Yukari Kotobuki typed frantically, as she has been doing for the past couple hours. She chugs a bit of the cappuccino cup that lay on her working table. Said table also had over it her all too important to break working tool (her computer), a couple charms and trinkets that she has collected over the years and a pile of all of her books published so far. If this went well, the document that she was working at right now would soon join them.
And yet… She hit backspace, erasing the line that she had worked painstakingly at for minutes. Just as she has done pretty much all day long.
Writer’s block is a painful thing. It’s bad enough when writing is nothing more than a hobby to you, but when you actively need to produce new material to please your publishers – and thus manage to eat - it can be more stressful than any critique could possibly make you feel. At least the latter can only happen if you have something ready to be criticized. …Usually. Sometimes fans will criticize you for things you didn’t offer them, even if that lack was intentional.
But that particular worry wasn’t on Yukari’s mind right now. …In fact, you could say that she is not even processing her current block as a worry, at least in a conscious level. She’d rather be feeling that worry right now. Instead, all that there was on her mind at the moment was numbness.
Sakutarou’s Great Adventure requires from her a very specific, positive mindset for her to manage writing it the way that it deserves to be. It’s not that everything in the series is all sunshine and rainbows, but even the darkest, most harrowing moments for Sakutarou and his friends should serve a bigger purpose at his journey to find the Treasured Fragment – and thus be important at transmitting to children the message she wants to convey.
In days when she can’t bring herself to focus on that mindset, writing her famous series moves from a great source of pleasure to an unproductive mess. And if she can’t work adequately in a timeslot where she can’t fit any other activity instead, as it’s the case now, she soon falls into boredom.
And I suppose it’s well known… that boredom is a mortal poison to all witches…
Yukari hears something. A voice, at first something muffled that she could easily confuse for a stray cat. But the voice grows in volume, soon making itself loud in laughter, a laughter that she wouldn’t mistake for anyone else’s.
Golden butterflies sprout from all corners of the room, concentrating at the source of the laugh until they form a very human figure. …No, that’s wrong. For the one greeting the writer right now is by no means human. She’s the Golden Witch herself-
“In flesh and bone!” She shouts, raising her arms and throwing confetti all around. Beatrice is as lively as Yukari last remembers seeing her. She seems to emanate a sort of glow that, by itself, brings a cheerful air to her otherwise mundane working room.
…Huh. It had been a few weeks since Yukari had last made an effort to seek magic from her environment, to see beyond the mundane in her life. Maria would certainly chastise her for slacking in her magic practice.
But that didn’t seem to be Beatrice’s interest. She’d rather have some fun with the writer, like by lightly hitting her head with a kiseru.
“A-Aaaaah…” Yukari takes a few moments to recompose herself. This visit was unexpected and she doesn’t even know what to say. …Perhaps a ‘boring’ greeting would do. “B-Beato. To… To what do I owe you the honor of checking on me…?”
“What? Can’t I simply bother my sister-in-law whenever I feel like doing so?” She speaks in a teasing tone, definitely in contrast with her apparently noble visage. “And I must say that I’m not disappointed! It fills me with joy to see you this embarrassed without having to worry about how my words could possibly hurt you. *Cackle*cackle*!!”
Yukari’s face suddenly turns into a red tomato. “P-Please! You already h-have enough amno for that with Big Bro! Why m-me specifically?!”
“Ah, Ange, what a simplistic line of thought.” Beato rolls her eyes and moves to float over her working table. “Do you think that a child won’t ever get tired of even their favorite toy, once in a while? Even I need to find other playthings besides Battler sometimes, otherwise he’ll soon learn to read all my moves and it won’t be funny playing with him anymore!”
Yukari only sighs in response. She knows that arguing at this level would never convince Beatrice to leave. It’d take an extra level of harmful intention to do so, one that Yukari refuses to partake at for the sake of her mental health. …Besides, it’s not like having a witch here is all too bad. She could benefit from a small distraction from her work right now-
“Hoooooh…?” Beatrice looks down at her position, dissolving into golden butterflies and reforming herself again soon after, so that she can face the table better. “Now what’s this?” She gasps in happy realization. “It’s Ange’s story! And it’s all open for me to mess with as I want! Bingo!”
