Truthfully, I’ve written a letter before this one, but it featured several pages in length. For your sake, I’ll abbreviate.
Two weeks prior, I found myself enraptured in yet another dusty book. From its exterior, it seems to be more of an antique than reading material. Its print, however well preserved, was worn by time’s grasp, and I could hardly turn the page without fear of tearing it by the seam.
I realize that this is hardly noteworthy, so I’ll spare you the detailettes and get to the point: It was written in Japanese. I’ll answer your misgivings now. For one, no, I did not decide to suddenly learn a second language. I am, unfortunate as it is, still an Englishman and know only English. And secondly, yes, I did check my mental state and have decided that I am (mostly!) still sane.
I was never one to believe in the occult, but I have no further explanation than to think less about it and deem it as “magic.” I know you’re more of an expert in this, so I’ll leave this situation to your judgment.
Please share your thoughts on this, lest I go mad.
Would that mean you could read my own letters? Strike that; I’ll assume a written reply would be answer enough.
And pardon my hastiness. You’d still be reading through this, thinking me as your dear friend, Aoi. But I have never went by that name, nor do I know of an “Aoi” that isn’t already deceased. Perhaps your servant has dropped off your letter to the wrong household?
Still, methods notwithstanding, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mark the Englishman. In hopes of a cordial relationship, I shall share one of my own secrets to you: I must admit that my own knowledge of English is as foreign as Japanese to you. I was always interested in other language, but the resources to study said material is lacking, to say the least, where I reside.
That aside, do tell of your mysterious book of yours. Is it the key to Babel? Or is it a blessing, or a curse? My scholarly heart beats a touch faster merely thinking about it. Do share your findings, should you feel comfortable—or alive—afterward.
From “Aoi” de-facto, Who received your letter by fate (written as: mistake)
To The Mysterious Recipient, Or “Not Aoi” for short,
I wish you well (or, as well enough as I could wish a stranger). Curious how you’ve come to receive these letters. I’ve had some time to mull over the cause of such a blunder. By chance, would you be residing near the address listed on the back of the letter’s envelope? It should be a minor place in Nagano, somewhere around Hakuba. And this is second-hand knowledge from Aoi proper so forgive me if I’m wrong, but apparently the whole district in that area is extremely rural. I’m of the opinion that it was lost in transit, or at least, gravely mishandled.
You do raise a curious question, however. Why would I need a servant to deliver a message? I think we’re separated by a distance far too great to send a letter in-person… aged and impractical as that is, nowadays. I myself have no servants to my name (though I do have attendants, but that is an occupational issue).
Regardless of circumstance, I do hope that we may get to know one another as acquaintances… or more so, mutual witnesses in the event that the occult decides to punish us for meddling in its affairs.
But in any case, we could unravel the mysteries of the supernatural book. Its contents read of a fantastical creature and detail something about its journeys across different mystic worlds. You’ll have to forgive my vagueness: It contained a lot of Eastern jargon that only served to confuse me further. The best analysis that I can offer you is that it mentioned a “Qilin” of some sort.
It’s not much to go off of, but it is still certainly a foot in the door. Nothing in the book itself, however, implies anything about being able to decipher languages. That being said, I’ll study the book with far greater scrutiny in the coming days. Should I find anything, you shall be the first to know.
My, my! It seems that we’re separated by far greater than just numerical distance. Nagano, you say; that prefecture no longer exists where I live—or should I say that our prefecture no longer exists to your world? You see, our residents here, myself included, live in a realm where the spiritual is status quo. Your definition of the occult could very well be my daily life.
Still, the fact that we can even communicate, by letters no less, is nothing less of an anomaly. I have a very powerful acquaintance that, should she learn that I were divulging such secrets of our estate, would demand me to cease at once. However, so long as I don’t get caught, I’ve no intention of doing so. Why, you might ask? Because our exchanges have already become something I look forward to. It’s become a new and exciting part of my night to look forward to a new letter after a long and dreary day.
That aside, I won’t get caught—if you were worried about that. It is not like you could even march to her domicile and speak of my “wrongdoings.” There wouldn’t even be physical proof of transit. Have you noticed something peculiar when you part with your letters? As for me, they disappear the moment I send someone off to “deliver” them. If not by my acquaintance’s work (and it surely isn’t! She would never willingly send this to the Outside!), then the question is who or what?
I digress. This sort of situation is usually not one with a clear answer. Perhaps it is this Qilin that is hand-delivering our letters through time and space, though I don’t think we have one residing here in Gensokyo, nevertheless working as a courier. It’d be a far stretch to say that this creature would be amused by such a thing.
In any case, our lack of language barrier is still one I’d like to test. And I have just the person fit for such an occasion: A lovely friend of mine has the ability to read anything, no matter the text. Forgive the invasion of privacy, but I’ll have her go through some of our exchanges together. More on that the next time we write to each other. Hopefully, I’ll have exciting news for you soon.
From Not Aoi, Who always awaits your next letter eagerly
Your last letter has been on my mind since I’ve received it. To be honest, I still can’t wrap my mind around the notion that we live in different worlds (or, realms? I’m not quite sure what the difference is). This would be where I’d remain skeptical if not for the proof dangling right in front of my eyes. Besides, I’d rather live in a world, though I suppose it isn’t mine, where the fantastic exists.
As for the book matter… I’m reluctant to say that I’ve found nothing conclusive. Indeed, it would be comical to think that this mysterious “Qilin” creature, whatever it is, were hand-delivering our letters through dimensions, but that sounds too good to be true, wouldn’t it?
Were Aoi—the real Aoi, that is—here, maybe we would have found something substantial. But my only point of contact with her is through these letters… which, for evident reasons, were never fully sent. I do not deliver my letters myself, so I never noticed that they disappear to the wind. But those that deliver them reported nothing back to me, so I assumed they made it through initial transit. Anyway, I await good news on your end. I am ill-equipped to investigate the supernatural, but it seems your “Gensokyo” would fare better on the subject. I wish luck for your friend.
And, speaking of Aoi, I feel like our little game has gone on far enough. At this point, I feel rather uncomfortable to call you “Not Aoi.” It’s a little rude, isn’t it? Now, I’m not telling you to bare your naked secrets, but a name, however manufactured, would be nice. It would certainly cut my greetings shorter.
Eternally thinking of new salutations, Mark Corderoy
Given the stricture of his axis of communication with "Aoi", and the most common ideographic correspondence thereof, and the knowledge or insight she's imputed to hold over the matter, and let's also not forget the ongoing transdimensional corkiness itself, one might start to suspect a thing or two about her identity - or at least about the shoe in which the foot may find its erstwhile habitation.
But that's the trouble with names. You never know if you'll get a sane rendering like 青 or some abject boggler like 蛙尾萎. Or maybe it's short for "Aoife"?
