[X] He tried to avoid her, and flew instead to Youmu.
Gen pulled his hand from her face.
“Keep quiet, Aomu. I’m going to stay out the way of her.” He said this, and began moving, a long way, toward the gate.
“Haven’t had enough sneaking...?” the kappa asked, before doing as he instructed.
He watched Sakuya carefully, and began to wonder about the three in front of her. What are they? he thought.
Aomu seemed to have been looking at his face, as she tugged at his coat to show him another device of hers, held awkwardly atop the mapping invention. This one seemed to be a PDA of some sort, and on it she had typed: “I think they’re ghosts”.
Ghosts? Would those be in or around the Netherworld? Slipping into a cloud (of which, really, there were absurdly many here) he thought about this, and decided it was unlikely: the Netherworld itself was not a place for ghosts, but for departed souls awaiting another world and another life. Ghosts lingered on Earth, not yet awaiting passing on.
At any rate it was impressive, he thought, that Miss Sakuya had taken out three enemies in a battle of danmaku at once. If he decided to talk to her about this Incident after when all would be said and done, this would be something to ask about. He neared the giant doors, having made it past the maid. He wanted to just stay there and appreciate the feeling of being nothing before a thing so immense, but instead determined that he must not wait and instead ascend to make his way for the top. From there he would see if the barrier could simply be... flown over. He nodded to himself, somewhat sure of his plan. The maid then tapped him on the shoulder.
“Wah!!” Gen shouted shortly and let go of Aomu, who shouted at length while clutching a hand at his vest. He recovered quickly and took hold of her again, looking at Sakuya who was just behind him.
“Where are you going, Gen?” she asked, politely. And then, “With a kappa no less,” she added.
“S-Sakuya...” he nervously spoke, “I...”
Gen looked to the side, to nowhere in the sky, and did not know what to say. Could he say he hadn’t seen her? That he had, but was feeling tricky? Why would he have gone past her? For glory and praise at the mansion? To surprise her? What business could he say he had in the Netherworld otherwise? He squeezed at Aomu, attempting to relieve stress.
“Now, where are you looking?” the maid asked, and then said “There’s nothing over there.” When he didn’t answer, she continued. “Does a cat have your tongue...? ... Hm, did you not see me? Ah, or perhaps, you saw me but were in a prankster’s mood? Why did you go past me? Maybe to impress Lady Patchouli and Mistress Remilia? To surprise me past the gate? I wonder, what business could you have in the Netherworld otherwise?”
Without a word in return, Gen continued to grip his kappa.
Sakuya observed and said, “You seem stressed.”
The maid took out her pocket watch, one he’d seen her play with time and again so frequently, so lightly and almost always almost unseen, that he suspected it told no time at all. Still, she seemed to using it to check, and when she closed it said: “Gen, I have a bad feeling about you today.”
“Well... Miss... Sakuya, I don’t believe that’s warranted,” he replied with a lie he could hardly cover. Aomu was trembling, with her face in his stomach. He put a hand on her head.
“... I think I’ve seen enough,” Sakuya judged, putting the watch away after seeing his gesture. She shook her head, and she sighed. “Oh, Gen...” she began, looking into his face, “you know, I think I get on with Reimu a bit well now. She’s told me, when an Incident is about you can expect to have five encounters before the last, when the culprit shows themselves. I... have a feeling I haven’t even met this culprit’s second hand, yet, and I have clashed one, two...” she counted on her fingers, “four times of note so far. That would leave two more but...”
A light shined between them, and he saw that Sakuya had brought up a knife and pointed it to the lump in his throat.
“... why do I feel,” she asked, wearing a near-sad smile, “that you’re giving me more work to do?”
Words rose in his mind, but his heart stopped them from passing his lips. Although he knew he had to be rid of Sakuya now, without the idea of “play” between them, he couldn’t bring himself to pull that trigger.
Sakuya saw his Adam’s apple bob, and looked into his eyes again. “Gen,” she said, simply, “everybody knows.”
And with that confirmation, it felt to him like there was poison numbing the inside of his mouth, draining into his throat, filling his lungs and stomach and chest. He grimaced, and she continued.
“We wondered: will he keep it ‘secret’?” she said, pulling the knife back behind her neck. “Or will things happen like they will today?”
The maid opened her palm, and three more knives appeared between her fingers.
“I will not play with you here, Gen. There isn’t any time left for me to clean up after your mess.”
“I can clean up after myself, Sakuya,” he found his voice, and was deliberate in his lack of honorific. “I don’t want to fight you, but would you even trust me to solve this on my own?”
She shook her head. “No, Gen.”
“I suppose after trying to avoid you, you won’t let us work together either.”
“Your hand in this is too warm,” she said. “You care more about that girl involved in this Incident than you care about resolving it.”
He did not answer.
“Then, alright Gen,” said the Maid of the Devil, “you, too, are a resident of Scarlet Devil Mansion. You know as well as I do how to act. That’s why we’re both here. That’s why...”
The two locked their stares again. Aomu, still gripping like Gen held her life in his hands (and he might), gazed into the other human’s face.
The spell on his mind finally reached his lips, old words rapidly leaving his mouth, and then the surrounding clouds were returned to water. Sakuya, at so short range, threw her knives.
Aomu pushed from his chest, dropping her things to the earth. She almost fell out of his hands as well, but remained and drew the sky-water fast toward her—too fast, with speed that could make it cut stone. She used it to reduce the knives, making them split and shatter. Sakuya saw this and the new playing field (one of floating lakes and streams) and retreated far back and below in two blinks of an eye. The kappa, panting heavily, looked up at her partner with eyes begging for an explanation. He only continued to spellweave.
And then, a book on his waist having flipped open, the water in the air began to rush.
“Will this do?” he asked, still looking sternly at Sakuya, who was looking sternly back.
“Eh? You...?” Aomu began, looking out to what he had done. A wild formation of cloud water was bending and turning madly before and long around them, reaching far over their heads and under their feet. Or, at least, that was Aomu’s immediate impression. On further examination, she saw a clear and manmade architecture to the flowing water. The kappa put a hand to her upper arm, and then to her stomach, and looked at the magician saying, “It’s not ideal, but...”
“I’ll have to ask your help again, Aomu,” he begged. She shut her eyes, looked into his, and nodded once. So, he let her go.
“What?” Sakuya commented, watching the dark-haired kappa fall. The youkai held her jacket with both her hands, her eyes very closed again, and then stopped in midair. Breathing fast, she opened her eyes once more, and then her arms wide. The maid glared and shot forward as water tumbled down after her in collapsing fury, as if a dam had been ruptured. She rolled left suddenly, and a beam of light that had threated to run through her ran past her instead, slipping into the distance. She looked up and saw her fellow human, casting spells above them.
“I want to end this without any harm, Aomu!” Gen called. “Easier said than done, I know, but I swear this: that’s what I want, and I’ll have it by these hands!”
“Human idiot...” Aomu answered, hands still aloft. She gave him one more despondent look before returning her attention to Sakuya and beginning to ascend along with her friend. They went toward the top of the gate; Sakuya would not allow it. She pulled a card from thin air, and said its name.
“Time Sign,” she declared, flying fast, “Tunnel Effect.”
She threw out a circle of knives, and then blinked away.
“Right from the start, of course...” the apprentice commented, he breathed out and saw a new army of knives where she had vanished, while the maid herself was a little bit closer than before. He opened another of his books, and began to call for another spell.
“Stay safe!” he heard Aomu shout, and he glanced to see her fly straight into a bend of water. Although it was being supported by his magic, her body took to it all the same as it would a normal river, and submerged there she looked much more self-assured. Sakuya seemed to want to ignore her, firing all her knives and giant bullets his way instead, but the kappa kept a careful and yet concerning rain of water on her all the way she went. She would thus blink forward with her time manipulation seemingly only to avoid Aomu’s barrage, rather than to keep pace with him. Still, the assault of her spell card followed doggedly and soon enough reached him. While maintaining his incantation as best as he was able (through grit teeth and with eyes wild to every knife and bullet coming his way), he engaged the storm of bullets and blades and would not be hit.
He flew himself right, mainly, daggers flying through his coat and trying to pin him there, ripping the cloth apart. When he saw that this way would eventually lead him to a wall of danmaku, he pushed his foot against the Netherworld door, and with magic of wind and his own flight soared all the way to the other side of the gate with blearing speed. Knife and knife and knife after knife plunged into the wood where he had only just been, while boulders of magic slammed into the door like furious knocking. He completed his spell, and water and light combined, forming liquid crystals of obfuscation.
Sakuya, divided in her attention, nonetheless noticed this action. She made a noise of confusion as her vision shifted, but this proved to be for her a very badly timed pause. Aomu, underwater and motioning like she was swinging a bat in her hands (with effort, as if said bat was immense and weighty), swung a column of water that rivaled the size of the pillars surrounding them. She aimed for the maid, and with ease Sakuya was consumed. Without waiting for the effect this had, Aomu began to swim through the air streams faster than Gen could fly, passing him in seconds with a wink as she did so. She crested water above the gate in a splash, and saw the next world out before her. She opened her mouth to make a noise of admiration, but this proved to be for her a very badly timed pause.
At the waters below her Sakuya appeared outside of the turn, and for a frozen moment she was surrounded by spheres of liquid that quickly fell away. Where she had been, knives exploded outward in two volleys and all directions, accompanied by her giant bullets, splitting and bulldozing any liquid in their paths. The artificial river was almost instantly severed. With this, Gen’s magic was disrupted, and the kappa immediately felt it and despaired.
She cried his name, the water breaking up around her and her own small weight now feeling terrifyingly heavy here in the sky. She fell, reaching to that sky like anything in it might hold her, somehow, and a gloved hand found its way to hers at once. Gen, his tattered coat almost tearing from his body for the winds he had cast to cannon himself here, grabbed hold. Aomu put her other hand over the top of his while tears fell out her eyes. He pulled her up, pulling himself backward and taking them both crash-land on top of the door.
They fell in a tumble, Gen holding the girl tightly and trying to have his body receive the most of the blows from their rolling. At the end, now he was breathing fast. He picked himself up from the dark grain below him and saw that the door was not only wide, but a field’s length thick as well. He supported Aomu, bringing her onto her hands and knees.
“Haa... h-haa... haa... haa... Uuh...” the little kappa breathed, still crying. He kept his hand to her back, and looked toward Gensokyo to see Sakuya flying up after them.
The Maid of the Devil looked particularly menacing to him now, and he wondered if it was her crimson scarf or just the way the light from the world of the living shone behind her. Her confidence in her posture, despite her body dripping wet, also told him that all of that he and Aomu had done down there wasn’t close to enough. He had wasted much of his spirit, and what fuels he still had left had very limited application.
“I’m wondering if you’ll ever change, Gen,” she said, looking at him.
“I think I have changed very much,” he replied, standing and reluctantly pulling away his hand. Sakuya descended, a ways away from him, landing on the door as well.
“When we first fought,” she began, ignoring his claim, “you were on the ground, and I wasn’t.”
“I technically wasn’t either,” he remarked.
“The point stands: you couldn’t fly. I’ve never felt good about it, actually,” she admitted. “So, let’s fight here, like this, on the ground.”
“Technically,” he started, laughing once, “this isn’t the ground either.”
“Look to the other world,” Sakuya said. “There is spring.”
He looked: she was right.
In a night-darkened, hilly and barren purple landscape, a sun he could not see also lighting it in places blood red, a stairway on the horizone ascended even higher than they were now (although in its realm those steps cut through no clouds). At the top beckoning over a thousand cherry blossoms from places beyond the barrier was a glowing and resplendent tree that stood at what seemed even from this vantage point to be an impossible height. A pleasant draft breathed over them. That was it: the Saigyou Ayakashi, and by his measure...
“It nears full bloom, that tree you’ve been reading about,” Sakuya said. “I think I’ll have to stop it for more than bad weather then, hmm?”
“Sakuya,” Gen began, “I’m sorry about all this.”
“Don’t apologize now,” she told him. “Do what you think you must, instead, and just like before... Have no regrets.” With the scene of the land of the dead at one side, and the already distant land of the living fading at the other, they thought the same thing. Spring was so close to being retrieved. The pair of humans from the mansion by the lake thus prepared for an honest rematch. She pulled out her knives, and he pulled out a book. They stood there calm on the edge of the world.
You drag someone into a mess, you take care of them. A little bit of selfishness is okay, but a lot of it just turns you into a sociopathic asshole, and I would not like to see Gen turn into someone as stone-hearted and manipulative as that.
“Alright, Sakuya,” he began, putting a finger to a spell, “let’s have your fight.”
The maid simply answered with her knives. He spoke quickly, and bit his tongue.
After exclaiming “ow!”, strange bright auras began to take form and fold around him, colored yellow, green, red, purple, and blue. Sakuya squinted with recognition on seeing them, but her eyebrow bent that it was surely unfamiliar. On further scrutiny, it was for certain physical material he had summoned, but whatever Gen had spelled was not the Philosopher’s Stone she knew.
Magic of five elements surrounded him, rotating in impressively sized ribbons and cloaking him over all angles. When Sakuya’s first barrage of knives came, they were scattered by those ribbons acting like wavering walls. She looked on and puzzled, feeling this was, again, familiar.
“Want to know how it works?” the magician asked, starting to take off his coat. “You’re right, it’s like Master Patchouli’s grand spell, but I can’t use it offensively. To be honest,” he said, pulling the coat off completely, and she noticed the strange magics shifting oddly at that, “this is more like fairies’ magic. You want to go back to our first fight? Do you remember how it ended?”
As he held the robe over his shoulder and pinched his tongue, the maid glared at him. “You want to fight me while you’re invincible? My word... there should be a limit to how much you can get away with as an outsider.”
“I will certainly be limited,” he admitted, and he slipped his coat onto the kappa behind him.
The kappa flinched, and she spoke up in a faltering voice, “E-Eh? Gen...?”
“Keep that on, alright?” he advised, not looking at her. Then, at a lower volume he said, “But keep in mind that it won’t stop everything.”
“O-Okay...” she acknowledged, bringing his coat around herself more. The magic followed too, and he stepped out of it.
“Now that’s out of the way,” he spoke, walking a little more and rotating his wrists, “I encourage you to not hold back, Sakuya.”
Sakuya was silent for a moment, but soon enough stood up straight and announced, “I wouldn’t have in either case,” before vanishing.
What seemed to be a thousand knives now surrounded him, shining far as he could see like some several-lathered mirror sea. Seeing this he thought ... I must dial back the arrogance, This is excessive. He squinted around the Netherworld door’s top, and reminded himself quickly of what he could do.
Fuels were running somewhat low, and because of his use of the Philosopher’s Aegis just before this moment, anything that could help with his use of fire, water, earth, wood, or metal magic was almost out of the question. The Aegis was a trump card of his for truly desperate situations, and it was magic his Master had told him was almost useless. She was somewhat (or perhaps even more than that) correct: it had some deep flaws to its structure, and was still something he needed to put more research into.
So, he had some leaf-full mixture and aether left for light and air magic respectively. His spirit was perhaps about halfway gone. Light and wind wouldn’t help him right now.
Spirit it is.
The curtains of silver came fast to skewer him, and he spoke with speed again to match it, thinking he soon needed a break on his vocal cords and some honey tea. When his incantation was done and the blades were upon him, he winced at the familiar but still unused-to feeling of draining power from inside him, and scattershot magic translucent and black began to shoot out of his front and back in gem shape bullets. They clashed with the knives, most of them, and allowed the young apprentice to begin moving through to where he believed Sakuya to be. He leapt forward and turned ‘round, ducking for a series of daggers to fly over his head. He slipped through safely, and soon enough spotted his fellow human not many meters away from him. When he did, and she’d noticed, she disappeared again, adding more knives.
The scene above the doorway to the Netherworld thus became a glittering, sharp storm, strange of elegance. He was forced low and to leap more, scanning ever quickly for Sakuya who would not relent, and slipped away whenever he found her.
Not flying here... really causes some problems... he thought. And while I took the spell cards I had from my coat’s sleeves, I don’t think any of them will really help me here. Sakuya is steadfast in her trying to pin me down. He stopped where he was, for a small second safe. He sighed, and made a foolish decision.
He closed his eyes, and spun open his jar of leaves.
At once a high number of knives sliced past him, and he felt that he’d narrowly avoided one. While swinging himself in whatever vague directions he had wagered might constitute “openings” in Sakuya’s “patterns”, he spoke new words for a spell while fiddling with the top of his vial of aether. The black magic he had summoned before saved him regularly, and the maid looked at him doing all this dumbfounded.
Gen might actually die, she thought, standing still and watching. I suppose Lady Patchouli won’t like that.
And though this she determined, she did not stop her knives. She kept him in her gaze instead, listening for perhaps recognizable words in the spell he was casting. She was made to frown again when “lux” passed his lips, and she grit her teeth when his magic became manifest.
The stored light in his leaves exploded forth in simple, powerful luminescence. Any nearby were blinded by the intensity, which was made more pervasive and stunning as it bounded from every one of the maid’s mirrored knives. Sakuya had to shut her eyes, and shortly after doing so she felt a hand on her breast.
She peeked to see the magician’s apprentice pushing into her with a satisfied grin cut through his face. She could see that a knife had pierced his left leg, another in his right arm, and, apparently, one final in his left side. His eyes were full closed, and she knew at once that this had been his gambit: to confuse her enough to keep her in one remembered place. She thought then to stop time (for what good it could even do with the battlefield too illuminated), but another spell he had prepared was cast before she could accomplish the action. She was so forced, instantly, back.
Wind buffeted her with incredible power and she felt strongly in pain, more as if she had been caught in a riptide than a storm. She worried she would be cast off the door, but soon felt herself being pushed down into its grain instead, and dragged violently backward like she was being used to sand. She tumbled into an eventual but unkind stop, clothes in rags, and looked above to see more magic in the air coming in little bursts of cyclones. She stopped time then.
In a soundless, infinite moment she saw Gen far from her still smiling; hand over where she’d seen a blade in his core. There were about fifteen shots of his magic coming down onto her, and she herself... couldn’t move. She attempted to stand, and only managed to turn from her back to her stomach. She pressed her hand to the ground and pushed, but the agony from his attack had her drop in a stopped second. Time resumed, and punishment came, relentless.
Nearer to Aomu, Gen stood slouching. The knives within him hadn’t torn through anything too terrible, and the wards his Master always laid on his clothing had managed to help him somewhat. They were indeed not any true sort of “defense”, but they helped protect her “things”: the outfit he wore was sturdier, and the books he carried were almost indestructible. This had proved to work well enough against Sakuya’s weapons that any wounds he earned were kept from being too deep for him to move. Still, being stabbed was no joy, and he removed the blades to drop them bloody to the floor. They clattered through a silence that told him he’d won. Walking back toward Aomu, he wished his Master knew proper curative magics: something for fieldwork.
While thinking this over, he felt a strange but inured sensation slip over all of his perception. He turned, and found Sakuya there.
“Wha—?” he was cut off, as the maid returned his favor by sending him flying forward, the force of her attack ripping the back of his vest and shirt open in a great hole straight through.
He desperately held onto his hat as he tumbled, legs in the air, ahead, narrowly keeping his face from smashing into wood. From how it had felt, he was sure Sakuya had used a bullet for that strike. When he stopped rolling over and could stand up, he saw the hobbled maid casting wave after wave of purple-ish, human-sized projectiles. Between her, and him, was Aomu.
“Aomu...!” he managed, standing himself up and kicking from the ground, “S-Stay put, the spell won’t...!”
He lurched forth, unable to tell her that with too much movement his Aegis would break apart. The warning still reached her, however, and she remained. That was to the good, but he didn’t know whether the shield could hold against Sakuya’s damage. Not caring for the honor of this fight any longer he ran, jumped, and then flew to the front of his friend. He thought, he probably had spells to stop the coming barrage, but nothing was coming to mind. An avalanche of witchcraft approached, and worse: Sakuya came with it, flying now as well and with knives in her hands again. He had imagined his attack wouldn’t take her out. It wasn’t supposed to hurt her in any serious way, in fact, but it was supposed to put her down for a minute. That maid really was a monster.
He stood before Aomu with his arms outstretched, his legs wide, and his eyes shut.
He opened his eyes, finding a human-sized phantom turning serenely before them.
“Gen, I think it’s far too early for you to die,” said Youmu. “And to die on death’s door would be the height of sin!”
The gardener of the Netherworld stood before him with her Roukanken drawn, blade stopping well those of Sakuya, who remained aloft with a frustrated expression. Gen looked up and saw that where there had been just before gigantic bullets, there were now instead trails of vapor indicating slashing. The remains of Sakuya’s violet magic drifted down over them all in little stars that faded into nothing. He looked at the girls in front of him again, struggling with their weapons sparking against one another. The half-phantom gripped with all her strength and brought her sword sharply down. Sakuya retreated at once, flying far back. Youmu then took a combative stance, and she spoke once more:
“So, it’s a rescue!”
“Miss Youmu!” he shouted, and the girl almost fell over.
“Hey! You don’t need to shout, I’m right here, aren’t I!?” she complained, turning slightly to glare at him.
He felt in every part of his being that he wanted to hug her, his lips turning up without thought, but instead of doing that quickly shook his head and became stern. “Youmu,” he said, “spring—”
“Never mind that,” she interrupted, turning from him, “there is an intruder aiming to reach Hakugyokurou, and it is my duty to stop them.”
Sakuya looked oppressively sullen, composing herself in cold, refined, animosity. She had entirely run out of patience.
“So you’ve come out,” said the maid, “the culprit’s second hand.”
“So this is why everyone here was getting noisy...” Youmu noted aloud, “it’s because not one, but two living humans have come.”
“Finally... I’ve finally gotten to the source, eh?” Sakuya muttered, lightly shaking her head. “You know it took me a whole day to get here.”
“In coming here you have exercised great composure,” Youmu complimented, smiling pleasantly. “This is Hakugyokurou,” she announced. “The deceased live on in this place. Acting on the common sense of the living will only cause you trouble.”
Sakuya answered with her eyes closed, stating emphatically: “The dead don’t speak.” She opened her eyes then, and demanded, “Now, return the spring you stole.”
“Wait just a moment,” the half-phantom insisted.
“A moment is no good.”
“In just a moment, the Saigyou Ayakashi will reach full bloom. That could never happen with a normal spring.”
“I was saying I have no care for this.”
Youmu continued unabated. “The trace of spring you brought here could bring the Saigyou Ayakashi to full bloom.”
“Are you listening? Goodness, I’ve traveled through that cold, only to find an incredibly selfish idea here.”
The gardener said with a light voice, “But it’s warm here, isn’t it?”
“No, enough,” Sakuya spoke and shook her head. She stood straight again and brought her knives up, “The dead do not speak.”
“Right. They don’t speak,” Youmu answered, eyes briefly closed. She brought her own blade up, and plainly avowed, “I will take what warmth of spring you have away, and leave you in silence.”
“I wonder, can my knives cut through phantoms as well?” Sakuya mused.
“If you wish to speak of cutting...” Youmu began, “then I must inform you: the things that cannot be cut by my Roukanken, forged by youkai...”
Her spirit surged.
“... are next to none!”
Both rushed forward then, and clashed in brilliance.
Damn...! thought Gen. I wanted to see if I could reason with her...!
He looked back on Aomu, who sat staring and transfixed. Since those two are fighting now, I don’t have to worry about the lethality of the battle at least. Youmu and Sakuya fought with nothing held back now, throwing what seemed to be their best after their best in patterns, all evoking beauty and determination. Metal was struck against metal, sounding loud and far-reaching, and winds of force often shot down from their bout, rippling his clothes. Just looking, he did not know who would win... he only knew that the tree had to be stopped.
The lights faded for a moment, and both combatants landed to ground, Youmu again in front of him. He arrested her immediately, clasping a hand on her shoulder.
“G-Gen! I am fighting!” she snapped. Sakuya seemed to take this moment to breathe, and contemplate rushing for the mansion of the dead beyond the stairs.
“Miss Youmu, I have to stop the Saigyou Ayakashi from blooming,” he said, and the girl was bewildered.
“W-What!? But you helped m—! Egh, ah...” the child scowled, knowing that officially she had never implicated this man in her business. While she hadn’t been good at keeping them such, her motives had always been intended to be secret. This knowledge of her own betrayal seemed to make her falter, but she was quick to find conviction again. “I can’t disobey Lady Yuyuko, Gen.”
“I can’t ask you to,” he assured her, “and I can’t be sure that I can do anything to stop the tree, but I have to try.”
“Why? Why do you have to?” she asked him seriously.
“I don’t think you know what it does, Miss Youmu. I can’t be sure your mistress does either... but I do. I am part the reason for it almost being awake, and now I will by all my power put it back to sleep.”
And, he could see that the half-phantom was torn, the expression in her eyes pained. Her grip on the Roukanken was intense enough that he thought she might bleed it, and she was next frowning at the wood below her feet. Eventually, she told him, “Gen... you are... you are somebody that I... can call a partner.” She looked up at him, eyes steady and severe. “I will invite you to Hakugyokurou as my guest, but...”
She turned from him, to Sakuya who was preparing to escape, raising her blade to point to the maid. “After I finish this enemy, you will be the next.” Without looking at him she continued. “I will make sure your kappa friend is safe, but I cannot say the same for you. Gen, it is strange, but I... despite being me, cannot be two things... You should hurry.”
She posed to return to battle.
“I allow this because I trust you.”
Once more, she went to fight his peer from the mansion.
Gen remained there, unsure of how he should feel. He did, however, think that the silly sword-wielding girl truly was beautiful, not only in how she appeared. Suddenly, he winced and looked down at his side.
“Just hold still,” said Aomu, tying bandage around his waist after having snaked her hands into his shirt through the hole Sakuya had created. The Aegis still swirled around her, and he saw that she was uninjured. “These are bandages I made,” she continued, “they’re just as good for you as they’d be for a kappa. I also put a salve to your cut that should help the wound heal clean.”
“Aomu... I’ve got to apologize to you too.”
“Shut yer mouth and get going,” she replied, smirking as she finished applying her treatment. “I wanna know what it’s like to be friends with a hero.”
“I can tell you,” he said, smiling in return.
Aomu grinned now, exclaiming, “What the heck! So cheesy!” She then laughed an awkward laugh, chuckling and blushing.
Gen looked over to the Saigyou Ayakashi as danmaku exploded overhead. He addressed his companion once more, “Alright, wish me luck, good Aomu! Cheer me on!”
“Go, Gen! Do your best! You’ve got this!” the kappa cheered, pumping her fists.
“You bet,” he answered, hopping into the sky and tugging down his hat. “Stay safe, friend.”
“Stay alive,” she wished, and he nodded once before flying headlong into the Netherworld.
Colors and knives were left behind him, like a carnival-festival above the gate. He looked back at the chaos, and forward into a new kind. Although Youmu called him a “guest”, the residents of this land were unwelcoming.
“Daaamn... I really don’t want to deal with any of this,” he whispered through his teeth at the sight of spirits before him hurling death-smelling magics in vast curtains. He still had enough sense and wherewithal to dodge, but deliberately kept from returning any fire. There were fairies here, too, surprisingly, and just as trigger-happy (unsurprisingly) but still he refrained. He flew over the dead lands as peacefully as he was able (insofar as his progress was pacifistic, not gentle and calm), and soon began ascending the dangerous stairs, steps blurring gray and black beneath him as the world itself blended between shades of dark lavender and amber. The weather grew warmer, and he noticed the sky was no longer full of flower petals. Instead, flowering trees lined the staircase, and the Saigyou Ayakashi pulsed dully in the distance. This was all nice indeed. However...
Every thinking thing in the Netherworld seemed to genuinely want him dead, and he wondered why that might be as he traveled toward the youkai cherry blossom. He wondered if the Saigyouji Yuyuko surely at the top of these stairs was the one controlling all of them, or perhaps they were all like fairies and agitated or excited due to the strange phenomenon and power. Most likely, he thought that a living thing in the land of the dead should perhaps not also be alive, so they sought to remedy that in patterns of killing danmaku that had his heart thumping and his forehead sweating. He grabbed at his wounded arm, keeping some patterns to a path just behind his careful movements, soaring through others and only hoping for the best. He was struck twice as he went, and he truly felt like those two hits were the two worst-feeling things he had ever experienced in Gensokyo outside of dealing with Yuuka. They had each hit in the same shoulder, and he didn’t like thinking about it, but he felt like his arm was being wrenched out.
Panting, he reached halfway up the staircase, realizing it was truly absurdly long. Then, he heard a sound of magic from behind him.
Youmu...!? he thought, bringing down his brow. He dodged instinctively and looked back to see a yellow laser flying past. So, he spoke, “Marisa...!?”
“Bingo!” said a distant girl following after him. “So you really are here, Gen!” the little girl shouted. He saw that she wasn’t alone: the Shrine Maiden was with her. His heart sank.
They got past Youmu!? What about Aomu!? Damn it, damn it...!
Grinding his teeth together, he ran through various possibilities in his head, and many courses of action he could take from here. The children neared him, but only Marisa came to match his speed. Reimu flew past without even a glance in his direction.
“We decided the one who deals with you doesn’t have to make dinner for the next week,” the blond witch explained, nearing him on a broom. “You’re a real pain after all.”
“What happened to Sakuya?” Gen asked, looking to Reimu’s figure growing distant, “Did you pass her at the gate?”
“She was fighting some green girl,” Marisa said, “and there was a green kappa too, but the girl wouldn’t even let us go near her.”
Gen’s emotional state complicated and he was full of side-by-side pangs of panic, relief, and happiness. Eventually he palmed his face, and from between his fingers looked at Marisa.
“So, you want to fight me. Why?” he asked.
“‘Cause you shouldn’t be here,” she answered like it was nothing. “And honest, mostly ‘cause Reimu got a bad feelin’ seein’ you here.” She grinned. He grimaced.
“What intuition...” he remarked. After sighing, and feeling frustration that his progress had slowed, he told his fellow magician, “I’m trying to resolve this Incident. I know how to, and that’s why I’m here.”
“Hehh... really?” Marisa mumbled, but it didn’t seem like she was disbelieving. “What’s your plan to do that? Me an’ Reimu, we were just gonna beat up the boss and take spring back.”
“I’m here because I’m not sure that will work. More importantly, the reason they took spring was to revive an ancient, dangerous tree. Really, that’s what I want to stop.”
“Oh? Hmm. So, an apprentice magician who hasn’t even been studying for a year wants to try stopping a... an evil? Evil tree? One that’s older than, what? How old?” the little witch prodded, her arms folded.
“Definitely older than the Barrier.”
“Well, you’ve got ideas,” Marisa admitted with a shrug. Then, she looked at him seriously, “but right now we need something we know will probably work. This is, like, actually a really big problem, Gen. What if you mess with that tree and make things worse?” Marisa, squinting with a hand over her mouth in contemplation, shook her head. She looked at him seriously once more. “Now I’ve gotta stop you for a completely different reason.”
And, Gen laughed, it being his turn to shake his head. “Gensokyo... is really too much,” he managed to say in few breaths. “Even when we want the same thing, you just want a fight.”
“Yeah,” said Marisa.
He glanced back to the Saigyou Ayakashi, and then returned his gaze to her.
>>66494 >several-lathered I think Word made this lathered instead of... layered... Nice.
as an aside, reposting >>65992 >When Master Patchouli was born as a Magician, alongside natural magical prowess she only had the abandonment of food, not the abandonment of temper. After looking into it, "abandon temper" seems like a really bizarre mistranslation of the magic magicians use to become immortal. It is literally Remove Bug magic, which SEEMS like it relates to the Three Corpses, or the Three Worms that Miko discusses here: https://en.touhouwiki.net/wiki/Symposium_of_Post-mysticism/Bunbunmaru_Newspaper_8
So consider this "abandonment of worms" instead. The idea is that the magician gets rid of the worms/bugs in the body that cause eventual death in all living things. I am honestly not certain this is what the idea is, but the kanji is read 捨虫 and that (specifically 虫), as far as I know, can in no way be interpreted as temper. It's an interesting idea that I will probably have to talk about more than this offhand mention here. Gen would surely be weirded out that the Taoist idea is something Magicians believe in, and that it's actually "real" as far as he can tell. Let's say that because he's not interested in immortality, he has yet to think of the implications of the magic "捨虫" (remove bug(s)).
Oh no! She's right. What if we it screw up? What ever shall we do? If only we had a super smart, talented, amazing, reliable, powerful, and cute witch (who totally isn't a thief by the way) to bail us out if something goes wrong! My, they could even get one over on that lazy shrine maiden by claiming to have been the one who resolved the incident! Now wouldn't that be something?
>>66499 Screw it. Having Gen be cheeky about getting help is way too good of a moment to pass up. Our Shtick is to play dirty at this point too so the more willing individuals on our side the better. If Marisa is really iffy about it just offer the fight once the incident isn't on a timer.
Was originally hardcore continue talking for help but I can't see Gen being able to do it without directly showing himself as partially responsible for this incident. He knows Marisa takes a lot of stock in fighting and if he wants to win people over to his cause in the middle of an incident, it'll be with fighting and showing the strength of his ideal.
Explaining probably leads to Gen getting double teamed (he's still an outsider, and if he's found to be responsible even partially for an incident, Reimu is gonna come down on him real hard).
Marisa will honor the outcome of the duel, if we fight her, it might behoove Gen to put some terms in so that we can actually attempt to get Marisa's active help after.
“So, am I understanding right, Marisa?” he began, folding his arms. “You will face and fight me, while Miss Reimu takes on Saigyouji Yuyuko.”
“Saigyouji?” the witch asked, confused.
“So you’re letting her take the credit then? For a few meals?” he prodded.
“Eh!? That’s not it!” Marisa rebutted, quickly shaking her head. “You’re an outsider! Since you don’t fall under the rules, you’re a pretty big nuisance.”
“I am an outsider who wants to do the same as you,” he replied, eyes closed and putting his hands up in a shrug. He snuck a glance to the youkai tree not very far away from them now. “Aren’t we Magicians? Why don’t we resolve this Incident with our heads rather than our fists, like the Shrine Maiden?”
The young girl gave him a frown, glaring too. She frowned even more, and spoke, “Magic’s all about firepower,” she said, “it’s gotta be flashy.”
“A flower storm from the restoration of spring will surely be that,” he insisted, “but if the Lady Saigyouji is defeated and the tree remains... Marisa, that will be worse.”
His fellow magician put her hand beneath her hat and began to roughly comb her fingers through her hair, eyebrows knit in deep consideration. “Well...” she eventually said, “I definitely don’t like the thought a’ Reimu getting one up on me.”
“Yeah!” he cried at once, leaning forward and surprising her. “Let’s show that dumb girl what for.”
“... Alright, Gen, I like the sound a’ that. Idiot Reimu can barrel on ahead on intuition like always.” She gave him a grin, and then a raised thumb. “Let’s figure this Incident out right!”
“Absolutely,” he answered, nodding. “Come on! The tree is close and we don’t have any more time!”
“Then you’d better hang onto me,” the girl said, nodding backward. He went behind her, grabbed the back of her broom, and readjusted his scarf. They began to fly, much faster than he alone ever could, to the wicked tree.
Marisa pulled him to the top of the staircase of Hakugyokurou, and then paused to witness the estate. Gen, also watching, sure enough wanted to stay.
“Beautiful...” he said.
“Yeah...” Marisa agreed.
The mansion of ghosts and spirits was beyond large, impossibly reaching out beyond the horizon, and was cool-colored in a strangely gorgeous gray. Stone and green gardens awaited them, zen pebbles raked into patterns that brought about a sense in the apprentice of solemnity, while cherry blossoms, and many other flowers of spring drifted through the air in enchanting spots of color. He thought this, as well: that the Japanese mansion itself, though cold and still, evoked very much grandeur. The almost shapeless departed swirled through the air, and to one main place. He looked, and saw the girl clad in red and white in the distance, facing a person surrounded by spirits, clothed in sky blue robes, and by her posture incredibly relaxed. They flew in place before a tree the size of a small mountain. The Saigyou Ayakashi was bright and vibrant, and it was already beckoning him.
“Yick. Gen, you feel that?” Marisa asked, after a shiver had gone through her.
“That’s the Saigyou Ayakashi;” he answered, “nasty, isn’t it?”
“Talk about youkai power...” she commented, glancing back at the Hakugyokurou grounds. “I’ll have to come back here later,” she said, and she sped to the base of the youkai tree.
They flew below the feet and notice of the Shrine Maiden and the Mistress of the House, looking up at them as they passed. He wasn’t certain, but they seemed to be talking about flower viewings...
As he was dragged ahead, his eyes lingered on the Dead Princess of Hakugyokurou, and he found himself fascinated in a way dissimilar to how he felt whenever he saw Youmu. This girl... in her flowing robes, with her lavender hair falling almost wildly from a strange, ghostly cap... Her slack demeanor somehow very charming... Of course, her face... Without a doubt, he was sure Saigyouji Yuyuko was the most beautiful person he had ever seen, though knowing she was dead made him wonder if she quite counted.
They reached the roots of the youkai tree, and the sky became bright with danmaku.
Marisa stopped, and flung him from her broom. ”The battle’s started! I’d say we’ve got like six minutes!” she cried, and he gave her a dull and annoyed look after recovering from his almost-crash into the giant cherry tree.
“Seals, seals...” the younger magician mumbled with her arms crossed and her eyes shut. He gazed up at the Saigyou Ayakashi, and was stunned for a moment. Standing before this tree felt to him like standing before a kaiju, and what was worse: he could feel it thinking.
“Ugh...” he moaned, and he stepped away from it, glancing at Reimu and Saigyouji Yuyuko. The Princess was, with her hands out as if basking in the sun, leaving no freedom in the sky for Reimu to navigate. He turned back to the youkai tree, and started considering how he might deal with it.
Can Marisa and I just syphon off the season from it...? Or, has it been tied to Saigyouji Yuyuko...? No... He touched the tree, feeling over its bark. It’s the tree’s. They’ve given spring to the tree here. He looked up into its branches, determined. We can take it back.
“Gen, you figured something out?” his companion asked.
“I have, but I’m not sure if it can help yet...” he mumbled, looking the colossus all over and trying to sense its springs. The branches? The trunk? The roots? “Can you understand the seal on it? I’m sure there is one.”
“Seals...” she shook her head, not to Gen’s notice, “no, that’s more Reimu’s thing.”
“But magic is magic,” he said, standing. “And this is magic, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” the girl agreed, holding firm the handle of her broom, “but, it’s weird: I think a youkai might’ve done it. I don’t think I can recognize this structure.”
“Marisa...” he moaned, meeting her eyes with disappointment in his, “if you can’t figure it out, how can I?”
“I can tell more than you,” she insisted, pouting. “That seal there’s still good as whenever it was set up,” she looked up at the blossoms above, and Gen followed her gaze. “This punk’s fighting back against it, and those ghosts are helping it get strong enough that it might even manage. Look,” she told him, pointing, “that shimmer, like the world’s splittin’ on its ‘skin’; that’s some kinda border, and it’s holding tough, stoppin’ it from bloomin’.” The little witch then grumbled, and he looked back at her to see her gnashing her teeth. “Aaaagh, but I’m just guessing!” she said. “The seal’s, like... I dunno if that’s really what it’s doing, just that it’s still working and the more spring this thing gets, the more it can struggle. I’m pretty sure at full bloom, the border’d shatter.”
“Thank—” he started, but the two of them nearly fell over from a sudden feeling of overwhelming power. The pair of humans looked back to where Reimu and Saigyouji Yuyuko were fighting, and the Ghost Princess seemed to have summoned some kind of artifact behind her back: a fan for a giant god to hold, pulsing purple light and showering at Reimu with a thousand bullets,
“The heck is that?” Marisa asked.
Gen did not know, and instead of trying to answer returned to his previous thought. “I was going to say thanks,” he said. “That means we don’t have to worry about the seal, only the spring inside this creature’s body.
“I was collectin’ spring on the way here, but I wasn’t really thinkin’ about it,” Marisa mentioned, lifting one of her hands. A little cyclone of flowers rotated her raised pointer finger.
“I only got one petal’s worth of spring myself,” he replied, and as if on cue it revolved past his front.
“How do you take spring outta somethin’?” she asked, placing both her hands on the Saigyou Ayakashi’s bark.
“That will depend,” he told her. “Get to the sky and try to coax it out of the flowers and branches, I’ll try the roots.” The other magician nodded, and then did as she was told while he sifted through dark soil.
Where... Where is it... Where’s your grip weakened you infernal tree? He wondered, and grew increasingly anxious. The tree seemed to keep its supply of spring firmly locked inside of itself, and though he could feel the good season flowing through the wood of it, he couldn’t draw any out. From Marisa’s silence he imagined she’d also not. Saigyouji Yuyuko declared another spell card, making for three.
There has to be something to the trunk, then! he thought, and there was a commotion just behind him. He turned, seeing a sword stuck in what seemed to be (at least from the scent) a giant candy star. “What?” he spoke, and he looked to see that Konpaku Youmu held that sword.
She finished...! he screamed in his head as Marisa came back down to the earth, in front of him.
Youmu looked ragged, her shirt sleeves torn and fallen off, and her dress having been run through by several blades. Aomu was nowhere beside her. He was worried enough to ask the gardener about the kappa’s wellbeing, but knew that she would not answer him.