She takes that back. It’s all levels of bad having a witch here.
“No, oh no, you don’t dare touching th- Oooof!!” Yukari’s protests are cut short by Beato unceremoniously pressing a palm against her face. She can mess with the computer with just one hand, after all.
“Hoho, to think that I’d get an exclusive look at these juicy spoilers firsthand~.” She scrolls through the document at light’s speed, all while keeping Yukari away from the computer’s reach.
Then… she suddenly stops. Beato removes her hand, at last allowing Yukari to breathe once again. “I-If you messed up anything on there, I’ll erase your existence until Christmas!”
Beatrice didn’t react to the threat. Instead, her once playful face soon gives place to a far more serious expression. She looks back at Yukari, as if analyzing her face. …No, not her face. Beatrice is looking straight into her soul.
“………..Ange. Have you lost heart?”
“Eh?” Where… Where did that question come from?
“Your script.” Beatrice replies, as if reading her mind. “Compared to your previous work, this one feels so… devoid of soul, devoid of any trait that would make me associate this with Ange Ushiromiya. This feels more like you’ve been just forcing yourself to write without having anything deeper guiding your pen.”
Yukari bites her lip. “A-And so what? I’m a writer by profession. I have to eat. Besides, adding up flair when I’m short of it is the editors’ job.”
“Right, right.” Beato clicks her tongue. “Sometimes I forget that humans must sometimes create stories that serve their bodies – or their pockets – instead of their hearts. But tell me, Ange…” She moves close enough to Yukari’s face for their noses to almost touch. “Would this satisfy you?”
The writer looks away, ashamed. She knows very well what the answer to that question is, but she dares not to verbalize it to Beatrice. Saying it out loud would feel like admitting that she betrayed the cause she was trusted with. She has already been excommunicated from Mariage Socière once. She doesn’t wish to go through that again.
Perhaps, however, it’s just her mind that is imagining the worst for how this would go. For you see, upon seeing the woman’s distress… Beato patted her head gently.
“Shhhh, don’t say a word, Ange. I know how that feels. You know, when I wrote my games for Battler, not everything I came up with was a masterpiece. Sometimes, I had to scratch some of my best ideas because I just didn’t have in me the skill to properly convey what I wanted. It’s a sad reality, but we can’t produce masterpieces all the time. …In fact, it’s exactly because of that that we can value our true masterpieces even more!”
“W-Well, I guess so…” Yukari looks a bit dejected. It’s funny. Right now she doesn’t feel like Yukari Kotobuki, the famous author that has won a fair share of literary prizes. She doesn’t even feel like her teenage Ange self. Rather, this reminds her of how she was in that game her brother wrote for her, a small girl that needed the guidance of adults.
For once, however, it’s not that bad of a feeling.
“Still…” She raises a finger. “My books are meant to help children. Even if I logically understand that I can’t satisfy myself all the time… This is not only about me. I have a public that depends on me to make their day happier, even if only a little bit. …I don’t wanna let my sloppiness destroy their hopes and dreams.”
“Hmmmmm, that is a very valid point.” Beato nods. And then, she claps her hands. “But that, my dear, is of easy solution!”
“Don’t you see? I’m a senior writer, with a 1000 years old baggage of literary skills ahead of you. Maaaaybe if, you know, pay me accordingly, I cooooould share with you some of my hotshot tips!”
Yukari stays silent for a few seconds. Beato, assisting her that directly? “B-But that…”
“No ‘but’s, young girl! You’re transmitting the message of Mariage Sorcière, and as one of its founders, that means I have full publishing rights over anything you write. But as I said, my services won’t come for free.” Beatrice grins.
“And that payment would be…?”
“Offer me a sacrifice. A sacrifice of time, that is. Time that would be otherwise spent in fruitless work can be instead used at preparing me delicious treats. I’ve been in the mood for gooey cookies with chocolate bits, in particular.”
Yukari couldn’t avoid laughing at that. Of course Beato would think with her stomach before anything else! …It’s not like the cookies have to be for her only, though. It’s been a while since the writer allowed herself the indulgence of eating sweet treats.