Apologies if I’ve made you uncomfortable; adopting the moniker of “Not Aoi” was simply for my own amusement. You may call me Hieda no Akyuu, or Akyuu for short. But, telling a lady to lay her secrets bare is a bit immodest in itself, wouldn’t you agree? I’d certainly never tell you that I am beautiful enough to be the talk of the village, nor would I say that I am frequently asked for my hand in marriage. It would certainly be vain of me to describe myself as beautiful, but objectively, it is true and is a tightly kept secret between two dimensional correspondents. I trust you enough not to reveal such a scandalous thing to anyone else.
Still, the only marriage I would consider is one to my job—not that I’d prefer it that way. It’s just I’ve only have so much time every day, and romance simply does not fit in my schedule.
But enough of me. Why not take this time to tell me more about yourself? I feel like your name is the only thing I know of you. Mysterious, isn’t it? I’ve told you many things other than my name, and you’ve only told me of your name. And I’ve given you more of my secrets. It’s only fair if you share yours in return.
I’ll get back on topic. The friend I’ve told you about—Kosuzu is her name—she came to my manor and looked over the letters. But she could not read it (which is an interesting discovery in itself). So far, we’ve only discovered more questions than answers. And in her words, “It’s not like I wasn’t able to read it. It’s more like nothing was there in the first place. That’s just the feeling I get.”
Consider this: Could the source of this anomalous situation be from your own person? We don’t have to assume that the book and our mysterious case of selective bilingualism are connected to each other. It could be equally as likely that this was innate to you; the book was merely a trigger. But I may be (and probably am) wrong. This is all conjecture, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if it were true? I’ll let you deliberate on that until next time.
Dear Akyuu, Who is allegedly beautiful in all aspects,
Frankly, without proof, I am not obliged to take you at your word. Though our method of communication can’t sadly be in person, I suppose I could be placated with a description of yourself. I imagine you to be a tall, slim woman with jet-black hair, clad in a kimono… though that may be my prejudice speaking.
And me? I’m glad you asked. I’ve golden blond hair and striking blue eyes (is it fine to flatter myself like this?), and, by most definitions of the word, I’m rather handsome. Probably as handsome as you are beautiful! Sadly, I’m not the subject of singles’ gossip like you are—how unfair is that? At best, I receive an occasional blushing smile from one of my attendants.
I’ll return your thoughts about marriage with one of my own: Perhaps you are unmarried not because of your strict hours, but more so your high standards? You may find yourself enraptured in your work more because you’ve built a wall that no sane man could ever possibly climb over.
…Don’t take the above seriously. I meant it more to be a consideration, but upon re-reading, I fear it may come off as condescending. I’ll move on from the subject before I embarrass myself further.
Your theory about the book is worth testing. I’ll speak to another acquaintance and see if my sudden gift of language can be replicated. Though, I cannot help but wonder: How did this all come to be? Now that I’ve settled myself, peripheral thoughts like those tend to surface. It is a question with no forthright answer, but still I yearn for it. I’ve never imagined myself to be so swiftly intimate with the magical, and yet here we are, exchanging letters through time, space, and language.
I wonder if I should reject the occult and convince myself that this was all a fever dream, or if I should embrace my new reality. Do share your thoughts—or don’t, actually. I suppose I need to resolve these inner contradictions with my own volition.
I know you’ve told me that you don’t need my expert opinion on the subject matter, but your conclusion is the same as mine: When dealing with the inexplicable, it’s best to not dwell too much on what can or cannot be proven, and instead, accept it as one would nature. And, in a way, I’m glad we agree on that: Otherwise, we wouldn’t have much reason to continue these written exchanges, no?
And, for your information, you were about half right when it came to guessing my person. Much to my chagrin, I’ve a diminutive figure, which I easily blame on my poor health. And while I do wear a kimono, I do not have jet-black hair. Instead, it’s dark indigo (with eyes that match) which, in my personal opinion, is a much more captivating color than anything monochrome. Should you ever wish to commission a portrait of yours truly, I shall allow it. I wouldn’t mind even if you were to frame it for all of your attendants to see.
As loathe I am to admit this, and I know you said not to take your words to heart, but you may have a point about my views on romance. You may berate me on this, but, arrogant as this may sound, there are no candidates that I’ve deemed worthy so far. In any case, a relationship was never a consideration until I reached marriageable age—something that was deemed unlikely, due to my chronic health problems. So it was always a matter that I’ve pushed away… to think about in a more opportune time.
Either way, it’ll be something I’ll consider after work occupies less of my schedule—if that’ll ever be the case. This coming season, I’ve much to do… even if the days grow shorter. A shame, really, because autumn is a beautiful season in Gensokyo. Should you ever discover the supernatural ability to travel between dimensions, you should come visit. It’s quite lovely all around.
In wait of a commissioned portrait, Hieda no Akyuu
Wait a minute, this is a story about flirting with Akyuu by correspondence! I've been tricked! How dare you, sir, lure me in with a supernatural mystery only to hit me with this. I shall be complaining to the committee about this.
You are in luck. If you can believe it, I’m well-versed in the primary arts. Due to my own poor health, I’ve had much time to practice. I suppose it’s true that birds of a feather do flock together. Anyway, by the end of this letter, I’ll have prepared a portrait for you—do let me know what you think. And don’t mind the artistic liberties—I’ve only so much information to work with, you understand.
On the topic of romance, I find it admirable that you wouldn’t rush headfirst into a relationship. Much like you, due to my own circumstances, I haven’t really considered pursuing a relationship when more pressing matters in my life take precedence. But unlike you (or not, I wouldn’t know), it’s something I think about every now and then: To love and be loved in return—isn’t that a wonderful sentiment?
I return to this letter with more news: The book and our shared correspondence bear little influence with my sudden gift for language. In fact, not only am I bilingual, but I am multi-lingual. Polylingual? You know what I mean. But this gift is most likely my own. Embarrassing as it is, I had never considered the notion—I just assumed that I had only learned Japanese. And aside from expanding my literary horizons, I’m not sure how to utilize this newfound ability.
And while I’d love to come visit, I’m afraid that, even should I find the means to interdimensionally travel, I won’t be able to. A depressing thought, I’m sure, but I don’t have much say on the matter. Then again, who knows? I’ve experienced the supernatural. What’s not to say a miracle won’t happen either?
You will seldom find me in as great a mood as today. I have received your sketch and, speaking from the bottom of my heart, I find it marvelous. What you’ve drawn bears a striking likeness to myself (as it should be; it is indeed my own portrait) that I can’t help but fancy it. Should anyone view it, they would never think that the artist in question has never seen my face! The one contrary point is that the expression I make in the sketch is far too noble for a rural lady like myself. Though, that in itself is flattering; do you think of me as dignified as you portray this Hieda no Akyuu?
Personally, I’ve much to share. Did you know that I am a writer? By vocation, I compile and condense the history of our Gensokyo to written text. But that was not what I meant. Rather, in the rare moments between busywork, I write fiction—recreationally, of course. I thought to show some of my works to you, but I fear that it wouldn’t fit in a letter. And while I’d love to send a thousand letters for you to read, I doubt that it would make for good conversation.
