The Little Fox hid inside a bush, his eyes combing the area and his ears perking up, so nothing could surprise him. His mother has warned him that he must not leave the den, for humans are now hunting nearby. The child, however, born in the dark winter, wanted to see what the world was truly like underneath the blanket of snow. It was a glorious sight to behold; the once barren trees were now covered in luscious green. Other forms of plants have now emerged from their slumber, rising out of the melting snow. Birds that left due to winter now return with rallying chirps, seeing their old home once again. These sights lull The Little Fox into a sense of assurance that nothing could ruin such a beautiful view. In the distance, he could hear his mother calling for him, wondering where he had gone, but he did not answer back, for he wanted to have a closer view of nature. He steps out of the bush in excitement, wanting to play under the sunlight, trying to catch the birds flying above him. He was having so much fun that he could even hear a sharp whistle that was getting louder and louder as if the wind itself was playing a song. The end of the music was a meaty thunk.
A bloody sight broke the poor soul, a piece of her gone forever. Red was the only color seen, and a shrill scream was the only sound heard. An untouched corpse, long dead, with the only blemish being the damned arrow. Thirsting for death, but nothing more. A predator only in action, but not in spirit! An oath of vengeance was taken; eternal wrath and lunacy for the one who swore in, and eternal torment for the Hunter and all those connected to it, regardless of logic. There was no logic for the victim, and as such, no logic for the killer. Only retribution.
Present Day, Gensokyo
Katansei growls, the cold air making his breath white from the sight before him. He shot an arrow at the fox he was hunting, but a finch flew in between and got skewered along the way. The young hunter knew he didn't have time to waste being angry as there could be danger nearby. Walking over to his kill, he can see the white fox's blood coloring the snow and the finch's blood coloring the fox's white fur. He kneels and puts his arm between the string and the hama yumi so it can rest on his shoulder. Then he grabs the arrow while he pushes the body down with his other hand.
"On the bright side, mom will be happy to see this... " he grunts as he removes the arrow from the fox and slides the poor finch out of it.
"I didn't plan to kill you, and I'm sorry for it. I'll make sure that you won't go to waste. " He tells the finch before looking down at the fox.
"And to you, my prey, I am sorry too. Through your death, my life will continue. " He says placing the bloody arrow in his quiver
The young hunter looks around the snow-covered forest, making sure that no predator, or worse, a yokai, can surprise him. Nothing seems out of the ordinary, but this doesn't make him feel safe, as it means there is either no threat or one that he can't see. He looks back down at his kill, unsure of what to do. His original plan was to return to the village where it's safe and then give thanks to the mountain gods for the food, but the second kill is throwing him off.
'If I don't give thanks now, would the gods see me as being ungrateful? I don't see anything dangerous, so maybe it's okay to recite a short prayer... '
 Pray for their safe journey to heaven.
 Hold off for the time being; there may be danger nearby.
Katansei places the finch on the fox and sits on both his legs. Then he slides his hama yumi from his arm and sets it on his lap, holding it with a firm grip. The young hunter closes his eyes and empties his mind so he can focus on the nature around him. The cold wind blew, pushing the branches of trees to bristle, sending lumps of snow to the ground with a soft thunk. With his mind and body lax, Katansei speaks in an old language, passed down through generations on his father's side. A language that should only be used when communicating with the gods of the mountain. For the gods who have taken the forms of the finch and fox, Katansei wishes them a safe journey back to their divine ancestors. He gives his thanks and farewells before a moment of silence. In that moment of zen, the young hunter feels something cold and sharp pressing on the right side of his neck.
"You're a foolhardy boy, yah know? Not only trespassing but also hunting in a yamanba's terf. " He hears a woman's voice from behind him, her tone as clear as day hostile. "Shame that you didn't look at the trees closer; you would've seen me coming." She says, her blade pressing deeper, he could almost hear her grin.
Katansei opens his eyes and focuses all his attention on the two animal corpses in front of him. "Forgive my rudeness, mam. I didn't know this was your land." He says
The yamanba scoffs, sliding her large butcher knife as it cuts into his first layer of skin. "Didn't know? How yah missed all my warning signs then? Do you think trees look naturally cut up? " The young man can feel a bit of blood leaking out.
"Once I track my target, everything else becomes a haze." His eyes flick up to the giant knife touching his neck before looking back down. "What do you think of this, mam? If you let me go, I'll tell everyone in the village about the scary yamanba who wants no one near her home or else they'll be served for dinner. " He feels the pressure of the giant knife lessens; it is no longer cutting into his skin.
Katansei hears the sound of snow crunching behind him and the butcher knife grazing his neck, but only cutting through his hoodie. "Oh, that does sound nice, but chopping you up and sending your pieces back can do more." She stops in front of him with her giant butcher knife on the opposite side of his neck; his hoodie falls off him, revealing his black hair bundled up into a ball on the back of his head.
She has diamond-shaped holes on the rim of her dress. The dress itself is no doubt home-made; it looks like she found three rags and decided to stitch them together. Detachable sleeves with more diamond-shaped holes and, to top it off, bare feet. It's like she's mocking him for his frail human body with just her clothing alone.
Sweat underneath his winter clothing begins to form. "If you spare my life and let me keep my kills, I can do so much more." The woman hums, tilting her blade and pressing up against his neck instead of the side.
"There's an animal you want to eat, but it doesn't live around here. I can hunt it. There was someone who disrespected you and got away. I can track them. " The young hunter notices that the blade is no longer pressing against his skin but is hovering near it. He stops and looks up at her red eyes, a mix of curiosity and amusement on her face.
He could feel his face heating up. "And if you want to, I can also warm your bed!" Katansei says with as much seriousness as he can muster in his voice.
Her eyes widen. "Pardon me?" She asks
He slowly raises his hands in the air and stands up, letting his hama yumi fall from his lap, his confidence surging as she lets her giant butcher knife rest on her shoulder. "No matter how shameful it is, if it means I live and eat another day, I'll do anything. " He says
Both human and yokai were similar in height, but Katansei knew he was still at her mercy. She walks around, inspecting him head to toe as he stays still. Looking down at his kill, he could feel his empty stomach growling. A sudden cackle burst from behind him, making him jump in surprise.
"Keeheehee! So you're serious, huh, boy? " Katansei turns around to see the woman planting her knife on the ground, leaning on it. "Is your village in famine or something? I can't imagine anyone saying that with a straight face! " Her laughter echoes through the forest.
The young hunter scratches his chin. "In a way, let's just say me and my mom aren't the most popular folks." He says
The yamanba begins calming down, wiping a tear from her eye. "Tell yah what, boy, that laugh put me in a good mood, so I'm giving you two options." She says as the wind blows her long white hair,
"You can leave here without any more scratches, but I'll be keeping those." She points at the two dead animals.
"What about option two?" He asks
She grins, "The second option is a deal. If you give me all your hair that passes along your neck, you'll get to keep your kills and still leave here in one piece. "
Katansei couldn't help but ask, "And what exactly do you need my hair for?"
The yokai dismissively waves her hand, "I never leave my terf, so I'm going to need some way to call yah to do me a favor." She says
"Only one favor, yeah?" Narrowing his eyes in anticipation
She nods, "One favor."
Any human would know that giving a yokai anything that belongs to their body is a terrible idea, but the hunger in Katansei is making him desperate enough to consider it, and he knows for damn sure that his mom is hungry too. He looks up the sky and sees the sun starting to set.
'By the time I find something to hunt, it could already be dark before I return to the village...'
As Katansei reaches for his bundle of hair, bitter thoughts flood his mind. How would mom feel about this? She would be in distress, but perhaps there is a way where she doesn't need to worry about his safety. What about the villagers? What about those idiots? There's no doubt in Katansei's mind that those paranoid hicks will see this as proof that he's conspiring with the yokai. No matter how much effort he puts in, they will never trust him thanks to circumstances beyond his control. They talk big about being united as one, but gods help you if you are different in some way! His elders see him as a younger, but worse version of his father. Girls who are uglier than sin accuse him whenever they feel that they're being watched. Getting into confrontations with other boys who would lose in a fistfight against a fairy because they want the bragging rights of beating him. The children he can excuse as his mom admits that his face resembles an oni when he's angry. Hypocrites the most of them. Even wearing that stupid cloth around his eyes, they don't have the decency to trust-
He hears the yamanba clearing her throat out loud, bringing him back to his current situation. With his face now flushing red, Katansei pulls the hairband off; his straight hair falling past his neck and stopping near his tail bone, long enough that he could use it as a cheaper version of a scarf if he needed to. He turns around while pulling out a knife from his belt holster, holding the blade end so the yamanba can grab the handle. The woman hums at the sight of his hair, walking up to him, and runs her fingers through it, surprised at how it feels like she's touching silk; the polar opposite of her unkempt, fluffy white hair.
"Color me impress, were yah a noble in your last life?" She asks nonchalantly.
The young hunter shrugs, "Does it matter who I was before?" He says extending further behind him so she could grab his knife.
She looks at the blade for a second. "Oh, to cut yah hair, right?" She says, as she grabs the knife from his hand but then tosses it aside, "No worries, I got my own!"
Before Katansei could react, the yokai grabs a fistful of his hair and yanks it back, jerking his head down. He tries to run forward, but her overwhelming yokai strength made it impossible for him to escape. He hears the sound of her giant butcher knife cutting through the air at a high pitch. He closes his eyes shut and screams, his life flashing by him before the grip on his hair disappears. His body twitches on the ground as he continues screaming until his throat wears out and he goes into heavy breathing... A moment of silence breaks into a burst of hysterical laughter coming from the yamanba that confuses the boy, wondering why he can still hear. Katansei opens his eyes and flips around. He clasps his throat, unsure if his head is still attached to the rest of his body. He looks down to see nothing is missing, but he couldn't help but pat around his body to make sure it's real.
"I-I wished I saw how yah face looked, boy! That ought to be the greatest yell I've ever heard in a long tim-Keeheehee!" She begins cackling again, unable to calm herself down.
Katansei stares with a slack jaw, knitting his eyebrows as he catches his breath, still clutching his throat, afraid that if he lets go, his head would fall off. He could see in her left hand that she isn't holding her knife with, a lock of his hair. The yokai keeps laughing as he slowly stands up, brushing snow off himself in absolute silence. She grabs her stomach and keels over, trying to calm herself down. The young hunter couldn't deny the idea of picking up his bow and shooting her didn't cross his mind, but he knew it would be ineffective at best and fatal at worst. Katansei inhales through his nose before exhaling with his mouth to calm himself.
"A warning would have been nice, lady." He says with no hint of emotion.
Her laughter finally dies down and she begins to speak. "How could I call myself a yokai and pass up such a golden oppertunity~?"
"...When will I have to return the favor?"
"Don't know," She shrugs "it be funny if it's at the worst time."
He scoffs at her blatant antagonizing, "I want to make something clear about it." He says, the polite tone he uses for the elders gone, switching to a colder, more business-like tone. "I know I said I'm willing to do anything, but if you ask me something that harms my village as a whole, I'm going to reject it. " He says it with finality.
"As a whole, huh?" A smirk paints her face. "Interesting, but like I said, who knows what'll be? All you need to worry about right now is when. " She says, as her feet leave the ground, "Before I go, the name is Nemuno Sakata. What's yours, boy? "
He looks up at the floating woman. "Douro Katansei, I'll be waiting eagerly." He says
With a sharp exhale through the nose and a wicked smile, Nemuno flies deeper into the dark forest and disappears from his sight. Katansei didn't stand around for long; he picks up his knife and ruined hoodie and his hama yumi from the ground. Sheathing the knife back, he stuffs the hoodie inside the collar of his coat so it covers the small wound on his neck. He holds the leg of the fox with the same hand that holds the bow and his other hand holds the finch, plucking at the strings to ward off any yokai from coming near him.
'Gods, how'll I tell mom what happened here?' He thinks, looking up in the sky at the sun setting, 'Better let her know I'm coming back home.'
The orange sky above Katansei turns into a dull grey. Leaves on the trees fades into a haze and the blowing wind deafens by silence. The only thing the young hunter can see with clarity is his mother in the distance. He can see her breaking her back at home, sewing a ripped bag he used to keep his kills in. Her fingers are cut from what he assumes was her needle. He can hear her praying under her breath and her heartbeat going faster than Katansei is comfortable with. She looks up from her work and smiles in relief; she could feel the familiar presence of her son watching her. He smiles as he hears her heartbeat going at a calmer rate before closing his eyes. The world around him turns back to normal and Katansei starts his walk back home.
Thanks to his hama yumi, the walk back home isn't difficult. What his true concern is whether he should tell his mom what happened while he was hunting. He knows that if he tells her about his encounter with Nemuno, she'll be in a constant state of worry when the yokai asks for the favor.
'I could say I was ambushed by a wild animal. She doesn't need to know it was actually from a yokai, right?' He thinks to himself, 'Yeah, I can go to the clinic at Eintei for a check-up. They'll find nothing wrong with my body and I can tell her the good news. Just a small health scare and nothing more... '
'Hell, I can even say I encountered a yokai and got away; I just don't have to mention the deal I made. '
While he tells himself that it is a good idea, he knows deep down how flawed it is. He knows that if his mom finds out in any way, she'll not only be scared for his life, but she'll also be ashamed of herself for failing to help him in such a dangerous situation. Katansei clicks his tongue in frustration.
Pacing back and forward, Katansei rehearses the lines in his head before entering the village. Feeling somewhat confident with his story, the young hunter puts the dead finch on the ground and digs out of his pocket an old black cloth with small holes littered over it. The white symbols that decorate it were made by the previous shrine maiden. Over time, the magic within it has weakened. Soon he'll need to get a new one or else his 'fellow' humans will get nervous. Katansei wraps the blindfold around his eyes before picking up the finch and heading home, using his hama yumi as his walking stick.
Darkness was all he could see. An image he has seen far more than his village. The voice of the other humans passing by him, a familiar hushed tone, wondering who he was stalking while he was in the forest. He paid them no mind, though, as he was more concerned about people confronting him about it or his missing hair. If he could have it his way, no one would be close enough to touch him. Perhaps because of the winter season, Katansei's mind wonders in bleak thoughts. Could he call this place his home? Making himself go blind for the sake of peace. He relied so long on his other senses that he would feel lost in the village if he took off the blindfold. The only time he could see was inside his home or outside, where no one could see him. He couldn't call this place home. To Katansei, home was a place where he felt at ease.
The smell of lavender interrupts his thoughts, pushing his bitterness to the back of his mind. Lavender was his father's favorite scent, and Katansei's as it brought back cherished memories. His mother left the burning incense out, making it easier for him to find his way home. Katansei glides his finger across the door frame and grabs the edge to slide it open. He walks into his house and shuts the door. It isn't much, as there were only three rooms. One room to cook and eat in, and the other two were bedrooms for him and his mother.
He takes off his blindfold and smiles, "Mom, I'm home!" He calls out.
His mother, Shiage Douro, walks out of her room in her flower petal hatan. "Oh, Kata! I'm so glad you're okay!" She hugs him as tightly as she can with a gleeful smile. "I was worried when you didn't come back."
Katansei hugs her back, resting his chin on the top of her greying hair, and smiles, "Yeah, it took longer than I expected; sorry for scaring you like that."
"As long as you're okay, everything is fine." She says, rubbing his back.
His smile falters. "About that mom..." He lets go of her, and as she lets go too, he steps back and looks over his shoulder to show his ruined hair.
Shiage's wrinkled eyes widened to the size of a dish, "W-What happened, Kata!? Are you hurt anywhere?" She asks.
He pulls out the hoodie around his collar to show a small red mark on his neck. "I accidentally stepped into a yamanba's territory and was caught." He hears a gasp from his mom.
