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But wait. Are ya starting too much in the future? Like, just totally in-media-ressin’ the whole thing? ‘Cause while maybe that sorta thing is all the rage in low-budget experimental films, and also big-budget films that’ve heard that that sorta thing is all the rage in low-budget experimental films, it doesn’t do very good when what you’re tryin’ to pull at the mo is explanation. If ya want someone to understand something, you’ve gotta start at the foundation and work your way up, buildin’ the whole deal brick by brick under.
Well, unless you’re workin’ on the Statue of Liberty. Then everything works out fine, somehow. And turns green. Go fig.
But you’re as far away from the Statue of Liberty as you could be right now, and in more ways than one. The point is—the point is (and this is a beaucoup important point to lay out, is whatcha think) hoofin’ it from Rinnosuke’s abode was the right thing to do, or at least the preferable thing to do, or at least the thing to do that was the most preferable by you. But preferable or unpreferable, it didn’t change the fact that once you’d left Rinnosuke’s—like, just taken your first steps out, with nothing but your clothes (jeans included) and Rumia at your side—
Thing is, ya didn’t actually have a place to go, didja?
Or even know the where of a cheap hotel.
(Ya feel like there’s serious biz to be made here in the printin’ of a good Gensokyo Baedeker, but that’s sorta adjacent to the point right now, and back then, too.)
So, where could you have gone, with said where featurin’ the strong possibility of not only you bein’ welcomed with lackadaisically-to-fully opened arms, but Rumia as well?
Maybe there was more than one answer. Prolly, even. But one answer came to you first, and that’s what ended up countin’.
“And that’s why I’m here.”
Your audience sits, totally enraptured. Prolly. See what ya did there? Narrative hijinkery, all up with.
Your audience’s name, incidentally—‘cause it’s just the one dude, seated there—is Kogasa Tatara. Ya know that ‘cause that’s what she introduced herself as, after ya came stalkin’ up the road up to the temple, tryin’ to ignore both the cold and the rows and rows of little underlegged statues—which you’re pretty has gotta be a Buddhist thing, only since you’re totally lackin’ context it felt more like something out a horror flick. Not that you can talk, when you’d barely look twice at the sight of a dude with his limbs literally nailed into a crossbeam.
Also, theophagy, sometimes.
Point is—it only occurred to you up on that walk that ya didn’t ‘zactly have a letter of introduction or anything to vet ya, which led to you wonderin’ if just lettin’ yourself in’d be gauche (again, cold)—so it was a real stoke up luck when ya came up to the up stairs up front and found the dude—Kogasa—sittin’ up on ‘em like a kid on a real fancy stoop. She was starin’ into nothin’, the handle of a wide, purple umbrella tucked between her arm and the rest of her bod, the whole deal perched low over ‘er like it could swallow ‘er if it snapped shut right, prolly.
And then from there it was just—“Yo, I’m Christie,” “Yo, I’m Kogasa,” (or she didn’t say “yo,” but whatever), and the three of you went from cold to...well, still a little cold, if you’re gonna be honest, but at least ya had the whole temple roof over your respective heads, which helped out a lot.
And still does.
Which brings you to now, i.e. the time of you finishin’ off your summary of what brought ya here in the first place. Kosaga’s brow quirks as she mulls over your conclusion—like the whole deal doesn’t ‘zactly add up for her—but if she’s got questions, she keeps ‘em internal. “I...don’t understand all the way, but...you were thrown out too, right?”
“What? No way, dude.” Ya thought you were summin’ up the whole series of events pretty good while you were doin’ it, but if this dude thinks that, obviously ya weren’t. “I threw myself out. Plus it’s not like we’re partin’ for good, dig? This is just me takin’ a break, tryin’ to figure a coupla things out before I get back.”
Kogasa smiles. It’s a real tight-at-the-edges smile. “But that’s what I thought, too.”
You’ve got a feelin’ this dude’s veerin’ off at a way different conversation here. Ya look to Rumia, quick-off, like maybe she’s got a suggestion on how ya oughta be handlin’ this—but no, she just returns your glance elastic, so no help there. Which means it’s full on up to you to drag this convo back to full-‘round comprehensibility. “So, this is Byakuren’s place, right?” ya ask. “Ya know when she’s gonna be back? Or...here?”
For a sec, that tightness gets tighter—then it unravels completely into something you could call “unsure” at best. “I don’t actually know,” Kogasa admits. “I...don’t actually live here.”
