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Sorry for the delay~
Image source: https://twitter.com/hrnrx/status/930586961772871680
[X] to ask Aomu about the Incident, first. Then he’d determine how to act.
“I know something about you that Patchouli doesn’t,” said his Mistress, chuckling with her knowledge.
At the time, Gen sweat at these words and held his teacup to his lips too long, worrying with a wincing face. The Devil then smiled and said, “Oh,” next touching her tongue to fang and saying, “several somethings, are there?”
Unable to drink, he brought his cup back down and wore a miserable expression.
“Our Gen is keeping secrets,” she continued, dragging her finger around the rim of her own cup while looking to the sun-filled sky askance, “well, I only know one of them.”
“May I ask which, Mistress?” he ventured, attempting to recompose himself.
“You may,” she allowed, nose in the air and eyes closed.
He looked across the table, placing his hands on it with one over the other in a vague showing of politeness. He continued to wait, for eight seconds, which was a short but thoroughly uncomfortable amount of time. Remilia let one eye slightly open to look upon him, and she grimaced. Upon seeing this, he didn’t wait for her to scold him and instead hurriedly asked, “Which of my secrets do you know, Mistress Remilia?”
Instantly, her eye was lid and her pride returned. She folded her arms and began to reveal her information, “Yes, you see, I know that you have been consorting with some kappa.”
Gen had braced for the impact of the revelation, but instead of like a truck, this hit like a feather. He opened his mouth and out of it came “Ah, that...” shortly followed with, “is something Master Patchouli knows already.”
Remilia kept her arms folded and her posture proud, but her face began to twitch with some confusion. Eventually enough cracks in her composure broke her mask of conceit, and she met Gen’s eyes with hers glaring. “Ehm, what?” she asked. “Come again?”
“Master already knows,” he repeated. “Her name is Kawaiwaya Aomu, and we met last year. The day we did, I told Master about it.”
He then jumped in his chair, startled that Remilia had slammed her hands to the table and suddenly stood, her wings unfolding to their full and intimidating three meter span. She cried “What!?” in disbelief, and he sank into his seat; despite her being of a smaller stature overall compared to him, even sat there, he felt dwarfed before her.
He ground his molars together and managed to calm himself enough to answer her, saying “Yes, though I’m wondering how you found this out, Mistress.”
Remilia was glowering; he could feel it although he didn’t meet her eyes. Soon, however, he smelled a strange kind of burning and looked toward the balcony to see his Mistress’s wingtip smoking on fire in the sunlight, prompting him to show her concern.
Remilia acted as if this was harmless and continued looking at him irritated. Eventually she took her hands from the table and brought them to her hips, making her wings small again and looking at the left appendage: that which had been struck by light. She flapped both her wings once, strongly, making a little gust inside and killing the flame, but not before casting a smoldering piece of herself forward. The vampire caught this snapping and hot, leathery bone in her hand before it could fly across the table and looked at it with indifference. It quickly faded to ash in her palm, and she lifted the newly formed black pile toward the outdoors to let the wind take it fully there. By the time he looked again, Gen saw that her damaged wing had already restored itself completely.
“Haaa...” his Mistress sighed, admitting with her fingertips touching her face: “I embarrassed myself.”
Twice, he thought, though he still was shrunken before her.
“Anyway, I’d noticed your heading to Youkai Mountain more and more, heedless I might add,” spoke Remilia, “and once, then twice, I decided to tail you.”
You had!? he commented to himself. He’d never noticed her at all, despite his Mistress’s presence typically being incredibly overwhelming and hard to ignore.
The Scarlet Devil pulled her chair back in and sat again while she explained her findings, “Although your dealings are... allegedly known to Patchy, I saw that you and this kappa wanted to keep quiet and clandestine. Why is it that you never go to where the rest of the kappa nest?”
[ ♫: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTZ_vdaHvM0 ]
... was still a concern, in present day.
