I repeat this sentence to myself, trying to convince myself that it is true.
It was an accident. It was a fit of insanity. You didn't expect it to kill her.
But you know none of it's true. It might have only been for just a second, but you did mean to kill her. At that moment, every fiber of your being wished for her to die.
Let's go back a few years to the day we met.
The afterparty for my brother's wedding.
My little brother had always been more successful in all things than I had been. My grades were above average; he was an honor student. I had a few girlfriends through highschool; he had girls swooning over him. I just finished my internship as a programmer for a local big-name software company; he just finished law school and practically skipped straight past his internship and is on his way to starting his own law firm.
He now had a beautiful, loving wife, and I was still looking.
Or so I thought. And then I saw her.
Long, flowing brown hair. Hazel eyes so beautiful that I could sing. And her smile, bright and cheerful, yet honest.
Now, I'm going to be honest. I didn't hate my brother, or have any bad feelings at all about him for his success. For most of my life, I just wanted him to look up to me. And, despite everything, he did. I just wanted what was best for him. Sure, it was sometimes despiriting to see him succeeding so vibrantly where I had merely done okay, but I truly loved my brother, and I'm sure he loved me as well.
Which is why no one thought it was strange when he reluctantly peeled himself away from his loving bride for a few minutes to catch up. After all, we had both been quite busy, me with my internship and him with intense studying for his bar exam. We had a lot to catch up on.
It was while we spoke, filling each other in on what we'd both missed of each other, that I saw her. Laughing and sharing stories with a few other women I don't recognize. I was so captivated by her that I immediately asked him about her.
He told me that she was a friend of the bride. Amy. She had recently gone through a hard breakup, and his new wife, Claire, hoped that being at the wedding would help lighten her mood.
This piqued my interest. Knowing that she was single made me feel at ease. I immediately reprimanded myself for this, however; she just left her relationship, and whether she's extremely upset and needs a shoulder to cry on, or angry and spiteful and just wants to show make a jab at her ex by getting together with someone right a way, it would be terrible to take advantage of her feelings like that.
I could have seen it then.
But still, I couldn't help it. My little brother had just gotten married, and while I was happy for him, I was still a bit lonely myself. I found myself stealing glances in her direction any time I could. And then it happened. I snuck a quick glance in her direction, and her eyes met mine.
She smiled. I'm sure my face immediately flushed red, but I managed to smile back.
After that I couldn't bring myself to glance in her direction. It was hard. The temptation was great, but I couldn't. If I were to approach her, and she were to reciprocate, and she is still working through her feelings from her previous relationship, then I knew that it would never work out. So, instead I spent the rest of the night distracting myself by catching up with old mutual friends of mine and my brother, family I hadn't seen in years, and, of course, meeting the bride herself.
I didn't get to see Amy again until after the wedding, on my way out to my car. To this day, the sight of her running (if you could call it that in heels) towards me. She insisted on giving me her number and getting mine in return.
And it wasn't a week after that she called me and invited me to go for coffee. The two of us really hit it off, and began dating. Of course, my brother and his wife were excited for us as well. Big bro's finally found someone to get serious about, and Amy's managed to find a decent man after getting over everything.
...But things weren't perfect. While I wasn't nearly as enthusiastic about it as I was when I first starting, programming was still an important part of my life, and it became more and more apparent as time went on that she didn't approve of my career choice. It wasn't the money; being a programmer brings decent pay, and she was far from being high maintenance or a gold digger. No, she just had a mental image of socially inept geeks poking away at computers, and while I'm sure that's not how she actually saw me, I could tell that it was something she couldn't stand. She seemed to try and hide it at first, but as time went on she started to show it more and more outwardly. First it was strange looks whenever I mentioned anything about work. After a while it moved on to her making jokes about me and my career, pushing the edge closer and closer to flat out insulting me.
But while it was hurtful for someone I cared about so much to have such disregard for something important to me, I was happy to be with her. And we were happy.
Or so I thought.
She always seemed a bit controlling. She always wanted to do what she wanted to do, even if I wanted to do something else, and even if I was too tired. Of course, I always gave in; the thought of her starting to dislike me over something so trivial terrified me. But after a while, this also escalated. If I spent even just a half hour extra at work, something which isn't uncommon at all in programming, she would insist on me telling her where I was. She never said so with words, but her stare was full of accusation. Once again, it was hurtful for her to think such things about me, but I made it a point to try my hardest to always leave on time.
But it wasn't enough for her. Even when all of my time was spent either with her or at work, she still accused me of being unfaithful. It didn't just stop at her accusing me to my face; she even went far enough to call my boss and ask him if I had taken any time off. When he asked me about it, completely confused by why she'd ask such a thing when he'd known for a long time that we'd lived together, it stung worse than anything else in my life up to that point.
But I sucked it up. It isn't too big of a deal, right? Surely all couples go through a period of distrust at some point, I told myself. As uneasy as it made me, and as hurt as I had been through the course of my relationship, I couldn't bare the thought of losing her.
But this afternoon, after finally finishing a long project, my supervisor let me take the rest of the day. Of course, I was overjoyed. I'd take any opportunity to rush back home and see Amy.
When I reached the apartment, I thought it was strange that the door had been unlocked. Amy always locked the door during the day, or so she told me. I shrugged it off, though, and made my way inside. When I heard noises from the bedroom, I figured I'd surprise her, so I made my way inside.
And found her with another man I'd never met.
"Sorry for interrupting." I spoke, struggling to contain my emotion, and then shut the door and made my way to the living room, where I sat down.
I was angry. I was hurt. I was sad. I was all of these and I was none of these. My emotions were all mixed up, and I could barely tell left from right.
Shortly after, they came out of the bedroom and into the living room where I was. I could tell that the man felt awkward. I have no idea whether he knew Amy and I were dating or not, and I really don't care at this point. It wasn't him who hurt me this badly, it was her.
"John, it isn't what you th-"
"It isn't what I think?!" I shouted. "No, I saw it pretty clearly. I'm pretty sure it is what I think."
She spoke with a pleading expression. "John, I-"
But I didn't want to hear anything. All of the feelings from the time we spent together were beginning to erupt. "After all the accusations about me being unfaithful, and I come home to find this?"
Her expression goes blank.
And then she smiles.
A smile that I'd never seen before. A terrible, cold, calculating smile.
"Oh, did you actually think I cared about you?" She asked.
My throat tightened. I couldn't find a response.
"Did you think you'd managed to find the woman of your dreams? Too bad; it was all just an act!" She spoke cheerfully, as if she wasn't tearing a person's whole life in two.
"Oh, wait, never mind! How could I make that mistake? Of course I'm not the woman of your dreams! That would be your brother, right? Disgusting. I've seen the way you act around him."
She ignored my objections and continued on. "Ha. That's right, you're just a bro-con loser. And I bet your little bro is, too. I'm surprised he ever got married to Claire with all the sexual tension between the two of you."
My vision started to get blurry. I couldn't even believe what I was hearing. What the fuck was she talking about? I love my brother, but it's nothing like that. It's nothing like that at all! Where the hell does she get off making such accusations?
"Oh well. That's fine. Good for him! He's managed to lie his way through his life, and now he has a wonderful wife who he doesn't deserve at all. God, you have no idea how hard it was to hold myself back from shouting an objection at your wedding, but no, it would have upset Claire on her important day. But you know, maybe I should have. Maybe it would have stopped her from getting married to the shittiest man ever. He should just die."
My vision starts to go red, and I start to feel dizzy. Saying such hurtful things about me? Okay. That's fine. I already knew that I was going to drop her ass even before she started saying this shit.
But when she insulted my brother? That was the last straw. A switch flipped in me. Unable to control myself, I responded to her.
Not with words.
Reaching to the side, I grabbed a nearby glass jar and slammed it into her head.
But that wasn't enough. Raising my fist, I brought it down hard into her face, over and over again, until she stopped moving. Until she stopped breathing.
I think the man tried to stop me at some point, but I must have hit him pretty hard too, because he was out cold when I finally came to.
At this point, the only thing I could do was leave. I walked outside, still covered in blood, both hers, mine, and probably the man's, and climbed in my car.
And I started driving.
And here I am, thinking about my whole life.
I stop the car and put it in park.
My life. I was always second best, but that's okay because it was always my brother who exceeded me. And my girlfriend...Well, I realize now that Amy was a bitch. But still, I loved her.
But now I've gone and thrown it all away.
So, what now? I'm going to get arrested? Put on trial? Sentenced to death? Or even worse, sentenced to rot for the rest of my life in a prison cell?
No. I won't accept that.
Ever since I met Amy, I've lost more and more control over my life. At the very least, I want to control how I lose it.
I hear a horn in the distance. It'll all be over soon.
I gaze out towards the approaching train, a growing black spot in the sunset.
The bells start going off and the safety arms come down. I ignore them.
The train approaches.
It's already too late. Even if I were to jump out of my car now and run at full speed, debris from the collision would still almost certainly kill me.
This fact reassures me.
I breathe a sigh as I stare at the approaching train, which strangely doesn't even seem to be applying its brakes. I guess they figure about the same thing as you do; at this point there's no stopping it, so why even try?
I notice something small appear in front of me.
A small paper fan appears out of seemingly nowhere and gets dragged downward, stretching out a purple...thing behind it.
The thing opens up wide, revealing an endless expanse of eyes.
If I weren't already about to die, I'd probably be scared shitless. Instead, I'm just amused that I finally get to see one incredible thing before I die.
A woman steps out of this gap in reality.
My heart skips a beat. Her beauty in its self is almost enough to make me reconsider my decision to die.
This woman, wearing a ridiculously stereotypical train conductor uniform, smiles at me, her golden yellow eyes matching my gaze.
"...Who are you?" I ask.
"Yukari Yakumo. You can call me Yukari, if you would prefer."
"Okay. And what are you?"
"I'm just a train conductor~ Your car just happens to be in my way, so I'm creating a detour."
I have no idea what she's talking about.
The train is approaching quickly, still without any attempt to slow down.
The woman, Yukari, gracefully pulls her closed fan through the air, opening another gap on the other side of my car. Both this new gap and the old one expand to a size large enough to easily fit a house.
And the train bares down on us, the loud noise of its wheels on the tracks a deafening roar.
And it passes us by harmlessly.
The woman unfolds her fan.
"Good evening~ Have a safe drive home!"
And she steps back through the gap, disappearing entirely. Both of the gaps disappear with her.
I sigh, staring out my front windshield.
Unclasping my seatbelt, I pull the handle to my door and step outside.
As the sound of sirens draws near, I stare up at the sky.
I sigh again.
Well, there's only one thing to say.
So, I yell it at the top of my lungs:
"GOD DAMN IT YUKARI!"
Just something I thought up while waiting at a railroad crossing earlier this evening. I hope you've enjoyed it.
It just feels like the right thing to do. It's almost as if doing so will make this just that little bit more poetic. I could at least justify it to myself a little bit better if it were poetic.
I sigh. Trying to make my current circumstances poetic right now is really silly. What I should be doing is climbing back into my car and driving away. Perhaps I could try to get away, but that's not my real motivation. I'm thinking more along the lines of driving into a tree at 70 miles per hour.
So, I turn back towards my car, raising my hand to grasp the-
And there she is again, right in front of my face.
Or, rather her head is. Floating in space.
I practically jump over the moon.
"Oh, it's jus-"
"That was rude."
"What?" You ask, dumbstruck.
"Here I am, saving your life, and what thanks do I get? I hear you screaming 'GOD DAMN IT YUKARI' up at the sky. That could hurt a girl, you know."
"You know what? I think I'll punish you a little."
"Let's see...Here looks good."
I start to feel my feet sinking into the ground, so I look down. There's another tear in space below my feet, slowly sucking me in.
"It wouldn't do for you to fall too quickly and hurt yourself, after all."
"Well, I better get back to my train. Have fun~!"
And her head disappears.
I try to pull my foot out of...whatever this is, but something seems to be slowly pulling me down. My foot won't even budge an inch.
And so here I am, slowly sinking into the ground, as the sirens approach closer and closer.
The lights start to come into view. I sigh.
And then my feet touch the ground.
Once again alarmed, I look down and find my feet on the ground. Not the same ground, different ground. Uneven, leaf-covered ground.
Looking back up, the city scenery has vanished, replaced by a dark forest. The sky is a bright blue, and if I had to guess, I'd say it's currently sometime around noon.
Once again, Yukari's head appears right in front of me. I somehow manage to hold myself back from punching her in the face. Barely.
"Oh, right. It wouldn't do for you to die, so I'm going to give you some good information. If you head South from here, you'll get to the human village. Someone there will eventually help you find your way to the Hakurei Shrine. Do not head North. Not too far north of here you will encounter the Forest of Magic, full of all kinds of nasties that will try to eat you for lunch. And whatever you do, if you run into a little blonde girl wearing a black dress with a red ribbon in her hair, RUN. If she catches you, you're dead for sure."
"Here, take this compass. It can be difficult to tell which direction you're going in the forest without one."
A compass falls at my feet. I ignore it.
And she's gone.
I hold back the words. It's hard, but I somehow manage.
Kneeling down, I pick up the compass.
Brushing the dirt off of it and examining it, I find...Well, I don't know a damn thing about compasses. It's made of metal, probably aluminum.
But it really doesn't matter to me. All that matters to me is that it points North, and North is the direction that I want to go.
It doesn't take very long before my choice pays off.
Not only do I start seeing a bunch of very large plants with teeth which seem to follow me...but which are unfortunately a bit too small for my purposes, but I also see a girl walking along the path.
Black dress. Blonde hair. Red ribbon. Dark, dark sunglasses.
[x] Approach her calmly. Calmly ask her to end your life. Face down your death calmly. We are the god of fabulously calm endings. Deconstruction central. >We are the god of fabulously calm endings. Actually, I don't think we've done this before. >Dark, dark sunglasses. ...
Finally, something is going right for me for once!
...Well, okay, it's not like my entire life was terrible. Or, more accurately, I didn't realize it was terrible. Somehow, finally realizing how horrible a hand I've been dealt makes me feel a little liberated.
So, I calmly approach the girl.
After all, I was told to just run if I see her. If she catches me, I'm dead for sure. Well, that sounds to me like a great idea right now.
Moving forward. Not slowly and cautiously. Not quickly and eagerly. Not at a calculated pace.
She hasn't noticed me by the time I get within a couple yards, so I call out to her.
"Hello." I state.
"Huh?" She turns around to face me. As her bright red eyes seem to glow as our gazes meet. "Oh, a human? Are you lost? Do you need me to take you to the human village?"
"No, that's fine."
She tilts her head. "It's just South from here. If I take you it'll only take a few minutes-"
"Please kill me."
"Please kill me. Just get it over with."
"Uh, are you okay? You're being kinda weird."
"Well, I was told that if you caught me, you'd kill me. That sounds just fine to me, so I thought I'd present myself."
"Maybe I should take you to that place in the bamboo instead. Myschii says that they can fix anything, even things wrong in your head."
"...You aren't going to kill me?"
"Nah. Yukari just gave me a whole cow. I should be good for a few hours."
My calm is starting to wear thin.
Okay. I need to make sure I fully understand the situation.
"So, the reason you kill people is because you eat them." I ask.
"...What? Of course, what other reason would I have to kill someone?"
A reasonable enough answer. Okay, time for the next question.
"And you've already eaten, so you aren't hungry enough to eat me."
Alright, that makes sense as well. I can't expect her to overeat just to solve your problems. I can accept that.
"And the person who fed you is named Yukari."
That's the part I was having trouble with.
But now I understand, and everything is clear once again.
I take a breath.
Looking up at the vibrant azure sky, I clench my fists.
And I shout, so loudly that it hurts: "GOD DAMN IT YUKARI!"
No, no, no! Don't misunderstand! Why am I even telling myself not to understand?
My goal isn't anything impure, even though the actions that I'll likely have to take to achieve it may be.
I just want to die.
I look back down at the girl, who is visibly frightened by my outburst.
"U-um..." She starts saying something.
I steel my resolve.
"What was your name, again?" I ask.
"Say, Rumia, what would you do if I did something like this?"
I reach up and lay my hand on her chest.
"E-eh? What're you doing?"
"Now, now, don't be shy." I move closer, backing her into a tree. "I just want to practice a little skinship, is all." I slide my hand down her thigh, and-
She pulls back her fist, slamming it straight into my face. The force is enough to make me fly backwards, my face completely broken and bleeding. Of course, there's no way I'd survive something like that.
If only I'd thought to try something like that back then.
I've only been traveling with her for about an hour now, and already any possibilities of that plan working have gone out the window.
First of all, I've gotten to know her a little bit too well. Dying like that at this point just wouldn't feel right. I'm trying to die because I've managed to completely ruin everything. I want to die as a way to repay that. If I were to die being punched to death for trying to molest a little girl, there's no way I'd be able to forgive myself.
Second, I don't even think she'd react that way at all at this point. The way she's been chatting her head off about her friends (an ice fairy, a night sparrow, a firefly...If we weren't currentliy flying over a sea of bamboo I'd be tempted to call them imaginary friends), it's like she's known me for years. She might be confused, but I don't even think she'd think of it as a bad thing.
...Even thinking about it makes me feel sick.
Okay. I'm going to try again, even though I know it's not going to work.
"Do you mind letting go? I think it'd work just fine if you just drop me from this height."
"What're you talking about? If we don't go to the place in the bamboo, you'll never be fixed!"
...'Fixed'? It's not like you're physically broken.
"Fine, then. Are you hungry at all?"
"Hmm...Come to think of it, I could probably go for a snack..."
"I know! We'll have some mochi when we get there!"
I drop my head and stare at the ground.
Why won't even flesh-eating monsters kill me.
"By the way, why do you want to die anyway?"
She suddenly asks an extremely heavy question.
"It's a long story."
"Is that so~ We're lost anyway, so just tell me~"
"Hmm..." She holds a finger to her lip. While still managing to hold my entire weight with her other arm. "I don't get it."
What? "You don't- What do you mean?"
"Well, all she did was insult your brother, right? Why did you get so angry? And why is it such a big deal that you killed her, anyway? I mean, I kill people all the time. It isn't a big deal."
This is too fucking broken. Am I sleeping? Is this just a terrible nightmare? Please let it be a terrible nightmare. I know! I'm in a coma somewhere, and just so happen to be dreaming a nightmare. And since I'm in a coma, I can't wake up! That's what it is!
...There's no way it'd be that simple.