“Hand it over...” the gardener spoke weakly, freeing her sword and holding it out to her side. Her head was dropped, and he could not see her eyes. “Give me the last bit of spring!”
“After all that trouble collecting my spring,” Marisa said, smirking, “I ain’t just handin’ it over to you that easy.”
“We are one step short of full bloom!” she shouted, finally lifting her head. She was on the edge of desperation, and looked straight into Marisa’s eyes, determination and, from what he could see, some water filling hers.
“Or better yet,” the little witch began, not missing a beat, “what would you say if I were to snatch away all of your spring to make cherry blossoms bloom for myself?”
“I will not hand over my spring,” Youmu vowed, bowing her head again and bringing herself to her swordsman stance.
“Me neither,” Marisa answered.
“Youmu...” Gen muttered without thinking.
“... The things... that cannot be cut by my Roukanken, forged by youkai...” the half phantom breathed, gathering her strength again “... are as good as none!”
“No way through the branches, Gen—get on the trunk!” Marisa shouted, and a second spell card duel started in curtains below the one in the skies. The young man witnessed Gensokyo’s two Incident Resolvers excitedly and fiercely fighting to the end, and felt invigorated. With this sense of renewal, and feeling like he hadn’t even been wounded at all, he lifted into the air and began to further examine the tree.
“Six Realms Sword! ‘A Single Thought and the Infinite Kalpas—Lunatic’!”
Color exploded, and he almost could not see, He was forced to hide himself to the tree as bullets and... butterflies(?) fired and fluttered past. With patterns getting very intense, he was given the distinct impression of climax.
Still, the tree was impenetrable. Flitting from one part of it to another, he reached spiritually within it, only to be refused over and over. In frustration, he yelled, “Just give it up already!”
But it did not answer, nor did it yield. The great monster only stayed still save for its spirit beating. It remained, reaching overhead and making a wicked, expansive, rose and black colored canopy. He stared into its ridged skin, clawing his gloved hands on it, and suddenly felt full of life.
“Hah—! ... That’s...” He gasped, and whispered, eyes going wild over the wood. “That... It’s... here! Here, I—!” he exclaimed, pushing his hand to a part of the plant. Then, brightness consumed his vision, and a burst of sound roared through the Netherworld. He thought for a moment that, having found a weak spot, he had extracted all of spring at once. Instead, as white light faded and he looked toward the two youkai exterminators, he saw that Reimu had successfully finished Saigyouji Yuyuko.
“Ah... no, the tree is still...” he muttered, staring again at the beast against his hand. It was still full of nature, and what was worse, power seemed to be welling within it. “No...! Shit!” he cried, and a ring of energy erupted from the trunk, viciously blasting him away.
“What!?” he heard Reimu cry.
“Oi, what’s up with that!?” came Marisa’s voice.
But he did not hear Youmu.
Stopping his flight backward and nearly overturning, he made fast for the tree, hearing, “Hah!? Come on, I just beat you!”
An ethereal voice followed:
“Oh crap,” Gen grumbled, and after shimmering and glowing for a second, the tree pulsed once, twice, and a cloud of lilac butterflies billowed from it in a veritable avalanche. Beams of blue and pink light began to fire out as well, and though he was not dueling her, he was forced to dodge a revived Saigyouji Yuyuko’s danmaku.
What the--!? Is she breaking the rules? I guess she must not be, but...! Though he tried his utmost, Gen was struck again on the shoulder he had hurt before, a butterfly landing there heavily and making his mind go white for an instant. He recovered, but knew he could not suffer any more. Aagh! The tree is reaching full bloom! No! Nope! I’m stopping this right now!
I’m fixing this damned mistake!
The boy struggled to make his way through the screen of dead magic, and found the spot on the tree’s trunk that he had found before, shouting, “There! Now I’ve got you, youkai twig!” He slammed his palm to the bark.
In the incorporeal body of the youkai tree’s self, a tear was violently opened up, and the spring held inside threatened to flood out it... but did not.
“Oh what the hell!” he cried, but, when he had rent its spirit, he had fast discovered a few other places where the “skin” of this being was weak. “Alright, Saigyou Ayakashi; I’ll just keep it up.” The great youkai pulsed again, and the smell of death filled the air more.
I won’t be hit, I won’t be hit...! he chanted within himself, plummeting to an area below, where he had “seen” a place to wound.
With each tearing, the tree and Dead Princess seemed to rebel only more, and at times he spotted the tenacious Reimu, firing nothing and instead trying to simply survive against vibrant, massive waves before Yuyuko and the tree. All the while, he could feel the tree reawakening. Its hunger was extreme, alarming, and too palpable.
He ripped the spirit flesh away thrice more, and could feel Gensokyo’s spring beating hot against the youkai’s physical body, like it wanted to return. With the path he took, the last place was now far above him, and he flew for it with all haste, but could sense the dark precipice of this being’s revival.
“I won’t make it...!” he exclaimed. “No! No, no, no, no!”
Come on...! Fly faster! Why must I be so slow? he thought, and he noticed... the tree seemed to be breathing. His heart sank, and he was deeply compelled to quit there, even slowing down before a sweeping pattern could overtake him.
“Hey Gen!” he heard a shout. Marisa below him had both her hands cupped before her mouth. “I’m gonna guess you know where you’re going and give you this!” She reached behind herself and got her broom, tossing it a bit up and putting her mini-Hakkero under its bristles. “Don’t break your arm!” she yelled, wearing a brilliant smile, and the broom was thus launched like a rocket.
“Oh fuck!” he swore in English, wincing harshly and raising his arms at the sight of blue fire blossoming wild underneath him. In spite of the blinding intensity, he made himself turn toward it, and started to descend, his hand again outstretched.
Avoiding lasers, bullets, and butterflies, while also aiming for her broom, Gen sped downward on a course for the stick, severely hoping that he would not miss. His prayers were answered as he met with the tool soon, and on grabbing it was propelled horribly skyward, his body whipped suddenly like a noodle, and his arm almost wrenched from its socket by the force. He screamed at the sensation, and held on tight, rubbing at his right shoulder and gritting his teeth.
He steered the broom much as he was able as air deafened him and threated to push him off this ride. Eyes blearing, and mouth mercifully covered by his scarf, he shot, shaking terribly, toward the final point. He reached his left hand toward the cherry tree, getting close as rays of light only just shaved above and below him.
The last unstable place almost seemed as if it were being protected, the bullet screen becoming much too dense to see anything, his vision being obscured by so many butterflies that he could only barely dodgy. But, on faith, he put out his hand where it should touch, and as luck would have it struck the bark on the sore spot just as he went past. He let Marisa’s broom go and, while dropping, pulled asunder the shell of spirit protecting the Saigyou Ayakashi’s spring. Sound and sight were for a moment taken from him entirely, and both returned along with the stolen spring in a full ridiculous and majestic display.
The flowering youkai tree quaked, and an enormous swirl of petals flowed out and off of it, scattering everywhere as warmth and breeze stormed Hakugyokurou. As life filled the world of death, the great tree was forced to slumber again, and nature began to drift back to the wintery lands of Gensokokyo. Every sensation of spring could be felt here at once, and despite all that he’d gone through having left him badly aching, he could not help but feel joyful and refreshed. Itou Gen grinned at the spectacle, and then... cried in agony as he crashed to the ground.
The not-that-fit magician rolled left and right, yelling in debilitating pain, eventually getting onto his stomach and then knees, and breathing heavily in hopes of ignoring his suffering. He moved himself a little forward, and then Marisa’s mini-Hakkero fell on his head and he fell down again with an, “Oh, ow!”
Following that came the broom, which landed upside down on his injured shoulder.
Gen breathed out, scattering dirt, and thinking, I have to stop doing this. While this wasn’t as bad for his body as his encounter with Kazami Yuuka, he was quite certain he’d at least sprained his arm.
The library’s apprentice, with an involuntary tear in his eye, managed to pick himself up again. He looked up at the Saigyou Ayakashi, now barren, and laughed. He hoped it would sleep forever. Holding his arm, he limped his way toward the front of the tree. As he came, in the distance he saw Reimu and Marisa standing over a collapsed and beaten Saigyouji Yuyuko. The sky was speckled with pink blossoms on their way back home, and the air too had many drifting flower petals still. Next to him as he completely rounded the trunk, was Youmu, Roukanken plunged in the dirt and face again hidden. He shuffled toward the girl, and sat down beside her.
“This was the first thing... The first thing I had to do on my own since my Master went away.” Youmu spoke with her face still aimed at the ground. Her phantom half was slumped over her shoulders. “The first important thing, not just cleaning, or cooking, or... I put everything I had into it, for a year.”
She picked her head up, eyes faded and gazing on her Mistress. “And, look: I let Lady Yuyuko get hurt; I let four humans enter Hakugyokurou... and one kappa. And, the Saigyou Ayakashi—the tree...” she looked up over their heads, and he looked as well, “it didn’t even fully bloom.” She thrust the Roukanken further into the ground, her shoulders up and head down once more, while her jaw showed unmasked frustration.
He didn’t say anything.
She after a while relaxed and continued, “... Your friend is safe. When I lost to the maid, I brought Miss Aomu to the mansion... I don’t know where the maid went.”
Did she see that Reimu and Marisa were already succeeding and go back home?
“I lost to the maid, and then to the witch. The only thing I thought I understood was this Roukanken and Hakurouken, and I couldn’t even wield them to victory when I had really needed to.”
He looked at the shining blade in her hands, mixed feelings shown on his face.
“Master said many times that I didn’t understand. I was just so sure I did.” Youmu picked up her head, breathing slowly, worriedly through her nose. “I am really good for nothing,” she declared, her brow quivering. Gen watched as the young girl was brought to the verge of tears, and wasn’t sure what to say to her. He felt empty reassurance would only be mocking. So, he turned also to look out at the trio before them and said:
“‘Young’...” the half-phantom repeated the word with importance, and stood up, leaving her sword before the sleeping tree. She began to walk toward her Mistress, while still talking to Gen, “I told you on the day that we met, that we half-phantoms live for hundreds of years, and that my Master would not be much longer.” She looked racked with pain as she walked, and he wondered if it was only in her sides and joints that she was aching. “I wanted to think... Master left as another lesson. I still want to think that.”
Youmu stopped in front of the Ghost Princess, who was not unconscious, and quickly picked herself up upon seeing her servant. Reimu looked on with her arms crossed, while Marisa had her arms behind her head. Saigyouji Yuyuko stood.
“Lady Yuyuko,” the gardener said, looking up at the woman she’d addressed, “Master... won’t ever come back, will he?”
The Princess shook her head. “Youki?” she said. “Not even for a drink or a snack, Youmu.”
“Then you only have this Konpaku... and Grandpa won’t come back.”
“He won’t teach me anymore...?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be teaching me? Youmu.”
The elegant woman then pet the child on her head. Once, twice, and then she hugged Youmu, who was shaking, to her breasts. “You’re so embarrassing, Youmu,” said Saigyouji Yuyuko, “we have guests, you know?”
But the girl only loudly cried, grasping at her skirt while her Mistress cradled her. Reimu looked away to the risen moon in the sky, while Marisa smirked at the sentimental display. Gen looked to the gate to the world of the living, and thought again about what his future might hold.
From a cave that had been oddly smoking all day, that odd smoke coalesced, made arms, and stretched them.
“Oof, oof, aaaahh... Did that take all d—? Dwuh? What in Hell is this!?”
As it formed completely, it became a small girl with disproportionate horns who dropped, hands and feet, into the snow. She gazed incredulous at Gensokyo, and more than a little mad.
“It’s snow! In spring!? Oh maaaan, is it not...? Did I...? Aaagh, jeez, sake, sake...”
So she pulled a gourd of sake from her hip, uncorked it, and drank. And drank. She continued to drink for a minute and a half.
“Guh...” she grunted, putting the cork back in. “I’ve got to... talk t’ Yukari about this. Everyone said it was spring! I’m getting old!?”
The little girl roared with aggravation, pulling at her hair, but her yell soon became laughter as she fell to the ground on her back, “Gahahaha! Hahahaha! Gensokyo~! It’s been too long! And, ohya? What’s that I smell? Hey, that’s spring isn’t it? That means flower viewings, flower viewings~!”
The first oni to witness Gensokyo in hundreds of years picked herself up and marched through the spring snow, following cherry blossoms like stars in the sky. She made her way to an old friend, and while she went, gathered in her head grand plans for celebration.
--End of Chapter 9: Perfect Cherry Blossom--
Oni has landed, and so ends the story prologue I'm not a dick
That chapter was an \\EXPERIMENT/, and not everything worked, but most of it was fun. The MGS shit was my self-indulgence. I hope even two people actually enjoyed my sudden aside. But hey, I'm learning too. Just like Youmumu.
A few things I realized: >>66462 this track's info is 東方萃夢想 - 緋萃のシンフォニック・スイート (Melodic Taste) and it wasn't in the downloads folder so I had to reupload everything in THREAD 4 Also other credits: thread 1 >>66526 thread 2 >>66528 thread 3 >>66527 thread 4 >>66524 Histories of Yatsugatake >>/shorts/2189
“Right... But, Master, I’d really like a shower, or to treat my wounds, or—”
With a word and a wave of a finger, Patchouli Knowledge summoned water above her apprentice’s head, which fell all over him. Soaked, he stood (still), miserable.
“There, a shower,” she said. “As for your wounds, they can wait. Aren’t you fascinated by this, Gen?”
“I mean I was there, and now I’m exhausted, Master,” he replied, sputtering through liquid.
“Enough, show me enthusiasm,” his Master ordered, taking some charcoal in her hand and crawling below a fixture that he, Itou Gen, was keeping magically steady with his hands.
“Wow! Amazing! A miniature Netherworld! Awesooome!” he said.
“Yes, like that,” his Master replied, returning from under the structure. With her dirtied hands, she thoughtfully, carelessly touched her face and nodded at her work, satisfied.
“It really is amazing, though. Sakuya, well done.”
“Thank you, Lady Patchouli,” Sakuya answered with a smile and slight bow.
All three of them were in the depths of Scarlet Devil Mansion, the Library where he so often frequented. They all looked each a mess as well, though the master of the library was decidedly more kempt. Sakuya had, during the time he’d taken to stop the Saigyou Ayakashi, snuck around Hakugyokurou and stolen ghosts, soil, and phantasmal cherry blossoms for an idea. It was an idea that so interested his Master that he hadn’t even been scolded for the events of the last twenty-four hours.
“You should be in better spirits,” Sakuya commented, coming to rest at a chair and coffee table, elbow on it and uncharacteristically relaxed, “I got this idea from your false sky of last year.”
“I really am honored, Miss Sakuya,” he said, and he meant that. He was currently holding steady with what little energy he had left an artificial barrier to contain the space his Master worked on. Master Patchouli had managed to scale down the spirits and bind them to her creation (a model under a glass dome), while molding false trees and blossoms from the gathered soil. Looking on this admittedly beautiful recreation, he reminded himself that those spirits had been at Hakugyokurou to await the next life or world, and that perhaps his Master’s swear to evil had not been off the mark. With muddled feelings, he closed his eyes and wiggled his brows.
“But, to think under those cherry blossoms are—” his Master began to talk with wheezing excitement. He cut her off.
“Don’t say it, Master!”
“—bodies. I wonder if that’s how the Netherworld’s blossoms produce such beauty.” She seemed to not hear him.
He deeply wanted to palm his face, but he had to remain, of course, still. While groaning in melancholy at that queer, dark fact of the Netherworld, he looked over to his fellow human who was at rest. Very at rest, now, it seemed: she was sleeping.
It really has been exhausting, he thought to himself while watching the maid, slumped over the table, breathe peacefully, her back rising and falling slowly. I really could use a rest tooooo... But, I deserve at least this much “punishment”. Definitely more.
Frowning, he continued to watch his Master eagerly work. He didn’t like to think about what the hour of night might be.
His ears perked, though he did not turn to his back to where this small voice came from.
“What is it, Merremia?” he answered. “You can be awake at night?” he asked.
“Geeen... go to bed so I can wake you up...” she moaned. He looked over his shoulder now to see his morning fairy walking toward him and rubbing her right eye with a balled fist, clearly on the verge of sleep.
“You first,” he said. “Though I won’t wake you up.”
He turned away from her to keep focus on the small Netherworld. She flew onto his back, and crawled to cross her arms on his head. Eyes closed, and mouth showing his misery, he ordered, “Off me, fairy!”
“Guu... hmmm... Nng...” was the reply he received.
She’s asleep!? he thought, eyes wild.
“Stay still! The barrier is wavering!” shouted his Master from beneath the fixture again.
“Merremia’s crawled on me, Master,” he explained.
“Merremia? Is that your fairy?” she asked, poking her head out from under her work to have a look and confirm. “Ah, it is,” she said, and while she went back to her efforts gave a yell of, “Hey fairy maids, listen: Gen is being a bed now!”
His feeling sunk at those words. From a few places around the library, other maids descended or flew to him, and piled on his back and legs, two hanging from his arms. He was ultimately weighed by six of the tykes, and finding it very hard to remain focused as each of their initial joy of finding a human to bother waned in favor of tiredness, and they used him as his Master directed.
“Stay still!” Patchouli yelled.
“Yes, Master...” he answered, buckling under tiny weight and very much warmth. His body sincerely aching, and his right shoulder begging him for ice or anything other than fairies, he stayed like that through the night, helping his Master in her work even as he was ordered to move, the maids never letting go.
His Master had a little mercy.
Hours before sunrise, her work was done, and she’d allowed him to go bathe, as well as have his injuries and wounds treated. After getting clean, she fit his right arm in a sling and, looking at this, shook her head at him in disappointment, saying: “This isn’t how Magicians should be.”
He had replied, “Things happen.”
And she had told him, “They shouldn’t, if you’re any good at magic.”
She was perhaps right. Who ever played an RPG with a mage in the front lines? He admittedly loved a risky, but successful move in a life-or-death battle, much as it was foolish to prefer, but he deeply considered working to keep himself at range for future endeavors.
He went to sleep after that, finding Merremia in his bed, and now actually appreciating her hugging through what little night was left (at that point, his ability to sleep was seeming to disappear). When morning came, though he had said this would not be the case: he was the one who had to wake her. This said, once she knew the Sun must be high in the air, she woke infinitely faster than he ever could.
So the new day dawned, just after the ending of the Stolen Spring Incident. Merremia informed him of the day’s duties and possibilities.
“The Shrine Maiden invited the Mistresses and Lady Sakuya to a flower viewing this afternoon and tonight! We got the invitation last night! Lady Patchouli was invited too but I bet she won’t go!”
“I see,” he said, unbuttoning his sleepwear shirt.
“You’re invited too, even though you started the Incident Sir Gen!”
“I didn’t start the Incident.”
“What’re you saying you big dumb? Dumb idiot dumby,” the fairy looked incredulous, shaking her head. “Everyone said you did, so that’s that.”
“Right, that’s how truth works,” he answered, yawning.
“Yeah, it’s true,” she answered with a thoughtful nod. She moved on, detecting no sarcasm, “Anyway, you don’t have to do anything today, Sir Gen. I think you should relax!”
“I also think that.”
“Did you have anything you wanted to do today?” she asked, curious.
While putting on his repaired and refreshed clothing and refitting his sling for his sprained arm, he told her, “Well, I did want to have a spell card duel with Miss Meiling at some point today. My arm isn’t in the best condition, but I can still have a friendly bout with her.” With everything on, he rubbed at his chin and explained, “I promised her almost a year ago that when I could fly, we’d have a sparring match, but that’s gotten away from me.”
“Awesome. Can we watch?” Merremia asked, mimicking his thoughtful hand-to-chin pose.
“If it doesn’t make Miss Sakuya angry. I think today’s a good day for this sort of thing. I imagined once the Incident was resolved, all of Gensokyo would relax from having been on edge so perhaps, for instance, Miss Meiling might not have to worry, and the Mistress might be more forgiving for a flight of the guard’s fancy.”
“Spring’s back!” the fairy cried, and he smiled. She fired light from her fingers and cheered happily, fluttering in place. When she was done celebrating, she put a hand beside her mouth as if to tell him a secret, saying, “But, I think winter mornings are just as good as summer or spring ones, or fall.”
He nodded. She grinned.
“Other than that,” he continued, “I don’t really know what I’ll do today.” He yawned greatly, and scratched at his head. “Perhaps I’ll study? Talk with someone?”
“Whatever you want, Sir Gen!” the fairy maid said, and patted him on his head twice. With this part of the morning routine finished, she blast wind into his face with a playful shout, fell to the floor laughing, and tripped backward as she went out the door. He fixed the fringe of his hair, and thought on what to do.
Due to its “lateness”, this year’s spring wouldn’t last long, and most everyone in Gensokyo wanted to bask in it as much as was possible for them. Thus, he imagined he could find Scarlet Devil Mansion’s head maid in its gardens that morning instead of its halls, and he did.
Gen walked out the front doors of the mansion and winced at the bright light of the Sun. He basked under it for a moment, let wind blow through his clothes, and after his eyes adjusted looked out to see Sakuya tending to the Mistress’s flowers, cleaning the stone pathways, and sometimes taking a moment to just stand and breathe. She looked to be in a good mood, and he wondered if his presence might ruin that.
But, he walked forward instead.
“Miss Sakuya,” he called, “good morning. Can I help at all?”
And he had been right; the maid’s expression soured as soon as his voice fell on her ears.
“Gen...” she said as he made his pace slow, reluctant, and awkward, “how many things do I want to hear from you?”
He stopped, and looked to flower petals swirling in the sky. Having an answer, he turned his head to her and announced, “You look very good today, despite yesterday.”
“Gen, why might it be that yesterday would make me bad in some way today?”
He rubbed his chin, “Well you did go off to resolve the Incident.”
“What happened on my way?”
“You did find me,” he answered, planting his unslung hand on his hip.
“Ohh, Gen...” the girl sighed, shaking her head and touching around her left eye with all five of her fingers. She squatted before a bush of camellias, brought a knife into her hand, and began to carefully cut it into a pleasant shape. “We hardly talk, yet you somehow seem to have taken after me in your time here.”
“How so?” he asked, knowing what she meant.
“You know,” she glanced at him, “and that’s why you know I won’t tell you, isn’t it?”
“You didn’t tell me whether or not I could help,” he reminded her.
“You can talk to me,” she said, slicing off a maverick branch, “I do feel like talking to you.”
“Alright. Then I shall wistfully admire the Mistress’s gardens while we chat,” he replied, and began, thoughtfully, to do just that.
He bent before another bush of the same flowers, his back to hers, and examined them with an inquisitive touch. “I should apologize to you, Miss Sakuya,” he evenly declared.
“For lying to you.”
“Not helping you.”
“Consorting with youkai.”
“Being at least somewhat responsible for the Incident.”
“Not finishing our rematch.”
“Hurting you fairly badly regardless.”
“I’m pretty sure that I grabbed your breast.”
“You did,” she answered, turning to him. He felt her eyes and turned as well. “So?”
And he innocently sounded a “Hm?”
“Where is this apology you should deliver?”
“Hmm...” he sounded, now pensively. He faced away from her, put his elbow in his palm, and as was usual for him held his chin in thought. Sakuya looked at him with a pout that showed disappointment in spite of meeting expectation. Her ear perked up and she squinted, and the boy faced her again with a smile, cheerfully saying, “Tada!” as he revealed between his hands a bouquet of almost countless flowers, blossoming then and there as he lifted his left hand to give them room to grow.
“A bit hard to support with just my left,” he said.
“What on—...” the girl uttered, glancing to her sides and seeing that all the flowers there were accounted for. She was, unexpectedly, surprised.
“I don’t know the language of flowers,” said the magician, looking over his bundle of nature, “but while in the garden, and with this concentration of spring, it doesn’t take much to craft more than a few. Still, these are some of the nicest I think I could come up with, and I’d like you to have them as a gesture of sincerity in my saying this:” he presented her with the bouquet and proclaimed, “I am quite the awful human being, and I apologize for being so. Miss Sakuya, I am sorry for my actions of the past day.”
She fully faced him now and examined his work. The bushel was a collage of pink, blue, purple, red, white, yellow, indigo, green, and mauve, crowded with peony, puschkinia, lilac, camellia, snowball, beautybush, forsythia, daffodil, winter aconite, tulip, crocus, bridalwreath spirea, and rhododendron. It was fragrant, gorgeous and very comely life. She found herself admiring it, blooming with such vigor that if she were to reach for it she could hardly hold the bouquet in both her arms, but she held her hand back from her want to touch it. In her brow, he saw that she was conflicted.
He continued to talk, “Naturally they will not expire – Master wouldn’t have me learning any faulty, street-artist magic like that – but there is a catch.” She looked up at him then, quizzically, and he explained, “For every time I betray you, or this mansion, one of these flowers will wilt.”
There was quiet between them then, aside from the sound of joyous birds and fair folk caring not for the moment. Sakuya did not know what to say. He spoke again. “I wanted to make a promise,” he continued, turning up his left palm to show a new stem of forsythia grasped within it, “and that is this: I promise, as a fellow of this Mansion, that I won’t play its enemy again. Not unless we agree on it,” he finished with a smirk, and then spoke a different spell which made a gust rush forward over her, pick up her headpiece, and drop it on the bushes at her back. Immediately, the sun-colored flowers in his hand lost their color and fell away. “Or, of course, I just decide to break that promise.”
He put the dead stem down and gave her his gift. She received it in a modest fashion and, eventually, found her lips turning up in spite of herself. The two servants stood, she with a lot of flowers, he with empty hands, one of which now in his robe’s left pocket.
“... I have some things to say before I put these in my room,” Sakuya finally spoke, largely hiding her face. “The first is that your last action that required apology...”
“My last?” he repeated.
“Your last,” she confirmed. He saw her half-lid her eyes as she told him, “It was extremely bad of you.”
Ah, he thought, her breast.
“For that transgression,” she said, “you will have to listen to me and complete any of my requests for the next four months, whatever they are, and at once.”
“My,” he commented.
“I would ask if this is agreeable, but you don’t have any right to disagree do you?”
“Correct,” he answered with a nod.
“Next, I’d like you to have...” she followed, pulling from the magical flora a single white tulip and presenting it to him, “... this. And, I would like to know if and when it withers.”
He removed his hand from his coat and took it, rolling it by its stem between his fingers. He examined it closely, but saw that she had not changed its make at all, and was thus soundly confused. He soon relinquished any attempt at understanding, slipped the flower into his vest’s pocket, and nodded.
“I also wanted to say,” she continued, “that I worry about your actions in combat, Gen.”
Sakuya leaned somewhat aside and began to chide him, “Aren’t you too in love with risks? Does a knife-user like myself have to teach a magician how to stay at range?”
He made a face.
“Oh? ... Really, I wonder if the Mistress just attracts the rash and foolhardy...” she mumbled, casually including herself with a sigh. “You have forgotten my advice, Gen.”
“I haven’t,” he denied, now serious, “I remember what I am.”
“Then, for my last word, I urge you: take that advice seriously, and stop your stubborn courting of death. With your eagerness, it won’t be long now that she will accept your proposals.” She looked at him coldly then, before gently closing her eyes and breathing in the flowers’ scents. She gazed upon them once more, and turned to re-enter the mansion, saying, “If not that, I swear: one day you’ll come back here and you won’t even have an arm to be put in a sling or cast...”
She vanished then, and he felt he’d heard a “thank you”... but was not convinced. He thought to himself for a moment, looking nowhere in particular, and flinched with a jolt of fear as something flew past his face.
“Wh-What!?” he stuttered, glancing behind himself to where he’d heard a sharpened thud. There, perfectly between cobblestones, was one of Sakuya’s knives stabbed into the earth, and through a slip of paper. After a moment’s hesitance, he bent low and freed the dagger to read her note.
Gather the things on the ground to burn. It said.
He looked around himself, and at the twigs and leaves and bits of wood here and there.
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The magician apprentice just turned into the servant's apprentice. Nice.
I wonder if he can look away from elements long enough to try time Magic. Then again, an amateur should focus on a topic long enough to become good at it before expanding... And he barely started using reagents.
I feel like it's been too long so I'm just apologizing for a lack of update here. It's being worked on, but along with other things I'm writing at the moment (three other things, for that matter). Dunno when it'll be done, but at the very least I'll have all my free time for the story in at most two days.
The youkai pinched the bridge on her face, and after a second laughed through her nose. “I keep thinking you’re gonna get killed out there, but, to think the highest possibility is like this...” she whispered. “Does a rough-and-tumble youkai like me have to teach Lady Patchouli’s human apprentice manners?”
“I believe I have very good manners.”
She sighed next, but his damage to her humor was clear. Hong Meiling was snickering, and hiding her smile behind a fist. However, she soon gave a shake of her head and steadied herself. Becoming stern, she crossed her arms, hardened her eyes, and declared, “Sir Gen, you don’t just grab a woman’s breast!”
Gen, who was seated on one of the mansion’s outer walls, pondered this statement while a small crowd of fairy maids hovered behind him, mirroring his thinking gesture. After a moment, he determined: “Hm, but if the opportunity affords it...”
Meiling deeply frowned, but the corners of her mouth were tugging upward upward.
The apprentice and now-servant had done his chore, and after putting his gifted tulip in a borrowed vase at his bedside come to the front gate for a spar with the guard Hong Meiling. She had already chastised him for getting injured on his last excursion, explaining that she wasn’t teaching him tai chi for him to get physical – it was for him to get away. Now she was chastising him for his ungentlemanly hands.
“Twice you’ve done this, Sir Gen.”
“Gen’s depraved,” one of the maids commented. He looked at the girl and gave a half-frown.
“Miss Sakuya, Kazami Yuuka... Wait, no, thrice—didn’t you grab F—!?”
The Magician’s apprentice flew fast to the Gatekeeper of the Devil and put his left hand over her mouth. As the dust from his move settled, he told her in a hushed tone, “Not before the fairy maids, Miss Meiling.”
She glanced at the curious children, nodded once with a wink, and he let go as she put one thumb up.
“Fight already!” came a call from behind. They both stared at the fairies for a moment, seeing them growing agitated, and then looked back at one another to shrug.
“Okay, how about this?” Meiling proposed as she walked toward the gate, Gen turning to watch her. “I will punish you justly for your rude touching. What I think is that you need to get brought back down to earth a bit. Maybe flying’s given you too much freedom.”
“I’ll admit I don’t fully see the problem with it,” he answered, looking off to nowhere, “I’ve never really groped a lady after all, I’ve merely had my palms on uncompromising places.”
“That guiltlessness...” the Chinese girl began to rise into the air while speaking, putting her hands together and entering a stance of concentration, “is a bad habit! Prepare yourself, Sir Gen; I’ll wipe it out of you!” To the cheers of onlooking maids, she threw a palm forward and fell now into a stance of battle, launching a barrage of qi without declaration. The Sun was at her back, rendering her a notably dark shadow against it that was only made discernable in shape by the prismatic aura lining her body. Gen found himself so pleased with the sight – it being so fantastical and strange – that he involuntarily began to grin before slipping out the way of her attack with zeal.
Although the first time he’d seen Meiling fight was against a ship-killing sea monster, since then he’d seen her more often employing patterns and attacks like she did now: pinwheels, flower motifs, and bursts of power. Presently she was spinning shards of red and blue qi in his direction as some kind of warmup, and he was firing back with bolts of flame.
Among the spectators, all were in support of the gatekeeper, booing her enemy’s every avoidance of a wave and movement through gaps. To rile them further, he scattered fire deliberately beyond Meiling and toward them all. They shrank away quickly save for one of them, who caught a round of flame and bounced it between her palms giddily. He scowled at her, and mixed it shots of water. That got her hiding.
When he’d worn Meiling down enough to change into a pure offense, the guard came to notice his evil as a fairy yelped out and went to duck behind the walls. She realized what he’d done, and glared at him with a look that cried for justice. Puffing up her chest, she shouted, “Itou Gen! Your villainy has gone on long enough!” She withdrew a card from a pocket in her dress and made to declare her first spell. “You stepped through my work earlier, didn’t you? Were the gardens to your liking? If so, then how’s this!? Flower Sign ‘Selaginella Nine!’!”
Indeed, the guard’s flower motif patterns were not only a sign of preference. Although Sakuya had been maintaining them earlier, this was only an act of temporary fancy; the gardens of Scarlet Devil Mansion were the responsibility of its gatekeeper. When he’d learned the fact that Youmu fulfilled this same role, he’d wanted to ask Meiling “guards doing gardening: what is that about?”, but he had been keeping his correspondence with the half-phantom secret. Maybe he’d ask her now...
At any rate, the Chinese girl certainly loved pretty things. The fact contrasted harshly with his knowledge of her brutality in unrestricted combat as well as her taste for human flesh but, in spite of this, he did find his tai chi master rather adorable conceptually. Her first spell was, as he expected, nothing much. This too was cute of her. Unlike Master, he thought, Miss Meiling can’t understand danmaku.
Selaginella Nine fluctuated to start, as a flower with petals swayed by wind, and then cast its “pollen” toward him in expanding circles that crossed one another. Avoiding the bulk of it was a simple matter of hardly moving left or right. He captured it not long after it had begun. In response, Meiling clenched her fist, and growled. He looked at her and shrugged.
“Miss Reimu is right:” he announced, “danmaku isn’t your strong suit at all, Miss Meiling.” For his granted round he began a pattern of rampant water and sublight, and while she dodged it the Gatekeeper of the Devil fumed with irritation.
“Yeah, yeah, is that right...” she muttered, eyes closed and still dodging. That irritated him. “You got the Shrine Maiden to evaluate you a few months ago, right? How’d she rate you, Sir Gen?”
“Nicely, in fact, when it came to fighting under the spell card rules,” he answered, and Meiling puffed with dissatisfaction at it. He could imagine what she wanted to hear. “I should say her favorable rating was heaped with asterisks. As in, ‘you’re good for your level, but your good and your level are both awful’.”
Now she was pleased, smugly smiling to herself as she dodged more of his bullets. She threw a punch after a moment, a spread of her qi fired from it as if her arm was a shotgun. More importantly, she had done this after suddenly getting right into his face. Expecting nothing like this, he received all of it, and cursed as his round was forced to end.
How is that power any kind of fair!? he whined in his thoughts, wincing to the sensation of pain rolling over the front of his body.
“Next card,” said Meiling. He winced at her, fishing just that out of his sleeve while she asked another question: “You fought her twice, yes? Once without the rules. How did that go?”
“She said I was too evil,” he replied, holding his card between two fingers, “too much like a youkai.” He declared it: “Water and Sun Sign: ‘Water Park’”.
Uncorked bottles on his belt bubbled and boiled over their brims, and his card shined brightly before bursting into cool droplets. Meiling backed away with caution, but no visible surprise. His spell was one crafted with the idea of “refreshing”. The air before the mansion gate began to heat up.
“Eeehh? What the heck? It’s so hot...!” the guard complained, waving her hand before her face. Gen scrutinized her curiously.
Eeehh... isn’t that reaction too much? he thought, water swirling around himself and the sky, spreading thoroughly as it swirled and splashed and wildly shot out. This spell mimics summer, but not that well. Guess the overlong winter really got to her.
“If you aren’t liking this heat,” he answered, “please, run into my water.”
Some of the fairies booed. Others looked like they wanted to take up his offer.
“Water Park” sent out an endless sun shower, while bullets and streams of summoned water cut through it seemingly randomly. It was a pattern, though; that much one could tell by simply waiting and watching the display, which soon mimicked fountains, spouts, and of course the attractions after which it was named. He and his Master both believed it: this spell car was rather gorgeous, and rather despicable. Coupled with the persistent heat, the arcs and sprays and timed cannons of moisture could compel the opponent to dive headlong into the fray. In this case the onlookers did instead.
A girlish cacophony resounded as fairies suddenly soared over the wall and in-between the opponents at play, aiming to deliberately run into the apprentice’s waves. They gladly started a battle of splashing, the one fire fairy among them taking this fight within their fight very, very seriously. With a smirk of pleasure, he watched the childish madness unfold before him, Meiling having to aim around the maids in order to hit him. With a smirk of arrogance, he imagined she genuinely felt like diving at his patterns, too.
Temptation was clear on her face, but nonetheless Meiling persevered. With determination, a little time, and a visible amount of sweat, she had his card captured, and seeing that he had the feeling that at their respective levels of spell card play this match would not have a particularly spectacular end. Of course, it was at this moment of acknowledgement that she flew forward to him again, bringing with her a kick that cracked the air with its delivery. The atmosphere visibly shimmered, crimson light pulsed, and for a moment he was terrified.
With shock racing through his blood he backed away and immediately dropped down, for her foot carried a surprise. The fairy maids (still floating about their space of play) looked on in awe, making noises of amazement as another kind of shower erupted from the guardsman’s leg: that of a rainbow of qi bullets.
The boy made noises too; a grunt of frustration and then a yelp of fear. Even though he had only narrowly avoided the girl’s opening charge, Meiling held for him no mercy and swiftly brought out another with little time for him to rest. As he dodged, he saw that a blowback of wider-spread, but thinner in density rainbow shots were going off behind her as well.
C-Cool... he thought involuntarily as he backed out the way and saw how her bullets fell.
“Cool!” said Merremia with much enthusiasm, which caused him to reflexively shut one eye. He looked left. His morning fairy was now hanging off his shoulder.
“Away, Merremia!” he growled. She stared into his eyes, and poked his cheek.
Meiling came again, and he grabbed at the straps on the back of the maid’s apron to pull her off his body. He them pulled himself out the way of another rain of physical power, carrying the fairy like one might carry books by a strap. While keeping as much distance as he was able (and for however long), he observed his opponent in all seriousness.
That’s... he began to note without certainty, no, definitely, that’s a hexagram-based glyph! The apprentice spotted it: every time the guard delivered a kick, she supplemented it with some sort of red-star magic. The boy then whispered darkly, drawing light from the sky and from his fairy’s wings (eliciting a “hey!”). Now wielding beams of sunlight, he snapped at the gatekeeper, “Magic! You’re using magic!”
“Just,” she answered, striking at him again and making him flee, “a little!”
“Annoying... That’s annoying, Miss Meiling,” he grumbled. “You were so emphatic when I claimed you used it before.”
“Eh, did you? Was I?” she earnestly wondered aloud. Now he began to glower, and she continued to pursue.
He dragged the fairy maid up and out the way of Meiling’s spread, and the little one cheered with glee as he did so. He squinted at her for a good while, having finally entered a rhythm of surviving and attacking for this irritating round. He peppered Meiling with his own magic, and soon enough made her pull another card that, as he saw it, had him confirm a fact to himself: Hong Meiling really was much too straightforward for danmaku play.
“... You’re looking smug again,” Meiling said with a tone and a grimace.
“Heh, that’s just because...” he started, bringing Merremia out before him, holding under her arms and by her sides, “I’m going to win.” He beamed happily.
After a disappointing match, Gen was now squatted before a fallen Meiling who was dressed in ruined clothing. One fairy was seated on her back and braiding her hair, another was standing on the youkai’s rear and posing with triumph, fists on her hips. As for Gen, the morning fairy Merremia was sitting on his shoulders now.
“You’re lucky Master and Miss Sakuya are better at danmaku than you, Miss Meiling,” he said with a look of sympathy, “because you really suck under the Shrine Maiden’s rules.”
“Go away,” she replied.
With his good arm, he patted her on the open part of her back (clear of fairy butt and also any form of cloth material), “Do you want me to teach you how to create better patterns?”
Meiling lowered her chin to bury her face further into the dirt, answering, “Shut up!”
“Come on,” he shook her, “it’ll be a repayment for teaching me tai chi.”
“Leave me alone, already!”
“Ahh, Meiling...” he drummed his fingers on her body, shaking his head, “we all have things to work on.”
“Just before you become a youkai,” she said, “make sure you fight me one more time, without the Shrine Maiden’s rules.”
He pinched her.
“O-Ow!” she cried with a spasm.
“I won’t become a youkai,” he said.
“Yeah you will,” said Merremia.
“He will,” said one of the fairies flying around.
“Yep,” said the one braiding Meiling’s hair.
“Definitely,” said the one standing on her.
“You all provoke a human’s rage...” he spoke, his eyes losing color. “Shall I show you why monsters fear us!?”
With a playful roar he stood, a tome now in hand and a spell on his tongue. The fairies screamed, mostly with laughter, and flew off as he sent all the elements spiraling up to the skies before the gate. Meiling observed his antics with a hand on her cheek and a pout, but soon huffed with a laugh herself. And, from a balcony on the mansion’s southern face, the master of the house observed the magical display serenely, lightly twirling the bar of a parasol in her hands.
Sorry again for the delay! If you want to know the truth, the things I was focusing on writing had been waiting on me for over half a year so I figured that had higher priority. I feel better now. Hope you enjoy Meiling bullying.
After playing a while, he returned to the mansion to help Meiling recover, then wandered the halls for a time in thought. He wondered again if he was becoming strange within these walls and with these beings surrounding him. The year before, the dark halls of Scarlet Devil Mansion, haunted with light laughter whispered behind corners, put him on edge enough for more than a few sleepless nights. However as he focused further on the lessons his Master taught him he focused less on the queer existence that was Scarlet Devil Mansion: a home decorated and suited for the vampiric undead. Now, he even felt at ease in this hardly candlelit, red-colored place... Making notice of this now, when joking was all done the thought of a transformation for him being inevitable was more likely than he’d care to admit. Much more likely.