And do not worry about your ‘gift.’ For the inhabitants of Gensokyo, they seldom think about their influence on the supernatural and vice versa. Just accept it as an interesting new facet of yourself; it’s easier that way.
Mark, if only you could visit! I’ll emphasize this once more: Do not give up so early. Perhaps one day, you too could come. There is a tenet of Gensokyo: Once an individual experiences an unbelievable event, more are sure to follow.
From one victim of the unbelievable to another, Hieda no Akyuu
I am glad that the portrait is to your liking. Since I’ve sent my last letter, I’ve found myself constantly worrying about whether or not you will find it adequate. I’ve read and re-read our previous letters to try and get a glimpse of our Hieda no Akyuu on paper. However, this “dignified” Akyuu was merely an unintended consequence: Originally, I had instead drawn you with a rather dazzling smile. Yet, afterward, I felt like something was missing. I’m not sure how to put it into thought—ironic, as I was given the gift of language but still cannot find the words necessary to explain. Perhaps I found that such a smile didn’t suit you?
Apologies if that came across as rude. I don’t mean it in the way that it sounds. It’s just that I believed a different expression would make the portrait more whole. Or something to that effect. Think little of my words, as you would a drunken friend’s drunken rambling… however sober I am. In truth, this letter and its prose will sound rushed—I have something important to do in short time, and I am hurrying to finish this letter to you.
But feel free to send a thousand letters—they could even be filled with gibberish. I am a good listener (or so I proclaim), and I would eagerly await your next letter and nine hundred ninety-nine more.
And as unfortunate as it is, I am permanently bedridden, so your suggestion of visiting Gensokyo, let alone visiting anywhere would be rather… unlikely, let’s say. But do not pity me—really! No need to apologize if you were going to; it is simply a condition that I have. Such is life, but—⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Dear Hieda no Akyuu, Who shall receive two letters a week late,
I’ll start this letter off by formally stating that I am sorry. I didn’t mean to keep you in suspense, but my life has been incredibly hectic. Midway through penning the last letter, I spilled some ink over the letter but more importantly over my bed covers. Understandably, I wasn’t able to finish the letter, nor fully recover its damaged contents. So instead, I’ll present you with a new letter.
As I mentioned before, I had something critical to take care of. I’ll reveal the nature of that now: I underwent surgery, and it was a resounding failure. That was to be expected, however. My condition is idiopathic and, by the way of dialogue from the medical staff, they seem to have no clue what to do. Anyway, the surgery did not stop the severe heart palpitations—the nature of my disease. At this point, I’m more of a guinea pig to be tested than a patient. But please do not be upset at the staff—they worry about me the same as a close friend or relative would. I don’t blame them for not being able to treat the unknown. And even from this intermittent pain, I am very much alive.
On another note, I’ve much more time to dedicate to literature following postoperative care. I’ve recently picked up a book that was about the escapades of a second prince to an overseas throne. It was a saddening read, for his gentle disposition was the inevitable thing that ruins him, and he was framed for conspiracy—solely for the reason that the crown prince did not like the boy. While I did ravenously devour its contents, afterward, I felt particularly unnerved thinking about unnecessary tragedy. I wonder what you would think of such a book. Please let me know what you think.
I accept your apology… but that does not mean I am not upset. Do not mistake this as anger directed towards you: I blame your circumstance more than anything. However, I feared that the worst had happened—that you were struck dead by the Reaper. I was worried sick, to the point where my promised busyness had fallen to a deep lull; my thoughts, if it were not obvious, were occupied elsewhere, namely on the whereabouts of my missing pen pal.
I had much time to dwell on the matter. A week’s time, I had once thought, should have passed without much deliberation. And yet, with nothing to occupy myself, I found it excruciatingly tedious. I’m sure you’ve found it the same, albeit for much different reasons. I’d tell you to take care of yourself, but I am sure you’ve heard that ad nauseam from other people. Instead, I am requesting this of you: Write me a letter, however short, should you need someone to rely on. Not that I can provide physical assistance, but you may depend on me for whatever else.
I’ve no real opinion on a book that I have never read, but here are my thoughts anyway. I find that tragedy captures the beauty of life—if only by transience. I myself can relate to that belief, where the best of life always seems to be the shortest. But let me clarify: In no way would I advocate to murder an innocent boy. But I find catharsis in knowing that he was unswayed by neither politics nor power and stayed true to his character… despite paying the price with his life. In some sick fashion, I empathize.
And, perhaps I was projecting my emotions over to you, but I had once thought that you would’ve also thought the same.
In a state between relief and worry, Hieda no Akyuu
Not that this would alleviate your worries, but your thoughts that I was visited by the Reaper were not unfounded. I met one of the medical staff for my recurring dosage of medication, but immediately I knew that something was awry. You see, I am well acquainted with most of the personnel that are responsible for my health, and the nurse that brought my medication was not on the list of approved labor. Also, it was something about her demeanor that gave me my doubts (though this is mostly emotional conjecture). She had piercing eyes that bore through the soul but gave no response when I met her gaze.
It may be due to my prolonged exposure to the unnatural, but I did not trust the woman. I thought to myself, “Maybe this is Death that has finally come for me. The surgery would be the primary cause, I guess.” But she did not take my life—only my letters. And judging by the fact that you’ve replied to me since, they were delivered successfully (or, unsuccessfully? The address is still conceptually wrong).
That aside, the “nurse” administered the proper dosage of medication, and I am now in better health, relatively speaking. You may rest easy, knowing that your dear pen pal is now in stable condition. Contrary to your beliefs, my week has been too eventful for the drudgeries of time to affect me. Your concern, however, is sincerely appreciated. I am thankful for my attendants that worry about me, but, frankly speaking, that is their job. You, on the other hand, have no obligation to do so—and for that reason, I am filled with a mellow joy.
To your last point, I’ve never given much thought about the turbulent waves of happiness and despair that accompany the tale of a tragedy. I won’t disagree that nothing depicts the struggles of life more than a hero falling into ill fate. But that isn’t why I do not like the genre.
Dear Mark Corderoy, Who is more wise than he lets on,
Dwelling upon what makes you unhappy yields to only more negative emotions. I speak from cruel experience here. You and I both know how precious and finite a resource time can be—why should we fixate on what would only serve to gnash our metaphorical teeth? In that respect, my reason for liking tragedies is no less significant than yours for not liking them. You (and only you!) are allowed to have an opinion that differs from mine. However, the rest of the world, both yours and mine, does not have that privilege.
I am glad that you’ve made a quick recovery, one in part selfishness due to my passing boredom without your constant letters, and two in genuine concern for a friend. Know that you’ve found a resident space in my thoughts.
But that does not mean I am always thinking of you, before you fill yourself with conceit. As much as I would love to keep myself occupied with my dear pen pal, I’ve only a spare moment in the night to write these letters. In the day, I’ve been in a rush to keep my work contained… to no avail. If my condition does not kill me, then surely my work will.