She narrows her eyes to get a closer look at the wound, and to her relief, it's a small wound that should take a day or two to disappear. "I see... I'm grateful that you're alright, Kata, but how did you escape?" She asks
"Some lady appeared and saved me. I couldn't tell what she looked like though because of her cloak." He says, with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
Shiage gently rubs her son's face with her thumb. "That's a shame to hear. I would have loved to make her something comfortable for the winter." She says, "Did you get her name at least?"
"Everything happened so fast that I didn't even think of asking her." He says
"Oh well, at least you're okay." She says
Katansei nods, "Yeah. Before I forget, though," He shows off his two kills, "Look what I got while hunting!"
His mother smiles from ear to ear, "This is wonderful!" She says, "It's so big too. No wonder it took you so long to get it." She comments, seeing that the dead fox from the tip of its mouth to its tail is long enough to reach her shoulder.
"I had to tire him out before I could get a sure shot. Speaking of shots, I got this before the arrow hit the fox." He shows the dead finch in his hand.
"Amazing, Kata! The mountain gods must have been in a generous mood today." She says it wholeheartedly.
Katansei forces a smile on his face. "Indeed, will we have fox stew for dinner?" He asks
Shiage stares at him for a moment before answering, "Absolutely, but before we skin them, I forgot that we ran out of spices. You can stay and rest, Kata. I'll be back soon." She says, reaching for the front door.
"If it's okay, mom, I want to walk with you for a bit." He admits, "I have too much energy to stay inside."
His mother nods with empathy and waits for Katansei to put his kills in the storage box. As they both go out, Katansei puts on his blindfold again and holds his mother's arm with his other hand, holding his hama yumi. They walk at a casual pace, going back and forth with plans for the future, ignoring the leering eyes around them.
"I didn't want to tell you this, mom, but killing that finch made me angry," Katansei admits he tried to explain more, but he couldn't find the word.
"Say what you're feeling." She grabs his hand to comfort him.
He shrugs. "It felt unfair, I guess. I was only planning to kill the fox. It sounds silly, but it was frustrating to see that happen." He says
Shiage looks up to him. "It may sound silly to you, but it's what makes you, you, Kata."
"Is that a bad thing?" He asks
"Do you remember when I was ill? We had to go to Eintei so I could recover." She recalls
He nods, "Yeah, I think it was the first time I went there with you."
"I remember your reaction." She says, "You were so angry, demanding to know who made me sick." A slight chuckle escapes her lips. "Screaming how I didn't deserve it and how you tried to use your power to track down who did it."
"I'll never forget those people who helped us. I have got to find a way to show them my thanks, but they probably don't remember us." He comments
Shiage shakes her head. "That's beside the point. What happened then and now showed me that you despise misfortune with a passion." She says it with certainty.
Katansei frowns, "That still doesn't answer my question."
"It'll depend on the misfortune, but I hope you keep yourself calm when it does happen."
They made it to the small shop across the street. Fortunately for them, the sellers didn't mind having Katansei's mom enter, but he knew it would be easier for everyone if he stayed outside.
"Will you be fine by yourself, Kata?" His mother asks.
He nods, "I will."
As Katansei stands by with his back against the wall, he listens carefully to any noises near him. With the blindfold on, the villagers tend to ignore him, but there's always an exception. Like now, he can feel someone staring him down. Katansei pretends he didn't notice whoever was watching him and continues listening for footsteps that were closer to him than the entrance of the shop. He can hear people whispering to themselves, causing him to sigh, predicting what the new rumors will be about.
"Excuse me, young man." A woman's voice calls out. Her tone sounded steady, but he couldn't help but feel that there was anticipation behind it.
He turns his head in the direction of the voice but didn't respond in case she was talking to someone else. Her voice has an elegance to it. Maybe she's of royalty.
The woman's footsteps came closer to him. "My apology. I should have been specific there." Her voice is closer now, assuring Katansei that she's referring to him.
"Apology accepted mam, it's not often someone comes to talk to me in a friendly matter." He smiles, "Is there something you need?"
After a moment of silence, it seems that the woman was caught off guard. "Ah yes," she pauses, "If it's alright, could you take that blindfold off?"
Katansei's eyebrows raise, his mouth slightly open, but no voice comes out. Is this woman an outsider? Maybe, but shouldn't she be asking where in the world she is? What about a yokai? That can't be right either. Why would she go out of her way to speak to him? Is this some sort of prank or a scheme to get him kicked out of the village? What if...
"It seems I asked more than I thought. Please forgive me for being insensitive." She says, and he can hear the embarrassment in her voice.
The thought that someone is willing to give him a chance compels Katansei to speak, "No!" He says, perhaps with too much energy, "Sorry, I mean it's fine. Just give me a moment."
He loosens the knot and pulls his blindfold down. The moment their eyes interlock, it elicits a strange feeling inside of Katansei. This silent tidal wave of emotions wailed in his head just from looking at the woman's vacant red eyes. While he tries to calm himself down, the woman continues observing him with a stoic expression. It churns in his head. This specific feeling that has waited for years is now clawing its way to the front of his mind, rushing to inform him of something crucial.
A one-note memory resurfaces. It was his first time hunting with his father, he taught him how to track a fox. Examining the track the animal left behind, Katansei looked over to his father for help. Confused, he saw his father with a look of calm fury on his face. The older man acted as a hunter in his actions, but not in spirit. He was more of a man seeking something else. The steady breathing, eyes unblinking, and his body too tense over something as small as a fox that they were only killing for food. Then it clicks in his mind that his own body's behavior is the same as his father's from that memory.
He still couldn't place a name on this emotion, and he's not sure why it's happening now. He spots moving gray blurs around the woman, and notices that he's using his ability on her. He unconsciously studies every small action she's taking, such as her body shifting under her black dress and tabard depicting a 9-tail fox. How her left-hand twitches more than her right by a fraction of a second. Looking at her face, he can feel her stoic demeanor hiding something, waiting to show itself when the time is right. Katansei knew she wasn't human because he couldn't hear a beating heart, but he wouldn't dare call her a yokai yet. Gensokyo doesn't only house yokai and humans, but other types of creatures too. He couldn't risk making any conclusion so soon; it would be a recipe for disaster. What he can conclude, though, is that the woman is aware of his sudden change of behavior after removing the blindfold and turning off his power, so he doesn't look like a weirdo leering at her. He notices the people giving him looks, but he elects to ignore them as he is still admiring the novelty of having a friendly conversation.
Seeing that he calmed down, the woman spoke "You remind me of someone a long time ago."
A tinge of disappointment touches his heart. "Ah, maybe you met with a distant ancestor of mine." he shrugs.
"Perhaps." She gives a short bow, "My name is Junko."
The young hunter did not respond, however, as he was waiting for her last name. Junko tilts her head slightly, confused as to why Katansei wasn't greeting himself. An awkward silence looms over them, both sides waiting for the other to speak.
"Did I say something to offend you, young man?" She asks
Katansei wasn't sure how to ask for her last name, so he decides to follow her beat. "No, I was just confused." He bows back, "My name is Douro. It's nice to meet you, Junko."
She smiles "Likewise Douro," The woman gaze at his hama yumi, "Are you a hunter by any chance?"
His eyes brighten, someone to talk to at last, "Yes! I go out by myself to get food for me and my mom."
For a brief moment, Katansei thought he saw something change in Junko's vacant eyes. "You live with your mother?" She says, looking back at the boy, "And your father?"
For a second, Junko saw the sadness in his eyes as he looks away. "...He left Gensokyo," She sees him staring at his bow, "I haven't heard from him since."
"The separation of loved ones is never painless, even if they are still alive." He looks back at her, a look of surprise on his face. "You have my condolences, Douro."
Katansei's throat hitches, and to his embarrassment, he can feel his eyes watering. The young man tries to get the words out, but only a shaky breath leaves his mouth. He tries again and fails again this time, he lets out a shallow chuckle. He quickly rubs the water away with his thumb, attempting to regain composure. Despite the vacant look in her eyes, he believes he can see that look of understanding in her.
"Sorry." He sniffs, "That... that means a lot to me."
Junko shakes her head. "No need to feel guilty, Douro. I'll wait until you're ready to continue." She says
He smiles as his eyes stop watering. "I-I'm fine now. I was just taken by surprise. That's all." He clears his throat.
She smiles back. "I would like to apologize as I derailed the conversation after hearing about your family." She bows
"No offense taken, Junko, promise." He waves his hand. "What was it you wanted to ask?"
She straightens back up. "I was curious about how you feel when you use that bow of yours." She says, anticipation fluttering in her voice as if she is close to finding something out.
The unknown feeling from before rumbles in his mind again, low enough to alarm Katansei instead of freezing him in place. He would love nothing more to answer her, but he knew that Junko was trying to find something else. While he does see her in a positive light, she is still not a human at the end of the day, and he doesn't know her true intentions. Or maybe that's just an excuse so he can ask questions and learn more about her.
>An oath of vengeance was taken; eternal wrath and lunacy for the one who swore in, and eternal torment for the Hunter and all those connected to it, regardless of logic. And now Junko appears? I’m getting a creeping feeling of danger.
"I'll be blunt with you, Junko." Katansei says, "Why are you interested in my thoughts?"
Her expression remains neutral. "Simple curiosity, you look so similar to that person. I wanted to see how far you two match." She replies,
"You two must have been pretty close if you're going out of your way to talk to me." He smiles.
A spark of hellfire emits life within her once-vacant eyes. Emotions are its fuel, and memories are the bucket that carries it. It did not matter what those emotions were nor the significance they had in her life. They were all used to keep the karmic ember alive. It did not last for even a mere second; the happy memories were precious and few to come by; not worth using it. The sad memories evaporated long ago, and her surroundings have produced little to none so far. Her wrath was not the same as when she was born and decides against wasting it. With so little fuel to get by, the flames went as fast as they came, leaving only emptiness in the aftermath.
"Could you define "close" to me?" She asks, "I want to be sure I understand what you're asking."
Katansei grimaced, kicking himself for making such an assumption without asking what their relationship was like. "Uh, close as in..." He hesitates, trying to pick the right words: "How often you've seen each other?" A nervous smile spreads across his face.
She smiles his question now clear to her. "Ah," the young hunter exhales a sigh of relief, "I've only talked to him once if memory serves."
He cringes inside. 'You done it now, Kata. All you had to do was act semi-competent, but you couldn't even get that right!' His thoughts begin a downward spiral: 'You can offer sex to a yokai of all things, but not even the mountain gods could help you survive a normal conversation.' He couldn't look at Junko's face anymore, so he looks behind her, only to see the judgmental stares from some of his fellow villagers. 'Great, now everyone is going to get on my case about this. They probably think I gave my hair to Junko as a scheme to get back at them. Well, maybe if you guys were nice to me, you wouldn't have to worry about it!'
Before Katansei realizes it, Junko closes the distance between them, forcing him to look at her instead. He didn't take note of it before, but now that she's much closer, it's clear that Junko is a head taller than him. She stares down at him with her red eyes. His sudden silence concerns her.
"Do I make you nervous, Douro?" She asks
He scratches his chin. "A little," his eyes widen "I mean, I'm not worried about you! I'm more nervous about..." Katansei stops as Junko puts her hands on his shoulder.
She begins rubbing his shoulders up and down, all with a serious look on her face. Katansei's frazzled-out mind recovers to a stable, but utterly confused state from the action. It's an odd sight for everyone involved, as they both lock eyes with each other while she continues rubbing him.
"Junko?" He asks, trying to comprehend why she's doing it.
"I'm trying to ease you." She says, although the uncertainty in her voice made him wonder if she knew what she was doing, "Look, it's working! Your body feels less tense. You're calmer now, yes?"
"I guess?" He says, unsure of himself. "You can let go now."
Junko smiles, satisfied with his response, and steps back to a more comfortable distance. "I must admit, Douro, you're a strange boy." She says
'You are the last person I want to hear that from!'
"There are not many people who would be comfortable with a stranger being so close to them." Her tone reminds him of whenever his mom was homeschooling. "You'll need to be more careful."
As much as he wants to deny it, Katansei knew that any normal person would have told her to back off or run screaming for the hills. Him on the other hand? A few kind words from a stranger were enough to make him tear up. He couldn't begin to imagine what would happen if a friend, or even less likely, a lover, showed him physical affection.
He lets out a depressing sigh, "You're right." Katansei scratches the back of his neck. "I really should have, but you did something that no one in this village has ever done for me besides my mom and dad. As far as I know."
She tilts her head, "Oh? What would that be?"
"You gave me a chance." He answers, his face flushing red, "So I wanted to give you one too."
"Giving me a chance?" She smiles, "I can't say for sure I understand your situation, but I do appreciate it either way." She gives a small bow.
Suddenly, a little girl shouts down the street, "Junko! Junko! I've been looking everywhere for you!" Looking over, the two see an odd-looking blonde fairy speeding toward them.
Her 'dress', if Katansei could even call it one, is decorated to the brim with red and white stripes. The other half of the 'dress' is blue with white stars scattered across it. He couldn't help but wonder how his mom would react to seeing this.
Junko greets her, "Hello Clownpiece, did something happen?" The fairy stops just in time to avoid crashing into the older woman.
Clownpiece adjusts her jester hat, the bells on it jingling, "What happened!? You're late for dinner! Me and Boss have been waiting for YEARS now!" She shouts as if they are still far from her.
Junko raises an eyebrow. "Dinner? I thought Hecatia was visiting Eintei today."
The fairy's jaw drops. "Today?! No, no, no! That's tomorrow!" She grabs Junko's hand and tries to drag her "Come on! I'm dying here, Boss said we're not eating until your there!"
Katansei cocks his head at the scene before him. "I thought fairies didn't need to eat."
The little girl lets go of the women's hand, flies up to him, and grabs his head, "You can't let common sense get in the way of what you want, man! The only way you can live your life is if you liberate yourself from your sanity! Are you picking up what I'm putting down?" She asks, hitting their foreheads together as he stares into her pink eyes.
"That's enough, Clownpiece." Junko grabs the fairy's neck and says, "I'm sorry for her behavior, Douro. She has a habit of doing this." She bows and tilts her hand down to make Clownpiece bow as well.
"Sorry about that, Sir!" She raises her hand to her forehead and salutes.
Katansei rubs the sore spot. "Yeah, no problem, just try not to headbutt me again, okay?"
"No promises!" Junko tightens her grip on Clownpiece. "Erh, I mean, Yes sir, sorry sir!"
The older woman straightens up. "It seems I'll have to be going now. It was nice talking to you, Douro." She gives a small smile.
Katansei bows in appreciation. "It was nice talking to you, Junko." He says, "And you too, Clownpiece, I guess."
The fairy waves with enthusiasm, "Bye, sir! If you're looking for freedom; come see me at the red and white shrine!"
"See you then." Junko turns around and walks away, still holding Clownpiece around her neck.
As Junko leaves, Shiage comes out of the store with a bag of spices, "Is everything okay, Kata? I heard a girl shouting and..." She stops as she looks up at her boy, "K-Kata! You took off your blindfold!" She whispers in concern.
The young hunter forgets and rushes to pull his blindfold back up. "Ach! Sorry about that, mom. I was talking to this lady who wanted me to take it off." He explains
Her eyes were wide enough that Katansei thought they would pop out: "Who was it!? Was it an outsider?" She grabs her son's arm and begins walking back home. While her son couldn't see them, Shiage could see the dirty looks being thrown their way.
"She's not human, that's for sure." He responds as he feels her arm interlocking with his tighten "She was nice though. I think you would like her."
Shiage hums to herself, but then an idea strikes her: "What if she's the one who saved you?" She asks
His eyebrow furrowed. "Saved me?"