He stopped walking and lifted both his hands to push his fingers under his hat and feel his hair. His brow furrowed somewhat from the pain that came from his shoulder, but primarily from frustration. He winced and thought, Gods, I’m moronic. His self-evaluation was thus: pathetic. Childish inner turmoil was boiling in him again.
He pulled his hands free. He rubbed his shoulder and looked at the place near his feet where the floor met with the wall, and he sighed miserably.
He needed to see Wakasagihime.
It should be said it was a terrible idea to see Wakasagihime. It was now noontime according to the clocks he could find in the mansion, which meant Misty Lake would be rapidly taking to its name. Which meant worse creatures would be lurking it. Which meant he would be consciously putting himself at mortal risk.
He always skirted but never stepped on Youkai Mountain. He had only visited the Road of Reconsideration when it wouldn’t be very terrible. He tried not to be out anywhere at night. And the Lake... he was sure to not pass through or by it at noon, having only spent time there during the hour once, and stationary, while in the company of friends.
But his Master had been right when she’d accepted him as her apprentice: Itou Gen was definitely selfish. What he wanted—truly wanted, he would stubbornly, certainly have. He made up his mind, left the mansion, and departed for the Lake.
Gensokyo was a place where the unexplained thrived and remained without even a hint or theory as to the causes behind them. Like this, since and before the records of time the phenomenon of the Lake’s midday mists had remained so: an unknowable phenomenon. Above the lake, white wisps enveloped it too thoroughly: it was near opaque. Gen walked into it from the mansion gate, and on his shoulders and mind wariness immediately began to set in.
The fog of Misty Lake made him feel not only uneasy, but unwell. He was not sure if it was something infused with a kind of supernatural energy, or if the atmosphere was simply and frankly too strange. This was the trouble: not knowing, and being unable to even guess as to why. At noon, this place began to prod the most basic of a human’s fears, so it was not a wonder to him that the hairs behind his neck were prickling in the presence of what had to be several unseen monsters, so hungry that he thought he might soon hear their stomachs growl. In a way, this was like he’d first felt within Scarlet Devil Mansion: traveling through an alien place. And though he knew the Mansion for its close walls and heavy darkness, the bright and open Lake area at this time was no less genuinely frightening. He was certain he would be attacked, and his palpitations—his damnably loud, interminable palpitations reflected that.
He couldn’t make his way in any recognizable direction. He stepped slowly and carefully, with his left hand on the stopper of one of his vials. He could just barely see his feet in front of himself... the atmosphere had gotten so thick that if he held his arm out he couldn’t see his hand before his face. It didn’t feel like spring here, despite his yesterday efforts, and that made him remarkably irritated. Here, it only felt unnerving, eerie, confounding, and dangerous.
With these conditions he reasoned he would not be able to find a safe place to lower himself and use the Mermaid’s Flute Wakasagihime had given him, not without leaving his back even more open than it already was. He listened instead, hoping that despite the fog Wakasagihime would be making the most of the returned spring she could by singing above the water’s surface, even now (with her the likelihood was high). He listened for her voice, and did not hear the bullet racing for the back of his head.
It struck him, and with surprise the cold shot smarted terribly. Cold? Was this some remnant of winter? The thought ended soon as he had stumbled forward from the blow and stepped on too-smooth ground: ice, in fact. He slipped, was toppled, and fell, evidently into the lake. Splashing about and reorienting himself quickly, he surfaced and moved to where he thought was the shore. He placed his hand on grass, much to his relief, at which point a shoeless (but not sockless) foot stepped onto it, toes wiggling. The foot was the size of a child’s. He saw this, and his expression went entirely sour as a single thought rose in his mind:
“Human under my foot!” shouted a young and boisterous voice. “Are you stupid?”
“Often I think so,” he admitted, “like now.”
“Yeah, you’re definitely stupid, walking into the territory of the Master of the Lake at noon!” announced the voice.
“‘Master of the Lake’...?” he repeated. “I seem to recall the Lake’s Master was a kind of fish, not a fairy.”
He looked up, seeing white boomers and a pair of hands on a pair of blue-dressed, narrow hips. Ah... he thought to himself in realization, it’s this one.
“That tiny fish is nothing if I freeze it! I’m the real boss around here!” she boasted, “And I think you’re the other magician from that house on my shore! That means...” the fairy bent down so he could see her face and declared, “you’re one of the guys who stole winter!”
He let out a chuckle and had his eyes fall back on her wiggling toes. “That’s inaccurate, O Master of the Lake. Winter stole spring, and we took it back.”
She gripped her toes in, shouting, “You confessed!” He squinted, as suddenly the air seemed to be glittering. He raised his head to gaze upon the face of the ice fairy Cirno, the cold and blue troublemaker of Misty Lake, who had a hand over her head and was summoning a volley of danmaku. She was confident, arrogant, and small.
He had not met this fairy before, but knew of her from his Master’s warnings (and that his Master had on one occasion snatched and kept one of the fairy’s strange, crystal-ice wings). Contrary to most of her kind, this fairy was surprisingly full of herself (insofar as she tended to lack a sense of danger), as she steadfastly believed in a great strength she did not possess. Miss Sakuya in particular cited this one as a frequent nuisance on walks with Mistress Remilia, or while on errands.
But, despite an initial well of negative emotions to having been assaulted, Gen found himself chuckling again, and then openly laughing. The ice fairy’s power let him see the pattern shining over her head quite clearly, and she entirely reminded him of himself from the year prior. A naive pattern, and the carriage of an egoist. He thought to himself, This fairy is actually very cute, before calling for a curtain of flames that flooded over the area.
“Eek! What the heck!?” the fairy shouted, flailing backward and disrupting her magic. Tears were in her eyes as she fell onto her rear and out of his range of visibility. He recalled his flames, and they rushed toward him, gathering and drying his hair and face. Compressing them with his words, they became a small sun, which he directed to be kept floating over his shoulder.
Gen pulled himself entirely from the water and stood, dripping wet. He stepped toward where Cirno must have been and soon spotted her legs. “So,” he said, “what to do with you?” The trembling Cirno said nothing, though he suspected she was thinking “please forgive me” from her closed-tight eyes and wary posture.
“Hey, how do you usually get through this fog anyway?” he asked her.
Still shaking, she only managed a breaking “H-Huh...?” for an answer.
“You mentioned the house by the lake, so I’m sure you’ve seen its clock tower,” he said, calling to attention the mansion they could no longer see. His Mistress had built it with a large clock facing outward that he occasionally used to keep track of the time when near, but not within his second home. “If you’ve seen that, then you’ve probably noticed that when both its hands point up—” and he lifted his finger for emphasis “—the mists of this lake set in.”
“And like that clock always strikes twelve, the fog always sets in. Every day, at this time. How do you make your way through it?”
“O-Of course, I do what I do with everything...” she said, as her tension seemed to ebb and her shoulders lightened. She sat on her calves and pumped her fists, declaring, “I freeze it!”
“‘Freeze it’? Right, ice fairy...”
“Cirno!” said Cirno.
Cirno continued, “I can make a path through the fog, or I can make it sparkle in spots, and I feel out where I can go.” She crossed her arms and with confidence told the boy, “There’s nothing to it!”
“Hmm, really...?” he muttered, looking around himself. He finally noticed that in some spots of the atmosphere the smoke of the lake seemed denser, and when he put his fingers through it it felt very cold, ice crystals forming on his hand. Casting his eyes elsewhere, he could see more glinting formations clearly showing where movement was possible. Seeing as the ice couldn’t form everywhere, where it didn’t form meant somebody or thing was there—even he could, upon application of scrutiny, make out what youkai were watching him and this fairy and probably waiting to see a human back unguarded again. For Cirno, coupled with her knowing of the lake area, during the midday hour this ability likely gave her the kind of expert tracking of a seasoned hunter. He brought his hand near to his face to see the mist frozen on it, and gave his honest evaluation: “Amazing...”
“Right? Praise me!” the fairy called.
He looked at her and said, “You’re amazing, Miss Cirno.”
Again he examined the air of Misty Lake and said, “I’d never imagine a fairy to be capable of this.”
“Really, it’s a kind of good thought and sense that leaves me envious.”
“Honestly, it’s no wonder you’re famous,”
He let his eyes fall on her again. Even through the so-obfuscating fog he could see that her face had become entirely scarlet. As for his, it gained a catlike smile. He extinguished his ball of flames and spoke quickly another spell.
“Miss Cirno,” he said, having knelt before her, “I’d like you to have this. I know enough about the language of flowers to mean this, and sincerely.” He presented her with a new flower.
“I-I don’t know about flowers,” the fairy stammered, reaching for it cautiously, “is it a dandelion or a daisy? Is it blue?”
“It’s a white camellia, from me to you,” he reached forward himself, and stuck the many-petalled flower’s stem through her short, sapphire hair, and above her left ear. The fairy did not seem to know how to take this act, and he withheld a laugh that was coming out of a twisted love for teasing. He followed his action with, “Well enough of that,” and, “that’s twice I’ve done that today; cosmic forces will be at work to strike me down for my clichés.” He moved his hand past Cirno’s face and stopped it over her spine.
“Eh?” the fairy voiced.
He announced, “Alright, fairy, up you go,” and he lifted her by the back of her dress.
“Haa!? Wha!?” she yelled.
“I’m looking for a mermaid. Let’s chat while you guide me.”
“Eh? Eh!? No!” she cried, twisting and flailing. He held her out away from his body, sporting a pout. “Why should I help you when you’re taking me like this!?”
Still pouting he thought, Perhaps as reparation for attacking and threatening me? before saying, with sympathy decorating his voice: “But you’re so good at navigation here. Can’t you show me more?”
She held her elbow with her left hand and, in a cocky gesture, cupped her chin with her right, telling him, “Y-Yeah? You want to see what I can do? Well, I can help with that.”
“If you will please, O Master of the Lake.”
“Yes! Me, the Lake’s Master, can show you the way!” she told him, pumping her fists again while looking in his eyes. “I know the Lake like the back of my hand, and all the fish guys in it!”
“Thank you very much,” he replied, bowing slightly. “Let’s go then.”
He cast his gaze over his shoulder. It seemed like most youkai had left, perhaps (he speculated) due to his confident performance. One, however, still remained. He had been sincerely hoping the aftermath of spring’s return would calm them all, and give him at least some peace in the outdoors. The mist was too much an opportunity, he supposed. He held Cirno out before him, and began to make his way forward until he turned, Cirno having told him he was heading into the lake.
“So does that mean you’re an outsider? Have you ever got eaten?”
“How would I even get back from something like that?”
“Well, like, if whatever ate you was big enough...”
Gen stopped where he was and thought on this for a moment. A dragon? A giant animal? To be swallowed by something like that... having to escape its stomach...
“I don’t like the sound of that,” he answered, continuing along the shore. “Also, getting swallowed whole seems like something only a fairy would worry about.”
Cirno protested, shooting him a look of irritation while crying, “What!? No way! Outsiders get eaten all the time, but do you ever hear about fairies getting eaten!? No! Of course not!”
“You’re all so small, though,” he reminded.
“I’m strong!” said Cirno. “I’m the strongest!”
“You are undoubtedly powerful for a fairy,” he acknowledged. Even if the pattern she’d shown him earlier had been simple, it had been significant for a being such as herself, both in complexity and density. The fairies of Scarlet Devil Mansions struggled to have such formations, and this was with the head maid’s stringent instruction. Cirno was happy to be praised again, and puffed with pride while smirking with her eyes shut and her arms crossed. He shook her upon seeing this, saying, “Hey, keep looking.”
They had yet to find or hear Wakasagihime, and the youkai at their backs still seemed to be stalking the human of their pair. He no longer knew where precisely on the edge of Misty Lake they were, and he felt as though the landmark had gotten larger than normal (and though he told himself this was naturally because he was moving slower than normal, he couldn’t lose the suspicion). Cirno was proving necessary to him today for more than navigation; her simplistic level of speech and self-aggrandizing personality were very helpful in keeping his mind off the idea that whatever was stalking him could lunge out and kill him at any moment. It would be very simple, and the assailant would not need to rely on the spell card rules. While keeping this fear from overwhelming him, he decided he would never enter the lake at noon again.
He paused. He could hear something. “Do you hear that, fairy?”
“What? That song?” Cirno asked, looking confused. “Haven’t we been hearing humming for a while?”
“... I haven’t,” he informed her, glaring. “You’ve been hearing humming?”
“Mm. It’s one of the mermaids,” she replied with casual certainty.
“You... What do you think we’re doing here? Did you already forget?”
“Uh, what was it again?” she asked touching her lip.
“When I’m back in my Master’s library,” he said, “I’m going to research the language of flowers more thoroughly, and give you another signifying ‘idiocy’.”
The singing voice he was hearing began to come across more easily. From the kind of lyrics he heard, he was certain of the vocalist’s identity.
“Oh my father was the keeper of the Eddystone light, And he slept with a mermaid one fine night,” ... sang the voice, at an upbeat tempo.
“From this union there came three: A porpoise and a porgy and the other was me~ Yo ho hoo! The wind blows free, Oh for the life on the ro~lling sea~!”
He headed toward Wakasagihime’s singing, having Cirno take care that he wouldn’t fall in the water.
As he came closer...
“One night while I was a-trimmin’ out the glim A-singin’ a verse from the evenin’ hymn A voice from the starboard shouted ‘Ahoy!’ And there was my mother a-sittin’ on a buoy.
Yo ho hoo! The wind blows free, Oh for the life on the ro~lling sea~!”
Splish. Splash. As her voice rose in volume from proximity he also heard sounds such as this. Cirno told him to stop at one part of the shore, and he squinted ahead to see if he could spot the mermaid. He did... vaguely; her very female shape, at least, and most noticeably her flapping tail. She was sitting on something near to shore and slapping at the pond below with playful flicks and kicks. As he’d predicted, the mermaid Wakasagihime was in an exceptionally good mood.
He chose to hail her.
“Princess!” he called. “I’ve gotten lost at Misty Lake! Come and protect me!”
The singing stopped, and a somewhat distant reply of, “Eh? Gen?” arrived in its stead. There was a greater splash, and the sound of shifting water, and he threw Cirno toward the lake while turning, the youkai stalking him having finally come for his neck.
Cirno screamed, of course, and despite having expected this, the apprentice magician did not have a spell on his tongue as he faced the monster (which at most he could tell was some sort of diminutive girl). What he could manage... was an almost dodge: a reflex action. He jerked backward, and the girl bit into his damaged shoulder, anticipating his neck. He stared at her hair, rufous in color, and his eyes widened. This lunge had hurt him, but not precisely for the bite—mostly it was just the act of having weight on his bad side that really affected him. His robe and other clothes were thick enough to save his skin from puncture. He wondered what sort of monster she was.
She started to bite down harder. She started to pierce his clothes.
Breathing fast and thinking faster, he decided to cast from righteous light magic, and with a pair of quickly opened vials had it supplemented with salt and metal—specifically silver. He bellowed an incantation, and upon hearing it the beast bleeding his shoulder glared at him. He spoke in two foreign tongues to invoke two potent forces, and returned to his own to meld and direct them:
“रोशनी! दुष्टता को निर्वासित किया जाए! इस आत्मा को नरक में ले जाएं। Ασήμι! Εξαφανίστε το πτώμα και αφήστε τα κόκαλα του κοίλα! Sunder! Tooth of Heaven!”
Two of his books were open, and a glyph scribed with Hindu, Greek, and old Japanese spiraled into vibrant and blinding existence over the girl’s navel. Light warmed her belly, and then grew painfully hot, before it birthed silver and blossomed violently through her stomach in a sparkling and shining strike. A lance mixed of effulgence and metals sprouted from her back like a gorgeous tree, branching toward the sky. She spit and bled over his shoulder, but with tears in her eyes did not let go.
“You too-foul creature,” he spoke, lifting his thumb over her forehead, “voi vindeca această ciumă cu flacără. Burn.” His thumb seemed to be set ablaze, and he pressed it into her skull, whereupon the magic leapt from him and latched onto her, immolating her in seconds. She let go then.
Screaming in agony, the youkai fell from him unfed, and his first spell broke and collapsed like fine glass. The youkai staggered backward, clutching around the point he’d pressed on her head, and crying tears that would dry in an instant. Rather than standing coolly to witness his victory, Itou Gen staggered too, and fell on his knees.
“Haa... hhaa...” he breathed, and his breathing was racked with quakes resulting from his tumultuous nerves. His heart was pounding as though he’d just finished a marathon, and his mind was nearly blank. He did not notice Wakasagihime at his shoulder, nor did he notice Cirno complaining at his left. He hardly noticed the light of the burning youkai before him; it was as if his entire body had paused from being overwhelmed, and his brain needed some time to both process and evaluate what had just happened.
After much shaking from Wakasagihime, and the recovered youkai’s flight from the scene, the conclusion he drew was this: he was a very lucky person, and that was troubling.
Luck had it so that he ran into Cirno first instead of that beast, and Wakasagihime later as well. Without the two factors, he was sure he wouldn’t have had the confidence to risk a close-range youkai-devastator like “Tooth of Heaven”, a spell his Master had taught him for use only in desperation. Further what he realized was that even with his Master’s magic, that weak youkai had been determined to kill him. With exorcism-specific magic scorching its very insides, it bit harder. In the end, what he had needed to survive that encounter was physical reflex, a not-powerful-enough (although it was specialized for this very enemy) last ditch spell calling on three schools of magic, and a spell of purification through fire at a very close range. Again, he only felt lucky, and rapidly felt sick of himself.
“What was that all about!?” he finally heard Wakasagihime, and looked at her.
“Did it bite a part of you off!?” asked Cirno at his other side.
“Perhaps it had some of my blood,” he finally answered, “I’m physically... I’m basically fine, though.” After all, to be physically well his heart rate needed to severely relax.
“That was a youkai, wasn’t it? Speak up, idiot!” Wakasagihime desperately begged for an answer, still shaking him.
He admitted, with a shaking voice, “I-I nearly died again, I guess. That’s the first time for it being that close, though, I think. Yeah.” He smiled, of course ruefully. “Wh-What really scares me... is that that was one of my trump cards—eh, ‘cards’, not... really a.. card and... all. Uhh...” he shook his head, in a bodily attempt to settle his flying thoughts. “That was... my innate specialty, imbued with materials and my own spirit, and that... thing... still almost ate me.” He then laughed hollowly. “I mean, what the hell...? And here I’d thought I’d really gotten strong.”
“What?” the Princess replied flatly, now holding carefully his shoulder. “You almost killed a youkai, Gen. As in you, a human, nearly performed an extermination, not in the modern sense.” She squeezed him gently and continued speaking, “I saw it bite you here—” he looked, and evidently she was touching over the bite marks through his robes “—more strongly, when you cast that first spell. It was almost as good as dead, then. It just wanted to see if it could hurt you.”
“It survived, Princess,” he reminded her, “don’t pity me.”
“It survived because you broke that first spell of yours,” she said. “From what I’ve seen before the Shrine Maiden’s rules took effect, a proper way to kill most any youkai is to pin it and make sure it’s dead. That fire pushed it off, and it got away to heal...” she looked into his eyes, and he saw in her face quite a lot of concern. It was an expression that left him guilty. “It’ll be mad at you now, though,” she continued, “don’t travel in dangerous places for a while, okay?”
“Yes, mother,” he answered.
She punched him on his head.
Wincing from the still-surprising power of the mermaid, Gen grabbed the cold Cirno and pushed her cheek into his shoulder. The girl complained of the warmth, but he kept her there and directly cooled down, any swelling in his afflicted joints and skin reducing.
“I saw that earlier,” Wakasagihime noted, looking at the glaring Cirno, “it’s a nice lamp for the lake.”
“Thank you,” he said with a small nod, ignoring a sharp “Hey!” from his companion-tool. “I was using her to find you.”
“You came to me... during midday? Gen,” Wakasagihime stopped talking for a moment, looking at him with a face now full of incredulity and “this fool...” pity before unceremoniously knocking him on his head again with her other fist.
“Ow! Wakasagihime! Stop!” he complained, letting go of Cirno to hold his skull. “I’m traumatized right now, girl!”
She punched his wounded shoulder.
“Hell’s bells, woman!” he shouted, almost rolling backward into the lake as he clutched his upper arm. It was apparent the fish princess would not be satisfied with “almost”, as she followed him from her place in the water to sternly poke his body while staring him down.
“You don’t,” she said, and poked, “come in,” she poked again, raising her voice, “to the Lake,” she followed up, pushing him to the ledge, “at noon!”
With one final poke he was nearly pushed in, but he stopped by gripping the earth. Breathing heavily again, he awkwardly picked himself up to look at the Princess. The Princess filled her mouth with water, which she then spat into his face as if she’d become a fountain. He fell in.
Another grand splash resounded. Gen, sputtering, yelled in anger, “P-Princess!” and she must have heard his call, for she arrived beside him posthaste, and dragged him underwater. He continued to yell.
Caught in a mess of bubbles and swirling water, he did not notice Wakasagihime maneuvering to his face until she was already there. She held his cheeks in both her hands, and brought him in for a kiss.
Gen’s eyes went wild in a rush of bother and confusion, only somewhat ebbed from the pleasant sensation of the Princess’s lips that he rather steadfastly did not want to enjoy. She released those lips from his, and looked at him somewhat plainly. He complained immediately, shouting “Princess!” once more, and looking even more bewildered that he had spoken perfectly clearly. More bizarrely, it seemed like he was breathing air.
“That won’t last long,” she told him, taking his hand in hers. “Come along, unless you want me to kiss you more,” she teased, smirking over her shoulder as she went on ahead.
He did. He did want to kiss her more. But now was not the time.
Meanwhile, the ice fairy and Master of the Lake, Cirno, hovered above it looking in, coming to the slow realization that in more ways than one, she had definitely, certainly, and rather thoroughly gotten very lost.
>>66648 Yeah, like with previous chapters that's the "idea" of this one. All in all I'm trying to make sense of an outsider's survival in Gensokyo, even granted they can use magic. That is to say he needs to learn several lessons and not be as big-headed. He's had a tendency to entirely forego spacing in significant encounters for instance and outside of regulated spell card duels will often compensate for a lack of power by using high risk, close range spells (which I think I've made clear he completely enjoys for the thrill of it). Personally I hope it makes sense given his motivations and desires, but basically this was his major "oh, that was really quite dangerous" moment. Not Yuuka (as Yuuka was so powerful it was more like a freak accident), but some random and not particularly noteworthy youkai which he TENDS to deal with easily however, he hadn't willingly put himself in the same sort of risk until now.
Chardev is cool, but voting for something that sounds relatively safe, and only then being told it was a really dumb idea, feels like railroading, and that detracts from the fun a little. Especially if you do it repeatedly.
It's a fun read regardless - everything you write seems to be awesome, adorable or both - but by the time Gen was whimpering about his latest brush with death I was rolling my eyes and groaning, which really killed the immersion.
But I seem to be the only one who thinks that so nevermind. Have a cute Patchy.
>>66650 It's kind of one of those cases where I neglected to explain danger because danger is somewhat implicit should you know things... which I haven't necessarily actually STATED in the story. Misty Lake gets Misty + outside is dangerous is about all I've said in this story. I mean all of Gensokyo is dangerous without certain protections (only one of which Gen sort of has -- freedom in SDM), but Misty Lake is a highly trafficked youkai watering hole that becomes low-visibility at noon (which would've been approaching after Gen's morning activities). Basically it was a bad choice to make, but I didn't make that clear (for better or worse? I kind of like setting up ways things could go wrong, but if you try to logic me out you can see a few potential roads).
More importantly I personally think that if this idiot isn't regularly put in danger then things aren't legitimate, given the whole Gensokyo is deadly thing. The problem I have personally is putting him in danger and making sense of how he survived. Him being a magician helps a lot, I think, since if he was truly ordinary and lacked magic I imagine he would've been dead on the first day he got outside the mansion. There are also times he could get permanent damage from a choice, but none have been made so far. In this case I was hoping a small encounter having more severe ramifications would be a decent wake up call. Sorry to disappoint, but I hope future developments will please you!
The human was dragged to the bottom of the lake. There he noticed nothing in particular, which had him confused. The mermaid pulling him continued to swim, however, and brought him to the sands below. He looked at her, all the more confused.
Wakasagihime placed her hand on a nearby mound and wiped it a few times. It shook, and dirt fell off of it, and he noticed, shimmering above the thing, some hard-to-see and very translucent tube reaching for the surface. He looked now utterly bewildered, not noticing the Princess opening a hidden door on the mound – a proper door, comprised of many shells – until she was already carrying him through it. He looked about rapidly, having much information to absorb.
And so, closing the door behind him, he entered what he took to be surely the mermaid’s home: a small and modest chamber of small collections (stones, of course, but also jars and gadgets for instance), a pile of thick cloth that may have been a bed, a few sitting pillows, a table, a rocking chair, and a window aimed toward the sky. He looked twice at the window. It was not glass that it was crafted from, but some sort of... was it a bubble? The room itself was walled like the milky and shifting-color insides of a seashell, and he went to kneel before it and give it a touch while Wakasagihime swam to the ceiling to fiddle with something.
The wall felt, also, like a shell. He immediately assumed this was a mermaid’s design, and not kappa-tech. That meant this was another of his encounters with blatant fantasy, and examining it he was left quiet in fascination. The water in the Princess’s home began to drain, and the sound brought him out of his thoughts.
The bizarre tube connected to the top of his friend’s home drew the water out of it, and left Wakasagihime’s abode dry as well, replacing the water with oxygen. Soon, even without the Princess’s aid, Gen could breathe while below Misty Lake.
“What is all this?” he asked, looking up at the ceiling where the strange “vent” was attached. “It has to be mermaids’ work, right?”
Wakasagihime, after smoothing out a rug under her table that expanded to the entrance, crawled toward her rocking chair and pulled herself into it, sighing. Once relaxed, she answered him, “Mermaids are friends of humans,” she said, “I really meant that, you know?”
“This... This is for humans?” he asked, his eyes looking everywhere.
“Well it’s my house,” she said, “but the Sighni’s Pipe is for humans, yes. We can also give a few minutes of our ability to breathe underwater to those we kiss.” She began rocking slowly, looking up on the supposed pipe. She told him, “Because we think ourselves friends, and that we know the sea is dangerous, though beautiful, we don’t want anyone to die tragically in it.” She looked at him, and smiled.
Gen made himself more comfortable, crossing his legs and still looking over his companion’s home. He decided to first ask her, “‘Sighni’s Pipe’? That’s Nordic, right? Was Sighni a mermaid?”
“That’s right,” Wakasagihime said with a nod. “While we mostly believe in the rules of nature insofar as it’s kill or be killed... the wrath of mother nature itself is too cruel. During storms, humans would often be drowned on the oceans and seas just like that. Sighni was a sympathizer... We all were, but Sighni was a craftswoman and expert of magic. She conceived and designed these things that could create living spaces for humans underwater.” The Princess closed her eyes and chuckled, “Because after all, during a really bad storm getting to shore could be much more dangerous than bringing humans down to the depths.”
“How does it work?” he asked.
“Huh? How would I know?” she answered, looking at him with twisted eyebrows and laughing again. “Do you know how a ventilation system works in a mineshaft?”
“You have a hole that goes to the surface,” he replied, then thought, “... or... I’m not sure it’s that simple, but...”
“Yeah, and the Sighni’s Pipe also replaces water with air and prevents new water from getting in until it’s been turned off. I just know that it’s a good device, I couldn’t make one.”
“Fair enough,” he said.
He began to search through her things, finding familiar and very unfamiliar objects there. He felt the pillows by her table and was surprised at how dry they were. He found where she seemed to keep her clothes, and decided looking more than that would be ungentlemanly.
The Princess watched calmly a while, but decided to speak up again after seeing him at her collection of pebbles. “So,” she said,” what made you come out to the Lake when it was foggy, anyway? Spring is back! You should’ve been celebrating in the mansion!”
Gen put down a smooth and red stone, and turned to face the girl.
“... I,” he started, wincing and frowning somewhat, “I guess since it’s been a year, and I’ve been through so many crazy things, I’m losing my sense of danger.”
“Even if you said it earlier, I’m not your mother, Gen,” said the Princess. “How am I supposed to remind you of something you should know just from being alive and mortal?”
“I guess that was the other thing: I was wondering about if I might become a true magician again,” he replied, his eyes closed.
“It’s too much effort for me to get over there and punch you in your head again, so do it for me,” said Wakasagihime. He refused, and she crossed her arms. “You seem like you’re serious this time. You’re seriously thinking about it, huh Gen?”
“I would say I work like this, Princess:” he began, eyes open now and addressing her with his palm up, “I want a little too much, and due to Master Patchouli’s expectations in me, and my own attitudes, I try a lot.”
“Among a lot of other things,” he admitted. He thumbed his chin and continued, “I basically just want to be awesome.”
Wakasagihime groaned, and her expression told him she wanted to tell him to get out of her house.
“Listen,” he said, leaning in, “using magic is really incredible.”
“Hmm,” was the only noise she made.
“When I first arrived, more than wanting to go home I wanted to use it for myself. I had the chance, and I took it,” he clenched his fist, gazing into the pattern of her green carpet. “And what’s bad is, I’m realizing that this body is too limited for great magic.”
“You,” said Wakasagihime, grimacing slightly and slumping in her chair somewhat, “You definitely sound like you’re going to become a magician.”
“So here’s the deal:” he followed, now looking at her again, “it’s a whole big mess. Power, immortality, evil, the soul, fear, superstition, belief, requirement, humanity... if I think about even a single one of these things it’s like a floodgate opens in my head and I get stuck. I really get stuck, because I absolutely don’t want to become a youkai.”
Wakasagihime did not answer for a time, only looking him up and down with her arms folded again. She eventually said, “Hm, you’re serious about that too, Gen?”
“I’m really not joking when I say that,” he said, almost pleading. “I’m still a human. I was born outside Gensokyo. I’m, like, totally split here.”
“Hehh...” the mermaid sounded, still scrutinizing him. “Then, okay Gen, here’s the real deal:” she spoke, changing her posture to rest her cheek on the heel of her hand, “don’t become a youkai, and stop acting like one.”
“Huh?” He didn’t get it.
“You’ve become like a youkai, Gen, not like a cheeky joke” she said. She began to flap her tail lazily, explaining to him thusly: “You crave power, you want to fight, you want freedom in Gensokyo, and you go for it, heedless, all the time. It’s a good thing I’m stuck in the lake, because whenever I see you acting like that it’s very hard to not slap you.”
He did not answer.
“When we got caught by that thing in the lake, that couldn’t be helped, but everything else you tell me, and the times I catch you fighting lakeside, those can be avoided or handled better. Do I have to tell you? Me, huh?”
“Tell me what?” he asked.
“Play safe, you idiot!” she snapped, almost squealing with anger. “And if you don’t want to be a youkai, be a real magician!”
“Uhh??” was the only noise he made.
“How does that Patchouli even deal with you?” said the Princess, wearing a mask of disappointment. “You just need to cool off and learn, and when you’re in danger like a magician you should be playing smart.” She frowned, glancing away before acknowledging, “I guess that’s hard for someone stupid.”
“Harsh,” he answered, brow furrowed, “you’re being kinda mean, Wakasagihime.”
“Then don’t be stupid, and be safe,” she said, relaxing further and moving her palm over half of her mouth while she leaned to one armrest. “You know what I think whenever you come to see me?”
“‘Thank goodness he’s alright’,” she told him. “Because what I think every time you leave is, ‘will he get himself killed tomorrow?’ I said it, didn’t I? Mermaids are humans’ friends, and we don’t want you to die needlessly.” She winced, and wouldn’t look at him. “Watching you march off like that, not taking every safe step, not thinking far enough ahead, or worse seeing what’s ahead and running forward like it’s nothing... it’s like watching someone dive willing into Charybdis. You’re nothing like a true magician, are you?”
“Huh, well,” he was unable to formulate a proper reply, thinking that frankly, this was oddly illuminating for him. Reimu, Sakuya, Meiling, Marisa, and his Master had all told him in parts where he had to improve, but Wakasagihime had cut to the true core of it: that he was, really and honestly, not thinking like a magician.
He stared off into nothing again, his expression stern. That was it: that was why Patchouli was so often upset with him, wasn’t it? She’d implied as much before. It was nice that her student could hold his own despite this and despite that, but when he wasn’t being an entirely proper student, he was surviving on broken principals. She may have been fond of him by now, but Master Patchouli did not respect him. He found that more than anything – more than his love of thrills, more than his love of a fantastic spell card, more than his fears and so many other worries – the idea that he would not be deserving of his Master’s honest praise and approval upset him foundationally. He wanted to return home – to the library.
“Ah, you look set,” noted his friend, perking up a little, “You want to go home? I was hoping we could talk about me a little today, you know?”
“I—” he began, intending to deny her, but he dropped this and acknowledged another of his faults again: his selfishness. He straightened up and told her, “Actually, I really want to hear more about what’s been going on with you, Princess.” He was honest. “How’d you handle winter? How are you holding up?”
She smiled genuinely. “I didn’t feel it too bad. There were a few nice stones that I found since winter was longer than normal.”
“That one!” she pointed at a white-flecked rock amidst others of many colors, and told him how it kept winter’s temperature even now into spring. There was also a case of a kappa frozen in ice falling to the bottom of the lake, and her discovery of other special rocks. Eventually, side by side, they examined the things she had gathered, talking of trivialities for once. Talking of mermaids, and of convenience stores. Of vehicular flight, and of myths. For a moment or two, he felt guilty he had not done this with Wakasagihime as often as he’d have liked, but for the joy of conversation this guilt had been fleeting. They lost track of time, pleasant in each other’s company, until long after the mists above had faded.
2 choices When he returned to the Mansion, he absorbed himself in
My reasoning here is Gen needs a solid look at how to not become a Youkai, and while looking up stuff on Magic could help, he sort of already does magic a lot already. Sakuya would be a good authority on the whole 'being human' deal, and he could use with an opportunity to build some trust there, anyways.
>>66658 Hasn't said it outright, but generally he's not comfortable with losing his humanity because he's not completely sure what it means and it worries him. It would also be a much more permanent decision than just hanging around in Gensokyo as a student. If he ever has second thoughts, becoming a "monster" might mean he could never return to the outside world. He also thinks living forever sounds weird, and doesn't have any particular reason to abandon his mortality.
> it was a bad choice to make, but I didn't make that clear
This is the bit I'm talking about. Unclear choices hurt a CYOA. If readers know an option is risky, they'll vote accordingly. If something completely out of their control happens, they'll accept it. But the protagonist doing something they would have voted against is like a cutscene in a video game forcing you to do something you know is stupid - it feels cheap, whether it actually is or not. I've been on the other side of this conversation more often than I'd like, and I've lost every time.
You did tell us way back in thread one that Misty Lake gets misty at noon (which is the only place I've seen that besides the wiki - you've done your homework), but later in that very thread Gen and Wakasagihime were cheerfully drinking the day away at that very time. And it's very hard to tell what time it is in a written work in the first place; when the vote came up, I assumed it was still early, and we'd be able to find Wakasagihime before the fog set in, like last time. Given the knowledge that it wasn't, I would have voted for something else.
...which I did anyway, since I thought more study would help grind the suicidal tendencies out of Gen. But of course I now see I was wrong, and this is better for both him and the story. So, since I still seem to be the only one with this particular bee in my bonnet and I like the result more than what I actually voted for anyway, it's time I shut up and let you keep being awesome.
Just don't Bad End us without warning. Pretty please.
>>66665 That I will avoid, and if I don't explicitly telegraph THIS IS A WORRISOME CHOICE I'll try to make it more obvious through details within the story what the implications of certain choices could have. Really, should've said it was nearing noontime because as my mother always says: you shouldn't make assumptions (in this case, the assumption that readers can read my mind), because it makes an "ass" out of "u".
By the time he returned to the mansion, evening was not many hours away.
“So keep that in mind,” Sakuya reminded him, “because I will have to escort the Mistress to Reimu’s party once night falls. We’ll be going late to save the Mistress’s skin.”
“Yeah, thanks again,” he said from his chair, bright-faced in his zeal.
“Don’t mention a word of it. Here,” she handed him a tome, “this should be a better start than the one currently in your hands.”
He took it: another untitled tome, most likely authored by his Master. He and the head maid were in Master Patchouli’s library and researching youkai. He’d asked for his fellow human’s help in finding books as well as in discussion and understanding. He sat before a table piled with books he’d already been meaning to read, while Sakuya stood at a nearby bookshelf that... seemed to be having its contents periodically changed. It was a bit strange to see before his eyes, but he knew already that along with his peer’s manipulation of time came the ability to somewhat manipulate space. Hence the library never felt quite the same, even when sitting in it for hours on end—Sakuya would regularly manipulate its area and layout. He did not know if this was to discourage intruders, assuage Sakuya’s boredom, or to irritate his Master.
He put down the large, earth-colored book before him and opened it to his Master’s preface (and from the writing, he knew at once that it was his Master’s). It read so:
The dilemma of being a Magician Youkai is that we Magicians, although possessing great power, no need of sustenance, and optional eternal life, are for the most part, physically the same as humans. In fact, we are often lesser as a result of our means of experimentation. At the time of this writing, I have already become anemic for instance... Although I possess the dark power of a youkai, I can still be attacked by others who may ignore my energy and aura or simply confuse me for a human. This has also happened...
This is a book of countermeasures... or more importantly avoidance, to not have to contend with the more bothersome sorts of evil beings who may try to attack me in confusion or in malice. Keep your friends closer, your enemies closer, and unknowns near to your heart. The unknowns—youkai—will be known through this book.
He thought to himself after reading this, Why didn’t Master Patchouli give me this book to read when I looked for bestiaries before? He frowned, Just didn’t want to show any of her weakness, I’m betting. Chewing the inside of his bottom lip, her turned the pages over past the table of contents and to the meat of it: the entries.
... And he soon began to notice a trend.
Nothing to fear. Nothing to fear. Nothing to fear.
Every log and detailing and summary of a youkai began with these words. Had this been written by anyone other than his Master, he’d have suspected this to be a kind of self-fulfilling mantra, but as he knew her he was sure this was an honest and matter of fact evaluation of each and every other monster Master Patchouli could think of. It might become a mantra for me, he thought.
“Master Patchouli definitely wrote this,” he said.
“As you know, she wrote most of the books in the library,” said Sakuya, putting down another pile of books and having a seat on the right side of the table, so that she was beside him. His Master was elsewhere in the library at the time, penning another for the collection now that she’d conducted experiments using the souls of the dead. He was still deeply impressed that much of this incredible space was dedicated to one person’s works of only about a hundred years.
Looking at Sakuya, he saw that she now had a teacup, and seemed to be going over the books they had chosen and set on the table. She drank from the cup and meticulously dragging her finger across the spines. Briefly putting it down (on a plate that had not been there before), she continued speaking, “That book you have now was helpful to me when I began my training with knives under the Mistress’s tutelage. Like Meiling, Mistress Remilia wanted me to be capable of fighting and winning against anything.” She smiled, tapped the ridge of her teacup, and caught his eyes to follow with, “‘Like Meiling’ is a funny thing to say in this context, isn’t it?”
“Miss Meiling is quite strong,” he replied seriously, returning his eyes to the book and turning another page over, “though it is a funny thing to say. Did you see me against her earlier today?”
“Did I see her not working and then losing against our most recent resident? Yes, of course,” Sakuya answered. “That youkai needs to shape up.”
“Hmm...” he mumbled. He was now reading about beast youkai, and the many ways they manifested.
To this point, he had only looked into what he imagined would be local problem youkai he might stumble across in his work and trips, and his greatest focus had of course been on magic. He knew basic means to deal with just about any monster, but his Master’s specific details were proving illuminating. The beastlike nature of beast youkai, for instance, was something he hadn’t really gathered in his limited exposure to them. They to him seemed more manlike than animal, but reading these entries now he determined treating them more as animals would prove beneficial. Give a fox some tofu, spook a rabbit, attempt to intimidate those that would, as ordinary animals, succumb to intimidation... These means would all be much more conservative than to just rush into battle, without mentioning the potential safety of these tactics.
He leapt in his seat, a strange noise arriving at his ear. Slurping!? he thought, and looked to his right to find Sakuya over his shoulder, hand on the back of his chair. She was sipping tea while beside him at a deliberate volume. He shot her a shocked and vaguely angered look, but she only commented on what he was reading.
“How many times have you encountered beast youkai, Gen?”
“Not... too... often...” he answered, leaning away from her. “... Perhaps thrice, all in all. I try to leg it if I ever hear or feel anything suspicious, if I can.”
“Did you know how to identify them from ordinary animals?” she asked, looking at him with a smirk. “They’re not all in the shape of men and women, you know.”
“I didn’t know, actually,” he said, “though I know youkai don’t have to look human, and I’ve seen as much. There are youkai that look like animals completely?”