"So why won't you kill me, then?!" I ask, frustrated.
"Hmm? Why would I kill you, anyway?"
Face, meet palm. I think you're going to be working together quite often for a while, so you should probably try and become friends.
Ah, geez. Whatever. I'll just let her take me to this 'place in the bamboo' for now.
"Ah!" Rumia suddenly shouts, slowing to a stop. "It's Mokky!"
We're suddenly dropping towards the ground.
Did I mention my shoulder hurts? Because my shoulder has hurt for quite some time. I think it started when she grabbed my hand and pulled me into the air all of a sudden.
"Mokky!" Rumia shouts, running towards some sort of foodstand.
"Huh? How many times have I-" The girl behind the counter freezes.
She's watching a man-eating monster pull you around by the arm.
I think she's about to misunderstand something. I only wish it wasn't a misunderstanding, and that Rumia really was carrying you around for the reason she thinks she is.
"Huh?" She looks down at your hand. "...Oh. Sorry." She lets go.
"Uh." Mokky says. "I don't get it."
"Is that so~" Rumia answers.
"That is so. I was about to burn you up for attacking a human, but for some reason it really looks like you aren't attacking him."
"Why would I attack John?"
"..." Mokou stares at her for a moment.
"Hmm?" Rumia tilts her head.
"Yeah, I really don't get it." She turns towards you. "So you're John, huh? Looks like you're from outside the border."
"What?" I have no idea what she means.
"Yep, I was right. I don't know what kind of magic you used to not only not get eaten on sight by this girl here, but even befriend her, but, well, welcome to Gensokyo."
"Thank you, Mokky."
She glares at you. "Don't- Uh," Her expression softens. "Well, I guess I didn't really introduce myself, did I? Fujiwara no Mokou, de facto guide through this maze called the Bamboo Forest of the Lost. Nice to meet you." She holds out her hand, and you shake it.
"Nice to meet you as well, Miss Mokou."
"Don't call me Mokky." Sudden karate-chop to the forehead. Crying Rumia crouched down and clutching her head with her hands...Oh god, I think I'm going to die.
...But, unfortunately, I don't.
"Ow~ So mean~"
"That's what you get for calling people by nicknames that they don't want to be called by."
After a moment Rumia stands up, tears gone from her eyes.
Karate chop. Dodge.
"Can we have a snack?"
"Did you bring money this time?
"Eh? I have to pay?"
"Have I ever not made you pay?"
"So mean~" Rumia pouts.
Mokou sighs. "Well, I guess that since you were a good girl today, and held yourself back from eating John here, I can give you a bit of a reward."
"It'll be a few minutes. Let me start up the grill."
"Nope, not seeing anything out of the ordinary." Eirin, the doctor, declares as she clicks off her pen light.
Right now, I really wish I had saved my skewer.
I had finished all but the last bite of the food the girl cooked for us. Called it "yakeytorey", or something like that.
I wasn't really very hungry. I managed to eat the rest of the meal because, well, it smelled fucking delicious, okay? But there I was, staring at a skewer with only one remaining piece of chicken left uneaten.
I was thinking...That skewer looked pretty sharp.
If I found the right place to push, I could easily...
But then Rumia leaned closer.
And opened her mouth.
And not only swallowed my last piece of chicken,
but bit off and swallowed half of the skewer with it.
I'm not really sure how she didn't manage to get hurt by it, but that was at least an hour ago, and she's still sitting right next to me looking just fine like nothing was wrong.
"Oh? You don't sound too relieved." The doctor gives me a misguided sympathetic smile.
"Well, I already knew there wasn't really anything wrong with me."
"But still, for a youkai like Rumia to bring me a human and tell me there's something wrong with him...You're quite an interesting person, John."
"Haha, yeah." I laugh nervously.
I don't want to be an interesting person. I want to be fertilizer.
"Well, I don't know what to say. If you experience anything strange again, come let me know. I'm sure Miss Mokou would be willing to show you the way here again." She gives me a wink.
I'm pretty sure she's misunderstanding something, but there's no way I can even try to correct her. I wouldn't even know where to start.
"Thank you, Miss Yagokoro." This thing with names being backwards is pretty weird, but I think I'm starting to get used to it.
"Please, call me Eirin. I hope to see you again, John. Though, not necessarily as a patient next time.
And so pleasantries are exchanged, and I return to the hallway where I find Mokou to have completely vanished.
"...Huh?" I wonder aloud. She said she was going to wait here so she could show you the way back.
Rumia might be able to find her way out of the forest herself, but you're preferring the idea of instead getting lost, and possibly starving to death. Or possibly starving Rumia into causing your death.
"Mokky's gone." Rumia states.
"Looks like it."
"...I wanted some more chicken."
"You only ate, like, an hour ago."
"I tell you what. If you're still hungry, you can eat me."
"Ehh? But I don't wanna eat you~!"
It was worth a try.
As we make our way back outside towards the forest, I hear a commotion off to the side.
Turning to look, I find Mokou flying through the air, seemingly locked in a deathmatch with another girl with long black hair wearing a pink shirt and a maroon skirt.
[ ] Jump in and stop the fight. Mokou helped you out, so you should have her back. Or you could get blown away in the crossfire. [ ] Go back and confess your undying love to Eirin. Or steal deadly chemicals and consume them in ways very contrary to their warning labels. Whichever happens first. [ ] Be on your way. You think it's time to start a quiet life in a village far, far away from all of your earthly troubles. Or get in a bar fight with several men several times your size and lose. It's a difficult choice, really.
I could go back to the village and try to pick a fight with someone bigger than me. This would be inconspicuous, but at the same time, it would probably be a rather painful way to go.
There's also the option of going back to Eirin's lab and swiping some chemicals. That might also be a painful way to go, but it's more certain, and probably wouldn't be as painful, depending on what I end up with.
Finally, I could jump in and "try to stop the fight" between those two, meanwhile eating as much of those magical flashes of light as I can. This would be easy to get to, justifiable, and hopefully instant.
This isn't even a choice. It's clear what the best option is if my goal is to die.
Still, I do have a strange temptation to go back and see Eirin again. Not sure where that's coming from, but oh well. More pressing matters to attend to.
"Yeah?" She asks, cocking her head to the side.
"Whatever happens, if I die, I want you to eat my body. Okay?"
Uh oh. That's made her worried.
"B-but, John, why would you die? I mean, we only just met, and..."
"Sorry, Rumia. But I can't let those two fight like that. Not after all they've done for me." I pat her on the head.
...Uh. I think I might have been trying just a bit too hard to act cool there. Oh well, if it sells it, it sells it, and it looks like it's been sold.
Rumia nods her head. "...Kay." She looks down at the ground, tears still stuck in the corners of her eyes.
Now I almost feel like a jerk for doing this to her. Oh well, she'll get quite a nice meal out of it, at least.
Turning around, I point myself towards the fight and begin walking.
As I get closer, the shouts and sounds of...magical flashes of light, I guess, intensify. A dazzling display of colors appears before my eyes, with the black-haired girl launching volleys of what look like colorful pieces of light as well as large purple and green hollow-looking spheres and Mokou launching waves of fire with the likeness of a gigantic blazing phoenix.
The grains of rice start hitting the ground around my feet like a hailstorm of stones, throwing dirt and dust into the air. The flames around me warm me, the first warmth I've felt since leaving the house.
I'm being overdramatic.
To my right, a volley of green spheres. To my left, a blazing phoenix. Their destination? Me.
So I remain rooted where I am, prepared for what's to come.
As my death looms closer, I
"Look out!" Mokou suddenly shouts.
"Huh-Oh, SHIT." The other girl shouts.
But it's too late. The flames and spheres are already upon me, slamming into my body with the force of a Well, not a dumptruck. That's quite too much. Even an SUV would be a bit much... Hmm. Perhaps an ultra-compact? Yeah. That sounds about right.
Ahh, so this is what it feels like to die.
The dust clears, and I find myself staring up at the sky, now tinted orange by the sunset. You remember this view. This is just like when you...
"Hey, are you alright?" Mokou's head appears in front of your face, blocking your view of the sky.
"Is he alright?" The other girl asks, touching down next to you. "Should I get Eirin?"
"Nah, looks like he just got knocked around a bit. Maybe a couple burns. Don't think he has a concussion either."
"No, I clearly just got hit by a large volley of powerful magic. There's no way I'd survive that."
"Huh? Well, maybe if we didn't notice you, but... It's been our policy for a long time now to make our bullets non-lethal if someone wanders into one of our fights."
"Mokou, are you sure he's alright? There's no way someone would really think they're dying after only getting hit by that much. It probably didn't even hurt that bad."
Well, that failed.
I sit up.
"Woah, are you-"
And then stand.
And stare up at the sky once more.
"WHY CAN'T I DIE?!" I shout at the top of my lungs.
After a moment I look back down at the two girls.
"...I know, right?" She suddenly states, as if it were a common thing for people to complain about.
"God, I know exactly what you mean!" And now the black-haired girl says something just as ridiculous. "It's like, I've even tried flying into the sun. I froze solid pretty quick, so I don't really know what happened, but the next thing I know I'm re-entering the atmosphere in the ocean near Brazil. That landing sure wasn't fun."
And so it shifts to the various ways these two tried to off themselves before finally coming to acceptance with their immortal bodies.
While the conversation makes me despair, at the same time, it connects with me in a way I haven't felt since I first met Amy. Only, this time it wasn't fake.
I once again sigh and take a seat on the ground.
"John!" Rumia comes running up to me. "You're okay!"
I rub the top of her head. "Yeah, I guess I am."
"But..." She cocks her head to the side, "how did you do that?" She asks me, as if there's a thing that I did that was surprising that I should know about.
"You got those two to stop fighting. You've gotta be the first person to do that since the red-white and black-white came here!"
I pat her on the head again.
"I don't know, Rumia. I don't know."
At that moment, if I had known about the spellcard rules, and Yukari's involvement in their creation, I certainly would have took another moment to scream obscenities at the sky.
But that's a story for another time.
For now, I just leave peacefully with Rumia. My destination? Unknown. My heart? Slightly warmed.
But I still should get working on that dying thing.
"Hey, Rumia, whats's that?" I ask her, pointing off into the distance.
"Oh, that?" She asks, gradually slowing to a stop over the edge of the bamboo forest. "That's the Misty Lake."
"A lake, huh? Guess Gensokyo has everything, doesn't it?"
"Mhmm!" She affirms. You don't think youkai are supposed to excitedly answer questions like that.
That brings up an idea.
"Hey, Rumia. Do you want to go swimming?"
"Ehh? But the water's freezing this time of year!"
"C'mon, you'll get used to it. It's not like a little water ever hurt anybody." Of course, that statement is wrong, and you fully intend to prove it wrong.
"Okay, but...I don't even have a swimsuit."
...Well, that's a problem. If she didn't happen to have the body of an eight-year-old, I might suggest that she just strip down to her underwear, but
So I'm forced to begin contemplations on how to get a darkness youkai into a lake.
...Objectively, that sounds like a very strange plan.
Meanwhile, Rumia has resumed her flight. Every time she speeds up, my shoulder starts to hurt just a bit more. We should find a better way of doing this.
Okay. So we need to find some sort of swimwear for the young youkai.
"Do you know of anywhere that sells clothes around here?"
"Hmm..." She ponders, raising a finger to her lips. I mean, it's nice that we can each point at things with one arm and all, but I'm being held up by one arm. "The best place would probably be the human village, but..."
"They probably won't let me inside."
That's pretty obvious. After all, she's supposed to be a dangerous man-eating youkai. I think I should file a complaint with the BBB for false advertisement.
"Anywhere else, then?"
"Hmm..." She repeats her action from before. "Oh, I know! There's a dollmaker in the forest who tailors all of the clothes for her dolls. She might be able to help us!"
"And why would someone presumably living out in the woods by herself be more willing to help us than an entire village presumably guarded by people who know how to deal with youkai?"
"Wait, you aren't planning on threatening her, are you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I mean, you being a youkai, and all."
"No, silly! She's a youkai too."
And so Rumia slowly and gently sets me down on the ground.
And by that, I mean she lets me drop from about three feet up, and then flies towards the door at full speed.
She knocks on the door.
"Just a moment." I hear someone shout from inside.
After just a moment (exactly as advertised - no complaints to file about this one yet), the door opens, revealing a girl with blonde hair in a blue dress.
"Hey, Alice! I was-"
And the door slams shut.
"John, she shut the door on me!" Rumia complains as I finally catch up to where she's standing.
"Let me try."
So I knock.
I hear footsteps approaching, and then an exhausted voice from the other side of the door. "If you're that darkness youkai again, don't even bother."
And the door opens, and blue eyes stare into yours.
"Oh. Sorry about that, I-"
"Alice!" And the door slams shut again.
"Threatening a human that you're going to kill anyway into knocking on my door isn't gonna work!"
"Ehh? But I'm not gonna eat him!"
"I'm sure you try that excuse all the time, but it's not working on me."
Third time's a charm?
I knock again.
The door opens a crack, and an exhausted blue eye stares through at me.
"Fine, what do you want."
"We were just wondering if you could tailor a swimsuit for Rumia here."
"...Just a moment."
The door opens wider for a second, and then
A hand quickly shoots out, pulls me inside, slams the door shut again, and locks it.
"What are you doing?" She whispers. "That's Rumia! Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Yes. "You can't seriously be planning on trying to go swimming with a youkai! That's too absurd! What did she do to put you up to this? Did she threaten you? Your family?" Her fingers dig into my shoulders in a concerned way that would be reassuring if I were actually under duress, but right now is just uncomfortable.
"Alice, she isn't gonna kill me."
"I know she probably told you that if you do what she says, she won't-"
"When I first met her, I flat out asked her to kill me. She dragged me to some hospital in the Bamboo Forest of the Lost for a mental health checkup."
She stares at me for a second.
"Even if she told you to lie to me, you don't-"
"Alice." I put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm not lying. In fact, if she did want to kill me, I'd be fine with that. That'd make things easy for me, actually. I couldn't ask for anything "
She stares at me for a moment.
She releases her grip and quickly flips open a rather large, old-looking book. "If Eientei couldn't do anything about it, he must be possessed by something. Hmm, I don't think I have any exorcism spells... Should I just take him to the shrine? But then Reimu would demand some kind of payment... Maybe I should just take him to Voile. Patchy probably knows how to take care of something like this..."
I put a hand on her shoulder again.
"Alice. Right now all I want you to do is make Rumia a swimsuit."
She turns and looks at me again.
"Maybe the Moriya Shrine. Unlike Reimu, they'd probably be fine just receiving the extra faith."
"Oh, I've got it! That goddess on the mountain. We just need to have your bad luck removed."
I let go and turn towards the door. "It's okay, I think we'll just try our luck at the human village."
"Wait." She once again grabs my shoulder to prevent me from leaving. "You really just want me to make a swimsuit for Rumia?"
She sighs. "If that's what it takes, then...Fine." She walks over and opens the door.
"Rumia. I really don't get what's going on, but please come inside." She looks back to me. "And you, please step outside. It's impolite to stick around while a lady's being fitted for clothing."
I'm not sure I'd call Rumia a lady just yet, but okay.
About 30 minutes later, Alice opens the door and asks me to come inside.
"Wow, that was fast." I remark.
"I've had a few years to practice."
So she invites me inside.
Inside, I find Rumia modeling what Alice tailored for her.
"So, how does it look? It suits her, right?" Alice asks eagerly.
"Yeah. It looks really nice on her, but Alice."
"That's not a swimsuit."
"That's not a swimsuit. That's a dress."
"It is too a swimsuit! I made it out of nylon and everything!"
See, face? I told you that you and palm would be seeing each other a lot.
"And she's supposed to wear regular panties under that?"
"of course not! They're made of nylon too."
I'm not sure how I vocalized an ellipsis, but I somehow pulled it off.
"W-what?" She asks, confused.
I sigh. Right now is not the time to be picky. Right now should be the time to be on our way to the misty lake.
"So she can wear that in the water, then?"
"Alright, so how much do we owe you, then?"
"30,000 yen, you say?"
"Yes, 30,000 yen."
Jesus christ that's expensive isn't that like, 300 dollars? I don't even think I have 300 dollars on me, and in the first place why is she asking for yen instead of dollars anyway?
[X] Offer to pay with our body [X] Barring that, ask if we can do some odd jobs or pay through some other means. [X] Question about visiting the Goddess on the mountain, After all death by divine wrath is still death.
"...Yes." Damnit Rumia, don't go figuring these things out!
"So then, how about this?"
Before I can even react, I'm lifted a few inches off the ground.
"Uh, Rumia, what are you doing?"
"Carrying you. Why?"
"Picking me up piggyback-style isn't exactly what I had in mind."
"So? It works, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, I guess it does."
So here we are, flying towards the lake once more.
I'm doing my best to balance, but yeah, I don't think this is going to work either.
But it doesn't matter, because if I fall off, that makes things easy! ...The only problem is that she's grabbing onto my legs hard enough that I think they've lost circulation. This balancing act is only so that she doesn't tip into a roll and start spinning around uncontrollably. That wasn't very fun.
Along the way we've passed several groups of fairies. It looked like they were having fun and being carefree, but the second they saw us every single time every single one of them froze in place, their eyes glued to the two of us.
That's because we've got style~★
No, no we don't. It seems more like they're completely dumbfounded, unable to comprehend what they're seeing. Honestly, I'd probably be just as confused if I saw anything like this.
No, John, ignore the fairies who have now started to immitate you and are now flying around on each other's shoulders. Don't pay them any attention.
Thankfully I don't have to forcibly ignore them for very long. We arrive at the shore of the lake in a flash.
This time Rumia gingerly sets me down. And by that I mean it must have taken a good 10 seconds for her clear the last 10 inches between my feet and the ground. From one extreme to another...But this was much, much more pleasant. Thank you, Rumia.
"Well, we're here." I state.
"Yep~!" She takes a running leap towards the water, but stops in midair.
"Are you sure you want to go swimming? There's ice floating in the water."
"It's fine! In fact, swimming in freezing water is actually really fun. It's an exciting experience! You'll see if you give it a try."
"Okay, but...You don't have a swimsuit."
I was in such a rush to get out of there after Rumia said that that I completley forgot to have her make me one.
...Oh well! It's not like I really care. I don't plan on coming back out of the water alive anyway, so it's fine if my clothes get wet.
"Don't worry about little things like that! Let's start SWIMMING!"
"Uh..." She looks really hesitant. "Okay."
