me in.”

“Suika?!” Yuugi shoved her android armrest away. “How can you be okay with-”

“Think of it this way, Yuugi. We’re gonna be sailors. And you know what sailors do all day?” Suika winked. “They get wasted on rum and grog, of course!”

“That’s true, but-”

“I hate to disappoint you, but we’re not that kind of ship.” Shinmyoumaru folded her arms, pulling the sternest look her baby-face could manage. “Drinking on the job is a duty strictly reserved for the captain.”

“Oh.” The eager light in Suika’s eyes went out in an instant. “Never mind. Let’s ditch this joint.”

“That’s more like it.” Yuugi gave her partner a quick bump on the shoulder before turning back to the screen. “Thanks for the offer, but we’ll pass. Though if we could hitch a ride to the nearest star system, that’d be awesome.”

Shinmyoumaru went quiet, pondering her response for a few moments. Her other hand drifted off screen, and Yuugi could hear the faint click of keyboard strokes.

“I don’t think you two understand the situation.” The young girl smirked. “This isn’t an offer. From today onward, you’re going to work for me.”

Yuugi sucked in a breath. “And if we refuse?”

“Then things start getting painful.”

A beep of confirmation came from Shinmyoumaru’s screen. The robots in the room jerked to attention, the green lights in their eye sockets warping into a murderous red. They lowered themselves into fighting stances, whirring ominously as they formed a circle around the two oni.

“Alpha Squad!” With a smug grin, Shinmyoumaru rubbed her palms together. “Show our newcomers what happens to mutineers.”

The robot Yuugi had been leaning on was the first to approach. It was hard to be sure, but it almost seemed like this bucket of bolts was smart enough to hold a grudge. It slowly pulled one arm backwards, charging up a catastrophic punch.

“And again with the fighting,” Suika said, swinging around to stand back-to-back with Yuugi. “Why can’t we just skip to this part?”

“The law’s not too keen on letting you beat people up.” Yuugi cracked her knuckles. “But as long as we can call it self-defense-”

Before she could finish, the armrest robot dashed forward with a devastating haymaker. Yuugi casually swerved to the side, clenching one hand around the extended forearm.

“-we can do whatever we want!”

With a sharp tug, Yuugi pulled the robot’s arm clean off. She used the moment of bewilderment to follow through, burying its still-clenched fist inside its own face. The machine let out a morose beeping noise before collapsing to the ground.

“Wha-” Shinmyoumaru’s mouth hung open. “How did you-”

“You tried to pressgang the wrong pair, Shinnie.” Yuugi pounded a fist against her chest. “And once I’m done playing with your toys, you’re next.”

Shinmyoumaru’s face went sheer white. Yuugi almost felt like a bully, reducing a little girl to a trembling wreck like this. Luckily, Shinmyoumaru’s next order put an end to her guilt.

“ALPHA SQUAD! ANNIHILATE THEM!”

The machines lurched forward, their attack protocols bursting to life at once. Yuugi toppled the closest with a quick sweep, then slammed her foot into its chest as she ran across it. That left only four opponents, and now they wouldn’t be coming from all sides.

“Man, you guys suck.” Suika staggered around the battlefield, bobbing and weaving around the two robots targeting her. “I could take all twelve of you without breaking a sweat.”

Her unintentional comedy aside, Yuugi had to agree with Suika. These machines packed a punch, but they were slower than a block of concrete and about as intelligent. Even in her less-than-healthy mental state, it was laughably easy to run rings around them.

The two machines heading Yuugi’s way were at least smart enough to flank her. They both pulled back for horribly telegraphed punches, their motions perfect mirror images of each other. Yuugi held her ground, waiting for the last possible moment before leaping out of the way. The robots ended up swinging into each other, each knocking the other’s head clean off of its neck.

“Hmph. Here I was getting my hopes up for some action.” Yuugi sighed, brushing at her shoulder. “You alright over there, Suika?”

“I think so.” Suika had turned her two adversaries into a giant knot, wrapping their limbs around each other in a nigh-impossible configuration. “We’re not supposed to fight the pink elephants, are we?”

“Not yet, no.” Yuugi looked back to the screen, pounding a fist into her palm. “Well, Shinnie? Feeling any more charitable?”

Shinmyoumaru’s mouth bobbed open and shut for a few seconds. “O-Okay, so maybe that batch wasn’t my finest work. But you won’t be half as lucky against Bravo Squad! Or Charlie, or Delta, or-”

“So you’re not surrendering, then.” Yuugi smirked. “Good. That means I get to vent a little more stress.”

“D-Don’t interrupt me!” Shinmyoumaru puffed out her cheeks. “This is MY ship, and that means I get to make the rules! So you’d better stop when-”

The picture cut out abruptly, leaving Yuugi staring at a blank screen.

“Good. She finally shut up.” Suika swung the monitor’s disconnected power cable over her head. “Sorry, that girl’s voice just made me wanna puke.”

Yuugi opened her mouth to object, then thought better of it. “Probably a good idea. She wasn’t going to say anything else useful anyway.”

“So what’s the plan?” Suika asked. “Wait around for the next wave?”

“Nah, that’ll take too long.” Yuugi turned to the far end of the room, with two corridors opening up in opposite directions. “I say we split up and try to find the bridge. Captain Shortie’s probably controlling all the machines from there, so our best plan is to...’convince’ her to stop.”

“We’re really gonna convince her? I thought we’d just knock her lights out.”

“We are. That was a euphemism.” Yuugi started walking toward the right pathway. “I’ll take this side. Try not to throw up on anything important, alright?”

“Can’t make any promises!”

Suika waved Yuugi farewell as she delved further into the battleship. Given the sheer size of the vessel, this was going to take quite a while. She’d end up running into another squad of defense bots eventually.

As her hands clenched into fists, she hoped they’d at least put up more of a fight.

-----

“So what squad are we at now? I forget.”

Yuugi spoke to an empty corridor, throwing away the breastplate of the android lying crumpled at her feet. Odds were that the captain had speakers throughout the ship, so she would hear every little thing Yuugi had to say. For that reason, the oni made sure to make her words as aggravating as possible.

“Is this X-Ray Squad? Zulu? I think you’re running out of letters at this point.”

In truth, the newer squads were a bit tougher than their predecessors. They were starting to fight less like robots and more like actual people. Maybe Little Miss Halfpint was feeding them the data from the previous battles to give them more of a chance.

If that was the case, Yuugi couldn’t afford to wait around. She still wasn’t in peak condition, and too much fighting would wear her out. If she ran out of cheap tricks before the captain ran out of robots, things could go pear-shaped very quickly. Not that she was planning to let that concern show on her face, of course.

