Clouds fill the sky like a blanket over the Gensokyo. Snowflakes fall in slow motion, coating the courtyard of the Hakurei Shrine. In this moment, there exists nothing but the fragile tranquility of winter. Fragile, because at any time, a rabbit might bound across the land and disturb the calm layer of snow, or the wind could pick up and bring down snowflakes at an even faster rate, and the figurative magic of this moment would be lost. Despite this, as if by some ancient agreement, no animal or natural force interrupts the serenity.
Reimu Hakurei sits on her knees at one of the shrine’s windows, silently taking in the beauty of this scene. She wears a heavy red hakama over a thick kimono that is inspired by her traditional shrine maiden dress. A few stray snowflakes have drifted towards her, resting on her hair. In her hands, she holds a cup of tea, which she holds against her chest between sips. Its warmth can be seen spilling into the open air as vapour.
She doesn't watch long. Despite the peacefulness outside her window, it is a frigidly cold day. She shuts the window after a few minutes, returning to her kotatsu. It is late afternoon, Reimu having spent the whole day laying around, conserving energy and heat. She doesn't feel like doing much else. She doesn't want to see anyone or do anything -- she just feels like curling up under the kotatsu and hibernating until winter faded away, like a summer youkai.
The Hakurei Shrine, the one place Reimu could call home, is worlds away from the Human Village or any of the youkai settlements. This time of year, she spends most of her days in complete isolation, and while she does keep up with shrine upkeep and spiritual duties, many of her days are still empty. Events flow into each other to the point that she doesn’t know the day of the week.
It makes her a little bitter. Humans, youkai, friends… they don’t visit that often. They turn to her for help with each incident, when it is convenient for them, but forget about her as soon as the incident is resolved. Humans are appreciative but apprehensive around her, as if they think of her as the harbinger of the very incidents she stamps out. Youkai respect her power, but she can tell that it is mostly fear that keeps them amicable. Very few people regularly visit the shrine.
She scowled into her cup. She hated vulnerable feelings like “loneliness.” At the end of the day, she didn’t need attention. Her duty was to maintain the balance in Gensokyo. Her successes were enough. No matter how fearful or apathetic they felt about her, she was the one that saved them, time and time again.
A gentle knock on the door. Reimu perks up, surprised to hear someone in this weather. She puts down her tea and rises to her feet. The knocking continues. Sluggishly shuffling over to the door, she calls out in a lethargic voice, “I’m coming...”
She reaches the door just as the visitors open it themselves. Marisa steps in, Kosuzu close behind her.
“Hiya,” Marisa says, smiling.
“Hello, Miss Reimu!”
She smiles at the two. “Hello. What brings you two here?”
“Well, we just wanted to visit.”
Marisa holds up a small box. “We brought some games.”
“The others are on their way, too!”
“...Others?” Reimu begins to feel a sinking feeling.
“I mean some of the regulars at Suzunaan.”
“Sounds like a hassle.” Her regulars are not the most normal group of people.
“Maybe, but it’ll be fun!”
“It sounds like lots of effort, though. I appreciate you making the trek up here, but… a party?”
“ ‘Ey, if that’s what ya wanna call it, that’s yer words, not mine. C’mon, Reimu, dontcha want some company?”
“Yeah, you… aren’t you lonely?” Kosuzu’s doe-like eyes are filled with concern.
The words cut straight through her. Like a rodent in the grass exposed to birds of prey, she felt emotionally exposed and a panic set into her blood. She closes her mouth, which she had involuntarily opened upon hearing Kosuzu’s insinuation. She frowns, furrowing her brow slightly, trying to signal to the bookkeeper that she had overstepped.
“I’m not lonely.” She sighs. “If you want to stay, that’s fine.”
“Score!” Marisa shouts, rushing to the kotatsu. Kosuzu’s concerned expression does not change, but she follows Marisa.
“You two get warm. I’ll be right back.”
Reimu grabs a coat and steps outside. It’s still snowing, but she needs a moment to sort through her feelings. She feels vulnerable. Her own thoughts don’t make sense to her. Kosuzu is right; she is feeling lonely, but in her pride, she won’t admit it to them. Is that why they decided to show up out of the blue? Do they think of her as a lonely person? Do they pity her? Look down on her?