Hours later, a batch of fresh cookies came out of the oven. Beato’s mouth drools without an inch of effort from the witch of hide it. And to be honest, Yukari’s stomach too is grumbling. Thank goodness that Amakusa had gotten groceries yesterday.
The two of them delight themselves in the cookies, alongside some apple tea that Yukari prepared alongside to accompany the snacks. They laugh while sharing stories, Yukari from the human world and Beato from the Golden Land.
“-And that’s why, Ange, you shouldn’t worry too much about small technicalities if they don’t affect the main message of your story. Otherwise you’ll get as trolled as Battler did last Easter!!” Beato cackles happily, while Yukari chuckles to her lead.
This is when a realization hits her. “Wait, you’re already giving me writer advice?”
“Yeah? You’ve already paid me very well!” She munches a cookie. “I dwon’t *munch* nweed to twake too *munch* lwong to gwet to *munch* the pwoint hwere.” She swallows the cookie.
Yukari snorts. “Y-Yeah, that’s right!”
“Also…” Beato points to the computer. “I was checking your manuscript once again while you were preparing the cookies and compared them to your previous work. I figured out the thing that is lacking at your current project.”
“And that would be?”
“An antagonist.” Beato replies.
That makes Yukari raise an eyebrow. “But, Beato… Not all of my books have an antagonist.”
Beato cleared her throat. “I should make myself more clear. A big mark of your work, Ange, is the presence of an antagonist figure for Sakutarou and his friends to face. That figure can be a character by the own rights, but it can also be simply the context or environment that they must stand against. For example, in Sakutarou at the Moutain of Trials, you could say that the mountain itself was the antagonist of the story.”
Then, the witch twirls, before pointing her kiseru as Yukari. “Very well! I couldn’t find any sort of clearly defined adversity at this new story so far! At first you hint that it could be the clan of carnivorous lions, but they become friends with Sakutarou pretty quickly, and from there there isn’t much of a plot line going on beyond showcasing the good that each lion has.”
“Well, everyone has a good side to them that might be overshadowed by the public opinion of them.” Yukari retorts. “I wanted to show how we can’t be guided by first appearances and learn to see others with love.”
“Yeah, because this presentation worked so well with you.”
At that, Yukari blinks. Something comes to her… And then she laughs. She laughs at herself, at the absurdity of this situation.
“Kyahahahahaha!!” Beato laughs alongside her. “You’re definitely Battler’s sister, huh?!”
“Ahaha… It seems soo…!” Yukari smiles in a way that she hasn’t done for days. It’s coming back to her, that joyful energy crucial for her to write her tales – and for her to live in general. “…Thank you, Beatrice. I needed that.”
“You’re welcome!” Beatrice smiles back. “You know, perhaps it’s time you started betting on longer stories. If you keep restricting yourself to stories that fit in 50 pages only all the time, you’ll be cutting yourself short as a writer!”
“Yeah… I guess I could risk stepping outside my comfort zone in terms of pacing, once in a while.” She gives a meaningful look at the pile of her published works. “…Perhaps I’ve been too afraid to bet that my readers would keep track of new stories. Stupid publishers with their marketing language over me!”
“Yeah, screw them!” Beato sneers. “You write as you wish and your fans will follow along, Ange. If you need two or more books to tell the full story of the carnivorous lions, so be it!”
They smiled together, facing each other meaningfully. And then, Beato began dissolving into golden butterflies once again.
“Huh? You’re already going away, Beato?”
“My role here is done, and I shouldn’t overstay my welcome at the world of the living like this. This is your world to live, Ange, not mine. Besides, who knows when someone else will knock that door and hurt me with anti-magic toxin?”
Yukari could only nod to that. “I understand. …Thank you once again, Beato. I promise that I’ll work hard not to make light of your advice!”
“So I expect, Ange. But I’m sure… that you’ll make us proud…”
And like that, Beatrice was gone. Yukari was once again alone at her room. …No. It was wrong to say that. She was never alone. Everyone was always watching over her.
Thus, she should also watch over them. The plate of cookies has to be washed, and after that she could afford to wash and clean the rest of this apartment. She can get back to writing tomorrow.