Your visit from the apparent nurse is most interesting. I wonder, would this person read our letters if we addressed them to her? Then again, the woman is no simple courier. She did deliver the letters to the wrong dimension, after all. But did she do this with purpose, or is she simply clumsy? Either way, I feel that it would be dangerous to ask directly. I have suspicions that she is not as human as she appears. But I have a grand suggestion: Why not write a letter to this mysterious messenger? Think of it like measuring an apparition’s willingness to communicate. Should they not respond, that will be the end of our experiment—we are two ailing humans, after all.
I wonder, have you been reading our letters? If not, then allow me to introduce myself. I am Mark Corderoy, though you probably knew that. I believe you have visited me already—or was that just my own misunderstanding? Regardless, I hope that we can learn more about one another. For starters, what do you do? Do you have any hobbies? Do you enjoy riding on a train? Me, I’ve never ridden a train before due to my condition. I would have asked this of my pen pal, but my guess is that she hasn’t even seen a train, let alone ride one.
I still have my reservations about whether or not you were the nurse that appeared before me like the Reaper. If that was not you, then please correct me if I am wrong. It could have been just as likely that I was in a state of mania and mistook my delusions as reality. But who knows? I have a hunch that the mysterious nurse is linked to these letters, and my ability to discern the supernatural has been growing ever more keen. It’s amusing to think that I was once skeptical about the occult and now I accept the unexplainable as part of my world.
I’m afraid I don’t have much else to talk about—it’s hard to make conversation with someone that I’m not sure if they even exist, but I’ll entertain the notion. Should you respond, I encourage you to talk about anything that’s on your mind and let me be your sounding board.
I’ve sent a letter to the messenger, but I have yet to receive a reply back. The letter itself, however, had disappeared, so if you did not receive it, I’ll hazard a guess and say that it was delivered to its intended recipient. Also, the nurse that I wrote about in the previous letter has not shown herself since the incident. When I inquired the other staff about the matter, they all shook their heads and said they didn’t recall such a person, so I am considering whether or not she was simply a trick of the mind.
It’s very plausible. Since I’ve last written to you, I’ve discovered something unusual about the book regarding the Qilin—its content slightly differs from the last time I’ve read it (and I have re-read it many, many times, as one would expect from a bored, bedridden individual). I feel as if I am going insane, as nothing is as quite as I remember it. For that, I solicit advice from the allegedly beautiful and wise Hieda no Akyuu. What do you think? Is there meaning in a book that holds nothing constant? Or am I simply going crazy?
In less exciting news, I believe there will be some time before I can converse with you again. The heart palpitations that ail me have been growing in frequency, and I may be moved to intensive care. I won’t be requiring any major surgery, but the move itself has its own complications. Couple that with the fact that I will be their lab animal for several days, I estimate that it will be over a week before you hear from me again. This is your advance warning, and I will write back to you shortly once it is all taken care of.
Come to think of it, Rin Satsuki was also theorized to be a nurse, wasn't she? And the fact she was (almost) completely erased from EoSD's data files would explain why nobody save our ailing painter seems to remember her.
I’ve also sent a letter to the courier and similarly received nothing back. I have several guesses to what she, or it, may be, but I’ll mention my speculations in a later reply once I am more sure. And fret not about your mental health—it is quite normal for supernatural beings to deny the basic tenets of the world. What matters is your own perception and experience. Only through continuous observation of the self can you piece together a pattern; one that may deny common sense but is undeniably true.
A book that changes is not simply a book, and for that, I have not only advice but also direction to give you. Do not laugh when I tell you this, but try conversing with the book, whether it is through verbal or written means. Should it respond, you may ask it, as politely as you can, what it is. Otherwise, continue to take note of the changes that transpire within its pages. In due time, you shall ascertain what it is. But do not rush—the realm of phantasia is not a kind one, and overstepping one’s boundaries may prove to be more dangerous than one sick human can handle. But you are an intelligent man. I trust you not to go to such extremes.
As always, I shall expectantly wait for the next letter, however long that may be. But do not delay—it is quite selfish of you to keep a lady waiting, so I demand your move to be swift and uneventful. On top of that, I expect you to be at your best health… or at least, enough to send another letter. And please, do take care. I won’t forgive you if you don’t.
I know it hasn’t been a week since my last letter, if even several days, but the pen is quick to write from impatience. I never thought myself to be so needy, but my sudden want for conversation has yet to be quelled, and you are solely to blame. I’ll allow you to remedy this by listening to my ramblings as recompense.
The days grow ever shorter with the passing of seasons, and the first cold spell has swept through the land of Gensokyo, much to my discomfort. I am rather sensitive to sharp weather, and nature this year is exceptionally harsh—she decided to skip autumn altogether and move henceforth to winter. It is quite a shame. There will be no watching the trees change color from the central terrace as they’ve instead decided to lose their leaves altogether.
On a more substantial note, I’ve done independent research about the potential identity of your enigmatic nurse, and, by the time you send your next letter, I am certain that she shall appear before you again. Tell me, to the best of your ability, what she looks like, her demeanor, and whether or not she responds to you if you ask her a question. Speak to her not only in English, but also in Japanese or Chinese. Also, when you do look at her, and I cannot stress this enough, consciously note her features with as much detail as you can. It’ll be much help to me if you do.
I wish you good luck, though you won’t need it should my suspicions prove correct.
Dear Hieda no Akyuu, Who is ever patient and magnanimous,
It has been a month since my last reply, and for that I apologize. But today marks a critical juncture—I have since settled in the intensive care ward, and lately my heart palpitations have regressed back to gentle lulls. Even more, the last week I have been feeling particularly well, so I’ve decided to celebrate by writing to you in good faith. True to your predictions, the nurse revealed herself before me once more. I was fortunate enough to have already read your letters, so I took note of all her attributes that you’ve requested. Do bear with me, for the results did not bear much fruit.
However much stress I put into my gaze, I could not exactly tell her features—it is difficult to explain, but it was as if I was looking into a hazy mirror. The more I focused my eyes, the less I was able to make out of the woman. Again, she gave me proper medical assistance, but instead of leaving soon after, she wordlessly observed me until I fell asleep. It was unnerving, but I did feel better the next day, so it was not as if she had harmed me in any way. I asked her many questions during that time, in all three languages, but she did not respond other than acknowledging my words with a slight turn of her head.
For now, I have not yet attempted to try anything with the book. You can blame my frail heart for my lack of time. But by the next letter, I’ll respond with (hopefully!) promising news.
It is an uneventful fall season where I reside. Truthfully, I hold only indifference to autumn. It is often cloudy, and from the slight view I have from the window-side, it is disheartening to peek at constant, rolling colours of grey. You may agonize over the abrupt coming of winter, but I would gladly accept that over an unending autumn.