“I’m getting close, aren’t I? I’ll bet you kept your best guards around the bridge so I wouldn’t get the drop on you.”

Yuugi kept her ears perked in the ensuing silence. If her hunch was right, her target was about to give herself away.

“...Muuu...”

Sure enough, a faint growling came from the corridor to her left. All that goading had finally worn away at the girl’s composure. Yuugi kept her mouth shut, moving ever closer to the source of the noise.

“...I’ll bet she thinks she’s so great.” As she drew closer, Yuugi could hear more and more of the captain’s temper tantrum. “Just ‘cause she’s so tall. Size doesn’t matter THAT much, dammit!”

Says the girl who made her flagship two miles long, Yuugi thought to herself. A few twists and turns later, she was confronted with a large set of double doors. This was undoubtedly the bridge, and the source of Shinmyoumaru’s whining. Yuugi paused for a moment, waiting for the best moment to barge in.

“I’d like to see her talk like that to my face,” the captain continued. “Her and me, one-on-one. We’ll see how smug she is when she’s just a smudge on the-”

That was Yuugi’s cue to punch a hole in the bridge door. The squeal that came from inside was immensely satisfying for the oni.

“Kyaah! H-Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?!”

“Not really a concept on my home world.” Yuugi kicked at the hinge of the shattered door, knocking it clean off its hinges. “Don’t let me interrupt you, Shinnie. What were you saying?”

The bridge was more open than Yuugi had expected, spanning twenty feet in every direction. Control panels and dashboards covered the walls, but there was oddly little in the way of furniture. There was only a single chair at the head of the bridge, with a small staircase sitting beside it. As the chair spun around to face her, Yuugi thought she was ready to face down her aggressor.

She couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Honestly, I can’t believe how rude you are!” the tiny figure on the chair replied. “Trashing my attendants, barging into my command center, and all because I offered you a job!”

Shinmyoumaru walked down the steps off of her chair, a staircase that was taller than she was. If she stretched up on her tiptoes, she might have just been tall enough to reach Yuugi’s knee. In spite of the height difference the inchling stomped forward with a determined gait, murmuring something unpleasant beneath her breath.

That was it. That was all Yuugi could handle. All her calm and patience fell away as she collapsed into side-splitting laughter.

“Ahahaha! Holy shit, that’s priceless! I figured you’d be a piece of work, kid, but...” She couldn’t even finish the sentence before the giggles struck her again.

“W-What’s so funny?!” Shinmyoumaru’s face grew increasingly red. “I’m the captain of this ship, remember? That means you’ve got to treat me with respect!”

“Yeah, yeah, sorry.” Yuugi struggled to keep a straight face. “Hey, is that why they call you Captain Shinnie? ‘Cause you’re about as tall as my shin?” Another outburst of laughter ensued, with Yuugi leaning on the control panel to keep herself from falling over.

Shinmyoumaru’s face continued to darken until it was a raw shade of crimson. She came to a stop on a small circle on the floor and folded her arms.

“I was going to ask you to reconsider working for me. You and your friend know how to take care of yourselves.” The inchling stamped down with one foot. “But if you’re just going to treat me like a practical joke, then I’ll have to pound you into space dust!”

“Ooooh, scary!” Yuugi tittered, cupping one hand around her mouth. “What’re you gonna do? Stub my toes until I fall over?”

Shinmyoumaru smiled. “You’re gonna regret talking to me like that, punk.”

The circle she was standing on began to descend into the ground, taking her with it. Within seconds she was out of sight, with nothing but the whirrs and clicks of machinery in her wake. As the hole in the floor began to widen, Yuugi’s laughing fit came to a sudden halt.

“Well, fuck.”

A giant robot rose up from the ground, almost as tall as the room was high. Every joint and muscle was covered in a glimmering chrome plating that looked ten times sturdier than the garbage the droids were using. Steam hissed from the knuckles of its overgrown fists, and a hammer the size of Yuugi was clenched in its right hand. A glass window on the center of its chest showed Shinmyoumaru at the controls, her eyes shining with giddy confidence.

“As I was saying...” She raised her arm, and her machine lifted its hammer above its head. “Let’s see how proud you are after I’ve squashed you like a goddamn fly!”

Yuugi leaped backwards as the hammer hurtled down, leaving a crater in the ground where she had been standing. It wasn’t just bigger than the rest of the machines; it was faster and stronger as well.

The oni grinned. Maybe this fight would be interesting after all.

“Eat this!”

Shinmyoumaru brought the mallet around in a wide, sweeping arc. Yuugi leaped over the attack, charging towards the machine as she stretched her arm out for a lariat. Her attack splintered the armour on the creature’s knee, but managed nothing beyond cosmetic damage.

“That almost tickled,” the inchling said. “My turn!”

The leg Yuugi had attacked kicked out at her, forcing the oni to roll away. She made another attempt to strike at the weakened knee, but Shinmyoumaru’s swings forced her to keep her distance. Going in without a plan wasn’t going to work here.

I need a distraction,
she thought to herself between short, hard breaths. Having Suika around would be really handy right now...

After another round of bobbing and weaving, Yuugi was hit with a wave of inspiration. As she dodged around another deadly punch, she took hold of the control panel beneath her and ripped it out of the floor.

“H-Hey, what are you doing?!” Shinmyoumaru smacked a fist against the glass. “Do you have any clue how long that took to install?!”

Yuugi wasn’t listening to the inchling’s tirade. She tossed the panel forward, sending it hurtling towards the robot’s cockpit. Shinmyoumaru gasped, bringing both arms up to protect herself.

Now!

Yuugi leaped on the opportunity, running straight for the robot’s knee. This time she went for a devastating drop kick, bending the limb in a direction legs weren’t made to go. Shinmyoumaru stumbled backwards a few paces, a noticeable limp in her robot’s step.

“T-That wasn’t fair!” The inchling and her machine flailed their arms around in protest. “You can’t use my own ship against me!”

“Last I checked, there’s only one rule in a good old-fasioned brawl.” Yuugi jumped back to her feet, recovering her battle stance. “And that’s that the winner is the last one standing!”

She gave her strategy another try, tearing another piece of priceless hardware out of the ground. Again, she threw it right at Shinmyoumaru herself; again, the inchling had to focus her attention on blocking the projectile. She’d found her opponent’s weakness, and she’d exploit it as many times as she could.

Or so she thought.

“Amanojaku System, online!”

As Yuugi made to land the final strike, her feet suddenly lost their grip on the floor. Her punch whiffed entirely, and her head spun as the momentum sent her flying across the room.

It took her a few moments to realise she was standing on the ceiling.

“What the hell...?”