“Oh yes,” said Sakuya, standing up straight. “Patchouli and other youkai can tell them apart from feeling, assuming they are not disguising themselves like tanuki or foxes, so she doesn’t mention anything about identifying them in this book, nor any of hers in the library.”
He returned to normal posture, and waited for her to continue.
“The best way to tell is that they don’t often act as ordinary beasts do. Truly, their behavior is often slightly... off. It’s not something so easy to explain, as it’s best to know more about fauna in general before you begin to notice. You should come with me on some hunting and leisurely trips through Gensokyo, Gen; you could build up knowledge through observation that way.”
“A very kind offer of you, Miss Sakuya,” he said in earnest and with a chipper face.
Sakuya shrugged with exaggerated motions, her now-empty teacup vanishing from her hand. She said, “I do not want you to embarrass Scarlet Devil Mansion,” and went to the other side of the table to continue evaluating books.
He returned to the book before him again, saying, “In that case, might you have some other general advice, Miss Maid?”
“It is likely I do,” she said, bending over to look at an awkwardly placed column of manuals, “but I am rather together, Gen—I don’t think about most of what I do, I act upon what I know, feel, intuit, et cetera. You’ll have to give me a prompt to recall any specific advice.”
“Fair enough, Your Elegance,” he answered dryly.
Sakuya nodded politely, and continued. “My best advice is to read these books,” she told him, nodding now at the pillars of paper and leather on the table. It was then he noticed there were not as many as before, and saw tall in her hands most of the books he had chosen to put down among the others. “Not these, though,” she said.
“You.. You’re sure? I thought those looked... I mean, I thought they looked good... to read...” he mumbled, watching her walk over to bookshelves surrounding them, smoothly and almost acrobatically replacing the books one by one.
“I’m sure. Not that these have no use, but...” she slipped another in and showed him a pleasant, cheerful expression, “... for your needs, save them for another day, month, or year.”
“Hmmmm, okay...” he replied with reluctance, and a little disappointment could be easily detected in his voice.
“You really know almost nothing about youkai at all, Gen,” she said, smirking again. “I would say it’s amazing you’re still alive, but I’ll grant that you do indeed tend to remain to safe places when you wander Gensokyo.” Finishing her task, she faced him with her arms crossed, leaning against the shelf she was before and relaxing. “The books you intended to waste time on might increase your vocabulary right now, but not your capability.”
He had decided an assortment of mythological texts for reading, which would have kept him aware of even rare creatures in Gensokyo. Those were essentially all the ones Sakuya had decided to return.
“You will need to pace yourself when it comes to studying behaviors, strategies, and countermeasures. Prioritize what you can really expect, first. Retain that crucial information. Pacing matters for you especially, Gen, since you are clearly not very interested in any of this.”
“I-I’m interested!” he lied.
“You’re intrigued. Or more accurately: awakened to necessity. That’s what compels you, and that’s fine,” she said, now taking out one of her knives. “It’s boring stuff, I know.”
He looked at her, looking at her knife, in quiet. She, as always, looked entirely cool, calm and collected, even with a knife so close to her eye. He still only ever saw the breathing motions of her body if he ever spotted her asleep—she carried such impossible composure, really.
“Were you ever flustered in life, Sakuya? Ever?” he asked.
She glanced at him, and spoke after a moment, “... You’re inconsistent with the ‘Miss’, hm?”
“One day I’ll drop it entirely,” he said. “So?”
“Of course I have not always been composed. I had a childhood and I’m still an adolescent, Gen.”
“Still?” he asked. “In all seriousness.”
“In all seriousness,” said Sakuya, “you shouldn’t ask a woman about their age.”
“Oh, right, uhm, my apologies.”
“I have told you about my past troubles, due to my powers. There were many times then that I lost composure. You have surely also noticed by now that I anger easily.”
“It’s a composed sort of anger, though,” he noted.
“Goodness, Gen; just let me tell you that I am also imperfect.”
He looked at her pouting face and thought back to conversations with their Mistress. Mistress Remilia had informed him that she had “lost track” of how many years Sakuya had been at the mansion. Thus, he imagined that although she was not immortal, Sakuya’s “time” was being manipulated. It would explain her near-perfection, but also give him less confidence in himself.
“If you think that it is only a matter of vast experience that I can brave Gensokyo as if it is nothing,” said Sakuya, “you are right.”
It felt as though an iron lump had dropped inside of him to hear this, and his face reflected that disappointing feeling. However, Sakuya reassured him by saying, “But if that... ‘ordinary magician’ who lives in the forest can do near the same, you should carry more faith that you can get... a little close to me.” Sakuya did not look at him as she mentioned Marisa, so she did not see the enthusiasm return to his face. Indeed, Marisa was younger than him and had admitted herself that she did not travel Gensokyo fearlessly, only confidently. Although in his human lifetime he could possibly not reach Sakuya’s level of will and strength, he still had her to help him, and could still assuredly improve.
He read for a while longer, Sakuya eventually getting another cup of tea and sitting on the back of his chair, watching dust fall over the library. When he saw her doing this and gave her a look, she only said, “It’s a bother to clean,” and continue to relax. He finished the book, having made notes in his own journal, and continued onto another, and another, Sakuya chiming in or being called on regarding this or that beast and this or that method of handling something throughout his research. They also discussed common youkai haunts for a time, in general and in Gensokyo, which let a surprising amount of weight off his mind.
Later, while reading about mermaids, he mentioned to Sakuya, “Miss Sakuya, why don’t you become immortal yourself?”
And she, seated behind him, told him this: “Because being what you are is too precious to change.” He looked up at her, and her down on him. In the little light of the library, her pale figure did not demonstrate humanity at all, he thought. But, her words told different: “A name can change, a position can change, or a profession, or a place of living. Indeed, even your being can change, but I believe it should not.”
She spoke in an even tone as she delivered the core of her reasoning: “I am Izayoi Sakuya, Maid of the Devil, Resident of Gensokyo... titles, names, roles; but nothing ‘always’... With that said, I have always been human. I am the human servant of our Mistress, and that is what I will ever be.”
“So many people speak with conviction here,” he said.
“You have, too,” she observed.
“I think it’s contagious.”
The maid chuckled, and checked her breast pocket for her watch. “Look at that,” she said, “I must be off. Will you be joining us?”
Pick one or the other, but give your choices for companionship for both choices, in case the other wins.
 Yes. (attend the party, stay with, in particular:  Reimu  Marisa  Remilia  Sakuya  Yuyuko  Youmu  Alice ) Pick up to three.
 No. (stay and study with:  Flandre  Master Patchouli  No one ) Pick one, of course.
We should check up on our ghostfriends, especially since we haven't had the opportunity to interact with Yuyuko yet. (Or, if we end up staying back, getting Flandre's perspective on our situation would be interesting, too)
A weird voting method, but I understand its purpose.
My choices were made to maximize knoweldge on the topic of self preservation while being a human without including his master, as Gen so wishes to avoid showing such weakness. I think she'd be proud of him for realizing his limits though.
Except Youmu. That was purely waifu factor. Too soft~
I think I can see Gen possibly being the bridge between Remilia and Yuyuko meeting which would be amusing to me (I can't tell if it would go very well or very poorly) and Sakuya could be asked for input and commentary about the guests as a whole as they go.
 No [x] No one - Of the no options presented, Patchouli is so far beyond our skill that even she recognizes at some level that she can't properly give Gen the fundamentals and Flandre is so far removed from the youkai topic that I'm not sure she'd be anything other than just someone in the room.
Enjoy this long update. Actually too long for thp so I had to split it in two.
[X] Youmu [X] Alice [X] Reimu [X] Remi
He looked to his book of notes (noticing only now with a break of flow that his left-handwriting was... genuinely not ideal) and put the quill he’d been using between its pages. He looked up and behind himself after to say, “I think that I will. Let me tell Master Patchouli first and I’ll meet you at the door. You did say I should pace myself after all, and I should probably cool off.”
“As you will,” said Sakuya, and disappeared. He stood then, marked where in the tomes he had left off, and began to wander through the library’s rows in search of his dear Master.
“And here we are,” said his Mistress, landing before him and his fellow human, “the miserable stairs of a poor human. Unkempt as ever, aren’t they?”
“They are, Mistress,” said Sakuya in agreement. Gen was silent, looking over the Shrine’s staircase and surroundings with curious eyes. He hadn’t seen it or the hill it was on before without any trace of snow.
“We will, of course, walk from now on,” said Remilia matter-of-factly, “and look, the Sun is down;” she indicated to the sky for the both of them, where now hung the Moon, “I won’t be needing this anymore.”
His Mistress, who had been carrying a broad parasol, now closed it and handed the fanciful and girlish item to her second servant. She ordered simply: “Gen.”
“Yes, Mistress,” he answered, taking it and hanging it on his right wrist.
With it given, the vampire looked him up and down with a charming smile and a confident pose before declaring: “You look very cute.”
“Thanks, Lady Remilia.”
His Mistress only huffed with pride, her eyes closed. She turned from her two humans and started up the stairs, only to trip and fall, her wings spreading in shock. He started toward her at once, while Sakuya looked happy at his left, and walked past their Mistress without extending a hand. “Watch where you’re going, Mistress Remilia,” she said, and continued up the stairs.
The boy among them stopped at his Mistress’s side and offered his good hand, which she took and used to pick herself up, growling all the while. When he saw her face, he puffed with laughter behind harshly closed lips. She glared at him.
“Very well, Gen,” she said, “now you must escort me hand in hand up the stairs. Enjoy my cold touch, boy.”
He smirked at her demeanor, and kept her hand, saying, “Please, Mistress: you know this is a reward if anything.”
“Of course it is!” she answered, and they were off to follow Sakuya, who had not waited.
The Hakurei staircase to the same-named Shrine was quite pretty, he thought. In the outside world, he had lived somewhere where the night sky lacked stars, and on those Gensokyo nights when he got to see it, he was always taken aback for a while at the swirling, fantastical cosmos spreading overhead. On the staircase, it almost felt like he was ascending now into the Heavens, with a Devil in hand. There was a sound of joyousness in the distance, but mainly from the surrounding trees he could only hear the little things of the earth, loudly crying now that the season had finally turned: as if to scream “I am alive!” He squeezed his Mistress’s hand, feeling some significance to this time and place.
“You look happy,” she observed, “do you like the underside of Sakuya’s skirt so much?”
He turned his head to the vampire quickly, wearing a glare. “That isn’t where I’m looking!” he snapped.
His Mistress pointed upward, looking to tease. “It’s a nice place to look, though,” she said.
“Don’t tell Miss Sakuya that I said that, Mistress. She’ll kill me.”
“She will, won’t she! Ahahahah!!” his Mistress laughed, and then grinned, her left arm bent elbow out at her side in her childish glee.
Scowling, he continued to make his way.
After a few minutes (or so it felt), they neared the highest point, and Remilia spoke again. “Do you still keep my gift?” she asked.
“I always do,” he assured her.
“I appreciate that, Itou Gen,” spoke his Mistress in cool honesty. “Come now,” she said, “let’s enjoy bothering Reimu.”
He nodded, and they crested the hill where Sakuya stood waiting.
“DRINK!“ roared a child’s voice, and a storm of cherry blossoms, shining with moonlight, blew over him.
He stood still, Remilia gently removing her hand from his and giving Sakuya a look (arms crossed), before joining her to enter the Shrine grounds.
Although when last he’d seen the Hakurei Shrine it was in a state that could only be described as “sorry” (and indeed still it was looking no better from a perspective of maintenance), at present it seemed to be bustling with excitement and gaiety, likely for the party had been going since the afternoon. The Shrine’s now blooming cherry trees were also showering the scene in a lovely and almost dazzling pink and white hue that made it splendor to witness. There were youkai reveling here, and he thought even one had the look of a tengu, but at the center of the chaos before him was Hakurei Reimu, looking the happiest of the bunch with Kirisame Marisa under her arm. More than the few other humans there, eating and drinking with monsters beside them, it was that little girl’s glowing face that told him there was nothing to worry about whilst on these grounds.
He hadn’t noticed while ascending the stairs with his Mistress, but there also seemed to be a band playing near the trees. Or... they weren’t playing, it seemed. Three flight-capable girls in distinct colors (red, black, and rose-white) were... perhaps manipulating(?) three separate instruments floating beside them to give song to the festivities. They brought strings, brass, and what seemed to be a keyboard of all things to the Hakurei’s gathering, and a festive, distinctly loud and somewhat messy song was being cast out from their direction. Although rough, it did not seem the party-goers minded the almost-noisy tune.
Still standing dumbly beneath the shrine’s torii, Gen returned his eyes to the guests surrounding Reimu. He wondered if he might find Youmu and her Mistress there, and in short order he did.
Moving first to a spread of food for one skewer of dango and another of fish, he intended to swiftly approach the dead and a half pair, but stopped after taking a single step toward them. With recollections of the day before, and a worry about the awkwardness of his self in general, he froze there, reconsidering an approach so forward.
Gen began to worry. Although he had become quite familiar with Youmu, he recalled that with parties he had nowhere near the same acquaintance. Sweating there, and with his heart beating nervously, he stood in front of the table of food, nibbling at his skewer of fish with a pale face. Chewing anxiously, he attempted to look as though he was appreciating the flowering trees while glancing toward Youmu now and then. After a little time had passed, he sighed, squinting at the earth instead.
The fates had mercy on him then, however, as when he stole another look at the half-phantom, he saw that she was looking at him as well. When she caught his eye, she waved toward him with a pitying glance that he wasn’t sure he understood, and beckoned him over. He looked behind himself at the no persons there, and began his uncool walk toward the girl of his sad affections. As he did, he came to understand her look of pity.
On Youmu’s lap was a significantly piled plate of food, and at Youmu’s side was Saigyouji Yuyuko, the Mistress of Hakugyokurou, eating from it plentifully. He approached them, and offered a greeting of, “Good evening.”
Youmu’s smile was still one of pity (he now knew toward herself) as she sat in seiza, while Saigyouji Yuyuko looked up at him with her doe-eyed faced, her seating posture a heart-catching yokozuwari.
“Oh my,” said the full-ghost of the pair, touching her lower lip with her left hand and setting down a pair of chopsticks in her right, “if it isn’t the boy from the Outside World. Welcome to my party.”
“It’s my party!” yelled Reimu, to his surprise (as it had not registered to him that the child was really very closely sat by the pair from the Netherworld). “This is a celebration for my resolving of the Incident!”
“I resolved it,” said Marisa, still under Reimu’s arm with her eyes now sleepily closed, and looking very red-faced.
“You got in the way,” grumbled Reimu, looking at her friend. After a moment she looked at Gen with a bright grin and said, “Like this guy! Hey, Gen, drink up! Have a seat and a dish! Go on, go on!” She splashed her own dish of alcohol in a boisterous gesture while addressing him, and he stiffly nodded while following her command.
“You can put those down on our plate,” said Saigyouji Yuyuko, looking at his skewers. With an “ah” of notice, he did so.
“Ah,” echoed Youmu, seeing his move, but elaborating no further than that. He raised an eyebrow as he looked at her.
“Here, a dish,” said the ghost beside him, handing him a sakazuki. He took it, and began to realize that without the floating spirits gently following this woman, he would not have taken her for dead at all. “Your cup,” she said, holding a tokkuri. He held the dish she’d given him up, and the Ghost Princess of Hakugyokurou filled it with the smooth motions of a thoroughly experienced host. He felt his face blush.
“Th-Thank you,” he said as she placed the tokkuri down among a large circle of others and picked up her own dish.
“Youmu, you too,” she said, and her servant took up a sakazuki as stiffly as he had. “A toast, to Gensokyo’s safety. Cheers!”
“Ch-Cheers,” the half and full humans said, stuttering in the same manner. They drank, and when he finished he put his sakazuki atop his crossed legs and reached for his now-barren skewers. He made a gasp of confusion then, looking at Youmu, who looked at her Mistress, miserable.
Saigyouji Yuyuko had her left hand now entirely over her mouth, and her eyes were closed. She said, “Delicious~” and he was astonished.
He opened his mouth to confirm his suspicions, and heard Reimu’s voice instead of his own: “‘Gensokyo’s safety’!? I don’t want to hear that from you!”
“Oh? What do you mean?” asked Saigyouji Yuyuko, genuinely confused. Reimu growled at her, reminding Gen of an angry dog. Yuyuko looked all the more concerned, mumbling “I don’t understand...” before turning to him and speaking again. “It is very nice to meet you, Gen. I am Saigyouji Yuyuko, Youmu’s master. I understand you are the one who helped my Youmu with her gathering of spring. That was very bad of you, you know.”
“Uh—” unused to her pace, Gen could only manage this, pausing after to compose himself and answer in seriousness: “Yes, I apologize.”
“Yes, you should,” she scolded, “Youmu doesn’t know aaanything. You shouldn’t have helped her, and should have let her learn on her own!”
“Oh,” he answered, thinking just after, Hm? That’s what she meant?
“L-Lady Yuyuko...” mumbled Youmu, blushing with embarrassment.
“What is it? Youmu. Speak up,” said her Mistress plainly.
“I-I’m...” managed Youmu, and he saw her quickly glance at him before staring into her sakazuki with an even more scarlet face, “I’m still young!”
Now he blushed.
“Oh, Youmu,” said Yuyuko, almost squirming with delight as she reached to her servant and began to pet her hair. Youmu squirmed as well, and he saw that she was not sure whether to smile. “You’re so cute, aren’t you?” continued her Mistress, following with “Hey, hey,” as she poked the half-phantom’s cheek. Youmu’s ghostly half twisted in the air behind her, and seemed to try to hide at her right side. Gen, who was still stunned from secondhand embarrassment, began to understand the gardener a little better.
Eventually he could talk again, and said “W-Well, I have a bad habit of helping, I’ll try remedying that.”
“Hmm?” replied Saigyouji Yuyuko, looking over to him, and she said no more than that.
“Ahem,” he cleared his throat, fist before his mouth. “I am honestly sorry that I had to try to stop you, Lady Saigyouji. I thought it would be for the best.”
“My name is Yuyuko,” she said.
“Ah, Lady Yuyuko.”
“My name is Yuyuko,” she repeated.
“Y-Yu... Yuyu... ko...” he said with painstaking effort and an expression to match.
“Talk to Youmu now,” Yuyuko casually ordered, standing up. “I will go see the flowers of earth, in their inelegance.”
“Hey!” came an expected shout.
“The beauty and majesty of these gardens, minute as a cat’s forehead, can of course not at all compare to that of those in the Netherworld.”
“A cat’s...? Jeez, I’ll send you to the Netherworld,” threatened Reimu, and with a fresh smile to the Shrine Maiden, Saigyouji Yuyuko walked toward the musicians and the cherry trees behind them.
“So that’s your master,” said Gen, watching the Ghost Princess stride away.
“Yes, that is Lady Yuyuko,” answered Youmu, almost in resignation.
“You seem to be a lot better, by the way, Youmu. I’m happy to see you in fairer spirits than yesterday,” he told her, taking up Yuyuko’s abandoned chopsticks and awkwardly grabbing some beansprouts from the cornucopia on the plate Youmu was steadying.
“Yes,” said the gardener, turning her lips up only slightly, “I had just needed to face a trouble I’d been having head-on. I also... I also have decided to hold onto the hope that my Master is still out there, and that his departure was a lesson I have yet to understand.”
“Oh?” he commented while munching.
“He, Lady Yuyuko, and Lady Yukari, are all adults who are hard for me to understand, but I am sure that in time I will have a grasp on it all.” She showed him a determined fist, smirking a bit with building confidence. “Until then, I’ll try to just be sure of myself first! I will follow the way of the sword that I know, and be certain of it! More certain! Absolutely certain! So, thank you Gen!”
He stopped chewing. With the simple innocence displayed in her face combining with her hopeful words, he felt as though an arrow had been shot through his heart. He quickly looked to the left, and then the sky, chewing again as his gaze shook. Bad...! he thought. This girl’s purity is too much...!
“Y-Yeah, don’t mention it!” he said, floundering. He pulled his eyes toward her again, and they went wide as his gaze fell on her neck. He noticed that it was exposed, her tie loosened and the first button of her shirt undone. His gaze sharpened as the thought of Collarbones...! fired through his mind. He tried not to focus any further on the sight. Not her small beads of sweat clinging to them, nor the tapered and smooth way they seemed to curve out of his sight, nor the motion of her throat when she drank another cup and sighed with heat, nor the way her chest rose and fell with the steadiness of her breath.
He tore his eyes upward to meet with hers and said, “You know Youmu...!” pointing toward Reimu’s entourage with the chopsticks he was holding, “My Master is here too! Well, my Mistress: Mistress Remilia!”
“Ah, the vampire?” asked Youmu with interest. “Is it that girl in the pink dress by Reimu? The winged one?”
“Yes...” he answered, already calming down. It helped that, at the time of his witnessing the Mistress, she was clinging to an irritated Reimu while squeezing a rather uncomfortable Marisa’s face in with her stomach. He continued, saying, “She can be unreasonable, but she’s done a lot for me since I got here, and she’s quite admirable.”
“Lady Yuyuko is not very admirable,” said Youmu frankly, which surprised him. “I am her loyal retainer all the same. I would do anything for my Mistress.”
“Well that’s good,” he said, “insofar as you must like her very much then. It’s not good what you two tried to do to Gensokyo and that tree.”
“I have to follow my orders,” said Youmu flatly. “Would you not do anything for Lady Remilia and Miss Patchouli?”
He thought about this, staring at Youmu for a moment before his eyes began to wander and his expression began to shift in thought. “At present,” he eventually started, “I don’t think that I would, honestly.”
“Gen, that’s terrible,” responded Youmu at once and with all honesty, a look of pity again on her face. He shared the look, and continued.
“My masters are the kind who could whimsically send me to my death should they be at all bored. I will have to say no sometimes, and it is expected of me if I’m being truthful.”
“Hohh... to your death...?” repeated Youmu seriously, sipping from her dish of new sake.
“The Scarlet Devil Mansion is a bizarre place run by bizarre people,” he said truthfully, though looking at Remilia he followed with, “but I’ve come to like it. I would do... near anything they would ask of me.”
“You need to work on your loyalty,” said Youmu, “I would half-die for my Mistress.”
“You’re already half-dead,” he told her, frowning.
“Ah, you’re right!” said Youmu in shock. He looked at her with concern. “What on earth...? I’d forgotten...!? Could it be the moon, driving me mad!? Could it not affect me while in the Netherworld...!?” The half-phantom held her head, staring into the source of her present conundrum in her other hand.
“You’re getting drunk,” said Gen, pointing at her sakazuki. “It seems that you’re a lightweight, Youmu.”
Again to his surprise, Youmu giggled at this comment, beaming at him and saying, “Heh heh, yeah, I am. Do you want to hold me and pick me up? I am very light in weight, you know!”
She held her arms out to him.
He put his hand up, and looked away from her while a blush spread over his cheeks and to his ears. As he answered, he glanced at her open collar several times in spite of himself. “I-I’ll pass,” he said, “in fact, I think I’ll leave you for a moment at least. I should take the time to talk with Miss Reimu and my Mistress while I have this festive opportunity.”
“Very good,” said Youmu, serious again as he stood up, placing his sakazuki down beside him. “I will guard Lady Yuyuko’s food. Be vigilant, Gen!”
“Uh, right, I will.” He put down the chopsticks he’d been using where he’d gotten them, picked his sakazuki up from the ground where he’d placed it, and walked toward the vampire, maid, magician, and shrine maiden.
“Oh ho, if it isn’t Gen, finally deciding to join his lord after escorting her to a party.”
Gen stopped before his Mistress, and with furrowed brow looked away before answering, “... ‘Lady’, Mistress?”
“Master of Fate!” said Remilia, squeezing a groaning Reimu and Marisa tight to her, “Your fate in particular, Gen!”
“Mm, yes, Mistress Remilia.”
With this, he sat on his knees before her. Remilia finally released the humans, and Marisa collapsed, her head falling on Reimu’s lap where she proceeded to sleep and drool. The Shrine Maiden flicked the magician in her cheek a few times, but it only made her friend readjust for comfort. Giving up, Reimu continued to drink, using Marisa’s head as an armrest.
“It looks like you get along well with the Hakurei, Mistress Remilia,” Gen commented. As he did, he spotted that Sakuya beside her seemed to be nodding off while sipping from a cup.
“Of course, it’s me after all,” bragged his Mistress. Reimu only glowered at her while drinking.
“So,” began Gen, turning to the little girl, “taking all the credit for resolving the incident, are you?” He smirked at her, and she turned her glowering on him, pulling the cup from her lips.
“I recall you being there, Gen,” she said, “but I don’t remember you fighting with that ghost.”
“I ‘fought’ with the tree, with Marisa’s help,” he told her.
“I didn’t need any help. I just needed my seals, my gohei, and my needles, like always,” the shrine maiden insisted.
“Well, rewrite history as it’s being made, little girl; I probably would be safer kept out of it anyway, and a Marisa even more big-headed than usual would just give me and Master a headache.”
“Reasonable,” said Reimu. “You get how this works. You want to take credit? Learn to fight first, and how to dodge before that.”
“Learn something first before first?”
“It’s easy,” she said.
Ignoring this nonsensical advice, he told her, “As a matter of fact, I’m going to learn how to avoid fighting altogether for now.”
“That’s even smarter,” Reimu told him, drinking more.
“Now is that so...?” his Mistress remarked, drawing his attention. When he looked at her, he saw her presenting him a filled dish, and realized shortly it was his. She delivered to him a composed look, and he took it to mean “be honored”. He was.
He took the dish and drank from it as his Mistress continued speaking, her mouth a perfectly devious-looking shape, “I appreciate your boldness every day, Gen, but you really will die by keeping up the way you’ve been going you know. Does Patche know about this change in direction?”
Finishing his cup, he answered, “I told her just today, before we left for this flower-viewing.”
“What did she say?” Remilia asked.
“‘Huh? Since when did you grow sense?’”
“Kyahahahaha!” his Mistress laughed, holding her stomach.
“She said that as punishment for being stupid for so long, she wouldn’t help me on this new front I’m attempting.”
“How cruel of her,” said the Devil.
“I haven’t seen that shut-in for a while,” Reimu cut in, “how’s she doing?”
“Master is doing great, and she isn’t a shut-in,” Gen replied.
“I invited your master, so why ain’t she here?” the girl asked.
“Busy,” he answered bluntly.
“Reimu, Reimu, listen to this...” his Mistress began, and the two of them turned to her. At this point, he noticed that Sakuya was fast asleep, sitting perfectly straight. The vampire continued enthusiastically, talking animatedly with her hands, “Patche made a replica of the Netherworld’s Hakugyokurou!”
“She’s still researching things about it,” he elaborated.
“Hmm...?” moaned Reimu, showing some interest in her eyes.
“It was a gift to me, and I will allow you to come see it if you like!” Remilia offered, touching a hand to her chest as her wings fluttered happily.
“I may take you up on that offer,” said Reimu, “because going to the real Netherworld is kind of a pain. Does it have real ghosts too?”
“That would be useful in the summer then. Or was it phantoms that were cold?”
“Sakuya caught both, and as well she gathered soil and unique cherry blossom petals,” explained Remilia, clasping her maid on the shoulder and waking her up,
“Hn?” was the only noise the maid made before quickly dozing off again.
Gen observed this small conversation worriedly, thinking that tampering with departed souls was really not the best thing to do (even if he had done so himself under his Master’s instruction).
So, he said as much.
“Shouldn’t you be worried about messing with the departed, Miss Reimu? The Mistress is already a lost cause.”
“Hey,” snapped his Mistress, who he did not give even a fleeting glance.
Reimu shrugged. “Nobody’s perfect,” she said, “and I’ll take my imperfections to the Yama in the end. She can judge me then, my good deeds and my bad ones.”
Spooky... he thought. Reimu’s so at ease with mortal life. I mean, I guess I sort of am too, but I’m not sure I could say what she said that easily.
“It’s those souls’ fault for not escaping Sakuya,” Remilia said. “They should’ve had more sense than that. How’d they even get caught!?”
“... That’s a good question,” he replied.
“Is it anything like catching rabbits?” Reimu asked.
“... They’re dead,” said Gen.
“What do dead people eat?” asked Reimu, looking at Remilia.
“I’m not dead,” said Remilia, shaking her head.
“Aren’t vampires undead?” the shrine maiden asked.
“As you can see, I am clearly alive!” his Mistress insisted. “And if I were undead, I wouldn’t be dead!”
“Un... I... guess?” pondered the Hakurei, looking puzzled. “But the undead are moving corpses?”
“I wonder if they can think if their brains are rotten,” said the vampire, arms folded as she seriously considered this.
“Let’s ask Sakuya, then.”
“Sakuya’s brains are totally healthy!”
“No, about catching ghosts.”
There was silence for a moment before Reimu spoke up again.
“... Our Sakuya is asleep. Please write a memo for her to read later and submit it as the standard mailing rules dictate. Before the witching hour.”
“‘A memo’—? ... I don’t have any paper.”
“Gen probably has paper.”
“Wait, why don’t we just ask a dead person?”
“Are there dead people here?”
“I think those two are dead.”
What is this conversation? thought Gen.
“Hey ghost!” Reimu called to Youmu, “What would you eat to fall into a trap!?”
But Youmu did not respond. She was chuckling to herself while hugging her phantom half, and seemed oblivious to the world.
“Tch, useless huh?” said the callous Reimu. Gen reminded her that phantoms were not ghosts, and further that Youmu was only half of one anyway. “... Hah?” was the shrine maiden’s response, before she began to lecture him about phantoms, ghosts, and departed souls in general in surprisingly great detail (more surprising was the fact that at no point did she prove phantoms were equivalent to ghosts, nor did she even try). Meanwhile, Remilia began to stack sakazuki atop Sakuya’s very still head, enjoying the rare moment she had caught her maid sleeping before bedtime.
After Reimu’s lesson was done, she seemed to notice the music the trio on the outskirts of the grounds was playing, and seemed to favor it. She insisted that everyone come to join her before the little concert the strange girls were performing, but not before carefully removing the meter-high stack of cups on Sakuya’s head that Remilia had managed. She ordered Gen to bring the sleeping girls (Sakuya, Marisa, and now Youmu) inside her home, which he reminded would be difficult with his one good arm. She told him then to use one good arm, and one bad.
He was not happy with this answer, but still proceeded to listen to the child’s command. With much effort done, he put all the girls in Reimu’s room. He found quite a few futons to use, which reminded him that despite her lackadaisical veneer of aloofness and simplicity, Reimu was a genuinely helpful person. In fact, if he ever asked she would still take him safely to his first home, just like that. What a mysterious girl, he thought, covering Marisa with a sheet and refitting his hurt arm in its sling. Looking over those asleep he also thought, So Youmu’s phantom half is tethered to her, somehow...? At any rate, she really is quite light. Sakuya was the only one who made my arm hurt, really.
... Better not tell her that.
He left the room, and went to sit on the porch with another cup of sake. In the distance, all those of the party were cheering to an even-louder-than-before band. They played a high-energy rendition of Sakura, Sakura, and seemed to have the crowd enraptured. Appropriate, he thought.
“Won’t you join the cheering, sir?” came a woman’s voice. He looked up, and saw another familiar blond.
“Alice,” he said, pleasant in voice and expression, “I had been hoping to see you before the night ended. Sakuya mentioned you got in her way yesterday.”
“Yes, I got in all three of their ways,” she replied.
Alice Margatroid sat down at his right, and he saw that she was also carrying a cup of sake. Noticing his noticing, she said, “I also have a tokkuri,” lifting such a flask and chuckling.
“So why’d you fight the three of them?” he asked, and jumped slightly as he noticed a petal fall into his dish and float on top it. He relaxed considerably at the sight.
“I was merely having some fun, nothing more or less,” she said. “We youkai do love our fun.”
She looked over at the concert, and he followed her gaze. Someone had begun firing danmaku to light the trees and skies, and flowers were still scattering throughout. He looked over the dark and emptied grounds, petals all over it and glinting through the air still with the aid of Selene. The human village below lit fires to stave off the night, flickering distant in his sight. He put one foot over his other thigh, and smirked. It was indeed not as beautiful as what he had seen in the Netherworld, but it was still very, wholly, warmly wonderful.
“How’ve you been?” asked Alice. “I see you’ve gotten another injury? I’m sorry you had to carry the girls inside.”
“Shoulder definitely hurts,” was his reply.
“I have very good fingers, you know,” said Alice, wiggling said fingers beside him. “Would you like me to give your shoulder a massage?”
Gen looked at her, and naturally wanted to refuse outright, but decided on sighing through his nose with a closed simper worn on his face instead. “If you aren’t teasing me, please do,” he said, pulling off the top of his robe, unbuttoning his shirt, and properly exposing his shoulder. “I’ve really not been treating this thing nicely over these last two days.”
“Alright,” said Alice, setting down her dish and getting up on her knees behind him. She pressed her fingertips into his body and he winced at once. “Don’t suck it up if it hurts, little apprentice. Tell me so I don’t end up making things worse.”
“Got it,” he replied.
And she got to work.
He was surprised to find that, despite initial discomfort, Alice seemed to actually know what she was doing. As if reading his thoughts, she told him, “This is only a soft tissue massage; anything more wouldn’t do you any good.”
“What favor do you want for this?” he asked.
“Hmm... how about...” she started, pressing her thumbs into the right base of his neck. She bent in toward him and smugly suggested, “a lock of your hair?”
“Absolutely, Miss Margatroid. Let me pledge my soul to you,” he said, his words soaked with sarcasm.
“I would actually like a lock of your hair,” she continued, “but only to experiment with voodoo.”
“Then please ask for something else,” he replied.
And she laughed.
She continued massaging him, removing stiffness and pain from his injury, the sensation like rivers of warmth and gentle relief draining out from the hurting area. His mouth squirming to the simple, clinical pleasure, he thought more seriously about how he might repay this at a later date. “So I overheard you talking with the vampire and shrine maiden;” Alice said eventually, “you intend to focus less on your power and more on your survivability, hm?”
“Eavesdropping...” he said.
“At an open party, it’s hard not to,” she replied, smoothly dragging the heels of her palm along his muscles and making him reflexively keep one eye shut.
“Well, yes: I’ve decided on trying more earnestly to save my skin from now on so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” he told her. “As my mermaid friend puts it, I need to be a magician who acts like a magician.”
“What a novel concept,” said Alice.
“And don’t you know all about novel concepts, playing with dolls through magic?” he quipped.
“You won’t ever miss that beat whenever we talk, will you?” she asked, rotating her fingers over the upper right of his back now. “Lift your arm, I’m thinking of rotating it.”
“Alright. Also no, Alice, I never ever will,” he answered, doing as instructed.
“So even as you learn better survivability skills, I can expect you to be as rude as your master, hm?” she noted, rotating his shoulder slowly and looking over his arm thoroughly, eyes distant.
“You’re looking so seriously,” he noted before reminding her, “but I’m not a puppet so don’t think you can gauge my wood grain from sight alone.”
“The sass on this boy...” Alice whispered, grabbing both his upper and forearm while looking at him. “I’m still a youkai, Gen. Don’t whittle away my kindness.”
“Now it’s whittling, then?” he swiftly replied. “Only got wood-working on the brain?”
“As much as you have your unfriendly and airheaded Master on yours,” said Alice.
“For an eye, I will take an eye,” said the youkai magician with a little grin. “By the way this really isn’t looking the best, you know? We magician’s already have weak bodies as it is, so you shouldn’t be pushing yourself with physical demand and injurious danger so frequently. You’ll just break down.”
“Yeah, I’ll try... Why is it that so many people aside from my Master tell me things like this?” he wondered aloud. “Takes her quite a bit to even acknowledge these sorts of faults...”
“Because the way your Master loves you is in how you impress her, Gen,” answered Alice in fact. “I’m surprised you haven’t gotten that.”
“Auh... Master... loves me...?”
“Now now, don’t be disgusting,” she chastised him, and he blushed as she kept at it.
And in time, she finished, the concert still ongoing. She sat beside him, and took up her dish. Looking at it, and him getting re-dressed, she proposed, “How about a toast?”
“Sure,” he said, slinging his arm once again and bringing up his cup after filling it. “What to?”
“To what else but magic? Cheers, Gen,” she lifted her cup and he touched his to hers.
“Cheers then,” he accepted, and they drank.
Alice took up the tokkuri between them and refilled their cups. “And to spring!” she declared.
“Cheers,” he said, and they drank again, Alice replenishing their dishes quickly.
“And of course, to the wonder of puppetry,” she announced next.
And they both clicked their cups and shouted “Cheers!” before downing their spirits. After, Gen realized what he had done, and realized he was likely drunk at this time.
“I’ve gotten you...” said Alice, hugging her knees close and pointing at him with her free hand. She snickered, and he laughed once, dryly.
“Well, haven’t you,” he said.
The trio at the edge of the woods announced their last song.
“Have I ever told you about the time I used a form of puppetry myself?” asked Gen.
“You... have not done that,” the senior magician answered.
“Then allow me to regale you... with the time I managed to topple the two greatest youkai exterminators in Gensokyo.”
“Yeah, I feel as if... it’ll be a little while before I have things as exciting as that in my life again,” he admitted. “Anyway, I had just finished shoveling snow from the shrine due to my Master using me as a bargaining chip, and Miss Reimu was getting very, very drunk...”
He told the story.
Alice told one of hers, and of her encounters with a certain flower youkai.
The party didn’t end with music, but began to wind down into a quiet atmosphere.
And soon enough, his first night so far away from the mansion in Gensokyo came to its peaceful end.
Three months passed after the Spring Snow Incident’s resolution, and now during summer his Master had begun acting strange. In fact, the entirety of Gensokyo had gotten strange, himself included.
“Gen, do you have the wine?”
“Yeah, in this pouch along with brandy and sake, Master.”
“Very well. Let’s get going.”
It was near the end of the day, and he and his Master were leaving the library to attend a gathering. Furthermore His Mistress, Sakuya, and even Lady Flandre were all prepared to join the flower-viewing party at the Hakurei Shrine to which they were invited by Marisa. Marisa had also sent a different invitation four days prior and they all, home-inclined included, gathered at the Shrine. Four days before that, there had been another accepted invitation. Four days before that, another. And another. And another...
One might have suspected that the ordinary magician was pulling a prank if a thought was ever given to question her invitations at all, but no questions had even been considered, let alone asked, and Marisa herself seemed to be sending invitations as if it was only natural to do so. Faithfully, humans, kappa, tengu, ghosts, vampires, fairies, phantoms and all other kinds residing in Gensokyo would come to the Hakurei Shrine for a party once every four days, always at night, to drink and be merry without a second thought.
But, as Gen followed his Master up the basement stairs, watching the motions of her back with less than innocent intentions, he came to realize:
Of all people, why would Patchouli Knowledge attend parties, and so frequently?
It wasn’t that his Master hated socializing. In fact, at every flower-viewing he could tell that though she was always quiet, it seemed as if it was The Girl of Knowledge and Shade that enjoyed these gatherings the most. Each night, she would sit beside him, her closest friend, or the party’s edge relaxed and serene: merely pleased with the atmosphere, overheard conversation, and the abundance of alcohol. This did not strike him as unusual even now, but that his Master had decided to regularly, and frequently, leave the Mansion and Library to spend time on what was not reading or research was enough to make him awaken to an understanding that so soon after the end of the previous incident, and under rather mysterious motivations, someone had started another.
When they finally arrived at the Shrine Grounds, he also came to realize that he might have been the last to notice this.
The Hakurei Shrine was certainly festive and full of joy, as every previous event had been, with many songs being sung and toasts being made. However, every attendee looked a bit worse for wear, and there were many slightly worried glances being shot at and between whoever else was there.
He mumbled a spell to reflect light in his hand while standing beneath the torii with his Master, and looking into his crafted mirror realized that he, too, was looking haggard.
He had been doing very well so this was worrying to him. While refining his combative magics on the side, he had mainly been focused on practicality in the last few months, and so had had no harrowing encounters since a monster had nearly caught him at Misty Lake. He was without stress or injury. He found that, thinking about his weak-looking face more, he considered this all to be deeply concerning.
It was then he noticed the mist.
Behind his back, as he could see with his summoned mirror, there seemed to be a thin and violet mist floating through the air. He jumped with surprise upon seeing it, but thought at first that it might have been the result of a flaw in his casting. He looked over his shoulder, and then around the Shrine and indeed out to Gensokyo beyond from the view of the hill to see that it was not a mistake on his part or a trick of the eye: the entire world seemed to have been covered in an exceptionally pervasive mist.
He readjusted his sack of booze and tugged at his Master’s sleeve at once: an act that did not bother her, but instead seemed to instantly worry her.
“Hm, Gen...?” she muttered in a hushed tone, brow furrowed. “What is it?”
“There’s... some kind of mist floating throughout Gensokyo...” he whispered, watching it and becoming increasingly nervous.
“... Ah, that?” his Master responded in a way he did not expect, and he looked at her as though she were mad. Patchouli turned away from him and began to walk onto the Shrine’s ground, saying, “There’s no need to worry about that. It’s only watching, isn’t it?”
He let her walk away, completely baffled by her statement. Then, he felt a bit lightheaded, and the pace of his heart slowed. His nerves eased, and he largely forgot his concerns. It’s a party, he thought, I should enjoy it, no?