"Yeah! The hooded figure who saved you from the yamanba!" She lowers her tone.
'Oh, mountain gods, please give me strength. The day hasn't even ended, and I already forgot about my lie.' He thinks to himself, "W-Who knows? Maybe she did, maybe she didn't."
"It has to be! She must have wanted to check if you were okay." She gasps, "Did you get her name? What did she look like?"
Katansei begins sweating under the collar. "Her name is Junko, and she looks like royalty, but come on, mom, we can't just assume it was her." He says.
She frowns. "Well, what about her voice, Kata? Did they sound the same at least?"
"I don't know, mom," Frustration seeps through his voice, "and I would appreciate it if we dropped it because I would like to forget that happened." He says, his grip on his hama yumi tightening.
Shiage winces from the tone of his voice. "Oh, I'm sorry, Katansei. I mistook you being calm as being well." She says, rubbing his hand. "I didn't mean to trouble you."
Katansei sighs, self-consciousness weighs heavily on him, knowing this wouldn't have happened if he had told the truth. Too bad the truth is worse than his lie. "It's alright, mom. I was scared when it happened. I guess I wanted to look tough for you."
His mom chuckles, "That reminds me of what your father told me when we first went out." Katansei perks his head. "He told me, "Woman, look tough against predators! Not your loved ones!" She mimics his rough voice.
A pang of guilt drives his stomach. "Yeah, I'll try to be more honest." He gives a weak smile that Shiage takes note of it.
"By the way, mom," He says, trying to lighten the mood. "I'm going to need to replace this blindfold soon since it's starting to show its age." He turns his head to give his mom a better view of it.
Shiage frowns at the sight. "So you'll be going to the Hakurei Shrine then? Are you sure you want to go back outside after that encounter with the wild yokai?" She asks
Katansei nods, "I'll be fine, mom. What happened there was a mistake on my part. It won't happen again."
"If that's the case... before you come back, could you get the doctor to check that cut on your neck, Kata? I'm concerned if it can get infected." Shiage requests
"Of course, I can do that too." He says, leaning his head over to her
"Thank you, sweetie." She says, resting her head against his.
The young hunter thinks to himself, 'I didn't get much out of Junko, but the same thing could be said about me too.' He ponders on what Clownpiece said as well. 'She said 'Boss' was going to Eintei tomorrow. I could possibly see her while I have my check-up for that little wound I have thanks to Nemuno. Also, that fairy said she would be at the red and white shrine. Does she mean the Hakurei Shrine?'
'Walking to either place from the village will take a while, and if I include the distance between the Hakurei Shrine and Eintei... I think it will be safe to say I won't see both the 'Boss' and Clownpiece on the same day.'
The full moon looms over the cloudless sky, casting an eerie pale light below. Its light was too dim to be helpful, but only enough for the shadows to play with a person's mind. The child does not care as he continues chasing his father through the dense forest, giggling without concern about the dark world. They were supposed to hunt some vermin, but the son decided it could wait and badgered his father into playing. He complies, as he always does. Chasing his dad was difficult as his body felt sluggish, and the steps he took never made much of a difference. He couldn't remember how long he had been playing chase with his father nor when he stopped having fun. Was it weeks? Months? Years? Or maybe an eternity for all he knows. What made it worse was the orange fox that was always in the corner of his eyes. It never did anything to him, but the child knows it can outrun him with minimal effort. But since it didn't attack him, he didn't care and continued chasing his dad.
Then he sees a figure in the distance, the back of a large man in familiar hunting gear. It's his father! At long last, he could see his father again! The son shouts at him, trying to get his attention, but he does not respond. Worse, his heavy body becomes worse as he trips over an uprooted part of a tree. The fox stops behind him and watches as the boy crawls towards his father. He calls out to his dad, asking him if they can go back home now. His father still didn't respond, and as the boy slowly gets near, he wonders if he did anything wrong to anger him. That idea sends a surge of energy through his body, obliterating whatever slowed him down. He jumps up to his feet and sprints. The son screams his throat out for his dad, desperately hoping it will be enough to get his attention. Then he sees a reaction; his father's head shifts, and he begins turning around. At last! They can finally be together again after so long!
The boy stops smiling when he sees his father's face. A look of remorse in his bloodshot eyes and shedding tears. His cheeks contain no fat, making him look more like a skeleton than a man. The father kneels to his son's height and opens his arms wide for an embrace. While confused, the boy ran forward, still wanting to be with his dad and still hoping for a peaceful life. He jumps into his dad's arms and closes his eyes in anticipation of his large, burly arms wrapping around him. It never came.
He hits the ground in shock and rolls his body over, confused about how he missed, but to his horror, he didn't. His father has a large hole through his stomach down to his waist, and his body is becoming translucent. Sparkling lights from the edges of the gaping hole floated to the moon. As if it's taking his father away from him. The boy could do nothing but stare as his father wept goodbye, asking his son for forgiveness. His body eventually disappears into stardust. Confused and scared, the boy calls for his father in a hushed tone, but it goes unheard due to the earsplitting cackles coming from the fox.
The sun rises and greets Katansei with its radiant light and is greeted back with an annoyed mumbling as he tries to wake up. The young hunter instinctively feels over the new hair that his mother cut before bed. A simple cut since the previous one from Nemuno was uneven.
"What an awful dream..." He wipes a smidgen of tears from his eyes.
Knowing that he's visiting the shrine to speak to the maiden, he puts on formal clothing and a decent chunk of his allowance for donation purposes. While he does not know what kind of god the Hakurei God is, nor is he sure they have done anything for the village, he figures it's better to be safe than sorry. He grabs his hama yumi and his quiver but finds that there are fewer arrows than he recalls. Katansei shrugs it off as misremembering the exact amount and straps the quiver to his back. He inspects his bow to make sure that nothing is out of order. Now satisfied, he exits his room and checks on his mom while being careful with how much weight he puts on his feet to avoid the creaking wood. He taps on the door but hears no response and assumes she's still asleep. Katansei knew that his mother's sleep schedule was more akin to an owl than a morning bird due to her occupation and to who she sells. Marrying an infamous man and being the mother of Katansei tanked her relationship with her fellow villagers forcing her to sell her self-made clothing at night for yokai since they either did not know or care.
Katansei didn't know how to feel about the idea that if it weren't for the yokai, beings whose sole purpose is to be feared by humans, he and his mother would be homeless. He shelves the thought to the back of his mind and leaves, still careful to avoid disturbing Shiage from waking up.
Morning in the village is the most troubling time for Katansei. The people were wide awake and alert, unlike the late peaceful afternoon when everyone was preparing to head back home to sleep. Merchants were out hollering their wares, trying to outshout each other to bring in potential customers, making it hard for Katansei to listen to passersby. The smell of food cooking in the air tempts his nose to follow, making his stomach grumble since he skipped breakfast. All this brimming energy of a village in peace, but he could not be a participant in the environment or else risk ruining it for everyone.
"Hey, Douro!" Of course, even with his blindfold on, he ruins it anyway. "What happened to your hair?"
Katansei recognizes the voice. Not someone he knows, but a child who's been getting cocky over the fact that the young hunter can't see while in the village. It's been going on for weeks now, and he wouldn't mind finding a way to scare the boy from bothering him again.
He ignores the younger boy's sneering tone, "I got ambushed by a wild yokai and got lucky." He continues walking.
"Maybe if you weren't stalking one of the girls, it wouldn't happen!" Katansei grits his teeth, not wanting to start a fight first thing in the morning.
He stops and turns to where he heard the voice coming from. "I was not! Listen, kid, I've had enough of your antics, pester me anymore and you'll regret it." He warns, raising his voice to make sure everyone nearby hears him.
"Real scary! Too bad I'm over here, you blind pervert!" The younger boy's voice is now coming from his left.
Now seeing that the boy was just taking advantage of his blindness, the young hunter drops the conversation and continues walking in the direction outside of the village. The jeering boy still follows him, but after a solid minute of next to no responses, he gives up and goes away. The sound of merchants shouting shrinks away and the smell of food cooking lessens and is replaced by the morning dew of the forest, a signal to the young hunter that it's safe to take off his blindfold.
'Hopefully, the other villagers will tell the brat's parents that their son is being stupid.' Katansei thinks to himself.
Inside the forest again, this time not for food but as passing through made it a different experience for him. He didn't focus on anything particular as he wanted to admire the scenery. Although he still plucks the string of his hama yumi to ward off any mischievous or dangerous yokai from getting near. The forest has some similarities to the village, such as putting Katansei in a cautious state, but differs as there was a feeling of freedom being here thanks to not needing to wear a blindfold. As he treks through the messy road leading to the shrine, perhaps of his spirituality, he could feel something off.
A familiar voice echoes in his head. "You noticed too, eh, Kata?" The being's voice sounds like an old man's. "It seems the Hakurei God is frustrated with the lack of followers. By the way, had enough with your long hair?"
Katansei nods, "Yeah, I don't know what it is, but it's an unpleasant feeling." He says, "It's been a while since we talked, Shinno, and let's ignore the hair for now, please."
Shinno Jin has been with Katansei for as long as he can remember; he is an imaginary friend who has stood by his side no matter the situation. It was after his father left Gensokyo; that time with the older gentleman lessens, but not completely gone. He didn't question it, as he recalled many kids talking about their imaginary friends and having full conversations with them, so he assumed he was in the same boat too. As of now, it's almost been a week since Katansei talked with Shinno.
"Sorry about that. Although I do have good news." The old man says, "I have a feeling that it'll be much easier for us to chat now."
The younger man's eyes widen. "Seriously!? That's awesome, but why?" He asks
"As I said, it's just a feeling." He repeats. "Anyway, why are we heading there, Kata?"
He points to his old blindfold. "I'm changing these since they're about to break." He stops at the base of the hill.
Katansei looks up at the large fleet of stairs up the hill and takes a deep breath. He takes his first step, and as he goes higher up the stairs, he notices that his worries begin to lessen. Each step taken is a step further away from his reality. Katansei wonders if his father had these same feelings when he was forced to leave Gensokyo. Then it dawned on him that climbing these steps made him feel that he was leaving and going somewhere different. He knew he should feel anxious about such a revelation, but like his other negative emotions, it left his body faster than it could fester inside of him. His original objective of coming to the shrine is unchanged, but it was close to being replaced by a child-like sense of freedom.
"Is this what the fairies and the children at the village feel?" He asks himself
"I've never been a child, so I can't say for sure." Shinno comments
Reaching the top of the staircase and stepping through the red torri gate, Katansei sees the Hakurei Shrine in all its grandeur. It... isn't much. The shrine itself is fine nothing wrong with it, but any sign of luxury is non-existent. He finds it strange that this shrine, which is vital to Gensokyo, his world, and rumored as an infested hot spot for yokai, is a rather quaint little place. On top of the shrine, he sees her, Reimu Hakurei, the Shrine Maiden of Paradise, shoveling snow off the roof of her house. Katansei stares in amazement at the sight. A person whose duty is to protect humans is just living her life as she sees fit instead of having the leash of duty pulling her to do what she must.
Here, doing what everyone else was doing back in the village. It's as if the expectations of others weigh nothing on her.
'No, she's not even bothering to carry them!' Katansei's heart skips a beat; his face flushes red. 'She is free from it all like she can float away, and no one would be able to chain her down...'
He hears Shinno sighing, "Whew boy, I knew the day would come, but it still didn't make it easier for me." The young man remains silent. "Focus, Kata! Remember why you are here before the girl catches you staring!"
This disrupts Katansei's stupor. "Wha?! Wait hold on, how should I introduce myself?" He whispers, "Should I make a donation first, or would that look strange? Maybe saying 'hi' would be better, but what if greeting her first is a sign of disrespect?"
"Don't whisper you, idiot, you're going to look suspicious!" Shinno reprimands, "Look, Kata, I'll support any decision you make, but I don't think it's a good idea to try to start a relationship with this one."
"Why not?" Katansei asks in his head, trying to look casual as he walks to the temizuya, a fountain with a built-in dragon statue where the water comes out.
"The number of bad rumors about this girl dwarfs how much you have." He says as Katansei grabs the ladle resting on the side of the fountain. "If those dirty hicks back home catch wind of this, it's going to be all the harder for you and your mother."
The young man rinses his left hand with the wooden ladle. "Who says they'll find out though." He switches hands and rinses his right hand.
"Are you ignoring that tengu and her accursed Bunbunmaru Newspaper? She's interviewed and written about the shrine maiden on multiple occasions!" The old man points out.
Katansei rolls his eyes as he switches hands again. "Oh please, she could write an article demonizing me, and there's a good chance it would improve my relationship with the villagers." He pours water on his left and swallows it to rinse his mouth.
"Hakurei Maiden in a secret relationship! Is it a boy or girl!?" Shinno exclaims as Katansei's face becomes red as a tomato, spitting the water from the side with more force out of reflex.
"That's stupid!" Katansei whispers, checking at the corner of his eye to see if the shrine maiden heard him, fortunately, she seems focused on her shoveling.
"It's too big to ignore! People will be asking questions, and you know it." He reasons, "I'm telling you, Kata, it is you, me, and your mother against the world. You can't afford any risks."
The young man knew that his imaginary friend was trying to help him out in his way, and he did have a legitimate reason to be concerned about it. However, maybe it's his youthfulness, but Katansei wanted to risk it. Even if nothing comes out, that's still one more person who's by his side, and this person, in particular, would know what it's like being falsely accused. The thought of having a friend of a similar age who understood him is too much to ignore. Just friends, of course.
 Take Shinno's advice  Respectfully decline Shinno's advice
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2022/05/16 (Mon) 06:00
The young man looks back at his turbulent past reluctantly. There was a time he had friends, and he remembers it vividly. Katansei seldom played or talked to the other kids his age, but what was different was that they were fine with having him nearby. Whenever they asked him to join a game, he would wholeheartedly accept it, and if they didn't, he would watch them in contentment. Observing them, taking notes of the small, tics their bodies made that they were unaware of. It was something he missed seeing happy people living their lives without worrying about him. It took him years to finally understand why people were scared of him, but even now he yearns to be with anyone who would at least be neutral towards his presence. Human or not...
Katansei straightens his posture and his eyes brimming with determination. "Sorry, Shinno, but I've got to do it! I can't miss such a golden opportunity!" His mind is dead set on his objective as he marches toward the Hakurei Shrine.
"Oi, Kata," Shinno says, his cold yet dangerous tone stopping the young man in his tracks. A voice he would use on Katansei if he was misbehaving. "I know you're smarter than that; what are you planning to do with what's in your hand?"
Peering down; his once determined eyes and confident smile morph into shame and embarrassment as he realizes he forgot that he was still holding the ladle. He turns around without a word and puts it back in the fountain. Shuffling his way back to the shrine, Katansei could see that Reimu had finished shoveling the roof and was staring at him with a curious expression on her face.
An anxious feeling bubbles in his chest, wondering if he's making the right decision. In the grand scheme, it's a small, almost insignificant action, but he couldn't make himself believe that. The irrational side is in control. The whole world could tell him how silly it is, but it's him; who has the last word, for good or for worse.
"Oh, mountain gods... please show me a sign that she didn't see the whole thing!" Katansei quietly prays as he quickens his pace.
Shinno chortle "Careful now, boy, you may anger the Haukrei God for doing that."
Stopping in front of the altar, Katansei pulls out his small bag and pulls out, what he hopes is, a good amount of yen. He deposits it inside the box with a soft echo as the coins land at the bottom. The young hunter grabs the cord attached to the bell and pulls it down gently, ringing the large bell to greet the Hakurei God. Then he bows twice and claps another two times as a form of respect.