Wait, so in >>2688 he can speak Chinese and Japanese, but in the first post >>2563 he says he only knows English and cannot read the Japanese book. I suppose one could explain it as "he can speak Japanese but not read it", but that still feels weird to me.
I had the idea to write a third letter to you in the vain hopes that it would have expedited your last response. However, I thought better of it. Restlessness is not solved by a third, fourth, or even a fifth letter, though it does give temporary peace of mind. Should you have not responded for a month longer, I might have sent you a full memoir of my own account. But I am glad that your afflictions have since abated, and I hope that shall continue to be the case at length.
Your description regarding the nurse is rather unusual, but that is enough to determine that she is no human—she may be a being of supernatural origin (or, put more simply, youkai). Despite appearances, do not try to further approach her or make unnecessary contact with her. Youkai are capricious things, and any behavior, however safe you may deem it, could prove fatal. Be that as it may, I do not know why she would pose as medical staff, nor why she lingers in your world in the first place. I have many questions to ask, yet, due to her disposition, it’s likely she would answer none of them. It is frustrating but unchangeable.
I know that I am bringing up the topic of seasons once again, but I would like to report anew that there is no place for snow in the fall, and yet I still see vestiges of a coming winter. Snow, in infrequent parts, has been spotted on the fields, and a stealing chill has ousted the cool, temperate winds of autumn. And, as constant as time itself, I’ve received the gift of fever from wintertide and will subsequently be resting for the next several weeks. Due to my poor health, any sickness requires my utmost attention to recover, so pending work will be held in abeyance until, presumably, the spring.
One fever away from an untimely death, Hieda no Akyuu
You tempt me to not write back with such a devilish offer. Of course, I kid, but do not write off your memoirs just yet—I’d be glad to read them should we have nothing left to write about. I wonder, though: Would there ever come a time that happens?
As promised, I’ve attempted to hold conversation with the book… though I must confess, I whispered to it first, in fear that a nurse might catch me in the act. I’d rather not have the staff move me to the mental ward, you see. Anyway, it was much to my surprise when I learned that the book can converse; the lengths I went to in order to get it to reply, however, was arduous.
I would ask it several questions, and it would reply when I flipped to the next page. But it followed a demanding schedule—it sleeps randomly, sometimes even mid-conversation, and would stubbornly pout for the rest of the day if I had interrupted its nap. Furthermore, it seemed to be particularly shy, as it would not reply with anything were I not alone in the room.
Here’s what I’ve learned from it so far: One, it had a master, and it is not particularly pleased that they were stolen by a “dumb, horned crook,” in its own words. Two, they do not like the “other world” (presumably, mine) and wishes to return post-haste. And three, I, Mark Corderoy, am indeed handsome, as verified by the book. It would be more credible if it had eyes, but my handsomeness exists beyond mere sight. As such, I believe it enjoys my company.
The nurse has yet to return, but I’ll keep your advice in mind. However, do you not think it is tempting to interact more with her, hoping that she would open up to me someday? She poses as a nurse, but it seems as if she does her work legitimately. I don’t believe she would actively harm me, unless she has reason to. And, pardon me for asking, but, similarly, is the book not a “youkai” as well? I await your expert opinion on the matter, but it has taken a liking to me, and I’d rather not suddenly act distant to the book. I’m afraid if I do, its feelings would be hurt.
You’ve confirmed it yourself that the book is a youkai, but if it is a tsukumogami (that is, a tool that has gained a spirit), then they are relatively harmless once you are in their good graces. Fortunately for you, it seems that the book is already quite fond of you, so you should be relatively safe. Once you feel comfortable to do so, you are free to ask it any questions for your own knowledge.
The nurse, however, is a different story. Youkai that disguise themselves as humans are the most dangerous, even more so when they refuse to communicate. The youkai mind is difficult to comprehend, and the less you can ascertain the motives behind their actions, the more likely you are to die at the hands of one. I know that there is little you can do to avoid her, but I recommend that you cut off as much contact as possible—any way you are able to.
If you were curious about my well-being, well, I’m being. My fever, rather than subsiding, has grown disproportionately worse, relative to my body’s ability to manage it. My servants are in distraught, weeping for the end of this generation of Hieda. I would not be surprised if they were planning my own funeral. However, I know my body well, and, while I would much prefer to fall over and die, I guarantee that I will be able to witness the coming spring—the one thing I look forward to (other than your letters, of course).
I shall cut the letter short here. My fever has wrested quite the leverage on my body and even writing a letter is cumbersome at the moment.
While I am glad to hear from you, I cannot help but worry about your condition. Should I write less so that you do not push yourself? Or should I write more in hopes that my well wishes may be accidentally received by some benevolent god? Regardless, you should not feel pressured to write to me if it puts unnecessary stress on your body. I value your health more than your snappy replies. Plus, I know for a fact that you are feverishly delirious, judging by your jape with your well-being. Please rest. You deserve to.
As hypocritical as this may sound after I lectured your about your health, but my own condition has turned for the worse again. However, some good came from the bad. I’ve learned that the nurse often reveals herself to me when I am in a more critical state and promptly disappears once I am well enough to take care of myself. Secondly, the book does not enjoy the company of said nurse—it immediately recognized her and, though it would not tell me who she was, I can make an educated guess and say that she is probably the one who stole the book.
Does that imply that the nurse was the one that ultimately let the book fall into my hands? Were that true, I’m not sure that I understand the reasoning behind her actions, but, as you’ve said, I suppose that it is impossible to truly understand youkai.
One who doesn’t understand anything, Mark Corderoy
Do not worry about me—I’ve done worse in poorer conditions. There was once a winter where, under horrible physical duress, I’ve had to complete publication of one of my works; another winter, I’ve died a gruesome death (more on that later). Needless to say, I’ve grown less fond of the season over several lifetimes.
In that sense, perhaps it is a curse that I’ll live through winter. Maybe we should die together… before our health declines further. To that, I ask you: Do you not fear death? Would you welcome it should your suffering prove too much to bear? Do not take my words to heart—this is just an exercise in thought. Of course, even if I were to die, due to my occupation, I would be unable to rest.
I’ll answering your coming question: Yes, I am still human. But, as you know, I am tasked with detailing the chronicles of Gensokyo—across multiple lifespans. It is not as simple as immortality, however. To put it simply, I reincarnate. The price for doing so, is a body that is destined to die a quick death. And in between lives, I work for those who take care of the souls of the dead.
But do not misunderstand: I shall gladly fulfill my duties as both a scholar and a historian… more or less because I cannot—and will not—trust the others to do a good job.
Still, I dream of days where I could frolic through the snow without fear of pain and fatigue. A shame, really, as snowfall blanketing the world anew is rather charming, if only briefly. But beautiful as it is, it is an exceptionally deadly time… at least, for me. Have you ever been crushed to death by snow on a day the world trembled? Of course not: You are still alive, after all. But, if you wish to know, it was an unpleasant experience. The snow crashed through the mountainsides as if the earth itself split apart, and there was nothing to do but await one’s death.