Yuugi’s stomach churned at the sight of the inverted world. The broken machinery she’d flung about had drifted to the ceiling as well, as if gravity had been flipped on its head. Only Shinmyoumaru and her machine were immune, hands on their hips as they chuckled to themselves.

“Bet you thought you had it all wrapped up, didn’t you?” Shinmyoumaru pointed to a small compartment beneath the cockpit, its arrow pointing up towards the ceiling. “This right here is my magnum opus, the Amanojaku System! With this machine, I can turn gravity in any direction I see fit - for everything except me, of course.”

She goaded Yuugi on with a single, taunting finger. “Well? Where’s all that confidence now?”

Yuugi grunted. She wasn’t about to let a pint-sized runt talk to her like that. She broke into a run, jumping forward to pounce on the machine’s head.

“Down.”

The Amanojaku System clicked, its arrow turning in the opposite direction. Yuugi’s head spun as gravity changed its course again, sending her tumbling towards the floor. The mallet caught her in mid-air, hitting her with a devastating force.

“Aaaagh!”

Yuugi roared in pain as she slammed into the wall. The dull ache of her hangover was screaming in the back of her head, her heart ready to burst in her chest. Before she could get her bearings the gravity shifted again, this time sending her right into the opposite corner of the room.

“Ready to give up yet?” Shinmyoumaru wasn’t even trying to attack anymore, letting the changing gravity do the work for her. “If you apologise for mocking me, I might not have to pulverise you.”

Yuugi’s head was a muddy swirl of fury and adrenaline. She was too proud to concede defeat, but she couldn’t come up with a plan of attack. For all her might, she wasn’t strong enough to overrule the laws of physics itself. Maybe she’d be capable of it in her prime, but now her sobriety was going to be the death of her.

“Stubborn to the end, I see.” Shinmyoumaru shrugged, then pulled her mallet back for the killing blow. “I’ll send the bill for the damages to your next of kin. So long-!”

Yuugi tensed herself as the hammer came crashing towards her. She couldn’t dodge it. She couldn’t block it. She could only watch as her end drew ever closer-

Only for her to be carried away by a speck of light.

“Wha-” Shinmyoumaru clutched at her controls. “What the hell was-”

Yuugi was as baffled as the inchling was. Her saviour stood firmly on the bridge’s floor, in spite of the Amanojaku System’s influence. She only put the pieces together when a familiar voice spoke up.

“I have to bail you out of everything, don’t I?”

Suika carried the taller oni without any semblance of effort. She spoke sharply and cleanly, with no sign of her previous slur. Even her skin looked more vibrant, like a light bulb inside her body had just been turned on.

Yuugi could only think of one explanation.

“You’re drunk.”

“For the first time in WAY too long.” She grabbed at a half-full bottle of alcohol clipped to her belt. “Found this in the captain’s quarters. This stuff’s incredible, Yuugi. It’s the kind of shit people pour into their eyeballs to get wasted.”

“Wait, that’s-” Shinmyoumaru slammed her mallet against the wall. “That’s a priceless inchling vintage! I was saving it for when I was finally old enough to drink!”

“Sorry, kiddo. Finders keepers.” Suika slipped the bottle into Yuugi’s hand. “Go wild, Yuugi. This one’s on me.”

Yuugi pulled the cork so hard she almost ripped it in half. With one hearty chug she let the bottle’s contents gush down her throat, barely tasting the drink as it went down. That was for the better - it had the wretched aftertaste of battery fluid.

Seconds later, Yuugi felt like she’d just come back from the dead.

Awwww, shit yes.”  Yuugi stepped out of Suika’s hands, standing firmly on what should have been the wall. “Suika, I love you.”

“I love me too.” Suika looked back to the robot as she cracked her knuckles. “Mind if I back you up?”

“Why not? The more, the merrier.” Yuugi pointed straight at Shinmyoumaru, a devilish smile rising to her face. “So, Shinnie, where were we again?”

The inchling’s face seemed trapped between disgust and despair. She sent the gravity hurtling every direction she could - up, down, left, right. But whatever she tried, the oni refused to budge from where they were standing.

“W-What’s going on?” Her expression grew more and more desperate with each failed effort. “Why aren’t you falling like you’re supposed to?!”

“You think you’re the only one who can screw with gravity?” Yuugi gave her partner a quick nod. “Suika, show her what I’m talking about.”

“Okie dokie!” The small oni rubbed her palms together, flickers of electricity dancing between her fingers. A small sphere began to form between her hands, drawing in stray pieces of debris and consuming them.

“You’re kidding me...” The colour drained from Shinmyoumaru’s face. “Is that a black hole?!”

“Damn straight.” Suika pulled her arm back. “Though if you don’t believe me, you oughta take a look for yourself!”

She threw the tiny black hole between the robot’s legs, letting it lodge in the back of the room. Within seconds it was sucking in everything in reach, including Shinmyoumaru and her machine.

“No, no, no!” Shinmyoumaru pushed her mecha onward, still limping as it struggled to fight the black hole’s pull. “You’re cheaters! Both of you!”

“And we already went over this.” Yuugi ran in to land the finishing blow. “Anything’s fair, as long as you win!”

Her hand slammed into the glass window, shattering it into a hundred pieces. She grabbed Shinmyoumaru out of the cockpit with her other hand, pulling her to safety as the black hole’s pull grew even tighter.

“Nooooooo!” Shinmyoumaru reached out to her crumbling robot, tears forming in her eyes. “My masterpiece!”

The robot seemed to reach out in response, making one last effort at a salute before folding in on itself. The black hole hungrily devoured every scrap of the machine, like a glutton finishing every crumb of food on their plate.

“Aaaaand done.”

Suika clapped her hands together, and the black hole shrank away into nothingness. Most of the bridge had remained intact - the parts Yuugi hadn’t torn off, at least - but there wasn’t a trace of the robot to be seen.

“Nice work, Suika.” Yuugi gave her partner a fistbump in congratulation. “You saved my ass back there.”

“Don’t I always?” Suika ran a hand through her hair as she puffed out her chest. “So what’re we gonna do with Captain Five-Inch?”

Yuugi looked down at Shinmyoumaru. The inchling had given up on resisting, murmuring to herself about fairness and expenses. When she looked up at Yuugi, it was with an expression that begged and pleaded for mercy.

“Beating up a kid would leave a bad taste in my mouth. Though I’m sure she won’t mind us asking her for a little favour.” Yuugi gave Shinmyoumaru’s hair a nice hard ruffle. “Isn’t that right, Captain Shinnie?”

Shinmyoumaru puffed out her cheeks in one last attempt to intimidate the oni. A long hard glare from Yuugi extinguished the last of her stubbornness.