You pass another look Rumiawards, but it’s No Help 2: The No-Helpenin’. “Yo,” ya say, out of a lack of bein’ able to think of anything else to say in that moment, and then: “Should we actually be in here?”
“I don’t think Byakuren would mind,” says Kogasa, all way too casually for the words she’s sayin’, “and it doesn’t matter if anyone catches me.”
Okay, so: You and Rumia? Prolly just became accomplices. Like, not thatcha mind breakin’ the law per se, ‘specially if the law’s unjust (or maybe even just dumb), but you’d kinda wanna know beforehand that that’s something you were gonna do before ya did it. It feels sorta unfair, dingin’ you and Rumia for crimin’ when neither of you had mens reas.
One mens rea, and then a second mens rea for the dude of you who didn’t have a mens rea already.
More importantly: “It doesn’t matter ‘cause no one minds, or it doesn’t matter ‘cause you’re committed to breakin’ and enterin’ in anyways?” ya ask Kogasa.
“Ha ha,” Kogasa says, not laughin’ but actually sayin’ the words “ha ha,” (though that unsteady ‘spression does lighten up a significant titch). “Well, to be honest, if they didn’t mind, there wouldn’t be a lot of use doing it.”
Okay, see, maybe ya might as well be Rumialess here, ‘cause here ya are in Gensokyo, and you’re totally lost. ‘Cept ya do have Rumia, actually—she’s right here, next to you—so ya give it try number three and shoot ‘er a look thatcha pray is chock fulla meanin’. A meanin’ like—“I’m kinda startin’ to socially flounder here, dude, so if you could gimme a hand that would be totally, totally cool.” And maybe your prayers are answered, ‘cause Rumia studies your beseechin’ mug for a sec, before huffin’ a solid breath, deflatin’ slightly, the model of a parent who’s just reremembered that they signed up for this whole nurturance responsibility when they decided to have a kid in the first place.
“She’s a youkai, too,” is what Rumia says.
Kogasa looks at Rumia, like she doesn’t get why she’d say that, then looks at you—and then her brows raise in understandin’. “You didn’t know!” she says, gleeful. Her smile goes sharp. “How does it feel knowing you’ve been talking to a youkai without knowing it? Aren’t you surprised?”
Are ya? “I guess?”
“Really?” Kogasa leans in, youwards slight.
“Well, I mean...sorta?”
There’s a moment more of eyein’, and then Kogasa’s semivicious-lookin’ ‘spression sorta just loses whole fierceness of its grip. “Are you sure?” she says, haulin’ skepticism with it. “You don’t feel surprised.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s not really surprise,” you admit. “It’s more like—I assumed a thing, and then that thing turned out to not be the thing it was, so I had to do some semi-on-the-fly recontextualizin’. I dunno if you can still call it ‘surprise.’ Can ya?”
If Kogasa’s mug looked any flatter, it’d be sticky-taped off of graphite. “No, you can’t,” she says.
“Yeah,” ya say.
Ya shift, feelin’ kinda uncomfy. Nothin’ makes a noise, but ya hear it, anyways—that hollow unsound, like something out there ringin’ below your edge of hearin’. It’s the sound of silence, ‘cept magnified by the on-edgeness hauled alongside the whole you’re-prolly-not-supposta-be-here sitch.
“So,” ya say, to make it stop doin’ its deal in your ears, “why are ya makin’ with the B&E, anyways?”
“‘Bii and ii’?”
“Theft,” Rumia ‘splains.
Though you’ve got ish: “Not theft,” you correct ‘er. “I mean, ya could break-and-enter to start off a theft, but I feel like it’s two different sections of the deal, right?”
Rumia nods her head “no,” all sagelike. “It’s theft,” she maintains. “Because she takes.”
Ya look at Kogasa, who’s notably not shufflin’ miscellaneous temple valuables into the insides of her vest. But now thatcha properly assess, she doesn’t seem to have or have had any ish, herself, with the “theft” claim. So Rumia’s right, maybe? “You take?” ya ask.
“I’m a youkai who takes the spirits of her victims.” “Spirits,” Kogasa says, though she’s not talkin’ the ghostly kind, prolly. Instead, it’s the kinda “spirit” that’s written in four strokes, as in “heart.” Still, it sounds totally nefarious, doubly comin’ from how casually the dude’s sayin’ it as she sits there—legs under, back straight, umbrella prim and horizontal on her lap. “There are some youkai who eat meat, right?” she adds. “It’s like that.”