I apologize for ending this letter on a somber note, but it is, admittedly, a poor tendency of mine to fester in negativity when I am physically ailing. But you are my confidant, and I believe it is best to disclose such matters rather than letting them stagnate in one’s heart.
Despite our brief time we’ve known each other, you have quickly become someone that I value greatly. That is why I’ll decline your offer to die with you. Life is quite simply too precious for something as harrowing as that. I hear you—it is idle banter, after all—but I figured I should answer you seriously, as death is something that I do not take lightly.
Personally, I don’t fear death. I’ve had much time to deliberate about it (an entire lifetime to be exact), and once I had stopped hiding from Death’s shadow, I found much more joy in life. I can say that, without a doubt, I’m truly happy to be alive right now. I hope you feel the same.
I’ve never had a doubt that you were, and still are, a human. From an outsider’s perspective, I don’t think that having mystical powers that defy reason suddenly turn a person inhuman. Rather, what makes a human is their temperament and empathy. In that sense, I know a lot of people in my world that are closer to youkai than humans themselves.
In other news, my condition is worsening again. Before, my heart would always beat to an uncomfortable rhythm, but not to an agonizing degree. Now, the palpitations afflict the body in waves of pain. I expect the nurse to pay me a short visit soon after.
Amusing, isn’t it? That we are talking about our grieving illnesses as if we were placing bets on who shall die first. I’d rather we both lose the bet and live long, carefree lives, but a lofty dream like that wouldn’t be realized.
I like this story a lot. I feel like framing the story as a series of letters being exchanged was an effective way to work with the nanowrimo conditions. I like the dynamic between Mark and Akyuu and how their chronic and terminal illnesses lets them relate to each other.
I still can't think of who this Aoi might be, as well as the identity of the nurse or of the book. I think those details will be revealed in coming updates, but I may have simply missed something.
In any case, I like the style of their writing and how they express their wit to each other in these letters. Mark and Akyuu feel like kindred spirits to me, and it feels natural that their relationship developed in this way.
I can only speculate about how the story will progress. I have a gut feeling that someone will die, but that the conclusion will be bittersweet.
Your tender reply has touched the depths of my heart. If I didn’t know any better, I might have swooned in delight. I believe that we are of the same mind—though our letters shall be but one fleeting moment of our lives, I found that you are the star that has guided me throughout this tumultuous year. Earlier, as a joke, I said that we should die together. I rescind that. Don’t die. Rather, you are not allowed to die until we’ve completed our correspondence… as indefinite a statement as that may be.
I’ve taken some time to reflect. Due to both my condition and occupation, I believe I’ve taken the idea of death too lightly. For that reason, I had little attachment to my individual life and death, as I’ve treated it as a necessary part of our spiritual ecosystem. But in this life, I’ve quickly found many a reason to continue living as “Akyuu” over my past lives. Isn’t that a wonderfully romantic thing?
But did you know? I am extremely brittle… in multiple facets of the word. There will be a day where you and I shall lose contact with each other, and it will shatter me. But know this: Were you to disappear from your world, I shall weep for you. In that respect, would you remember me fondly if I were gone? Or would you yield under the distress? I believe you’d do the former. In my eyes, you are one that moves forward, even under duress. Or, at least, that’s what I imagine. Do you think the same of yourself?
Keeping the elusive Englishman in thought, Hieda no Akyuu
I won’t make any promises that I cannot keep, but I’ll try. Would it bring a smile to your face if I told you that I’d remember you dearly as well? But let us not talk about what-ifs—we still have the present moment to consider before all else.
Nowadays, the medical staff told me to keep any recreational activity brief, as apparently even the act of being awake places a toll on my body. I think it’ll be another few weeks before I might respond to your next letter. Otherwise, I’ve been seeing the nurse quite often as of late. Perhaps she really is the harbinger of my demise—I’ve noticed that she only appears before me when I am mortally ill. But she isn’t one to hide her emotions well, or so I’ve noticed. Her piercing stare still remains on her countenance, yet the forlorn expression she holds is undisguised. Regardless, she still refuses to make idle conversation with me.
I’ll keep this letter brief—if I dawdle any longer, the staff will surely notice I am still awake and will reprimand me (again) about not resting.
In stubborn pursuit of conversation, Mark Corderoy
While it may have been letters that were originally sent to you, frankly, you hold no authority to meddle in my personal affairs. Doubly so, since you are not human. Or am I wrong? I know what you are. And I know, more or less, why you act. Do you know of a shrine in an old prefecture, abandoned in Joumine? Are you not the one that moves between the Border? Should you answer my questions and admit your fault, I may be more receptive to you. Otherwise, your words fall only on deaf ears.
To trick a human standing at the perimeter of death is a hateful thing to do… even if you yourself believe it to be an innocuous lie. If you know shame, save yourself the eternal humiliation and clear the misgivings between you and him. Before it is too late.
And do not misunderstand. He and I know very intimately how brief our time can be. I have nothing but wise words chosen between us. You, however, must come to terms with that. And, even more, you yourself should choose your own words wisely.
I write to you during the changing of the seasons. True to my word, I have survived the winter, albeit with much complaint. Spring tends to be eventful… which only means more work on my end. I know you must be tired of my grumbling about winter, but I’m sure a day will come when I’ll mention it again, so keep your tolerance.
I have conflicting feelings about the fact that you would remember me in good fondness. I believe your thoughts have become some of my own. Do you recall when we talked about literary tragedy? Now, I’m more of the opinion that tragedies bear avoidable, heavy emotion and should only be reserved for analysis as literature. I’m sure you don’t need me to explain why your words have lead me to such thoughts.
Anyway. I come writing to you bearing advice. Do not think too much about the nurse. I know that she won’t reveal anything about herself no matter how much you pursue the subject, so you should save your energy and devote yourself to recovery. I say this as both a scholar and a friend. The supernatural, ironic as it sounds, will not go anywhere. It is a constant force that you and I must be always cognizant about.
Your distinct, humanly name belies your ugly nature. Had you even a modicum of clemency, you would have responded to me initially. And do not deceive me by implying that you have not seen these exchanged letters. We both know that you still transport these letters, else they would still be in a pile on my deskside.
It has been over a month since I’ve received word from either you or my English friend, and, personally, I’ve found the wait in between to be excruciating. Tell me: Do you enjoy twisting the knife of time into the wounds of human mortality? Or is it your own sick nature to wait in ambush until the most opportune moment?
Spare me the details—I do not wish to converse with you any more than necessary. If my dear friend cannot respond, then find the heart (and dig deep, youkai) to tell me what has happened to our mutual acquaintance, Mark Corderoy.
I'm slightly confused – why is Akyuu calling the nurse/courier "Aoi"? Isn't "Aoi" supposed to someone Mark knows, who he was originally writing a letter to before it was intercepted by the courier? It seems unlikely to me that those would be the same person, as Mark doesn't seem to know the nurse on a personal level.