“What’s puzzling you, shrine maiden?”
Reimu’s head snaps up. The bake-danuki, Mamizou, in her human form, stands in front of her.
“Ah, I’m just thinking. What brings you here?”
“Kosuzu invited me.” She always manages to look whimsical.
“That’s right, you’re one of her regulars,” Reimu says. “Do you know why they decided to visit?”
“Why not?” Mamizou chuckles. “They’re your friends, aren’t they?”
“Well, yes, but…” she trails off. “Do bake-danuki get lonely?”
“We do enjoy the company of others, but tanuki are often loners. We aren’t as dependant on social bonds as humans.”
“Would you say that loneliness is a sign of weakness?”
“For humans, loneliness is a great strength. In the days when human technology was poor, they survived by working together. Loneliness keeps humans together, and thus… they survive.”
She doesn’t completely get the explanation, but she understands the point. In a roundabout way, Mamizou is saying that loneliness is “normal.” Maybe it’s not really a deplorable weakness of hers after all. Surely, Marisa and Kosuzu don’t mean anything by feeling concern for her. They’re not trying to judge her. They’re her friends; they haven’t seen her in almost a week, so naturally, they wonder how she has been.
For the first time that day, Reimu smiles, legitimately. “I understand now. Thanks.”
Mamizou closes one eye, a smug smile on her face.
Even in winter clothing, it’s still way too cold to stay out for long. She turns and starts walking to the shrine, Mamizou following close behind.
“We’re back,” Reimu says as she opens the door.
“I already boiled the water fer tea,” Marisa says. She notices Mamizou. “Oh, yer friend’s here, Kosuzu.”
“How many people am I hosting?” Reimu asks, raising an eyebrow.
“Just us. Oh, and Akyuu. She should be here soon,” Kosuzu says. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Reimu looks at her friends. They traversed the cold and the snow, all the way from the village, just to spend time with her. How could she be upset about that?
“No. I was feeling a little lonely, after all.”
Krampus Steals Christmas Part 1Anonymous2016/12/19 (Mon) 17:06No. 2032▼
Let me tell you a story from long, long ago. 'Bout ol' Krampus, afore he gave up his ways.
Now, now. Let ol' granddaddy talk, little 'un. Now, it was the night before Christmas, and all through the hou—
"Grandpa, you told me that one..."
Hush a moment. Let me finish. Now, once upon a time, there was a meaaaan ol' Krampus. Wasn't so much a name as a title. Now, back then, ol' Krampus was a real sour Krampus, if you know what I mean. ...Okay, I suppose that was a little over your head. Still, wasn't a nice fellow. He saw fit to steal Christmas, he did! ...Ahh, but I guess I'm gettin' ahead of myself, aren't I?
"This is sounding an awful lot like the Grinch, Grandpa..."
Nah, he wasn't like that. 'Least, not like that. Ol' Krampus'd eat nails for breakfast — no milk, neither. Grinch was a right di— ...jerk, but his heart was loads bigger, and the 'Whoville' in question was better off, too. Still, a long time ago in a land far, far away... ...Okay, just pulling your leg, kiddo. That one was a joke. Now, don't let nobody tell you Krampus is some kinda saint. Truth be told, he's not very nice even now. Still, y'gotta admire that kinda consistency. Now, I'm gonna tell you the story of how Krampus changed his ways.
Once, a long, long time ago, there was a biiig ol' monster. Ain't like the prissy little things that call themselves monsters these days. No frills or floral patterns. Heck, didn't even wear clothes, really. Y'see, Krampus was a big, furry thing. Kinda like a yeti and a demon got a bit too into the liquor and, well... ...Anyways, before your Ma shuts me up, I'll stop that analogy right there.
"Aww... But you have the best ones!"
I know, I know. It's a gift, really. Still, y'know what Grandpa doesn't like? A cracked skull. So, anyways, ol' Krampus was a bit like a big ol' white yeti, had biiiig ol' horns. Had a penchant for kidnapping naughty kids and beatin' 'em senseless, too.