Gen now flew outside Youkai Mountain, looking it over and wondering where he should enter. Having wasted some time disposing of hostile fairies on his way here, and time being limited, he quickly turned his eyes toward where he knew a certain gorge between the Mountain and Forest lay. He had until now avoided the Genbu Ravine on Aomu’s advice; to the kappa’s credit, her first thoughts upon learning of his humanity and outsider status were dedicated to fretting over his safety. If she’d felt betrayed, she’d never told it.
His explanation to his Mistress over their secrecy was an obvious one on his part: it was dangerous for him to travel to the kappas’ lair. As for Aomu...
“Should be around here, right...?” he asked the thrashing air, gazing beyond a thinning canopy. Before he moved forward, Gen looked back to Misty Lake and the storm brewing over it. The winds had lowered since a bit ago, and he figured the weather would break soon. He returned his scrutiny to the trees and looked specifically at their trunks. Aomu had told him, “If you really want to find me, and we haven’t set up a meeting like it’s a total emergency or something, and it’s very serious, right? Look for the tree marked with a cave on the trunk beside the Genbu Ravine, on the side of it closer to the Forest. That’s around where I live.” Finding an arc carving in one of the tree’s trunks, and only one, he made to push through the woods, recalling his engineer friend had also requested “But, don’t do that please. Just don’t.”
He did that, and came across the cave-dotted and hexagon-jointed Genbu Ravine, flying above it. Snow covered it in a way more fantastic than he’d ever prior seen in Gensokyo, and as usual he was compelled to float and admire. Towers, steps, and outcroppings of columnar basalt shaped this canyon, along with a healthy waterfall and river. The waterfall had frozen, though, and he saw that a few blue-clothed and backpacked dwarves were crowding it and discussing before a figure that seemed to have been frozen within it. He thanked whatever that distraction was for allowing him the moment to appreciate the scene, and carefully descended while hiding best he could in this rather open space. The snow died down.
“Phew,” he sighed and made a soft landing on a large stone, touching the ground with his gloved hand. It was slippery... he was thankful to be wearing boots, now. Ice was everywhere here.
Now, he thought how to get Aomu’s attention... assuming she’s even here.
While pondering, he heard a harsh whisper of “Gen!?” and looked to his left to see a familiar cap atop a more familiar dark head of hair. Aomu was poking up from the river and looking at him disbelieving. He raised his hand in greeting and smiled (though she couldn’t see that behind his scarf), offering a “Yo”.
The girl leapt up to shore, casting cold water everywhere, and she rushed for him. He recoiled and stood, and she pushed her wet hands into his zipper, eliciting from him a “Hey!” which was ignored. She hastily shoved him to a wall of gray and, when he was flat(-ish) against it, she tapped that wall with her fingers quickly and specifically. Then, she slammed her fist down on a remembered part of it. The whole thing gave way then, and he fell backward into what seemed to be a secret passage, Aomu landing atop him with a pained expression.
His reaction of “Off me, dwarf!” was quick, and he grabbed her at her shoulders only to find her clinging, letting the river’s water seep into his clothes.
As the rock doors of the cave closed, she sighed sweetly, commenting “Ahh, warm~... This is nice.”
He growled, and managed to detach the youkai and put her to the floor at his right. He sat up annoyed, and she spat a stream of water into his face.
“Damn it!” he shouted, picking up a dry part of his scarf and quickly wiping his eyes and nose. He heard her complaints.
“What are you doing here!? Didn’t I tell you!? It’s dangerous! Dan-ger-ous! And think about my reputation, idiot! I told you that, too! They’ll say I’m pathetic, keeping a human pet like a cat! And it’s in the middle of an Incident, too—What are you thinking!? Agh, the fairies, the mountain youkai, the others: everyone’s agitated! Aaagh, what a mess!”
He kept his scarf at his mouth, watching the little kappa frantically wave through her complaints and regularly grab at her hat in frustration and anxiety. When she pulled a cucumber out her pocket, bit into it, and began worriedly chewing, he spoke up.
“Speaking of the Incident,” he said, “is there anything you know about it? Anything in particular that you can tell me?”