>>2748 It's been a hot minute, but I believe the implication is that the 'Aoi' that Mark was corresponding with is indeed the youkai. Either that, or it's assumed some other Aoi's identity, and Akyuu is just calling her that for convenience.
Hopefully, I can placate your dissatisfaction with what I have provided you here. Below you shall find my own recounting; make that of what you will.
As you may have surmised, I am not of human descent. My time with the individual that you’ve come to know as Mark Corderoy had been brief but eventful, and in that time, through no fault of his own, he found himself more attuned with the supernatural… such as his gift of interpretation, for one. I believe that the man has a strange affinity that attracts the paranormal, but that is aside the point.
I am deeply indebted to the man, Mark Corderoy, for personal reasons that I do not find comfortable sharing with you. I hope you understand. Regardless, that is the reason why I took the liberty to attempt to free the man from his disease, however futile that was. It is possible to abate the symptoms and severity, but his illness, more so a curse, wreathes a tight noose on the man’s life.
If I were able to, I would do more to remedy the issue. Alas, it is not within my jurisdiction to do so. I’ve interfered more with the Outside than I should have. I must not—I cannot—interfere any more.
I did not ask you for your own associations with Mark, and yet you find the gall to tell me your own recollections without divulging his current condition. Do you not find that cruel? And even more, you say that you must not interfere. Yet, what of the letters? Why deliver them to the Hieda estate? Was that not a cry for help when you had sent those letters? Or was that all without intent and simply an initial mistake on your part? I must say that I don’t find it believable that you would misplace anything, let alone those letters, through the Border.
I do not understand your purpose. I’ve thought about the matter for many days to try and figure out why you would send me these letters. Perhaps you found our situations and dispositions to be similar and had subsequently expected empathy from the Hieda heiress. I don’t believe I would offer any more help than the elusive ‘Aoi.’ Or did you expect us to find some miraculous cure to a disease that even the supernatural cannot fix? The notion alone makes me laugh.
You are lucky that I have found the grace within my heart to entertain you for this long. But, from the perspective of an individual who has already reincarnated once before, how long shall you forcibly keep the man from treading through Death’s door? It seems that, by keeping him threaded to life, you are merely prolonging his suffering. Or can you definitively say that you are helping the man and are saving him from a worse fate? Perhaps Mark is not in a state to converse with you anymore. But should he have the strength to, then tell him what you’ve done and let him choose his own life, rather than living, if only barely, under providence.
Persuade me that you are not as foul of a person that I make you out to be, youkai.
This is the third, undelivered letter that has been placed at the corner of my desk. I’ve half a mind to scatter them into the fireplace—they were, after all, only addressed to you—but our correspondence has yet to be settled.
I am no stranger to having the little joys of my life wrested away from me. But the least you can tender is closure, and I’ll be direct: What has become of Mark Corderoy? My own bitterness aside, the time that we—that is, the humans—have is decidedly limited, and I’d rather Mark and I both not waste away without knowing what has happened to each other.
You said you shall not interfere with the Outside anymore. Yet, I know of worse offenders who dared to meddle with the outer world and suffered no consequence. Is that not unfair? I direct that to both you and myself. Frustrated as I am, I implore you to break your silence. Why should you care about the balance between the Border? Do you really believe that your sudden refusal to ferry these letters will change anything?
Awaiting a reply instead of cold silence, Hieda no Akyuu
This shall be the last correspondence between us, but do know that I am not here to antagonize you—I hope that you can extend the same courtesy towards me.
Mark Corderoy lives and is in stable condition. He has been through much struggle and torment… and despite all that he has endured, he still doggedly wishes to live past his early expectancy. Admirable as the man’s tenacity is, it simply is not enough to survive by desperation alone. After much failure, I was able to grant his wish, though the means necessary were not ideal—for many reasons I shall not (and will never) disclose. One day, the knowledge of such means shall inevitably seep back into the Border, but I pray that day does not come soon.
Do not bother to write any further letters. I shall no longer move them across the Border. This is not out of any ill will (and I would appreciate it if you were to think of me more kindly), but rather, you shall not find me here nor there, so I will not be able to read, deliver, nor respond henceforth.
Hmm. The only Joumine I can find is 城峯山, which is a smallish mountain in Chichibu; and the only things of note about it seem to be a story about one of Taira no Masakado's literally-who brothers being killed there and a shrine of the same name dedicated to that fact. Certainly nothing about any kirin, or anything to suggest any relevance to a lurking Yakumo of intermediate wavelength.
As long as we're talking about geography, though, it's interesting that Akyuu's address, mentioned early on, is in the vicinity of Hakuba. That would put it somewhere in the Hida mountain range—rather than the Yatsugatake range, which seems to be the conventional wisdom (on THP at least) for the "real" location of Youkai Mountain, and therefore Gensokyo as a whole.
The Hida range does include the Tsurugi peak, though, which has a nice anecdote about it: >In 1907, Yoshitaro Shibasaki and others succeeded in climbing Mount Tsurugi, which is said to be the last unexplored peak in Japan and the most difficult to climb. On this occasion, they found the ornaments of a metal shugenja's cane and the sword on the top of the mountain, and a scientific investigation later confirmed that the ornaments of the cane and the sword were from the late Nara period to the early Heian period. It turned out that Mount Tsurugi had already been climbed by shugenja more than 1000 years ago. Really would make it a good candidate for a mountain full of tengu. Just doesn't quite gel with the info in Mokou's CiLR chapter about it being Yatsugatake from back before it became, well, Yatsugatake. (The whole range also has the absolutely horrible name of the "Japanese Alps". Blech.)
>>2782 There's a tiny Joumine Shrine in Hakuba. It's kind of the physical model for the Hakurei Shrine. Can't remember much else about it since it's been ages since I looked into it, but I don't recall there being much else relevant beyond that. It's pretty much just a little shit-shack out in the middle of nowhere.
Though you are unaware, as it is now certain that you have not read this correspondence and the ones preceding it, many a stack of letters have now piled up on the usual tableside. Since our last discussion, I’ve come to terms with my own emotions; it should come to no surprise to you that I still find your actions disagreeable, though the indignation, frustration, and despair I’ve found myself in does nothing to change your will. Time, however, cools the mind, and what was once heated anger has now simmered to passive longing. Not for you, of course, but for the letters that you had once brought across the Border.
If I may be honest, I am wholly indifferent to your struggles to find your “means” (whatever that may have been), but ultimately, I do thank you for allowing our dear Mark to withstand the frailty of mortality… not that you will ever know that I expressed, or am capable of, such kindness towards a being like you—possibly one day, you will stumble across this letter long-after I have written this, and you will laugh wistfully at the notion. And, in the event that I am still alive by then, I’d laugh viciously back at you at your own expense.
Since many correspondences ago, I’ve thought about a world where you delivered one, final letter from Mark before you consciously disappeared from our Gensokyo. Would it be unimaginable to you that I would say that it was, in the end, merciful that you didn’t?