"Why wouldn't the police stop him?"
Don't be silly. He was practically doin' their job for— Oww, oww! Okay, okay. Don't gotta manhandle an old man. Ain'tcha got spells and the like? No need to hit me with that thing. Ahem... Now, Krampus decided one day, "Graaa! There's not one pure soul in this land, graaa! I'm going to steal Christmas, graaa!" He wasn't happy. Truth be told, he had taken up a side business of stealing presents and replacing them with coal already, as he'd gotten a lickin' from a few angry parents over the years. And, well... Beatin' a kid's harder than doin' the ol' switcheroo, ignoring that one time with the tengu's wolf. Couldn't sit right for a fortnight, no sirree. Anyways, he began concoctin' a big ol' plan. He'd kidnap Saint Nick himself and become the new Santa. Now, nobody really knows how he pulled it off, but they say he used ol' Santa's weakness for milk and cookies against him. Beat him over the head with 'em, I reckon.
"Grandpa, wouldn't it make more sense to just put something to knock him out in them?"
Now, now. None of that fancy schmancy common sense'll do 'round these parts. Your god auntie or whatever the heck she's callin' herself'd have a fit if she saw you say that. 'Sides, the feller ain't the sharpest tool in the shed, so I doubt he'd come up with something like that on his own.
"But she's not my god aunt. She's just Papa's friend. ...And cookies and milk don't make good weapons, either... Mama tried, but they broke."
Right, right. Although, I think your Pa could pull it off if she tried to make cookies — they'll break your teeth either way, knowin' her. Anyways, ol' Krampus put on Santa's outfit, gettin' it all stretched taught and torn in places somethin' fierce. Y'see, he wasn't no fat man, but he was a right giant of a, well, yeti-like child beatin' whatever. Now, he was dumb, be he weren't no rock. He saw that things were off, so he eyed Santa's bare body. Somethin' santa had that he didn't. They were both right wooly, but Santa, well... He had one big thing that ol' Krampus didn't.
"I don't think I like where this is going, Grandpa..."
He had that beard of his. So, he took some sheers and shaved it right off, tyin' it together with a bow. Then he stuck it to his face. Dunno if by magic, glue, magnets or what, but there it hung, though the bow made him look a bit like he'd spin about. He weren't no Saint Nick, but saint...
Well, anyways, everyone started thinkin' he was the curse goddess dressed up as Santa. Honestly, I'd wonder if youkai all had eye problems, but as it is, I'm not a big fan to begin with. ...Hey, now, don't you start poutin'. I have plenty reason to not be a fan. Not about to lie to ya.
"But we aren't so bad..."
Wha— Hey, hey, hey, don't you start crying, now! Dry them tears. I don't hate you, little 'un. One just took my little girl a long time when she was little. Turned her against me.
"Mom would never do that..."
It weren't your mom. It was, well... A mean ol' ghost. But enough about that. ...I should get back to the story. Now, where was I...
"...You were at the part with shaving Santa."
Yeah. Right, right. Alright, now, with his new beard in tow, he set about makin' Santa's rounds, but instead of givin' out gifts, he took the tree! Every last one.
"That seems extremely unlikely, Grandpa..."
Ain't that many trees in Gensoukyou. Y'see, he stopped much carin' for the outside when they dun forgot him. Mean ol' Krampus always shouted, "Ragh! If they won't believe in me, I won't beat their children bloody no more! Ragh! That'll teach them! Ragh!"
See? Told ya he wasn't too bright.
"But... That doesn't... Who would want that, Grandpa...? ...Wait, why was his angry sound different?"
Well, I can think of a few, but you're plum right. And, uhh... the sound was different 'cause the other one made his throat hurt somethin' fierce. Anyways, let's get back on track. With all the trees he gathered, he wasn't quite sure what to do. Not one was alive, after all. He had a few hundred trees just kinda piled behind his house, and, well... He kinda lived in plain view. Base of ol' Youkai Mountain, if on the snowy side.