I'm the first one in the water. For some reason Rumia is hanging back with a concerned expression on her face.
Oh well! I have finally reached my goal. I only had to trick a little girl into bringing me to a place where I can drown myself, talk a lonely girl into making a swimsuit that might not ever actually get used for Rumia, and let Rumia embarass the hell out of her at the same time it became apparent that we didn't have the funds to pay her back, and would have to pay it back later! Except there won't be a later. Because I'm about to die.
God, I'm such a dick.
Oh well, here goes!
With my first step, water seeps into my shoes, an icy chill that sends cold waves up my body. My other foot follows, repeating the process.
By the time I'm waist-deep, I can't even really feel my feet anymore. If I slipped and fell right now, I probably wouldn't be able to get back up on my feet, but that would be fine by me. However, I'm going to keep walking. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that I can't die, and a sure death will instead lead to more suffering.
I am now chest-deep in the water. My hands feel frozen through. The freezing water has made movement difficult, freezing my muscles to their core. If this keeps up, I might even get hypothermia rather than dying, which would be fine too.
I keep going.
I am now nose-deep.
One more step.
My nose goes under the water.
One more step.
One more step
I reflexively gasp for air, and water enters my lungs.
The reason drowning is so deadly is that it's a reflex. Once you've inhaled water, your body starts to move on its own, keeping your legs straight down and flapping your arms wildly. This usually doesn't make any sound at all, which is why it's such a deadly threat.
But if you see someone drowning, it's pretty goddamn obvious.
And I am currently incapable of telling my arms to knock it off and lock themselves down at my shoulders. I'm just hoping that it takes Rumia long enough to figure out what's going-
Tearing through the water at high speed from the other side
Is that a torpedo or something? That would be a pretty neat way to go, but at the same time that's about as likely as Amy appearing out of thin air in front of me alive and well.
So let's think about this.
The first person I met here in Gensokyo...Well, not really in Gensokyo at the time, but still. This person was Yukari, the woman who completely foiled my first suicide attempt by portaling the train around me. What was supposed to be a certain death, something that couldn't even be escaped at the last minute by running because of the debris and shrapnel that would be sent everywhere, was negated by essentially fucking cheating.
The next person I met, Rumia, has been flying me around through the air.
Mokou can also fly, as well as launch gigantic birds of flame. Kaguya, similarly, can fly and launch around gigantic volleys of magic.
Okay, everyone can probably fucking fly.
Eirin is apparently some sort of doctor who can "fix anything". Alice not only lives alone in the very place that I was warned to stay away from, but she also seemed to be controlling dolls wirelessly.
Factoring out the greatest common factors, every single person I've met: 1. Is capable of doing things way outside the bounds of reason, and 2. Absolutely refuses to let me die.
Taking these facts into consideration...
Or do the closest impression of groaning that I'm capable of doing while having absolutely no control over my muscles whatsoever.
And I slowly lose consciousness.
Something soft presses against my lips.
What is this?
Am I in heaven?
Am I being kissed by an angel?
Has it all finally ended?
No, of course not.
I killed someone out of jealousy and rage.
I've been lying and tricking people ever since I arrived here in Gensokyo.
I'm even trying to kill myself.
Yeah, there's absolutely no way someone like me could make it into heaven.
The lips remove themself from mine.
Here it comes.
My chest is crushed between some ridiculous force and the ground, leaving me physically incapable of keeping my eyes shut any longer.
The woman doesn't seem to notice, though, and moves right back to my lips, forcing way too much air into my lungs, which seems to make what just happened hurt even more. Something might have broken.
She lets go and moves her hand back to my chest.
Oh god, this isn't how I want to go. I'd prefer it to be quick and painless, or at least under my own control.
Luckily my body acts on its own once again, purging water in my lungs back out through my mouth.
I immediately push myself into a standing position as I continue to cough up water. The woman sits down and puts her hand on my back, lightly tapping it.
And by that, I mean I think I'm going to have a bruise.
"Are you okay?" She asks. When the coughing stops and the tears clear my eyes, I look at her.
Long red hair, cool blue eyes framed by a green cap with a golden star logo...attached? That certainly looks quite odd... And a green chinese-style dress.
"Yeah..." No. "Who are you?" I ask.
She smiles. "Hong Meiling, gate guard of the Scarlet Devil Mansion. I saw you drowning, so I rushed over to help."
"You... Saw me drowning?"
"Over there!" She points across the lake.
I can see a big crimson-colored mansion in the direction she's pointing.
If I squint a bit, I can see an absolutely gigantic door...
And a little bit more and I think I can make out a gate.
She saw me from that far away.
She apparently cleared that distance within a few seconds.
I probably shouln't be surprised by any of this anymore, but damn.
"On that note," She states. "What's up with this?" she points her thumb at Rumia, who looks absolutely mortified. "When I dragged you out of the water, I was about to blow her away thinking that she was just trying to scavenge your corpse, but then she started screaming about wanting me to save you, and...I don't get it."
"No one gets it. I don't get it either, if it helps any."
"Yeah...This one isn't known for being nice to humans. But in any case, are you okay? Can you stand?"
"Yeah, but, uh..."
"You might have been a bit aggressive with your abdominal compressions. It hurts. A lot."
"Oh...I'm so sorry! Here, I'll take you back to my hut. It's not as good as what Eirin can do with her medicine, but my qi can start the healing process."
I sigh, and almost start coughing from the pain these ribs probably ARE broken shit.
"Yeah, that sounds good."
At least this person seems to know how to carry someone gingerly, though I'm not sure how much less embarassing it is to be carried princess-style than piggyback.
And here we are, once again. My destination? A tiny hut outside a gigantic mansion. My heart? I'm not even fucking joking, my ribs fucking hurt goddamn.
I'm working on that dying thing. But I'm not really getting very far.
All I can do now is kick myself over letting a good opportunity slip by.
It's been about a week since that happened, and I've mostly healed up. Still hurts if I twist just the right way, though.
So, how the hell have I managed to get by for a week since then? Given that I'm traveling with a youkai, and one with a really, really bad reputation at that, it hasn't exactly been easy.
I can remember back to that first night we decided to try and just find a place to stay in the human village. Up until that point, we'd just been finding a place in the woods, but it'd started to cool down a bit too much for that.
So we traveled to the village. And, no surprise, we ran into some problems.
No, that might be an understatement.
Barely after we had landed, Rumia spotted a flower or something that she wanted to go look at. Naturally, she grabbed my wrist and dragged me along.
The village guards, seeing a known man-eating youkai dragging a person along by the wrist, immediately sprung into action, almost bowling me over as they rushed her.
...Really, I'm still not sure how that situation managed to get diffused. I do remember several guards laying on the ground unconscious, my fists being rather sore, and consoling Rumia to get her to stop crying. And a very, very confused town guardian/schoolteacher being completely baffled by what she saw when she arrived on the scene.
Thankfully, she was a bit less rash than the rest of the guards. It took some convincing, but I finally managed to get her to accept that Rumia was not trying to harm me, and that she had in fact been actively protecting me. Of course, I didn't mention that I'd rather she not protect me, since at this point doing so only seems to only be a source of problems.
So I've been staying in Keine's guest room for the past few days. Rumia, on the other hand, was asked to politely leave, something about not being able to afford that much food on a teacher's salary. This is fine, though, as it doesn't really seem to bother her.
I found out pretty quickly that I'm pretty much completely broke, however. There were a few dollars left in my pocket, but no one accepts them as actual currency. It took me a while to find someone who would, and when I did, I was unimpressed by how much he paid me for them. If I took all of the money he gave me to Japan in the outside world, I probably wouldn't be able to buy dinner from a convenience store. Luckily it's enough to last a while here, though.
And what's the first thing a person with no money does when they come across a bit of cash? They buy alcohol, of course. And I did. ...That is, I went to the bar in order to try and gain information from other patrons. Can't really do that without a beer myself, and I've had to buy at least a couple of guys beers to loosen their lips enough before they'd spill anything actually good.
So, what kinds of things did I ask? Well, of course I don't want to make my intent obvious. Several times I've played it off as just being idiot who just got sucked through the border looking for something more exciting than plowing a field all day - hence needing to buy the drinks, as the people here don't seem exactly eager to direct people to the most dangerous places around. After learning my lesson from that, I started just trying to get people to tell me stories, hopefully steering it towards dangerous places or deadly youkai. In the process I've learned a decent amount about Gensokyo in general, though, and I've gotten quite a bit of advice.
The most common advice I've received, not only from people at the bar, but just in general whenever I've talked to...well, pretty much anyone, is that I should go see a "Hakurei Reimu" about getting sent back across the border. To be honest, getting sent back across the border sounds like a terrible idea, but they've also mentioned, mostly in passing, how protective of her donation box she is. Like, ridiculously protective.
I've also heard of a place called Youkai Mountain. There's another shrine there, but it's clear, clear up at the top. And apparently this isn't a mountain to sneeze at, either. It isn't called youkai mountain for nothing; it's just as tall as you'd expect such an ominousnly-named place to be. On top of that, it really does have a lot of youkai living there, from the friendly kappa to the extremely protective tengu and a whole assortment of different kinds in between. There are several ways I can think of in which I could "utilize" such a place.
And finally, there's the Scarlet Devil Mansion, the very same place where I ended up after my failed attempt to drown myself. I've heard a whole host of stories about the people living there
I've been thinking about possibly making a trip to one of these places soon.
[ ] Visit the shrine and un-donate some money. [ ] Today's a nice day to go hiking. [ ] You could show your appreciation to that gate guard by sneaking past her.
"Uh, John, what are we doing here again?" Rumia asks.
I look up at the sky.
It's completely gray. Dark and gloomy. I think I heard a couple guys saying that they think it's going to rain.
I think that's absolutely perfect weather to go hiking. Wouldn't you agree?
So I start walking.
"Why are we here?" She asks.
"Why, to go hiking, of course!"
She stares at me for a moment, and then looks up at the sky, and then looks back towards me. "But it's cloudy."
"Don't worry about the small details! Let's get going."
"If you wanna go somewhere on the mountain, I can just fly you there..."
"Nonsense! Convenience is all well and good, but once in a while you just gotta do it the old-fashioned way! Come, Rumia! Let's walk and enjoy the scenery!"
I'm over-acting this. I'm really over-acting this. I really should stop doing that.
"...Okay." Rumia reluctantly follows behind.
It doesn't take very long before we reach a fork. Fortunately, there's a sign stating what we'll find in each direction. The fork to the right apparently goes to the Aki sisters' shrine, while the fork to the left continues up towards the mountain.
There's also a neat map showing where along the path the misfortune goddess' house is, as well as the approximate boundaries of kappa and tengu territory, and of course the Moriya Shrine. There sure are a lot of goddesses on this mountain.
On that note, I should decide where I'd like to go first.
[ ] Visit the Aki sisters. Perhaps you can trade some faith for a nice last meal? [ ] Visit the misfortune goddess. Certainly removing your misfortune would help with your inability to accomplish your goal. [ ] Visit the kappa. There has to be some sort of shady technology you can fail testing. [ ] Visit the tengu. And refuse to leave. [ ] Visit shrine. Piss off war goddess. Pretty straightforward from there.
Come to think of it, I think I remember someone saying something about the older of the two autumn goddess sisters having trouble gathering faith. Her younger sister apparently doesn't have any problems at all, since she's a harvest goddess, but all that the older sister does is turn leaves red.
Hmm, I bet she'd be overjoyed if I stopped by and shared some faith with her. Perhaps we could all talk over a cup of tea? The younger sister is a harvest goddess, so I'm sure that I could expect some pretty good food if I give them enough faith.
In any case, I turn to the left and continue on my way up the mountain.
After a while of walking, during which Rumia's grumbling gets closer and closer to being audible, we eventually find our way to the next fork in the road.
This time, turning right will take us towards the mountain, while turning left will take us to the misfortune goddess's shrine.
I stop and think for a moment.
Really, heading up the mountain right now would seem like the logical option. Of course, my first stop would be tengu territory. They're very territorial, so it should be pretty easy to pick a fight and intentionally lose it. I could also just continue up to the top and try pissing off the war goddess, but... That's That's a lot of walking.
I don't think Rumia would make it that far. She'd probably just fly off without me, which with my luck will mean that I'm stuck all alone on the mountain, completely lost, with no idea where I am, but a conveniently large enough supply of food that I can't even use the excuse to starve myself to death. I'd probably run into several youkai who would try helping me along the way.
Yeah, that's a pretty good point.
I think I've made up my mind.
"Come, Rumia. We're going to visit the Kagiyama Shrine."
"Ehh? But that spinny lady's creepy."
Shortly after, we arrive at the shrine. ...This isn't really a shrine. It's more like a house with a donation box. A small house. You might even call it a hut. This goddess really is pretty hard up, isn't she?
So I knock on the door.
"Coming~!" I hear from inside. After a moment, the door opens, revealing a strikingly beautiful woman with long green hair tied in front of her.
She's smiling happily. For some reason I'm imagining being the only visitor she's gotten in weeks, maybe even months, and it's kinda sad.
"How can I help you?" She asks.
[ ] "Please remove my misfortune." [ ] "Please curse me." [ ] Confess your undying love to Hina.
Without a change in expression from her serene smile, she slams the door shut.
Well, uh, shit.
I look over at Rumia, who happens to be looking straight at the ground and shaking her head.
"No, John. Look. Even I could have told you that wouldn't work."
And now I'm being lectured by Rumia of all people.
"Watch." She steps over to the door and stretches up on her to reach the button for some reason instead of just floating a couple inches up.
"My, there sure are a lot of guests today." I hear Hina speak from the other side of the door. "I wonder who it is this ti-"
Once again, serene smile. Once again, the second she sees Rumia on the other side of the door, she slams it shut.
Rumia just stares at the door. After a moment, she turns to look at me, and I can see tears forming in her eyes.
"S-she just slammed it shut without even..."
"I know, Rumia. I know." I step over and place my hand on her head. I heard from a guy at the bar once that hair ruffling is a secret technique passed down from generation to generation of outsider known to calm down the girls here if they get angry or depressed. When I tried it on Keine, I came within an inch of a trip back to Eientei. When I tried actually ruffling Rumia's hair, it didn't seem to do anything but make her a bit more angry that I was messing up her hair. After these experiences, I've decided that, first of all, that guy was full of shit, and second, I should limit myself to simply patting Rumia on the head. It seems to work the same as it would for any other girl her apparent age. I think if I tried it on Keine she'd murder me. Adding to my to-do list.
"Well, what now?" I ask.
Rumia gives me a flat expression.
"Well, obviously you need to apologize."
"Huh?" Does she even know that word?
"I'm gonna fly upwards so she doesn't just slam the door again. Knock, then say you're sorry."
Rumia lazily floats upwards, and I once again walk up to the door. After knocking, I step back.
Hina doesn't even say anything this time, she just opens the door.
"What-" She starts.
So I bow. "I'm sorry." I state.
She stares at me for a second.
"You're... Sorry." She sounds hesitant as she speaks this.
"Yes. I'm sorry. I just thought it would be funny to-"
"Oh." Her voice is strained. "You thought it would be-"
And Rumia takes this opportunity to hit me in the back of the head.
After figuring out what exactly just happened, I look up to find Rumia also bowing to the goddess.
"I'm sorry. This guy is just an idiot." She explains.
"I..." She looks confused. "see."
"We were just here to..." She starts to explain again. "Wait, what were we here for again, John?"
"Well, I just wanted to-" Shit I almost said it out loud. "Um. Well, I've been way too lucky lately, so I figured I'd try to help out by taking some misfortune off of your hands." Yes! An excellent lie that she cannot see through at all!
"I think that's a lie." Hina states bluntly. I somehow manage to keep a poker face.
"It's true. I mean, I've been traveling around with Rumia without her eating me. That's gotta show for something." Rumia tilts her head, looking confused.
"Hmm..." Hina brings a finger to her mouth.
"I almost drowned in the Misty Lake, but the gate guardian from the mansion somehow got there in time to save me."
"I, uh, tried to break up a fight between the two immortals from the bamboo forest and somehow managed to make it out alive."
"Before I arrived in Gensokyo, my car was, uh, stalled on a railway crossing, but Yukari managed to gap the train around my car. Truly a miracle."
She closes her eyes and sighs.
"It sounds less to me like you've been lucky, and more like you've been trying to kill yourself and have been miserably unsuccessful about it."
Ugh. Well, she found me out.
"...Unfortunately, since your misfortune is because of your fortune, I can't really do anything about it. If I tried to remove your misfortune, your fortune would immediately fill it back up again. I'm sorry."
"Hey, John, what's she talking about?" Rumia asks. "There's no way you'd be trying to kill yourself, right?"
I just pat her on the head.
Hina ponders for a moment. "If...You really do wish to be cursed, I could probably try, but..." She looks uncomfortable. "A-and, it's not like I'd hate trying to remove your misfortune even though I know it won't work..." She's fidgeting.
[ ] "Please remove my misfortune." [ ] "Please curse me." [ ] MISFORTUNE GODDESS MOE [ ] Hey these are pretty much the same thing as the last vote what's going on
Rumia gives me a sly smile, and then winks and slowly floats away, leaving me alone with the goddess.
Rumia where are you going i need your help
My attention returns to Hina.
She's looking away. Wait, no...She's trying to look away, but keeps sneaking glances at me.
This is so...
Is this actually happening?
SO MOE I'M GONNA DIE~
Needless to say, I don't die.
I wake up sometime later inside of Hina's house. Oh, Rumia's back. Hi Rumia.
When she sees that I'm awake, she just shrugs, holding out her hands.
Shortly after, Hina also realizes that I'm awake, and her reaction is quite a bit more appropriate.
"Oh, you're finally awake!" She rushes over to the...This is a couch. Okay, perception checks out fine. "You just suddenly blacked out. I was worried!"
By the way, what does moe even mean? The words just came to me in a fit of, uh Words? I don't know.
"Yeah, I'm fine." I pull myself to a sitting position. "How long was I out?"
"Just a few minutes." She answers. "While you were resting, I helped myself to your misfortune."
Huh. "Helped yourself..?" I ask a pointed question. Hina turns red.
"I-I mean, I removed it, in case it was the cause!" She manages to respond.
"Well, thank you for that." I thank her sincerely.
On that note, I think I've accomplished what I came here to do.
"I think I'll head back home now." I say as I slowly stand up. "Once again, thank you, Miss Kagiyama." I bow. Rumia looks at me suspiciously.