“Muuuuu...” At last, the inchling slumped forward in defeat. “Just don’t take anything too important, okay?”

-----

“Y’know what? I’d say today went pretty well.”

Yuugi nodded in agreement as she clinked her beer bottle against Suika’s. Their demands had been relatively meagre, in all honesty - a replacement for their broken autopilot, and the contents of the ship’s wine cellar. The latter had been a bigger haul than they’d expected - Shinmyoumaru must have really been looking forward to her eighteenth birthday.

“You think the kid’s going to be alright?” Suika asked, as the Little Princess slowly drifted into the distance. “We did wreck most of her stuff.”

“Eh, she’ll be fine.” Yuugi shrugged. “If she built the whole thing by herself, nothing’s stopping her from putting it back together, right?

“I s’pose.” Suika leaned back in her seat. “Think she’ll find a better way to recruit her crew?”

“For her sake? I hope so.” Yuugi downed half her bottle in one shot. “She should view this whole thing as a learning experience, in my opinion.”

“Even the part where we held her up by the collar and let her flail about for five minutes?”

“That’s a lesson in humility.” Yuugi pressed a few buttons on the panel, and the new autopilot jumped to life. “So where should we head today?”

“Hmmm...” Suika pondered the question deeply, resting her chin on her hand. “Any sectors nearby with a pirate infestation?”

Yuugi smiled. “You want to get in another fight already?”

“Actually, all that talk about rum got me real thirsty.” Suika gave her stomach a pat. “We’re in peak condition now. Feel like separating another captain from his grog?”

Yuugi was relatively sure that pirates and rum didn’t actually go together anymore. Still, the thought of another brawl brought a certain fire pulsing through her veins.

“Sure, why not?” After some consideration, she gave Suika a thumbs up. “Let’s go looking for trouble together.”

Suika grinned as she brought the engines to life. “I love it when you say that.”
« Last Edit: August 12, 2015, 09:45:40 pm by Papikanken »

FinnKaenbyou

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Rou's Random Shorts (A Friend From Hell)
« Reply #326 on: August 14, 2015, 11:04:24 pm »
It's midnight. I wrote another short! With diver fairies, who I haven't written in ages.

This story has minor-ish spoilers for Touhou 15. Consider yourself warned.

-----

“Briar, we need to talk.”

River spoke up, as she often did, just after Briar had turned her brain off. There was a vague murmur as her tiny fairy mind shuddered to life, then another as she realised she was still biting on her mouthpiece.

“You can’t call me that, Vice President,” she said, once her mouth was empty. “It’s a sneaking mission, remember? We’ve gotta use codenames.”

“For the last time, I’m not calling you Her Royal Rosey Highness. Not even ironically.”

“Aw, c’mon. It’s got a great ring to it.” Briar stopped swimming, taking a moment to pose in what she was convinced was a dramatic stance. “The Pink-Petalled Princess hunting the treasures at the bottom of the ocean! Doesn’t that sound awesome, Lion’s Tooth?”

Dandelion flinched as she was called out by name. “U-Um, it does sound kind of cool, I guess.” She looked down across the seabed, gently brushing at the roots of newly growing flowers. “But I never knew you were a princess, Briar.”

“Oh, I’m not. Not yet.” Briar looked off into the distance. “But once we hit the jackpot, there’ll be princes all over the world who want a piece of me. So really, it’s as good as done.”

River grimaced, then snorted out a long breath into the water. “As I was trying to say, Briar...what exactly are we doing here?”

“Hm?” Briar tilted her head. “We’re diving for treasure, duh. How could you forget that? You’re wearing the tank and fins and everything.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” River continued, her fingers digging into her elbows. “I’m asking why we’re doing it on the goddamn moon.”

Briar sighed. It was just like River to ask the silliest questions.

“River-I mean, Vice President, we’re here because this place is the hot new resort for fairies.” Briar sat herself down on a large spire, standing well above the flooded landscape. “They’re only letting in folks from Hell, though, so we can’t let anyone know we’re from Gensokyo. Hence the codenames.”

“Wait, Hell?” River jerked her head backwards. “As in ‘fire and brimstone’ Hell?”

“Ehhh, from my experience it’s more like ‘lukewarm embers and loud guitars’. Nothing like it’s cracked up to be.”

“That’s ridiculous,” River said. “You can’t just visit Hell. It doesn’t work like that.”

“Um, actually...” Dandy raised a hand. “I sort of went to Heaven once.”

River gave Dandy a blank stare. “You’re kidding me.”

“N-Not at all! I heard they have really nice gardens up there, so I wanted to see them!” Dandy looked down, her voice starting to fall away. “But then the oarfish lady told me to go away, and I didn’t want to upset her, so...”

“Anyway!” Briar said, cutting Dandy’s story off halfway. “It’s thanks to a friend from hell that I heard about this whole resort thing.” She looked down at her wrist, in that fancy way people with watches liked to do. “And if I’m right, that friend should be joining us any second now.”

River looked up to the surface, waiting for something to splash in. Thirty whole seconds passed before her patience began to wear thin; in all fairness, thirty seconds of focus was a task beyond most fairies.

“I don’t think anyone’s coming.” Dandy twiddled her thumbs. “Are you sure we’re in the right place?”

“Of course we are!” Briar said, puffing out her cheeks. “We agreed to meet at the big pointy thing. That’s pretty distinctive.”

River opened her mouth to object, then thought better of it. She held her tongue for two whole minutes through gargantuan effort. She watched her partners recover their mouthpieces, taking in air they didn’t know they didn’t need. Hanging around them was trying enough at the best of times, but being hauled off-planet only to be stood up? That was a whole new level of incompetence.

“That’s it. I’m done.” At last, River turned on the spot and started to swim back the way they’d come. “I’m not going to just sit around for your imaginary friend.”

“Aw, come on! Don’t be like that, VP!” Briar pleaded. “And she’s not imaginary, I swear! That whole talking unicorn thing was a one-off!”

“Yeah, right,” River scoffed. “The day you make a friend in Hell is the day a clown falls out of the sky and hits me square in the-”

“YAHOOOO!”

A yell from above compelled River to look up. She caught a multi-coloured blur crashing into the water, flying downwards with incredible force.

By the time she realised she should probably get out of the way, it was far too late.

“Ooof!”

The fairy grunted as the collision knocked the stuffing out of her. She slammed face first into the dusty crater beneath, continuing downward for a good five feet. It would have been lethal for most youkai; for fairies, it was a mild inconvenience.

“That looked sore.” Dandy looked down at her fallen companion. “Should we check on her?”