But, he also quietly determined: today he would begin investigating.
 I’ll spend some time observing the guests. Don’t want to rush in and start asking without knowing about who’s suspicious.
 I’ll investigate the mist itself. There might not be enough time to waste with whatever it’s doing, and I am a magician(‘s apprentice). Then again, maybe I should have some idea of where to start with it first...
 I’ll question someone. I’m still the newest to Gensokyo here, so maybe someone else has an idea of what’s going on.
What I know so far:
Everyone in Gensokyo is being brought to the shrine for nightly parties every four days, and there may be some kind of negative effect on people physically from this (from pure exhaustion, or something supernatural). Almost everyone seems aware that this isn’t normal, but continues to join the parties regardless.
Hakurei Reimu The Hakurei Shrine Maiden, guardian of Gensokyo and professional youkai exterminator. The host of these parties, but not the one sending invitations. Reimu herself has seemed about as unquestioning as I’ve been during them. It most likely isn’t her who’s causing this incident, but her intuition is good at least, so once she’s on the case I’m sure she’ll barrel through to its conclusion.
Kirisame Marisa A human magician and a thief, as well as Gensokyo’s second best youkai exterminator. She’s been sending out invitations normally since the start of all this, and seems completely oblivious just like Reimu. I don’t think she would’ve started the incident, but as a magician she might have an idea about the mist.
Patchouli Knowledge My Master, a youkai magician. She didn’t start the incident, but seems to know exactly what’s going on. Of course, that’s as expected of Master Patchouli. She probably already suspects a culprit and will resolve the incident on her own if it sparks her curiosity enough. I can leave it to her, in any case. As always, Master is amazing. I shouldn’t ask her anything, though. She’ll only get angry with me for not working things out on my own.
Remilia Scarlet My Mistress, a vampire, who controls my fate. I’ve been told that Mistress Remilia started a mist that covered Gensokyo once before, almost exactly a year ago, but I can’t imagine she would tease Reimu like this by having parties every night, nor do I think that her ability to manipulate fate works like this. My Mistress is extremely perceptive, so I imagine she already knows what’s happening and why, and is probably letting it go on because it’s enjoyable to her. Yeah.
Flandre Scarlet The younger mistress, also a vampire. Lady Flandre enjoys these parties and hasn’t gone out of control during them, but could there be something about the incident that’s making her just as accepting and willing to go along with all this like everyone else? I wonder how she feels. If something is controlling Mistress Flandre so well, that’s kind of hard to believe.
Izayoi Sakuya The head maid of Scarlet Devil Mansion, and my human senior there as well. Sakuya can manipulate time, but I can’t see how that ability could start this kind of Incident. I mean her no offense, but I think Miss Sakuya is a little scatterbrained, so I suspect even if she has noticed that this is all strange, she may go along with it or not really bother trying to understand it. It may not be worth talking in circles with her.
Konpaku Youmu A friend and ally of mine who I both helped and betrayed in regards to the Spring Snow Incident: the half-phantom swordswoman gardener of the Netherworld’s Hakugyokurou, Konpaku Youmu. Youmu is quite cute, and I like talking to her, but if she’s even noticed that this is an incident, I’m rather certain she has no clue what it’s all about. I’d definitely like to work with her, though.
Saigyouji Yuyuko Youmu’s Mistress, the Ghost Princess of Hakugyokurou. I haven’t spoken much with Yuyuko, as talking to her is an ordeal. She speaks in constant lies, tangents, and baffling observations or statements. I don’t think it’s possible to get a single straight word from this person. I also don’t think I should try bothering her, given how she seems to (like my own Master) value a person’s ability to figure things out on her own. She has the power to invoke death in others with only a thought, and is allegedly somewhat whimsical with that power especially if annoyed, so... no thank you. A pair of final notes: she seems to be Yakumo Yukari’s friend, and I know that she has been... “alive”(?) for quite a long time.
Wakasagihime My mermaid friend from the lake. Every four days, kappa bring her from Misty Lake to the Shrine by her request. She definitely doesn’t know anything about the incident, though I do like talking to her.
Kawaiwaya Aomu My kappa friend. She helped me greatly during the Spring Snow Incident, and I imagine if she or the other kappa have noticed that this is an incident, they’re already looking into it. I’m sure they have some technology to monitor the mist, too. I don’t know how old Aomu is, but as a race kappa are also among the oldest sorts around, so they may know Gensokyo best just in case this, well, isn’t an incident, and is instead some sort of (ir)regular occurrence.
Shameimaru Aya A tengu reporter who regularly bothers Miss Sakuya with her weird, nonsensical newspaper. If the other maids ever get a hold of it, they end up fashioning swords and airplanes and just... just making a really awful mess that even I have to help clean up. I haven’t spoken to Aya before and don’t want to. I have been warned many times to avoid tengu especially, because they’re very dangerous, and very quick to attack humans (the same should be said for kappa, but I have a tie there). She and her kind are most definitely aware of the incident, as they keep close tabs on all of Gensokyo’s goings on, but Aya herself is a well-known liar. You can trust her about as far as you can throw her.
Yakumo Yukari I don’t know much of anything about this woman aside from her name, and what Reimu has told me about her (that she is bothersome, and that she was in the way of repairing the Netherworld’s barrier). From the few times I’ve looked her way she seems extremely creepy, to be honest. She’s a youkai, I think, and she just really, really puts me off. Whether or not she knows about the incident, I want nothing to do with her.
[X] I’ll spend some time observing the guests. Don’t want to rush in and start asking without knowing about who’s suspicious.
With a last glance of dubiety to the mists surrounding him, Gen stepped properly onto the grounds, his two Mistresses and his human peer watching him from behind with faces blending curiosity and amusement as he had been standing beneath the torii for almost a full minute.
He first greeted Reimu as was usual and was directed to the vast selections of drink always present near the donation box (while also being encouraged to donate). He strode there and added the Library’s drinks to the collection, after which for no particular reason he fished out some of his coins and tossed them into the caged box, thinking after the fact that perhaps the shrine’s god might bless him with some of the Hakurei’s intuition for it. On other matters of drink: Remilia Scarlet had called on her fairies to carry two large and faucet-fitted barrels of beer from the mansion, sending them early to arrive before he and the others hand. Now he went to that pair of barrels holding a glass tankard prepared for libation. Surrounding them were eight tired maids, sat on the ground with shoulders slumped. Livy Mayflower, the group’s squad leader, almost looked as if she were melting.
“Livy,” he addressed her, delivering beer into his mug, “what sort of fairy were you again?”
“Eh...? Ah, Gen...? Fai...” she panted, delirious, “I’m a fairy... of flowers...”
“Hmmm...?” he moaned, stopping the barrel’s valve and taking the cup to his lips. After drinking a while and being unsure about the burning taste of wheat brew, he addressed her again, “Did we bring any fairies who can manipulate light or sound?”
Livy blinked at him, looking as though she hadn’t understood the question. He got onto a knee before the lot, put down his tankard, and reached for his selection of materials, taking a vial of enchanted carbon dioxide and a jar of ordinary centella. After opening both, smoke flowing from the vial and a pleasant scent escaping the jar, he spoke spells of air and arbor. A small notebook on his waist began to release light of two kinds, and soon a refreshing wind blew over his tiny associates. At once, all eight of them perked up to attention.
“Whoa, whoa, what the heck...!?” stammered Livy, fiddling with her headpiece and looking everywhere as quickly as she could. To watch her was to witness a small and sun-colored cyclone. The magician’s apprentice put away his things, and then dropped his hand on her head to keep it still.
“Livy,” he spoke to her again, now having her eyes on his, “did we bring any fairies who can manipulate light or sound today?”
“Ahh... light and sound, you say?” began the fairy, crossing her arms and closing her eyes in concentration. Her cheek twinged, and she pulled her arms apart to look at her hands in confusion. He decided to explain.
“I used a spell to pick you guys up, but it’s not healing or anything... Master Patchouli and I don’t have any ability like that, right? So careful with your bodies, they’re still exhausted.”
“Jeeeez.... seriously?” the girl moaned, bearing her teeth in a grimace.
“Take it up with Mistress Remilia,” he said, finally taking his hand off her head so he could rest his forearm on his knee. The other maids began stirring to better consciousness, but kept rather still because of his warning.
Livy finally, with her cheek puffed out, began to answer his question, “There’s Shimmer Heart, Panora, and Lev.” When she spoke their names, the three each swiveled their heads to attention: a short, fluffy, and ginger-haired fairy; a rather pretty dark-haired fairy with a short-tail and somewhat sharp-seeming eyes; and a fairy that still looked rather tired, possessing a sleepy-eyed look and wavy, warm-earth colored hair.
“Alright fairies, what are your natures?” he asked smoothly.
“I’m a mirage fairy!”
“Vistas?” he repeated, looking at the grinning dark-haired fairy as she and the other two forced themselves to stand. “That’s... abstract.”
Hearing this, the vista fairy began to pout, marched toward him and clasped both his cheeks in her hands. He mumbled a “what?” and the little one wordlessly forced him to look behind himself, toward the Hakurei torii.
His eyes widened, and he tried to wince, but as his face tingled warmly he found that he did not want to. He let the girl’s power influence him, and witnessed a gorgeous scene:
As if the countless trees surrounding the Shrine were not there, he saw Gensokyo; lit warmly by the yellow falling sun and coolly by the pale rising moon, and his mouth that had dropped open summarily shut to the sight of shadows and swimming light casting unbridled across the world. He saw the human village and its wavering firelights, he saw the dark red mansion and its clock tower by the mirrored lake, he saw the forest with magic springing from it as fantastic creatures leapt and played, and he saw untamed Youkai Mountain, touching the heavens and flowing with water as smoke rose languid from its peak. The Garden of the Sun going to sleep, the silent pond by the village glittering; it had been a while, but he was shaken by, and in awe of, this land once again.
“See that?” Panora whispered at his ear, the smirk clear in her sound. “That’s nature. As long as there are heights, and places to see from them, I’ll keep being!”
Quiet for a while and enjoying the view (and noticing again how far-reaching the strange mist was), he eventually responded by turning back and telling her, “Alright...” and then, “sorry, I get it, girl.”
Panora looked into his face with one of smuggery, and with her eyes closed drew him close to tickle his forehead with the tip of her nose.
“Agh, enough, enough,” he complained, pushing her from his face. He squinted at her for a moment, and she moved her hands past his shoulders for a clinging hug. He breathed out through his nose in defeat, stood, and she lifted naturally as he did so, making him think Aren’t your arms tired?
“Alright, Shimmer, Panda, Lev,” he spoke to them again, “I have work for you all to do. Easy stuff, you won’t even have to move.”
“Panora,” said the fairy around his neck, giving him a fed up stare. He looked down at her for a moment, and continued his instruction.
“I need you to—”
“Geeen... you’re not Miss Sakuya!” observed the orange-haired fairy, crossing her arms and leaning toward him with a catty expression.
“That’s riiight, y’knooow,” said the wavy-haired fairy in a bell-like voice, waving herself to echo an off-tempo metronome,
“The girls are right, Sir Gen. You aren’t Miss Sakuya,” said Livy, still sitting down.
“Tonight, think of me as the Head Detective,” he answered,
“Detective!?” Livy exclaimed, leaning forward.
“A case!?” breathed Panora, eyes sparkling.
“Oh, a mystery?” Lev pondered aloud, touching her chin.
“Whoa, yeah!! A case!!” shouted Shimmer, her hands in the air.
Meanwhile the four other present fairies began chattering, “A case?” “An incident?” “In secret?” “A secret incident!”
“Now, Watsons,” he addressed, “I need you to keep watch on the party’s guests, and I’ll ask you if there’s anything strange you noticed later. This mist... there’s something wrong with it, so in particular try to pay attention to anything relating to it.” He picked up Panora from beneath her arms and held her aloft. “Panora,” he addressed her, looking at “Shimmer” as well, “I need you two to actually watch. Please use your powers to keep your eyes on everyone here.”
Shimmer gave a salute and Panora made a pair of circles with her index fingers and thumbs over her eyes and both said, “Roger!”
“Now Lev,” he turned to the lackadaisical maid, “you can listen well?”
“Yep,” she answered, looking pleased.
“Then your job is to listen for odd conversation, as for the rest of you,” he continued, putting the fairy in his hands back down, “I just need you to make sure these three keep doing their jobs. Five fairies should be enough to keep three others in line.”
They gave cheers of confirmation while his three charges gave separate, but equally energetic gestures of determination. He nodded at them solidly and said, “I’m counting on you,” retrieving his mug and turning away.
The other party-goers did not notice or care about his group huddle, nor had they heard the loud voices of the Scarlet Devil’s maids. Gen walked toward an oak tree at the edge of the grounds and before he turned to lean against it, stopped at a strange sight. He looked into the arbor’s branches, raised an eyebrow... He was not sure, but it seemed to his eyes that the mist was somewhat converging over one of the tree’s larger limbs. He soon shook his head, and did an about-face to let his back drop against the trunk.
First, he looked to his Mistress Flandre.
The little sister was on her older sister’s back, resting like a cloak with her arms straight out past Remilia’s shoulders. The blond girl was looking all around the party, her Christmas light wings beating energetically. The blue-haired vampire was visibly annoyed, but steadfastly remained in conversation with Saigyouji Yuyuko, sipping from a teacup and adding brandy to it occasionally as Sakuya prepared lemons and sugar beside her.
He stayed focused on his younger Mistress because it was truly strange for her to be out. From what he could tell, her enjoyment seemed to be genuine... but from his time of knowing her, this wasn’t the kind of environment to build joy in Flandre Scarlet, not without significantly more roughhousing, bullets, and chaos. Occasionally these parties got out of hand in such ways, and his Lady Flandre would always join in with zeal, but even without such rabblerousing there she was, obviously pleased.
It made him happy to see her the same, but this was nonetheless unnatural in such context. She and his Mistress were under the influence of this Incident, but they did not look particularly suspicious. Flandre Scarlet looked curious, at times flinching and suddenly looking in some new direction, but doing nothing more. On the other hand Remilia Scarlet looked entirely composed, without even the smallest touch of suspicion on her face. Her head maid reflected this. Were they even sure anything was odd, or did they truly and simply not care at all?
Saigyouji Yuyuko was similar, but she would occasionally look at the sky with a face as if she were paging through dear old memories in her mind, and then would quite randomly look rather irritated. By his determination, she seemed certainly familiar with the mist, which she seemed to specifically be observing. However, the magician hesitated on whether to think to question her. The master of Hakugyokurou really did not seem the type that would take kindly to his bothering, and her powers over death (which she would be free to unleash on him, as an outsider) kept him wary.
Drinking more, his eyes moved to Konpaku Youmu, who was once more a provider of food. Youmu... was very obvious. She was looking straight at the purplish wisps while drinking from a sakazuki and handing her mistress food when pestered by a tug on her sleeve. Squinting, mumbling, and from what he could see, seemingly taking notes to her side. Whether she understood it was one matter, but Youmu was clearly aware of the issue at hand. With that said, she likely did not understand. Behind her, Marisa was mimicking her motions to the incredible laughter of Reimu, who found her friend’s stiff movements and stern expression riotous, holding her stomach with tears at the corners of her eyes. Kids... he thought.
Still drinking, he felt eyes on him and his gaze wandered to the source: a black-haired Tengu looking directly at him with a pen and pad in her hands. She noticed, the left corner of her lips twitched up, and he briefly spat liquid from his mug, turning and walking away from the tree with his eyes wide. Youmu had at least had some vague attempt at secrecy with her investigation. Shameimaru Aya, the tengu reporter and writer of the Bunbunmaru Newspaper, was openly bold in her investigation. He felt that, although while walking through Scarlet Devil Mansion he had heard this crow proclaiming to the head maid that “if there is no news, it is a reporter’s job to make news”, Aya’s investigating implied that she was not responsible for the mist (which, he was beginning to suspect was the direct cause of these events). Tengu were not friendly with humans, although Aya acted like an exception. He would not interact with her, especially as she already knew he was an outsider. Despite the rag she tossed about Gensokyo regularly being full of yellow press, he decided he may try reading her report later instead of speaking with her directly now. He also hoped she was no longer paying him any attention, having walked quite a ways around the Shrine’s grounds now.
On another side of the party now, he found himself close to the aquatic life of Gensokyo who had come to ground, and also to the bottom of his tankard (he wanted more, although he didn’t usually care to drink). Wakasagihime had two of the things, and was chugging down both alternatingly while kappa (his friend Aomu included) surrounded and cheered her. The mermaid was in a wooden tub of water, and the kappa were steadily supplying her (and each other) with more alcohol. Having downed the cup in her right hand, Wakasagihime began loudly singing:
“Oh, as I went home on Monday night... as drunk as drunk could be! I saw a horse outside the door... where my old horse should be! Well, I called me wife and I said to her... ‘Will you kindly tell to me? Who owns that horse outside the door... where my old horse should be?’
‘Ah, you're drunk~! You're drunk~! You silly old fool, Still you cannot see~! That's a lov-ely sow~ that me mother sent to me~!’ Well, it's many a day I've travelled... a hundred miles or more~! But a saddle on a sow sure I never saw before~!”
Eeehh...? Well, that’s her, he thought, as she continued to Tuesday where another man’s coat was found, the kappa in a ring around her swaying with their arms around one another’s shoulders. He also noticed the three musicians from Reimu’s Incident Congratulation party floating in the sky above, providing instrumentation. He’d since learned that they were called the Prismrivers, and they seemed to be... some sort of ghosts, or ghost-like beings. At any rate...[i] he thought, [i]they could all very well be responsible, with this much fun they’re having... but call me crazy: I doubt it.
He noticed a few other familiar, pretty faces he’d seen in passing both at parties and the lake in tubs of wood or metal of their own, who had lead their own worldly mermaid songs on previous nights and were now singing the chorus. He felt like joining them... but stopped his moving feet. He winced, and shot a look at his left shoulder to find mist collecting there. One would imagine this bothered the boy, but Gen only regarded it as a curiosity before slowly walking back toward the party’s spirits. It had felt like a friendly push... and he thought he should remove himself from the scene before temptation to be jovial overtook him.
On his way, he finally cautiously watched Yakumo Yukari. Sitting next to his Master on the outskirts of the party was a female youkai with hair as long as his Master’s, but much more voluminous. Yakumo Yukari was blond-haired and violet-eyed, wearing a bonnet similar to his Mistresses and a wide dress that touched the ground, accented with purple color and emblazoned with the Taoist symbol of yin and yang (though in the colors of twilight and growing evening). She was allegedly never invited to these parties according to Marisa, and had only even begun appearing in Gensokyo rather mysteriously shortly after the Spring Snow Incident had been resolved. She possessed a power over “gaps” in space similar but much more extensive in application than Reimu, and with everything considered, he felt she was the most suspicious person here. Looking at his Master, he wasn’t sure she felt the same: she was talking to Yukari politely and engaged it seemed.
But Yakumo Yukari was suspicious. He hadn’t heard of her before the end of winter, he hadn’t—
Gen stopped in front of the shrine and near the drinks, his eyes directed at his feet and his brow lowered. There were times he had heard of her before, weren’t there? When he’d first met Aomu, “Lady Yukari” was a name she’d mentioned to try to disarm him, and on the night he, Reimu, and Marisa had returned spring... hadn’t Youmu mentioned a “Yukari”? One he learned of not long after that...
In the context of Youmu’s words, Yukari’s name had only been an implication of at least acquaintance. Aomu’s use of the name, however, had implied importance. One of the persons who enacted the spell card rules had been—
“...! Holy shit!”
Whispering, his memory drudged up another observation. Yukari was a youkai “in the gap”, a creature who lurked in the spaces and borders between things. He had heard a derisive name very early on in his Gensokyo days, from a voice that spoke inside his head: Gap Hag. What was it...? Not even the gap hag could stop him? The gap hag had no providence beneath the lake? What was it...?
No, forget the specifics. The point is: she’s... is she the ruler of Gensokyo?
He looked at her again, fingers on his face, and eyes absolutely wild.
Wait, didn’t she kill that abomination in the lake!? It was her wasn’t it! Oh shit... Gensokyo’s rul... No. No no no no, Gensokyo has no actual leadership, at least not all-encompassing, but... she’s one of its movers and shakers, isn’t she? Like the Mistress. She... could’ve totally done this! And she’s always complaining about not being invited! That reason is absolutely stupid enough for a youkai!
Yukari did not seem to be as aware of her surroundings as the tengu Aya, as she continued to speak with Patchouli without even a glance in his direction or a twitch of an ear. She, like his Mistress and Sakuya, was not paying the mist any mind. The only thing that stopped him from believing with faith that this was all being orchestrated by Yakumo Yukari was the mist itself. Much as he could conceive, he could not picture how the youkai’s control over boundaries could create some kind of mist, even residually. The mist was also giving him an unusual impression he could not put into words, only thinking there was something... something about it. Something uncanny.
He stepped quickly to the fairies, who to his actual surprise seemed to be taking their tasks seriously, all wearing severe expressions. He hadn’t imagined this, like his incident in the mansion, would rally them so.
“I’m back. Let’s reconvene,” he told Livy as he approached.
“Let’s... what?” the blond responded, cocking her head. He shook his.
“Forget it,” he answered, stopping before her and putting his mug among a rack of used glasses, “everyone’s already here anyway, I just want to know what you’ve found out.”
“Roger! Everyone, get close!” the little maid ordered. He got onto a knee, and the eight fairies all joined together in a not-very-secret meeting.
“Whatcha got to report?” Livy asked, taking charge and addressing the three main facets of the operation: Shimmer, Panora, and Lev.
“That ghost lady looked the most suspicious!” said Shimmer in a serious whisper. “She has a funny look, and she keeps making it.”
I noticed that as well.
“Yeah,” Panora agreed with a nod.
“She made a face like bleeehhh~ whenever that purple fog got too close, like this: bleeehhh~!” Shimmer made the face, one of annoyance and disgust.
“Huh...” he muttered.
Panora chimed in, and he looked to her as she informed him, “That fog is all over Gensokyo, you know! It’s all over, but most of it’s right here! Sometimes, that crow over there, Shamu... Shame... Same... Samu...”
“The tengu,” he said.
“Yeah, that tengu, Shamimumumu... She keeps leaving the party and looking at other places in Gensokyo. She’s, really fast y’know!”
“What?” He hadn’t noticed.
“She keeps coming back though, like with a face like this, hmm~!” Panora glared at him, seeming frustrated.
“Nobody else looked like they were doing anything,” Panora said, now making a serious face.
“Miss Reimu looks suspicious of the mist!” said Shimmer gleefully, “I think if Miss Sakuya doesn’t do anything, Miss Reimu will!”
“That’s probably right,” he weighed in, as the other fairies nodded and mumbled their agreements. “Did that youkai, Yakumo Yukari, do anything odd?”
“Mmm, no,” said Shimmer. Panora shook her head as well.
“She was talking to Lady Patchouli about sake,” Lev answered, her eyes closed.
“Sake? Isn’t that usual?” he asked.
“Nuh uh, ‘cause it was... mmpff...” the girl smiled to herself and began to hold back laughter. The other fairies started giggling behind their mouths as well. He was confused.
“What was it?” he eventually asked, looking at the fairies with a concerned face.
“Soybean sake! Isn’t that weird!?” Lev answered, and all the fairies began to heartily laugh.
“That is weird...” he told himself beneath their laughter. “Could just be their own weirdness, I think.”
“S-She... heh heh! She... She also—ha ha! She also talked to... Lady P-Patchouli about what Lady Patchouli might, uhm... phew... what she might gotta do if there was something she didn’t know, but it wasn’t in a book,” the echo fairy eventually managed.
“If there was a ‘forgotten history’, Lev said,” added another fairy.
“Forgotten history...?” he scratched his head. “In Gensokyo?” He crossed his arms while thinking, the maids all following suit. They wouldn’t be able to form any theories, however. “Anything else?” he eventually asked, looking to Lev again.
“I thought it was funny... that nobody’s talking about the mist, heh heh,” the maid told him.
“Not even Reimu or Marisa?” he asked.
“Nuh uh. I think that white-hair ghost... wanted to talk about it, but...” while talking she began to frown. It seemed she didn’t know why Youmu hadn’t spoken to anyone about the matter.
Shimmer spoke up instead, lifting a finger to note, “The white-hair ghost, when Lev was talkin’ about her bringing up the fog, she got all embarrassed when that big ghost looked at her. Then, she just stopped!”
“Mhm,” confirmed Panora.
“Alright... thank you everyone,” he said, now smiling. “I’ll play with you all day tomorrow and get you guys some gifts for this.”
“Whoa, seriously!? Yay!” Livy glowed as she spoke, the other fairies looking very pleased with this outcome as well and discussing potential gifts with one another as he stood up.
“Another thing: call me or Miss Sakuya if anything bad happens, and get some rest, alright?” he told them.
“Okay!!” they all shouted, not much at once.
“By the way, Sir Gen,” said one of the fairies: one with gray and glittering hair who was tugging at his pant leg. The hair covered her eyes and trailed the ground. He looked down at her, awaiting her reason for tugging at him. “I’m a fairy of the moon, and I noticed that when I’m breathing at night, like on these nights, it’s all wrong.”
“What? What do you mean?” he asked.
“I’m not feeling like the sleepiness of night. It doesn’t feel like nighttime, and it doesn’t feel like nasty daytime either. It’s weird time, like we’re not in a time. I don’t like it,” she explained, though despite this she wore a simple and unchanging smile.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Sele,” she said.
“Alright, Sele, you head in the shrine and—of course, don’t mess with anything in there. Livy, get the other fairies to bring out a bed for Sele,” he directed.
“Okay,” said Livy, looking fresh-faced.
“I’m not good at them, but I’m going to put something like a barrier or ward around the Shrine, so none of this mist gets inside; I think if Reimu could form a barrier that could do such a thing, she would’ve the moment she noticed,” he explained. “If Sele’s nature as a fairy of the night is being affected, that’s dangerous. Got it? It’s actually serious. Let’s keep her safe.”
“Thanks Sir Gen,” said Sele, smiling a little more genuinely, her mouth open. He gave her a thumb’s up, sat back down, and unfurled a scroll.
He went about preparing an air spell while the maids carried their friend inside, and thought about this incident with the facts at hand.
Got some new information.
 I’d better look into this mist right away, catch some of it, and figure it out.
 I’ll try talking with someone about the mist... Who?  Yukari (more mysterious than dangerous...? Scary, at any rate)  Yuyuko (dangerous, irritable)  Youmu (definitely safe, probably not useful)  Flandre (actually somewhat dangerous, but certainly perceptive)
What I know so far:
Nobody aide from Youmu wants to talk about the mist, huh? At this point, I think what makes the most sense is that if Yakumo Yukari isn’t the instigator of this incident, she’s collaborating on it. Saigyouji Yuyuko likely knows what’s going on as well. Yukari, who nobody really likes, has the motivation of throwing parties and get-togethers against the wills of those who never invite her. It sounds petty and absurd, but my Mistress sank Gensokyo into darkness so she could take afternoon strolls, and from what I hear Yakumo Yukari is a very strange woman.
If Yukari isn’t the culprit, the unknown culprit is something forgotten by Gensokyo. I thought this place was the home of forgotten things, so what the hell? Some“thing” because it could be a person or an artifact. I don’t know. Yuyuko looks like she’s seen the mist before, although I’m not sure when last she had been outside of the Netherworld, if ever. Then again, if she really is friends with Yakumo Yukari... are they both used to the mist? Old youkai and an old fog that rises in cycles perhaps...? A fog that seems to be affecting nature itself, and the very existence of “time” if Sele’s unease is anything to go by.
Then there are my own observations of the mist... but I don’t have any conclusive thoughts. It’s messing with my head though, that’s for sure.
>  I’d better look into this mist right away, catch some of it, and figure it out.
As much as I'd like to poke an oni with a stick wand - and this seems the most in-character option too - I can't help but think that he probably wouldn't survive a close encounter of the watermelon kind.
Besides, we can't skip straight to the final boss! Soooooo...
[x] I’ll try talking with someone about the mist... [x] Youmu (definitely safe, probably not useful)
[X] I’d better look into this mist right away, catch some of it, and figure it out. -[x] Be very careful about it. I have been able to throw away its influence but if Yukari (or someone as powerful as she) is responsible, I might not be able to if it gets serious.
Maybe develop some countermeasures? Anyway, he is itching for inspecting it directly and it in his nature as a magician to do so.
I wonder why Yuyuko is irritated? Does she not like to be pushed to do something?
>That reason is absolutely stupid enough for a youkai!
Hahahaha, this cracked me up. He should go and thank her at some point, by the way.
Everyone is still leaving at the end of the party, so I wonder if we should just play along and then take some of the mist with us when we go back to the Mansion proper.
Yukari's question to Patchouli amuses me because she experiments and then puts her knowledge into a book on top of that which is already written, so if we take some of the mist back to the Mansion with us we could conceivably have a pretty solid magical investigation path.
I think the big thing to take away here is that everyone who notices the mist is outright not bringing attention to it and when Youmu wanted to, Yuyuko stepped in herself.
Reimu's intuition is saying don't rock the boat with this just yet and I don't think drawing active attention to it with everyone here is the best.
[x] Hey. Drink, drink. [x] Try to capture some mist before the end of the party to experiment on.
[x] I’ll try talking with someone about the mist... -[x] Yukari (more mysterious than dangerous...? Scary, at any rate)
After all, we never thanked her for before. Sure, she was just enforcing the rules, but it did help. Also, odds are good that Yukari ends up throwing a vague threat at Gen, and I bet Patchy's reaction to that would be cute.
[no]Hey. Drink, drink. -[x] Bring me some soybean sake and we can drink it together~
Gonna start writing but the split spread is a bit weird. For what it's worth, the basics: [X] I’ll try talking with someone about the mist... [X] Flandre (actually somewhat dangerous, but certainly perceptive) 8 votes in all. 3 mysterious votes for drinking 1 for obtaining alcohol 2 for not drinking ^^^^^^^^^^ this will probably be a bit strange
also since looking into the mist on your own nearly tied/won/et cetera...
His quill stopped over his paper, though the spell was nearly completed. A blend of drowsiness and simple ease began to fall over him, and he thought he could use a break.
“Just wrap this up first...” he mumbled to himself, “then, let’s relax.”
And finally, Gen began to show a look truly similar to the other present guests. As he did, he came to understand its meaning. Truthfully, it wasn’t unease with the others around them, or concern that a culprit was in wait...
This is... nice, he thought.
It feels warm. That scent, it’s nice. This zeal, my heart is full of it.
Gen hadn’t realized he was gritting his teeth, and gripping his quill near to snapping it in half. His eyes were hard as he forced the spell on the paper below him to completion and thoughtlessly, tonelessly spoke the words for its activation. A wind began to blow in lasting spiral around the shrine, moving fast enough that a mist like the one surrounding the party would not be able to slip through. That was the failed plan. As the boy thought less and less, he did not notice the mist be swayed by the whirlwind, spiral and arc strangely, and easily pass the barrier as if no wind were there at all. He did not notice it stop at the Hakurei’s bedroom door, turn, and then withdraw. He only felt.
He felt like singing in a ring, so he joined the mermaids. In arms with kappa he bid for native songs, and received Blow the Man Down. Beside his friend Aomu he bent to her beaming and said, “Japan doesn’t really do drinking songs, huh!” and she answered, snickering, “They don’t, they don’t!”
He found himself playing with Reimu in the sky, unseriously declaring spells and fighting to the cheers of the guests below.
He found himself holding the fairy Cirno on his shoulders, shouting “Cold! Cold!” with gusto as laughter burst all around them and Cirno spread crystals through the air.
He found himself yelling for his Mistress’s victory from a crowd as an impromptu arm-wrestling tournament was held.
He found himself on the roof of the Hakurei Shrine, dancing ‘round with his Master’s hand in his, the older Magician smiling like a child to the number the ghosts above them played, telling him, “Ah! I always loved this song when I was a girl!” He did not see how the mist swayed above the roof and within his barrier, but did not trespass inside the home.
The night progressed, and his vigor waned. He came to awareness of what had transpired while sitting under a cherry tree, the supposed “reason” for these gatherings: resting flowers. He was seated next to his younger Mistress, and they each had a sakazuki in hand. He realized that before he’d cast a spell of wind, Flandre had been who he’d meant to see and question. He looked at her and found her looking at him, mirroring his strange expression.
“You...” they said at once, and with different levels of respect. They held their cups, and with eyebrows lowered looked toward the party before them, which was alive as ever.
“Are you drunk?” asked Gen.
“I’m not,” Flan answered.
“Do you... FEEL drunk, Lady Flandre?” he asked, looking at his Mistress sideways.
She shook her head. “You, Gen?”
“No,” he replied.
“Something’s weird, huh.”
“Yeah.” He looked into his cup, but did not drink. “What do you think, Lady Flandre? What’s going on?”
His Mistress shrugged. “Dunno~. It’s...” she trailed off. He looked at her, and saw that she seemed to want to say something negative. Something like “annoying”. Something like “a bother”. Chewing her lip, then breathing out, she finally said, “awesome.”
“Awesome?” he asked, bending his head. “Awesome...”
“It’s like my elder sister’s presence...” she admitted, and his brow raised. “It definitely feels like that, but... ‘primal’, is the word.”
“I can’t fully understand energies that youkai give off, but...” he started to reply, “with Mistress Remilia, you mean that sense of brave self-possession that she exudes? Like absolute confidence, and a carefully shaped will. That sense that she’s beyond you and looking in from a dark place.”
“Yeah,” answered his Lady Flandre without hesitance. “And her power.” The ancient vampire lifted her cup before her face, and looked over its top while gazing across the party. Moonlight danced off of the sake’s surface, and her eyelids fell only slightly. “It’s thin and free. It’s so everywhere it’s hard to figure out where it might be. I can’t see its ‘eye’, but I know something’s there. When there’s a strange breeze, or a total calm, I can feel... something incredible. A person who’s presence is... totally sublime.”
“Damn, Lady Flandre,” he responded stunned, “the mist is all that?”
“Mist?” she repeated, quickly meeting his eyes. “There’s no mist, right?”
“You can’t see it, Mistress?” he replied, looking over to the Scarlet Devil sleeping in the Maid’s lap. “Is it just vampires who don’t notice?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Flandre, pouting for a moment before tossing back the contents of her sakazuki as if the dish were a shot glass. “It’s not a mist.”
“I don’t know who it is, or what it exactly is, but it’s definitely just a big person,” she said, and she put her cup to her lips, biting into it and holding it aloft like that.
A big... It can’t be a youkai, right? Only ship phantoms take the shape of mist, and it isn’t in a manner similar to what I’m seeing at all. He thought over what he knew of youkai, of gods, and of documented supernatural beings. The only youkai I can think of would be an enenra, and that would only come down to its shape. It’s nothing else like that one, and even if it was a variant Reimu would have dealt with it easily.
He frowned, and glared. I don’t know what it is. Either I didn’t read well enough, or it’s something entirely unique like the strange shadow youkai in the Forest. He then put his hand on his hat, pulled his head back, and shut his eyes while biting the inside of his lower lip. No way... Is that why Yukari was talking to Master Patchouli about forgotten things? Maybe even Master doesn’t know what this thing is? If that’s the case...
Opening his eyes now, he sighed, but his heart did not sink.
If that’s the case, it’d be swell of me to figure it out before anyone else, wouldn’t it?
He felt a glow within him instead.
“What’re you all happy about?” asked Flandre, showing a look of mild annoyance. The look shifted, however, and he lifted one of his eyebrows. His Mistress glanced away and brought up her shoulders, asking him, “Do you like your hat?”
It was the first time she’d asked.
The glow in his chest grew to his face. “Yes!” he exclaimed. “It’s fantastic, Mistress!”
“Look! Look at this! This crescent moon just like Master Patchouli’s! Just looking you can tell I’m her student! Honestly, just thinking about it makes me start smiling sometimes. And this amethyst here! It’s not that these are gems that’s impressive, it’s that you gave it a stone of its birth month! That’s so adorable, Lady Flandre! It’s too cute! It feels great on my head, too! I never feel like I have to readjust it. You’re amazing, Mistress!”
His Mistress was now holding her legs and seemed to be staring at the ground, her face a bright scarlet and her mouth a near perfect line. He leaned toward her, slanting his eyebrows downward and smiling smugly while wiggling the brim of his hat. “It looks good on me too, doesn’t it?” he said.
Flandre became a smaller shape under his barrage combining teases and compliments. In point of fact, he was entirely genuine, but he knew full well what effects those words would have. The vampire eventually stopped hiding her face with her legs, not meeting his eye as she told, him “You’re ridiculous.”
“While your hat pleases me,” he replied, “it’s not what my expression just now was for. I’m only eager to see if I can determine what this... ‘person’ is all about before anybody else.”
“You’re not going to try to ‘deal’ with it, are you?” she asked, glaring.
“Hell no,” he answered bluntly. “I don’t understand it, so prodding it would be a bad call.”
“Hey,” she spoke, suddenly seeming rather chipper, “are you going to drink that?” She referred to his untouched sakazuki. A strange fact began to dawn on him: he hadn’t actually very much wanted to drink more than his first tankard upon arrival. The sake dish in his hand hadn’t appeared there mysteriously. He clearly remembered it being poured out to him... by Yakumo Yukari.
He hadn’t asked about it, but there was a strange vessel she had poured it from. Strange because... had it been endless? He recalled that at the time he assumed the youkai was using her manipulation of borders to pull off a trick, similar to how sometimes Sakuya would perform stage-brand “magic” by utilizing her command over time. But, Yukari had said the item was a friend’s, and he hadn’t stayed to hear any possible questions about the thing. Now it was gone, and desire compelled him drain his cup, and more.
This wasn’t only a call to him. As his eyes bleared from the surprising strength and weight of that unknown alcohol, he could see that drinking was on everyone’s minds. Those attending began to gather, traipsing to the shrine’s main building. Youkai of any kind, humans of any age, and even the dead: all cheerfully sang their way to coming inebriation.
It was an indiscriminate pull, utterly indiscriminate. Something about that had him upset at the foundation of his being, twisting at his values as a magician, as a man, and as a person who lived and breathed. His reason slipped away again, this time a result of that uncanny influence just as well a powerful brew, and this time aware that his will would soon be revoked as easily as one might snatch candy from a child’s grasp. As his young Mistress took him by his hand to lead him toward the shrine’s donation box, he remembered: he had also meant to take that mist back to the library for study, hadn’t he? Hadn’t that been a right idea?
Hadn’t he left a fairy asleep and wary in the Hakurei’s bed?
The mist was just watching, Master Patchouli?
It’s nothing to worry over?
That was simply untrue.
A being was acting as God, more audacious than the Devil he had sworn himself to, and with the gall to hide in plain sight and yet out of touch. Was all this for a good reason? A retaliation for the delay of spring? What did it matter? It was swallowing the earth, and choking the sky. It was taking them all into an overwhelming vortex by the name of “celebration”, without heed or concern of consequence.
It was a storm of chains binding the chainless Gensokyo.
“Yo, Missst...” he slurred as he trudged along as if brought on a leash, “older than the barrier, old as the Land, powerful, willful, god, demon... I don’t care what it is you are...”
He stood before a thousand bottles, and was given one with a golden label and a name telling the tale of the fall of a cruel and drunken snake. With pleasure, all around him imbibed, but he remained staid and clung to this thought, making himself resolute. His heart beat, and he opened his mouth for words.
“... I’ll figure you out, and have you know... you can’t make people into your playthings.”
The spirit was released, and its aroma began rapidly tearing away the last vestiges of his lucidity.
He awoke not knowing the time or the place where he had been left, though from the degree of darkness surrounding him as well as the chirps of crickets he could ascertain it was outside and very late, possibly near truly deadly hours.
However, sleep had not left him with a hangover from the alcohol he had been compelled to drink. Rather, it seemed he had drunk enough, and slept not, such that his state was still “drunken”. He was front-down on the earth, and only knew that he could not stay wherever he was.
Gen awkwardly stood, and then fell to his side against a tree. He breathed, completely unused to this level of inebriation, but appreciative that mentally he still rather seemed to have his bearings.
How much can I remember? he thought.
I was with Flandre, and... Incredible: I really don’t remember anything after drinking the sake said to have brought Orochi down. Not even a blur; I can’t recall anything happening.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them to discreetly look over his supplies. He had all his materials, so he hadn’t cast any other—
“Shi...!” the boy cursed, memories of a mistake drifting through his mind. Whether he had been spurred by inebriation or had broken the hold over himself, he had tried to capture the mist. It resulted in the destruction of a jar, which he no longer had. “Mashter Pashuli is gonna kill me...!” he spoke, and was irritated with his inability to speak as normal. He turned his back against tree bark and slid down to the earth.
Rubbing his forehead with the tips of his fingers, he began thinking of spells he could easily incant in case of an encounter while also thinking about the details of the tragedy that had seen his Master’s possession ruined.