He holds his hands together and prays, 'Please forgive me for my insolence, Haukrei God, and if it's not too much to ask, bestow my mother the boon of good health.' He bows one last time.
"Ask him if he can fix your head!" Katansei rolls his eyes at the old man's jeering.
A moment of silence before the sound of something landing on the ground and a young lady's voice speaking up behind him. "Thanks for the donation. It's not often someone from the village comes here in winter." She says cheerfully.
Katansei turns around to see the shrine maiden smiling with her shovel resting on her shoulder. Up close, he could see that even her red and white Kimono was minimal having four or five pieces instead of the usual seven to eight the girls back in the village would have.
The young man gives a deep bow to her, his heart racing "It's no issue, and I was only greeting the god here." He straightens up and smiles back as best he could "My name is Douru Katansei, it is an honor to meet to finally meet you, Ms. Haukrei!"
Reimu was taken aback by his enthusiastic greeting before waving him off, "No need to be so formal, just Reimu is fine." She says, with a tinted red face.
He begins rapidly blinking 'First name bases already!? This is too soon, Shinno what should I do!?' He calls out to his friend, but he did not respond 'Oh come on man! Okay, just say her first name, it's simple really...'
Katansei clears his throat "Re..." The volume of his voice went so low that only dogs and cats could hear it.
His face burns bright red as he tries again and fails again. Even back when he was a kid, he never called anyone by their first name, much less a girl! Of all people too, the young lady who made his heart skip a beat, he couldn't help but remember those romance novels mom would read now and then.
Reimu tilts her head confused about his sudden shyness "You alright, Katansei?" The young man turns his head aside too embarrassed to look at her.
"How!? You've only just met, how is this happening so soon?!" Shinno's bewilder voice echoes in the young man's skull.
Katansei scratches his cheek, still staring off in the distance. "I'm okay, it's just that I'm not used to saying someone's first name so soon." He says, deliberately ignoring his imaginary friend to spite him.
The young woman squints her eyes, but soon goes wide in realization "Oh, oh! No, it's nothing like that, uh, there's a lot of hassle in life you know? Why worry about how we talk to each other and all that junk!" She tries to look nonchalant, but her red face betrays her.
"Ah, so she has no social cue then..." He hears Shinno mumble
Katansei lets out a sigh of relief with a hint of disappointment "Yeah, I guess I can see that! As a hunter, I'm more concerned about finding food or worse, encountering a yokai." He looks back at her with a nervous smile.
"See? I knew you would get it." She begins to calm herself and gives a cheeky smile. "By the way, how would you write your name?"
The young man gives a curious look "It's spelled like 可鍛性; why do you ask?"
"Well, I had a feeling you would have a malleable view, am I right, Katansei?" Reimu says looking proud of herself for making that pun.
The old man groans while the younger one snickers. "Yeah, I would be as good as dead if it wasn't!" Katansei says as his face returns to a cooler temperature.
Satisfy by his response, Reimu jabs a thumb at her shrine "I'm going to head inside to eat some porridge, and you're welcome to join if you want," She offers.
The mention of food made Katansei's stomach grumble "I would like that since I skipped breakfast to get here early."
"Cool," She stabs the end of her shovel into a lump of snow "It's the least I can do for a polite guest."
The inside of the shrine is surprisingly warmer than he would expect, like a one-off cold breezy day in the middle of summer. The simplicity of the outside matches the inside as Katansei looks around, it was like his home if slightly bigger. After taking their shoes off at the doorstep, Reimu points at the table with the heated blanket. On it was a basket full of tangerine.
"Have a seat. I'll get the bowls," She says before entering another part of the house.
Katansei did as told and sat on the pillow near the table, putting aside his quiver and hama yumi feeling safe since he was inside a holy place. Putting the blanket over his legs, his body became lax as he stares outside at calming scenery. He recalls that Clownpiece should be here in the shrine, but the loud fairy seems to be nowhere at the moment.
'That's a shame. I wanted to ask her about Junko...'He thinks to himself
'There this fairy named Clownpiece I wanted to ask her about this lady I met back at the village.' The young man answers 'By the way, don't think I didn't notice when you were leaving me hanging back there, old man!'
A moment of pensive silence before his imaginary friend scoffs "What did you want me to do? Talk to her myself?"
'No, but some advice would have been nice.' Katansei talks back.
"I could think of plenty of advice on how to treat your wife, but if you're looking for how to get one, I suggest speaking to your mother for that," Shinno says.
The young hunter scrunches his face, 'Not for marriage, idiot, but now that you mention it, mom would probably help me more for this situation.'
"Speaking of situations," The old man changed his tone to a more serious one "This 'Junko', why are you looking into her?"
'She's a bit awkward, but overall she seems like a nice woman' Katansei scratches his chin 'Although I know for sure she's not a human...'
The old man sighs exasperated "I understand being attracted by a woman with power, Kata, but are you sure you want to dance with that flame?"
Katansei rolls his eyes 'I'm not a dog in heat, you love-sick geezer, there's something about her that I can't shake off.' He recalls that unease feeling when he first saw her
"She makes you uncomfortable? Apologies, my friend." Shinno says, with shame in his voice, "I have a feeling you want to find out why, eh?"
The young hunter gives an affirmative hum, 'Yes, I'm not sure why, but I need to.' A fire was set ablaze in his body with the truth as the means to extinguish it.
"If that is the case, I would suggest asking the Hakurei girl about danmaku and listening wholeheartedly to what she has to say." The old man lectures.
Doubt peeks through his thoughts 'I've read about danmaku in the newspaper, but do you think any yokai would accept my challenge instead of telling me off or worse?' Katansei asks
"Remember, Kata, they are not humans and therefore, they have a different mindset." Shinno lightens his tone "Besides, it never hurts to have more countermeasures against them."
'Alright, I'll ask her about it then, in the meantime...' He racks his brain for conversation starters 'What should I talk to Reimu about while we're eating?'
Pick two options to talk to Reimu about.
 Ask Reimu about herself; you're curious what's the daily life of a shrine maiden
 Ask about Clownpiece; you're still wondering who Junko is and want to find out more.
 Ask about your blindfold; you did come here to get a new one.
 Ask Reimu if she wants to know something; she seems to be someone who doesn't leave home often.
[x] Ask about your blindfold; you did come here to get a new one.
 Ask about Clownpiece; you're still wondering who Junko is and want to find out more.
While we don't really know why we wear a blindfold(or at least, I don't) that should be one of our priorities, I am rather stuck between pleasantries and being direct with the information we want, but do believe it's worth looking at who Junko is. either way, im interested on the story you weave.
With the two seated and their hot bowl of porridge in front of them, they give thanks to the gods and begin wolfing down on their late breakfast. Katansei gives a pleasing hum as the warm, creamy texture makes contact with his tongue. The nice chewy part of the dish where he first thought was the wheat turns out to be dried-up berries found in the wild. He may have also liked it because Reimu made it, but he would never say that out loud.
"It's a shame our sense of flavor is dull," Shinno laments, "I can only imagine how it would taste."
Katansei shrugs, feeling it would be as hard as imagining a color he has never seen before; "I wouldn't mind having more of this." He says wholeheartedly, as it did feel nice in his mouth and stomach.
Reimu, with her mouth full, gives a confident smile before ingesting the food. "What can I say? After living by myself for this long, I'm pretty skilled at cooking." She says before taking another bite.
The young hunter tilts his head, "Really? Has no adult ever come by to check on you?" He asks, a little concerned and curious about her parents.
She shrugs, "Besides a pesky old yokai? Not really?" The shrine maiden begins eating again.
Katansei molls over the thought, 'I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to live without mom or dad. Reimu is strong, but I never expected it to be like this.'
Then an idea pops up, "You know," he stops for a moment, letting Reimu finish chewing first. "My mom always says that eating with another person makes the dish better."
"Yeah, I think I heard that from somewhere, but what makes you bring it up?" Reimu asks, wiping off a smidge near her lip.
"Well, if you're not in the mood to cook or you want to eat with someone." He points outside in the direction of the village. "You can visit me and my mom's home. She would love to have you as a guest."
Her eyes widen, taken aback by his offer. "Hey now, you don't need to bend over backward for me, and besides," She gives a bemused smile and says, "Hanging out at the village could get you some weird looks from your friends."
The young hunter suppresses the urge to roll his eyes. "I do see your point, Hakurei, however." He sets his spoon aside, "I don't have any friends in the village, and like you, I am not a stranger to bad rumors."
"Tch! Little brat, I see how it is." Shinno says in a bitter voice.
She stares at him, a wry look in her eyes. "Is that so? Still, aren't you being a bit too polite? We've just met." She wonders what kind of rumors were being spread about him.
Katansei scratches his chin for a moment and then shakes his head. "No, people who do good should be rewarded, and people who do bad should be punished." He looks at her directly in the eyes and says, "And you, Reimu Hakurei? You're without a doubt the former."
Reimu remains silent, only letting out a thoughtful hum, "Well, if you put it like that..." She reaches over the table and grabs a tangerine. "I wouldn't mind having some free food."
A hearty chuckle escapes the young hunter's lips. "Who wouldn't? Not me, that's for sure!" He says as he raises his empty bowl.
The shrine maiden grins. "You got me there," She says as she peels the skin off the tangerine. "Although I'm wondering, Katansei, my guts tell me that you're alright, but what's up with you having rumors?"
Anxiety spikes in Katansei's heart. "Ah, to be honest, I almost forgot due to how peaceful this place is." He reluctantly digs through his pockets and pulls out his old blindfold.
The young hunter lays it on the table for Reimu to look over. It's an old cloth with numerous holes tatter across. On the sole black blindfold is a single white kanji '盲', but even that is not safe from the ravage of time.
"I have to wear this blindfold whenever I'm in the village, you see, or else people get... restless." He says part of him is grateful for it while the other part couldn't stand looking at it for long.
Reimu leans over the table to examine it. "How come? You got some sort-of evil eye or something?" She asks, a hint of concern in her voice.
He shakes his head. "Not something uncontrollable, no," Katansei pauses, trying to think how to spin his power in a way that doesn't paint him in a bad light. "Ugh, I can't even say it. If it's alright, Hakurei, could you put your hand under the table and hold a number?" He asks
Seeing that it wasn't that big of a request, Reimu did as asked. As she did this, she suddenly felt a set of eyes peering at her by someone or something, but she knew for sure that it was only her and Katansei.
"You're holding three fingers." She looks back at the young man and notices how he's staring down at the table.
Reimu slowly moves her hand around as she notices how Katansei's head is tracking where it is despite the table blocking the view. The way his head moves reminds her of a cat. She closes her hand and then holds her thumb and pinkie out.
"Two fingers, and it's your thumb and pinkie." He says this without looking at her.
A gut feeling kicks Reimu's stomach, and without a word, she moves her hand behind her back. Katansei's eyes squint as he looks directly at her as if unsure what to say.
His eyebrows furrow and he squints his eyes as if it would help him see her fingers. He lets out a sigh and leans back, the eerie look in his eyes returning to normal.
"Maybe it's because of how my mom and dad raised me, but looking through a person or their clothing makes my view go fuzzy." He explains, the tone of his voice sounding grateful.
Reimu nods, now understanding the situation more "Yeah I can see who would want you to get a new one." She shows the hand behind her, revealing four fingers."Is that all your power can do, though?"
He holds up three fingers. "Sight, sound, and smell. As long as whoever I'm tracking is still in Gensokyo, they can't hide from me." Katansei scratches his head, "To be honest, I was surprised when you moved your hand behind you. Why did you do that?" He asks
The shrine maiden leans back and shrugs, "Eh, just wondering how your power works exactly." She says this before eating a slice of her
His eyes widen in shock, and without thinking, he opens his mouth, "You mean, you weren't worried if I could see through your clothes!?" The young hunter slaps his hands over his mouth, instantly regretting what he said.
As he says this, Reimu's jaw drops, her face matching the same red as his, and Katansei can even see the slice of tangerine in her mouth "W-What?! Oi, Katansei! Why are you making things weird again!" She yells out, covering her mouth when she remembers the citrus fruit she was currently eating.
He shakes his head, "No, I'm not! That's what everyone always thinks first whenever they learn about my ability!" He clenches his fist, with the tangerine getting squeezed by him without realizing it.
"Once they know, they see me as some sick stalker or someone who's looking for dirt to hold over them!" Juice begins to flow out of his hand. "It's why I wear that blindfold. To prove to them that I'm innocent."
Reimu looks away for a moment, recalling the satori species that were forced underground by the people's fear of their minds being read. The only silver lining she could find is that Katansei's power didn't let him read minds, which without a doubt, forced the villagers to kick him out. She sighs, still blushing a deep red, but begins to calm down in the tense silence.
"The reason why that never crosses my head is..." She goes silent, unsure of what to say.
Katansei looks outside, scared that he ruined his chance, and stands up, "I'm sorry, I could leave if you want. It would be understandable and don't worry about the blindfold, I'll look for som-" He stops abruptly when Reimu raises her hand.
"Let me finish, Katansei," She says, gesturing him to sit back down, which he does. "We've only met today, but from the short time we talked and how you acted, I find it... hard to see you like that type of person." She says, figuring that if he did that, he would have had a more overt reaction.
"Do you believe me then?" He asks a small hope clinging to his words.
The shrine maiden nods. "We all have the power to harm people, even those who have none." She says, shrugging, "It just depends on the person what they do with it."
He was stunned silent, unsure what to say, Katansei scooches back, shifting his body, and now sits with both his knees below him. The young hunter gives a deep bow with his hands touching the floor and his head resting on them.
"Thank you for putting your faith in me, Ms. Hakurei!" He says, in a shaken tone, with all his might to not shed a tear, "I will do everything in my power to never betray the trust you've placed in me!"
The shrine maiden gives a soft smile. "You can start by calling me Reimu." She says before grabbing his blindfold for closer examination, "Hmm, it won't take much effort to make a new one, but are you sure you want to do this, Katansei."
He straightens his back. "I appreciate your concern..." he pauses while his face reddens. "Reimu, but I do need this if I want to continue living in the village."
A doubtful hum escapes her lips before nodding. "Alright then," a look of epiphany flashes in her eyes. "I've got a good idea for the blindfold, but it will take a while. Do you have anything else to ask before I start?"
Katansei isn't sure what she's planning but he had no reason to be concerned. "Now that you mention it, yesterday at the village, a weird fairy named 'Clownpiece' talked about being here."
Reimu's expression goes sour, "She didn't start a conflict did sh-"
Suddenly, a hand holding an unlit torch punches through the straw floor. The young hunter screams in shock causing even Reimu to flinch and drop the blindfold. Another hand pops out, and the figure pulls herself up, revealing herself to be Clownpiece, roaring as if she was sealed under the shrine for centuries.
The fairy stares Katansei down. "So you've finally come, huh?" She smirks, trying to look cool.
"My floor panel!" Reimu shouts, distraught at the damaged site, "Why did you do that!?"
Clownpiece looks around and notices the blindfold. "That thing..." She jumps out, creating a larger hole and grabbing the cloth.
She dangles it over her face, staring down knives at it. "This thing..." The two humans couldn't help but stare as the fairy pulls it over her eyes.
With a nod, Clownpiece ties the blindfold onto her unlit torch: "This is a symbol of oppression! I'll burn it on the stakes and then everyone will be free!" She points the wick at Katansei, "But you, you were asking for a new one. A fresh, brand new set of chains! "
Katansei reaches for his bow, "I guess I can see your point, but what exactly are you trying to pull here?" He asks as Reimu pulls out needles from under the sleeve of her kimono.