Briar, as usual, wasn’t listening. Her attention was locked on the brightly-coloured bullet that had fallen from the sky. It was another fairy, wearing a similar set of diving gear along with a tight suit with a complicated stars-and-stripes pattern. She stretched out from her cannonball position, carefully adjusting her jester’s hat.

“Huh?” The girl looked around in every direction other than beneath her. “That’s weird. Water’s not supposed to be that hard. Wonder if it’s some fancy moon thingy-”

“Clownpiece!” Briar charged forward, smothering the newcomer in a tackle-hug. “I knew you’d show up eventually.”

“Bri-Bri!” Clownpiece roughly ran her hand through Briar’s hair, toying with the cogs that held her twintails in place. “Thanks for coming all the way out here. The moon’s great and all, but I really needed the company.”

“Um, you two?” Dandy continued to point at the hole River had left in the seabed. “Helping River? Anyone?”

“What’re you wearing?” Briar paid her no mind, focusing on the star-spangled suit that Clownpiece was flaunting. “Some kind of logo?”

“Heck if I know,” Clownpiece replied. “My boss gave me a whole wardrobe of stuff with this pattern. Apparently it really pisses off the Lunarians.” She poked at the hem of Briar’s dress. “What about you? My boss said you weren’t meant to wear dresses for diving.”

“Hmmph.” Briar smirked, pressing two fingers against her forehead. “Rules like that are for ordinary people, not for a visionary like me.”

“Ohhh, I see.” Clownpiece nodded along, her hat jingling with every move of her head. “No wonder you’re the leader of your operation.”

Briar opened her mouth to brag again, only for Dandy to tug at her sleeve. Her white-clothed companion murmured something nonsensical about a river needing their help. What silly chatter, Briar thought. Rivers weren’t alive.

“Anyway!” Briar said. “I was hoping you could show us around. Any hidden goodies to find beneath the waves?”

Clownpiece pondered. “Hmm...not sure about goodies, but there’s a cool palace not too far from here! Apparently some human fisherman lived there for years thinking he was on the bottom of the ocean.”

“Seriously? Wow, humans are super dumb.” Briar gave Clownpiece a thumbs up. “But stupid-human-palaces sound like they’d be full of shiny stuff! Lead the way.”

“Naturally.” Clownpiece started to swim away, then turned back with a quizzical expression. “Wait, didn’t you say you were bringing two of your friends along?”

Briar’s face scrunched up in deep thought. She made a drawn out motion of counting herself, then Dandy. “Nope. There’s only two of us, so that can’t be right.”

“But Briar, you aren’t listening to me!” Dandy whined, tugging harder at Briar’s sleeve. “You’re forgetting about-”

Before she could finish, a loud moan resonated from the ground beneath them. Dandy gave in to her natural instincts, hiding behind the spire they’d used as a meeting point. The other two fairies looked at each other with puzzled looks.

“Does the ground always groan around here?” Briar asked.

“I dunno. I’m pretty new here.” Clownpiece looked down. “Think it’s got anything to do with that arm coming out of the ground?”

Briar looked down. That green dress looked awfully familiar, now that she thought about it. The sort of outfit that would suit a Vice President, in fact-

“Oh, right! River!” Briar swooped down just in time to see her partner pull herself out of the hole. “You should’ve told me you were stuck down there. I’d totally have bailed you out.”

River clenched her teeth. “I hate you all. So, so very much.”

FinnKaenbyou

  • Formerly Roukanken
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  • blub blub nya
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Roukanken
  • Gender: i don't even know anymore
Rou's Random Shorts (The Pilfering Puppeteer)
« Reply #327 on: October 03, 2015, 09:20:22 pm »
I miss Alice. Do you miss Alice? I do.

-----

“Could Miss Margatroid please come to the doctor’s office?”

A small earth rabbit came out of the corridor, carrying a clipboard half as tall as she was. Alice pushed herself out of her seat, giving the bunny a pat on the head before walking out of the waiting room. It was always the grunts you had to be nice to, she’d learned; they were the ones who could screw you over at a moment’s notice. When she was face to face with the doctor, she planned to be a good deal less polite.

The office was as she remembered it - neat to the point of aggravation. Every perfectly clean surface, each shelf filed without a page out of place, a variety of well-preserved medical textbooks on display. Cleanliness was Eirin’s way of demonstrating her superiority. She was a brilliant doctor, always trying her best for her patient, but she still had to make them feel beneath her somehow.

“Good morning, Alice.” Eirin looked away from her file with a too-well-rehearsed spin of her chair. “How can I help you to-oh.”

Alice knew her expression did the talking for her. The rings around her eyes had somehow found a shade even darker than black, and keeping them open was an effort of its own. Shanghai was slumped on her shoulder, the doll lightly snoring as as she tried to make up for her master’s deficit.

“You get three guesses,” she said. “And the first two don’t count.”

Sleep was something Alice had struggled with for several years now. Technically, as a magician, her body no longer needed it, but after years as a human she was so accustomed to it that she’d never been able to stop. It was more of a psychological issue than a physical one, and her long work days only exasperated the problem.

“Hmm. That’s unfortunate.” Eirin read over Alice’s file again. “You haven’t stopped taking the pills I prescribed, have you?”

“Oh, no. I’ve been taking your medicine nightly, as suggested.” Alice folded her arms. “The problem is it isn’t working anymore.”

“Isn’t working?” Eirin’s face scrunched up. “I find that hard to believe. The Butterfly Dream Pill shouldn’t have any side effects. As you sure you haven’t lost a batch and you’re just too proud to admit it?”

Alice clenched her jaw. Her insomnia was enough of a problem without this doctor making things worse. Would it kill this woman to admit she’d made a mistake for once?

“I’ll put it simply,” Alice said. “I took the pill and went to sleep. Instead of the usual dream where I’m flying around as a butterfly, I was stuck in the Lunar Capital with everyone around me yelling that I was ‘impure’. This has been happening for over a week now, so it’s not just coincidence.”

“Yes, but-” Eirin’s eyes dilated. “Oh. I see.”

“What is it? Do you know what’s happening?”

“It’s a long story.” Eirin threw the case file onto the shelf, where it made a perfect landing amongst the other documents. “The Butterfly Dream Pill takes you to a specific area of the Dream World to make sure the dream you have is predictable and comfortable. Unfortunately, the Dream World is...” The doctor tugged at her collar. “Slightly occupied at the moment.”

“Occupied?” Alice rubbed at her temples. “Is this something to do with that lunar incident Marisa dealt with a few weeks ago?”

“That’s correct. The problem’s been resolved, but it will still take some time for the Lunarians to make their way out of the Dream World.” Eirin cleared her throat. “So it’s not the fault of my medicine, you understand. It’s just unfortunate circumstances that have rendered it ineffective.”