"But Youkai Mountain isn't snowy?"
Sure, not on the side people look at, but the other side? I wouldn't be surprised if it were just plain snow. A big ol' pile. Maybe it's where Krampus hid them trees.
"Grandpa, are you making this up?"
...Whatever made ya think that?
"I've been on top of the mountain, and there wasn't any snow even at the tippy top."
But did you look at the other side?
Then I rest my case.
"...But wait, if he just hid the trees under... half a mountain... how did they ever find out?"
Well, Santa did wake up naked and beardless in a cell. Seemed he was arrested for indecent exposure. ...What? ......Okay, stop lookin' at me like that. .........Okay, fine, I made it all up, happy? I just... I didn't really know what else to do. Never really planned to suddenly have a granddaughter as cute as you show up on my porch.
Well... ...Your pa and me, we don't get along so well anymore. Not since my wife passed away. Was kinda the glue that held the family together, I guess. ...And, well... When she passed, I think Marisa blamed me a bit. She was tryin' to magic her better, and well... ...I was scared. Scared to lose her. Scared about the what-ifs. What'd happen if it went wrong. The way people'd look at your Pa if it did work. Wasn't the good kinda magic. No, wasn't good stuff at all. ...When she passed, well... Marisa ran away. Never heard from her again, 'least not for ten years. Next time I saw her, well... she was all grown up. ...And she was like me. Just like me in the worst ways. And, well... ...I wasn't happy.
Wasn't happy one bit. Didn't want my daughter to be like her old man. Sure, I ain't no witchy thing, but she talked like me, drank like me, fibbed like me, and just... Well, she wasn't exactly what I'd call a good person. And I might've yelled a bit. ...And she might've blown me through a wall or two.
Just... I want to do the stuff I never got to do with her. Tell bad Christmas stories. Make up somethin' silly. ...Make amends me own way, too. I can tell your ma was the whole reason she's here. Wasn't givin' me any sorta happy look. The fact she's outside says a lot. ...Won't listen to me no more, not after all I said. And, well... can't really blame her.
After all, she's just like me.
...Ehh? Why are you...
"Grandpa... You shouldn't cry. You're a big boy, and Papa loves you very much!"
What? She... does?
"Yeah! She's the one that brought us here!"
...She is? ...Then why did she...
"She thinks you're angry at her."
...I'm gonna be right back, you two. Think it's time I had a conversation that's been a long time comin'.
"Good luck, Grandpa!"
Thanks, kiddo. You be a good girl while I'm gone, alright? If you do, you can have all the cake you like.
"Hooray! I'll get to try my stomach out, then!"
...Yeah... You, uhh... ...Yeah, I'll bet you'd like it.
Krampus Steals Christmas Part 2Anonymous2016/12/19 (Mon) 17:15No. 2033▼
The icy wind howls over the bare hilltop with nothing to stop it. I tug my scarf tighter and blow warm air into my mittens in an effort to stop shivering. But standing with my back to the village, I can imagine that I'm all alone, the last living creature in a world covered in beautiful, toxic dust...
...on second thoughts, it's just really, really cold. I hunch my shoulders, grit my teeth to stop them chattering, and stomp off toward the mountain.
The trees at the base of the mountain are all bare, twisted skeletons of dead wood clawing at the sky. The Kagiyama shrine is forlorn and empty, its once-noisy residents long since departed. And once I've passed all that, and the path starts to climb up the steep slopes of the mountain itself, the wind returns with a fury. I stick to the leeward side of every tree and boulder I can find. It's not much, but it's still better than flying.
"Halt! You are trespassing on tengu grounds! State your business or begone!"
I wonder if wolf tengu have fur under their clothes? The cold doesn't seem to be bothering them. Then again, their clothes are bulky enough they probably don't need it.
That's what I need. Better clothes.
The grumpy guards repeat their warning. I scowl, or try to, and wordlessly brandish the slip of paper I got from Seija. The guards eye the paper warily, then me. Then they glance at each other, nod once, and leave me be.
Hmph. Should have done that to start with.