“Whuff?” she asked with her mouth full of green. “Reary, Gen? Why wouf I know anyfing? The kappa didn’ shtart thish.”
“You’re the closest tie I have to the Mountain,” he explained, “so I thought you might know about any suspicious youkai who could’ve started this.”
Aomu continued to munch her stress away, sitting on her knees and looking at the crazy human whom she had befriended as if he were crazy. She swallowed another piece and answered, “We all suspected this one yuki-onna who was really excited, but the Shrine Maiden kicked her butt a little while ago and winter’s still here.”
“Huh...” he muttered, taking his scarf from his lips and unwrapping it as well. He opened his coat and took a silvery vial out from the lining, opening it and dripping a little out to the earth. With a few words, he called the concoction to spark, and created a little ball of flame. He put this between himself and Aomu, and the two of them dried, Aomu looking like a small chipmunk as she neared it and sat satisfied.
After his and her shivering had largely subsided, he asked her “Have the kappa looked into this Incident beyond that? Or are you all leaving it to Miss Reimu?”
Aomu gulped and seemed to focus on taking bits of cucumber from her teeth. Then, she answered: “We figured out that it’s not like spring isn’t here, it’s that most of spring is being actively taken away.”
“Really? ... Wait, what?”
[ ♫: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhxH5E3bwr4 ]
The kappa stood up and started to walk into the cave, saying “It’s pretty much... mysticism... hooey... a natural phenomenon, not really scientific.” Gen watched her pull a remote from one of her pockets and begin to push down buttons on it, turning on lamps with oddly-shaped, twisting bulbs. These lamps illuminated mysterious, inelegant contraptions here and there in the cave, which he gave only brief attention having seen so many of Aomu’s inventions already. Eventually, Aomu also turned on what seemed to be a shimmering monitor. She tapped its screen with a knuckle and ripples were produced on it. She commented, “Kako made this thing, and we’ve all been using it. It’s a map of Gensokyo, and it works so long as the weather isn’t super dry.”
Gen followed after her, taking his fire with him and holding it a little from his stomach, still hoping he could dry himself. Aomu fiddled with two knobs below the monitor, staring into the black and glittering machine, and Gen raised his eyebrow. He noticed she had a cattail in her mouth, and wondered where she’d gotten it.
“Hm, just about... like this... See,” finished with her adjustments, Aomu glanced up at him and twizzled the stalk in her mouth before explaining, “we managed to trace ‘spring’, or the pieces of it, as cherry blossoms, pollens, and... hrmmrrm... ‘freshness’, I guess.”
He looked into the screen. On its black surface was what looked to be weather patterns, marked white and, he thought, likely signifying snow. However there were pink dots throughout as well. He didn’t know what science was behind this machine of theirs, but the kappa seemed to have somehow tracked down the missing season.
“Where are we on this?” he asked. In response, Aomu clicked something on the inner strap of her backpack and a comical, Inspector Gadget-esque robotic arm came out of her “shell”, complete with a cartoonish gloved white hand. She used it to point at the center of the screen and said, “The center of course!” He supposed she couldn’t reach. Now that he thought about it, he’d never seen her or any other kappa fly...
With the monitor’s purpose in mind, he looked over the map. Thinking, he came up with one more question—one that was sincere, not veiled by truth’s omission in a gambit for trust: “I imagine you all have tried to notice where these petals and pollen and freshness are being taken? You’ve had it longer, I can’t tell from just looking for this short amount of time.”
“Uh, y-yes and no—put, put out the fire, Gen!” she stammered, and he blinked at her, not putting out the fire. She glared, pushing the cattail in her mouth up before snapping her fingers and causing water to spout from a wall and douse his magic. “Not so close to the machines!” she demanded, “I don’t want people asking what I was doing playing with fire instead of water.”
“Sorry, Little Aomu, but you did soa—tch, hey.” He was interrupted by her spreading her arms and hugging him around his waist. She sighed again, pleased with his temperature. Gen wore a frown, looking off to his side while she squeezed him. She was still damp.
“Haaa...” the youkai breathed, nuzzling him. “Really, humans are always so hot.”