The fairies giggle. "What am I pulling!? I know why you are looking for me!" She runs to the front door, spreading her arms apart as the sun shines on her. "Why else would you call for me? A cry for freedom, a cry for justice! "
She pivots her feet, still having her arms wide out, and says, "I'm here to pull you out of the clutches of your oppressive village and into the bosom of freedom!"
"And if I say, 'no thank you,'?" He asks, strapping his quiver to his back.
A look of shock spreads on her face, never foreseeing that she would have to fight a person she was trying to free. "Uh... Sorry stranger, but you don't have a choice in it!" Clownpiece raises her free hand, and a flame erupts before petering out to three well intricate cards. "I challenge you to a danmaku! If I win, you will never wear a blindfold again." She wore a confident grin, but it couldn't reach her eyes.
Reimu stomps forward, flaring her nose. "You've got some guts to pick a fight after breaking my house. Katansei, stand back while I deal with this idiot!" She says this as three cards appear in her hand in a flash of light.
Katansei looks between the two in front of him, wondering what to do. He looks at the fairy and notices that her smile is far more natural than the moment she challenged him.
"You know what, Kata? I think you should take her on." Shinno speaks up in a scheming tone, "Look how she brightens up when the shrine maiden takes the stage, it's pretty clear she doesn't want to fight us."
'I know, but what if I lose? Following through with the deal will get me kicked out of the village for sure,' Katansei could feel his desires pulling him in two opposite directions, 'and if I lose; but don't follow the deal, who would want to challenge me if my reputation is a sore loser?'
"If you lose, but if you win, you can tell her to never bother you about the blindfold!" If he had a face, Katansei imagines Shinno would be smiling like a gambler. "Besides, with your power and my guidance, this stupid brat will never dodge a shot!"
 Let Reimu handle Clownpiece. The risk is too big for your liking.
 Accept Clownpiece's challenge yourself. Go big or go home.
From what the wiki says Clownpiece is a stage 5 boss, which gives her considerable power.
On the other hand, can Kantasei even take her on? Shinno seems pretty damn confident that we will win this. there's something we still dont know about this old man that we should definitly watch out for
>"If you lose, but if you win, you can tell her to never bother you about the blindfold!" If he had a face, Katansei imagines Shinno would be smiling like a gambler. "Besides, with your power and my guidance, this stupid brat will never dodge a shot!"
This definitly weirds me out a bit. isnt he just a imaginary friend? Some other ability Kantasei has?
Well, regardless of what may happen, i do think that its worth a shot trying to challenge her. Although if we lose... well, we'll see
[x] Accept Clownpiece's challenge yourself. Go big or go home.
[[X] Accept Clownpiece's challenge yourself. Go big or go home. If he wins we get to know how strong he is exactly, if he loses then we get to see how he's going to deal with it, which is interesting in on itself. Also Clownpiece is making Murica proud with her "liberation" of the oppressed
[X] Accept Clownpiece's challenge yourself. Go big or go home. I just want to know what this "guidance" is. Besides, if its a bad thing, Reimu is right there. And if he loses, eyepatches aren't blindfolds, and neither are masks.
Before the two could declare a battle, Katansei intervenes, "Wait a moment, Reimu." He stands up, firmly gripping his hama yumi.
The Shrine Maiden turns her head at him while the fairy clicks her teeth. "You got something in mind?" Reimu asks, a curious look on her face.
He nods."Yeah," Katansei points at the fairy. "Clownpiece, you want to fight me? Then I accept your challenge!" He exclaims, his body tingling with anticipation for a fight.
From her expression, he could tell that Reimu was impressed, but the little girl did not like this. "Hey, I'm trying to help you here!" She points at the older girl, who's raising an eyebrow. "But her? She's only making a new blindfold! You're supposed to fight people holding you down, not lifting you up!" She stomps the floor.
"Excuse me?" Offended by her slander, Reimu speaks up: "First off, you don't know what I'm planning to make, and second." She lets her needles slide back into her sleeve "You challenged him, and you know what? I think you're acting like a tyrannical ruler!"
Clownpiece's face glows hot red in anger. "I think you're acting like a tyrannical ruler!" She mimics the line with a low, growly voice.
A small chuckle peeps out of Katansei's mouth as Reimu rolls her eyes, "I don't sound like that." The fairy blows a raspberry in response, "So, Katansei, I'm guessing this will be your first danmaku?"
He scratches his neck. "Yeah, I was kind of hoping you'd lend me a hand with that." A nervous chuckle leaves his mouth.
Reimu closes her eyes and hums, "In that case, here, use my spellcards." She holds them up, which Katansei grabs and looks over.
As he stares deeply into the cards, small details change the longer he looks. The shimmering light emitting from the amulets goes dull, beams of light flat out disappear and are replaced by arrows, and perhaps the most glaring is the intricate patterns that decorate the card become simplistic.
'Are these cards changing so they have a better synergy with me, or is it because I'm not the original owner, so they're weakening?' Katansei concludes that danmaku won't be as simple as he first thought. 'I still need to ask Reimu about how this works, and just how far this rabbit hole goes.'
The Shrine Maiden stands in between them. She straightens back and her eyes still close, "State why you two are dueling." Her tone is neutral, reminding the young hunter of a middle man when two people are making a deal.
"I'm fighting so I can free a slave from his shackles!" Clownpiece exclaims, with her arms crossed, "So if I win, you can't wear blindfolds anymore."
"Now is your chance, Kata. Let's make sure she doesn't get in our way." Shinno says, his pitch lower, as if he's getting ready to throw down.
Katansei nods "I'm fighting because I want to learn more about danmaku, and the only person who has the last word on how I live my life is me." He stares at his opponent. "If I win, you cannot bring the subject of my blindfold up again."
"Stop lying, you weirdo!" Clownpiece harrumphs, "You think I would believe that it was your choice to go blind in your own home?"
"I don't wear the blindfold at home. Only when I'm heading out and in the village." He counters.
She scoffs, "You live in the village! That is your home!"
"No, it isn't!" He states this with more anger than he was expecting. "It's a place that I go through before returning home!"
"That's enough from the both of you," Reimu cooly interjects, silencing them both. "Clownpiece, since you are the challenger, pick one card as your bomb and declare its name."
She furrows her eyebrows. "Why should I? I don't remember ever declaring a name whenever we played." Her comment leaves Katansei in confusion, wondering if the rules aren't as concrete as he assumed.
"This is a proper duel, and as such, the rules will be followed." The Shrine Maiden smiles, "You can skip that part if you want, but if you do," She opens one eye and says, "I'll skip to the part where I exterminate you~" Katansei didn't want to know why his face suddenly felt hot.
Clownpiece grumbles as two of her cards burn to nothing, leaving only one spellcard that she holds high above her to make sure both of them are looking, "If you didn't have your eyes closed, you would've known my bomb was 'Fake Apollo'." She jeers.
Reimu turns towards Katansei, raising an eyebrow as she sees his flushed red face.
He clears his throat, trying to focus on the duel, "Ugh, I have three cards, so I'm guessing I'm allowed to use them..." Fortunately, they had names at the bottom of each card "Borrowed: 'Evil Sealing Circle', Borrowed: 'Duplex Barrier' and Borrowed: 'Fantasy Seal -Blink-'".
"Nice call."The Shrine Maiden gives a thumbs up, "With that settled, Clownpiece, if you get hit more than three times, you lose; Katansei, if your last spellcard stops for either losing focus; or running out of time, you lose."
The young man nods while the fairy begins slapping her cheeks to hype herself up. "The duel will start when the both of you are outside." Reimu finishes
Clownpiece closest to the front flies out with a warcry as he follows suit.
"Hey, Katansei." He stops and turns to face Reimu, who seems unsure of want she wants to say, "I want to let you know, that... it doesn't matter if you win or lose."
He could feel his heart beating faster, "Are my chances low? Is it because I'm only using spellcards that don't belong to me?" He asks, regrets prodding at the back of his mind.
She nods "While Clownpiece is hesitant to duel you, she still has more experience playing it than you do." Reimu states without hesitation. "But that's not why I'm telling you this."
"Oh? What is it then?" He asks, hoping she has an idea that'll help him win.
"The reason why it doesn't matter is that there's more than one way for you to cover your eyes, not just with a blindfold." She explains, nodding to herself, before continuing, "Nothing bad will happen if you lose. It'll only be an unsatisfying moment before you continue with life."
His eyes widen, now remembering what Clownpiece said "Oh! I'm embarrassed to say this, but that thought never crossed my mind." He says.
Reimu jabs a finger at his chest, "That's because you're focusing too much in one place, but that's beside the point." She points at her spellcards that he's holding, "Danmaku is a contest of beauty, or a sport, or even a game to some."
Hearing her say this, the gears inside Katansei's brain begin to turn, "So what you're telling me is to take it easy?"
She grins, "Bingo! I put a lot of time and effort into making this, so what I hope will happen, is that everyone's first danmaku is something they'll never forget like it was for me." For a split second, the tone of her voice sounds earnest "Let's get going now, I have a feeling Clownpiece will start shooting if she gets impatient." Reimu heads out with a spring in her step.
"She has a point, but if you ask me, playing a game is only fun if I win. Anyone else who claims otherwise is just a loser licking their wounds." Shinno comments making Katansei smile from his brutal honesty "Clownpiece is just a fairy, just overwhelm her with your arrows, and this duel is as good as ours."
"I want to win as much as you, Shinno," Katansei answers, breaking the silence. "But Reimu said that this is a contest of beauty. If we go by that logic, physical strength won't be of much use."
Shinno gives a thoughtful hum. "Beauty, huh? If only we had a spellcard that depicts me, we would win for sure..." He lets out a dejected sigh.
The young hunter snorts, "Are you sure? I'm sure we'll get disqualified if we try that. " He stretches his body in preparation.
"It is not my fault that the savages cannot withstand the sight of a superior being!" The old man proudly declares, "On a more serious note, what is your plan on winning this?"
"We experiment; see what works and what doesn't." After finishing his warm-up, he steps outside, where Reimu and his opponent are waiting. "And once we find something that works, take full advantage of it!"
Bullet hell will break loose.
In the Land of Impossibility, a world where common sense cannot exist, a hill stands tall and proud. On top of this hill is the Shrine Of Paradise and its breath-taking Shrine Maiden. She watches in hidden anticipation as both combatants stare each other down. The tension could melt the snow away. Little Liberty floats above with her torch held high in blazing hot-pink glory. Her hellfire beacons all wayward souls.
Give me your sanity, your common sense, your shackled mass yearning to burn free.
The Blind Hunter sees a child who does not know how his world works. What she calls his chains, he calls his charm. A tool that drives back the fools, the fearful, and the uncaring. It is because of his charm that he can return to a place he calls home. Despite this, he's entrance by the lit beacon she waves, perhaps the fairy is on to something... He shakes his head in disbelief.
She's an eternal child. All of this is a game to her. The only thing she knows is being free. Being free...
Within his head lies another being, far too small to see. A Know-Nothing Gambler, who whispers in The Blind Hunter's ears. Words of confidence and guidance for his shots to hit true. Only The Blind Hunter is aware of him. Not even The Shrine Maiden knows of this entity's existence.
The Shrine Maiden raises her gohei high over her, as a spark of pink flame appears in Little Liberty's free hand and The Blind Hunter trains an arrow at her head. She swings the wooden wand, starting the match, without saying anything.
Hellfire spews out from Little Liberty's free hand, melting the snow nearby. With a flick of her hand, the pink flames fly attempting to engulf everything in their grasp. The Blind Hunter leaps up as the inferno splashes the snowy ground, reducing it to a puddle. His feet did not return to the ground, nor did his bow stay silent. Now, he is a bird of prey who's found his target.
Little Liberty swings her arm, moving the wave of the inferno to incinerate the oncoming arrows aiming for her throat. Hellfire dances around Little Liberty preventing any more projectiles from interrupting their tango. The Blind Hunter's dance with the pink flame did not go as smoothly. His clothes are set ablaze, burning his skin underneath them. The fire sticking to his skin did not burn deeper, thus letting the duel continue. Driven into the corner, he calls for his friend's help. The Known-Nothing Gambler whispers numbers to the Blind Hunter, and without hesitation, he fires an arrow far above the blazing battlefield.
As he shoots, a wave of hot-pink fire slams against his face. Pink... pink... pink! Sanity in meltdown! The hellfire pulls and bites at the surface, attempting to leave its mark on him. Unable to withstand the onslaught anymore, his spellcard by itself activates. A brilliant light gushes out snuffing the hellfire to smoke and embers. The Blind Hunter, by gut reaction, shouts out.
Borrowed: 'Evil Sealing Circle'
His burning pain cleanses, his mind focusing on the spellcard. The moment he lost concentration; he knew it would end earlier than the full duration. Without his input, the bowstring lets out a calm plucking noise. Each pluck releases a wave of bullets, pushing any evil away from its master. Arrows of light flew, splitting into smaller selves, cornering Little Liberty from all directions. Her hellfire attempts to devour the arrows, but they continue, determining to punish the unjust.
The flames latch onto The Blind Hunter, stretching his skin and mind even though they couldn't eat the arrows. If he focused on only winning, he would continue his feeble attempt to dodge her bullets. What he is doing is learning how to win. Without hesitation, he uses his power to focus only on Little Liberty, the eyes of an eagle training on her.
She contorts her body to dodge the entrapping bullets. A tense feeling weights in her stomach as she looks into his eyes. His smiling body bathes in the pink hellfire, but he continues staring at her with his cold-attentive eyes. Little Liberty focuses her shots on his face for the sole desire of having him look away. A mistake she pays dearly when she didn't notice the wind whistling her name. The iron-tip arrow he shot before his spellcard lands square on her head. She explodes in a puff of white before his spellcard ends.
Three more hits for him; two more spellcards for her.
Little Liberty reappears, rubbing the spot where the arrow landed. Looking at the hot-pink hellfire that decorates the sky, The Blind Hunter lets out a giddy chuckle. After seeing the spellcard in action, he plays with the string on his hama yumi. Bullets from the musical sound shoot out in barrages, forcing her to flow with the tempo. Feeling pushed again, Little Liberty whips out her bomb. Calling it out wipes the bullets away and gives her room to breathe.
Three mini-moons spin out of the card at a high velocity. The first moon is a direct hit, crumbling to pieces as it veers The Blind Hunter off his intending path. The second and third moon collide with each other with him in between. His body creaks under the intense pressure when it should have popped him. Little Liberty did not relent as her bomb ends. Her burning torch lights up in a blaze of glory! Holding it with both hands, Little Liberty swings it down, firing a star storm of red, white, and blue. Unable to stand the barrage of pain, he calls out his second spellcard.
Borrowed: 'Duplex Barrier'
Despite the 'duplex' in its name, only one cube barrier appears, trapping both insides. The Blind Hunter, jolly of this, fires a volley of magical arrows all around him. Little Liberty grazes by the skin of her teeth. The bullets did not end once they hit the surface of the barrier. Swallowing the arrows and spitting them back inside at a higher velocity. Little Liberty dodges them again, but the arrows will not stop until they hit their intruder. The Blind Hunter chortles as he continues spinning, his bullets fazing through him.
The barrier became a kill box, litter with speeding bullets and arrows. Overconfident from her previous grazes, Little Liberty is hit by a stray bullet from her blind spot. As she explodes in a puff of white again, the projectiles inside the barrier disappear with her. The Blind Hunter screams, unable to contain his excitement anymore!
Two more hits for him and his spellcard is still going strong
She activates another bomb, stopping his spellcard from getting momentum. The Blind Hunter uses his power to ignore the painful impact of the mini-moons. As he focuses on his opponents, he can feel the giant bullets pushing his body. The two other moons crash and after the third, he makes the mistake to turn off his power to see what's going on. From the star-spangling bullets and three moons, the pain is too much for him to focus on. The barrier shatters to pieces with the last of his bullets vanishing with it.