Once you've seen one village, you've seen them all; humans and tengu aren't really all that different when it comes down to it. They even avoid me in the same way, not that there are many people crazy enough to be out in this blizzard. I'm not paying attention to them though. Too busy counting streets and doors.
...three, two, one... right here.
I step up to the door and pound on it with my fist. An icicle dislodges from the roof and hits me on the head.
The door cracks open, and a familiar, motherly face peers out.
"...Miss Melancholy?" Keine asks, brows furrowing in confusion, "Why are you... no, never mind that, come inside! You're covered in snow and your face is turning blue!"
She all but drags me inside, not that I do much to resist. It's a small house, quite cramped really, but it's warm. Keine fusses over me, peeling me out of my snow-encrusted coat.
"What possessed you to come all the way up here in this weather?" Keine asks from behind me, still brushing snow out of my hair. "It must be serious for you of all people to risk frostbite like this. Did something happen?"
I smile to myself. From my Hidden Special Doll place, I produce the deadliest poison of them all.
"Merry Christmas, from Kogasa, Akyuu, Kosuzu and me!" I say, turning around and presenting the bottle of sake. With a little less poison, I add "we miss you."
Then I watch in eager anticipation as the poison takes hold. Keine's face goes slack. Her mouth falls open. Tears begin to form in her eyes. Then she slowly topples forwards -
- and pulls me into a crushing hug.
"Thank you," she whispers.
I quietly put the bottle on the floor and put my arms around her.
File 148317265990.png - (88.69KB, 236x230, it started with a question what mermaids do in win.png)
The languor of the lakebed is tranquilizing this time of year. The chill in the water would cool a surface-dweller to the bone. For those that reside in the lake, it is a none-so-subtle reminder to retreat to the depths and seek the safety of the nooks and crannies that are etched into the waterlogged surface. And, for those that are too bold, or too belligerent, to heed the numbing kiss of a deep-winter frost, then the sheet of ice etched upon the surface calms the sometimes-torpid waters and separates the water from the air.
The land-dwellers who so often frequent the shores of the lake in warmer times have long since vacated, save for the odd, confused few that revel on the frozen ice. And, those that swim without a dream of touching the skies are denied even that dark and dreary vision that typically clings to the horizon when snow visits. Ice covers the lake and, save for the peculiar few, the result is a peace oft missed in the summer months.
And so is found, deep beneath the ice sheet and the water surface, a young youkai, her fins idly flapping as she rests on the rocks of the lakebed. Scattered about her dark abode are small containers, filled to the brim with stones polished to a shine. The light that trickles down to this section of the lakebed is weak this time of year, and the normally sparkling piles of stone have lost most of their luster.
The youkai, a mermaid, shows just as much life as her tail lazily whips back and forth as she rests on the muddy bottom. The underwater weeds drift back and forth, a few sweetish slipping in and out of the folds that drift about. She eyes them for a little while, wondering if it is even worth the while to expend the effort to catch the little fish. The chase would produce quite the distraction caused by the endless winter days and nights. They quickly vanish beyond the confines that define her home, and she goes back and closes her eyes and instead listens to the soft, wiggling chorus of the distant schools.
Carp slowly float near the surface while loaches lurk in thrushes and trout putter alongside. On the bottom, further down than the mermaid's dimly-lit home, are the catfish and snails that prowl the surface, coasting and ever-searching for the next meal. Every single flit of the tail flap of a fin, or the distant crunch of bone adds to the soft choir. Everything is heard, even though much of the sound is distant and faint. Only the faint, deep base of a monster lurking in the deepest part of the lake adds any beat to the mindless melody, and even that adagio has no wish to accelerate.
That is the life of the mermaid, a ruler of the mindless masses who pay her no heed, and to whom little is repaid. She continues to just listen to the bubbles of air that pipe in soft notes, stirred up by that faint lake-born activity. A gentle choir of life, sleepy and arrested.
The mermaid jerks its head up, surprised at the sudden sound. A shift in the ice far above is not what she expected this time of year, so soon after the frozen lake was sealed off. The ice shouldn't be breaking up, and it isn't the crash that she would normally associate with a fight breaking out. The mermaid counts herself fortunate that the stinging cold usually keeps both humans and youkai at bay this time of year. Only that fairy and a few others enjoy the chill.