So she’s some sorta spiritual, psychic vampire, is what she’s sayin’? How does that work? Also, how far front-doorwards can ya get if ya suddenly spring from your sit with Rumia underarm? Askin’ for a friend.
This table isn’t nailed down, is it?
Ya rearrange yourself, shufflin’, nudgin’ it with your knee to check for if it tilts. Like, for in case ya hafta flip it, hypothetically. “So, what’s that like, stealin’ spirit?” ya ask, way very unsuspiciously. “Like, ya need a spirit straw to stick a dude’s jugular or something?”
Kogasa seems weirdly affronted, almost. “I take spirit. I’m not a vampire,” she says. Then she sighs, slumpin’ slightly, her eyes leavin’ off ya (which gives ya a good opportunity to stick your hands under the table blanket deal and see if you can get a good grip for heavin’). “It used to be easier,” she says. “People used to be surprised if you told them you were a youkai. Now, people don’t mind anymore.”
“So ya want ‘em to mind.”
“Well, they don’t have to mind. But they aren’t surprised, either! I can’t get anybody to be afraid, but they could at least be surprised...”
The dude trails off, visibly startin’ to mope inwards, so ya take that moment left ya and hail Rumia. Yeah, again, even though you’re pretty sure you’re losin’ points for it by now—like, big-time. “Are ya gettin’ this?” ya mutter, your voce sotto.
“I told you,” Rumia mutters back with deep, deep patience, “Non in solo pane.”
“See, it feels like you’re droppin’ knowledge here, but I don’t get it—”
The door slides open behind ya in a rush, crashin’ against its end with something between thud and wham. Ya twist your head thatwards, sideways, hard and sudden, nearly pullin’ something that’s not supposta be pulled.
There’s a dude there.
Which is—no duh, course there’s a dude there; that door prolly didn’t yank open itself, but more important to ya seems the look of the dude—or maybe the look on the dude. ‘Cause that look—wide-eyed and startled beneath the hood of that mantlet-lookin’ thing she’s wearing—is a look that right now applies towards you.
It’s not a badwrong look, per se, but ya didn’t head off on this expedition plannin’ to have a look like that turned at you. It’s not good bodeage, is what you’re sayin’.
“Look!” Kogasa lurches clumsily to her feet. “Do you see? That’s the kind of reaction I wanted!”
“You brought other people,” says Hooded Dude.
“I’m here, even though you probably didn’t expect me to be!” says Kogasa. “Aren’t you surprised?”
“I’m not surprised you’re here, but I am surprised you brought friends, this time.”
A real complicated series of ‘spressions passes over Kogasa’s mug before the whole deal settles on a sorta muted triumph. “I’ll accept this!” she crows.
“That’s good,” says Hooded Dude. And then, as it settles on the whole room that Kogasa doesn’t actually have a post-win plan past just keepin’ sittin’ there and waitin’ for the next thing to happen: “Please leave.”
Kogasa gets, with a demeanor somewhere between “saunter” and “flounce.” Like she’s bein’ gracious, and this isn’t retreat. And maybe it is, for her? You dunno. Maybe it’s just ‘cause ya barely had three-fourths of a chat with that dude, but it felt sorta like the more she gabbed, the less ya got.
Like ya said, though—only three-fourths of a convo. As sample sizes go, that’s...not.
“You should leave, too—and, you should stop spending time with people like that.”
Hooded Dude says that, and ya snap back to the present, realizin’ all of a sudden that she’s been starin’ atcha ever since Kogasa waltzed outta this scene. And then she stares at you for a sec more, while you’re tryin’ to process that sentence she just dropped, ‘cause—yo, what?
“Yo, what?” ya say, and then it clicks in your head: “Hey, no way, dude—I didn’t break into this place.”
Hooded Dude keeps starin’ at you. Then she stares around you, and then back at you again. Like she really, seriously wants to point out the composition of the admittedly totally reasonable conclusion she’s gathered up here, but also like she’s just too not-confrontational to lay it out straight in front of you.
“I thought she was legit,” ya ‘splain, before she can press the point in something other than eyeballs. “Like—that she actually lived here. I’m actually here to see your dude.”
Hooded Dude seems like she relaxes, minutely, but she’s still pretty all up on guard here. “I see,” she says. “You’re here to see somebody?”