One more spellcard left...
Know-Nothing Gambler whispers words of encouragement and numbers into The Blind Hunter's mind. He describes in great detail Little Liberty's flight pattern and when the perfect time to shoot. The Blind Hunter grins before playing a high-energy tune for his target to dance to. Little Liberty did not dance to the rhythm but became one with it. She grazes the musical bullets without any effort while firing back her triple-color bullets. Right, where he wants her to be. The Blind Hunter crows as he pulls the string far back. Light travels down his arm and into the bow, then an arrow of light emerges. Letting go, the magic bolt goes flies piercing Little Liberty's chest. Along with the puff of smoke came a loud 'pichuun'!
One hit, one spellcard. The final moment to determine the victor.
To see her blazing inferno, fuels all.
Life, joy, and the pursuit of lunacy.
A hero of liberty, who dreams stars.
Strife and sweating bullets, to her, playtime.
She fights for his right to be free from all.
Her torch-lit, pink hellfire melts the shackle.
Despite her might, the slave rejects her key.
He watches, unfettered from freedom's call.
Lil Liberty spreads the flame through the sky.
Still a slave, but now ordered to shoot down.
Hellfire now dead, like tyrants who claim just.
The clown falls, gripping the key, still faithful.
[X] Extend a hand I don't quite get the poetry bit, but I like the update. The borrowed duplex especially was a fun idea I think. I like the nickname for Clownpiece, "Little Liberty" but it feels like you've used it too much?
The fairy looks at his hand, confusion on her face. Katansei extends further, nudging her to hold it. "Come on! That was a fun game we played! Hope we can do it again!" He says with a manic grin.
After a moment of calm, Clownpiece grins back and grabs his hand. "Let's play now!" She screams in joy.
Her strength is nowhere near that of a small child. Katansei struggles to pull his hand away from her grip. He feels the force of someone his size pulling on him.
"Whoa! You're stronger than you look, kid!" He casually quips. "What's your secret?"
She grabs him with her other hand and yanks him to the ground. "Never underestimate a fairy!" They roll across the snow, leaving a trail in their scuffle.
Sitting on his stomach, Clownpiece wails her fist down on him. Each hit came with the weight of a young adult behind it. Katansei laughs as he grabs her arms, struggling to hold her back. The little girl titters, her hands inching closer to his face. Hellfire erupts from her sweaty palms. The flame tickles the surface of his skin as his laughter deteriorates into manic cackles from the sight and sensation. Neither of them notices the person or her shadow looming over them. Reimu swings her gohai at Clownpiece, slugging her in the head. Her jester hat flies off as she rockets toward a tree and slams against it. A large lump of snow falls and buries her body.
The Shrine Maiden sighs, "You okay, Katansei?" She grabs his arm.
The young man giggles, "That was so much fun, Reimu! Let's play another round!" His legs waver under his weight.
She smiles at the positive reaction. "Are you sure about that? Seems to me you're tired out." She holds her arms out to catch him if he falls.
"Y-yeah, of course, I am!" He takes her hand to support his stance. "Let me just catch my breath."
With help from Reimu, Katansei manages to sit on the porch. He clutches his stomach as he breaks into a laughing fit.
"I was flying, Reimu! Flying! Shooting magical arrows and sound!" He falls back, staring upward. "You know the strangest part!? It all felt so natural!"
The Shrine Maiden sits with him, staring at the snow-filled scenery. "That's danmaku for you. You don't need brute force, just something pretty to look at."
"Oh, so that's why Clownpiece was manhandling me!" The young hunter claps his hand, "Does that mean we can get in a fist fight with an oni!?"
She flicks his forehead, "Picking a fight with an oni." Another flick. "Insanity is not an excuse for being dumb!" Reimu lets loose a rapid-fire of flicks!
Katansei rolls away from Reimu, "Ow! Ow! Sorry! It sounded cooler in my head!" He rubs his temple. "Still... The fact that you made a way for anyone to get on even footing with a yokai." He rolls back towards her and points. "You're amazing, Reimu!"
Her eyes gleam, "Pretty generous with your words, but how about some more donations instead?" She says, with a smirk.
"Sure!" Katansei digs through his pockets and tosses a small bag to her.
Reimu fumbles the pouch, "H-Hold on! Throw it into the donation box! This looks like you're giving me protection money!" She tosses it back.
Katansei throws his pouch at her again. "I'm donating it to you! So, this is completely fine. I'm sure your God will be fine if their kindest and bestest shrine maiden they ever had is getting rewarded!" He gives a toothy grin.
The young lady fidgets in her seat. "I don't know where to begin with what you said!" Seeing that his mind isn't back yet. Reimu drops the bag to her side. "You know what? Forget it: let's just leave it here until you calm down, yeah?"
A hatless Clownpiece flies towards the two; a red mark visible on the side of her head. Despite losing, she wears a big smile on her face. One of her front teeth is missing, but she didn't seem to mind.
"So... what do you think!?" She asks, anticipation in her voice. "You liked it, didn't you? Not caring what anyone wants and just letting loose!"
The image of her chaotic hellfire begins to extinguish, his sanity returning after being driven away by it. His silly grin fades out to his more stoic state, and his rapid breathing steadies. Katansei pulls himself up to look at the fairy. A look of uncertainty in his eyes.
"I... can't imagine myself forgetting this duel." He admits scratching his chin. "I'm not sure how, but maybe I can make my spellcards instead of burrowing, and then we can have an even better duel." A small, nervous smile spreads on his face.
She shakes her head at a rapid speed. "No, no, no, I mean just being yourself! Not tangled up by what some rando is whining about." Clownpiece flies closer, holding out her torch. "You got to do boring adult stuff, but wouldn't it be cool if you could burn all that out of your head?"
"Or you could live in the forest like a friend of mine," Reimu speaks up. "No need to do anything drastic. Just saying."
Katansei looks at her with confusion. "How is living in the Forest of Magic less drastic? Are they even human?" He asks, though, in his head, he can see the appeal of it.
"She's human." The shrine maiden shrugs, "From what she told me, it isn't that bad..." She says, twirling one of her bangs.
The young man looks back at the spent torch. He could see the charred remains of his old blindfold. Emotions swirl in his head, unsure if they're good or bad. She wants him to have it. Not for using it since it's the same torch from their duel. It's to remind him of what it felt being free. Katansei takes a deep breath. Is this something he could take? What about his mother? What if she needs him for something and he isn't there to help? He lets go of his breath and.
The short, sweet memories of his inhibitions incinerated creep into his mind. No one to hold him back, judge him, or make him worry. He felt like he could march back to the village without his blindfold, and there wasn't anything anyone could do about it. Perhaps there's a way he could experience it again without the need for the torch.
"I'll think about it." Katansei grabs the torch from the ecstatic Clownpiece's hand. "You know, talking to you, I remember there's something I wanted to ask you about."
"Oh? What is it?" The fairy plops down on Reimu's lap, who's groaning at the lack of space.
The young hunter pauses, unpreparedness rearing its ugly head. Caught up in finding out more about Junko, he didn't think what to ask. What's more, if Clownpiece does answer his questions, what's stopping her from telling Junko about this? Would she see this as a sign of aggression and retaliate? It begins to dawn on him that he'd focused too much on the small picture. Again. The two girls stare at the boy in deep thought.
"Oi Katansei," Her flat tone pulls him out of his jumble thoughts. "You're not thinking of weird stuff again, are you?."
He waves her question off, "I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm trying to think of a question to ask." He says, looking away to see the serene white carpet blanketing the shrine.
"Say it then! No thinking allowed!" The fairy pipes up, hitting Reimu's chin with the top of her head.
"Get off of me!" The fairy lets out a 'wee!' as she's pushed into the snow with a soft thump. "The brat does have a point though. Just ask it, and if it's weird, you'll learn from it." She says, rubbing the sore spot.
Katansei hums, mauling her suggestion over. He looks down at the fairy, who's busy making a snow angel. "Clownpiece," She stops but doesn't lift her face off the ground. " ...Could you tell me what kind of person Junko is? " He asks, fiddling with the hems of his winter coat.
The shrine maiden quirks her eyebrows, "You know her?"
He shrugs, "We had a short conversation, but it was nice. You've met her too, Reimu?" He asks, smiling. What luck that he would find another person who may know more about Junko?
She points down at Clownpiece, sitting up with her chin resting on her fist, "It's because of her and her friend that this runt lives under my floorboard."
The fairy hums out loud, catching both humans' attention. "Junko is super cool!" She jumps up from the snow. "It's cuz of her that I'm the strongest fairy in Gensokyo! I'm sure you already figured that out." She says, with her chest puffing out.
"You're the only fairy I met who didn't run away from a fight." Katansei comments.
The little girl nods, "Yup! Let's see, oh! She likes overthrowing oppressors just like me!" She begins, her hands starting to fidget. "And, and, she's smart too! One time, I played a prank on her by hiding her hat. The day didn't pass, and she already knew where it was!"
Reimu jabs her thumb at the shrine behind her, "She always hides anything she takes to her room under."
Clownpiece's face flushes red. "You don't know that; shut up."
The two begin hurling insults at each other, derailing the conversation. "Is there anything else you could say about Junko?" Katansei interjects, putting his arms in between them.
She backs off from the frustrated shrine maiden. "Junko's calm ninety-nine percent of the time, but once she's in the one percent, even I can't keep up with her!" The fairy gives a toothy grin.
A confused smile spreads on the young man's face from her description. An image of Junko brimming with child-like glee pops in his head. Her once vacant eyes, brimming with life, is that what's hidden under her stoicism? What kind of person is she like when she's excited? More important is if he should be a concern.
"It's pretty rare, but that's what makes you so interesting," Clownpiece says, pointing at Katansei.
This disrupts his thought process, "I'm sorry, I don't quite understand what you mean by that." He says, wondering how he's involved.
She flies closer to him, causing him to lean back. "I don't know what you guys were talking about, but Junko was super excited to see you again." She says, smiling.
Reimu leans forward, "Why is she?" She asks in an even tone.
Conflicted feelings blend in his head. One part of him wants to smile at seeing Junko again. The other side leaves Katansei in an urgent state. When she left the first time, he couldn't help but feel; that he had missed an opportunity. Now that he's sure she'll be back, he wants to prepare. The reason why he doesn't know, all that matters is that he doesn't miss it again.
The fairy shrugs, "Don't know, but I hope I can be there when you see each other!" She presses a finger up her lower lip. "Besides her being close to the Boss? Yeah, that's all I know about her."
The young hunter digests the information he can find in the girl's description of Junko. He looks over to Reimu, a troubled expression on her face. She stands up and meets his eyes.
"Katansei, I want to tell you something in private." She tells him before heading inside the shrine. "I'll know if your eavesdropping, Clownpiece."
She smirks, "Oh yeah? What're you going to do about it."
The shrine maiden turns her head to her and gives a sweet smile. "Ex~ter~mi~nate~"
Not wanting the two to antagonize each other any further, the young man follows her inside the shrine. The room is colder now that the hell fairy is outside. Reimu faces the direction of the main entrance while Katansei stands to the side to avoid blocking her view.
"I have a bad feeling about this," She states. "What did you guys talk about exactly?"
While he is pleased that he found another person who knows about Junko, "As far as can recall, it was an innocent conversation with some awkward moments." He doesn't like the shrine maiden's reaction. "We talked about family for the most part."
She crosses her arm under her sleeves and sighs, "So she just walked up to you, and that's how it started?"
"Yeah, she told me how she reminded him of someone she knew." Katansei begins to pace back and forth, "That's right! She wanted to see how similar I was to him!"
"Someone she used to know... She seems calm at the moment. Or is this an 'in the eye of hurricane' situation?" Reimu looks up at the ceiling and groans. "Ugh, there's not much to get from this!"
The young hunter nods, "I think it'll be best if we find more people who know about Junko, like Clownpiece's boss." He stops moving. "Speaking of the fairy, she mentioned yesterday that 'Boss' was planning to have dinner at Eintei."
"Hecatia is the one she's mentioning; you'll know who she is when you see her. Trust me." Reimu says, "But Katansei, are you sure you want to get further involved in this?" She asks.
"I don't have much of a choice since Junko will most likely come looking for me." He shrugs, "Besides, we both know how something is always happening in Gensokyo. There's a good chance something else requires your attention."
Reimu gives a knowing tire look, "Lucky me." She walks towards the door leading to her room. "I'm going to go work on your new blindfold. If you're planning to go, make sure to tell me. There's something I have to give to you." She snaps her finger, "Oh yeah, don't forget about your coin pouch."
Katansei lets out a small gasp. "Oh gods, I forgot about that! Thank you for reminding me, Reimu!"
She smirks, "What can I say? I am the kindest and bestest shrine maiden around." With that, she goes inside, not waiting to see his reaction.
The young man blushes hot red as his sane mind recalls his unfiltered antics. 'She could have kept the yens to herself that would have been better than remembering this...'
He takes a deep breath and releases it. It'll take a while for Reimu to finish his request, so now it's time to decide what to do. It wouldn't be evening if he goes to Eintei now, but he still needs to have a check-up on his neck. Plus, it would give him time to catch up with some of the folks he met as a child. A devious thought crawls in his head. The danmaku with Clownpiece left him with a grumbling stomach. Why not head back to the village and grab something to bite? He chuckles, imagining what kind of expression those skittish hicks would have.
 Head back to the village: It's a bit risky, but the fight has left you with a desire for some dangos.
 Head to Eintei: You still need your neck checked out. It would also be nice to see familiar faces you haven't seen in a while.
[X] Head to Eintei: You still need your neck checked out. It would also be nice to see familiar faces you haven't seen in a while Leaving an Injury unchecked is always a bad Idea. Also meet the Entei crew would be helpful in the future.
Although the next update will take a while. Since we're having a little contest on this site, I'll be focusing on writing my entry as I would like to see how I do under a deadline. Sorry for any inconvenience!
'Time to have this wound checked at.' Katansei taps the door the shrine maiden had entered with his knuckle. "Reimu, I'm heading off to Eintei; I'll be back around the afternoon."
The sound of shuffling is heard from inside as the door slides open, "Here, take these." She gives him a few blank spellcards. "When you think of something beautiful, put those feelings into these."
He couldn't help but smile while looking them over, "You had been nothing but kind to me. I am grateful for it from the bottom of my heart, Hakurei Reimu." The young hunter bows.
"Hey, you know where the donation box is," She turns her face away from the door, waving him off "Try not to die on the way there, Katansei."
'What an odd way of saying Stay safe...' He nods "I won't; you take care too."
The Shrine Maiden looks at him before nodding and then closes the door without a word. He steps outside and picks up his coin purse off the porch. Without a word, the young hunter drops some coins in the donation box before leaving. Overall, he believes that this was an astounding success! Not only is he getting a new blindfold, but now he has gotten a means to fight yokai with no risk of injuries needed. Katansei couldn't wait to tell his mom!
"Aw, man..." He hears the Star-Spangled Fairy behind him.
"What's the matter?" He asks, turning around to see her holding her jester hat.
She holds it up for him to see two fingers wiggling through a hole on the top of it. "That arrow you hit me with did this; the boss isn't going to like that..." Her shoulders slump in dejection.
Katansei bends down to Clownpiece's height to get a closer look at the hat, "If you want, I could ask my mom to fix it; the damage doesn't seem that bad." He offers
The fairy beams, "You're serious? Neat!" She shoves her hat toward him. "It'll be like nothing ever happened!"
"Indeed, if mom's not too busy, she'll have it done by the time night falls." He stands up and walks over to pick up his hama yumi. "See you then, Clownpiece, and thank you for the duel; it was fun." He waves.