"Please, just call me Hina." She shakes her hand.
"Then thank you, Hina."
She smiles. "It was my pleasure." She bows as well. "Oh, and..." She hesitates. "I'm not really sure why it is that you've been trying to end your own life, but try to think of it like this: By coming to Gensokyo, you've received a second chance. Don't let your past hold you back."
Those words manage to stick with me for quite some time, even after we've left.
I can see what she was trying to get at.
I killed a person.
A woman I loved.
I hit her. And hit her and hit her and hit her, until I felt her die.
Come to think of it, my knuckles are still a little bit sore.
It really isn't as simple as just not letting my past hold me back.
Meanwhile, Rumia's been strangely quiet the entire time we've been flying.
"Hey, Rumia. What's wrong?" I ask.
She sighs. "John."
"I really think you need to get laid."
By the way, where are the two of you headed?
[ ] Moriya Shrine. Let's anger some goddesses. [ ] Tengu territory. Let's anger some tengu. [ ] Home. Let's not anger a lady who's probably going to be waiting on us to start dinner.
I damn near fall off her shoulders after hearing her say that. Unfortunately, Rumia has a pretty good grip on my legs, so nothing actually happens.
"I-WHAT?!" I ask.
"Yeah, you need to get laid," she states flatly.
Oh god what is this even Rumia
Well, I can work with this.
"...Is that an offer?" I ask cooly.
She falters and almost drops me...But somehow manages to keep a good grip on me despite the shock.
She slowly descends and sets me down on my feet. Shen takes a step back.
"John, I think we need to talk."
"What is it?" I ask.
"You seem to like making really bad choices. I'm worried about you."
Well, this is now happening.
"I mean, if you said that to anyone else, you'd probably be dead. If anyone but you said that to me, I'd be eating them right now."
"So why aren't you?"
Rumia sighs and crosses her arms.
"That's what I'm talking about. It's almost like you're trying to get yourself killed."
I'm completely confused, because Rumia is speaking in an uncharacteristically mature way. I mean, she did just tell me that I need to get laid, but...
No matter how I look at her, she's a kid in both mind and body, regardless of how much older than me she might actually be.
However, this image is starting to lose structural integrity. It's still far from crumbling, mind you.
Well, in any case, I think I always knew that this conversation was going to happen with Rumia. I just wish I actually thought of a way to prepare for it.
So, instead of thinking it over and answering her in an intelligent and thought-out way, I'm just going to be blunt.
"I am." I state.
A look of shock goes across her face. "B-but..." Then it changes to irritation. "No, you're lying. That's really annoying, you know? Lying about something that serious."
"I'm not." I hold my ground.
She takes a step forward. "Yeah, like that. Stop that. It's starting to get on my nerves."
Ooooooh, this is a good development. I just need to push her a bit further. This shouldn't be too hard.
"I'm not lying, Rumia. Think back to when we first met." She stares at me. "The first thing I said, after greeting you? 'Please kill me.' If I weren't trying to kill myself, do you think I'd have said that? No, I'd be begging for my life, wouldn't I?"
She doesn't respond, expression unreadable.
"In fact, I wouldn't even be in Gensokyo if I wasn't trying to-"
"I know about that." She interjects.
"I know that when you first got here, you wanted to die. I could smell it."
"And...That's part of why I didn't kill you."
I'm afraid I really don't understand.
She sighs. "Youkai like myself live on people's fear. If we don't make people scared, we can't survive." She explains. "It's a kind of pressure on us from nature to do things whether we want to or not. So, if we meet a human in the forest, we have to attack them, or at least scare them, or else word will spread, and we'll lose faith."
Wow, I had no idea Rumia had it this hard.
"...In Gensokyo, that isn't so much of a problem. However, it's hard-wired into our instincts as much as it's instinctive for humans to avoid us. Some of us can fight it, but usually the only ones who can succeed are the ones who can gain faith from some other source, or by doing something different."
This is all pretty interesting, but I'm actively trying to die. Her frustration level seems to have dropped, so I need to work just a bit harder to get it back up.
"So what does that have to do with me?" I ask.
She looks me in the eye. "John, you're different."
That's a very generic and cliche response.
"You weren't scared of me at all. You didn't run away, you walked up and introduced yourself to me. Since you weren't scared of me at all, my instincts didn't kick in." She looks down at the ground. "I thought that I could finally break free of my instincts, and start to lead a life that didn't force me to hurt every non-human I meet. I...I thought that after all of this time, you would have enjoyed yourself enough, met enough nice people...That you would have been able to move on and enjoy life. I thought that we could be friends!" Tears start to form in her eyes as her shoulders slump down.
This whole time, I've been being a complete dick, haven't I? Without even knowing it.
Uh, what should I do? I can't just leave her crying here.
I drop to my knees.
Even knowing that she's killed countless people, it's still painful to see her crying like this.
So, I do the only thing I know how to do.
"Rumia, I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"It's okay." She wraps her arms around my waist in a hug. "Just...Don't do it again, okay?"
"...I can't guarantee that." I answer.
"I...I know. Just... I don't know, okay? I don't want you to want to die, but I just..."
"It's okay." I wrap my arms around her this time.
After a while she settles down, and we separate.
"So are you certain you weren't making an offer earlier?"
Shortly after I find myself flat on my back after getting punched in the face. Pretty hard, too.
Momi later. As usual, feel free to include any suggestions in the meantime.
Just don't drag this story on longer either have the guy find a new life or just kill him already. That's why I voted to "go home" because it would be something different than futilely trying to kill John. Doing whatever to Momiji won't get us killed as if the other things tried didn't kill him, not sure what would.
>>1459 well I can't tell for the most part, though the home vote hints at something other than "futile attempt to kill ourself" yet people keep on voting for them actually expecting them to actually work.
A gag can only be used so much, so quickly before it becomes stale - part of why I had suggested a curse of immortality. But after that confession/scolding it's definitely time to abandon the suicide attempts.
[x] Cancel going to bother the tengu. It's time to go home.
You know, I think you might be missing the point of this story a little. It's not "Find the best way to kill off John!", It's actually more like "Watch John learn important life lessons as he ineffectually trys to kill himself to much comical effect! Will John learn to forgive himself? Why is he so hard to kill? What will his friends think when they find out about his dark past? Will the universe ever stop trolling him? Find out next time in "(Un)Gratefully Doing It Yourself"!" with a whole dash of adorable to even off the offbeat premise.
I love this story because it's not one where you always have to think of what the best option is. While John is trying to off himself, out-of-character we have no goals other than to pick options that we think are amusing/adorable/whatever. There's no overcomplicated plot, no conspiracy out to get us and getting a "bad end" would still be considered a good thing. I find that a refreshing change from the usual.
tl;dr: I enjoy this because it's simple fun without the stress of "OhGodDon'tFuckItUp". Also, what >>1459 said.
>>1469 I'm not seeing much in the way of life lessons beyond a running gag that's stale around the edges. The only sort of progress I've seen is that Rumia's a little sister figure not willing to put up with excess crap as anon blew off chances to possibly spark romances in a fit of insanity (Eirin and Hina IIRC)
And they blew off the going home option which was the first choice I've seen that didn't amount to "let's suicide via stupid decision", which suggests they want to see this running gag get run into the ground some more.
>>1471 For me it's more that I want John to have important life lessons such as the previous update, and then actually die due to something incredibly stupid (the romance pushes) and seeing the fallout. Touhou tears are the best tears.
It doesn't have to be John learning the entire lesson before the suicidal behavior stops - it only needs enough to take the edge off before 'is this really a good idea?'-thoughts start to happen. IMO, Rumia's rant provides that first step.
Naturally, he still has the rest the guilt to work through, but I would think he's slipped below the suicidal threshold.
Well, we both had a pretty good laugh about that. The mood was pretty tense beforehand, after all.
Part of me still just wants to just die.
That's the only way I can think of to escape this...
Not really pain. Numbness. Except for some of the crazy stuff that's been happening, I can honestly feel that I just haven't felt anything.
But then, another part of me, perhaps a part of me which is simultaneously more foolish and much more wise than the part that wishes to die, doesn't want to put Rumia through that.
...To be honest, she was acting really strange. Normally she doesn't act anything like that, and in fact she's been acting strange for a while even before that. Seriously, trying to hook me up with Hina? Normally that seems like something she wouldn't even understand.
But even if that isn't how she normally acts...Even if that isn't actually the real Rumia, and she just had some sort of momentary intelligence boost... Her story was real. I could tell that much. She was telling the truth, there's no doubt about that. She didn't actually say it herself, but she sounded pretty lonely. Sure, she has a terrible reputation...And, in reality, that's probably an earned one. However, because of it, even if she had a change of heart and wanted to try being a good person, not only would she be fighting against her own instincts, but she'd swiftly be rejected by everyone else the moment she tried. Unless I'm there for her.
The worst part is, the part of me that wants to die is still winning out. This makes me feel like even worse shit.
Rumia headbutts me on the back of the head.
"Hey, stop looking so glum." Really, that's not a word I'd expect her to use. "We're almost there!"
She slowly brings us down onto a path on the ground, and we begin walking forward.
It doesn't take very long for another figure to land on the ground a few meters ahead of us.
"Halt! State your business!"
The command is stated in a clearly masculine tone of voice, but with an incredibly feminine voice. Short silver hair and wolf ears, clearly dressed just as tengu guards were described to usually be dressed by the people I talked to in the village. Red eyes...Well, what are the odds? Is this Inubashiri Momiji? It's one thing to run into well-known people in places that they live by themselves, but to run into a named character who is one of many in similar positions in a whole town of tengu...
What the hell is a named character, anyway? I think I heard some outsider guy using the term. I, and everyone else, generally tended to ignore most of what he said, anyway.
[ ] Touch fluffy tail. [ ] Well, Rumia said you needed to get laid, right? [ ] QUICK, EVASIVE MANEUVERS!
"John, you remember what I said, right? Just play it cool and don't screw it up, okay?" Rumia asks me.
There are some problems with that.
Yeah, wasn't a total social outcast in highschool. I did the whole highschool romance thing. However, once college kicked in, I really didn't have any time for dating. A lot of people do that whole college partying thing. I couldn't really do that. Our family wasn't poor, but I didn't want to hog all of the college fund for myself; after all, I knew my brother would probably end up more successful than I was. So, I did my best to pay for my own college. Not only was I working a full-time job, but I was working my ass off spending all of my "free" time studying in a (usually futile) effort to try and get scholarships.
In other words, I know jack shit about talking up a woman I've never met. Even with Amy, she's the one who insisted on giving me her number. If she didn't talk to me first, I'd have never had the nards to say anything to her.
And I wouldn't be here right now.
In any case, that's the situation Rumia's putting me in right now.
I've got no idea what I'm doing. That's fine, though. It can't be that hard, right?
The woman tilts her head to the side in confusion.
Right. This is an awkwardly long pause. Better say something.
What do I say, though?
It really has been so long since I've gotten laid, though...
But I can't fuck this up.
I just need to calmly think up the right way to go about this.
AH. I got it.
I'll just ask her...
OH GOD MOTHERFUCKING SHIT DID I ACTUALLY JUST FUCKING SAY THAT THAT'S NOT WHAT I WAS GOING TO SAY WHAT'S GOING ON
I'd be facepalming too if I weren't frozen stiff
Isn't this good?
Getting laid would be good but ending it all would be better
"Hmm..." The girl hums. "Why not?"
Rumia's staring at her incredulously
I'd be staring incredulously too if I weren't frozen stiff
"I've got a break coming up anyway." the woman explains.
There's no way that just fucking worked I don't fucking believe this
I mumble a response.
I don't even know what's going on anymore.
That was the first time I've ever done...That.
Well, before sex always had an emotional component to it. It was fulfulling because I loved and trusted the person I was doing it with.
"Feel free to drop by whenever you like." Momiji explains while sliding her panties back up her legs.
That emotional component is completely gone. At first, it made it feel a little lacking, but now it feels
and this is the first time I've felt so calm since that night. Since before that night. Since my brother's wedding.
"I've gotta get back to work now. See you later~" Momiji winks at me as she floats off. She's flying a lot more lazily than she was when we first ran into her. I guess it was good for her too.
I decide to just lay here for a while.
This is nice.
For the first time in a long time, I feel warm.
...Okay, it felt warm when I jumped into the middle of the fight between Kaguya and Mokou, and I made the same comment then. But this is different.
My eyes lazily slide shut.
I'm about to doze off when I hear the crunch of leaves under someone's foot approaching.
I lazily open my eyes and find Rumia gazing down on me.
"What're you doing?" She asks, tilting her head.
"Letting it wear off." I explain.
"Letting what wear off?"
"Rumia, I just got laid." I explain further.
She tilts her head to the other side. "What's 'laid' mean? You aren't really laying down..."
Well, I'm too relaxed right now to really try and fight her on it.
"It's a thing that adults do. You'll understand when you're older." She probably won't understand when she's older. She's probably older than I am. Then again, she seemed to understand earlier. Once again, I'm too relaxed to worry too much about it.
"Is that so?" She asks.
She stares at me for a moment.
"John, I'm hungry."
Looking at the orange sky I briefly ponder my life.
I killed someone, in cold blood. It wasn't premeditated, but it might as well have been. If I ran into her again now, it probably would be.
...I'd kill her again?
What in the world...
Well, I can't deny that I still feel an overwhelming feeling of anger whenever I think about her. Seeing her with him, after what she did. After how she treated me.
I hold back a shudder.
But then, look where I am now. I'm in a fantasy world, a Japanese-themed wonderland, where the sky's the limit on what kind of absurd, amazing, wonderful things I can do. If it weren't for her, I probably wouldn't be here. Right?
That doesn't help.
She hurt me. Badly.
And then I killed her.
...Actually, it does help a little bit. When I thought about it before, an overwhelming sense of dread filled my body. Now, it still feels bad, but...
"John?" Rumia asks, tilting her head to the side again.
"Yeah, sorry. Let's go get something to eat." Keine's probably already waiting on us. She'll already have some words prepared for me by the time I get back; it's probably best to limit the number and severity the best I can.
After lazily pulling myself up off the ground, we lazily fly off back towards the human village, an eventful day brought to an end.
Of course, whenever I think back on certain things that happened, I can't stop myself from smiling.
John status: contemplative Rumia status: imouto ??? status: ???
[ ] You know, maybe it would be possible to just forget my past. [ ] What I did was wrong. It's time to take responsibility for my actions. I should go back to the outside world and turn myself in. [ ] There's still some things left to try before I give up on this whole thing. I never was a quitter. Except when it came to life. -[ ] Visit the shrine and un-donate some money. -[ ] I've heard a lot of stories about that mansion on the lake.
B would have been being found by another tengu guard and being taken into custody. C would have been an encounter with Yukari. Q would have been Seiga, according to the random Touhou character generator I used in case Q actually ended up winning. I honestly have no idea how that would have turned out.
[x] There's still some things left to try before I give up on this whole thing. I never was a quitter. Except when it came to life. -[x] Visit the shrine and un-donate some money.
I think the past-forgetting is the best choice in the long run, but I think we should explore more options before the story ends. Also casual sex shouldn't be enough to deter a resolute man such as John.
>>1510 I beg to differ as I think it's his past (chronically being under his brother's shadow,etc) that caused the original murder. If he forgets his past, he can make a fresh start without snapping like that.
>>1541 Classes started back up again after winter break, and along with various other things, threw my update schedule (along with every other schedule) out the window for a little bit. And of course, once you've stopped for a bit, it's hard to start back up again, as unfortunate as it is.
"Oh, this is him, huh? Looks tasty."
At first this person appears to be a boy. In fact, if Rumia hadn't already mentioned her friends several times in the past, I'd probably have made the mistake of calling her one. The short green hair and boyish clothing choice don't help, either. Is that a cape?
"No, you can't eat him!" Rumia whines as she slips between the two of us, her arms held out straight from her body. I've been noticing her doing that a lot more recently after the visit to the mountain. I've got no idea why, though.
I think I'll keep quiet for this one and let Rumia handle it. If for no other reason, simply because Rumia's overraction is kinda funny.
"Oh, you're trying to save him for yourself, huh? Don't be stingy, share! You always begged us to share with you, after all." She gazes at me with an expression somewhere between amused and predatory. I think she's trying to be intimidating, but after all that I've done to try and kill myself so casually, it's hard to take her seriously if all she's gonna do is stare.
"What?! No! I'm not going to eat him at all!" Rumia looks shocked. Rumia and Mystia just give her a deadpan stare. The guy eating on the other side of the stand continues to do his best to try and only take up the furthest centimeter of the eating and sitting space.
After a moment, Wriggle raises her hand and puts it to Rumia's forehead.
"W-what're you doing?!" She asks, stepping backwards and covering her own forehead with her hands.
"Checking if you have a fever. You feeling alright, Rumia?"
"I'm fine! It's just...John's different!"
Rumia and Mystia stare at her for a moment, before looking at each other.
"Nope, something's wrong. Should we drag her to Eientei this time?"
Mystia giggles. "Wriggle, stop teasing her~"
Wriggle sighs. "Myschii, you're just no fun." She shoots me a quick glance. "Still, it's not like we haven't tried getting along with humans better ourselves. I did try starting that wake-up service, after all. And you..."
We all glance over at the guy who's trying desperately to find something interesting to look at in the direction opposite us.
"Yep~" Mystia replies.
Wriggle glances back over at me, still trying that whole intimidation thing.
"How did you do it?" She asks.
"Do what, exactly?"
"Convince Rumia not to eat you."
"I walked up and asked her to eat me. That's how we met."
She stares at me for a moment.
She looks over at Rumia again.
"Yep, Eientei time. Let's go." She grabs Rumia by the hand and jokingly starts to float upward, Rumia doing her best to struggle.
"Wriggle~ Stop teasing her~ You're disturbing the guests~"
I glance back over at the guy, who has started to sweat profusely. I really think he wants to run away. He might even end up with PTSD after all of this. Poor fellow.
But that's certainly got nothing to do with Wriggle teasing Rumia. I'm pretty sure he's been like that the whole time. Wait, is Mystia secretly trying to troll this guy? I might have to be a bit careful around her. Just a bit.
"Aww." Wriggle lets go of Rumia's hand and returns to her seat, Rumia puffing her cheeks out.
She looks back over at me again. "Guess that's why it isn't working, huh?" She asks.
"Why what isn't working?"
"Me trying to intimidate you." She quickly glances at Rumia. "Never would have guessed she had a thing for the crazy type."