To his credit, or so he recalled, with the foreknowledge that the mist may have been a “mist” he had attempted to “sneak up” on it and scoop it up. To his surprise at the time (given his horrid coordination), this had worked. When he picked it and its purple contents up, however, the entire thing became sand. Not only the glass, the metal lid also finely reduced and fell between his fingers. He had thought he was hallucinating, but the vessel indeed did not remain. It had reformed in a strange-shaped piece of metal and glass on the shrine grounds, and so baffled at the time he had not thought to pick it up.
“I th... think thi... ss is the Fore... sst of Ma... mff, Magic,” he told himself. “I’ve gah... got to... get... home...” Gen picked himself up, and trudged forward.
Aside from the night crawling animals and bugs, he felt as if there were no others awake right now, which made him second guess himself. No one? Why would he think that? In truth he had not entirely remembered the night’s events, and dragging his feet through grass and fallen branches, fragments of memory would drift through his mind. He would stop, and grab them, focus, and understand what happened. That he hadn’t been alone last night: far from it, all of Gensokyo seemed to have come to the Hakurei Shrine.
So, subconsciously, perhaps he was only hoping that everyone had thus gone to sleep, youkai as well.
But moving through the rather dangerous Forest of Magic, there really did not seem to be anything hunting him, anything watching him, anything coming. He vaguely worried about losing his way in the confounding place, especially as its canopy blocked most of the light that the moon offered, but he was not worried about being attacked. Only with practicality did he keep his left hand over his row of materials, as his right helped stand him while he walked beside longstanding trees.
He wondered if his Mistresses had gotten home by this time. The thought that they may have passed out like he had outdoors, but with their bodies vulnerable to the sunrise, lit a small fire of worry inside him. Only small, as he trusted Sakuya to get them back; powerful and commanding influence distracting her or no. He, on the other hand, pragmatically understood his troubled position.
He walked, and walked, and slowly regained his bearings.
His head felt as if a cloud had been stuffed inside it, and his body was not moving properly, but over time and as he naturally proceeded toward clearer air, so too did the fog over his body seem to clear. He recognized some spots he knew during the day, and sauntered toward Misty Lake unassailed. As the sound of its shores gently came to his ears, he became certain that all of this world had the night before become drunk and fallen to rest. He was not correct.
On his way, a scent that had quickly become familiar to him (not that he was aware) had also drawn him in a certain direction. It was an aroma like the Mountain, but tied closely with sweat and thick with alcohol, as well a unique and captivating fragrance he was not sure how to describe.
Itou Gen stepped out from the Forest of Magic, and as he’d expected his lucidity almost fully returned. However, it was not at all for the open, cool air. The fragrance was gathered in one place, and it was as if he’d become trapped in another haze.
He stood, slouched, before a sight and within a scent that arrested him. Almost wincing, he forgot his goal to reach the Scarlet Mansion that was not far from this shore. A small drove of phantoms had come to join here, floating through the air and evoking “calm”, “happiness”, and “ease”. They flocked to what had gathered them, but not by its will. They flocked because on one of the Lake’s great stones sat a greatly pleased child of the earth, and her feelings emanated clear from her posture, so obvious as her shape was lit by the full moon. Stars filled the sky, and a gentle fog spread across the lake.
On the stone, legs crossed and with an immense and lacquered dish stood unwavering on her fingertips, sat a young girl with hair reaching far down and past her back, colored like sunset. She wore a buttoned shirt with sleeves torn entirely off, and a long, bountiful dress made of lavender waves. It was lined white to evoke at once both a fantastic ocean and surreal fire, and ended with a weave of deep pink making even bars at the cloth’s hem. Her hair was tied below with a strange bar, wrapped with bandage or cloth, and above with a great red bow. A red bow had also been tied long at her collar, and a frilled and white sort opened free over her lower back in a manner similar to a butterfly at rest.
From the belt of her skirt hung chains, chains that rang as they hooked to metal rings about her wrists, and over translucent and flared cuffs that were faded rose in color and tapering out into white. The chains fell in four places around the stone, dropping off the girl’s waist, wrists, and so too the wrap at the end of her hair: empty, or holding at length a crimson pyramid and golden sphere, as well a turquoise cube respective. All of this had him stay still, but most distinctly he had his eyes at her face and skull.
She was by no means young. A childlike visage would have that thought a moment, before her other feature betrayed history he could not imagine. Reaching far, far out of her head, measuring he imagined wider than this youkai was tall, was a pair of ancient horns, crooked, untamed, ungroomed, and very thick with age. They were akin to trees (in shade as well) that the world had never touched or seen, grown simply, wildly, and for forgotten years. She had tied them with a pale ribbon wrapping one loosely, a colorless small bow at the end of her opposite horn, and a larger kind, dark blue, just below it. The girl sighed as sake lifted from her cup, turning shining and amber around her like smoke, before she smiled and showed her fangs. She drank, and he knew he was enraptured.
“Haaah...” breathed the eldritch girl, “it’s been a while, so sake outside the gourd tastes the best ever again... Hm?” She directed her gaze to him, and he was surprised to find warm, chestnut eyes examining him, speckled with common black. He had come to expect crimson and slits from them, after all. “Whaaat... it’s just a human?”
He was silent, only staring at her. He found himself wondering about her aspects, and admiring her chosen looks.
“A human, y’know, shouldn’t even be awake after last night. ‘Cept maybe Reimu. You, what’s your name?”
He did not answer.
“What...? Jeez,” the girl complained, taking her eyes from him and opening her mouth tall. The sake in the sky began to drain onto her tongue and down into her gullet.
“What are you?” he asked.
“Pfwa...” she made a noise, alcohol falling out the sides of her mouth and onto the front of her shirt. “Aren’t you rude?” she said, frowning and glaring at him. “I asked you first.”
“You... asked for... my name. What you are, I asked you that first,” he replied at once.
“Keh heh ha, that’s right, ain’t it?” the girl giggled, laughing with her shoulders too. He shut his mouth, and swallowed. “Okay, boy, I am an oni.”
“Oni...? Oni...” he thought to himself after speaking from surprise, This aroma is definitely like the mist, right...? He sniffed the air, looking down at his feet for a moment. It’s the same. An oni? Were there no oni in Gensokyo?
“Do you like how I smell?” she asked.
“Uh—yes,” he answered, and with a blush filling his face quickly told her, “Uhh, no! I mean—!”
“Gaha gaha ha! Smell me all ya want! I haven’t been in Gensokyo in forever! Nostalgic, right?” the girl laughed again, throwing her head back and shutting her eyes.
“Do you know what an oni is? It’s not a demon,” said the girl, returning her head forward. “It’s not a deer, either.”
“I... I know what an oni is. Your kind is still well-known in the outside world.”
“Outsider...?” the oni mumbled, raising an eyebrow. “Wow, you look like a magician though. Like one I beat up earlier.”
“But, do I know you...? Don’t think I noticed you at all in any of the parties.”
“Then it’s you... you’re the mist.”
“I can make myself mist,” the oni answered, and confirmed this by making her left hand, held aloft, drift into smoke, “I just wanted to have everyone get reminded of the value of spring, since all they got was winter. To do that, I needed to spread out over Gensokyo.”
Gen’s face was incredulous.
“I can disperse things, and I can gather them—” she brought her hand back together, into a fist, “—all kinds of things: sake, sand, hearts.”
She toothily smirked at him, eyes closed again. “I gathered the hearts of Gensokyo,” she said. “It’s been fun having parties, but tonight was the last one.”
“You’re just... telling me all of this...!? Did you just... decide to stop!?” For reasons he could not quite ascertain, this idea bothered him.
“I did, I did,” the oni told him, looking at him warmly again. “A shrine maiden tried to stop me, but I beat her too. Just like that fluffy fluffy mage you look like. ‘Cause I’m an oni.”
“You beat Miss Reimu...?”
“Right down, ha ha!” she laughed. “That’s an oni truth. We never lie. Mostly.”
“Did you really just stop for nothing...?” he whispered.
“Well,” she started, drinking a little more from her dish and looking at the reflection of the moon within it, “I thought, Reimu’s determination was admirable. If you wanted to stop, I should stop it. I’m... not that kind of oni. Ah.”
The oni looked down at him, smirking again. “I know you,” she said, “you made a vow to me.”
“Ahh...” he made a warbling noise and stepped back, full of both shame and worry.
“‘I will have you know: you can’t make people into your playthings’. You said that. It was very cool, ehh?”
“Ah... ahhh...” he felt like his Mistress Flandre.
“I didn’t notice you until last night, but thinking back, aren’t you a good boy? Good boy, good boy,” the oni praised. He continued to tremble, his face growing warmer. “Most people,” she said, letting her now-empty dish fade into nothingness, “don’t think to care about fairies. Yep. Good boy, good boy.” She took from her belt a large and purple gourd, wrapped around its center with a thick red string and sealed in some places with ofuda. He knew the gourd, and recognized it as Yukari’s friends. The realization did not shake him, but as she uncorked and put the mouth of her gourd to her lips to drink, he was shaken to watch her do so. He remembered something he had only subconsciously noticed: that the mist had “decided” to not bother Sele. He watched the oni’s throat pulse with each gulp, for an unbelievable twenty in all, and his emotions were confused.
“Itou Gen,” spoke the oni after pulling the gourd from her lips, “let me make a vow to you too, okay? I don’t know what I’ll vow yet, though—ah! Got it, got it!”
His head swam and his shoulders felt heavy. The girl spoke to him, holding the little attention he had left.
“I vow I’ll vow something to you, some day, but with a little asterisk, ‘kay? You need to remind me.” The oni pointed at him and grinned. “Because, you’re so easy to forget. But if you don’t want me to do that, if you don’t want to forget me, then catch me like you said you would. Then, I’ll swear it. This extraordinary oni will make a promise with a human. This, Ibu—”
But he did not hear her name, as his eyes closed and sleep swept over him.
--End of Chapter 11: Gathering--
Another chapter - ChoiceKizin!3bPfzwokco2018/09/02 (Sun) 09:17No. 66735▼
When next he came to, a hangover gripping his skull, he opened his eyes to the endless void of the Library’s ceiling. He was home, and beside him there was a sound of a clinking spoon within a teacup. He forced his head to look, and saw a girl in a black, formal vest, long skirt, and red tie, with a white dress shirt below. Small bat wings were folded atop her head, and her burgundy hair went straight to her lower back, Another pair of wings sprouting from her shoulders were at rest, and she was seated next to him stirring the contents of a cup that had an aroma which was rapidly soothing the pain he felt.
“Anlight,” said Gen, “Master summoned you?”
The demon-girl flinched with surprise and looked down at him, “Gen! You’re awake! Yes, Master Patchouli needed my help today.”
Anlight Sephora was a familiar of his Master’s. A minor demon adept at making deals, but used by his Master for menial labor such as cleaning, sorting, and small jobs for when Sakuya or he were unavailable or preoccupied. They had little interaction, as ordinarily the girl resided in a realm called “Makai”. He forced himself to sit up, and the demoness stirred faster.
“Here,” she said as she finished, “Master said for you to drink this.”
He took the cup as she offered it, and from quick evaluation saw it to be a regular hangover remedy full of sugar, ginger, and with many parts simply water. There was something else within the cup as well... a concoction of his Master’s, he was sure. He drank from the cup while looking at the girl next to him.
“So,” he said, having finished and already feeling the brew’s effects, “why would Master Patchouli summon you for this?” he asked, referring to the mixture.
“Oh, well, Miss Sakuya is tending to the vampires, and Master Patchouli, um, has a guest—”
As she finished this sentence, a shout of “NO!” that he knew to be his Master’s voice rang out from nearby. The two servants looked at one another with some worry, and Anlight helped the apprentice rise entirely from the couch where he had slept, moving him toward their bothered Master.
“S’fine, isn’t it? Look—” came a voice.
“Don’t do that! I don’t care what you are, I don’t want to deal with it!”
“Uwa... when I told you to run back to your library scared, I didn’t think you’d take me so seriously.”
“Ugh... my asthma’s acting up...”
The boy and girl looked to each other again, and quickened their pace.
“You okay? What’s ‘asthma’?”
“Do you want a drink?”
“No... I want you out of this library.”
“Aw, come on,” said the guest, who he was certain by now to be the oni he had met. “I helped your boy out, didn’t I?”
He heard his Master breathe out long. “You didn’t have to,” she said, “he can handle himself.”
At once, he felt elated, Anlight slanting her mouth sideways as she looked at his expression. They neared a shelf, behind which would lead to their tired Master.
“Y’know, that human... he looks at you so often. And, when you two aren’t at parties or festivals, he’s usually trying his best to be worthy of you.”
Gen’s feet became planted, and a cold sweat ran down his neck. His fellow servant looked at him confused.
“Everything he does is less than half for himself and over two times for you, ya know. That’s the feeling he gives off. Cute~.”
“Gh...” his mouth began wobbling as a sound escaped his throat. He would often praise his Master, but he preferred to show his affection for her rather than tell it (though at times he would tell all the same). Having his drive and desires aired felt as if his heart were on display, and he found this terrifying.
“And ya know~? It’s too bad, really too bad, because he only figured out what I was getting up to last night. That boy, he wanted to sniff me out and show off to you! Hahaha! How admirable!”
Gen removed himself from the demoness and stumbled forth, rushing past the shelves.
He witnessed one of his Master’s studies: tables of books, samples of cake and tea, and beakers and vials set up. Patchouli had her hands planted on a table which seemed to currently have a map unfurled over it, and she looked ragged. There were darker circles beneath her eyes than he had ever seen before, and she was very pale. She was wheezing, and looked at him with lowered eyebrows. The oni was lying sideways on a couch, propping her head up with one hand and holding a piece of cake in the other.
“Ah, he’s there, he’s there~. Hello~. I let myself in,” said the oni, beaming. He didn’t know what to make of her. While he was still thinking, she opened her mouth and chomped the entire wedge of desert into nothing, chewing a bit and returning to a beam. “You okay?” she asked. “‘Cause, I threw you down when I got in here.”
“Are you... drunk?” he asked her.
“Ask me when I’m not and you’ll never get an answer. You’ll get an answer of ‘never’? It’s been more than a few centuries since I was sober, boy.”
He grimaced. Jeez, he thought, is that just an oni’s strength? Anlight hid around a corner and watched. She seemed particularly afraid of the new, ancient youkai. Their Master had her eyes shut now, and her brow was twitching.
“Master, can I get you anything?” he asked Patchouli, and the oni quickly exclaimed:
“Look! So nice~.”
He blushed again.
“You can get me a library without an oni in it,” said Patchouli, squinting at him involuntarily, “or some roasted soybeans.”
“Impromptu setsubun?” he asked.
“‘Setsubun’... I’ve heard of that before.”
“It’s no use, ya know,” chimed in the oni. “I’m not weak to aaanything. I’m not lying~.”
“You said you only mostly tell the truth,” answered Gen.
“Hmhmm, thank you for remembering, Itou Gen!” she announced with a giggle. Then, pondering, she asked, “Itou, Itou... Fujiwara, Itou?”
“Gensokyo Gen? Boy Gen?”
“Boy Gen!” she cheered. “What a nice name! Better than ‘Hiko’!”
His master uttered: “Shut up.”
“Whoa, you’re really mean,” said the girl on the couch, losing her smile.
“I want you to shut up. Oni... Oni, you said? Ugh... Why?”
“Eh, ‘why’ is to what?”
“Why did an oni choose to bother me?” asked his Master.
“Like Itou Gen,” began the girl, “I think you, the master, are really cute.” To this Patchouli Knowledge looked utterly disgusted, her lips curling terribly, her face scrunching into wrinkles of irritation, and her eyelids only parting the littlest bit. The oni continued unabated. “Look, those hats on your heads. Those little matching moons... isn’t that super precious?”
He blushed, and he saw that his Master was slightly blushing as well.
“Oh yeah, hey Magician: listen to this? Your boy made a vo—”
Gen rushed to the oni as soon as he realized what was happening, and shot a hand toward her mouth. He did not cut her off, but instead she decided to stop, looking at him with a simple smile as his hand met with a sugary palm. “What’s up?” she asked him.
“Please stop,” he begged, realizing that pushing against her hand felt exactly like pushing against a wall. “I-I can’t take any more,” he admitted. For all the teasing he’d done since coming to Gensokyo, having his dorkily earnest will aired to his Master was a bridge too far for his shame. He was at his wit’s end and the oni saw this.
“You’re polite,” she said, “but how about this?” Her hand easily gripped his, as though he was putting forth no strength at all, and then the rest of her body disappeared. A blur passed in a second to his back, and he sensed her reformation behind him. The little oni pulled the back of his head to her chest, and put him into a choke hold saying, “Go ahead! Make me cut it out!”
And the apprentice felt like he was melting. The oni was holding him very delicately, and notably warmly. She breathed through her nostrils onto his head, and as the sensations of her body – her heat, her touch, and her scent – overcame him, he had no resistance. As if his brain’s fuse had blown, he let her take him down, literally, to lay against her while she sat on the couch.
“Didn’t I tell you?” said Patchouli. “Don’t touch my things.”
“I don’t get to touch humans very often any more, so let me borrow him. I beat you, so fair’s fair yeah?” said the girl.
“Oni...” the magician murmured, finding her breath and turning to face the unwanted guest fully. “Let me tell you... defeating me when I wasn’t expecting a fight is no win at all.”
“Yeah, whatever,” said the oni, taking off the boy’s hat (while still keeping him held in the crook of her arm). She looked at the inside of it, brought it to her face with her eyes closed, and sniffed at it twice.
“Eh...!? What are you doing!?” the younger woman exclaimed.
“Returning the favor,” replied the younger-looking girl, and she put the hat down, put her hand on his head, and moved in close to his scalp.
“He... your... hair...!?” Patchouli was at a loss whether to be infuriated, confounded, or in simple disbelief. She stood as if she were stunned.
The oni breathed out over the semi-conscious human in her grasp, the same human that was as red as the mansion they were in by now. “A good scent,” she said, “he smells like his dear master.” She began gently clawing at his skull.
Said master found her reason again and yelled, “That’s far enough! Unhand Gen at once!”
“I’m not really interested in this kid, but... if you want a fight, I’ll give you one.”
Gen reawakened. His thoughts raced and his body burned. Thoughts of intimacy, embarrassment, respect, and fear assaulted him, and his hands went straight to the forearm at his neck, unable to move them even a millimeter. At this point without any pretense, he merely cried, “Help me, Master!”
The oni let him go and a blast of radiance shot forth and just over his nose as his head fell where she had been sitting. Desperately attempting to ignore this new warmth, he shoved himself down onto the library’s floor and looked over his shoulder. The back of the couch had been obliterated, but the bookshelf behind it was unscathed thanks to his Master’s defensive measures set throughout the library. Atop the shelf, the oni perched, and was grinning ear to ear.
“Ooohh... I love that fighting spirit! I love that it’s for someone you love! I seriously love it! Patchouli Knowledge... forget it all; youkai, god, or human, you’re great!”
The oni gripped her hand into a fist and loudly declared, “OK! This Suika of the Ibuki, Deva of Yatsugatake, and greatest of oni will give you another grand and worthy fight!”
He heard Anlight squeak and yelp with fear and felt exactly why. The oni above them was getting excited, and her power was densely filling the room in its entirety (which was difficult for him to imagine, yet he felt it). It felt as though the roof itself were coming down and crushing all those within, save for the being calling this.
His Master’s grimoires flew open and aloft behind her, and though she looked ready to erupt into a fit of coughing, he could tell that just as when the flower youkai had threatened him, now, too, Patchouli Knowledge felt the need to fight in his stead. And while he understood it, Gen hurt with guilt.
Though it had not been too long since he’d arrived in Gensokyo, he had grown significantly in that time. His Master was hurting for him, and though ageless, she was not undying. He recognize her shortage of breath and thought, This is bad... what if...
However, he found himself biting teeth into teeth thinking about how his doubts meant he had doubts for Patchouli Knowledge, the one person in Gensokyo he thought to be, when push came to shove and even long before, absolutely peerless.
But though his liver had not processed the poisons he had swallowed the night before, and a hangover still lingered within his cranium, he knew that between the two of them he was in the better position to fight.
What else made him hesitate was that the oni who knew he was an outsider... She would not need to hold back for his life.
What do I do...? he thought, tensions in the chamber rising.
 to support his Master.
 to relent out of safety, and believe in his Master.
>“Master, can I get you anything?” he asked Patchouli.
>“You can get me a library without an oni in it,” said Patchouli, squinting at him involuntarily
Our course of action is clear.
[x] Support his master
Fighting in her stead? Try that when you're actually strong. Right now Gen pretending he can take over for Patchouli is an insult. The best he can hope to do is to assist her somewhat-and that's what he should do: He should still believe in Patchouli-but not let her fight alone, his safety be damned.
The older Magician looked at her student with slight confusion, and he did not see it but Ibuki Suika looked at him the same.
“This isn’t like with Miss Yuuka, you don’t have to shoulder everything for me,” he explained, grabbing his hat from the couch behind him. Standing, he put it back onto his head, and with one eye on his Master and the brim still held, told her, “I’m helping you.”
Patchouli looked at her human silently, her eyes shifting somewhat rapidly in short movements, as if she were deep in thought. His hand still on his hat, he looked up at the oni. “I’m not letting you have your way any more than this,” he swore.
And the oni lost her good humor. “Human—no, Outsider... Yukari told me aaaaall about how Gensokyo works nowadays. You get it? If you put your little nose in this, I won’t have to settle for danmaku.” Her eyes shined, and her expression was cold. “I can kill ya.”
Gen was half paying attention, his head down as he was half at work combining materials inside his coat. He answered the oni, “You’re saying you won’t have to use danmaku? Then... you’ll use your fists?” He looked up at her while shaking a stoppered vial that seemed to contain nothing. Eventually, he said, “How does someone like that intend to fight people who never even get close?”
“Oh...?” Ibuki Suika replied, a smirk cutting across her face, “is that a challenge? Human...”
“I’m not offering any challenge,” he said, looking close at the vial in his hand before turning and leap/flying backward to his Master’s side. He gave the vial to her, saying, “Here. You should really have these prepared yourself, Master.”
“I only learned about this solution recently...” she mumbled. Wheezing, she whispered a simple spell as she unstopped the vial, releasing all of her breath deliberately until the word of activation. The vial’s nigh-invisible contents swirled, and she brought the thing to her lips as a liquid spray fired over her tongue. She slowly breathed in, and waited.
Having confirmed that his Master was doing as she was supposed to, the apprentice addressed the oni again, “Just to be clear: I’m saying you won’t even touch us.”
“Ha! Don’t make me laugh! A human and a sick witch!? Against an oni!?” She laughed heartily again regardless, and her smirk became toothy as she lay her wrist on her knee and lifted a hand opened toward the ceiling, “I may have respect for Miss Patchouli Knowledge,” she said, “but just watch Itou Gen... I will show you how an oni deals with magicians.”
“I’m good,” said his Master, slipping the empty vial into her sleeve. “Be careful, okay?” she warned, without looking at him.
“I’ll do my best.”
“Cut it with the attitude!” shouted the oni, her power increasing further. “Learn that you’re weak!”
At once the two magicians began to talk in other languages. One spoke of light, while the other spoke of portals. He briefly looked at his Master, and realized from her words that she was going all out. As he neared the end of his invocation, he heard her still preparing, and noticed the oni in front of his face.
“Like this,” she said, her fist cocked back. He finished his spell, a wave of light pulsed, and she swung at the air just to his left. His coat blast open and several of his vials and flasks shattered. The oni struck the floor and split it in two, his left foot being involuntarily brought up from the resulting crags. “What the heck!!!” She yelled, looking at him. “You can do that kind of thing?”
He hesitated, and his Master grabbed his shoulder and pulled. She began flying, still speaking her incantations, and he followed her above the library’s towering shelves.
“Aaahh!” screamed the oni in annoyance. “Running away, too!?”
He had displayed to her an illusion, and presently Ibuki Suika was under a kind of trance or curse. Half of a halo was shimmering behind her head, and showing whatever she saw in front of herself as much, much farther away than she thought. The effects activated roughly every fifteen seconds, making the victim feel as though, suddenly, the world had extended somehow right before their eyes. He called it the infinite hallway, and it only lasted a short time on top of being very easy to figure out once the illusion was understood.
When they stopped moving back, his Master began penning something quickly on a scroll. She showed it to him, and it read:
make a sun
He began to do just that.
Meanwhile their enemy was cursing on top of bookshelves, jumping from one to another and circling the two of them confounded. Eventually, she decided to jump at the them again for an attack, the effect on her vision activating early and thus her punch loosed as well with a “Damn it!”
The blow was not worthless however.
The force of Suika’s attack felt like a cannonball of air, and it hit him in the stomach, crumpling his posture and making him spit something up. He began to fall immediately, though fought to remain lucid enough to finish summoning a sun for his Master. With this accomplished, he saw it manifest beside her, three meters in diameter, and saw a glyph of the same width form behind her. He watched as a flood of water rushed out of it just before a shelf blocked his view. He braced for the impact of a drop, unable to concentrate to return to flight, and instead he felt the careful reception of a body.
He looked up to see Anlight’s face, and a cup of water beside his, and the little demon spoke, “I can’t be here for much longer. Master Patchouli’s contract is running out. Swish, spit, then drink.”
He only managed sounds of pain in response, but took water into his mouth and spat out the little vomit which had been forced up into his mouth. As he drank next, he saw above them a system of roots seemingly reaching everywhere.
“I’ll bring you above again. Watch out: oni are... impossible,” she told him. He swallowed, and gave a nod.
Anlight easily took him up, and as he was brought nearer to the ceiling he saw what his Master was attempting.
Water was below her in an immense sphere, a grove of trees had grown and spread their roots above her, and skewered on several sticks before his sun were what seemed to be diminutive fish. He could not tell precisely what sort, but if his Master had indeed done her research, then she would know that what she needed were dried sardines.
He had gathered this: oni had been forgotten by Gensokyo. He was aware of near everything one needed to know about the beasts, but he couldn’t be sure of others. If his Master had only learned of their continued existence during the previous night, this meant that she had already found what should have been impossible to find in the Gensokyo of today: methods to combat oni. Just like her, he thought.
Anlight brought him on top of a bookshelf, from which he could see Ibuki Suika staring at his Master and squinting. She waited for about twenty seconds, entirely still, and then her eyes went wide. She glared, growled, and grabbed at the back of her head. “What—?” he uttered as he watched. She can’t... do that.
Her fingers somehow gripped the incorporeal halo that possessed her, and tore it away, letting it fall into sparks and shards. Some light remained in her palm, and with irritation she looked at it, completely ignoring the librarian’s efforts to create wards (the trees, he determined, must have been holly). She licked the light from her palm, and then made (to his surprise) a cute disgusted face, complete with a “blehh” and extended tongue. She looked at his Master after, and quickly seemed to be looking for something else. She pinched the hair of her scalp and suddenly tugged. With the strands now in her hand and a tear in her eye, she blew the hair out of her palm, and instantly—truly instantly—each one became a small clone of herself.
“Okay,” said Gen, “what the fuck.”
“It’s like I said but... really, what?” answered Anlight.
The small oni clones began to spread out in what he imagined was a search party, while the original looked upon his Master smugly. “Dried sardines and holly leaves, eh?” she said. “You know I’d be annoyed but it looks like you’re the only person in Gensokyo aside from the Outsider who knows about oni. I’m honored, I’m honored~.”
“Bring it!” Suika cried, holding a hand up to taunt Patchouli with a finger, and another to bring her strange gourd toward her lips. “Do it if you can, Magician!”
Cool, he thought, and Anlight gave him a disappointed look. “What?” he asked.
“I’m gonna return to Makai now. Don’t lose!” she ordered, pumping her fist. A black glyph rippled into existence behind her and began to move forward, taking her body.
“We won’t,” he said, as a smiling small oni flew right into his skull for a very powerful headbutt, making him close his eyes and groan to the pain. Anlight looked shocked and as if she wanted to say something, but she was swallowed entirely by the return portal. It simply closed and vanished once its task was complete. The headbutt of the mini-youkai put him on his back and tears in his eyes. It fell onto his chest and then, apparently, asleep, snoring with its arms spread over him. It looked like it was small enough to stand in his palm...
He rubbed at his sore skull and plucked the clone up by the back of its shirt. It remained unconscious. “What the hell...?” he said without thinking, “It’s a total clone? I mean, that Yuuka could do something like it but...”
“FOUND YOU!!” came a great yell. He looked to where Suika was and saw that she was looking at him, lifting her arms as if ready to pounce. He felt, very basically, like prey before a predator.
She can see through these...!? No... of COURSE she can...!
He took the Suika in his hand and, hesitating again, brought out a handkerchief from his coat. He fashioned a little resting place, and put the clone within it. The true Suika watched, her expression seeming mysteriously plain.
Not attacking...? he thought, looking over at her and carefully standing up. Well, by now Master should be...
A steady voice announced this above the both of them. A grid of a hundred fish and even more leaves full of red-berries was situated below her, and with now three plentiful sources of nature and material, the Girl of Knowledge and Shade was truly prepared for a fight.
“Thank you for waiting,” she said.
“It’s cool, but I’m tired of it now,” said the oni, only glancing at Patchouli for a moment. “What’d I say? Bring it on.”
“Right,” answered his Master, and a trio of books turned their pages behind her as she spoke rapidly.
“Hey you,” the oni addressed him, “you passed out before we introduced ourselves.”
“Who’s to blame for that?” he answered, wondering what on earth sort of spell he could use against her.
“Hahaha... I gotta apologize. Sorry,” she told him, grinning. Two of his Master’s spells completed, the water and wood churning. “I’m Suika of the Ibuki, nice to meetcha.”
“It’s formality, formality.”
He did not answer for a moment. The barrage of powerful magic collecting over their heads made him wonder what would happen in a moment; whether any of it would have an effect.
“... My name is Itou Gen,” he eventually said, “it isn’t nice to meet you.”
The oni smiled, and his Master’s magic rained down.
Liquid and splinters mercilessly fell, and before it reached her the invading youkai built strength in her right arm, bicep almost bursting. She held her right shoulder, and tore her right hand viciously through the air, causing a brief but powerful whirlwind that almost knocked him from where he stood. He remained steadfast, eyes on the flow of her hair and the turn of her chains. He soon found his eyes widening.
The bullet curtain became much more akin to its second word, as Suika seemed to be grabbing it all and tearing it down like one might tear down a cloth. The danmaku looked now like a sheet of wet scales, undulating and tossed aside carelessly. Suika pulled her left hand from her shoulder, and held it open in a scooping shape. He saw his Master’s two attacks be brought together, compressed thread-thin, and from there spiral into a compact ball within the youkai’s open palm. Patchouli briefly paused the words of her upcoming third spell. Her barrage had been reduced to what looked to be a ninja’s hyorogan. As if to make to comparison more obvious, the oni took the new ball and placed it between her molars, showing Patchouli Knowledge by pointing at it and smiling, mouth open.
The Magician’s expression showed what she thought: Ridiculous... Suika removed the ball, held it in her right palm, and crushed it then and there. What must have been well over ten thousand liters of water and enough trees to have a small forest was now simply... gone.
“Fake nature like those trees is nothing,” Suika declared, looking at her now empty palm, “and to borrow real nature by using a river’s water is nothing, too. Hey, didn’t I tell you? Don’t make me laugh.”
She opened her arms, then pounded her fist into her open hand. This time, the impact saw him skid backward a foot. “Hey, let me add to that! Don’t bore me, either!”
Patchouli finished her third spell.
A wind picked up and unfolded itself entirely over the mansion, and on it was carried the scent and power of the old-fashioned oni ward. It smelled strange, the sardines being unappealing while the holly was refreshing. Suika let it overcome her, and he saw her nails digging into the flesh of the back of her hand.
“Yeah...!” she bellowed. “Good...! That’s what I want!” She then brought her fist down heavy on the bookshelf, and his jaw dropped as it collapsed at once. “This is what I—! A-Ah.”
She realized what had happened as the structure loudly crashed in on itself and books fell to the floor. She looked down, floating in the air, completely paled-faced. She breathed in deeply, and then slowly breathed out, and to his surprise her foggy breath transformed into a new crowd of clones. They went down below and seemed to go to leave the library
“I-I’ll fix that,” she said, “I didn’t mean to do that.”
His Master said nothing.
The oni looked at her hand, and her face was still pale. She seemed to be thinking about something, and he found himself curious as to what that might be.
But first, he had to do something.
The oni was too strong. She seemed to be capable of taking any “thing” and manipulating it with ease, no matter what that “thing” was. She had said as much to him the night before, but he hadn’t really understood the extent until he’d seen her take light into her hand as if it could be touched (and even eaten). He could perhaps trick her again... but oni despised lies, and he’d already seen a shade of her anger before. The thought of her truly not holding back, and using the full extent of her power in absolute rage, was petrifying to him. He did not want to poke an oni with a stick.
Would she... really...?
He was sure of it. Aside from her unexpected childish appearance, much else about this oni seemed strange to him. He had the impression—almost the certainty that—
He shook his head.
Focus, he thought, looking toward his Master, Master’s not sure what to do either. I’m the one who knows more about oni between the two of us.
But... oni have almost no true weaknesses. Master’s used one of theirs, and I’m not even sure how well it’s working to weaken her given she accidentally toppled one of our reinforced book-towers just now.
He looked at the oni, whose color had returned to her face and now almost glowed with energy. He looked at the branch-like horns she carried: the blunt symbol of her pride.
She’s probably thinking to destroy that grid. he thought. Probably wants to eat some of them, too, just to show off.
I think... the best thing I could do is...
 ... make some roasted soybeans. Though... I bet she’ll try to eat those too.
 ... trick her. Might piss her off, but maybe...
 ... propose a game. When was the last time she competed with a human?
[X] ... propose a game. When was the last time she competed with a human?
“Wait, oni,” he spoke as she was readying herself to launch at his Master’s grid. “Listen, I have a proposal.”
Ibuki Suika let her arms fall at her sides and landed her cheek on her right shoulder to look at him dully. “Yeah?” she spoke, “What’s that?”
“Care to challenge me?” he offered.
“Eh, what!” she snapped, snarling at him, “human, you SAID you weren’t offering.”
“Changed my mind.”
“A fight would be better...” she mumbled, staring off for a moment with a somber gaze. She turned to face him better, lifting her head. “‘A game with a human’... huh?”
“How about it?” he asked, coolly showing his hand. “Oni love their games, don’t they?”
And he noticed she wasn’t looking at him. She seemed to be looking at something distant, and she was regularly pressing her thumb into the inside of her forefinger, flicking the nail up. Ultimately, though he waited, his Master spoke up before either of the two of them did.
“What are you doing? Gen,” she interrogated, her voice noticeably more worn than it had been minutes before.
“As you asked,” he answered, still looking at the floating, pensive oni. He next looked at the floating, peeved librarian above and to his right. “It’s alright,” he told her confidently, “I’ll be safe, you can be sure. Watch me.”
And she did, glaring silently.
“I came here for that,” Suika said without care for their aside, catching his eye again. She was looking at him, and for a second smiled just barely with memory. “Okay, Itou Gen... Okay. A game? Name it.”
Gen’s curiosity began to act up again; unmindful of the situation, at the back of his thoughts it begged him to ask her—Why the face? What did you come here for? More than that. When he had faced the similarly powerful Kazami Yuuka, no questions had come to him at all. Closing his eyes, he firmly put his left hand to the back of his head and shook that head in refusal. Bringing the same hand down to his neck, he looked on the oni again and – dropping his right arm in a manner similar to her – suggested, “Tag (Oni gokko).”
“Pfwu—” the little girl puffed, and shortly after that burst into laughter while clutching her stomach, “Oni gokko! Humans still play that with the same name!?”
“We do,” he said casually, “even in the outside world. Almost especially, since oni are remembered well out there.”
“Well, that’s fine then, I think! Tag!” she spoke loudly, nodding and beaming, “OK~. I’ll play tag with you! The rules?”
“Of course,” he answered, still holding the back of his neck (and gripping it now, to maintain focus). He spoke a few simple commands and put his free hand down on the top of the shelf he stood on, making a glyph appear. Pulling up, a child-sized hour glass rose with his movement, all its grains fallen. It was ornate as to be expected from something in Scarlet Devil Mansion, with four specifically carved wooden pillars mimicking overgrown vines and a scene of angel-filled skies etched into the glass. He had borrowed it from elsewhere in the library, something only possible for him within the library. He looked at his Master, as if to wordlessly confirm permission for its use, and received no gesture either positive or negative. He continued.
“This will give us thirty minutes once I activate its seal and have it turned over,” he explained, patting a red magic circle carved into its current “top”. “A hand touch to the body means the ‘oni’ changes. Skin, or reaching skin through clothes are the only ways to earn a legitimate touch, so I can’t grab at your skirt, and you can’t grab at my coat... well: not to score a true hit.”
“Mhm, mhm,” the oni nodded, her arms crossed now as she smiled warmly.
“If you get hit,” he carried on, tapping his left shoulder in example, “you have to stay put for four seconds before another chase begins. Count aloud so we’re both sure. And, to start the game we’ll be waiting thirty seconds, also counted aloud.”
“Anything else?” she asked simply, cocking her head to the side. With his eyes squinting just slightly, he looked upon her horns.
“No...” he said, “just that in fairness, we’re allowed to use whatever we can to win. The person who is the oni by the time the last grain falls loses.”
“Sounds good,” she confirmed. He finally let go of his neck and thought, sincerely, that he did not want to disappoint her.
“Janken to determine who’s the oni first,” he said, holding out a hand.
“I don’t know which I want to be first more but I’m pretty excited,” said the oni, carrying herself through the air before him and landing with the sound of metal. She looked up into his face, smiling from ear to ear enough that one of her fangs was now poking out over her bottom lip. She raised her hand as she came close, and he saw how small she was: as tall as his waist, not very obviously muscular, both soft and fiercely featured. Delicate, he thought, in a comely sense. Conversely to her impressions of delicacy were the branches grown out her head, though he thought they were beautiful of a kind as well. They seemed much larger than the impression distance had given him, and he could now see in detail how natural and uninhibited they’d grown: every ridge, every small split, every bend. Rustic, he thought, in honest admiration. All this considered, with his actually examining her now, he was struck with an imbalance in perception. He breathed deliberately as he stared and noticed:
... Her nose is red.
The oni made a fist. “Ready!?” she asked with a grin.
He smiled as well, in spite of himself, making a fist too and saying, “Ready.”
They spoke at once, bringing their hands apart. “First is rock! Paper, scissors, go!”
They drew with scissors.
“And one more!”
They drew with paper.
They drew with scissors.
“One more time!”
“And one more!”
They drew with rock.
With their fists parallel, the youkai and human looked at their hands, then at each other, and the human of the pair laughed a soft, “... Heh.”
“We’re like one mind, huh?” noted the youkai with embarrassment, her eyebrows shifting to different heights. She tapped her knuckles into his, he laughed a little more, and she giggled too.
Breathing out short and purposeful, he began and she joined in on a, “One more time!”
And they drew with rock.
“Can you read minds too?” he asked with a smirk, this time tapping his knuckles into hers.
“No way, right!” she argued, laughing openly and pressing her hand to his.
“What the Hell are you two doing.”
“Uh,” they both answered, fists still together as they looked upward to see a now entirely fed up Patchouli Knowledge.
“Flip a goddamn coin or something; what is this?”
“S-Sorry, Master!” stammered the boy.
“We decided on janken!” the girl shouted in defiance. “So we’re gonna do janken! What would flipping a coin even do!?”
“How old are you?” Patchouli asked, making a face that spoke volumes.
“W-We’re going again!” the oni insisted, and so they went again.
“First is rock! Paper, scissors, go!”
They drew with scissors.
“Again?” asked the oni, looking at the V of her hand. He continued, and she joined on an, “And one more!”
They drew with rock.
“Huhh??” Flustered, Suika’s voice began to warble, and he was quietly blushing.
“I’m going with paper next,” he said, “so you choose which of us is the oni first.”
She worriedly looked up at him, and they went once again.
Drawing with paper.
“Hey,” he reprimanded, chopping the oni between her horns with his chosen weapon.
“I thought you were lying!” the oni whined, rubbing her head. He wondered: had that even hurt?
With his hand still on her head, and her fingers moving around it, he stopped still. His own fingers began to extend. Hm. Wonder how her hand feels...
“I’ll flip a coin. Hurry up and get on with it,” spoke his Master, who was now beside them. He quickly pulled away from the oni’s head and took a step back. Patchouli produced a foreign, silver coin, and simply flipped it, saying as it was in the air, “Heads, the oni. Tails, the idiot.” All three watched it fall, his Master slapping it down on the back of her hand without looking as it began to plummet. She lifted her hand, showing the result to be the face of a foreign gentleman in profile. “Heads it is,” she said, “now stop fooling around and play your children’s game.” She swiftly turned, and went slowly back to her place above: near the grid of sardines and holly.
“... Well, you heard her: get to hiding,” said Ibuki Suika, looking at him with some shame.
“Yeah...” he answered with little volume, turning to the hourglass and putting both his hands on it. “But first, this.”
He moved his finger over the device’s circle with entirely accustomed motions, and as he did so Suika saw that sand within the glass was glowing pale blue before vanishing. He opened a small compartment on one of its pillars and examined an inscription upon the glass, closing the compartment and returning to the seal smoothly after. She watched him work, wordlessly.
