===== Time: Midday | Curse: ~~~ =====
‘Today is a good day. Today is Elly’s birthday.’ That is what you tell yourself. Your body will have to listen eventually; the rebellious, useless thing it is. Your hand is on your knife, you notice. Nervously, you pick at the seals bandaging its handle, waterproof but still layered in your dried blood.
‘Prepare a sealed arrow, to slay it.’ It’s a reckless, stupid idea - fitting that’s all else your mind could come up with.
No, you’re not going to run, and you’re not going to fight. You’re going to finish Elly’s dress. Damn the little, violet voice inside you, and your instincts which defy your every thought. Damn it all.
Today is a good day. Today is Elly’s birthday.
With shivering hands, and a mind drunk on duty, you sew. The dress only needs a few finishing touches. Another half an hour should be enough, if you can quell these hands of yours. It’s like your fingers are trying to run away as you sew. They elope with needle and string both.
What respite you have is in the silence of the voice inside you. The cry of mortal danger fell to whimper, then nothing, in a matter of minutes. If you were fortunate, you would consider this a victory. More likely, and befitting your luck, the voice is silent out of fear. Whatever ‘it’ is - is coming closer. Whatever ‘it’ is - will find no audience in you. Danger can wait, you are busy. These hands just won’t stay still; that’s the real issue. It will take hours to finish Elly’s dress with these hands. The dress must be done by today: Elly’s birthday.
You would rather die than ruin her birthday. You might just end up doing both.
‘It’ is on the horizon. You can feel ‘it’ beneath your skin, an instinctive revulsion, like that invoked by the scent of a putrescent, bloated corpse. More importantly: your hands won’t stop shaking.
You bash the bottom of your clenched fist to the ground. It helps; the shock makes your hand go still, so you do it for the other, not enough to draw blood, but enough to make them submit.
With stiff but steady hands, you sew.
‘It’, the youkai, draws near. You can call ‘it’ a youkai now by judgement of your remaining seals. The youkai flickers in your peripheral vision, and you do your best to keep it only peripheral. Dusty yellow and a hint of indigo is all you can discern from it. It’s a wrestle to keep focussed on the work in front of you when a youkai, enshrouded in palpable, visceral danger, lurks a stone’s throw away. If you were to look up, the youkai would be plain to see - but you’re busy.
All you would see is a monster in its place, anyway.
Try as you might, you can’t concentrate. ‘Tch,’ a petty, frustrated growl tears itself from your throat.
“Afternoon’” calls the intruder in response - as if your growl were a greeting and not a lame outrage.
You stare down at the unfinished dress; unable to continue sewing, and unwilling to confront the loathsome beast that’s made its home at the edges of your peripheral vision. Truly, the youkai is in more danger than you: if you were to acknowledge its monstrous form, its real self might die. Of course, this is a youkai - the dumb, deadly forest kind, not the amicable, dangerous house kind - so why would it care, anyway.
“Is that a potato sack you’re making?” asks the soft and clear voice of the intruder.
A potato sack? Clothes are sacks that contain people, that is true. Does this dumb youkai think Elly looks like a potato? Another grumble escapes you. You may have very little idea what Elly looks like, but she is not a potato.
“Hm?” it pushes.
“A dress,” you mumble to settle this quickly.
“A. Dress. For. Elly.” You keep your eyes locked on the dress, but you glare down at it as surrogate for the youkai.
“You name your potatoes Elly?”
The beast’s words are like little firebugs eager to light you ablaze. More importantly, you come to realize the youkai is playing with you, like did the forest youkai when you were a child. Nowadays you’ve taken to disposing of them before they speak.
Not only have you played into this youkai’s hands, but you’ve also directly interacted with it. You growl tiredly, not yet defeated.
“No. I don’t. And you know that,” you answer flatly.
With a prepared, blank face, you force yourself to behold your tormentor: a woman, by all appearances, and a youkai, in truth. The youkai says nothing, but you can see the ghost of words forming at the amused curve of its lips: proof enough of its true motives. With that, It drops its act, though, knowing youkai, it might continue in feint just to spite you. An Indigo strip forms a contour along the youkai’s modest figure, framed in a white gown. The beast’s arms interlock by the sleeve at its navel. Radiating behind it, a dusty and pastel yellow mass playfully squirms - which, under close inspection, reveal themselves to be tails, nine of them, each tipped with a red ribbon. The ribbons’ color are a sharp contrast to the beast’s sedate palette, and draw the eye. Those are a fox’s tails, those are a fox’s eyes, and under its puffy hat you imagine there to be a fox’s ears. It occurs to you: this is a kitsune.