Rumia tilts her head to the side. "What do you mean?"
Wriggle just laughs while patting Rumia on the head. "Rumia, never change." This just gets an even more confused response from Rumia.
...Actually wait. I remember a Rumia who would know exactly what Wriggle's talking about. Come to think of it, I've seen some pretty remarkable differences between how Rumia acts in certain circumstances. But "never change" seems to imply that Wriggle's never seen that side of her.
"So~" Mystia interrupts, cleaning Rumia's third dish. Man, I'm really glad that they're friends, since it means I don't have to pay for all of this. Hopefully. "Did you guys hear about the sakura-viewing party in Hakugyokurou~?"
Come to think of it, it was late Autumn when I first entered Gensokyo. Of course, it's been a few months since then. It does feel like it's warming up a bit, though, so I guess spring is on its way.
"Party?!" Rumia reacts enthusiastically, practically jumping into a standing position and slamming her hands down on the eating surface, provoking a sigh from Wriggle and...no real reaction from Mystia. The guy on the other end noticeably flinches, but I'm the only one who seems to notice. "Will there be food?!" She asks with stars in her eyes.
"Well, it IS Hakugyokurou, after all..." Mystia responds.
"I'm going! When is it?! I can go, right, John?" She looks up at me expectantly, earning me a strange look from Wriggle.
"Uh, sure. Just leave enough for everyone else." I'm worried that she'll clear the place out.
"Trust me," Wriggle says in response, "Rumia isn't the person you have to worry about clearing the place out if the dead princess is involved."
"I see." ...That's kinda terrifying.
As I'm about to tease Rumia about it a bit, a strange glowing moth lands on Wriggle's head.
"What? Again?" Wriggle says to the moth with a sign. "They just won't give up..." Her shoulders slump. "Sorry, I gotta leave early again tonight." Wriggle stands up. "Don't let Rumia run up this guy's bill while I'm gone!" God damn it.
Wriggle shoots me a smirk before waving and flying off.
No, I'm not paying for this. I still haven't paid Alice back for the swimsuit. God damn it.
"It's okay~" Mystia seems to catch my annoyance. "You won't have to pay for it if you don't want to~" Alright then. "I'm sure I can work something out for you to do instead~" Damnit.
I shoot Rumia a glare. She just tilts her head to the side and gives me a confused expression. This girl...
Mystia giggles again, and I suddely realize that I have absolutely no idea whether she was serious or not. I really should be careful around her.
...Unfortunately, with Wriggle gone, our main source of conversation seems to have disappeared as well. Mystia gives me the impression of someone who would normally have a lot to talk about...But she's also quite busy, preparing and serving a steady stream of fly-by orders. I'm sure she could use something to take her mind off of it, but when you're busy like that it's kinda hard to come up with topics of conversation on your own.
[ ] Talk to Mystia about... (specify) [ ] What's up with that guy? [ ] Wait, what's this thing Wriggle had to go do? [ ] Other (specify)
"So Mystia, I can see that business is doing well for you. You seem to be getting a lot of customers."
"Yep~", she replies while deftly going from turning skewers to pouring sake into what looks like disposable cups made out of bamboo for the takeout customers, all in what seems like one fluid motion. "Unfortunately, though, most of them are youkai~"
"I can tell. Only a handful of them are even touching down on the ground to place their orders."
"Is that a problem, though? I mean, a customer is a customer, so as long as you're making money..."
"Hmm..." She ponders. "In a way, you're right~ However..." She pauses as she hands a takeout container to a paying customer who happens to be floating upside down right over my head. I didn't even notice her there... "Money isn't the only reason I started this stand~"
"Oh? What were your other motivations?" I ask.
"Well, people are been too scared to go out at night in the dark, since they can't see~ Serving grilled lamprey to make people able to see better in the dark only makes sense, right~?"
"I see." I don't really see. Eating lamprey doesn't actually make it any easier to see in the dark... Wait. Rumia mentioned something about Mystia being able to make humans night-blind by singing, right?
"Hey, Mystia, your singing causes night-blindness, right?" I ask.
"And you usually sing while running the stand, right?"
"So, basically, you're giving people night-blindness, and then making them pay you to make it go away?"
"Well, if you're gonna put it that way..."
"That's basically extortion, Mystia."
"Well, it looks like you have me figured out~" She leans in. "I'm sure we can come up with some sort of arrangement to prevent this from getting out there, right~?"
Then she leans back.
"Nah~ Everyone already has that pretty much figured out already~ Besides, if I don't at least antagonize humans this much, I can't gain any faith~"
Ah, I get it now. Thinking back on it, Rumia mentioned something about this.
Apparently, Gensokyo generally provides enough faith for most youkai to continue existing just by living here.
However, they're still instinctively driven to gather their own faith anyway. Some of them have found ways other than attacking and eating humans to do so...So I guess that's what Mystia's doing.
"I see. That sounds rough."
"Nah~ All I gotta do is feed people and occasionally ignore the occasional human who gets uppity about it~"
I'm at a loss for words. I remember hearing about japan's "the customer is god" mentality, and all of my experiences in the village also seem to follow this, even if in a way that feels dated...But Mystia here is just flat out ignoring it alltogether.
Before I can make a remark about it, though, a girl touches down on the ground nearby. Mystia immediately becomes noticeably nervous.
"Good evening. Uh, I'm sorry if this is problematic, but I'd like to order 50 orders of lamprey."
"F-fifty?!" Mystia is visibly shocked.
Youmu sighs. "I know, and I tried to talk her into asking for a more reasonable order, but Lady Yuyuko is very stubborn, and she absolutely wants 50 orders."
"A-alright! Coming right up~ There goes my entire stock of lamprey for tonight..." Mystia frantically begins trying to prepare all of the ingredients.
It looks as though Mystia's going to be quite busy for a while.
[ ] Try talking to Youmu about... (specify) [ ] It's getting pretty late. You should probably head back to the safety of the village soon. [ ] Other (specify)
"Without at least a few minutes to show you what to do? Nah~"
Fair enough. It's not like I've never cooked before, but before coming to Mystia's stand for the first time, I'd never even seen a lamprey in real life before, much less cooked with one.
Instead, I decide to ask Youmu about the party that's apparently coming up. There's no doubt that Rumia's going to drag me up there whether I actually want to go or not, so I may as well know what I'll be getting into when it happens.
"Miss...Konpaku, was it?" I ask.
"You are correct." She bows. "You can call me Youmu if you would like."
"I'm John." I bow in return. "It's nice to meet you. So, is it alright if I ask you a few questions about the upcoming party?"
Youmu sighs. "There will be plenty of sake and food to go around."
I'm all for the booze, and Rumia's certainly going to be happy about the food, but that's not really what I'm after here.
"Well, uh, I'm kinda new around here. I've never been to a party in Gensokyo, so I figured I'd try and see what I'm getting myself into."
"Hmm..." She holds a finger to her lips. "Stay away from the oni. I can guarantee that you will feel terrible in the morning if you don't. While you're at it, try and avoid the tengu the best you can as well, for the same reason." She pauses for a second. "Other than that...Parties around here are pretty relaxed, especially cherry blossom viewing parties. Just try not to offend anyone and you should be fine. Oh, and try to prevent Miss Rumia from eating everything as well. I'm not even sure Gensokyo has enough food to feed both of them at once..."
"So there's no problems with Rumia showing up, then?"
"Well, I already know that Mokou and Mystia will be attending, so in a pinch I can enlist their services. I can probably also get some help from Miss Izayoi, since her mistress would also be quite disappointed if the party wasn't a success."
"No, I mean... She still has troubles getting into the human village at night with her reputation."
"Oh, I see. No, that won't really be a problem." She explains. "Most of the attendees will be youkai anyway. The ones that won't be are either in the service of them, strong enough to hold their own against Rumia, or usually both."
"Is there any sort of dress code, then?"
"No, not really, though you'll still probably want to show up dressed nice." She explains.
"Aaaaaand done~" Mystia interrupts me, placing several paper bags on the counter of the stall.
"Thank you very much." Youmu bows to Mystia before turning back to me.
"If you'll excuse me, my mistress will be quite unhappy if I'm late." She says while bowing once again. "I hope to see the three of you at the party."
She floats away, while Mystia crashes down into her cart.
"Haaaah~ I'll never get use to this~"
She stands back up. "Well, I'm out of lamprey, so I guess I'll close the stand for the night~ Take care, you two~"
Mystia as well gently floats away, leaving me alone with Rumia.
Looking at my watch, I decide that it's getting about time for me to head home as well.
[ ] You never did end up visiting the shrine. Either of them. -[ ] Hakurei -[ ] Moriya [ ] You still owe Alice for Rumia's swimsuit. [ ] Jump straight to the party.
I've come to realize that I was kinda acting like a dick to everyone, even if most of them didn't even realize it.
I mean, Hina saw right through me, but everyone else thought that I was just an ordinary outsider who somehow managed to tame a wild youkai. It would have never occured to them that I was trying to use pretty much all of them as a way to kill myself.
And yeah, there's also Rumia. We've worked through that, though. I still don't quite get why her personality seems to jump around at a whim, though.
However, there's one person who has been directly affected by it, and I still haven't done anything to make up for that.
And that's why we're currently landing in front of a familliar house in the middle of the Forest of Magic.
"Well, better get this over with." Really, I should have gotten this over with a long time ago. It's not like I wasn't able to make enough money after I broke down and started taking odd jobs. The little knowledge I have left from the Physics classes required for my degree has actually been surprisingly helpful.
But I digress. I have come with the 30,000 yen that is owed, and I am ready to pay off my balance in full.
So I knock.
"Just a moment!" I hear someone shout from inside. This is almost just like before, only with me knocking instead of Rumia. It's almost nostalgic.
After just a moment, the door swings open. My eyes meet hers,
And the door slams shut.
I scatch my head.
That's odd. I'd have expected her to be happy for me to finally show back up. She must have been waiting for me this whole time, and yet...
Ah, I get it. She's trying to re-enact the first time this happened. I get it. Well, since Rumia and I have already switched places, we'd better keep that up. It would be a shame for this to play out incorrectly, wouldn't it?
"Rumia, why do you go ahead and try knocking?"
She nods, while I step out of the way.
She gives the door a couple light taps.
"I swear, if it's that same..." Alice mumbles while she once again opens the door.
"Oh, Rumia. You didn't bring that-"
"Alice!" I shout. And with a sigh, she slams the door shut again.
"If you're here to try and trick me into making some more clothes for you for free, give it up. It's not happening."
Oh. "Wait, Alice, I'm here to pay you back for those."
"I heard about what you went and did afterward. I know that not only were you never planning on paying me back, but you were trying to use me as a tool in your own suicide. I don't care if I never get paid back for my work, I just don't want anything to do with you ever again. Good day." And I can hear her begin to walk off.
Well. Damn. That got pretty real pretty quick.
But that won't do. I'm not here to pay her back just to settle a debt. Hell, I even realized that I was being a dick myself. What I'm really here for is to make amends, to try and face the mistakes I've made and improve from them.
So I can't just let it end like that.
"Wait, Alice. Please, just give me a chance. I know what I did was terrible. That's why I want to make this up to you. If you don't want my money, that's fine. I'll do whatever it takes, so please, let me pay you back, even if only for my own peace of mind."
After a few seconds, the door opens a crack.
"You're serious about that? You'll do whatever it takes to pay me back?"
She swings the door open again with a sigh. "Alright, but if you let me down and I ever see you again, I'll make you wish you did succeed in drowing yourself."
"There's another girl who lives in the forest not too far from here. I'll need you to collect a long, long outstanding debt from her, and then we'll be even."
Wait, that doesn't make sense.
She seems to have caught my confused expression, though, so she explains.
"This is a bit different from yours. Putting aside differences in motivation, she currently owes me over 600,000 yen in both services never paid for and items just flat out stolen."
"600,000 yen?!" I exclaim. That's nuts.
"Yes. If you bring me what she owes me, or at least most of it, I'll consider us even. I don't care whether you bring it back in the form of cash, merchandise, or her head on a pike. Make sense?"
"Okay then. Since you'll probably just fail and waste both of our time if you run in blind without a strategy, you should probably come up with a plan before you leave on your way."
[ ] Persistence. If you keep bothering her about it, you'll eventually get her to pay up. [ ] Intimidation. At the very least, you're a man and a youkai. You should be able to scare her into paying up. [ ] Stealth. Between Rumia's ability to project a sphere of darkness and your nonexistant stealth skills, you should easily be able to steal Alice's stuff back.
[ ] Write-in any relevant questions you may have for Alice about this task.
Hooray, updates! [x] Why did this person steal/borrow extensively? [x] What are their strengths/weakness, if any? [x] What strategies have had any efficacy, if any? As for the plan: [x] Stealth. Between Rumia's ability to project a sphere of darkness and your nonexistant stealth skills, you should easily be able to steal Alice's stuff back. If we are comprimised, take whatever books and other seemingly valuable things you can and make a run for it.
[x] Stealth. Between Rumia's ability to project a sphere of darkness and your nonexistant stealth skills, you should easily be able to steal Alice's stuff back. If we are comprimised, take whatever books and other seemingly valuable things you can and make a run for it.
[x] Stealth. Between Rumia's ability to project a sphere of darkness and your nonexistant stealth skills, you should easily be able to steal Alice's stuff back. If we are comprimised, take whatever books and other seemingly valuable things you can and make a run for it.
"Yeah. It's foolproof. She'll never know we were there."
Actually, I know this plan is about as ridiculous as it gets without busting down her door and trying to just take them all by force. In fact, I'm counting on it. Either I can use my seeming inability to die to my advantage to somehow pull it off anyway...Or I go out at least trying to correct my misdeeds. Honestly, nowadays I'd prefer not to, but that's the price I've got to pay.
"Well, I think you're insane..." Alice sighs. "But I guess sneaking in is probably the best option you have. I'm sure there's a better way though."
Sanity aside, if we're going to do this, we're going to need some information.
"By the way, what's her personality like?" I ask. "If we get caught, is there anything I should know in order to deal with her?"
"Ugh." Alice rolls her eyes. "Don't get me started. Most people would say she's friendly, but if you oppose her in any way, she'll shoot first and ask questions later. She's so damn stubborn and overbearing. Once she's made up her mind, you'll go through hell trying to get her to change it. I used to live in hell. I know exactly what I'm talking about." She sighs. "If you get caught...Well, like I said, she's friendly. Play it off as a friendly surprise visit and you might be able to fool her long enough to avoid a fight. Just pray today doesn't happen to be the day someone starts stirring up trouble, or you'll be the first person she'll suspect and she'll treat you accordingly."
That's tough. If we get caught, that probably means mission over even if we manage to smooth it out, and she'll probably suspect us immediately if stuff goes missing afterwards. How troubling.
In that case...
"What are her strengths and weaknesses?"
"Her strengths? Blowing away everything that gets in her way. Not much else really. Weaknesses? Unfortunately nothing that would help you get my books back, at least not without knowing a fair amount of magic."
"I take it you've tried to recover some of your stuff in the past, then. Has anything worked?"
"Well, busting down her door, storming in and just taking my stuff back worked a couple times, but then she started sealing her door with magic to lock me out. Unsealing it would either require quite some time to figure out exactly how she patched it together, or brute force that would probably damage anything valuable inside that I could take. I also managed to sneak a few things out during normal visits, but then she started locking me in so I couldn't take anything without her knowing. It's so frustrating."
"So what has she taken, exactly?"
"Everything. She's 'borrowed' books without returning them, asked for my help with projects only to 'forget' to pay me, she's needed my help repairing clothes after failed experiments countless times. Food. Reagents. Fabric. Dolls. She even has one of my chairs buried in there somewhere! There isn't a thing in this house that's safe from her."
"So basically, I might as well grab anything of value, then?"
"Yes. Actually, if you see any books, and you will see a lot of books, grab as many of them as you can. She's only borrowed a handful of mine, but she's borrowed countless books from Patchouli, who has a cash reward for every book returned to her. For the others, there's a chance that they'll at least help me understand her magic a little better so I can counter it more effectively. Though, if you somehow managed to steal all of her reagents, leaving her wide open for a frontal attack..." She slowly grins. "I think we could work with that as well."
After that, we received some more explanations of Marisa's personality, past history, and such, which really just felt like Alice venting.
Skip forward a few hours. It's now evening.
"Rumia, you see anything?" I ask my partner, who is currently running binocular duty.
Oh, right. Alice reluctantly lent us a pair of binoculars. Outside of Gensokyo, these wouldn't be anything special, but inside, they're quite rare.
"Negative. No movement at all from the target."
"What time is it?" I ask while glancing at my watch. "5 PM? According to our intelligence, she should have left by now."
Of course, by "intelligence" I mean the fairies we bribed with some sake and, to Rumia's protest, one of the sandwiches we brought for dinner.
"Wait, target is on the move." Rumia states, grabbing my hand.
We're quickly enveloped in a sphere of pure darkness as Rumia lifts us slightly off the ground and we start moving forward.
A few minutes pass.
"Uh, Rumia? Why are we moving so slow?" I ask. By now, I'd normally expect us to have gone right past Marisa's house and into the forest.
"You don't want to fly face-first into the building, do you?"
"No, but why would that happen? You can see where we're going, right?"
"What do you mean you can't see? This darkness is your doing, right? You should still be able to see, at least."
"Nah. By the way, you should probably stick one of your hands forward so you can make sure you don't run into anything."
After a few moments, I feel a hard, flat surface against the palm of my hand. A split second later, Rumia stops moving forward as well.
"Okay, we've arrived at the target." Rumia states mattero-of-factly. "Disengaging camouflage."
My vision returns, the sudden brightness causing my eyes to momentarily hurt a bit.
"Let's get moving." I state. "According to our intel, there should be a window left open a crack for ventillation on the east side."
"Understood." Rumia nods and follows me as I make my way there.
I reach up and slip my fingertips into the crack and try to pry the window open.
Ahem. I try to pry the window open.
I reach up and slip my fingertips into the crack and completely fail to pry the window open.
"Shit." I say under my breath.
"Let me try." Rumia as well slips her fingers into the crack and tries to pry the window open. She makes a valiant effort, but despite the wood sounding like it's starting to crack, the window does not move.
"Must be magically sealed," I state, remembering Alice's briefing.
"Stand back," Rumia states. "We're going in hot."
Before I can stop her, she's fired a barrage of yellow, green, and blue spheres into the window, causing it to shatter and lightly charring the window frame.