For a brief moment, Alice considered punching the doctor square in the face. She decided it wouldn’t end well. There were still a few dozen rabbits between her and the exit, after all.

“I don’t care whose fault it is,” she said, pausing to yawn. “I just want an alternative so I can get some rest.”

“An alternative?” Eirin put a hand on her chin. “Hmm. Now that I think about it, there is one substance that might help you.”

The doctor pulled a massive encyclopedia from the bookshelf at her side. Fluttering through the pages, she came to a firm stop at the exact point she was looking for. She held the page up to Alice, holding the book like a mother telling her child a bedtime story.

“There’s a little-known herb called slumberweed,” Eirin said, pointing to a large illustration of it in the book. “It’s a common remedy used by the merfolk for sleep issues. You won’t have any pleasant dreams, but it’ll do a good job of knocking you out.”

“Perfect,” Alice said. “How much for a month’s supply?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any in stock.” Eirin closed the book with a shake of her head. “The merpeople are quite protective of their ingredients, you see. People who ask for samples tend to get threatened with large tridents. You’ll have to procure this slumberweed on your own.”

“But you just said that they wouldn’t hand it over.”

“I never said you had to get their permission.” Eirin smirked. “But maybe a few samples the mermaids in the Misty Lake are cultivating could...disappear. And one of them might even find its way onto my desk.”

Alice felt her shoulders tense. “Eirin, are you telling me to steal something for you?”

“Heavens, no. I only made a hypothetical assumption.” Eirin leaned closer. “But if you WERE to bring me one of these herbs, perhaps I could concoct a new medicine from it. And that would be to both of our benefits, would it not?”

Alice gnashed her teeth. If Eirin wanted her help, she could have at least been more upfront about it. Besides that, the thought of stealing something left her uneasy; not because she was a stickler for the law, but rather because it was the sort of thing she’d imagine Marisa doing. True magicians like her were supposed to be above plundering their ingredients.

But if her options were betraying her ideals or continuing her sleepless streak, she’d go for the former any day.

“Wake up, Shanghai.” Alice brushed her hand along the doll’s back, beckoning her awake with a few strokes. “We’ve got some hardcore planning to do.”

-----

In retrospect, maybe Alice had overdone it a little.

She’d retreated to her cottage with a simple plan - put together a water-breathing charm so she could infiltrate the academy. Any magician worth their salt could come up with that kind of spell in five minutes. That should have been the only preparation she needed.

But what about her clothes? She liked her dress, and she didn’t want it to get soaked. She could strip down to her undergarments, but not only would that be shameful she’d likely freeze to death. She’d have to make an outfit that would shield her against the cold. And something so she could move faster, and something else to keep the water out of her eyes...

Before she knew it, her mundane preparations had turned into a full-blown project. The more she worked, the more she found to work on. Her fatigue pushed her into a dreamlike euphoria, striking her with inspiration she’d never have found when she was awake. She even made contact with Marisa’s kappa friend to put on the final touches.

When the night of the heist came, Alice was more than ready. She arrived at the lake moments after sundown, changing in the bushes while Shanghai stood lookout for passing lechers. She’d have changed in the comfort of her home, but flying around in this might garner some strange looks. And the specifics of her outfit made walking...difficult.

“I really hope I get more than one use out of this thing...”

Alice emerged a few minutes later in what she could only call a mermaid suit. The silky fabric was a baby blue-shade, covering her whole body while holding her legs in the shape of a mermaid’s tail. Extra fins on the back of her arms gave her an extra layer of aerodynamics. Nitori’s help with the schematics had been invaluable, and after a few minutes practice she was confident she could keep up with a mermaid in the water.

“Ready, Shanghai?”

The doll saluted at her master’s command. Alice had taken the time to tweak Shanghai as well, giving her a mermaid tail of her own so the pair matched. She hugged a flashlight with both hands, ready to guide her master’s path through the water.

“Alright, then.” Alice pulled her dive mask down over her eyes and murmured an incantation. “Let’s go steal some plants.”

The cold struck her almost as soon as she submerged. Her suit’s inbuilt heat charms took a second to kick in. The sensation was like huddling up in front of a warm fire, and immediately she knew she’d made the right call taking her time on this project. The Quest To Get Some Goddamn Sleep was not one she would pursue half-heartedly.

“Hrrrm.” Once she was sure the water-breathing charm worked as intended, Alice turned her attention to the lakebed. “If the map I found was accurate, it should be in this vicinity...”

She blindly swam deeper, hoping her intuition was on the mark. Shanghai dutifully pointed her torch for her master, but the light was obviously too weak to make much impact. It took a few minutes of descent before the landscape became visible to any degree - and thankfully, her destination was kind enough to light itself up for her.

St. Triton’s Academy For The Magically Talented was the only academic institution the mermaids of Gensokyo had. From what Alice had read it was quite a cushy place to work, and the view from a distance certainly gave that impression. Warm lights still drifted around the dormitories, keeping young students from fumbling around in the dark. The school itself had the mystical quality she expected, the currents humming with lingering magic.

It wasn’t the school itself she was interested in, though. She dolphin-kicked around the grounds, locking her eyes on the apothecary behind the main building. This was where they grew the plants and ingredients needed for their spells. It looked almost like a greenhouse, its glass windows doing nothing to hide the valuable catalysts being stored within.

The most surprising thing was how simple it all looked. The entrance hung ajar, and a quick check showed there weren’t any protective wards on the grounds. There was nothing stopping Alice from stepping inside and pilfering everything she pleased.

“If people are this careless with their goods, it’s no wonder Marisa makes such a killing.”

Alice slipped through the hole, Shanghai flopping along behind her. She was met a variety of with stacked shelves and questionable sorting methods. Tiny scraps of paper gave the names of each of the samples, but they seemed to have been laid out in no particular order.

The puppeteer sighed. For once, she missed Eirin’s obsessive cleanliness. With no clue where to look, she’d have to search every aisle until she found what she needed. She started skimming through the collection, looking for anything that resembled what she’d seen in the illustration.

Her leisurely searching was interrupted by another voice.

“...Stupid detention work...”

Someone grumbled to themselves three aisles away. Alice instinctively ducked into a side aisle, pressing herself into the wall and slowing her breathing.

“Shanghai.” She whispered to her doll. “Kill the light.”

Shanghai nodded, fumbling to turn off the flashlight. The waters were dark and murky, making Alice almost impossible to make out from her hiding spot.

Of course there’s a guard, she thought to herself. Nothing ever gets to be easy for me.