If the first wasn't enough to rouse her attention, the second is enough to lure her off of her muddy throne. She turns her head towards the direction of her echo. Hundreds of feet away, past the green curtain that walls off her small home, that sound has echoed but twice. Now that her ears are perked, she hears the thumps of steps. It is a light-footed creature, that much is sure, but something seems to be trampling around on top of the thick ice. Every step adds another echoing pulse into the still water, and it is deafening in the quiet.
The mermaid begins to scurry forward, darting past the weeds and scatter the fish that are woken from their drowsy, idling swim. Her ears flit as she listens to the storm of activity that is spun in her wake, and other fish begin to flee for cover as her tail pushes her onwards. In her wake, mud kicks up off of the lakebed, though as she ascends to the ice, the loose sediment earns a reprieve and begins its slow descent towards the bottom. She finds herself curious, part of herself knowing that it is likely but a trap. At the same time, there is a part of her that doesn't even care; some excitement, something different would be a nice change of pace from the tedium of the long, soporific days.
Finally, she has reached a spot close enough that she can see the broken ice. A spider's web scatters over the bottom of the ice, and a few chips have already been broken off the back side. Barely, just barely, she can see the faintest image on the other side; from this distance, there is nothing but the barest of dark forms to even witness.
Finally, the thick ice has been conquered by the specter from above. The shattered remnants are bobbing in the water, rubbing up and down as they are finally set free from the prison that they once composed. One by one, they largest chunks are plucked away. From below, the mermaid can see the first few rays of light that she has witnessed in quite some time, piercing from above as if they are rays shining out from heavenly clouds. She bobs in the water, still quite curious, as the last few pieces of ice are cleared away.
She continues to wait as the waters begin to still and the activity kicked up by both her and the cracking ice die down. The mermaid barely notices as her own buoyancy begins to slip, and she feels herself succumbing once against to the drudge of the wintry lake. Before she becomes at risk of falling into her previous stupor, an object splashes into the water and begins to descend.
It isn't hard for her to notice the shape of the object above. A hook on the end of the string; she is quite familiar with that device's purpose. Any worry over the intents of the foreign body is muffled by her curiosity of the motives of that person above. Questions abound in her mind, and she can't help but to float up and stare at the object as it descends.
Whatever fish might have been interested in swimming by have vacated the immediate area; devoid of weed, this shelf near the shore only has the rocky sediments that gently roll about in the wake of the mermaid's tail. She doesn't even notice as, for a moment, a gem of Tyrian purple is revealed, only to be covered up by the next wave of water.
There is nothing nearby that is interested in this hook save her. She peers at it curiously as it dangles, examining the rusty nail that has been bent by hand; she can see the spots where fingers have forced it into shape. And, just as curious, she reaches out and tugs the hook down before scurrying out of its way, wondering the reaction it might provoke. Sure enough, the hook is quickly tugged upwards with a sure yank before it is reeled in, roughly three feet at a time. It does not take long for the naked hook to be case once more into the lake, although this time the fisher jerks around hook, giving it enough motion that a fish might, perhaps, be interested in taking a bite.
It's certainly enough to make the mermaid curious, but this time, she takes care. Remembering the pain of past encounters, she swims up and, once the angler has grown board of jerking and leaves it to simply sag in the deep, she rolls it end over end in her hand, making sure that the hook cannot catch and there's no slack in the string let it snap and catch.
She continues to roll until she reaches the hole in the ice. Her eyes widen as she catches the sight of baby blue skies, marred only by the occasional, wispy cloud. Her eyes avert themselves from the harsh rays of the warm yellow sun and, propelled by instinct and sudden excitement, she flings her head through the hole in the eyes and looks around. The mermaid looks about in wonderment, spying the woods and the shore covered in a blanket of white. It's both familiar and alien, so air is the moment. Even odder is the feeling of air passing through her lungs, especially as crisp and dry as it is.