"...Right. Well, after you, then." She nods, floating up through the window. Luckily it seems her barrage also had the effect of sending all the broken pieces of glass away from the window sill, so my clumsy attempt to climb through the window myself results in no injuries.
After Rumia gives me a hand, I survey the room we ended up in.
"Rumia, I think we ended up in the wrong house."
"No, that's Marisa's bed all right." She points towards a modest bed, which happens to hold the only decoration in the room: a pillow with a mushroom design on the front.
Other than that, the room is empty.
"Why do you know what Marisa's bed looks like?" I ask.
"Stole it once. Cirno's idea. Tied it to the top of the big tree behind Reimu's shrine."
"I see." I'll have to keep that in mind. Maybe I can try and tag along the next time they do something intresting like that. "Even so, this is pretty much the exact opposite of what Alice told us to expect."
"Yeah. Kinda weird."
"Well, no matter. Let's continue with the plan."
We continue forward, leaving her bedroom and entering the living room area.
This was supposed to be the living room area.
"Rumia, why are there so many bookshelves?"
"To hold all the books, of course."
"I see. And why are there so many wooden trunks?"
"To hold all the non-book-like stuff, of course."
"And why are they all arranged perfectly so that one can easily navigate the room with no worries about tipping over a precarious pile of books or trinkets?"
"I guess because it makes more sense for it to be like this?"
"I guess so." I pause. "I suppose what I'm getting at is, where are all the disordered piles of books? The piles of trinkets, odds, and ends? The vials full of liquids of questionable purpose?" I look into Rumia's eyes.
"Where the hell is the mess we're supposed to find in here?!" I ask. "Did Alice pull one over on us? Did we break into the house of someone innocent?"
"Nah. This is Marisa's place. Strange that it's so organized, though. Maybe she found someone special?"
"Hmm." I raise a finger to my chin. "That's plausible-"
I'm interrupted by the door softly swinging open.
I instinctively jump behind Rumia for protection.
Rumia instinctively jumps behind me for protection.
We both try jumping behind each other for protection, and the end result is a nasty bump between both of our heads.
"Oh my," a feminine voice speaks, "are you two okay?" She asks.
Well, I'm already screwed, but if she's going to be nice about it Wait, something's wrong about that Then I might as well try and at least avoid serious injury. This is a problem red alert red alert
I look up at the woman.
"Ah." I breathe a sigh of relief. It appears that this person is not, in fact, Kirisame Marisa. While there are some superficial similarities, namely her golden eyes and long blonde hair, this person clearly isn't wearing anything even close to the stereotypical witch costume. In fact, the dress she's wearing looks rather pedestrian, quite identical to the dresses that I've seen many of the housewives in the village wear.
Clearly she was just passing through the Forest of Magic, minding her own business, when she heard a window breaking nearby. Being the very image of a model citizen, she rushed over to see what had happened. After all, in a place like the Forest of Magic, a broken window can be deadly once night falls. Of course, the window could have been broken by a youkai in the first place, in which case it's possible that someone could need urgent help, and because of this possibility, she couldn't afford to knock and wait for an answer when the house's occupants could be under attack by some feral beast.
Wonderful! I can work with this.
"I'm fine." I state. "Rumia?" The girl doesn't flinch at the name, which is slightly odd, but I pay it no real heed.
"...Yeah." She answers slowly, a bewildered expression on her face. "I'm good." Not once do her eyes leave the face of the girl in front of you.
The girl sighs. "What a relief. You two hit heads pretty hard, so I was worried."
The best thing I can do is be nice and polite. If internet folklore has taught me anything, it's that if you act nice enough to someone, it's a lot easier to convince them that you're not out of place.
...Hmm. But just thanking her would be a bit abrupt. We just met this person, so clearly greetings are in order.
"Well, then, I must thank you for your care." I hold out my hand. "Miss..?"
She tilts her head. Ah, crap. I forgot that in Japan it's customary to introduce one's self before asking for another's name. Oh well, I'm clearly an outsider. I can still spin this my way.
"Kirisame Marisa. You can call me Mari if you like."
My body and mind freeze. I feel her soft fingers wrap around my hand, and reflexively carry out the hard-programmed action of shaking her hand, but my mind is blank.
Hold on, this is completely against everything I know about this person. Is this some sort of hidden camera show? If that's how Alice wants to get back at me, that's fine, but by not knowing, this is suddenly the most terrified I've ever felt.
"Are you okay?" I suddenly realize that I've been shaking her hand for just a moment too long.
"Sorry." I excuse myself.
She smiles. "No problem. Since you're here, can I offer you any tea?" She asks.
"Sure." I have to wonder if my ability to keep my cool this well has anything to do with throwing myself headlong into certain death and somehow managing to survive anyway.
"Great! It'll be just a moment."
She walks off into the room. As soon as the door closes, Rumia grabs my sleeve.
"That's really weird." She states, a serious expression on her face. "I've never seen Marisa act like this before."
"So she really isn't usually like this?"
"No. Normally at the very least she'd have blasted me away by now. The fact that she's offered us tea is just...Bizarre..."
"...I'm going to go get Alice." Rumia quickly heads for the door.
[ ] Follow after her. [ ] Stay. If you both leave, it'll be too suspicious. [ ] Try to find some place to hide.
"I"ll stay here," I state. "It'll be too suspicious if we both disappear."
She nods, and heads out the door.
I find a seat on a very conscpiciously clean chair at a conspicuously clean table. They even look like they've only recently been restained.
After a few minutes I hear a kettle start whistling. Shortly after, Marisa walks out from the kitchen, carefully carrying a tray with a teapot and rice crackers.
"Oh, where did Rumia go?" She asks.
I already have a plan for this, though.
"Oh, she had to run to the restroom real quick." I lie.
"Oh," she responds, pouring a cup of tea.
A moment later, she pauses and tilts her head to the side. "...That's strange, I haven't heard any doors open, and I'm certain that I left that one closed."
But I didn't have a plan for this.
I take a sip of tea, using the pause to come up with an excuse.
"Well, she, uh, prefers to do it outside. She's only recently been accepted well enough by people not to be run out of the village on sight, so she still isn't quite used to the facilities yet. She didn't want to risk causing any problems while here as a guest." She'll be absolutely pissed if she finds out I said this. I think that'll be pretty funny to see.
"I see." Marisa nods. "I would have been happy to help her, though."
I very nearly spit out the sip of tea I just took.
"No, uh, that's quite fine. She wouldn't want to intrude, and she, um, has privacy issues." I'm just digging this hole deeper and deeper, aren't I?
"I understand." Marisa smiles knowingly. "That's too bad," she states, taking a sip from her own tea.
There's a knock at the door. Marisa starts to stand up.
"Oh, that's probably Rumia coming back," I state. "I'll get it, don't worry." Marisa looks a little confused, but she nods anyway and sits back down.
I swing the door open, revealing Alice staring at me with an annoyed expression.
"I swear, if you're just trying to play some sort of game-" she states before being cut off by Marisa.
"Alice, is that you? How wonderful!" Alice remains frozen. "It's so great to see you!" Marisa suddenly embraces her in a big hug.
"W-what are you doing, Marisa?!" Alice asks, futily trying to push her away. "It's been so long!" Marisa releases her. "Come, I'll serve tea! Oh, it's been so long since I had this many guests at once!" Grabbing Alice's hand, Marisa forcibly leads her inside to the table, before heading back toward the kitchen. "Ah! I'll be right back. Looks like I need to find another cup! And I'll probably need to boil some more water..."
Rumia slowly re-enters the room as Marisa disappears.
"What in the world was that all about?" Alice asks with a drained expression.
"I have no idea," I answer, "I was hoping you could help us figure that out."
Alice sighs. "Well, for now, I'll send one of my dolls to let Patchouli know what's going on." she states. A blue doll gently floats out the still-open door. Man, there better as hell not be any mosquitoes out.
"At the very least," she explains, "it'll let her know that her books are currently easy picking. It's also possible that we'll need her help if this somehow gets out of hand." She pinches the bridge of her nose. "I just know this is going to end up being annoying..."
"Alice, about that." I state, hesitant to point out the bad news. "Uh, look around you."
"What do you mean?" She starts gazing around the room confused.
Confusion smoothly transitions into surprise, and then suddenly into shock.
"Where are they?!" She suddenly bolts upright, a terrified expresion on her face.
"Ali-" my attempt to calm her down gets immediately cut off.
"Where could they possibly be? It's not like she could just fit them all into a storage room! How could they just disappear like this?!"
I'm cut off once again, this time by Marisa.
"Oh my, you're sure lively today, Alice!" Marisa arrives, completely oblivious, smiling and carrying a teacup and a fresh pot of water. After setting them down and pouring Alice a cup of tea, she suddenly stops and puts a finger to her chin.
"Hmm, I get a feeling I'm missing something..." She ponders for a second. Alice just stares, dumbstruck at Marisa's behavior. "Ah, righ!" Marisa suddenly states, excitedly. "I have something for you, Alice! Wait right there, I'll bring it out."
Alice just stares as Marisa walks into another room, keeping her eyes fixed until Marisa returns.
"Here." Marisa hands Alice a small box, carefully sealed with a cute red bow. "Go ahead, open it."
"...What?" Alice asks, completely dumbfounded.
Rumia passes me the bowl of popcorn. I take a handful, thanking her.
"Oh, don't be shy! Go ahead and open it."
"O-okay..." Alice reluctantly nods, slowly pulling on the ends of the bow until it comes untied.
She reaches inside the box, and pulls out a small plush toy in the shape of a star.
"...What?" she asks once again, now confused.
"Well, I thought I'd give you a little present for being such a good friend all these years. I know you like dolls, but I'm not very good at making stuff, so I just made it in the shape of a star so it'd remind you of me." Marisa explains.
Alice shifts her confused stare towards Marisa.
"I..." She stutters. "Just..." She mumbles. "I-" she shoots me a glance. "I'm going to go get Reimu." She states while standing up and striding toward the door.
Marisa responds by smiling and clapping her hands together. "That's a wonderful idea, Alice! We can make this a proper party! Oh, is that popcorn? Can I have some?"
"Sure." Rumia passes her the bowl, and she daintily takes exactly one piece of popcorn.
"Thank you!" Marisa happily munches on the single piece of popcorn with a cheerful smile.
A few moments and a couple of daintily-eaten piece of popcorn later, the door slowly swings open again.
Come to think of it, I've never met Reimu before. I've heard a lot about her - she's one of the most...if not important, well-known people in the village. To be honest, she's even more well-known outside of the village. Given that one of her jobs is exterminating youkai, it isn't really clear whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
Well, going by the rumors about the youkai that tend to gather at the shrine, it unfortunately might actually be the latter. Still, it wouldn't be the first time that a rumor about someone has turned out to be false.
I glance at Rumia, and she tilts her head. I can't help but to imagine a question mark popping up next to her, given her confused expression.
I also glance at Marisa. She just gives me a friendly smile.
Yeah. I don't think I should trust rumors.
So with curiousity, I look over toward the door, to catch my first glimpse of the infamous shrine maiden-
Oh. It's just Patchy.
"Patchy!" Marisa gushes, once again jumping out of her chair to pull Patchy into a hug.
Or I think that's what she was going to do. Since, you know, that's what she did with Alice. Instead, she runs face-first into a large, heavy-looking book, causing her to fall flat on her ass.
"Owwww..." She smiles. "That was a bit mean, you know!" she states, cheerily.
Patchouli ignores her and approaches me.
"You. Alice said you were..." she pauses for a moment.
Oh. This is one of those things where someone doesn't actually know your name, but they don't want to be rude and just flat out say that they don't, so she's letting you finish the statement.
"John." "John." We both answer at the same time.
...Well, it's not the first time I've gotten something like that wrong.
"Yes, John. Alice sent me a doll," she holds it so you can see it, "with a message stating that it should be opportune for me to collect my books."
Well, she did say she was going to do that.
"Patchy? Hello?" Marisa tries desperately to try and get the girl's attention, to no success.
"Well, I don't think you'll run into much opposition about it, but, uh..."
"Patchy, that's really mean! You shouldn't ignore a friend like that!"
Patchouli follows my gaze around the room for a moment.
"...What is this?" She asks to no one in particular. She takes a few steps around the room, waving her hands over particular spots in the air.
"Paaaaaatchy!" Marisa starts tugging at Patchouli's sleeves, which results in another book to the face. In the same fluid motion, the book is opened, the pages turning on their own until they stop. Patchouli begins to chant a spell, light shining from both the book and herself...
And nothing happens.
Once again the pages turn. I kinda wish I could ctrl+F through physical media like that.
"Right. Let's try this one." She begins chanting and glowing.
The book snaps shut, and Patchouli turns her attention over to Marisa.
"Marisa, what exactly is going on here?"
Marisa tilts her head to the side.
"A party? I don't know, everyone just started showing up!"
Patchouli pinches the bridge of her nose.
"No, I mean, where are all of the books? Where is all of the mess?"
Marisa stares at Patchouli for a moment.
"The others should be arriving soon! Alice is on her way with Reimu. If we're lucky, she'll also grab Suika on the way. Oh! You really should have brought Sakuya along as well. I'd be nice to see her."
"Marisa-" Patchouli starts speaking, but Marisa cuts her off.
"Oh, before I forget! I have something for you as well, Patchy!" Patchouli just stares. "Give me just a moment and I'll get it!"
Marisa leaves for a moment and comes back with an envelope.
"I thought I'd give you something special, magician to magician. Friend to friend, you know? Here!" She hands the envelope over to Patchouli.
Patchouli, who appears just as confused as Alice, but far more composed, cautiously opens the letter. Reaching inside, she pulls out what looks like a card.
"Love Sign 「Non-Directional Laser」." She reads out loud.
"I thought I'd share a spell card with you, since you're such a good friend!"
"Marisa, this was already my spell to begin with."
"Hmm?" Marisa just tilts her head to the side in confusion. "Oh, there's something else in there as well."
With a sign, Patchouli once again looks inside the envelope, this time pulling out a strip of what looks like soft velvet, only slightly rigid, as though there's thick paper inside. Or magic.
"Marisa, what is this." She asks, turning it over. I can now see the front of the strip, which appears to be decorated with mushrooms and stars.
"It's a bookmark! I know you love reading, Patchy, but you really should take a break once in a while! At least while you're having your tea. It wouldn't due for you to accidentally spill it on one of your books! After all, we both know how rough your coughing fits can be."
"Marisa, my books are all warded."
Marisa continues on. "So I made you a bookmark, so you could close your book and still keep your place! Look, I even enchanted it so you can use it to find a specific place in case you accidentally close the book without the bookmark!"
"Marisa, this was also already my spell to begin with." She examines the bookmark more closely. "And this looks like Alice's fabric."
"Only the best for a friend!"
Patchouli resumes pinching the bridge of her nose.
Just as it looks as though she's about to say something, the door slams open once again.
"Okay, where is she?" An unfamilliar voice asks.
A girl wearing a miko costume storms in.
See, the thing is, I don't really know a lot about Japan, but I at least have an idea of what a miko would normally wear. Similarly, I haven't really spent much time inside of hospitals, but I have a pretty good idea of what nurses wear, and it's mostly soft-colored scrubs.
So this girl's clothing is to miko wear as thighhighs, skirts so short that they're almost pointless, and a pointless hat are to what you'd actually expect a nurse to wear.
So, in other words, this girl is basically cosplaying. I should know, Amy used to pretend to like doing it, back when we were together.
When she was still alive.
In any case, since it's red instead of blue, I've got a pretty good idea that it's the Hakurei maiden herself.
Regardless, there is no need for anyone to answer her, as Marisa once again tries to enthusiastically greet her new guest, who disappears out of thin air for a second before reappearing right behind her, grabbing her by the shoulder. That looks like a pretty strong grip.
"Right. Marisa, we have to talk."
"Reimu!" Marisa just...ignores the deathgrip and instead whips around to grab Reimu into a hug. "Here, I have something you as well!"
Marisa reaches into a pocket and produces what looks like a set of colored marbles, only large.
"Here, now we match!" I get a good look as she holds them out towards Reimu. Are those yin-yang symbols etched into the glass?
"Marisa, what are these?"
Marisa rubs the back of her head. "Well, there's no way I could make something as nice as your orbs, so they're really mostly for decoration...But they work the same as my old ones! Remember back when we first met?"
"...Yes, I do. Marisa, what's going on?"
Once again, Marisa tilts her head in confusion. "Oh! Right, I should prepare tea for you and Patchy."
Reimu glances over at Patchouli, still staring at the bookmark while pinching the bridge of her nose.
She then glances over at Alice, who appears to be clutching onto the star-shaped doll out of sheer confusion.
She then takes a long look around the room, a quick glance at Rumia and myself eating popcorn in the corner, and then back to Marisa, who has already turned to leave for the kitchen.
"Right." She states, reaching into one of her wide sleeves, pulling out a small sheet of paper. She gently throws it into the air, causing it to rush into the back of Marisa's head with enough force to knock her to the ground. She then finishes the job with a swift swing of her gohei and a sigh.
"She should be out for a little bit now. I'm not sure whether to take her to Eientei or tie her up in a sealing circle in the shrine...Or both. Oh well. I've got it from here. Alice, Patchouli, I'll let you know if I need your help at all." The miko effortlessly tosses Marisa over her shoulder and gently floats out the door and into the sky.
"So where are the books?" Patchouli asks.
"I have no idea." Alice answers.
In the end, we never did end up finding any of the books. Patchouli concluded that they were probably sealed somewhere else, but with Marisa in the state she's in, it's unlikely we'd be able to get any information out of her. Thankfully, after everything that happened, Alice told me not to worry about the books for now - just sticking through all of that was good enough for her, apparently. I'll have to think of a better way to make it up to her, though; this feels like a bit of a cheap win, after all.
It wasn't until the next day, when photographs hit the tabloids, that Keine believed my story. More to Rumia's disappointment than mine, it means we ended up not getting any dinner that night.
Oh well. All's well that ends well, and the lunch that she treated us to more than made up for it.
It's several days after that Marisa fiasco, and I found myself alone with nothing to do. Keine was, of course, teaching. Rumia ended up being dragged away by a few of her friends.
After thinking about it for a while, I decided to give the shrine a visit. To be honest, I've kinda been putting it off for a while now. I knew it was something I was going to need to do eventually anyway, but something inside me doesn't want to go anywhere near the border. I guess deep down I'm just a bit scared of accidentally wandering back through to the other side.