It took a few minutes for the warden to saunter past. It was a young mermaid in school robes, clutching a lantern as she swung it along the empty aisles. Her pale red scales matched her hair, tied into twintails with small star clips. She rubbed at her eyes with a tiredness that felt painfully familiar to Alice.

“Why’d they even give me this job, anyway?” The girl muttered to herself as she went about her work. “They could’ve just set up a sentry ward, but nooo, it’s gotta be a manned post. It’s like they don’t want me to get any sleep.”

Alice had to feel for the girl. In any other scenario she’d have chastised the school for working her to such a limit. As it was, though, Alice was grateful that the one guard on patrol wasn’t at her best.

“Shanghai.” She whispered another order as the mermaid moved on. “Head left.”

There was a brief shuffling before the doll tilted her head.

“My left IS your left, Shanghai.”

Shanghai gasped, then followed along behind her mistress. They’d have to move carefully to avoid detection, and they couldn’t use the flashlight without giving themselves away. Alice was forced to squint at barely-visible labels, hoping she found what she needed before her eyes broke from the exertion.

“Is this it?” Alice grabbed a jar from the shelf, trying to discern its contents. She could make out some sort of plant inside, but it was hard to tell any more than that. She pulled the lid open, hoping she’d get a better view.

It soon became clear that what she’d grabbed was in fact a mandragora seedling.

“SCREEEEEE!”

The creature yelled the moment Alice unscrewed the lid. After she’d finished reeling she hastily undid her work and shoved the jar back onto the shelf.

“Eh? What was that?”

The mermaid guard swerved out of her patrol route, her sloshing strokes drawing closer and closer. Alice panicked, pressing herself into the tiny gap between the shelf and the wall, pulling in Shanghai along with her. She concealed herself just in time for the mermaid’s lantern to illuminate the spot where she’d been.

“Hmmm.” The mermaid swam over to the mandragora, poking at the glass bottle once or twice. “Guess I’m hearing things.”

Alice sighed with relief. That had been a close one. Now all she’d have to do is keep quiet, and the trouble would be past-

Oh no.

Alice felt something welling in her throat. Something she REALLY couldn’t afford to let out at a time like this. She tried to force it down, but every moment she spent looking at the sleepy sentry made her urge ever stronger.

As she saw the girl open her mouth, the desire became too strong to resist.

“...Haaaaah...”

Alice let out the loudest yawn she’d ever given in her life. Given her lack of rest, it was a totally natural reaction.

It was also the worst thing she could have done.

“Eh?” The mermaid swung her lantern in the direction of the noise. “Hey, you! What’re you doing here?!”

Crap. Alice cursed under her breath. Now things were going to get unpleasant. She swung around to the other side of the shelf, hoping the gap between them would buy her some time.

She was wrong.

“Respirus Disparus!”

The mermaid called out an incantation Alice didn’t recognise. It didn’t take her long to realise its effect, as the slits across her throat faded away.

She couldn’t breathe.

“Mmmgllb!”

Alice cupped a hand around her mouth. She tried to reset the water-breathing charm, but the magic shorted out along her fingers.

“A-HA!” The mermaid swooped over the shelf, her arms folded as she hung upside-down. “Only an air-breather would be stupid enough to rob us. Bet you feel real dumb now, huh?”

Alice felt her air trickling out of her lips. Of course the mermaids would have a spell to dispel her water-breathing charm. It was an obvious counterspell she should have seen coming a mile away.

Luckily, she had.

Now!

Alice put her free hand behind her back. Ultimately it didn’t matter where, as long as no-one could see it. She focused her mind, imagining her inventory, bringing out the item she needed most right now. She closed her hand around cold metal.

“Eh?” The mermaid tilted her head. “What’re you doing?”

Alice responded by revealing what she’d pulled from beyond the ether. It was a simple handheld rebreather, another extra Nitori had thrown in with the suit. She promptly bit down on it, savouring the taste of oxygen.

“H-Hey, that’s cheating!” The student went red in the face. “You didn’t have that before!”

“You’re right.”

The mermaid blinked. “Eh? Who said that?”

“Me, silly.”

Shanghai waved for the girl’s attention, Alice’s voice coming from her lips. The puppeteer couldn’t speak with the rebreather on, so she had to settle for some ventriloquism.

“I pulled this from a pocket dimension of mine,” Shanghai continued. “Did you really think I wasn’t ready for a simple counterspell? No wonder you got stuck with the midnight shift.”

The mermaid’s face scrunched up, like she was on the verge of throwing a fit. “You stupid air-breathers with your no-good loopholes!”

“Besides, aren’t you being a bit forward?” Alice and Shanghai shrugged shamefully in unison. “We have a process for settling disputes here in Gensokyo. Even larceny.”

The student stared into space for a few seconds. Alice could see the two cogs in her brain clicking together before she finally gasped in realisation.

“Oh, right!” The girl pointed her wand at Alice like an accusing finger. “I, Meredy Prometheus, challenge you to a spellcard duel!”

“That’s more like it.” Alice gave her opponent the tiniest bow she could manage. “I, Alice Margatroid, accept your challenge. If you defeat me, I’ll turn myself in.”

“You mean WHEN I defeat you.” Meredy smirked. “One spellcard each?”

“Sure, but I won’t need to use mine.” Shanghai said. “I assume you only HAVE one spellcard?”

“Ye-” The girl opened her mouth, then jammed it shut. “I mean, what gives you that idea?”

The doll giggled. “Mainly because you look about as threatening as a stage 1 midboss.”

Alice could see the vein popping out on the mermaid’s forehead. All according to plan, of course - an angry opponent tended to make more mistakes.

“You’re gonna regret pissing me off, understand?” Meredy squeezed at her wand, its tip glowing red. “I’m the best duelist St. Triton’s ever seen!”

Alice rolled her eyes. She idly wondered what sort of bullets this girl would go for. Something scale-themed, maybe? Marisa had fought a mermaid like that once. That fight had been a pushover, so she couldn’t imagine this girl would be-

“Fire Sign [Sauna Shooter]!”

A bellowing fireball flew from the tip of Meredy’s wand, aimed right at Alice’s chest. The puppeteer barely had time to dodge, rolling to the side as the attack slammed into the shelf behind her. She hoped nobody had been using that mandragora.

“What the hell is that?!” Shanghai yelled.

“Oh, the fire?” Meredy brushed her hair away. “That’s my speciality. No-one sees it coming.”

“That’s not what I meant!” Alice shot the mermaid a glare. “That’s not what danmaku is meant to look like!”

“Says who?” Meredy puffed out her chest. “So what if it’s not slow or pretty? All that matters is if it works!”