Of course, you must remind yourself that it is fake. This monstrous reflection of reality is useless for anything besides reading emotion. You can only be thankful that this one is humanoid. For a monster like Meiling you had to rely on reading whiskers.
You feel the red needle and thread slip through your quaking hands. In the inertia of the moment, you forgot how incredibly scared you are. There’s nothing overtly fearsome about this monster: no serpents of darkness, storms of gunpowder or toxic flame. Yet, still, your hands shake, and, still, your heart beats like it’s trying to escape. There’s something subtly off about this beast, an invisible miasma that only you can feel - your body reacted before you even saw it. But, instead of listening to flight or fight, you decided to stay and sew. Now, as impending doom looms in the form of a youkai, you have to wonder: why aren’t you running?
Oh, that’s right. It’s Elly’s birthday. You’re making her a dress. That’s more important than anything.
Swallowing your rediscovered fear, you speak: “I’m busy. Leave, now. I…” You can’t say the absolute truth; second-best will have to suffice. “These fields have a guardian. Elly.” …former guardian. That job is yours, now. Then, did you just tell a lie? No, no - you still consider Elly to be the true guardian.
In spite of you, the youkai casually plops down to sit. Its tails puff out like living cushions. For a being that radiates dignity, it acts incredibly undignified. The burden of this beast’s dignity lies solely on its graceful appearance.
“Kitsune aren’t scared of potatoes.” The self-proclaimed kitsune inclines its head and keeps an austere expression, as if delivering sage advice.
You stare back blankly, speechless for the moment. This youkai, a kitsune, inspires equal amounts terror and disenchantment; leaving you incredibly confused.
“Elly will destroy you, if you don’t leave,” you reiterate. “I don’t lie.”
“That will make questioning you easy, no?”
…’Questioning’? Does this damned thing only hear what it wants?
“Yakumo, Ran. Proud Shikigami of the Yakumo family, and kitsune.” After a long pause, the kitsune introduces itself proper with a slight bow.
For what little it is worth, you appreciate that the youkai is upfront, even if it may just be lying. “Schütz. Hunter,” you tersly reply. “Ran. If you don’t leave, now, you will be exterminated. I promise you.”
Ran doesn’t bat an eye. You think its ears might be broken - or its mind. Youkai lack many things, but self-preservation is not one of them.
“Afternoon’, Schütz. On behalf of the interests of the Yakumo family, I’ll be interviewing you today,” the Kitsune says with rehearsed precision. “And, outside of the interests of the Yakumo family, I technically don’t have an opinion on the matter.” The kitsune brushes some invisible dust off its lap. “That trite aside, I can say that once I get my interview, I can be gone to leave you with your… dress.”
The kitsune gives you the time you need to think because it does have the upper hand, or it thinks it does. In the beast’s mind, you’re the prey. However, this youkai doesn’t know that simply talking to you is a danger in upon itself. What if, for a second, you believe in the monstrous figure before you? Disaster. You can’t let that happen, again.
Elly isn’t here yet. You took her duty, not on purpose, but you did. Why would she swoop in to save you without order? It’s your job to be rid of this intruder, not hers.
You’re also scared, incredibly scared, for the possibility of everything going wrong, and the fact this youkai’s existence seems to be enough to make you want to recede into a shell like a snail. Fleeing is no longer an option, your instincts tell you - and fighting? The thought would make you laugh if you could.
“Hmm?” the kitsune prods. Its tone is crisp, honed and capable of piercing through thought.
You grumble in response.
‘Today is a good day. Today is Elly’s birthday.’ you told yourself. You will make sure that becomes a reality.
You’re going to be rid of this youkai, and you’re going to finish this dress. Fine - there’s no other option.
“Ask,” you blurt out. The word is forced like a razor up your throat. “Ask. Interview. I will answer, if you promise to leave… Please.” You let out a sigh, and bow your head in an obvious sign of capitulation. “Please believe me. It’s best you leave, now.” It’s useless to appeal to a youkai like this one, you know that.
Once again, the kitsune is utterly unfazed.