Caught up in the awe of the rare midwinter break, she barely notices the nearby form that fell over in surprise at the sight. Belatedly, she realizes the shock of a fish head suddenly appearing in a whole without it being hooked on the line first. The mermaid shakes her head, casting off water and letting her hair spring free for the first time in weeks upon weeks. As small as the hole is, she cannot pull herself any farther up, but it doesn't matter; she has enough clearance.
Instead, she examines the toppled girl, whose knees are knocking together even as she pulls herself back up to sit. A worn dress of purple and black is all that protects her from the elements, and the clawed hands grip a bamboo pole, to which the string is tied. Around her neck is a cast-off scarf, mismatched and looking out of place on the simple dress. Two wings beat rapidly, though be it in frustration or panic is hard to tell. A third wing, perched upon the top of the head and of deep a shade of red as the other two, is spread as wide as her eyes. The bird, an ibis, finally returns to a seated position, shivering again as the cold continues to bite at her.
Tilting her head, the mermaid looks toward the bird in confusion. "Why are you here this time of year? The lake is quiet, and its residents uninterested in your hook."
The ibis tilts its head, somewhat surprise at the question directed to her. As bright of one as it may be, the third wing still descends and hides part of the face as her already-rosy cheeks radiate just a little more heat. "I'm searching for food. This year, it is difficult to find."
"Why not go to the mountain, then?" The mermaid blinks and stares curiously up at the ibis. "If it's fish you seek, the waters at its base are flowing and unfrozen; the mountain should be home to frogs. Why is their need for fish of this lake?"
"It is also home to gods and kappa," said the ibis. "Though I have tried at the riverside, the river is replete with their devices. Without knowing where, it isn't safe to remain. And the reptiles that line their shore are gone, and the fish have been scarce." The wing on her head droops as the ibis continues to recount. "The frogs of the mountain have their protector; I have no defense against that goddess of the iron rings.
The mermaid winces a little, trying and failing to imagine what quite that might involve, but knowing all the same how comfortable it might be. "I see. …Was there nowhere else for you to go?"
The ibis opens her mouth before a violent shiver takes her body for a moment. She draws her dress a little bit tighter, keeping her warmth as best as she can. "…Insects have all flown away or retreated into their burrows. Even if the firefly youkai in charge of them would come out, she wouldn't grant me a fly. It's not like many would be alive this time of year, anyway." She sighs and clutches the pole near her, the third wing flitting slowly back and forth. "The black-white I asked, but she has nothing more than mushrooms, it seems. …And brooms. Painful brooms."
The mermaid nods, remembering quite well how vicious the humans could be. "…What of the humans? They might have something lying about…"
"Stealing from the humans?" The youkai droops and shakes her head, the third wing rocking in time. "That's asking for trouble… They're good at fighting off youkai. And just being mean. Even if I could get away, the red-white would come after me. If not her, then the green-white would instead. …Or the blue-white. Or the…" The ibis sighs and slumps even more. "…Again. They don't need a reason normally, so… They don't."
The mermaid is already checking the skies, her tail tensed up and ready to pull her back under the water if there is even the slightest chance of one of those shrine maidens appearing. The accomplices were bad enough, but one of those two would not end up well for her. "…Is that why you're here?"
"Essentially. …There's no one here. …Only thing I have to worry about is the ice fairy. All that' she'll do is try to throw ice at me. …Sharp, piercing flurries of it, perhaps, but that's all."
"It looks like you're about to freeze up." The mermaid continues to look at her curiously as the ibis shivers. "Why not jump in the water? It's warm enough here."
"…Ibis don't get warmer in the water; not this time of year." She tilts her head to the side, thinking. "…Not any time of year, perhaps."
"…Then go warm up the bird way?" Slightly confused, the mermaid just shakes her head. "This cold isn't good for youkai like you, is it?"
The ibis doesn't seem to want to answer. "Still. …I have to find food first. …Even the night sparrow doesn't have any." The ibis droops a bit more at that, and seems about to say something, but shakes her head. "…Are you going to stop me from fishing as well?"