She sent another barrage of fireballs in Alice’s direction, her attacks lacking in depth or complexity. It was a fighting style that was familiar in the worst possible way.

And as basic as the strategy was, it had its merits. Alice hadn’t seen bullets this fast since she fought the newspaper tengu. There wasn’t enough room between shelves to dodge and counterattack at the same time, so she was locked on the defensive. Meredy’s attacks flew left and right, setting shelves alight and consuming their contents.

“You realise you’re burning down the building you’re meant to be protecting, right?” Shanghai hung close to Meredy, continuing her emotional assault. “What’re your teachers going to think when they find out?”

Meredy puffed out her cheeks. “I’ll just tell them you did it! Then they’ll give me a medal for defending the school for the rotten air-breather menace!”

Alice had started to tune out the girl’s voice at this point. She wasn’t in any danger, but the longer this fight lasted the more damage the apothecary would suffer. If her precious slumberweed was destroyed, the whole heist would have been for nothing.

“Fine.” Alice hid her hand, reaching into her pocket dimension. “I’ll show you what a real spellcard looks like.”

Her hand closed around familiar cloth and thread. Ducking under another fireball she pounced forward in the water, her mermaid tail propelling her with incredible speed.

“Magic Sign [Artful Sacrifice]!”

She flung her doll forward, aimed at Meredy’s chest, then curved upwards toward the ceiling. The doll released a small wave of bullets, forcing Meredy to focus on it instead of its user.

“What’s this?” The mermaid chuckled. “As if some crummy puppet is gonna stop me!”

She pointed her wand at the puppet, its tip flashing a brilliant white before a giant flame emerged from it. The doll was rapidly engulfed, its attack powerless against the fire’s might.

“See?” Meredy smiled. “Easy as-”

BOOOOOOOM.

Alice was smart enough to cover her ears before the explosion. Meredy was less fortunate, standing point blank as the doll erupted in its own fanfare of fire and bullets. The mermaid was blown back into the wall, half a dozen bullets hitting her before she could recover. With a pop, the flames she’d thrown around the room vanished into nothing, their lingering power flowing into Alice. She felt the nullification spell fade away, and took the chance to reapply her water breathing charm.

“Spellcard captured.” As she pulled off her rebreather, Alice wore a catlike grin. “Now that I have your co-operation, could you please tell me where you keep your slumberweed?”

Meredy was slumped on the floor, her tail flapping around incessantly. She was a girl with serious authority issues, that much Alice had already determined. But at least she seemed to respect the spellcard rules.

“Down there,” she grumbled. “Third shelf to your left.”

“Thank you.”

Alice swam over to the shelf in question, moving casually now the threat had passed. She found the plant held in a small glass tank, too large to carry back to the surface herself. She settled for sending it to her pocket dimension instead, where she’d retrieve it from when she made it home.

“Still, I wasn’t expecting to get in a fight,” Alice said as she returned to Meredy. “I didn’t think you merfolk cared for combat magic.”

“We don’t,” Meredy muttered, hugging at her tail. “They don’t even teach us self-defense at St. Triton’s. It’s all the boring stuff like transmutation and fortune telling.”

“That’s...that’s disgraceful.” Alice frowned. “A curriculum without anything life threatening? You’ll never make a good magician with a plan like that.”

“I know, right?!” Meredy popped up, suddenly struck with enthusiasm. “I had to look this all up myself, y’see? Normally only the royals get to make spellcards, but I figured out how to make one by myself! All the teachers say I’m a troublemaker, but you understand me, right?”

Alice looked back at the smouldering wreck the apothecary had become. She considered saying something particularly cruel, but she’d already had enough drama for today.

“You...” She paused, trying to find a compliment that wasn’t outright false. “You have potential, I suppose? But you’re lacking in control, finesse, tact, and just about everything else.”

By Alice’s standards, a statement like that was relatively merciful. Meredy looked like she’d been stabbed, but moments later she was grabbing at Alice’s arm.

“Hey! You’re a magician, right?” The mermaid’s eyes lit up. “Do you do tutoring? I wanna learn how to fight like you do!”

“I don’t take apprentices,” Alice replied. “Whatever price you’re offering, I’m not interested.”

“But, but...” Meredy stammered for a moment, then gasped. “That’s right! I can get you all the slumberweed you want! Even that sample you stole is gonna run out eventually, right?”

“Yes, but that’s why I’m sending a sample to-”

To a pharmacist who I really can’t stand, Alice thought to herself. One who’d undoubtedly pat herself on the back in spite of Alice doing all the work. One who’d charge ludicrous prices for a drug that was a replacement for a mistake she’d never admit to making.

Alice had gone into this assuming she had no choice but to play along. But maybe there was a way she could get what she needed while giving Eirin the middle finger she so desperately deserved.

“Hmm.” Alice thought over the plan for a while longer before responding. “Actually, I think we can make that work.”

“Really?!” Meredy’s tail began to flap again. “So you’ll give me one-on-one training?”

“Not quite,” Alice said. “I have another idea in mind.”

-----

“Is that a lesson plan?”

Marisa looked over the documents on Alice’s desk with a scratch of her head. Alice was impressed she’d bothered to learn any form of magical notation, even if this was designed for absolute beginners.

“It is, yes.” Alice kept a grip on the paper so Marisa wouldn’t get any ideas. “I’ve taken up a side job teaching at St. Triton’s.”

“St. Triton’s?” Marisa furrowed her brow. “That upstuck merfolk academy?”

“Apparently, they had a break-in rather recently,” Alice said, her voice calm and neutral from hours of rehearsal. “Lots of their ingredients and catalysts got stolen or destroyed. So they wanted a teacher to help the students learn self-defense.”

“Huh.” The witch pondered for a moment, then smiled. “How much are they paying you?”

“I’m not being paid, actually,” Alice replied, underlining an important passage for later. “Not in money, at least. But it’s something much more valuable than that.”

“Valuable?” Marisa rubbed her hands together. “Then you won’t mind if I-”

“Sorry, I’m not allowed to share it.” Alice shook a finger. “Part of the contract. Hope you understand.”

“Boo.” Marisa pouted. “You’re no fun, Alice.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Alice couldn’t hide the extra life in her voice. She’d slept soundly for a week now, and it felt like she’d been reborn. All she had to do was give some pointers three days a week, and she’d get all the slumberweed she’d ever need.

Her sleep was back to normal. She didn’t need to worry about her hard-made suit going unused. And most importantly, she’d screwed over that goddamn Lunarian.

“Haah...” Marisa yawned, pulling her hat down over her eyes. “I think I’m gonna go take a nap. Was up late last night working on some new potions.”

“You do that,” Alice said with a smirk. “I’ve got work to do.”
 

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