“It’s in the interest of the Yakumo family…” the kitsune trails off mid sentence, and its austere expression melt into something more ‘real.’ “...So on and so forth. I do what I need for my job, and I’m free to go.”
The ‘Yakumo family’ has this thing under an oath of some kind to question you.
“Ask.” You sit cross-legged with hands in your lap. Your face is kept like slate, and your voice is just as flat. In your lap is your bow which you unconsciously hold close for comfort.
The kitsune, however, is relaxed, casual even. Dignity hangs onto it like a drowning man for air, and, despite the odds, this beast manages to look graceful even while doing nothing in particular.
“Yesterday morning, four fifty nine AM, I received a queer report. The Border spontaneously purified itself as it began to fray at the edges,” says the kitsune. “The Border has been busy fraying itself these past few days, and I’ve been equally busy mending it. Now, imagine my elation when another has stepped up to the task.”
You stare blankly in return. The kitsune failed to take into account the fact you have no idea what a ‘border’ is besides the obvious definition. “I cannot.” You answer the question that might not even be a question, to be safe.
The kitsune perks up, slightly. “Neither could I, until it happened. It’s in the interest of the Yakumo fa-...” Its ears flick irritatedly beneath its poofy hat. “Nevermind, nevermind - it’s in my interest that I investigate.”
“... Right.” When will this beast start asking questions? You fiddle with the bow in your hands. The beast notices.
“Hakurei seals, potent. Youkai hunter, are you?”
Hakurei. The name leaves an ill taste in your mouth, but it’s no surprise a youkai would know the family of its villain. Regardless, you’ve finally been asked your first question.
“No. Animals.” You shake your head to right your thoughts. “I hunt animals in the Forest of Magic.”
An eyebrow is raised. “That’s no prey for humans.”
“... True,” you admit. The flesh of the animals you hunt are filled with wild, magical energy. Over the years, you’ve built some resistance, but it’s still a gut wrenching experience.
“You would encounter youkai often in the forest,” it leads on.
“Yes. Many. Too many.”
“Highest raw concentration of youkai in Gensokyo - when disincluding the Kappa, Tengu, and Oni clans.” Then, a grin splits itself across the kitsune’s face, revealing sharp canines. “So, you would have experience with the spellcard dueling system, yes?”
“... Much.” Where is this beast going? More and more, you fiddle with the bow in your hands.
“The spellcard rules, I invented them. Clashes of brawn are tasteless, no?” It doesn’t wait for your answer. The beast is consumed in its own fantasy; its tails trail back and forth like charmed serpents. “Tweak a few borders to bend, break and create a few rules; and a sharp wit is made a blade in its own right. Spellcard duels, beautiful displays of guile and grace where only one’s pride is at stake. Perfect for a land brim with strife but low in bodies. Only…” Its ear flicks. “No one is using them - except you, apparently. Humans these days are so mellow,” it ends on an irritated note, telling by the periodic tic of its ear.
To put it simply, you don’t believe the youkai. Reimu invented the spellcard rules, she told you as such. She taught you how to duel before the system was even implemented!
“Necessity.” You don’t let your disbelief reach your voice, and instead focus on the subject. “Spellcard rules are necessary.”
“... Only necessary?” Flick, flick. “They were supposed to be, and still are, fun. A strategy that surpasses shogi, a sport that surpasses kicking balls, and an art to surpass painting. There’s something for everybody. Even simpletons love flashy colors.”
While this youkai most certainly didn’t create the Spellcard Rules, you can believe that they like them - a lot.
“I…” What are you supposed to say? “Only duel forest youkai, but, Elly, she has beautiful spells.”
“Potato girl?” Ran notes the sour look on your face. “Nevermind, nevermind - shall I show you how spellcard duels ought be fought?”
The propositions stuns you. You should have expected it, considering the youkai’s delusional enthusiasm on the matter, but you didn’t expect a kitsune to be this scatterbrained.
“No. You said you would ask questions, then leave, Ran,” you remind it.
The kitsune doesn’t falter. “Yep, yep - it’s in the interest in the Yakumo family that I investigate the recent disturbances in The Border.” It gestures to you with a tail rather than a hand; which still remain peaceful interlocked. “Tell me, where in that does it say I’m not allowed to have fun?”
Is that a serious question…? The kitsune’s gaze quietly bores itself into your own, so you assume so.