But after meeting Reimu at Marisa's house, even if it was only for an extremely short period of time, it's been nagging at me.
So, today I've decided to visit the shrine. It's a nice day, and to be honest it seems like it'll be a lot less of a hassle with Rumia preoccupied, even if it means I have to walk there myself. Let's just say that, from what I've heard from Rumia herself, her idea of a visit to the shrine is finding ways to annoy the miko until she chases her away in a flurry of danmaku, and even if Rumia's become a dear friend that's not really the impression I want to make.
Well, as I'd been warned, these stairs are imposing. Maybe not as imposing as climbing the entirety of Youkai Mountain to get to the other shrine was, but definitely not something I'd like to do every day. Tired from the fairly long walk from the village, I decide to take a break at the base of the stairs.
Sitting down and relaxing against the torii, I gaze up at the sky, admiring the clouds, little blotches of white drifting lazily against an otherwise perfect blue sky. Occasionally my concentration is broken by a bird flying through my field of vision, and once in a while a pair of fairies zips by, one carrying the other piggyback.
They're still doing that?
I take a sip of water.
It's easy to get sucked into the idea of just taking a nap here and enjoying the sunshine, but as soon as I feel the familiar weight on my eyelids letting me know that I'm starting to get sleepy, I decide it's time to get moving again. It's so nice out here that I could easily end up falling asleep for hours, but despite my proximity to the shrine I wouldn't exactly say that I feel safe doing that. Besides, it'd be a huge pain if it started getting dark on the way home. I've got no source of light or way to light a fire, so I'd pretty much be forced to camp out in the darkness once visibility failed.
So, with a sigh, I begin my ascent.
As expected, the climb was uneventful. I'm pretty tired again, but that's nothing a short rest won't fix. As I clear the top of the stairs, the shrine comes into view.
...To be honest, after seeing some of the gigantic and ornate structures in Gensokyo, it's kinda strange for a location as important as the Hakurei Shrine to be so... Normal. If Amy saw this, she'd probably be thrilled, but to me it's just a fairly small building in traditional Japanese style. The thick rope with paper decorations hanging in front of the door is pretty interesting, but...
Well, I'm not really here for sightseeing. First order of business? Trying to make sure I'm on Reimu's good side.
So I stroll straight forward to the collection box.
Of course, I came prepared. Reaching into my wallet, I drop two 1000-yen bills into the slot. This does feel a bit excessive, but... I'll deal with the consequences of dropping this much cash later.
Well, now that that's taken care of, we can move on to the shrine visit proper.
Speaking of which, where's the miko at?
This shrine is pretty small. From the looks of it, it's probably only one or two rooms. So, if I gently knock on the door, she should be able to hear it if she's inside.
So I knock.
A few moments pass, and nothing happens.
Huh. Guess I missed her, then. It kinda sucks after making the trip all the way here, but I didn't really have an appointment or anything, so I guess that's just how it goes.
Still, it'd be a waste to leave so quickly after walking all this way, so I decide to take a quick stroll around the grounds.
I walk slowly, deliberately taking everything in.
There really are a lot of trees around here. From the looks of it most of them are cherry trees, although I can see a plum tree with a rope tied around it similar to the one at the entrance to the shrine. This place would probably be absolutely beautiful in the spring. Even now, though, it's enough to put my mind at ease. Even though I've somewhat come to accept what I did, if I let my mind wander, in one way or another it always ends up finding its way to her face.
Her perfectly-kept brown hair, a few strands of which always managed to find its way into her eyes. In the beginning we always used to joke about how she was always blowing it away.
Hazel eyes, always full of fake curiousity. There was always a gleam in her eyes whenever she was enjoying herself by tormenting me.
Those soft lips. I can still barely remember what they felt like pressed against my own it had been so long.
And her smile. She always wore a stunning smile that smile that always lifted my spirits that she showed me while saying those terrible things, even after a terrible day at work. Always so full of dishonesty; it made me warm inside whenever I saw it lies lies lies lies lies lies lies. I sigh inwardly.
The blood, everywhere, turning the entire world deep crimson, your hands your face HER fa
As I once again draw near the shrine, I look up to see Reimu casually sipping a cup of tea on the back porch of the shrine, eyes closed, legs hanging off the side of the raised floor. Somehow, instead of fitting into the scene, it'd be more accurate to say that the scenery accents her serenity.
And, well, it justifies the walk I took. Even though it was very calming, for some reason I was starting to feel a bit anxious until I saw her sitting there.
I decide to take a seat near her. A moment passes in silence as I gaze out upon the scenery.
Reimu's the first to break the silence.
"John, right?" she asks without looking away from her tea.
"Yeah," I respond
A few moments pass in silence.
"I take it you're here to get me to send you back?" She asks.
"I see." She takes another sip of her tea.
After a few moments, I realize that's pretty much all that I'm gonna get out of her about it.
A few moments pass in silence while I wait futily for her to ask the obvious question.
"...You aren't going to ask why?" I ask.
"No." She answers, still completely relaxed. "Everyone has their own reasons. As long as you aren't going to cause problems for me or for Gensokyo, it isn't my place to judge or pry if you don't want to talk about it."
Reimu takes another sip of her tea.
"But if you do want to talk about it... I'll always be here to listen, and offer advice if I can."
I gaze at the trees swaying in the breeze for a moment in contemplation.
Do I want to talk about it?
I thought I'd gotten over it, but... memories keep resurfacing in my head whenever I let my mind wander.
But to actually talk about it with someone...
With Rumia it was a bit different. When I told her about it, it had just barely happened. I guess I was still numb. All that was on my mind then was ending it all, and telling her was just a means to an end.
However, with Reimu...
I sneak a glance at her. If she's waiting for me to say something, she's doing a good job of hiding it. It's almost like she doesn't care-
No. That's not it at all. She does care. But for some reason, she can't show it to anyone.
Is it because of her pride? Is it because it would make her look weak?
I don't think either of those is the answer.
It's more like... if she acted like she cared, I would feel pressured into talking about it even if I really didn't want to, and she doesn't want that. She wants to know about your problems, but the last thing she wants is to force you to tell her about them.
Somehow I think this is a side of Reimu that barely anyone ever sees.
Not because she doesn't show it, but because no one ever pays attention.
Or maybe I'm overthinking this.
It really has been bothering me recently.
Maybe talking to someone about it will help. Maybe it won't.
Maybe telling her will end with me being locked in the village's jail.
That's okay. That's probably how it should be anyway.
"Reimu..." I speak.
"I've killed someone. Someone who was very dear to me."
Reimu takes a slow sip of tea as I finish my story.
"I see," she states, putting the cup down.
A moment passes, causing me to get worried that that's all she has to say. But that fear ends up unrealized.
"And you regret it?" she asks.
"Yes." I respond without hesitation.
"You would do anything to go back and stop it from happening?"
It's true that I wish it'd never happened, but
If it'd never happened, I'd never have met Rumia.
Let's ignore sentimentality. If I'd never met Rumia, I wouldn't regret not meeting Rumia, since I wouldn't have met her. Certainly meeting her has enriched my life, and she's helped me not only get over the despair from having murdered Amy, but also the anger from what she did to me.
But that's not what I'm getting at.
If I'd never met Rumia, she would still be suffering.
I remember what she said to me on the mountain, about desperately wanting to break away from her instincts, to be able to interact and be friends with humans. Sure, she may still have a way to go before that, but it's still progress. And I'm sure that, eventually, we can make her wish come true. Together.
"N-" I hesitate again.
I can't really say no, either.
Even if it's helped Rumia, even if it prevents her from killing countless humans in the future... can that really justify taking a life?
Is there even an answer to this question?
"I don't know," I answer truthfully from my heart.
"Oh?" Reimu turns to me, raising an eyebrow. I think this is the first reaction I've gotten out of her. "I see."
She puts her tea down.
"What?" I ask.
"What you've done is truly terrible, but that by itself doesn't make you a bad person. If you truly regret what you did, then while you're certainly still responsible for it, it doesn't make you a bad person.
"But you cannot allow yourself to be stuck in the past. No matter what you do, the past can't be changed; all you can do is try to make the present and future better. You might not be able to make up for what you did, but if you try your best to do so anyway, you might just get close."
She takes a sip of tea.
"The same applies to a certain someone who's been eavesdropping on us."
"Come on now Reimu, you know I'd never eavesdrop." A gap in space opens up in the air above and between Reimu and I, allowing a familiar face to peek through.
"Yukari, you're always eavesdropping. There probably isn't a conversation in Gensokyo you don't have a pair of ears on."
"My, isn't that a harsh thing to say. I'll have you know I only listen in on a few conversations, and always with Gensokyo's interests at heart."
"Sure you do. That's why you always happen to show up just as someone's about to break out the good sake."
"Now now, Reimu, that's not quite fair. I show up as the one bearing sake often enough as well! Like today." She places a rather large bottle on the floor between Reimu and I. Shortly after, another gap opens up, and she places herself down on the ground
right behind me.
I stiffen considerably when she wraps her arms around my shoulders. Even Reimu looks taken aback.
"You've just been staring at me this whole time without saying a thing. You aren't still angry with me for saving your life, are you?"
"Yukari, what in the world are you doing?" Reimu asks.
"Oh, nothing. Just figured I'd tease him a little bit."
She... sinks into the ground, and then falls out of another gap into the space between Reimu and I.
"Well, in any case, this particular sake tastes best while chilled, so we should enjoy it before it gets warm, yes?"
And so we pass the evening drinking the bottle away. There isn't really much conversation... but there doesn't need to be. The delicious sake, the warm orange sky, and the light breeze are all that's needed to fully appreciate the evening.
After the sake's finished, Yukari decides to take her leave.
"Well, you two, it's been fun. I'll see you at the flower viewing party~"
And with that, she disappears through another gap.
"'Kay." Reimu lazily states as she lies back. Her eyes gently flit closed, and...
A slight snore. She's out already? Guess she doesn't hold it as well as I do.
I continue watching the sunsWAIT
Sunset? Shit, there's no way I'll be able to make it back to the village like this. And holy shit, how much did I drink? I know that neither of them drank much more than I did, so... Holy damn that was a 3 liter bottle. Even if it was in the middle of the day, I probably wouldn't be able to keep myself standing long enough to make the trek back to the village, much less down those stairs...
Shit. I've been had.
I'm basically stuck here until the morning. And then I'm going to have to make it back to the village with a really, really nasty hangover.
I myself lay down against the raised floor in defeat.
As sleep forcibly overtakes me, four words manage to force themselves from my lips:
I'm rudely awakened by a loud noise in the distance.
Of course, the correct course of action after being rudely awakened while recovering from a full liter of sake is to ignore it and try to fall back asleep. Right now I feel more or less fine, but I know from experience that the second I try to open my eyes or sit up I'll be hit with a wave of nausea and fatigue strong enough to take down an oni.
Lucky bastards, I bet they don't even get hangovers.
Even rolling over onto my side takes more effort than I'd have liked. I'm not used to sleeping on my back though, so it's necessary if I'm gonna go back to sleep.
The loud noise repeats. This time, I'm awake enough to make out what it is...
Just regular old thunder.
Well, that isn't too unusual. It is that time of year, after all. Let's just hope that I can fall asleep despite it.
The pitter-patter of rain fills the air, a rhythmic white noise to zone out to... Yeah, that's more like it.
The familiar buzz of approaching sleep washes over me.
A drop of water decides to rudely interrupt it by falling into my ear.
More out of reflex than anything else, I immediately bolt upright, eyes wide open. Before I can process anything I'm seeing, however, the nausea washes over me, destroying what little remaining ability I had to think.
After a few moments it clicks.
I'm at the Hakurei shrine. Yesterday's clear skies have been replaced by storm clouds so thick and dark that I can't even guess what time it is. The wind causes a soft flowing sound as it blows through the trees, causing them to sway. Rain starts coming down in bursts, blown around by the wind. Luckily it seems I've awakened in time to avoid my clothing getting soaked by the freezing spray.
Clearly my intended action of going back to sleep would be highly unrecommended at best. It's also clear that conditions for returning home are even worse than they were last night.
With a groan I begrudgingly half stumble, half walk back into the shrine. As soon as I've slid the door shut behind me, I lie right back down on the ground and close my eyes.
"Hey, don't just go to sleep there. You'll catch a cold," Reimu warns. "Do you even realize how cold it is?"
The second she says the word "cold", I immediately feel it all the way deep into my bones. Gee, thanks, Reimu. I totally needed to actually realize how cold I was.
I respond with an uninterested grunt.
"C'mon, at least get under the kotatsu. I don't want to have to drag you all the way to Eientei in this weather."
After the meaning of the word "kotatsu" sinks in a bit, I slowly drag myself over. As I slide myself under the blanket, heat begins to return to my body. The contrast between my cold skin and the warmth of the kotatsu is simply divine. Yeah, this is a much better way to sleep.
After a few minutes of trying and failing, I realize that I'm not going to be able to fall asleep again. The rain outside is now coming down hard, at this point too hard for me to sleep through. Reimu doesn't really seem too surprised.
"Finally decided to join us in the waking world?" she asks with a smirk as I pull myself into a sitting position.
I simply nod, too tired to put effort into my vocal chords.
"Do you want some tea, then? It isn't as strong as the coffee you're probably used to from the outside, but it can still help wake you up."
I nod again.
As she prepares it, adding loose tea leaves into a cup and pouring hot water in, I find myself just sort of staring blankly. I'm already fairly certain that I won't be able to sleep, but at this rate it feels like I won't really be able to stay awake either.
After a bit of steeping- I can't really tell for how long though- she hands the cup filled with pale yellowish-green liquid over to me. It takes a moment for my brain to register that I'm supposed to be taking the cup, but eventually I do, and bring it up to my mouth.
At first, all I really notice is the heat from the water. The water isn't quite boiling, but it's still quite hot, and it warms me up inside as it slides down my throat. Next, I notice the warmth. Not from the temperature, but the flavor. The tea has a slight bitterness to it, but it also has a slight sweetness, and the combination of these with the slight earthy flavor from the leaves is quite warm and lovely.
The caffeine hasn't even kicked in yet, and I'm already feeling much more awake.
"Feeling a bit better now?" Reimu asks with a smile.
"Yeah." I take another sip.
For a while we sit in silence, sipping our tea. Despite acting so pleasantly, I can tell that Reimu probably woke up feeling just as bad as I did, mostly from the bags under her eyes, but also because whenever there's a flash of lighting and cooresponding boom of thunder, she winces slightly. She must be nursing a headache behind that smile of hers. that's no surprise, though; she's considerably smaller than I am, yet she drank just as much as I did last night. Still, that she seems to be doing this well attests to how well tea works for subduing hangovers. That or she has some secret technique that she isn't sharing... Well, that accusation comes more out of my own frustration than actually thinking she has something like that.
Come to think of it, this is the first time I've really just sat and enjoyed a cup of tea with someone in silence. I remember that Amy enjoyed tea, but she was never able to just sit in silence in general. If we weren't talking about something, she'd turn on the television or pull out her phone... Or just straight up go and do something else. Of course, those last two started happening more and more towards the end...
Well, that's a shitty place for my thoughts to start going while hungover. Luckily it gets derailed by a sudden loud ding. The noise gives me a start, adrenaline rush helping to clear up my head a bit, but while it's clear that the noise wasn't pleasant for Reimu, it wasn't unexpected either.
Not wanting to make either of our heads hurt more than would be necessary, I just give Reimu a questioning look instead of asking.
Before she can notice it, though, she gives a sigh of relief.
"Rice is done." She states, pulling a rice cooker out from under the kotatsu.
Wait, rice cooker?
She presses a button, and the lid on top pops open, revealing a sizeable portion of rice.
"Reimu, is that an electric rice cooker?" I ask.
"Yes." She answers simply, grabbing two bowls.
"...How?" I remember hearing that they've got a pretty good power grid on Youkai Mountain, and there are a couple kappa-built generators in the human village, but I've absolutely no idea how she could be getting power all the way out here. I don't hear a generator, and there's no way anyone's run a power line all the way here from Youkai Mountain, otherwise I'd expect to see electric... Lighting...
I look up at the fluorescent light currently keeping the room lit. This just leaves me even more confused.
"This shrine is on the border between Gensokyo and the outside world," she explains. "The shrine actually exists on both sides of the border, and one can move between the two through it. If you follow that cable," she points to an extension cable runing out a small hole in a door that looks to be firmly locked shut, "you'll find that it leads to one of your outsider telephone box things on the outside." She takes a sip of tea. "If you tried following it back, though, it'll probably just lead you into the outside version of this shrine, which is pretty much empty, and the cable wouldn't be plugged into anything."
I nod. So this shrine exists in four dimensions. Got it.
This causes Reimu to raise an eyebrow and tilt her head to the side.
"No questions? You're not confused at all?" she asks.
"Nope. I've seen enough weird stuff in my time here in Gensokyo that I've learned to just accept it."
"I see." She takes another sip of her tea. "...Before you try anything, yes, I keep that door locked for a reason. Normally even on the shrine grounds it isn't so easy to cross through to the other side without my help, but that cable makes it easier by providing a guide. However, if you do decide to cross through, I won't be able to bring you back under normal circumstances, so you'll be stuck. If you tried to bring your little youkai friend with you, she probably wouldn't last more than a couple days without a source of faith. And don't even think about trying to gather any in the outside world; there are groups out there who will stop at nothing to prevent anyone from actually believing in her."
"Understood." I probably wouldn't have ended up doing that anyway, though.
"That aside, do you want some?" Reimu asks while pointing at the rice with a rice scoop.
"Are you sure?" Every account of Reimu I've heard has given me the impression that she's... well, to put it bluntly, poor. The fact that her breakfast appears to be rice and tea, just rice and tea, nothing else besides rice and tea, would seem to confirm it.
"Thanks to a certain someone here, this morning I found the largest donation I've seen in a while. The least I could do is offer some rice in appreciation, don't you think?" She starts loading up a second bowl with rice on her own before I even say yes.
...Well, when you wake up with a hangover, getting some food into you is one of the best ways of countering it. Fried foods tend to do the best job, but in this situation, there's no way I can be picky.
"Thank you." I accept.
After a breakfast that passes mostly in silence, we passed the time waiting for the rain to let up sipping tea while Reimu regaled me with stories of major occurrences in Gensokyo, starting with what she called the "Scarlet Mist Incident." Occasionally she mentioned something from earlier events, but when asked about it, she just sighed.