After a moment, the mermaid tilts her head. "Well, I suppose you may. But there are none that are going to come here; they are too sleepy and too slow this time of year, and you're nowhere near their location."
The ibis slumps even more, the third wing covering her eyes. A second later, it shoots on up, standing at full attention. "…You're not stopping me?"
The mermaid shrugs as much as possible in the small hole. "You're not planning on eating me, are you?"
The ibis stares long and hard at the mermaid. "…No. Wouldn't fit through the hole."
She knows not why, but that brings the mermaid a little bit of amusement. That sounds just like another predator that once considered feasting odd her. "If you'll wait a little bit, I will bring you something that will fit through the hole."
The ibis perks up even further, that third wing wagging with glee. "You will?"
The mermaid doesn't answer and instead dives down. With one quick thrust, she is already darting down to the thrush, her eyes alight. The taste of the air seemed to revitalize her, with energy bursting at the gills. She had not felt up for such a hunt in quite a long while. The fish are quieter than normal, but with her bright eyes and the little light that is afforded, she commits to the hunt.
The trout are no match for the youkai mermaid in this state.
A few minutes later, after taking one of the fish for her own contentment, the mermaid ascends back out of her icy prison, her hand darting out and tossing a couple of fish, one after another. She knows not to risk taking more; she doesn't want to even risk the population this time of year… And plenty do have to be left to spawn. Another section must be chosen for the hunt the next time she has this type of energy.
Once done extricating her bounty, she raises her head through the hole again. The mermaid spies the squawking ibis flapping her wings and chasing about the fish that are flopping around. Eventually, she does manage to snag all of the fish, though one attempts to swat the ibis in the face while it tries to escape.
Even so, once caught, the ibis merely toddles back over, the fish secure in hand. Confused, the mermaid looks back up at the ibis, who is curiously returning the view. "Is something the matter?"
The ibis looks back down, the third wing pointing straight back, rocking gently. "…Are you trapped under there?"
"…Trapped?" The mermaid tilts her head and pauses as she considers the question. "…I do not suppose so. There isn't as much as the world outside it, but… the lake is my home."
The ibis tilts her head to the side, still surprised. "But how does that work? It looks like a cage. …And wouldn't books get soggy?" The mermaid shoots her and odd look, and the ibis droops a bit. "I see…"
The mermaid continues to contemplate the bird before her. The ibis continues to stare back with wide eyes, although she does seem to be honestly asking. "Well… It is. But it's home. …I don't need anything else that I cannot find in it. …And the ice keeps me safe as well." After another moment, the mermaid smiles. "It makes seeing the sky all the more special. This was… a nice surprise."
"It was?" The mermaid nods, and the ibis tentatively returns it. "…It's always there. I never thought of it that way. It simply is there." After a moment, she bows her head again. "Still… thank you for all the fish."
"It was nothing. I'm just happy to stretch my fins." … The mermaid looks up at the sky for a while longer. "…Although, could you do something?"
"Hrm?" The ibis quizzically tilts her head, looking back at the mermaid in misstep.
Still smiling, the mermaid asks, "Well, I can't go to the sky. …Could you go there and, once the spring thaw comes, tell me what's at the end? Or what is beyond it?"
"I could try. I've never tried to fly toward the sky's end before…" The ibis continues to consider it. "…I might not go until it warms. I do not want to risk a winter storm."
"It's of no rush. It is a lot to ask you of, especially for a few fish."
"Fish are important." The ibis nods again. "I will try. …Once spring comes, I can try and see." And, with that, the bird takes to a crimson wing and heads off into the sky. Content with herself, he mermaid watches the sky for a while longer, eyeing the sun's path and enjoying what little warmth it brings. Before the dark comes, however, she slips back into the water, down into the same quiet chorus that continues to echo. And, despite her best intentions, she finds her energy fleeting and her will to ascend to the surface vanishing again. The routine returns leaving nothing but a hole in the ice.
That soon freezes over, and the mermaid is left with her long winter wait. It is only interrupted by a sole nail-hook that manages to find its way through the thawing ice. Once again, the mermaid's interest is most definitely caught.