Her grin grows wider as she waves back with her whole arm. "Buh-bye, Kata! Shoot anything that looks funny!"
The young man snorts, taking his first steps down the steep staircase. Like before, the doubts and worries fade away. His view of the snowy forest expands, as does his view of the unknown ahead.
In the opening of a burnt woodland; lay a dead god. Underneath him was a child. The mother weeps as she is alone evermore. She called out to her son, but only the harsh, searing winds answered. Twigs and leaves crunching nearby, the noise comes closer before stopping near her. She couldn't look away from her son. The lonely hunter, who shot and killed nine gods, came to pay his respect to his final target. To his horror, he realized that there was a tenth, a manufactured accident birthed by vengeance. Kneeling next to the mother, he told her everything he knew. She goes quiet, turning her head slightly to see this stranger. Their eyes met with the man's riddled with shame, while hers were first recognition, then pure fury. The mother burned away, leaving only a fox in her wake.
"I will accept any punishment you deem necessary for me." Those were the final words of the lonely hunter before the fox ended him.
The snow beneath him crunches as he treks through the dense trees on the road. Katansei plucks the string of his bow to keep any monster at bay. He frowns, wondering why his imaginary friend hasn't talked since the duel with Clownpiece. Was he also affected by the hellfire?
"Shinno," he calls out, but there is no response. "Is everything alright, Shinno?"
A sudden, odd noise rings inside his head. It didn't sound like an animal or something natural, feeling otherworldly. Then Katansei realizes what it could be. 'The Yamanba, she must be the one causing this; is she calling for me?' After the third time, it stops as if it never happened.
Then, an old man's groaning rumbles in his mind, 'Kata...? Did we win?' He mumbles.
The young man grins, "We did, Shinno! Our first danmaku, and we won!" He says aloud.
Shinno barks out a triumphant cry, his tiredness completely evaporating, 'But of course, we did, boy! With men like us, winning is only natural!'
The density of the oak trees dwindles, leading to an opening. It felt more like a border between the two settings; the mighty oak trees face against the tall, mysterious grass in the winter field. The Bamboo Forest of the Lost is now in sight. Katansei informs his imaginary friend about everything that had happened after the fight, including the strange noises and who's behind them.
'Good grief, Kata, I was wondering what happened to your hair.' Shinno says, displease from the new info to him. 'So what's your plan then? Meet this lady as soon as possible?'
He shakes his head, "Maybe, I still need to get this cut checked out." He says, "And if possible, to catch up with some familiar faces."
'Fair enough. Speaking of familiar faces, who are you looking forward to meeting the most?' Shinno asks
Katansei hums; the question never crossed his mind. "Hmm, tough to say, maybe Granny Tewi or Ms. Mokou."
'Fujiwara no Mokou? As far as I recall, we only met her twice to and back from the bamboo forest.' The older man says. 'I understand the rabbit since you were with her the most during your mother's operation, but why her?'
"Yeah, she barely talked, but she is the first human we met outside the village." Katansei looks across the snowy clearing. "I'm curious how she feels living by herself."
Shinno chuckles, 'Living is a bit debatable for a being like her.'
The young man raises an eyebrow, "How so?" He asks
A moment of silence 'Well, you know, right?' The older man shies away.
"I don't think so. That's why I asked you to clarify."
If he had a face, Shinno would be grimacing. 'I mean, do you remember how her house looked?' The uncertain tone in his voice melts away. 'It looks more like a shack than anything! Just look at it. It's over there.'
Katansei focuses his attention ahead he's eyebrows raise as he realizes it is her house. "Oh hey, speak of the devil, and it shall appear." He steps closer, looking over Mokou's house. "It does have that feeling of being small, but I don't know, Shinno; it doesn't look that bad."
'I have high standards; say, what's that on the door?' Katansei steps closer to the sign '" Gone fishing, be back shortly" Well, that's a shame.'
"Guess we'll have to wait for her." The young man says with reluctance.
'Why not skip the middleman and track down Tewi instead?' Shinno suggests as Katansei mauls over his options.
Just wanted to say I'm pleased of how the story is going so far and I would like to hear your thoughts. It could be anything, maybe you see something that could use some improvement, or you find something you do like and want to see more of it.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I would love to talk and discuss how the story is going with you guys.
This one will be safer. As for my opinion on the story. I really like it. Especially since it focuses on Junko and that we'll probably see Hecatia in the future. I also like dialogue and characterization. It's very believable.
I think the story and writing is fine as it is, so no complaints from me in terms of dialogue, discriptions and story telling. I'm personally wondering if we'll get to see the Watatsuki Sister and Sagume in this Story but I'm just happy to read a Story were (relatively) new characters are the focuse. The SMD, the Moryia Shrine etc. are great and all but Gensokyo has way more then just that. (Sidenote Gensokyo would be a great setting for an Advature Story)
Although since we're heading towards Eientei, I do hope you don't characterise Kaguya as a NEET. NEET!Kaguya has got to be one of the worst Fandom Interpretations, up there with bratty Eiki. Eitherway, looking forward to the next update.
Voting is closed! Time to wait for the fire hermit.
>>28939 Thank you, I'm glad you're both enjoying it! >>28940 When I was reading up about Kaguya, it left me wondering how she got that reputation when she seems to enjoy going out and chatting with other people. Although I did look her up today, so maybe it made more sense back then.
As for the sisters and Sagume, I can't say for sure at the moment.
>>28941 Yeah I don't know where the whole NEET thing came either although thanks to Cheating Detective Satori we can be 100% sure that she isn't one, considering her personality that was shown and the fact that it is mentioned that she sneaks out into the Human Village from time to time
Nodding to himself, Katansei turns away from the sign. "Let's wait for Ms.Fujiwara. For all we know, the luck I could get from tracking Granny Tewi wouldn't be enough to get to Eintei." He says.
'I can see that,' shortly after, Shinno chuckles to himself. 'Could you imagine it though, Kata? Getting more injuries because you were going to see a doctor?'
The young man smiles, "Doctor, Doctor, help me, Good Doctor!" He faux shouts, clutching his neck. "I need this scratch checked out! Ah, please don't mind the missing limbs; just the neck and nothing more~"
His friend lets out a sharp bark, 'What do you mean I have to stay!? I only came here to make sure my neck was fine, dammit!' The two deteriorate into a laughing fit as each tries to make the imaginary situation more ridiculous than the last.
As time passes, Katansei begins to calm down and takes a deep breath while Shinno's still laughing his gut out. He reaches inside his coat and pulls out one of the three spellcards Reimu gave him. Despite being folded for a good part of his walk to Eintei, it looks fine as it was when he first saw it. He looks up to examine the scenery around him.
The innards of the Bamboo forest are viewable, but the young man couldn't help but feel that some of the shoots were no longer in their original positions. The difference is tiny, leaving him to wonder if he's misremembering it and they were always in that position, or the bamboo did move, but just enough for him to doubt himself. Maybe that's why there's such a defined line between them and the Forest of Magic trees. One side thrives on visceral terror from the beasts and debilitating spores to the point even some yokai would rather avoid it. The other side, which is more subtle, makes the unfortunate soul who's lost doubt their eyes and memories. A slow burn, its terror of never finding a way back home weighing more on the mind until it cracks. The madness of losing yourself or how you perceive yourself. Pure lunacy.
A faint glow emits from the blank spellcard grabbing his attention away from nature. Staring at it, he recalls Reimu's short instruction and pours his thoughts into the canvas. Shinno's laughter dies down as the light shines, softly humming. The once-empty canvas now shows the scenery of dense bamboo. It's only a still image, but like its true counterpart, there's a feeling of change.
'Well, what do you know, our first spellcard! What do you think of it, Kata?' Pride swells in his friend's voice.
The boy rolls his tongue against his cheek, "I can't say for sure it's not quite what I had pictured in mind." He hums. "I have more memories about Forest of Magic than I do with this place, so I thought my first spellcard would have something to do with it."
Katansei scratches it, "How am I supposed to tell how it looks when I do use... Oh!" Miniatures green bullets shoot up from the card and slowly move around in large groups with small gaps that someone could squeeze between if they're calm.
Simple, but it can get the job done if whoever is dueling isn't careful. 'Do you think it would be possible to make a spellcard that impossible to dodge?' Shinno asks off-handly.
"Reimu said that danmaku is a contest of beauty," He points out, "I'd imagine I would be too busy wondering if I could have dodged it rather than admiring its form."
'Hmm, if it's beauty, then I guess that would be the equivalent of someone shoving their artwork to your face.' His friend says.
A twig snaps nearby them.
Katansei drops his spellcard, grabs an arrow, and draws it toward the direction of the noise. The person lazily raises her hands, sporting a plain expression on her face. She looks like Fujiwara no Mokou, with her singed white shirt and blood-red hakama that a man would wear decorated with fire charms. It seems she was in a fight from the tears in her clothes but lacking injuries.
"You need to go to Eintei?" She asks, "I can help you reach there."
The young hunter did not relax, "Where's your fishing equipment?"
Her mild expression turns to slight irritation, "That? Well, I got in a fight with a royal pain in the ass, and it got caught in the action." She rolls her neck, the sound of her bones cracking. "So did the fishes too..."
His eyes focus on her, and the world around them fades to black. Katansei smells the smoke and sweat coming from 'Mokou'; her heart is beating fine, a bit slow for his comfort. She shifts her body to a more relaxed position, twirling her long snow-white hair out of boredom or nervousness. Judging from the casual look of her scarlet eyes' it's the former. Nothing about her behavior hints that this is an ambush from a disguised yokai.
Katansei lets go of his breath as color returns to the world, "My apologies, Ms. Fujiwara, it has only been yesterday since a yamanba attacked me." He places his arrow back in his quiver and bows deeply.
The woman waves it off, "Eh, you're being a bit hard on yourself there, kid. Loosen up." She says, walking up to him.
As he straightens up, he realizes how the much years have passed. He had to look up to see Mokou's face. Now, he's the one that needs to look down. It feels odd, but in a good way; perhaps now he can return the favor for what this hermit did for his family.
Mokou rubs her chin, squinting her eyes at him, "This isn't the first time you've been here, right?" She asks
Katansei smiles, "No, I was here with my parents once; if it weren't for you, my mom wouldn't have survived." He says.
The woman begins to snap her finger in quick successions, "A family of three with the mother gravely ill?" He nods, and she snaps one last time. "Ah, you're Douro Katansei, aren't you?"
His eyes widen; she even remembers his name? "Y-Yes, I'm surprised you remembered my name!"
A small smile spreads on her face, "What can I say; my memories are like a book." She jabs a thumb toward the bamboo. "And you? You remember the general rule of thumb when inside?"
"Do as you say or starve to death; that's all I can recall." It was a moment he couldn't forget.
A sunny day; with no clouds in the sky. His father, who he once thought was immovable, rattled to the core. His mother took everything with grace. Unresponsive and burning to the touch. Then there was him, a scared and confused child demanding Mokou that they go faster. Desperation took its toll on the young boy; he ran ahead, trying in vain to rush through the bamboo forest. He heard his father yelling for him and hand with a vice grip on his wrist. The hermit lifted him off his feet and told him that rule of thumb. He calmed down at some point, but she didn't let go until they got to Eintei.
"Good! Your brain grew as well." She taps his forehead with her knuckle, "Let me change my clothes, and then we'll go." Mokou grabs the sign hanging from the door and enters her abode.
The young hunter bends over and picks up his spellcard, 'Hey, Katansei. I need you to be honest with me for a moment; it's about Junko.' Shinno speaks up.
'What is it, Shinno?' He asks in his thought.
'I think it's safe to say that she is bad news regardless if you remind her of someone she likes or doesn't like.' His friend explains. 'One of the more unfortunate aspects when it comes to non-humans.'
'That's reasonable, but I already had this talk with Reimu; we can't avoid it.' Katansei folds the spellcard and puts it back in his coat.
'And have you asked her for help?' The older man questions.
'No, this is my situation, and I don't want to drag anyone else into it.' The young man crosses his arms, leaning against the wall of Mokou's house, the sound of the wood creaks.
'There, right there; we need to nip that attitude before it grows.' Shinno says, 'She is the Hakurei shrine maiden. It is her born duty to protect the people of Gensokyo.'
'And she does, but as I said, I don't want to drag anyone in this.'
'Even if it's their job!?'
'Yes! She's a busy person Shinno!'
'I don't care if she's busy, Kata; we need to focus on ourselves!' The old man's voice becomes more gravel, 'We need connections; I know it seems strange since I was hesitant about the idea of befriending the girl, but that was before Junko became involved.'
'Father was an outsider; when he came here, he adapted and managed to have a wife and a child.' Katansei moves off the wall and begins to pace around 'Mom goes out at night to sell the clothing she made to the yokai. She has adapted. That is what the Douro family does; we adapt and overcome!'
'And look how well your idiotic father "adapted" in the village!' As he hears this, the young man stops abruptly.
His teeth grind, and his grip on his hama yumi tightens, "What did you just say?" Fury leaks through his whispering.
The old man remains silent, "Let's talk about it, Shinno since you decided to bring that up. He left because those hicks couldn't do what we can, something your senile mind has conveniently forgotten!" Katansei's voice remains low, walking away from Mokou's house. "I get your looking out for me, but I will not tolerate that utter disrespect you've spat me with!"
He hears his friend let out a tired sigh '...You're right, it was uncalled for, and I'm sorry.' Shinno relents. 'We've seen how your mother and father adapted, but I wanted to point out that Shiage's way, as you pointed out, involved regular customers, making deals to get more threads, tools, and much more.'
Katansei didn't say anything, 'Without those connections, the situation back at home would be terrible. I understand you're reason against this, but you need to rely on more than just me.'
"I made it this far because of you and my family." The young man states.
'Yes, and I think it's time we expand from there.' Shinno follows up. 'It doesn't have to be now, and heck, why not we tell your mom about this situation?'
"I can't see how that would help."
'If she were to find out some other way, perhaps Junko was snooping around wanting to learn more about you, or some yokai caught wind about this and couldn't mind their own business.' Shinno says, 'This'll leave a nasty mark on how much she trusts you.'
"Than what? Have her in a constant state of worrying if she'll lose another person she loves? Mom has done so much for me; how could I call myself her son if I put her through that?" Katansei looks up at the cloudless blue sky.
A chuckle echoes in his head, 'You think she doesn't do that whenever you go hunting in the yokai-infested forest?' His friend asks
"W-Well, I don't want to add any more reasons for her to worry!" The young man grimaces.
'If you say so, can you at least tell me if you'll consider my suggestion?' Shinno asks, waiting with bated breath.
Katansei takes a deep breath and then exhales.
 "I'll think about it." -  Inform mom about Junko
 "I'm sorry, Shinno, but I can't."
Art by ikrauni67 I hope you guys liked this update and I look forward to seeing the choices you make and your reasons behind it! Or thoughts about the story.
[X] "I'll think about it." - [X] Inform mom about Junko As Shinno said, she's already worried about him. Not telling her would make it worse and if she finds out she will be even more worried about the other possible dangerous things he might hiding from her.
Voting is closed! Man, looking back from previous updates, it's only been recent that I've been holding votes open for a week. Still, it feels nice looking back and see the progress I made with this story.
The young man lets out a sigh. 'Alright, Shinno, I'll tell her... Just give me some time to prepare myself.'
'By all means, I know it's not easy for you.' His friend says as the door to Mokou's house creaks open with the owner leaving in fresh winter clothing.
She's wearing a different hakama judging how the fire charms were in other spots now. Her coat is a snow-white jacket made of leather with a diamond pattern. The unorthodox design makes it clear that it's from the outside world. He wonders if mom would approve of an odd combination like this.