“Yeah—your head dude—” and ya blank on the name, but only for a sec. “Byakuren?”
This time, the relaxin’ jumps in bounds. Or glides upwards, which is a lot more fittin’ for jumpin’ than boundfully jumpin’ would be. “You’re here to see our sister?” she says. “If you’re here to see her, you can’t be too disagreeable a person.”
“Trust me, I’m totally agreeable.” This is Byakuren’s sister? Well, now thatcha look at ‘er, there’s something in the way she operates that’s Byakurenesque. “Is she in? ‘Cause if she’s not in, I can wait.”
You’ve got nothing better to do, right?
“You don’t need to,” says Hooded Dude. “She returned with us. I’ll bring you to her right now.” She shuts off that last sentence with a short bow of the head—not so much an actual bowin’ as much as just her sayin’, “I acknowledge you exist”—and then, without even waitin’ for you to indicate one way or another that you’re up to follow her, turns ‘round and startin’ walkin’ out from the room she barely walked in. Ya stumble pretty bad, rushin’ to your feet and out the door, half ‘spectin’ that when ya turn the corner out, the dude’ll’ve disappeared—but no, course not; she’s right there (though walkin’ away as steadily and not-lookin’-back-ly as when she started), and ya fix yourself easy into her footsteps behind ‘er. Largeness or smallness of the place irregardless, it doesn’t take long till you’re led to the dude you were seekin’—Byakuren, standin’ midchat, surrounded by a millin’ host of dudes you can only describe as “motley.” Like, ya think ya see some of ‘em havin’ tails there? And that dude is literally dressed as a sailor, so that’s a thing.
“Sister,” Hooded Dude calls, which has the effect of not only drawin’ Byakuren’s attention, but also the attentions of everyone else on the scene.
Which means, suddenly, all eyes on you. You can see the mass question passin’ over the multitude of mugs: Namely, “Who’s this dude and when’d she get in?”
Luckily, there’s an exception to that movement, seein’ as there’s a dude in this company who has met ya, i.e. the Byakuren you’ve been lookin’ for. “Christoferson,” she says, smilin’ gentle as she draws herself outta the crowd. “I wasn’t expecting you to visit today.”
“Yeah, my bad.” Ya suddenly feel kinda awkward, ‘specially with this group of dudes who’re so obviously thick with each other in front of you as they are. Up till now, you just sorta assumed that between Byakuren’s invite a month ago and this place bein’ a religious site, there’d be a general open-doors policy—but maybe not? “If it makes ya feel better, this is more biz than pleasure. Or I guess I don’t have any biz to biz, but it’s more businessy pleasure than the regular pleasant pleasure.”
Byakuren, still smilin’, takes in your wordage—you can see her turnin’ it in her head till it makes sense for her. “A consultation, then.”
“Well, sorta? Mostly I was thinkin’ more refuge. Not that I’m in trouble or anything, but I know you’re all over that human-youkai goodfeel.”
Byakuren nods. And then, havin’ gotten that your presence is solid here, she turns back to the huddle behind. “This is Christoferson—Chris Christoferson,” she says, and glances at you again, like she’s not sure she got that right.
Ya nod a yes, even though part of you thinks she’s totally sure, actually. You dunno. Could go either way. “‘Chris’ works,” ya say. “Just don’t call me ‘C.C.,’ or we’re gonna have words.”
“Christoferson is the human who helped bring the horse’s leg to the temple,” Byakuren continues.
One of the dudes—the one dressed like sailor—gets a furrow ‘cross her brow. “I thought you were the one who brought that one,” she says to Byakuren.
“Byakuren brought the horse’s leg here,” says Hooded Dude, “but she got the horse’s leg from a human, first.”
Sailor frowns. “I don’t remember that.”
“You weren’t here.”
“Yeah, that’ll do it. So it’s her fault Kyouko’s lost her way?”
“I haven’t lost my way!” That’s one of the shorter dudes here. There’s a pair of floppy animalish ears on her head, and they sway at the ruffly ends as they turn backwards. “I’m sure they’re still settling in—you can’t expect someone new to be comfortable so fast.”
Sailor gets a look like a woman on the verge of cryin’, or at least pretendin’ to cry, and then suddenly hoists “Kyouko” into a full-bodied hug—“hoists,” ya say, ‘cause with the height difference she’s actually pickin’ this Kyouko up by the underarms. Like, feet leave the ground here.