“Alright, it’s ready,” he informed her in time, and looked to see her waiting with her eyes on his face. He put his gaze aside briefly, then told her, “Well then, I’m going to win and kick you out the library now.”
“You want me gone that badly? Really?” she asked, grinning with her eyes closed.
“Y-Yes,” he maintained, putting on a serious face. “Like I told my Master: watch me.”
“Sure,” she answered, looking at him again. He pressed his palm to the magic circle for a full second, then quickly lifted his hand. It briefly pulsed with red light, flipped over, and slammed back onto the shelf it stood on. The sands began to fall.
“Alright, start!” he shouted, and leapt backward off the book tower. Suika watched him drop for a moment, then sat cross-legged and began to count to thirty, her eyes peacefully shut.
“Ooone... twooo... threeee...”
He already had ideas. Falling down, he watched books blur past his vision and thought to start flying to a specific place once he neared the ground. He looked to the destruction the oni had caused earlier and thought, She destroyed part of the floor by accident too, didn’t she? as he saw her miniatures bringing nails from elsewhere while also stacking books and putting aside debris that was unworkable from wood that could be repurposed. Master will have to reapply the wards. Hey—wait: can’t she see through those? He turned over and with the speeded aid of gravity moved past a corner and flew forward. Well, she didn’t notice me at first when that little one hit me, and I guess seeing even two things at once would be too confusing. Must have to check manually.
... She won’t.
Certain of that, he moved on, heading for one of his Master’s laboratories, wherever one might be (what with the head maid’s frequent tampering with space). The first order of business was to resupply, as the oni had destroyed half his materials right away. He felt he had good odds with this game. He already had a plan, and further the library had many ways and measures that could greatly benefit him. This was Patchouli’s turf, after all, and she regularly had him maintaining it.
He soon found what he was looking for and, not touching down, eyed a cupboard with several rows of beakers and jars. This “room” of a sort was one of their more regular places for spellcraft, featuring six large cupboards altogether, a cauldron, an absolutely scandalous number of empty flasks upon the scarlet tiles, and books open across a table. There was another table as well, which was empty. Fifteen seconds, he thought.
He went to the first cupboard he’d eyed and quickly scanned it with his eyes and finger, plucking this and that. He’d lost six things, and retrieved six labeled concoctions and materials for variety. Once they were attached to his belt (and his broken bottles were disposed of in a nearby bin), he pulled a scroll out one of his pockets, as well a bottle of ink from another. He went to the area’s center and sat on his calves to the floor, rolling the scroll out and speaking a spell to charm the ink.
He then heard her joyous, roaring voice.
“HEEERE COOOMES THE ONI!!” Ibuki Suika cried. He could picture her shouting with her arms above her head, and tried not to. With his hand posed for a pen, he very quickly drew with floating ink a series of circles. At the four corners of the paper, he drew a triangle, a square, a spiral, and a pentagram. Silent, quick, he deposited on them (respectively) a small pile of compost (blending soil, leaves, and manure), a single acorn, the somewhat large seed of a plant called gnetum leyboldii (which was long and oval in shape and crimson in color), and a poultice of crushed mushrooms, various roots, and worms. Last, he wrote a circle on the scroll’s bottom center, a true circle that was empty and had an outer ring containing runic instructions. He left it empty; when the correct material was placed within this circle, upon invocation the coming spell would be killed.
Finished, he began to put away what he had taken out, and retrieved from the right side of his waist a grimoire. He unfastened its clasp, and began speaking in Latin.
First a small orb of water.
Then a small simple sun.
He unstopped a vial of thin and green liquid, put it to his lips, and let much of it drain into his left cheek in preparation. With that done, he started casting his spell, mouth shaped strangely from holding the potion, but words coming fine and with well-practiced speed. He thought natively while speaking the dead tongue:
Wood, listen to me. See the four circles. Commit the seals.
“Lignum, audite me. Et quattuor circulos videre. Gimel volve super sigillis. Succumbat, et crescere. Flecte quod est illis. Fructum arboris corticem et librum de vinea. Succidit cedros tulit ilicem in aeternum usque ad horizon. Audi mandatum meum. Movere cum dico. Non erit ibi vulneribus. O lignum naturae ligna submittere et servire. Haec sunt verba domini tui. Crescunt. Crescunt. Natura pullulant...”
By the time the oni fell silently before him (and he was amazed that he had not heard her approach), the words were nearly done.
“Fooound,” she started, crouched and grinning wickedly (truly, she looked demonic), “you!”
She leapt at him, and he finished his spell with the command, “Crescere!”
His spirit drained, but when he swallowed the potion he was keeping he recovered much of it. The scroll shined brightly with emerald and simple light, and Suika made a face mixing surprise and intrigue. To her, it looked as though Gen had just summoned an abomination. Under a basic definition, he most certainly had: lusus naturae, which only magic could make.
A hybrid of an oak tree and thickened vine grew explosively above the scroll, reaching out at once in all directions. Each extension was at least half a foot in width, sometimes going a foot beyond that. Further, some of the more oak-ish limbs were simply too absurdly sized. Whenever a shoot of either kind neared an obstacle, living or otherwise, it twisted in another direction by force. The spell proliferated through the library too quickly, and the oni not knowing its program hopped out the way as a giant, waving, branch-vine fired past her and under her arm. She whistled, looking with interest.
Above, Patchouli saw her library become a warped forest from wall to wall within seconds, soon almost indistinguishable from a truly unsightly bramble patch. Indeed, her shelves were only barely distinct here and there within the chaos of vines and branches, but she was unperturbed. She knew the spell, and knew her student wouldn’t have cast it without first drawing its termination seal. Below, and within the forest made from a single example of flora, Gen watched Suika from a safe place surrounded by floating roots, The apprentice spoke, and his opponent listened.
“This is one of my ideas for a spell card, though very overblown... kind of like its inspiration, really,” he explained to her. “I’m calling it Wood Sign ‘Labyrinthine Plant’.”
Suika hung from a stalk over her head and blinked at him, fascinated. He continued, saying, “I should have mentioned, though I implied it to begin with: I have no intention of getting touched by you. I’m a magician, after all, and we stay afar. I’m letting this match end as it started: with you as the oni. Then, onis out.”
“Ha! Interesting!” shouted Ibuki Suika, looking up on the vine she was clinging to and gripping her nails through the half of it covered by uneven bark. “You’re gonna make this into hide and seek instead, huh?”
“As fun and audacious as it would be to stay put and hope you don’t figure out how to get through to me; yes,” he said apologetically, standing up.
Suika dropped and pressed her face between two wooden limbs, holding them as if she were in a cage. She grinned toothily and warned, “I’m comin’. Don’t get too broken up when I hitcha.”
He flew backward and up, and the oni forced her way through as he’d expected, tearing the vines apart in a vicious show of force which sundered everything three meters out from her. Although, mainly this just caused fallen wood to be in her way, rather than clear a path.
There were definite routes through the vine-branches, as he’d made sure, and he now slipped through and between those routes in the direction of hiding places as Suika pursued in a staggered fashion. She was not slow, however. In fact, she was nimbly and gleefully swinging and jumping through his summoned gnetum-oak on pure athleticism, not flying even a bit; he would only describe her as “staggered” in that she rarely had a moment to move directly toward him. Still, he thought this gave him enough of an advantage to escape. As if knowing his thoughts, Ibuki Suika appeared before him to deny that presumption.
She had jumped to a path above where he was currently flying, and was now landing backward on the vines that separated the two of them and almost flowing in motion. She reached through the branches in the instant they were close, her hand posed to scoop him up, and he forced himself back, tapped a vine below him with two fingers, and said, “Dis.”
The vine bent, and he fell through the created opening. In a few seconds, it morphed back into place. The oni, clicked her tongue and moaned, “Not fair!” She still seemed in good spirits. Gen, however, was panicked.
Was she trying to grab me up, there? Toss me somewhere else!? he thought in a cold sweat, reorienting himself and “push”ing more branches out the way as the oni came crashing down and gave chase. If she disorients me, I’ll lose the upper hand bad. Did she already figure out that I know the layout of this maze? Even if I’d said it would be danmaku, even danmaku can be random... Damn it—!
He swung his right arm up as Suika jumped for his leg, right on his trail. Letting his left hand fall and tapping the branch underneath him with his middle and pointer fingers, he pulled himself up and commanded, “Trahere!”
The branch tugged upward, and the high-speed Suika met it with her face, stopping instantly, her hands raised in surprise.
“Yeah!” he cheered, looking back. He moved to swiftly cover more ground as the branch returned to its original place and revealed Suika’s pained face. He supposed even an oni would find that an unexpected hit stung.
But, she recovered very quickly, and he saw her leaping for him again in shorter order than he’d have liked. So ensued a mix of climbing, descending, and side to side pursuit, a great practice for danmaku avoidance, he thought. The oni could be thrown off, usually with his use of pushes and pulls throughout the mad jungle gym, but he could not deter her long enough to find somewhere to run down the clock. He would turn in a bizarre way and reverse over her head, pushing and pulling two branches in quick succession to have her ankle caught, and in moments she would be freed, to suddenly swing a hand at him from his blindside seconds later. She would narrowly fail to get a grip on his coat, and he would lose his breath for a split second. Again, pursuit. The girl was not using any of her bizarre abilities, either: she was merely chasing him using her raw strength, almost... no, he was certain as a point.
No matter how wily Gen tried to be, she was unrelenting. However, rather than remaining as fearful as the oni’s first near miss had made him... he found himself liking the attempts and planning to get the better of her.
Go beneath her and move irrelevant branches to disorient her?
Pull a branch to make her trip?
Stop suddenly and let her jump past?
Quickly pull together a kind of wall— no, that just had her blast through the barrier with her fist like he’d simply put cardboard in her way.
Just avoid her?
Let her try her best?
While they both moved through a particularly complex portion of the vine-tree, a spiral column serving as a point they could both slip around, he saw how joyous she was and realized that he had been smiling too.
Oh man, Master’s gonna kill me for enjoying this, he thought as he opened the vines under his feet to drop, watching as Suika flipped frontward in an attempt to grab at his shoulder. She let out an exuberant “phew!” as she landed perfectly, her chains and skirt turning wonderfully. He thought to himself, This is really too much fun.
He came to be aware that he did not know how much time had passed, so he asked, “Do you know how much time has passed?”
Suika dropped down after him and breathed out as she climbed through a spiraling tunnel, answering “Nope!”
“Hey, Magician!” she called, “How much time’s left!?”
“You’ve got fourteen minutes,” came a reply quiet from distance.
He moved right, pushing through branches and thinking, Still a ways to go...
He wasn’t tired. Flight presented very little wear on any aspect of a person’s physicality and mainly maintained through concentration. Suika was not tired either, as she was an oni. He knew he couldn’t keep moving like this, however. Even if most of his movement through these chases was flight, quite a bit was also using his arms to swing and reach for branches. He needed to put good distance between them and concentrate, He looked over his shoulder, seeing her reaching for his robes once again, and now let her take them.
“Eh?” she noticed. He pulled his arms from the sleeves and brought out a spell card from one of them. Speaking an incantation as his coat fell over the oni’s face, the card activated with:
“Air Sign ‘Wind Tunnel’.”
A wall of wind slammed into the youkai with a pillowy thud, and then it bellowed with the tenor of a storm, wrapping her in his coat and hurling her far, far back. He had half expected her to have weathered it, as well the bullets of air it came with, but it seemed without bracing she was just as susceptible to high winds as any other. Second time I’ve got you like this, he commented in his head, recalling the previous night. Finally, he slipped away.
Rushing, hiding his trail, and looking back frequently, he went to a secret hiding spot: a little grove beside the corner of a bookshelf. He dropped, slowed his breathing, and began tugging at his scarf to wear his high adrenalin.
Okay, okay... probably need a plan here, for if she finds me again, he thought, hearing Suika rampaging through and splintering his work, thankfully nowhere close. What are my options?
 1) Ice. Ice and water. I’ve got a great idea.
 2) More danmaku. Just overwhelm her.
 3) Start screwing with the library entirely: its wards. its layout, its defenses...
He pondered. They all seemed good to him, but he suspected it would be a tossup as to whether or not he would keep his promise of winning this without ever becoming “oni”. Mouth pressed into his knuckles, he thought for a while. Then, he decided:
Ibuki Suika was having fun, the most fun she’d had in a very long time.
When she left the world of oni, she’d done so without goodbyes. Now, as she thought about it, she felt she’d wanted to give the impression that her return to Gensokyo had been a simple whim, or that she was tired of the same scenery. She knew that to be part of her untruthful bad habit. Truthfully, it had been long enough that she’d begun to miss humans. Truthfully, she had thought a lot of things out, and had more than parties in mind...
Now, though, she was unworried.
“Maybe here~?” she wondered aloud, stomping her foot through a canopy. No luck. Itou Gen was hiding, which was hardly in the spirit of tag, though she felt she could praise the gumption. Still, for the sake of her pride, she had to catch him.
“Where are you I won-der?” she said quietly and with a rhythm. As she pondered, she heard rain. “Hmn...?” she mumbled, looking overhead, and her right eye squinted reflexively as a drop of water fell on its respective cheek. “Huh?”
Having one of her distant copies rise above the woods, she confirmed: all over the library, water was falling. It ran along the branch-vines and their roots, not flooding—only soaking thoroughly. Within the bramble, Suika held up her hands at her waist. Fake, she thought, but the last time she’d been caught in a rain had been during another age. She stopped her pursuit, expecting the scent of petrichor before realizing what she was doing, shaking her head, and moving on. Her eyes focused. She thought where he might have gone. A spell like this? He may not have been capable. His tree had sprouted from a scroll—she’d seen that. A rain to cover the library would have to cover that wide ceiling up there. It was beyond a human’s capabilities. The way he’d touched that hourglass, his summoning it in the first place, the habits of magicians within their homes: this all came to mind, and she wagered... he was likely at one of the library’s four corners. They were around the southwestern point when she had lost him. To move quickly from point to point without cutting through the center and risking discovery, in the end he would most likely have finished... at the southeast.
She neared just there, having reasoned most of that through feeling before settling it through thought. She grabbed an overhanging branch and swung herself forward. Again. And again. Building momentum actively, she span until she was like a horizontal cyclone. Then, she let go, and fired down through the branches beneath her, tearing through like a meteor. She cratered the floor, cold sparks hitting her face, and she saw Itou Gen looking surprised beside a column which housed a large tome.
“Itou Gen!” she shouted, gravity barely catching up with her speed as water and stone began to fall down, “I’ve got you now!”
“Y-You’re wearing my coat!?” he exclaimed, turning to face her.
The sleeves were bunched almost entirely up, and it flowed out significantly behind her. “And...” she said, pointing, “that hat: I’m taking it too.”
He frowned, and looked ready to fly, stating, “Well? Come on, then.”
Like a lifted shadow, she darted toward Gen, and he moved to lift off, only to wince and bite in pain as a branch fell on the back of his head while other bits fell over his shoulders. Confused, he looked up to see what looked like saw dust floating through the air in a circle above him. Suika appeared at his right.
“No more playing around,” she spoke at his ear, and he saw that around her left wrist the same sawdust had gathered. She took his hat from his head, threw it to her left hand and, smirking, slapped him on his back with her right. “Touch! You’re the oni!”, she declared, the strike sending him face-down to the floor at once. Still moving, she went to land sideways on a particularly thick branch, prepared to don her won cap, but her smile was lost as she lost as well her footing. Her shoe slipped, and she fell in a tumble, becoming wrapped in his clothes again.
“Three... Four...” she heard, and then looked up, squinting, to see a human with distinct eyebrows standing above her. She noticed: the floor was very cold... The boy crouched, and touched his hand to her forehead saying, “Touch. You’re the oni. Try again.” Since his hat was in her hand and over her stomach, he did not retrieve it before flying off. After counting to four herself, she put the article down between her horns and, with thoughts of a book her friend had let her read going through her head, muttered:
“Yare yare daze...”
Gen, who was watching, could not contain a laugh. The oni heard it, and blushed deeply.
“Ahh!!” she screamed, “D-Don’t laugh!”
She got up, and chased after him.
Jumping up to where she’d heard him, she went to hang off and pull herself up on a trunk-like limb, felt an unusual sensation, and made a severe face. Ice. The little magic user had coated some, but not all surfaces with ice. She gripped through the shining layer, shattering it with ease and piercing the plant’s flesh with her fingertips. In the improper lighting of this strange home it would be difficult to see which surfaces were and weren’t frozen. In the first place, from touch she could tell that this ice was of the too-clear variety, and already troublesome. Despite the situation, she smiled with determination.
He knows I don’t want to fly, she figured. Cheeky kid. She loosened ice from the bark and tugged herself on top the limb, gathering an amorphous lump of frozen water into her right hand. She looked at it for a split second, and then went forward.
Gen already had distance; especially given Suika was being more careful now about her approach. He was disappointed she had tagged him once, rendering his initial boast null, but he did not let it dissuade him. He wanted to see what she would do.
He went by moving backward and freezing branches at random with whips of a chilled air spell that was simple to cast. He could not freeze everything at once without doing a lot of tampering to the library’s barrier-tomes, and that would just result in his Master killing him for being a nuisance. He hoped Suika would not realize this limitation, but he was soon forced to stop as she, of course, had. A geyser of broken wood erupted behind him as he was flying down a path, and turning around while freezing the footing in front of him, he did not come to know Suika was hidden within the splinter storm until her thumb was just over his stomach. He pulled the branch underneath her upward with a command just before he had to halt to her touch.
“Touch. You’re the o... ohh—??” Suika stumbled over her words as the slippery branch made her stumble forward, dropping into Gen and making him fall on his back. With her delayed on top of him, he simply began to count to four. “Uuhhn... Nn...” the oni moaned and breathed under his chin. He thought to count in prime numbers, but it was proving fruitless: he was not particularly good at math.
At four, he pulled out from under her, pressing on the small of her back and declaring, “Touch.” He stood, and took a step in reverse to depart, slipping, yelping, throwing his hands into the air, and landing onto his rear as if part of a very old comedy act. She counted now, smiling with cunning. There was not supposed to have been ice where he had stepped. Picking himself up onto his elbows, he watched the oni stand up with something glittering and swirling above her left pointer finger, lazily raised. She bent to him, and simply poked his nose.
“Touch,” she said, and with a smug expression backed up to coolly drop through the hole she’d created to ambush him. As he counted again, he realized that the game had changed once more.
“Eight minutes,” came a shout from above. He reached four, and wondered why his Master had chosen “eight” to announce as he pulled himself onto his knees.
Taking out his knife for material gathering, putting down a magnifying glass with no handle, and beginning to speak in a different old tongue, Gen prepared for another spell. He cut a section of bark from the maze underneath him, and asked the world to grant him sight through it. He hadn’t scried much before, as its applications were somewhat limited, but in this case it would be invaluable. When the simple casting was done, through the glass he could see along all the paths the vine-tree had created. He saw the small oni clones had already started rebuilding, he glimpsed the hour glass with not much sand left, and he saw Suika in one of his hiding places: lounging on her back, arm behind her head, and drinking from her gourd. He went to her, but not directly. He circled her location instead, and prepared the space around her.
So minutes passed by...
While thinking that could be it, and wondering if the human might impress her again, Ibuki Suika began spinning her gourd by its string around her finger. Her ears then perked up, and she snatched the gourd still, coming to a stand. He was close. She turned her head quickly to strange undulation in the branches. There.
She prepared for his arrival, wondering where she might go and admitting to herself... she’d gotten cocky; the boy had probably iced much of the area around her in the time since she’d tagged him. She looked over the branches and vines surrounding her, taking note of what connected to what. She crouched, placed a hand on the branch she stood on, and remained still, listening. To shifting. To stepping. Movements in the air. Where was—
“Touch, you’re the oni,” said Gen behind her as he pat her head. He remembered when he’d first had a fight in this library. A bunch of distractions was invaluable against a self-assured youkai. He retrieved his hat and stepped out from behind her, setting it on his head once more. The branches at her back were not conducive to a rapid escape. While she counted, he began flying toward the ceiling in order to leave the alcove.
“Two... Three...” she counted. He got through the canopy, and into a zone he could more easily control. “Four...!”
She tugged at the root she had been touching, both physically and with her mysterious power. Gen did not notice the many vines now snaking wildly, and only understood something was wrong when one struck him across his stomach, making him spit and fall back. He turned and dropped toward his opponent, who caught his face in her hand and said, “Touch. You’re the oni.” In three quick motions – taking it, spinning it ‘round on her finger, and placing it on her head – she took his hat again. She let him drop like wayward trash, and made her escape.
Rather, she tried, and found herself slipping and falling back into the alcove as Gen reached the count of four. He leapt to her before she could get up, declared a touch with a tap on her shoulder, and began flying again at once, now expecting something from her and ready.
From then, it was frenzy.
When he lifted off and cleared the “roof” again, Suika stood up after her count, pointed at him, and yelled, “Too bad!” She swirled her finger, everything shook, and she yanked downward straight to the root-floor with all of her strength. The tree began to fall in pieces.
Gen, surrounded by falling debris, began to avoid it like he would a spell card, also “push”ing away those that came a little too close. Off the collapsing pieces, Suika leapt from one to another toward him, sweeping ice away from those branches that shined, and he pushed a vine into her face. She pulled it away, looking intrepid and vibrant, before flicking it back into his face instead. Somewhen along the way, Patchouli announced that there were two minutes left.
Gen’s blood rushed. With a look to match hers, he started casting spells of air to cause chaos and ruin her footing, a small tornado and errant winds adding greatly to the mayhem. At one juncture when she had gone over his head (and upside down) but was unable to reach him with her hand, she instead threw something into his face. He dropped to get away; eyes shut, he felt that his mouth had gone cold. Touching there, he discovered a thin layer of ice. The oni had silenced him.
He began to melt it with his breath while also avoiding Suika and coaxing her to unsafe wood through his direction. When he finally managed to open his mouth again and brush the dripping ice away, he felt a hand on his free wrist. Suika announced, “Touch. You’re the oni,” with a delightful expression, and finally did what she had tried in the first place. She dragged him toward her as if in a dance, and flung him up and far away from her.
He imagined this was somewhat similar to how astronauts felt on ascent. While his body seemed undamaged from Suika’s toss, he also felt as if he had left that body several measures below. The sensation of momentum was confounding. He flew unwillingly out of the forest he had made, beginning his count to four and almost losing his hearing to the noise of rushing air. He spotted his Master. With this, he became aware that his feet were where his head should have been. When he reached four, he righted himself, let his senses settle, and looked down below. To his relief, his forest had only fallen in one place. Becoming sure of himself again, he began to plummet down, yelling with all his might a spell for illumination.
For a moment, the vines were lit up, and in that moment he saw the shining ribbon the oni had wrapped around her right horn. Judging from where she was headed, he knew he could get her one last time. He raced toward her as they entered the final minute.
Ibuki Suika saw him coming and gave him a surprise. She spun around when he was twenty meters away; opening her arms wide, she laughed as she spread an expansive sheet of ice between her and him. He crashed into it, and was bewildered by the sudden and frigid feeling, dropping onto a vine painfully. But, Suika was on the same vine. Speaking with chattering teeth, he “pulled” it.
The oni wobbled but did not fall. The light he’d shone had shown her where ice was too, so there was little for her to slip on any more. The crystals of water overhead began to shower down on her, and she hopped off the vine to abscond to her right. Gen, not far behind her, pushed a branch beside him that distorted enough to nearly touch her face. She began to fall to avoid it, and he laughed thinking, I win.
He called to the water within the roots, and her ankle splashed into it.
With a word, he froze it at once, speeding toward her. Ice couldn’t hold her longer than it surprised her.
As he approached, she bent low and heaved up an immense branch that he crashed into with his stomach again, losing breath. She shattered the ice on her ankle and was ready to move. Gen could not reach her...
... But he could reach what was over her head.
She made to move away and he “pull”ed the plant down. With her attempt at fleeing being so powerful, her entire body suddenly shook as she was stopped. Confused, she struggled to no avail: she couldn’t move.
It was her horns. Her horns had gone through the wood, and gotten stuck.
Gen freed himself a little more and reached desperately, his opponent groaning in the attempts to get herself out. Feeling strain, he pushed his body as much as he could, felt her throat, and panting said, “... Touch.”
A whistle blew.
“... I’m the oni,” Ibuki Suika calmly affirmed, wearing a smile in defeat. And, the game was over.
He continued breathing heavily, and felt Ibuki Suika swallowing, seeing it too. He looked up in her eyes. She chuckled, and he weakly chuckled too. He’d won.
The branches all withered and vanished into nothing. Then, they fell.
“Whoa!” Suika yelped. He put his hand past her shoulder, and then down between the blades to pull her in. She made him stable with a hand spread from the last of his ribs to the top of his stomach, putting her other arm around his shoulders, and the two of them more safely dropped to the floor than they might have alone.
His Master had to have terminated the spell with rock salt. After a modest crash, they were knelt together on the floor. He was tired, spiritually and physically, and to his surprise Suika had also broken a sweat. With her mouth cutely opened, she looked at and lifted the hat from her head, putting it back onto his and fitting it well. “Thanks,” she said.
He didn’t know what that was for. After thinking a moment, he decided to answer, “... I expect the coat back too.”
She laughed strongly, and he smiled to hear it. “Not for that!” she shouted, and he wondered really what it was for.
The sound of light footsteps approached, and they both looked to see Patchouli Knowledge approaching them with a white handkerchief across her palms. She looked down on the two of them as she got closer, and stopped when she was near to ask, “You stripped him?”
Suika pouted and claimed, “No, no! He LET me have this.”
“Did you?” his Master bellowed. From the angle he saw her, she looked like a furious shadow.
“No,” he answered simply, unable to muster a stronger denial, “she’s wording that weirdly. I had to abandon it to get away from her, that’s all.”
“So? Did you win?” she asked, He nodded, Suika nodded, and after a moment to herself with her eyes closed, she bent down to his eyelevel and began patting the sweat from his brow. “Good,” she said, “I honestly thought you’d lose.”
“Almost,” he admitted, one eye closed and craning his neck so that she could go down to his collar. Suika watched with a knowing expression. He glanced at her, and then glanced away.
“Alright,” said Patchouli, finishing, “now take her out of here.”
“Right,” he said plainly, nodding once. He had too rapidly changed from high to no energy, however. Trembling, he found it difficult to stand. Stealthily, Suika brought the arm over his shoulder down, and hoisted him up by his belt for a boost. He noticed, but tried to make it seem to his Master that he hadn’t, and had managed on his own.
Standing up, he parted from Suika, who let his sleeves fall their full length and stood with them hanging down off her arms. He looked at her, and she flapped the sleeves about playfully.
“One thing, Gen,” said his Master before he prepared to leave. He met her eyes for a moment, and then she turned away saying, “Good work.”
He bowed his head, smiling prideful, and answered, “Thank you!”
Suika put her hands (still inside the sleeves) on her hips and looked up at him. “‘Lright,” she said, “do your job.”
“Right this way, trespasser,” he replied, and they turned toward the exit.
I enjoyed that a lot! What I liked especially was figuring how Suika could turn Gen's own devices around on him. Most of the time, his unconventional bullshit gives him a wildcard advantage, after all.
Thanks a lot, dudes. It makes me happy you're happy.
>>66771 It isn't! That wouldn't make sense, now would it? That said it IS a self-reference. The spell is another inspiration from the Rauðskinna, based off what he saw of Brenglaður skógur (Twisted Forest).
Despite the harrowing experience, despite the effort, it was still morning, and it had been less than an hour since he’d woken up. He and Suika stood side by side outside the Mansion’s front door, looking at the gardens, the Sun, and the gates. They weren’t saying anything, and weren’t thinking much either.
“It really has been a while,” Suika eventually said. He looked down at her and saw that she was gazing into the sky. “When I came here it was snowing. ‘Hell,’ I thought, ‘looks like I forgot how time works up here!’ So, I gave up on seeing cherry trees and went straight to Yukari’s! Things like flower viewing, or throwing parties, or mountain climbing... it all got away from me a while... I said it was the winter bullying spring that messed up my motivation, but I think I was just s...”
She stopped, a bitter smile on her face. When she continued, it was with ease, “I stayed at Yukari’s for a long time; caught up with her. I used that as an excuse, too. Yeah, I wanted to talk to her, but I didn’t want to put myself out here again way more than that. I’m glad I stopped hiding, though. I’m really glad I followed through...”
She looked up at him, her smile having become warmer, and it was as if time froze. He wanted to say, wanted to ask:
So you know Yakumo Yukari?
You used to call Youkai Mountain “Yatsugatake”? I think we know that name in the outside world.
By the way, where are you staying?
What world did you come from?
And hey, when are you usually free?
Me? Well, it depends on my Master...
By the way, if you don’t mind, could we—
He felt like he was shaking. He was not, but he felt like he was. That last question was making him go cold beneath the hot summer sun. He realized that if he let her leave now, it could be his last time seeing her in his entire lifetime. It seemed, given her race had been forgotten, that the oni had come from another, hidden world, and by no means had she implied that she intended to stay in this one. Her talk of the previous evening’s party being the last, her talk of being satisfied with a decision here, her overall tone... he thought distinctly that if he let her go now, Ibuki Suika would return to a place he could not enter: a world of oni. Believing this, something told him that this was another of the rare moments in his life where his fate could go one way or another.
But he was worried how to speak.
He could tease Flandre Scarlet, he could trade cool insults with Alice, he could even speak with Youmu at level, putting his attraction to her aside.
But he was interested in Ibuki Suika, and more than anything he thought this showed. He thought it showed, and was terrified at the possibility that she would hear “Could we hang out some time?” and, seeing the human’s obvious red face, answer with “No”. He wasn’t sure if she had enjoyed that time in the library as much as he had, either. He couldn’t read whether she was always so enthusiastic, or if she had also thought, “what a funny guy” as he had had thought her a funny girl.
We hit it off, right? he thought, looking over to a rose bush. We did, right? He shut his eyes. Isn’t she like some sort of... youkai mountain goddess? She said “deva”, didn’t she? And she’s probably at least a thousand years old, I’m just in my twenties. Turning his body and aiming at the sky, he covered his face with both hands. Aaaaahh! Nooooo! It’s useless!
“What’re ya doin’?” Suika asked, humor in her voice.
“The Sun is too bright,” while saying this, he screamed within himself.
This was torment. It wasn’t that he had... fallen in love with the little girl, it was that...
“Fuuuuuuuuuuuu...” he breathed out all the air from his lungs.
“Whoa, are you okay?”
He wanted to.
He could not help it. Within the span of a slice of night and morning she had gone from being someone he felt he could condemn to someone so incredible. She was incredibly cool. She was amusing. She seemed like she was right on his wavelength. The aura she gave off like wisdom and simplicity all smoothly whipped together. Her style. Her boasting. Her honesty. That she was dishonest despite that. She was too cool. She was adorable. He wanted to keep talking to her. Realizing all this, Itou Gen was deeply embarrassed.
“Uh—” he stammered, taking his hands from his face, “it’s nothing! I just remembered there was a... a spell... component, I messed up on?”
Inside, he screamed again.
“O-Oh? Okay,” she answered.
Maybe she does, he thought, maybe she also thinks I’m interesting.
He was compelled to palm his forehead, but restrained himself and only pressed it instead. No way! You’re a lame, stupid, ridiculous human! Forget it, Itou!
He settled on this.
“Alright,” he said, shoulders dropping as he turned to look at her again, “let me kick you out.”
“Right, show me the way!” she answered gladly.
Damn it... he thought.
“This mansion’s especially new to Gensokyo, right? That’s the way it feels to me!” she chatted.
“Haven’t really dealt with many vampires, though... Your scaredy-cat mistress made me nostalgic...”
“I also like your flowers. The lazy guard takes care of that, eh?”
They reached the gate.
“Well and well then, I’m gonna go off from here, maybe see the Lake up close under the Sun. Take your coat back, take it~!” she crowed, undressing that layer and handing it to him. It already had her fragrance. He held it in his hands.
“...” Suika looked at him without a word, her expression nothing notable. Still quiet, she held up a fist. He mirrored her, lifting his right hand from under his coat, and she began smirking. “... First is rock!”
He joined her in saying, “Paper, scissors, go!” They bounced their fists in rhythm, and at the end, each threw a V-sign hand.
“Heh heh...!” the oni giggled, pressing her fingertips to his. “That’s really somethin’, eh...”
AAAAAHHH! he mentally yelled, maintaining composure.
He yelled as she turned to leave. She stopped, and looked over her shoulder, straight into his eyes.
His cheeks had gone as red as they could, a blush deepening them from one ear to the other.
“I-If you’d like...!” he said, head bowed as he threw the words out while trying not to think them over. “... Would you... be willing to... uhhh... mm...”
He looked into her eyes again, and though he tried to maintain this contact, he looked away as he finally told her, “I was thinking... I’d like to... try hanging out with you... sometimes...”
Still looking away, he only heard and felt his heart, thumping heavily. I can’t believe it, he thought to himself, I actually did it. That’s the first time... and with her... Ahh... His face began to show restrained worry.
“With me?” Suika asked.
“Yes,” he answered formally, still unable to look at the girl.
“Yeah!” she answered in a chipper voice, “You’re an interesting human! Bother me all you want!”
Now his face showed that he was stunned, its color lost. He slowly started the process to comprehend what it was he had just heard.
“I’ll probably be at Reimu’s place a lot, but if you’re brave enough I’ll be around the mountain a bunch too! Heck I’ll be everywhere, just look for me!”
He began to flush scarlet again.
“I... I-I-I’ll be looking for you too, ha... ha ha ha!”
She sounded awkward.
He turned his eyes to her, but only saw the rosy shade of her countenance for a fraction of a moment before she turned away, raising her hand in goodbye. “S-See you, human!”
There was a time he had been in the middle of an experiment to capture an “idea” with his Master. She claimed philosophical musings like that made for great discoveries in magic. They had attempted to forge disgust, fear, intrigue, and beauty. “Beauty” had been, ultimately, a vibrant halo of light that blossomed white ray-stems, the “petals” of which had been shining, golden butterflies. They had flocked all suddenly, and flown into the air of the library to make something like an impossible and glowing amber night sky up above them.
As Suika cleared the fence and flew toward Misty Lake, waving farewell, his heart felt like that display of beauty. He watched her go away, and was quietly, completely, happy.
Oh... came the realization in his head.
A smile of totally bliss raised his cheeks. He was almost felt tearful.
I’m so happy! Yes!
Shutting his eyes, and bending his head in joy, he gripped the cloak in his hands and thought: he couldn’t wait to see her again.
“Sir Gen!? Someone with huge horns just flew out of the mansion! Did we have such a guest!?”
Atop the mansion wall, the guard Hong Meiling was addressing him while standing straight up. From how she was turned, one could tell she had gone up there to watch the oni fly off, and had only noticed Gen by chance.
She hopped down and, getting up from the crouch of her fall, stepped toward him looking incredibly wary. He only managed an “Uh...” response.
The Chinese Girl stopped suddenly with a stiff shudder, as if someone had just firmly grasped her shoulder. She frowned at Gen, and standing straight again folded her arms. She squinted, and he raised an eyebrow as he blushed again, worried his friend might have seen the exchange. Meiling’s frown lifted on one half in further displeasure, and she leaned away from him. “Gen,” she said, “take a bath.”
He looked down at himself.
Then, face bright red with shame, he repeated:
“I stink!?” he asked.
“You stink,” she answered honestly, pinching her nose. “You didn’t return with the others after last night’s party, right? Did you sleep in the woods? You smell like an animal.”
That... whole time...? No... It’s ‘cause after that match I sweat a lot, so... Oh man, she... I...
Gen’s mind almost shut down again.
“It’s the BO that’s the worst. Were you exercising?”
“Sorry, Meiling,” he replied, “I’ll go wash up.”
“I’ll escort you, you’re looking out of it. Or, well...” she reconsidered, looking up and to the right to nowhere, “if you tell me that strange guest was indeed a guest, I’ll escort you.”
“Yeah, she was. An oni,” he answered.
“An oni...!? Oni... wow... What was an oni doing here?”
She reacted heavily as to be expected, touching her lip with thought as she approached him with her arm raised and ready to guide him. “Ah, give me your clothes, too. I’ll get them washed. Can’t trust the fairies with them, they’ll just end up playing.”
He let Meiling take him back inside, profoundly embarrassed once again, for so many reasons. But, at the core of his heart he was glad. He could see Suika more, and he deeply hopeful about what could happen between them. Even if it was nothing, he wanted to know her more... He re-entered the mansion, unable to stop thinking of her, and not realizing that either.
Man, turning into a Magician is the least he can do for magic. The Art gave him a purpose, a way to interact with-and to please- his master (someone he respects very much) friends and now, well: it didn't just make him find love, but also gave him a way to earn its interest.
If Mystra, the goddess of magic, were a real entity, he should be burning candles in her temples every night for the rest of his life.
>>66773 I could practically hear Suika's internal screaming as well.
>Just ask the awesome human if he wants to hang out! >Why is he acting like that? C-could it be he's interested in m- O-oh, is that all it was? >Argh! Just say something to him! Anything!
"This mansion’s especially new.." "Your scaredy-cat mistress made me nostalgic...” “I also like your flowers."
>Damn it...! What the hell am I babbling on about?! >Why isn't he saying anything?! >M-maybe he's upset I haven't given him his coat back yet? >Oh fuck, we're already at the gate! Quick, think of something!
“Heh heh...!” the oni giggled, pressing her fingertips to his. “That’s really somethin’, eh...”
At her feet, the miniature oni looked into Patchouli’s eyes and pointed behind itself, as if to say “Look!” She did.
Reconstruction of her fallen bookshelf was progressing quite quickly, and the little things had even cleaned up what mess there had been around the library. When she’d noticed the damaged floor, too, they came and set to work resetting it. Still. Still.
“Maybe I should take one of you and perform some experiments,” she said. The little one opened her arms wide and leaned its head back. “Come on,” it seemed to say. Its face was smug, and the meaning of its gesture was clear. Patchouli’s mood soured even further.
“When your work is done, should I have Sakuya sweep you all up with the trash to get rid of you, I wonder?” To this threat, the clone closed its eyes and shrugged. A sign of “Whatever”.
She lifted the dark tome she was carrying in her hand and glowered. The miniature soundlessly sniggered as it ran off back to work.
Oni... she spoke in her mind.
Oni were irritants, like affronts to the nature of reality itself. Wheezing, she walked away from them to go have a rest.
There was an order to reality, and everything within it was give and take, hand in hand, A and B, in pairs, with logic, and with sense. It made sense. Humans created youkai and gods, gods subsisted off of faith while youkai subsisted off of fear, fairies were weak, and dragons were strong. The strongest being in existence? A dragon... probably.
After all, there were the oni. Unbound from sense, they merely existed like... LIKE embodied ideas of “strength”. But “strength” was taken far, far, far, far too liberally. It was not even defined under their name. The oni were not “strong”, and they were not “strength”, they were “undefeatable, beyond nature, and unreasonable in power”. This idea, this... problem almost drove Patchouli Knowledge to madness.
She hadn’t slept last night. She hadn’t bathed, and she hadn’t eaten (not that she had to). While at the party, she was brought into what seemed to be a barrier or... or something, where the source of the mist she had been researching made itself known to her, pulling even that possible victory from her grasp before soundly trouncing her and sending her away. And to think, the entire time up to even that night, she had been dancing and thinking as its puppet...
It was an oni... Ibuki no Suika, “Suika of the Ibuki”... Oni.
Even the Dragon God could conceivably be leashed, as were its potential handler in tune enough with it – powerful and certain enough to earn its respect – it would heed commands. This was how Gensokyo’s Great Hakurei Barrier had ultimately been formed... It was facts of reality like that which drove Patchouli Knowledge to continue her magic: the Ultimate Truth that nothing was impossible. When she read of oni, and could not find a weakness and in fact—only found records which seemed to not make sense (of unequivocal victory, fantastic and varied natural power, and utter domination)... she may have become a little obsessed.
However, oni were not in Gensokyo when she and her friend arrived. She was a little relieved to know they had vanished aeons ago, and more than that she was greatly, deeply irritated. She would never determine what made them tick. She would never be able to figure them out. The world was full of wonder, and many things within it were mysteries... but all mysteries could be solved. She would solve the mystery of Misty Lake’s eponymous noontime phenomenon one day; but with oni having disappeared from the world, she only had incomplete history to go on! They would remain unknown! Ridiculous!
Last night, she read anything she could find.
She would not give up. She would not believe that her library did not hold the answer. Somewhere, somewhere there had to be a better record. A more sensible record. A tell: that oni were not invulnerable. That the way they mocked the very concept of “servitude” with the chains they wore was only for show. The one oni lie they all told: that they were invincible.
And she found it. Roasted soybeans... and blast, she only had coffee.
Spawning the correct plant with magic was possible... but in her too-driven mind, it had not occurred to her at first. Furthermore, once this idea had come to her, she reconsidered. Agricultural magics were very artificial, and it was likely that their effect would be dulled if not outright nullified because of that. Now, as she sat down, looking through a book of nature spells, she considered it was highly likely that Ibuki Suika had not been weakened during their last battle because the holly had been produced through her magic. Was that why the oni had brought up that it was “fake”?