"That's quite a jacket, Ms. Fujiwara; the people from outside sure have some... creative tailors."
'Is that what they call it now?.' Shinno mumbles.
The hermit grins before turning around and showing off a red phoenix with its wings spread out to the shoulders, "You're telling me! I can't believe someone would throw this baby away!" She exclaims.
He shrugs, "Maybe the original owner forgot they had it."
"If they forgot that this coat existed, they don't deserve it!" She closes the door to prevent the cold air from getting in. "Anyway, ready to get going?" Katansei nods, and the two enter the Bamboo Forest of the Lost.
Distant noises echo throughout the maze, with the wind brushing against the twigs and the unseen denizens. Bamboos were all the eye could see, with the only possible guide being the ancient hermit in the modern jacket. Despite the bright day and having a simple check-up, Katansei plucks his bow string while holding an arrow. His neck leans forward as his eyes turn shifty. Ten years have passed, but nothing seems to have changed. A little boy who needs his hand held to avoid sinking.
Mokou looks over her shoulder to see his tense state. "You're doing a great job of keeping an eye out, kid, but you look like you're going to lose it any minute now." She stops and turns around to face him.
He stops with a grimace expression, "Sorry... I thought I would be fine, but I'm starting to feel as useless as I was when mom was sick." The young hunter says, resisting the urge to look away from her and into the surrounding.
Mokou stands in front of him, "Straighten up." He did as told, "That's too rigid; you need to relax, but not to the point of looking smug." She takes a deep breath, and Katansei mimics it.
Then he exhales, repeating it a few more times, "Better?" He nods. "Good to hear." She says before turning forward to continue down the dirt path.
The young man follows suit, "Ms. Fujiwara, what is it like living outside the village?" He asks, curious and wanting to keep his mind calm.
She shrugs, "I love it." The hermit stops at the sight of a pile of rocks and makes a sharp left away from the dirt road. "Way better than living in a city or even a village!"
"I'm immortal," She then motions to her masculine clothing. "I would never hear the end of how I should dress!"
"Oh yeah, you're a woman." He says casually.
'Kata...' His imaginary friend speaks up in disbelief.
The hermit looks up at him with an amusing expression. "Do you talk like that to the girls in the village?"
The young man's eyes bulge out, "What!? No!" He waves it off, "I-I mean, with how long your hair is, everyone will know you're a woman!" He says, mentally kicking himself.
A grin grows on her face. "So if I cut my hair short, they'll think I'm a man?"
He stutters, trying to think what to say without digging deeper into his grave. Hearing Mokou giggle at his attempts didn't help either.
She bumps her shoulder against his arm, "I'm just messing with you, Katansei. No offense taken." She waves it off, cooly.
"Oh." The young man clears his throat "S-So it's the; freedom then?"
The hermit nods, "Basically, yeah. I also like living by myself too."
"...Really?" He asks, disbelief in his tone.
"Yup." She continues walking.
Katansei mauls over what Mokou said. Being alone interests him, but he couldn't recall when he felt content when his fellow villagers avoided him. He remembers fond memories of being in a group as a child before his ability got him in trouble. With a shrug, the young man chalks it up as him just being fickle, and plucks his bow string away.
Silence fell on them as gently as the snow. The sun is now at its highest peak, and the bamboo's shadow covers the two and their path. As the two walk deeper into the forest as it becomes denser and less distinct. The sun's light struggles to shine through the thicket. It all looks the same, tall and shifty, with nothing to tell if they've been in this spot before. The young hunter plays a little melody from his bowstring while trying to mimic Mokou's more relaxing walk. It won't be long before they reach Eintei.
Suddenly, everything goes white and then back to normal. No noises came from the flash, nor did it seem to disturb the wildlife. If someone were to blink at the right time, they would not have noticed it. The young hunter isn't sure what to make of it and looks to his guide. Only to find out that she's looking over at him too. Neither said anything, but they both knew what they saw was real. They hear the noise of bushes rustling and twigs snapping.
Mokou takes a stance, fire growing in her clenching fist. "Stand with your back against mine, Katansei."
He turns around with their backs almost touching. He stresses the bow string further back as if firing an arrow and releasing it. The sharp noise bounces between the bamboo causing it to echo far and wide. Katansei would then repeat the process. Mokou raises her fists, ready to burn anything that twitches. The young hunter catches something shaking in the corner of his eye. A bipedal figure behind the bamboo, he couldn't make out who or what of it. It's holding a metallic object with a barrel aiming at him. He has never seen it before but assumes it's dangerous. Fortunately for him, the creature doesn't seem aware of it getting spotted. The echoes made by his hama yumi cause it to involuntary recoil, unable to aim. At this rate, it may panic if he intensifies each pull. He looks back to his guide, but Mokou's attention is on his blind spot. Whatever this creature is, it doesn't seem alone.
'Kata, Whatever you do, don't hesitate.' Shinno speaks in a calm tone.
 Shoot an arrow at it  Rapidly pluck at the string to make it panic
Art by CetrioloCetos It's nice that I can continue writing again. Classes were pretty busy! >>28977 I hope you're enjoying the story so far!
With a sharp inhale through his nose, the young hunter pulls the string in shorter and louder intervals. The legend of the hama yumi still holds as the spotted being lets out a shrill scream. Mokou snaps in the direction and flings a fireball at it. Jumping out of the cover and bursting in flames, a rabbit yokai in a full black suit of armor with slick red streaks runs deep into the bamboo forest, its large, protected ears flopping around.
"W-We've been ambushed! Run away!" He yells.
"Coward! Desertion is a capital punishment!" A high-pitch voice barks out.
The hermit flicks in the direction the new voice came from and throws another fireball. A person in a slimmer version of the armor, without rabbit ears, runs out. She retreats in the same direction as the rabbit yokai, firing several shots behind her. Not a single one misses. Mokou hisses in pain as her face becomes a pincushion for all the darts. It did not stop her from flailing her arms around and setting fire everywhere. Katansei pulls the arrow he's been holding back while she acts as his meat shield from the darts. The sound of a bowstring lets loose, but it wasn't from his. An arrow containing a clear fluid hits his forearm as he yelps from the sting. He pivots his waist and fires in a blind panic at the other bowman.
The third hidden ambusher came from the direction Mokou was looking before the shootout. He shoots down Katansei's rushed shot and fires back with another arrow he was already holding. Whether on purpose or accidentally, the hermit wobbles in front of the young hunter and gets hit in the back instead.
She grabs his coat to stay standing, "K-Kaaata, ar-row! Kill me!" She presses her face against his chest and tries to rub against him to remove the darts, moaning in pain as it wedges deeper.
His eyes bug out, "How will that help us, Mokou!?" He sees the silent ambusher pulling another arrow from his quiver as he struggles to reach for his own.
She lifts her neck, "Stop wh-hining! It'll be great for you and me-e!" The hermit slurs out before trying again with vigor to get rid of the darts.
A single pluck of a string deafens any noises around him as Katansei feels a prick on his leg. He tries to lean with his other leg, but as Mokou pushes forward to keep a firm stand causes them to fall. The arrow shaft sticking to his right arm breaks from the impact, but the vial remains latching on him.
"Shinno! I need your help!" He calls out to his friend, but there's no response. "Shinno!?"
"Please trust me when I say this, young man." A rather soothing voice comes from the ambusher. "Besides the eternal sinner, no one is your ally."
'You're in for a surprise then.' The old man mutters, 'Kill her, Kata, do it!'
"Why!? Nothing good could come from it!"
'Yes, there will! Do it!'
With the stress of the situation and the fluid working its way into his brain, the young hunter reaches for his quiver. The man rushes forward to stop him but fails to make it. Katansei looks away as he plunges an arrow into Mokou's neck; her body goes limp on top of him. He looks up at bamboo trees looming over him, blocking the view of the clear sky. Everything goes silent. The ambusher stands over them, his round light blue visor staring at him. He crouches down and grabs the broken arrow that broke off the young man's arm.
"...My apologies for putting you through that." He says before pulling the arrow out of the young man's leg. "It was supposed to go smoother than this." He pinches the vial on his arm and tugs it off.
A hand launches up and grabs his chest plate. "Back off!" A sudden burst of flames hits the soldier square in the chest, launching him back. The vial slips out of his finger from the blast.
The blood splatter on his winter coat, the darts on her face, and the arrow in her back were all reduced to ashes. Her neck wound seals shut, and her eyes are no longer in a drunken haze. She looks over at the teary-eyed boy and gives him a wink and a thumbs up.
"Hears a nice deal: if you give up and tell us why you attacked, I won't burn yah to a crisp." She clenches her fist as flame spews out. "And if you don't. Well, I'm sure your two friends will be more reasonable."
Patting away the fire, the man picks up the rest of the arrows on the ground. "Again, I am sorry for putting you through that." He taps the side of his helmet; his visor begins to glow blue. "Next time will be better, I assure you."
A noise erupts as it gets brighter. "As for you, Shinno, there will be consequences."
Mokou flings a fireball at him before everything flashes a harsh blue and a high pitch sound that only grows louder. Katansei rubs his eyes open and rapidly blinks to ease the stinging feeling. His ears rang from the unknown source.
He could barely hear the hermit and his old friend screaming, "Gah! What the hell!?" She crouches down, roughly rubbing her eyes.
The young hunter looks around the blazing scene and tries to stand up as Shinno curses up a storm in the back of his mind, "Ms. Fujiwara... what happened here?" he asks, wondering why his right arm and leg feel sluggish.
She blinks the stinging sensation away before turning around, "Huh? Wait, did I cause this fire?" She holds her glowing hand up, and the fire swirls into it. "Yeah, those were mine, but why don't I remember using them?"
He notices something amiss, "Where did my arrow... I was holding it a second ago." The young hunter takes his quiver off his back and counts, "It happened again. I'm missing a few more arrows."
"In the morning, I saw that I was missing more than what I used yesterday."
The hermit massages her prickly face, "Maybe a yokai that can mess with memories is behind this?" She walks over and lends a hand to him.
"What would be the point of stealing them?" He grunts as he falls back down, putting too much weight on his right leg, "H-Hey, how are you holding up? My body is feeling weird for some reason."
"Eh, besides my neck feeling stiff, I'm fine. Let's get out of here; Eintei is not far." Mokou grabs his left hand. "Up you go, come on."
"...Thanks." He stands up, cleaning himself from the snow on him. "Ms. Fujiwara, what should we do about this?"
"Look at these footprints in the snow, bipedal and with some heavy boots. Should we keep going through this route?"
"No. Wiping our memories and leaving a trail this easy to see? That screams an ambush."
"Is there another path we can take then?"
She nudges her head in the direction from where they came. Before they go, Katansei spots an object glinting in the snow. With a bit of effort, he bends down and picks it up. A tiny container with a droplet of clear fluid inside.
"Hey, Katansei! Hurry up!" The young flinches and speed walk away, putting the foreign object in his coat's pocket
The two backtrack through the burnt and wet area and take a less disturbed path. Despite appearing casual, Mokou's hands remain shut, smoke seeping out. Katansei stares forward, no longer fiddling with his string to focus on the noise around them. The once-comforting silence is now ruined and keeps them on edge.
"Shinno, do you remember anything that happened before that blue flash?" The young hunter asks his friend.
'Besides you and Mokou standing back-to-back, no, not a thing.' He grumbles. 'Can you use your power to track who attacked us?'
"I don't remember seeing nor hearing them, and the smoke from the burnt bamboos covered up anything else."
'So now we got to wait for them to attack again? Ridiculous!'
"I was thinking of what you said," The hermit speaks up,
"Hmm? What is it?"
"I was thinking if this isn't the first time someone got near you without you remembering, maybe it would best to stay in Eintei until they get bored?"
"But what if they decide to attack anyway?" The idea of bringing trouble didn't sit well for him.
She waves it off, however. "It would be better than stepping into their trap, and besides, they can take care of themselves."
The young hunter frowns, "...I guess, but for how long?"
"Give it about an hour or two." She shrugs, "I'll stay, of course, to guide you out."
"I hope Nemuno is patient, or this might get complicated." He thinks to himself.
Ten years have passed, and Katansei finally returns to Eintei. The place that he has no doubt he will never fully repay the debt for what they did for his family. A festive chanting echoes in the distance. Down the paved road, the pristine white clinic with a red cross on the roof is near. The Eintei Mansion that houses Mistress Kaguya is at the end of the path. Walking inside the clinic: there's a distinct lack of odor, making him self-conscious of his own from fighting Clownpiece to walking all the way here.
And yet, he grins. "This place hasn't changed a bit." The chair layout of the room, the same coat of paint on the wall, and even the medical posters were the same.
"Tell me about it," Mokou walks past him and rings the bell on the desk. "Hey, Eirin! Are you here?"
A familiar young-looking woman in a black buttoned suit and a long pink skirt appears at the desk. "Oh, hi Mokou, is everything alright?"
He remembers this yokai. The droopy; rabbit ears, long purple passing her waist, and bright red eyes. To his embarrassment, he couldn't remember her name as she didn't talk much whenever he did see her. The times she did speak were when she was responding to Doctor Yagokoro's orders.
"It happened again."
Her cheery smile falters, "Ah, Master went to the mansion to look for Mistress Kaguya." She says as she scratches her cheek.
The hermit smirks, leaning in to whisper, "I could come back with her urn." The yokai makes a queasy expression at the remark.
"We'll wait for her to return."
"If you say so." She turns to the young hunter, "Welp, I'll be heading to the manor. Hope everything will be fine for you, Katansei." She pats his shoulder as she leaves.
"Thank you, Mokou, and see you soon." He waves goodbye before looking back at the rabbit yokai. "Hello, I got into an accident, so I came here for a check-up."
She gives a polite but more artificial smile before passing him a clipboard and a pen, "Please sign your family name here," He does as he's told and gives it back to her.
She walks behind the counter and opens the door to the side. "Right this way, Mister Douro." He couldn't help but smile, it feels good being an adult!
The young hunter enters and follows the yokai through the hall. "Could you tell me what happened?" She asks.
"Yesterday, I had a run-in with a yamanba who slid her large knife along my neck." He answers as he loosens his scarf.
"That sounds terrible! Ah, before I forget, my name is Inaba Reisen, and I'll be your nurse for this check." The young(?) nurse says, looking over her shoulder.
"I'm in your care, Ms. Inaba." He gives a brief bow. "And I assure you that the wound is superficial; it's just that I don't know where that knife has been before."
She hums, "If you're concerned about something harmful entering your body, I could take a blood sample and have it looked at."
Katansei's survival instincts kick in as the idea of giving a yokai a droplet of blood is a drop too many. Giving away your hair is concerning, but the life source for his body? Another side of him, for them saving his mom. No, not just his mom, his whole family. He is willing to put his trust in Reisen and Eintei.
These rabbits(?) had a neuralyzer and pumped something into our heroes using darts. I think doing a blood test might reveal something interesting.
>"As for you, Shinno, there will be consequences." I knew there was something off about the imaginary friend; I mean, yeah, it's an imaginary friend, and that's weird enough, but honestly, it isn't that weird compared to the other stuff in this setting. Still, I did not suspect he would have ties to what I am guessing is a moon rabbit men-in-black type of squad or that anyone else would talk to him directly beside our protagonist.
There is a slight reason to be suspicious of Reisen: Katansei's missing memories. The canonical character with the power most suitable for causing that would be Miyoi, but she has not been anywhere near this story, yet. The second most suitable power would be Reisen's insanity, and the attack did involve rabbits. Though, the attackers did seem more like Moon rabbits than Eientei rabbits, and if Reisen had been there she would have had to run to get back to Eientei before Katansei and Mokou, so those factors make her less suspicious. But still, it's something to keep note of.