"Before the spell card rules, Gensokyo was a different place."
And that's all she said. I decided not to press her on it.
Eventually the rain slowed to a stop, and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. The cold that had pervaded started to give way to a comfortable, if a bit humid, warmth.
I did tell Keine that I would be back in time for dinner last night, though. If I don't leave soon, I'm afraid that I might be late.
"Well, Reimu, I think I should probably get going. So far I've managed to avoid the forehead treatment, and I'd like to keep it that way."
She chuckles. "I don't blame you. Just be thankful that it isn't a full moon tonight."
I shudder. "Yeah... well, I'll see you later, Reimu."
"Ah, wait," Reimu stops me as I start to leave. "Take this." She hands me a small wooden box.
"What's this?" I ask, confused.
"Onigiri. For the trip back the village. You do remember how long of a walk it is, right?"
"Yes, but you already fed me breakfast."
"Look, John, your choices right now are either take the rice balls, or make me force you to take them. Either way you're taking them, so why not just make it easier on both of us?
"...Thank you." Once again I reluctantly accept. I know my donation was fairly large, but still.
"See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" she jokes. "Now, be careful on the way back. You probably won't be attacked by most youkai in broad daylight if you follow the path, but fairies are another matter. They usually won't try to do anything too malicious, but what they try to do and what they actually end up doing don't always match up."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"Well, guess I'll probably see you at the flower viewing party. Until then, be careful, stay safe, and keep up the good work keeping people safe from youkai attacks!"
"You too," I respond.
It isn't until I reach the bottom of the steps that I realize exactly what she said.
"How do I look?" Rumia asks while doing a quick spin in place.
Instead of her usual dress, she's wearing a dark grey yukata. Her ribbon's been repurposed; while before it was just loosely tied around a lock of hair near the top of her head, now it's being used to pull her hair up into a ponytail. Overall, this look suits her pretty well, but...
"Rumia." I answer.
"Your obi is on backward."
She looks down at the bow tied right in front of her belly. Then nervously back up at me.
"John, can you-"
"Nope," I reject her request before she can even finish asking, since I'd had enough fussing with obi last night when Keine tried to force me into trying on a yukata. It didn't take very long for me to decide that tying the obi was too much of a pain, so I vetoed her idea. Convincing her that I'd be able to get something decent to wear took some effort, but I thoroughly believe that it was worth it.
I'm pretty glad I did, too. The white button-down shirt and black slacks I'm wearing were tailored so well that I'm almost scared to wear them for fear of soiling them, and the only other time in my life where I've worn something that fit so well was when I was fitted for a tux as best man for my little brother's wedding. Alice was still a bit weary of doing business with me, but when I explained what it was for and offered her cash up front, she reluctantly accepted.
"B-but..." she stammers, "it's backwards..."
Oh, right. Keine explained the meaning of a backward obi to me when I asked her why I couldn't just tie it in front. We were both embarassed for a bit ther after that.
"Can't you just get Keine to help you tie it?" I ask. "She's the big sister type you should be asking, not me."
She frowns. "Fine!" she pouts, "See if I help when you need to, um... Uh... Whatever!" And she leaves toward the washroom in a huff.
I take a few minutes to go over myself one more time. Keine told me not to worry about it too much, but it is my first party in Gensokyo, and I kinda want to make a good impression.
No wrinkles. Though, given that Alice enchanted these clothes to stay mostly wrinkle-free, it might be rude of me to keep checking. The collar isn't sticking up or arranged incorrectly. The cuffs are buttoned the same. Hair...Well, it feels like it's still in order, but of course it's hard to tell without a mirror. And, of course, that's currently occupied by Keine and Rumia getting ready, so I can't really go in there to check. Doesn't feel like I missed any spots shaving.
How did Rumia manage to tie her obi in the front and not realize it was tied in the front?
Speaking of which, she's back. Thankfully it appears that she's gotten over her earlier pouting, because now she looks just as happy as usual.
"How do I look?" She asks.
"Hmm... Nope, still on backwards."
She once again looks down at her belly, and then up at me, puffing up her cheeks.
"Geez! It isn't on backward at all!" She yells while softly banging on me with her fists.
"Now, now, Rumia. He was just teasing you a bit," Keine says softly as she enters the room.
Rumia puffs her cheeks out again and looks away.
I take a glance at Keine. Instead of her usual dark blue dress she's wearing a similarly colored yukata with a white obi. It's a good look for her, but... She's still wearing that hat.
I decide not to comment on it.
"Shall we leave," Keine asks, "or is there anything else you need to take care of first?"
"Nah, let's go. I can only check my clothes for wrinkles so many times before it gets ridiculous, and I think I'm already past that point."
"Alright. Rumia, let's go," Keine beckons. "You remember how I taught you to carry John safely without hurting him, yes?"
The netherworld is just about as picturesque as it gets. From the gigantic gate which suddenly dominates the sky as it fades into view as you approach, to what looks like miles and miles of beautiful landscapes, this place is just incredible. If I had to put it into words... Gensokyo, compared to the outside world, is an astonishingly beautiful place, unmarred by pollution and human development. But we can make the same comparison between the netherworld and Gensokyo as a whole.
And then we can make the same comparison yet again between Hakugyokurou and the rest of the netherworld, with its large, inviting mansion, beautifully maintained zen gardens, and of course, the cherry blossom trees that are the main attraction of today's event.
Given the apparent scale that this party, I almost expected it to be more like one of the festivals I've seen in the village, with paper lanterns, stalls with food and games, and music, but I was off by a long shot. Instead it seems more like one absolutely gigantic picnic, with people sitting on blankes laid out underneath the cherry trees.
Of course, there's alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol, mostly sake from the looks of it. And, of course, everyone is drinking.
It also looks like there are some snacks. Nothing too substantial, but they're definitely there. ...And off goes Rumia, as soon as she notices them.
"Ah, there you guys are." A voice I recognize from somewhere. Ash-white hair, red eyes, a faint smell of smoke...
Ah, it's Mo- Mo... Mo..? Oh, right.
"Oh, it's been a while, Mokky!" ...Wait
I don't have any time to react at all before her karate chop impacts with the top of my head.
"Don't call me Mokky."
"S-sorry about that, Mokou. It has been a while, though. I didn't know you knew Keine."
"Oh, yeah. We've known each other for a while. I don't really leave the forest too often, though; if someone gets lost and I'm not there, it can turn out pretty bad."
"I can imagine."
"So is that bottomless stomach not with you today?"
"Oh, she's here; she just went ahead without us."
"Ah, I see." She says. "Off to start the festivities early. Maaan, with both of them here today, Youmu's gonna be running her ass off keeping everything stocked up. Maybe I should go offer to help out..." She ponders for a moment. "...Nah, I'm here to take a day off. I'm sure Youmu'll manage somehow. Anyway, we already have a place picked out already. Shall we head over now?"
"Yes, let's." Keine replies.
As we make our way through the crowd, I start to realize just how many people are here. Most of them I don't know, but there's a few faces that I recognize.
There's Alice, sitting with another girl with blonde hair who also seems to be holding a doll. They almost look like sisters. Given that it looks like they're having an argument, though, I'm not so sure about that. It looks like it'll be fine, anyway. Is that the star-shaped doll Marisa gave her?
We also walk past what looks like a group of people from the mountain, if the descriptions of the people living at the Moriya shrine I've heard are accurate. I do recognize Momiji, who gives me a sly smile, to which I respond with a wink. Hina gives a much more natural and pure smile and a lively wave.
...It might not be a bad idea to thank her at some point.
And there's the group from the Scarlet Devil Mansion. I've never actually seen them before, but it's pretty difficult to miss the young-looking girl with deep red eyes and bat wings sitting under an elegant parasol, or her younger sister with what look like christmas decorations a few months too late hanging on her back. Meiling seems preoccupied with keeping a girl with icicle-like wings from bothering the others...
Ah, Wriggle just came over and dragged her away. The description fits, so I'm guessing that must be Cirno.
Meanwhile, Patchouli just continues reading her book unfazed, as though there weren't a party happening around her at all. That bookmark looks familliar...
Despite everything that's happened, most of which has been pretty stressful thinking back on it, everything seems to have turned out okay. At the very least, those girls seem to be a little closer, even if only by a bit.
"Here we are," Mokou announces, coming to a stop.
I give her a skeptical look, which she largely ignores as she takes her seat on the blanket. She doesn't seem to mind that the way she sat down resulted in her elbow slamming into Kaguya's head pretty hard. Of course, Kaguya retaliates with what looks like a pretty strong punch to the side, which is largely ignored.
I give her another skeptical look.
"Are you gonna sit down?" She asks, once again ignoring my skepticism about this group composition.
"...Sure." I decide not to worry too hard about it. After all, as long as they aren't overtly trying to kill each other, it's fine.
I take a seat next to Keine.
"Good afternoon, John," Eirin greets me. "Since I haven't seen you at the clinic, I take it you're doing well?"
"Well enough, at least," I respond. "Yourself?"
"My research is going well. It helps that certain distractions have died down a bit." She quickly glances over at Kaguya and Mokou. "I don't think you've met our other residents. This is Udongein," she motions to a girl with long, rumpled-looking rabbit ears wearing a white button-down shirt and blue skirt.
"Please call me Reisen," she says while bowing. I bow in return.
"And this is Inaba Tewi." She motions toward a girl with puffy rabbit ears wearing a pink dress.
"Just Tewi's fine." She simply waves, but I bow anyway. It's a habit by now.
"Well, now that introductions are out of the way, would you like something to drink?"
Cherry blossom viewing parties are about the atmosphere. At first I wasn't quite certain about going to a party where all you do is sit around and watch cherry blossoms, but this really does seem to be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Of course, the sake helps as well... Actually, seeing how much everyone is still drinking, I wouldn't be surprised if, for some, that was the main attraction.
After a while spent enjoying the cherry blossoms, an announcement is called.
"Attention, everyone," Youmu's voice cuts through the soft rumble of conversation filling the air, "lunch is currently being served, so hurry up and get your food before it's gone!" She pauses for a moment. "No, really, they're both here today, so if you don't hurry there won't be any left."
It must be hard on poor Youmu.
"Well, you heard her," Mokou states. "I, for one, could eat a whole cow." She glances at Keine.
A moment passes.
"Um, Mokou, is something wrong?" Keine asks, with a concerned expression, "Is there something on my face?"
Mokou's shoulders slump. "Nah, don't worry about it. Let's go get some food."
We follow the crowd toward a large clearing filled with dozens upon dozens of tables. They really did go all-out with this, didn't they? On the way, I spot Hina making her way toward the large buffet table, so I decide to excuse myself from the group.
When she notices my approach, she flashes me a smile.
"It looks like you've been doing well," she states. "I'm glad to see you're still alive. Or is that just your misfortune again?" she jokes.
"Nah. I'm still not sure I've completely gotten over what I did, but at the very least I've been trying."
"That's good," She says with a nod. "You've been doing a very good job of keeping Rumia in line as well; as a goddess I must thank you for that. You've prevented a lot of misfortune."
I rub the back of my head. "I don't think I'm really doing anything special. Was she really that bad?"
"Hmm..." She looks at the ground for a moment. "I wonder if that's a question I should answer? Does it even matter if she's like this now?"
That's actually a pretty good question. Does it really matter? I mean, she seems to have already gotten along with other youkai just fine, but now, not only does no one even seem to bat an eye when they see her in the village, but I've even seen her come home with snacks she was offered by the shopkeepers while out shopping with Keine. And I know they weren't doing it out of fear; I can't think of anyone that would be afraid of Rumia as long as Keine's around.
But really, from the very beginning, I've never seen any trace of a murderous man-eating monster in her. Well, okay, she did proclaim herself to be around the time we first met, but ever since then I haven't seen her be anything other than a sweet little girl. Other than, you know, a couple of times like that one time she told me she needed to get laid. I still haven't figured out what happened to her personality then.
So, really, it seems just as odd to me to hear about how big of a threat she apparently once was as it is for everyone else when they see how little of a threat she is now.
...Actually, I'm not sure why, but that's starting to get on my nerves by now. It seems like that's all anyone has to say about her: "good job keeping her from eating people!"
"What's wrong?" Hina asks.
"Oh, nothing." I try to brush those thoughts from my mind. "It just always seems strange to me whenever people talk about Rumia like that."
"Maybe that's just a sign of how furtunate you really are," she responds with a smile.
After grabbing a plate of my own, I find my way to the table that the rest of the group ended up at. It seems Rumia had also already found her way back to the group. In addition, she apparently found her way to the buffet table, going by the three plates she has sitting in front of her.
Before we can even start to dig in... Well, before anyone but Rumia can start to dig in, at least, another announcement is called.
"Good afternoon, everyone. May I introduce the organizer of this party, Lady Saigyouji Yuyuko." Youmu's voice comes through over what looks like a large PA system. That's an interesting thing to see in Gensokyo...
That thought is interrupted by Yuyuko's buoyant voice filling the air.
My eyes are drawn in the direction of the small stage that seems to have been set up just for this occasion judging by how new it looks, where I find the lady of Hakugyokurou herself standing with a microphone in hand. A soft breeze flutters her hair, as pink as the cherry blossoms that surround. Despite the rumors I've heard of her being a slob and a glutton, right now she looks immaculate and beautiful standing up there on the stage.
"Welcome to Hakugyokurou! It's wonderful to have you all here today! I think back on the past few years, and, well, we've really put each other through hell, haven't we? No pun intended," she pauses a moment for several people who giggled anyway, even though it's pretty obvious that the pun was intended. Someone always does.
"But, well, the best thing about Gensokyo is, no matter what we fight over or how bad it gets, we always end up coming together, if not as friends then at least as rivals. I'm talking about you, Miko and Byakuren! I didn't invite you here to bicker all night, you know!" This illicits a bit of laughter.
"So let's enjoy the cherry blossoms, the sake, the food, and most of all each other's company on this lovely evening."
Our eyes meet.
"Let's remember those who we have wronged, the misdeeds we have done, and the friendships we have formed despite them."
It almost feels like she's talking directly to me. I'm just imagining that, right?
The feeling passes as her eyes sweep across the entire group.
"And keep those in mind as you enjoy today's festivities!"
This time, the grounds erupt into applause.
I take a moment to think.
What I did-
Okay, let's not beat around the bush here. I'm a grown man, I can handle calling it what it is.
Murdering Amy was abhorrent. You could try to say that I was provoked into it, that I wasn't in my right mind or whatever, but it doesn't change what I did.
Here in Gensokyo, however, I've done a decent amount of good. From what I gathered during the random conversations while watching the cherry blossoms, Kaguya and Mokou couldn't stand the thought of each other, and would immediately begin trying to kill each other on sight. Now they're...
Well, still growling at each other, but they seem to be getting along well enough to be able to share a table, at least.
Everyone seems to be getting along with Marisa a lot better as well, as evidenced by her being able to sit in between Alice and Patchouli peacefully without them trying to forcefully take payment for the items she's stolen, and I feel like that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't tried to stiff Alice on those swimsuits.
And, of course, Rumia. It still seems strange that everyone was so afraid of her, but I can tell that many of them are truly thankful for the way she is now.
At the very least, I seem to be having a positive influence on the lives of a lot of people here.
I remember what Reimu said to me. I probably can't make up for what I did, but as long as I try...
While I don't think I'll ever be able to accept what I did,
I might just be able to accept myself, the way I am now, despite it.
I smile at this realization. Somehow, it feels some of the stress I've been under since that night has evaporated.
After a moment, the applause dies down, and Yuyuko speaks again.
"A good friend of mine, Miss Yakumo Yukari, also has some words she'd like to share with everyone."
Yukari comes running onto the stage and trips. It's quite obvious to everyone, even those who weren't paying attention, that it was faked.
She brings herself into a sitting position and lightly touches her fist to the side of her head while winking and sticking out one tongue.
This is met with absolutely no reaction.
The full second of complete awkward silence doesn't seem to bother her, as she stands up and waves one hand joyfully as she introduces herself to the crowd.
She once again winks, this time holding two fingers in front of her closed eye in the shape of a sideways V while forcing a very clearly manufactured smile.
Absolute, complete dead silence. Everyone, every single person, is just staring at Yukari silently with a completely blank expression. Even the spirits off in the distance seem to have frozen still in protest.
"Ahem." She seems to drop the act. "Today we have with us a very special guest."
This seems to catch everyone's interest, as a murmur starts making its way through the crowd.
"Despite having absolutely no noteworthy abilites to speak of, this person has been dutifully helping to make Gensokyo a safer place for humans, and livelier for youkai."
"His methods are unusual and usually completely ineffective, but that's just part of his charm!"
"I give you..."
And now I can't see, because there's a blindingly bright light shining right in my face.
"John! John... Uh... I forget what his last name is!"
I can hear the applause. I can hear it, but I still can't see anything, since that spotlight's forcing me to squint. It hurts, and I have no idea what's going on, and-
And now I'm falling
Now at least the lights aren't in my eyes, but now I have even less of an idea what's going on.
Okay, I seem to have fallen into someone's arms.
Okay. Calm down.
It seems as though I'm now being held in a princess cary by Yukari, and apparently this has provoked the most enthusiastic applause of the night. My calm disappears once again, but this time it's replaced with an entirely different emotion.
After giving me a smug grin, she sets me down. After giving the applauce a moment to die down, she once again speaks into the microphone.
"Do you have any words for us on this fine evening, John?"
She offers the mic to me.
And as soon as she does, I become calm, for I know what I must do. It may be that I was in fact destined for this evening. It seems like every event that's happened to me through my entire life shaped the path that's led me to being right here, right now.
I take the mic into my hand, and gaze out across the crowd of people gathered. Of course, I have everyone's complete attention, with the clearing filled with an eager silence.
Bringing the microphone up to my lips, I say
no, I yell
the only words that could possibly leave my lips at this moment:
"God damn it, Yukari!"
Well, it seems that you've gotten a bad end. Usually this means that you completely failed to kill John before he truly started to accept himself.
Of course, this isn't very useful information to you at all. What you need is some advice for how to succeed on your next run!
Unfortunately, I'm just the disembodied text that appears at the end of the story. All I know is that you fucked up somehow. I couldn't possibly hope to explain to you how or why.
Fortunately, we have someone else here who can give you some answers.
I feel like this isn't even a short, more like a just right. Many stories would benefit from this kind of brevity. Rumia was cute, we fucked a dog girl, some other stuff happened. What more could you ask for?