“... Nowhere.” You take a deep breath. You may feel like a mouse under this creature, but you’re an exceptionally moronic mouse. “But. I want you gone. So, ask what you need for your family, and leave. I’m busy.”
Ran blinks. “I’m sorry to interrupt your busy day of making dresses for potatoes.”
You growl, in mouse terms: a squeak.
“Yesterday morning, four fifty nine AM, I received a queer report. The Border spontaneously purified itself as it began to fray at the edges,” restates the kitsune. “That report came from you.”
From… you? Yesterday morning, you were… the memories flow like an unblocked dam, and you immediately replace the plug. The memories are horrible and vile, and have nothing to do with ‘borders.’
“No, I… No, it didn’t,” you mumble out, at first, and soon regain composure. This beast must be toying with you.
“Yet, I traced the sender straight here. Masking your trail with Hakurei seals was smart - up until the point you sent a report and punched a hole through The Great Hakurei Barrier. In the future, keep holes small. It’s much harder to physically localize small infractions than it is colossal rifts. And, I advise you not send me error reports when you attempt direct repairs of the border - but… the process is automated, so I don’t blame you for slipping up there. You’re only human. You are human, yes?”
Again, Hakurei, why does this beast speak her name, and as a ‘barrier’? It accuses you, and accuses you more - of what?
“I… no, no - explain yourself, youkai,” you spit out in fragments.
The kitsune doesn’t let up, in fact, your confusion only seems to embolden it. One of the beast’s stray tails rears, and points at you; a little red ribbon bobs at the end. “In conversation I might’ve had the chance, but you insisted we hurry this along. Rather: Who are you, really, Schütz?” Ran doesn’t smile, but its golden eyes are keen and full of a self-indulgent joy, like a predator cracking the hard shell of its prey.
Then, before you can raise a baffled word of protest, the kitsune relaxes, stretches, and lets out a long yawn. It sounds between a woman and a beast, likely a fox, telling by the row of predator teeth intermingling with molars. “Ahh~ Excuse me, excuse me. Successive all-nighters take their untimely toll.”
Despite everything, the yawn proves infectious. You haven’t slept either, and you suppose even youkai need sleep.
The tense atmosphere has cumbled, and Ran peacefully awaits your response. Absentmindedly, the kitsune stretches its tails one by one.
You take a deep breath, and list off dryly: “My name is Schütz. I don’t tell lies. I hunt beasts for my sister. I have never heard of a border. I have never broken a border. That is all.”
“~Ahh, yep~ yep.” The beast’s voice is broken by yawn - which it tries to contain this time. “It’s hard to believe you’re not lying,” Ran continues unhindered.
Ran nods, and continues: “It’s hard to believe you exist at all: an honest, hard-working, living threat to The Border.” Ran smiles its sharp, predatory smile. “It may be against the interests of the Yakumo family, but I respect that.”
The beast’s smile drops. “Be that as it may, it falls to me, in the interest of the Yakumo family, that I end threats to The Border.” Its sleeves roll back to reveal lightly-clawed nails. “I’m supposed to kill you - not educate you, not chastise you, not recruit you, a miracle of probability, but kill you.”
Arguments are worthless. The lurking fear this beast emanates has become manifest as a promise of death. You can’t die, not permanently, and that fact does nothing to numb the reality that you are going to be torn apart and eaten by a youkai that claims to respect you.
‘Today is a good day. Today is Elly’s birthday.’
Your goal is to finish this dress.
[A: Spellcard Duel]
Bow (Heavily Anti-Youkai Seal Fitted, Hakurei Brand, Blood Coated 'Human')
- x12 Iron-Headed Arrow
- x1 Iron-Headed Arrow (Broken)
- x1 Iron-Headed Arrow (Blood Coated 'Human')
Iron Knife (Heavily Anti-Youkai Seal Fitted, Hakurei Brand, Blood Coated ‘Human’)
Sparse Tough Clothing (Heavily Anti-Youkai Seal Fitted, Hakurei Brand, Blood Coated 'Human')
-Seal Hairtie (Unknown Properties)
- ‘Red’ Thread (‘antipsychosomatic’)
‘Red’ Fabric (‘antipsychosomatic’)
‘Red’ Dress (Nearly Finished, ‘antipsychosomatic’)
Moon Phase: <O “waning gibbous”
Picture tomorrow. Work in progress.