Just knowing that such a letter exists but being unable to respond would constantly eat away at my being. Knowing myself, I would tuck it away quietly in a drawer without even reading it. But the temptation would prove too great, and I’d inevitably open the letter. Maybe not the week of, or even the month of, receiving it, but it would happen. Even worse, I’d know that, if I did read it, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from writing a response regardless. In fact, this is an experience very intimate to me: I am writing to you now, after all. But that thought would infest my mind until it devoured the rest of my patience.
Despite Hieda no Akyuu’s self-proclaimed prophecy to die an early death, her life was surprisingly long and prosperous. Never did she expect to see many—and many more after—passing of the seasons. Even her biting hatred of winter quieted to a numb dislike. She ascribed it to a rare temperance of age—one that her soul did not expect to meet. That was not to say that she was the embodiment of perfect condition: No, she still toiled away at life, struggling to meet the basic standards of an able-bodied human. Yet she was still alive, and very much so.
There were many moments when she propped up a resting hand to her chin, staring off absentmindedly past her lonely windowsill. She had pretended not to hear the low whispers from those at the estate, whispering about how ‘her long life was making her restless.’ They were foolish words from those who hadn’t yet experienced death. Had they no shame, making assumptions of a woman who was, at least in this life, not yet forty? Those thoughts passed through her and eventually drifted off as forgotten remnants of her memory. She had no mind for the unimportant details.
But what were the important details, then? What would she record unto the historied texts of Gensokyo when there was nothing left to impart? The days became idle ones, and her records of history grew more biased, more interpersonal, until the recounts of years became addressals… almost like a diary.
Or a letter.
And she had forgotten. About those letters that had once gripped her attention more than any literature she had read thus far. And about her own that had once piled up at the corner of her desk. There were more than a hundred of them, a stack large enough to warrant its own paperweight… before they were inevitably swept away by her unorganized self into a cabinet that she never used anymore, wasting away at the bottom of an arbitrary drawer. Then why was she so vividly aware of all these details? It was because those details were important to her; no, she hadn’t forgotten. She had never forgotten.
But, like the last wickers of a lone flame, those details were burned bright into her mind until they were nothing but ash, swept away with the wind. That was why, through much self-inflicted distress, she hid those letters in the drawer. And that was why, even after years had passed, she never opened the cabinet to those letters. She hadn’t the heart to, else a wave of unexpected, sickening emotions would wash over her. The Child of Miare had lost other precious memorabilia, from either this life or the ones before it, to the sands of time. This one, however, was one that she would deliberately lose to the depths of her memory.
Or so she had thought.
On a wintry dawn, when a feverish spell had assailed Hieda no Akyuu, she, in cold sweat, walked through her tatami-matted hallway and into the Western-oriented office space, opening that fated drawer. In the letters’ place was emptiness, and she could not comprehend the sight. Immediately, she called for a servant, asking whether or not they could have been moved someplace else.
“No,” the servant meekly replied, shaking her floor-facing head in shame. “We dare not touch what is kept safe in this office. We know that Milady keeps all of her important documents here, so in fear of mishandling them, we don’t move or clean anything without your privy.”
“And you are certain that no one, or nothing, could have came into this office without my knowledge?”
“Yes,” she nodded.
“I see,” Hieda no Akyuu said blankly. “Very well, you may go now.”
The servant did not know what she had expected. Not that she was preparing for her lady to suddenly veer to violent tendencies—she knew that the Hieda heiress held a kinder soul and heart than most—but her lady’s distinct lack of expression puzzled her. Yet, she knew, as with most things in the estate, that she should not think much further of it and instead moved on with her life.
And such was the end of the incident.
But unbeknownst to the servant, on that day, Hieda no Akyuu found a sliver of hope and clung to it wildly. There was but one intruder that never made its presence known. Even the Youkai of Boundaries would announce herself, though she scarcely needed to. Unless she was experiencing her first bout of mania in her many lives, Akyuu was sure that it took them.
And that, in turn, implied a response. Perhaps not from the intruder in question, but…
The lady could only dream.
Her hopes were answered. Not on that day, nor that week, but in the month following, there it was: a hastily-wrapped package at the top right of her desk. She had always made it a habit to place the letters that she sent in the top left corner and subsequently made enough space to receive letters at her top-right. In meticulous fashion, both she and the courier would reserve those spaces for themselves.
The package itself was larger than the allotted space that Hieda no Akyuu had provided, so it spilled over the top of other documents. It was a strange but welcome sight to the woman. She sliced at it eagerly with a ceremonial knife, one far too ornate for a parcel thrown together with nothing but wrapping and string. Finally, the lady inspected its contents. There was no letter, no words to be had, but instead, there was an unwieldy canvas, thick in its weight. For anyone else, they could have easily lifted it with one hand, but for the lady, it required two.
She stood the canvas upright and inspected the painting. It was, to summarize, sloppy. The painting was two-toned in color, featuring predominantly gray with splotches of white. At first glance, she thought of it as much art as she would the paint on the walls. Close up, the lady could not make sense of the canvas, so she set it down, gently, letting it rest on the wall, and sat down at her chair, leaning back slightly on a plush cushion. There it sat for the next two months.
It was unlike her to keep herself silent, especially when it involved matters regarding the Kirin and the Englishman, but she was at an unfamiliar impasse—it had been long, far too long, for her to even say anything of relevance to both her correspondents, and the one package she had received served only to confuse her even more. What was the painting, if you can even call it that? she thought.
She would find an answer shortly after. On a nondescript day of the end of the second month, she understood. Every day since then, she had looked at the painting, observing it in close scrutiny. At times, she stared so closely at it that she could see loose fiber unwinding from the canvas, and at other times, she stared at it from an arm’s length away while resting in her office chair. But it was only when she was looking at it lazily from the doorway, due to talking to a servant in the hallway, that she realized what she had been looking at.
And there, she finally saw it, an image that she could not see when looking at it from a breath’s distance: It was a white bird, formed by the sum of its parts and colors, the outlines of the gray—no, grey—skies that bordered the clouds in-between. It was faint, hidden beneath the smudges of two-toned, dried watercolor, but it was definitely there. And it spread its wings proudly, forming a distinct silhouette that no cloud could emulate.
It was no portrait of hers, but it was beautiful—perhaps not in the kind of beauty that can be defined by traditional art, but in sentiment. And in that sense, it also portrayed an odd finality—one that could not be described in words by a certain Englishman.
Still, she could not help herself. Because, to her, it mattered not whether she’d receive another reply. She picked up a pen and started with a response:
Well, congratulations on finishing the story Mask and everyone else. It was a very unique story to be fair and I didn't initially know what it would lead to, but the resolution was definitely great.
A stone stairway can't be built in a matter of seconds, minutes, or even hours. It takes time to bring a stone slab, place it, and cement it in its place. But once you are done, you can look back at the top of stairs and see how high you've come.