I don’t know.
But, I want to think that’s the case.
If it wasn’t a case, then that backup plan to use holly leaves and dried sardines that she had found after more desperate searching would be utterly futile. She thought, at least having the dried sardines would make the ward a little more effective than tossing bean danmaku. Now she became embarrassed, letting her book fall in her lap as she put her face in both her hands.
I mean, it did work! It worked, that’s why she destroyed the bookshelf!
But, Patchouli! You didn’t do it properly! You knew that!
Even after all of that, her research was indicating a miserable possibility... that oni had made up their alleged greatest weakness, almost as a joke. If that was true, then nothing about them was. They could very well be invincible. Maybe... she just had to make it true...
Oni were irritants. Complete affronts to nature.
Not only were they like this, flagrantly disregarding all law the universe could apply to them, they were so... barbaric. So slovenly. It was a joke that in the Eastern Script, Remi’s race was written as “blood-sucking ‘oni’”. Remi could be unruly at times, but she wasn’t like THAT!
Patchouli groaned in misery. A blight had descended on Gensokyo and entered her life. She began wincing, showing her misery in her put-tight lips.
She would definitely figure it out...
... The Girl of Knowledge and Shade would show that oni that she, too (I・bu・ki -no-Su・i・ka), was a part of this world.
The librarian sank in her chair.
She needed to give her student something to do.
 Get Gen to research something. Not oni. Enough about oni.
 Send him away to the Lake to see how the water was affected by the Incident.
 Send him to the Forest of Magic for material gathering.
 Give him a break: send him on an adventure in the Bamboo Forest of the Lost.
And so begins the "the only unique pre-battle track in IaMP worth shit is Skygazer, but BOY the shit it WORTH" section of the story.
[X] Give him a break: send him on an adventure in the Bamboo Forest of the Lost.
That would be fine. When he came back to the library, that’s what she’d tell him to do. Until then, she’d look into the rumors behind the oni’s alleged weakness, and that ‘Setsubun’ that her student had mentioned...
Gen got out of Scarlet Devil Mansion’s absurd bathing room and into the equally large adjacent area where laundry was set aside and drying was done. He’d long become used to the Bath (England)-sized pool of a bathing area, it and its lack of any founts or showers as the Mistresses could not cross any water that flowed. He speculated that its size was in truth for the large amount of maids employed by Remilia, who he had heard, not seen, during their bath times and the chaos that resounded defied his imagination. To speak of them... after Meiling had shooed him into the bath, a troupe of maids that had been stalking the two adults showed up and nicked his pants, hat, and vest once he had gotten undressed and handed his clothing through the door, leading to Meiling giving chase. Sakuya, who had been nearby to witness their tomfoolery, told him she would prepare another outfit while his was being retrieved and eventually washed. Now, the familiar set of clothes awaiting him that she’d chosen gave him much pause, and for a while he stared at them with a towel over his head, considering asking someone to get him something... more appropriate. After hemming as much as hawing, he decided to put them on.
“Master Patchouli? Are you still awake?”
This voice came calling through the library, its source: the librarian’s assistant, who was able to tell that the night before she had not slept. Patchouli was awake, however, and with her weary eyes gazed toward the shelf she expected him to show from. He did, but it was in surprising fashion.
“Those clothes...” she said, lifting herself from the seat of a deep chair, “... you look like an Outsider.”
“I’d respond obviously, but really, right? This is dangerous isn’t it?”
Gen stopped walking and lifted his hands. He was wearing a white T-shirt with an orange number 8 on the front of it. Over this he wore a black, short-sleeved, collared and button shirt, left open. His T-shirt was tucked into his lengthy denim jeans, which fell over his pair of blue and white sneakers. He also had a simple leather and buckle belt. Around his wrist was a black sweatband, and around his neck was his mark of avowal of loyalty and trust to and with Lady Remilia Scarlet.
“What happened to your clothes?” Patchouli asked, hands on the coffee table before her. “Did that oni destroy them?”
“No, fairies got away with them when I went to take a bath.” He rubbed his cheek, looking at the band on his right wrist. “I’ve been so used to wearing them since you gave them to me that I find this... strange,” he admitted.
“Don’t get thoughts about going back home now,” she told him returning to a seated posture and closing her eyes in a moment of rest.
I am home, he did not tell her, for he had suffered enough embarrassments for this entire coming week within just the morning. Walking forward he addressed his Master again, “Could I ask you to protect this, Master? I’m a little worried without it under my warded usual outfit.” He lifted his necklace, mainly showing the vial of blood that hanged from it. While he could charm objects on his own, for something as precious as the vial, he would want the best of defenses shielding it.
Patchouli glanced over at him, then turned her eyes onto a grimoire she had been studying. “Come,” she said.
As he did, she continued talking, “Before even that, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to wear the clothes Sakuya changed you into when you first got here?”
“I figured I’d just stay inside until it was all sorted out, and research today,” he explained as he came to stand beside her.
His Master put down her tome page-down on her lap and lifted the vial of his necklace underhanded. Before she enchanted it, she informed him, “Aren’t you thinking too freely? I had something for you to do today, not in the library.”
“O-Oh! Sorry!” he answered quickly.
While he ruminated on his premature self-made plans, his Master touched his necklace and its “pendant” at several points while whispering, sometimes moving her finger in swirls, triangles, and half-circles. In less than fifteen seconds, she let the vial go, finished.
“Done,” she said, sitting her back against her chair again. “And though you’ll be going out, don’t bother changing; where you’re going today... there may in fact be a use for you to not look like a Magician, I think.”
“If you say so, Master Patchouli,” he replied, and began to apply wards to the clothes he had brought with him to Gensokyo.
“You’ll be going into the Bamboo Forest of the Lost today,” said his Master as she returned to reading.
He finished up his wards before asking, “Hm? ... Really? You want me to go there?”
“It should be fine for you. I don’t have a particular assignment for you either... I want you to go there, see and gather what you will, and begin to return when the Sun starts to fall.”
“You want me to somehow not get lost in the Forest so named?” he asked her, raising an eyebrow and folding his arm while leaning away playfully.
“You will become lost with ninety-eight point four five nine three six percent certainty; I only want you to try to make it back here before darkness falls. Consider it a little break, and a challenge.” She turned her page over and was silent, signifying her directions were completely told.
“Alright, Master. Before I go, do you have the bag I came to Gensokyo with here in the Mansion?”
“You weren’t brought in with a bag,” she answered.
Hm. Fairies or something, he concluded, not minding the loss of his university textbooks. “Well then! I will need some carrying implements! Among other things.”
Patchouli put her thumb between her book’s pages and, while speaking ancient commands, reached for the table before her. When she touched it, a white circle of magic appeared, and she pulled up from it to summon a black suitcase, marked only once with a golden crescent moon on its front side near the bottom. She then took the hand she’d used for this task, flicked her wrist and pointer finger forward, and turned her palm around for a satchel flying toward it. She caught the thing, and set it down behind the suitcase. While pulling away next, she opened the suitcase’s clasps and revealed its contents. Mainly: empty vials and small, bundled scrolls, all securely moored within.
“It’s basic but this should do,” said the youkai magician. “You can use the bag for anything else.” She threw a short look to his waist next and moved her finger like a conductor would a baton. “Have this too,” she said, and a clip appeared upon his belt; for the suitcase, likely. He slung the satchel around his shoulder.
“Thank you, Master Patchouli” he said very happily, closing the case and getting its handle onto the hook.
“Right, get whatever else you need ready on your own and hurry up,” she told him. He answered her right away, speaking with simple care:
“You should sleep first, Master Patchouli.”
And Patchouli answered her student right away, not looking from her book:
“You’ve never seen me in this exact state before, Gen, but when I am truly in the zone of research this is how I become.” She turned her head to him, and he looked at the wrinkled and dark skin beneath her eyes. “I’ve already passed the stage of thinking there are dark things crawling out the corner of my eye, and drowsiness has left me. I no longer need to sleep—uff.”
She made a noise as he put his hand down on her head, over her soft hat. She had been looking happy about boasting those things. He told her, “I’m just worried about you, Master.”
His Master remained still for a little while, before looking back to her book from beneath her hat. “Worry about yourself,” she said, but she did not remove his hand.
“Not only, and not in a million years Master Patchouli,” he swore, showing a smile she did not see, and pulling away as he turned to prepare spell cards for his trip. Before he left for the Forest, he found the Head Maid and asked her to make sure his Master and his Master’s bed reconciled before he returned.
He moved toward the Bamboo Forest, located on the opposite side of the human village, as discreetly as he could, taking preference to open areas where he could see around himself well. He flew short distances here and there, and walked where he felt flying would make him stand out too much. He wasn’t sure which a more tempting target for youkai was: an Outsider walking around, or an Outsider floating in the sky. In either case: a meal. He really did need to be discreet.
Since leaving, he had an extra goal aside from his simple task of exploring the strange and ever-growing grove of bamboo stalks. That was too find “special” shoots to eat and bring them back to the Mansion. The Head Maid had agreed to insist Patchouli go to bed... if he did that much. More importantly, he was still within his final month of servitude in compensation for the Maid; he could not refuse a request, and had not for almost four months since he’d apologized to her for his many foul actions. It hadn’t been particularly bad, to be a butler of Scarlet Devil Mansion.
Now he approached his destination. He had taken a road around the Human Village, uninterested in touring it today (and most days, actually), thus the one entirely human place in Gensokyo that he had never visited now sat a fair distance behind him. Now he stopped to read a large wooden sign beside the dirt road he’d been walking.
To those who aren’t bamboo harvesters, enter at your own risk.
To those who are bamboo harvesters, enter at somewhat less risk.
He blinked, and looked up. Far, far up. Risk it is, I suppose.
The bamboo was the tallest he’d ever seen personally. Here and there in modern Japan he could find bamboo growing either randomly or through deliberate cultivation, but he’d not gone to Kyoto or somewhere for a bamboo forest. He’d gone to Kyoto of course, but not for the forest at least. Temples... the usual.
The emerald sight was more unnerving than breathtaking. Eerily thick stalks rose seemingly higher than he was able to see, leafy and entirely ungroomed. He hadn’t actually seen bamboo with sprouted branches, either. Or rather, he hadn’t seen branches so significant that they reached out from the trunk so brazenly, sometimes a meter or more. He’d also heard the forest had bamboo growing at angles, and that there was regularly dense fog that rolled in. Knowing he’d need to prepare a little more before stepping inside, he brought his eyes down to ground-level.
“Jesus!” Gen yelled and fell back on his right foot, almost falling down but managing to keep steady enough to be ready for fight of flight. In front of him was a short-haired, winged woman. Her hair and feathers were black, her white, short-sleeve shirt had a distinct gold design of red leaves on only one section of it, and that fanciful pattern was shared on a section of her (noticeably short) dark skirt, frilled white below. Importantly, her ears were pointed and her eyes were crimson. More importantly, she stood on one leg and wore strange red shoes that seemed to be hybridized with single-tooth geta. Most importantly, atop her head was a twelve-surfaced box of the same color—a tokin, carrying three large, colorless pom-poms—bonten-fusa on either side by a pair of similarly red strings... certainly: yuigesa. A gust came along delayed, kicking up dust. A tengu had appeared.
Shameimaru Aya, smiling very politely, reminding him of a McDonald’s waitress (perhaps because of the clothes he now wore).
“...” He looked at her silently.
... No, he decided, and he began to walk around her. For her reputation, and that I’m not on the Mountain, she shouldn’t attack me.
Aya appeared before him again, stopping him and looking greatly concerned, hands up. “Hey now, listen here, honored human! Don’t you know it’s dangerous in there?” she insisted. “I simply cannot let you through.”
“Gensokyo is dangerous,” he told her, then fell silent again. Looking at her with irritation, he eventually asked, “... What do you want?”
“Well that makes things easier,” she answered, the concern vanishing from her face immediately. “I just wanted to ask you some questions.”
“I see the camera behind your back,” he said, looking, “I’m not letting you spread pictures of me in my old clothes. Some youkai in Gensokyo still don’t know about my origins.”
“Oh, I already got your picture,” she replied. He looked at her in anger and disbelief, and reached for a book attached to the back of his belt. “Hold on, hold on! It wasn’t of you in what you wear now... Itou Gen, was it?”
“Why take a picture of me at all? Tch... Come on, let me through,” he begged, trying to walk forward again. She tapped a feathered pen to his forehead and smirked lightly.
“I’ll protect you as you go through the forest if you just give me some information,” she offered.
“Forget it,” he refused without waiting for a breath. He was now rather annoyed, especially as it seemed like he would have to enter the forest without having prepared what he needed, if only to get away from the bothersome and dangerous tengu.
He finally walked past her with success, and she spoke up to try to stop him this time. “Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” she asked, her arms folded. “The culprit behind the latest event—I’m calling it the ‘Night Parade of One Hundred Youkai Every Four Days’ Incident—took an interest in a human, and you thought this would just escape my notice?”
His spirit sank, as did his shoulders. He finally, grudgingly, turned to look at her.
“At one time,” she continued, “though you didn’t seem to realize it, one of those parties lasted three entire days. There was no way I was going to ignore it, no matter how much everyone else was, or was compelled to. That the power behind it seemed so familiar... I certainly wouldn’t pass it up... Oh?”
Gen’s face had gone red.
“S-So you saw me... when? Last night? This morning?”
“This morning I saw you, having learned Ibuki no Suika had not only returned, but come to visit those of our newest comers: the Scarlet Devil Mansion.”
“Oh gods... a-and you took a picture...!?” he asked, unable to look at anything but his feet.
“If I am being honest, and I am ever the pure and honest Shameimaru, I took several pictures, as any good photographer ought,” she said both matter-of-factly and proudly.
He became despondent.
“Fine...” he said, “I’ll answer your questions...”
“Delightful! Let’s get right to it!” she exclaimed. She hopped (literally) toward him and readied her words.
“So you have become Ibuki Suika’s lover?” she asked, opening a notepad and lifting her pen.
Gen’s reaction was manga-esque. It was as if the question had blown him back, and his cheeks were almost glowing with heat. He balled a fist and threw out the answer, “Y-You’re mistaken! We’ve become f-f... f-f-f-friends!”
“Close friends?” she asked with a smile, looking up.
“New friends,” he answered, looking to the ground again, his brow in chaos.
“So the oni has made two new friends already. Chummy as ever,” said Aya, writing something down.
“How much do you recall of the past Incident overall?”
“Little...” he admitted, calming a little as well. “Mostly, the last month has been a haze of celebratory events.”
Still scribbling, the tengu asked, “You said you met Ibuki Suika last night?”
“I didn’t,” he told her, which was true: he had only implied as much.
“Sorry, you implied that you had?” she asked. He groaned, and said nothing in reply. Taking this as a “yes”, the tengu followed with, “What happened last night?”
“... I just met her,” he relented, “nothing more.”
“That’s quite something. Miss Suika had been very deliberately hiding until she began selectively showing herself to certain individuals,” Aya commented. Writing quite a lot, she told him, “It’s a very exceptional chance meeting, I would say.”
“Sure...” he vaguely agreed.
“Did she ‘show’ herself to you? Was it only happenstance?”
“I stumbled across her by the Lake.”
“You said she showed herself to certain individuals? Who?”
“About everyone who matters right now, so certainly not you,” she answered, not looking from her notepad. He wasn’t sure if he should feel insulted.
Aya kept on, “Now the Head Maid told me to get out when I tried seeing why Miss Suika had not come back out after learning that she entered the Mansion the night before, so I was unable to confirm what transpired. Your Maid is very rude, and does not seem to understand the value of truth.”
“Uh huh,” he answered dully.
“So? What happened?”
“Sui... umm, Miss Suika took me back home when I collapsed from tiredness and drunkenness, but she basically intruded to do that. She was bothering my Master... Lady Patchouli Knowledge, and an altercation started in the Library. I assisted my Master, and eventually ended up suggesting to Miss Suika a game.”
“Really?” said Aya in confirmation, looking serious.
“We played a fairly lawless game of tag, in which Miss Suika was allowed to use whatever she could to win, and I was as well. I’m an apprentice magician, so... I know some things,” he explained. “Ultimately, I won the game, and escorted Miss Suika out of the Mansion.”
“Wait... really?” she asked, suspicious. “You beat an oni at a game? You? An Outsider?”
“Yes, but if you’re writing an article don’t mention I’m an Outsider. I’ll get my Master to make yakitori out of you if you do.”
“Goodness,” answered Aya, not writing that down. “Don’t worry, Itou Gen: I find your existence much more interesting the less people know that you’re from the Outside World.”
“Really?” he asked, somewhat dubious.
“Truly, in fact,” she replied, tilting her head and smiling as ever, “you’ve almost slipped under my radar several times, but I know that you’re not as subtle as you wish to be. I know about your hand in the Spring Snow Incident, for example, and that you were directly involved in why it was able to transpire in the first place. I let that truth remain quiet. Do you know why, Itou Gen?”
He shook his head.
“Once it is known throughout Gensokyo that Patchouli Knowledge’s student is a human, let alone one from the Outside World, it won’t be long before he is killed and his adventures end. That would be troubling, because then an opportunity is wasted,” she explained smoothly, and he found her explanation paralyzing. “You see, I am betting on you, Itou Gen, and if what you said is true—that you won against an oni—then my expectations and predictions for your growth are absolutely correct. You will make for a fantastic subject... once you become a youkai.”
“... Excuse me?”
“‘The Untold Story of Patchouli’s Magician’ will most definitely be a hit if you survive long enough for me to tell it. My, I wish I had been able to photograph your match with Miss Suika. I will have to settle for a confirmation from her, I suppose. But, an oni’s confirmation is very much worthwhile.”
Aya finished taking notes and put her things away, swinging the camera slung around her neck to her front. She did not take a picture; she simply beat her wide wings and was ready to be off. “Thank you for your time,” she said, saluting him, “please do your best to continue to survive.”
She gestured with her salute, and shot into the air, almost instantly becoming a dark and distant shadow in the sky as winds tossed everything around him. Gen looked at her disappearing figure completely motionless, and unsure of what to think about her arrival.
... He decided to ignore her “youkai” comment, and finally begin preparing to enter the forest, opening up his suitcase and taking from it a half-foot scroll.
Due to the Bamboo Forest being known as a place where people would be lost, this was how Gensokyo “rendered” it. Thus, if you yourself were not something or someone that “belonged” to it, you would invariably lose your way... or so was the rumor becoming fact.
He theorized that “belonging” was merely becoming so used to the forest, either by living there or working there, that you could understand its layout in spite of how it regularly changed due to the rapid growth of the bamboo. Rather, he wanted to believe that. If there was a god of this forest, and its faith was based in its ability to make people “lost”, supporting the idea wouldn’t do him any good. Thus, he laid a marker on the earth, inscribed in the scroll, that he would be able to locate with only a little bit of magic. Even if it was moved, he’d still be able to find it from within the forest. It was a simple precaution that he felt may prove invaluable... if nothing strange happened inside. He activated the marker, closed his suitcase, and entered the Bamboo Forest.
Stepping inside, it was oddly both gradual and rapid how the scenery started to blend together. The path he had been walking was lost in a few steps, while he still felt like the exit was only a hop, skip, and a jump away. It had to have been less than two minutes before he realized he had no idea where he was, and had lost his sense of place. Rather than panicking, he began to explore as he’d been instructed, intrigued. He actually thought the shimmering green plant life, showered by the sun, was quite beautiful.
Over time he observed that the bamboo forest was home to many rabbits. They were often white, which surprised him. This did not seem an ideal color given the environment, but aside from a few chestnut-colored bunnies, the ones darting out of his sight were near always shining and pale. They seemed to him to have the run of the place, and as he became more entrenched in the bright forest, he wondered if there were truly any predators in this place at all.
On his way he did find some, however. Abandoned human goods he would occasionally spot seemed to be frequently attractive to youkai and wolves. He made his way carefully, and seemed to be safely avoiding most anything that could attack him.
While he did indeed entirely lose his sense of place shortly after entering the forest, he did not feel as put off by the place inside of it as he had outside. The sun filtered into the forest well and gorgeously, with there never being a solid canopy to block it. With that, it additionally became an easy matter to breathe here, unlike in the Forest of Magic. Also unlike the Forest of Magic, there didn’t seem to be many fairies causing mischief in this area. In fact, if not for the frequent sounds of birds and summer insects, as well as the often-spotted rabbit, he might have even gotten the impression that this place was almost devoid of life.
He eventually found a small pond in a clearing and took a seat on the earth before it, setting some magical traps around himself just in case. The pond looked almost untouched, and the water was startlingly clear. He did not drink, because it made him rather suspicious.
By this point, he had concluded that he enjoyed the Bamboo Forest of the Lost, and he had determined that what beasts and youkai he could find within it were likely not threats at his current degree of mastery over the Art. It was a relaxing and rather pretty area with a level of danger only slightly above that of the Forest of Magic that he could easily, and gladly, get lost in funnily enough. If he could end up “belonging” here, he imagined he might come often, really. He’d not gathered much in the way of useful ingredients (as he had expected, as this forest wasn’t known for “magic” like another in noted forest Gensokyo), but he had relaxed after the whirlwind of experiences he’d had in so few hours before. He’d have to thank his Master again. This said, he hadn’t found what the Maid had requested of him either. He really had no experience whatsoever with finding bamboo shoots, and to spot anything specific in this monotonous (though dazzling) place was a tall order.
He also didn’t want to look at his feet very often when he needed his eyes all around him, just in case.
While thinking about a resolution to this conundrum, he heard distant movement. Unconcerned, he looked to the source, and raised his eyebrows.
“A youkai rabbit...” he muttered absently, “first time I’ve seen one.”
The barefoot youkai moving behind bamboo stalks looked like a young girl with messy hair, and the clearest way to tell she was not human was to look at the large and white, floppy rabbit ears on her head. She didn’t seem to notice him and was only moving through the forest as seemed to be the norm for her, judging by her carriage.
He followed the sight of her light and pink dress, as well as her fluffy-looking tail, and wondered where she might be going.
He didn’t know how much time had passed, but it felt to him now like the afternoon.
>>66827 Where canon is available... I *try* to follow it, at least! Thumbs up
[X] Go back to thinking about whatever else.
“... Monster rabbits are no joke... and I don’t even have any grenades...”
He took off his shoes and socks, laid back and put his hands behind his head, and started lazily swishing and kicking his feet in the cool pond.
It was time to be contemplative.
It had been over a year now since he’d slipped into Gensokyo, and he hadn’t seen a hint of modern Japanese life since. Modern life in general, in fact; at Scarlet Devil Mansion, Lady Remilia had clearly and deliberately decided to cultivate an image of antiquity in her home, leaving its “newest” features to feel a century or two behind. He didn’t have any problems with this, and thought that might make him fairly strange.
He bent his toes and looked at the clouds crawling past this open space.
It came to mind that he should probably feel guilty toward his parents. It looked like, as far as he knew, he would stay in Gensokyo for the rest of his days, and by now they had to have already assumed him dead. Gen wasn’t one to dwell on depressing subjects, however, and thought, I should probably get in contact with them. When he got back, he decided he would talk to his Master about getting a letter to the Outside World.
But really, toward Japan as he knew it he felt almost... nothing. After high school, he hadn’t had any friends outside of bulletin boards online, and hadn’t particularly desired any beyond spots of yearning in his early university days. He loathed to watch television and films, at least produced in Japan. He’d liked games and manga, and the latter was actually something his Mistress and Meiling had in fair supply, but he’d really always been more intrigued by foreign works. Especially once the Internet was an open resource to him, he had truly delighted in researching magic from England, playing games from America, watching movies and reading novels from either, and finding others who shared his tastes on Anonymous channels. This was clearly why coming to Scarlet Devil Mansion had been relatively easy for him. The old Japan aesthetic of Gensokyo was also of interest to him if only because it was different. Different from the cramped streets he’d grown up with. Definitely different in terms of the false people... Gensokyo was honest. He honestly loved that it was honest. That was so much more... freeing.
Although he didn’t mind the idea of leaving new media, foreign or otherwise, behind forever, he also thought he wouldn’t mind seeing something from modern day every once in a while. He still liked some of those things quite a bit after all. What was the place called? Kourindou...?
A bird flew out from the grove, catching his attention.
He saw it for a brief moment before it went into hiding. Turning his head back to rest, he considered falling asleep here. This would be a bad if not worse idea than the time he slept on the outskirts of Youkai Mountain.
But it had been a long night...
And it had been a longer morning.
... He fell asleep anyway.
He woke up with his eyes a bit wet. He didn’t know how long he’d napped, but nothing had jostled him, he had merely rested well.
He sat up, squirming his mouth.
He’d had a dream about seeing his family...
“Haaaa... ” he sighed. The clothes were making him too nostalgic.
He looked around him to the glyphs he’d set down to trigger at any trespassing. Thankfully none had gone off, meaning if anything had found him while he had lied consciously defenseless, it had only looked and gone away. Gen began patting dirt from his back, and thinking where to go.
“I guess if I’m going to find bamboo shoots, I have to look to the ground...” he muttered. Reluctantly deciding to follow through on that idea, he stood, erased his traps, and departed. Within twenty steps, he found another clearing, brimming with young bamboo.
“Well, uh... Huh,” he commented.
Many small and dark spikes were sprouting short from the earth, their bark made up of large, scale-like pieces. “Seriously, wow...” he uttered without thought. This was simply very good.
Without delay, he began digging through the earth around each shoot with his knife, extracting the fledgling things with a bit of effort. He hoped this wasn’t somebody’s specifically claimed territory, but there was no signage nearby that indicated so or otherwise.
Over the time he worked (which was a fair bit), he collected eighteen shoots, dumping the plants into his satchel and smacking dirt from his palms and fingers after. His knees were wet from the earth, and he smiled with satisfaction. “Alright,” he said to himself, “this will please Miss Sakuya.”
He lifted his now somewhat heavy bag, and with his only ordinary task complete, he wasn’t sure how to proceed. Maybe the hour was... five?
“I wonder where that bunny went...”
The youkai rabbit was of course long gone, and he still wasn’t interested in following her, but among all the seemingly normal rabbits he’d seen in this forest, that had been the only one that was youkai. That was definitely something worth noting, he thought. Mind wandering, Gen opened his suitcase and extracted a small scroll. He unrolled it to see the simple magic circle scrawled upon it.
In another tongue, he instructed the paper: “Find yourself.”
And nothing happened.
“What...?” he spoke under his breath, commanding the paper again. It remained unresponsive. What it was supposed to do was create a line of magic to its sister seal, visible to anyone holding it. It didn’t even activate. It was acting as only a fancy piece of square paper. Did I draw the circle outside wrong? This one’s fine... he thought, looking at it from all angles. There were two possibilities, and neither did he want to admit.
The first was that somehow he had incorrectly performed magic, something he hadn’t done since November of the previous year, and even at that point it had become an exceptionally rare occurrence.
The second was that the “truth” of the Bamboo Forest of the Lost did not need sarcastic quotation marks flanking it. This place did indeed make people lose their way, and none of his attempts at magical circumvention would prove that.
Furthermore the magic couldn’t have been tampered with directly. Any damage done to the circle placed outside the forest would have been reflected on the scroll he had.
He was irritated now, despite his significant findings. He hadn’t intended to leave the forest yet due to his Master’s instructions, but he had wanted to test if the magic would work. This meant, mysterious influences or not, he would find it extremely difficult to get home. Even flying was allegedly an unuseful thing to do here, as the way the bamboo swayed beneath you severely confused your idea of where you were above it. He imagined he could try flying above the clouds to escape, but not only would that feel like a cheat, it would make him a very obvious sitting duck there. Furthermore, there was a high possibility he could fly to the middle of nowhere and have absolutely no idea how to get back from there. At least right now, he was rather close to the Human Village.... wherever it was. He entered the bamboo again, face vaguely concerned and bothered, and thought that when he eventually had to depart as per his Master’s orders he absolutely intended to find a way out. After all, even if he exited on the opposite side, he’d still be able to round the forest and eventually find safety.
Fog rolled in.
With his guard up and his magic ready, he walked on.
Within smoky haze, the Bamboo Forest was still picturesque, however. rather than unsettling. The fog moved through and around the stalks smooth and darkly enough to suggest to him ink wash paintings, and that was just marvelous: truly marvelous in every sense of the word. Even while the fog actively ruined his every attempt to orient, he was compelled to (and did in fact) stop against a bamboo stalk here and there just to watch it crawl along and settle over the earth below.
Surprisingly, nothing attacked him, and by the time the fog dissipated, he could see from the sky’s orange color that for certain it was now time for him to go. Before he stepped away from the bamboo he’d been leaning against to watch the mists roll out, he noticed something hanging around a branch. Taking a second look at it, he saw that it was a small black pouch.
“The heck is this?” he wondered aloud, and then began checking it magically for anything suspicious, such as an enchantment, or hazardous contents. When his sensory spells were complete, the book on his back waist losing a glow, he determined that touching and in fact opening the thing was probably safe. So, he took it down. It felt heavy.
“Alright, let’s see here...” he softly announced, and he opened the thing up. “...Whuh—whoa! Whoa! Wha, huh?”
A blinding bright object that seemed to be a stone the size of a child’s fist from how he felt it escaped the bag and began to float toward the sky. Gen caught it out the air and contained it back in the pouch.
Eyebrows furrowed he squeezed the object from inside its hold, feeling what was most definitely a stone. This was... strange, obviously. He’d need to take it back and look at it with his Master. Perhaps he’d also have Sakuya ask who it might belong to... but for now, figuring out the object on his and his Master’s own was a naturally exciting prospect.
“Reminds me of those stones I collected last year...”
He was talking to himself quite a lot. He needed to get out of the forest, or at least find somebody else within it.
But as evening came closer and closer, neither possibility seemed high. Fireflies came out, making the forest a new kind of pretty, and he heard more movements throughout the groves... but remained unaccosted. If he had to be perfectly honest, this disappointed him a bit. Without really having to avoid dangers, no dangers had come, and so he felt like he had accomplished hardly anything at all. Although his Master had said for him to consider this a break... this was a bit too simple and easy. He was having a strange juxtaposition... of fortune, he thought. It was unfortunate that he could not use his magic to find a way out of the Bamboo Forest. Everything else, however... had been very obviously fortunate. He thought he might have read something about this, but nothing specific was coming to mind.
As the green woods grew darker and consequently he grew less and less afraid (for nothing seemed to even be stalking him), he had to stop walking and evaluate whether or not he was being as bold as he used to be, or if something was happening in this forest.
... No, something’s fishy, he determined. But... it’s almost like it’s just my imagination,
It was then that he heard the obvious sounds of danmaku. He also saw the many-colored lights of that sort of fight, bursting in the sky and shining off the wood. In fact, the waves of power beating through his body and shaking the leaves around him, the sounds of roaring arcs of magic, and the palpable intensity creating a choking atmosphere reminded him something of very specific danmaku. Memory clutched him again, for poor reasons this time. Like the thing in the water... and like Kazami Yuuka. Dread filled him as he quickly understood whoever was fighting wanted to kill, and very well could.
He looked back behind himself to where the fighting was transpiring and thought, No way in hell I’m going near that. He began marching away from the sounds of bullets and flames, trying to remain hidden. However, those fighting did not seem to care about boundaries.
The forest began to be torn apart by effulgent and pale-colored orbs that ripped everything over his head, and flames that sundered the plants but quickly burnt out. He began hoofing it as he realized the participants were moving, and near. As he stopped before a clearing that would have made him an easy target for whichever youkai were feuding, the two showed themselves, blatant against the dark heavens.
What he saw looked like the spiraling lights of a carnival were chasing a torrent of flame. The torrent stopped, and then exploded so fierce as to reach for and lick the ground. Gen ducked, watching as heat shot off from the back of a burning figure. The lights around the other dulled, and he could hardly make out the sight of pink and flowing clothes before the sweltering opponent they faced. He saw some kind of bright stick in their hand, and the flames around the other one began merging behind it. They spiraled massively, into a vortex that unfolded into grandiosely into a pair of fire wings, They extended almost beyond where he could see, and soon he couldn’t see at all as they began attacking again, and it became too bright to witness.
Clearly he had either found old youkai fighting without regard for the Spell Card Rules, or perhaps a pair of unruly gods. Rage was soaking the whole forest, it felt, and he was completely terrified to feel it. He had had greater powers come after him with what seemed to be all their might, but this was the first time he had seen two of such things on even ground, Meiling having been interrupted before she could lose her control against the sea monster.
Over the sounds of their clashing, he swore he could hear a wrathful voice, but it was hard to decipher anything. The sight was arresting, too, and though he was fearful he forgot his need to flee from the area. He forgot he was there, so caught up in the spectacle, and so did not see what was racing toward his skull.
A loud clap echoed. A hand appeared before his eyes, an arrow caught firm in its grasp.
An intense heat engulfed him, putting him immediately into a flashing sweat. In the hand before him, the arrow’s shaft, fletching, and even its head aimed between his eyes became instantly engulfed in fire, consumed and destroyed piece by piece. He looked down from the wrist, followed the arm, and saw that a girl was in front of him and looked to have fallen/flown here from the way the flames around her trailed toward the sky. As the flame lowered in its intensity, he more clearly saw who had saved him.
White hair reaching past her feet, white skin that looked almost noble, and a white shirt with sleeves that had been burned away by fire. From her back he could see that the girl in front of him wore suspenders, lifting a pair of vibrant red hakama. On the traditional garb were several red and white paper seals that he could not understand (not that he could understand most seals). The same seals were tied into her hair along the outer sides as well as at the ends, and a great one was atop her head, affixed like a bow so that a thick ponytail could be kept in place. The girl was almost moving in slow motion. She finally landed to the dirt with her feet apart, her boots scorching the earth. She stood straight and with fully confident posture, gripping her hand like she wanted to make her palms bleed.
“Eirin...” she said in a boyish, strong voice, not looking toward him at all, “you’d better have known I’d’ve done that, ‘cause if you’re thinking you can just get away with crap like this I’ll start killing you too. Don’t think that I won’t.”
She let go of her hand, ashes falling from it and then burning into nothing too. She looked up, breathing in. The one covered in lights from before had vanished. The fire-girl spoke again, exasperated, irritated.
“Pulling that shit and fucking off... you didn’t even finish the job. You bastard, I’m definitely not letting you off the hook tonight. Sleep if you want, I’ll burn out your damn lungs while you do, just you wait.”
She looked at her empty palm, blacked with the remnants of the arrow, and spoke once more.
“Go and hide, you cowards. I know where Eientei is.”
Finally, she stuffed her hands in her pockets and looked over her shoulder back at him. Her eyes, a deep crimson, looked... disarmingly innocent. The expression on her youthful face was hatred ebbing into calm, but innocence was what marked her face and eyes more. Fire still danced around her and lit the area, like phantoms of anger haunting after a vengeful spirit. She spoke easily, and in a caring voice: “You okay, boy? Sorry.”
He nodded, rather speechless.
“No need to talk, I can tell by looking. I know, it’s scary. Follow me, alright? There’s a village of other humans outside of this forest. Go past there, and there’s a shrine maiden on a hill who can take you back home.”
He blinked. Not waiting for an answer, she turned her head forward as the flames finally all died down. Still maintaining confidence in her posture, she started forward and said, “Let’s go. Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”
Her presence had been so humongous that only now he realized she was rather short.
Gen had no idea who this person was. Nothing in his research of the Bamboo Forest of the Lost had brought up that a friendly phoenix youkai lived there, along with some kind of very dangerous elements far and beyond the threats of most places in Gensokyo. He then remembered: his Master had told him that his clothing may have had a “use” today. The girl he was now following had known what he was from a glance, and what to do with him. If this is what Master Patchouli had meant, then his Master knew of this girl’s existence and identity.
But as he walked behind her, he felt rather disingenuous. He was, after all, not incapable of protecting himself. Certainly without his rescuer he’d be dead now, but also without his rescuer he suspected he would not have been in the situation to be instantly killed by some sniper in the first place. He felt he should say something, but at the same time... the girl suddenly had a strongly standoffish aura. She likely wouldn’t lash out at him, but he felt she wouldn’t talk to him either. She seemed almost like Reimu now: on a job, and that was it, though she was very reticent. He weighed his chances to get something out of her, and finally decided:
It's not worth the effort to introduce herself when the outsider will leave, never to return. By the same token, learning about him is meaningless. His only chance is to ask about something else. Maybe she'll use the chance to vent.
“Um, excuse me,” he addressed her politely, “what was all that just now? Who was it you were fighting? Who fired an arrow at me?”
The forest guide chuckled. “You speak well,” she said, a smile clear in her voice. Then she took her left hand from her pocket and lifted it above her head, casually dismissing his questions with a half-wave. “Nothing to worry about. I’m just a health maniac who runs a yakitori stand. Customers sometimes, ya know?” She shrugged, chuckled again, and returned her hand to her pocket.
... What? he thought with emphasis, and a much-lifted eyebrow to boot. He was baffled enough to stop walking, especially since she had spoken without even the slightest hesitation. With her piece finished, the girl continued guiding him as if nothing was amiss. He followed, but was still reeling from the blatant lie. There had clearly been bad blood in the air beyond a simple dispute over chicken skewers; it was obvious even without the addition of this strange youkai’s very, very passionate words once things had come to a close.
Well then, I guess she doesn’t want to talk about it, he concluded with a still-incredulous face. He looked at her shoulders. Unchangingly, she moved with a complete lack of tension. But, I really want to know what she was doing. I mean, someone nearly killed me... and since it was a single arrow rather than danmaku... I’m wondering if that’d been a human’s attempt. I haven’t heard of any ‘Eirin’s, though.
Maybe I should...
 ... really open the floor by talking about myself. She might be used to Outsiders, but I’m far from an ordinary one.
 ... talk about the forest instead. Maybe I can trick her into talking about something else?
 ... ask her name; I mean, that seems like a normal step one, right?
I could give a few, actually, but using the story itself: didn't Suika ask something a little strange when she met Gen again in the library?
[X] ... really open the floor by talking about myself. She might be used to Outsiders, but I’m far from an ordinary one. This would be the option to tell her our name-when you wanna talk about yourself, what you are named is kind of important.
Besides, even if she doesn't make the connection at first glance (I know I didn't) the exploits of an outsider turned magician should be interesting enough to catch her attention-hopefully.
>>66462 this track's info is 東方萃夢想 - 緋萃のシンフォニック・スイート (Melodic Taste) and it wasn't in the downloads folder so I had to reupload everything in THREAD 4 Also other credits: thread 1 >>66526 thread 2 >>66528 thread 3 >>66527 thread 4 >>66524 Histories of Yatsugatake >>/shorts/2189
Fulcrum - Atelier Escha & Logy Alchemist of Dusk Sky Flash Frost/紫電清霜 - New Atelier Rorona ~ Story Of The Beginning ~ Alchemist Of Arland Original Soundtrack ~Re-Compilation~ Flash Frost/紫電清霜 - Atelier Rorona Arrange Tracks ultimate_blossom - 東方恋想郷 ～Grazing Heart～ (Seventh Heaven MAXION) 幽雅に咲かせ、墨染の桜 ～ Border of Life - 桜華幻奏 (NEUTRAL) Ayakashi set 16 ～ Sakura, Sakura/さくらさくら - House set of "Perfect Cherry Blossom" (Kuroneko Lounge)
>>66786 >>66794 Something totally frivolous that to most I'm sure won't matter: there's now a chapter split here so "Itou Gen" has become "Onigokko", and halfway through split into "Chapter 13 - Ancient and Common Names". Every chapter after this one is +1 now, so we're at 20 chapters.
FYI >>66672 RETCON >“That book you have now was helpful to me when I began my training with knives under the Mistress’s tutelage. Like Meiling, Mistress Remilia wanted me to be capable of fighting and winning against anything.” She smiled, tapped the ridge of her teacup, and caught his eyes to follow with, “‘Like Meiling’ is a funny thing to say in this context, isn’t it?”
This is now: “That book you have now was helpful to me some time after the Lady Patchouli’s arrival. I knew of the Mistresses, yes, but most youkai were very unknown to me... Seeing the opportunity, Mistress Remilia wanted me to be capable of fighting and winning against anything. That was also why she sought out Meiling, now that I think of it...” She smiled, tapped the ridge of her teacup, and caught his eyes to follow with, “Mentioning Meiling is rather funny in this context, isn’t it?”
++++++++++++++ The change is kind of significant. In my own headcanon, due to how Remilia describes Sakuya in IN, I assume that Sakuya has been a member of SDM for longer than Patchouli. 100 years is not a long time to youkai, after all, but Remilia can't recall how long Sakuya has served her.
So it's like, in this/my headcanon: 1) Remilia and Flandre. 2) Sakuya, ages ago. 3) 100+ years ago Patchouli and Remilia became friends, and Patchouli moved in. X) At some point before or after Patchouli arrived, Meiling was hired.
minor change in musicKizin!3bPfzwokco2021/03/14 (Sun) 13:39No. 68267▼
>>66718 New song here >“Whoa, whoa, what the heck...!?” stammered Livy, fiddling with her headpiece and looking everywhere as quickly as she could. To watch her was to witness a small and sun-colored cyclone. The magician’s apprentice put away his things, and then dropped his hand on her head to keep it still.