“She’s so pure-hearted!” Sailor fake-bawls to no one in particular. “Still trying to see the best in people, even when they don’t deserve it at all!”
“M-Minamitsu!” Kyouko kicks availlessly. “Let me down!”
“Not a chance!”
Kyouko continues to struggle as Minamitsu, obviously deliberately unheedin’, keeps on with the bodily contact and the heapin’ of accolades. To be hoenst, ya don’t know what to make of it. “Hey, dude,” ya hiss, lowerin’ your voice so (hopefully) the only dude that can hear ya is the hooded dude who brought ya to this group. “Should I be here?”
Hooded Dude hums, lookin’ into this entire...whatever-this-is. Another one of the previously-standin’-‘round dudes seems to have joined in by now, though over Kyouko protestin’ and Minamitsu protestin’ her protestin’ ya can’t hear what she’s personally addin’ to the whole experience. It’s one of the dudes ya thought earlier mighta had a tail, only now that you’re payin’ attention you can see it’s not tails she’s got. Or maybe they are? Ya don’t know what they are, is the thing, ‘cept that they’re comin’ outta her back and that half of ‘em look like tentacles and the other half look like someone plundered the halves off a few pairs of beaucoup oversized scissors.
Also, she’s wearin’ a little black dress? With stockings. That’s weird, right? Weirder than the sailor thing.
“It’s alright for you to be here,” says Hooded Dude, and ya realize ya sorta zoned out for a sec—though maybe it’s Hooded Dude’s fault, partly, for takin’ so long to mull it over. “Sister says you’re a friend to youkai, besides.”
“It just sorta ended up that way. Though I mean, like—” ya gesture, “with this goin’ on, should I be here? ‘Cause I can go to another room or something.”
“It’s alright,” Hooded Dude says again. “Because it’s always like this anyway.”
She says that, but she’s smilin’ while she’s sayin’ that, real fondish.
So that’s fine, ya guess. And you’re even gonna say something to that effect, only ‘cept that’s when what you can only call an explosive ahem drops into the room. It’s actually super-impressive: There’s nothing really loud ‘bout it, least not unusually, but it sorta reverberates or resonates or does something funky with acoustics that, instead of gettin’ lost in the chaos like an ahem of its volume ought to have, it hits. Like, your ears are suddenly fulla ahem and not much else, and from the way everyone else in the place’s friz where they’re standin’, heads twisted sourcewards, you’re pretty sure you’re not the only one.
And of course, when you’re talkin’ ‘bout the source, ya mean Byakuren, who’s lookin’ impossibly tranquilly over the assembled assembly—smilin’, even. “Minamitsu. Nue,” she says, and the coil of her voice sounds close to creakin’, even if her voice itself isn’t. “The two of you seem to have some free time to spare. Why don’t you find us some tea to serve our guest?”
Minamitsu, without breakin’ eye contact, gently places her Kyouko back onto the ground. “Do you really need two people to make tea?” she mutters.
“Right, right, tea—sorry about that. C’mon, Nue.”
“I ought to be saying ‘come on’ to you,” that one called “Nue” says. “You made trouble longer than I.”
“Sure, sure. C’mon.” And she grabs Nue’s wrist, trippin’ her down the hall and away at an unsteady half-jog.
Ya follow the two of them down till the feelin’ of eyebeams gets unignorable. “So, those dudes,” ya say at Byakuren, “they’re Buddhists too?”
“Most of the youkai here are Buddhist monks in training,” Byakuren says. Off to the side, Kyouko raises herself to her feet, with another of the dudes—taller, robes, crowned with some orange nenuphar-lookin’ thing—helpin’ her up. “This vocation isn’t a simple one, and they are still in-training, so please forgive their indiscretions for now.”
“Yeah, no, it’s cool.” Ya wave off the apology. “I dunno from Buddhism, remember? Which means I don’t know from Buddhist-monkhood, either.”
Byakuren looks like she’s ‘bout to say something, and then her eyes light up. And then she still says something, though you’re gonna bet it’s something totally different than the first something she was gonna say, prolly: “In that case, why don’t Ichirin and I tell you of this temple’s history?” she says. “As a temple, it’s only very recently that we’ve been established, but this structure saw use long before that—would you like to hear the story?”
[ ] She’s piqued your interest. Ask her to lay it on!
[ ] Hold up, didn’t someone mention the horse’s leg?
[ ] Not now, with this Rinnosuke ish hangin’ over ya.