“Keep your hands from my rear,” he ordered.
“Jeez, Gen, I wouldn’t!” she snapped, but did not move her hands. She spoke beside his stomach, and sometimes into it when trying to heat her nose: “Anyway we figured out that spring is being taken out of Gensokyo, we just don’t know where. There are a lot of potential wheres.”
He leaned forward and folded his hands atop the kappa’s head, making her squeak but not remove herself.
“Where” would be the Netherworld... But how do I get there? That’s what I was hoping to find out... He stared into the monitor, seeing the spring it marked disappear at the screen’s edges. I’ve tried reaching the Netherworld from the Road of Liminality before, but I only ever can find the Sanzu River.
“Aomu,” he addressed her, “could this invention or something like it become more accurate outside the canyon?”
“Yeah,” she answered into his stomach, making him flinch to the ticklish sensation, “Or it’s more like, if we went out to some of the suspected areas we could find the portal or gate that would lead us to the offending world, but, you know, heh heh...”
He looked down at her and asked, “What? I don’t know what.”
“It’s scary, of course,” she said, hugging him tighter before picking up her head to look at him, causing his arms to fall behind her neck, “Just leave it to the Shrine Maiden. What do y’even care, Gen? You’re no Incident resolver.”
“Well...” he trailed off, looking into her sapphire eyes while considering if honesty would work out here.
In the past few months in particular, Aomu had proven to him repeatedly that she could be trusted, but – like the initial wariness which had kept him from amicability with the mermaid Wakasagihime – that Aomu was a kappa was not something he could easily overcome. He did, as a matter of fact, trust her. He enjoyed her company and on consideration, would easily name her a friend. However, every time he went to meet her he was reminded of an important fact to always be kept in mind: Kawaiwaya Aomu was a bit of an outcast. Their relation was something to be built with no carelessness or whim, and that was true from both sides. The closer he got to her and her experiments, the nearer he was to exposure. As for her, the more she knew about him, the likelier she would err on the side of caution (and for good reason). The more that she knew, the more secrets she would decide had to be kept. The more their comradery was burgeoned, the more risk they invited.
Without care and preparation, discovery would mean a gruesome and unhappy end.
So, rather than burden or unburden her by his own decision, he decided to ask her:
“I do have a reason. Do you want to know?”
“Whoa,” said the kappa with a serious look, “you look serious all of a sudden. Uh, I’m not really sure?”
“Well, think about it,” he said, and he took her arms from around him, walking toward the entrance after. Without her help, he’d have to figure something else out. With it...
“Sure, Gen,” he turned halfway and looked back at her as she spoke, nervously grabbing the tips of her thumbs, “tell me. It’s an emergency, right? That’s the only reason I gave you to ever come here, and up until now you haven’t let any other kappa know about our deals and stuff.” She frowned, then folded her arms and looked him in the eye to say “So, shoot.”
“Alright. I myself have something to do with this Incident,” he said, not stopping when she raised her arms in shock, “I gave the culprit the means to steal spring, and didn’t stop her although I knew that was her plan.”
“Gen, you idiot...!” she said in disbelief, “Why would you do that?”
“I gave her my word. When it began, I wasn’t sure what she was planning, either.”
“Agh, Gen...” the water dwarf pressed down on her closed eyes, head ascent while she spoke, “just how easily do you vow for things? How is a human as naive as you still breathing in Gensokyo?”
“Well, I’m pretty badass,” he admitted. “I can take the risks.”
“Ugh,” she groaned, dropping her hands and looking at him with all annoyance. She then mumbled, looking at a wall beside her: “Sweet Rivers, I shouldn’t have asked.”
“I do apologize, Little Aomu, however now you are complicit.” He pointed at her from under his arm and said, “You’d better help me.”
“Gaaa—n,” she voiced, the cattail dropping out of her mouth. He let one sputter of laughter loose at her silly expression, but didn’t allow himself any more than that. He honestly did not enjoy roping her in like this, or at all, but she had asked to be.
“Alright, kappa,” he said, turning fully and putting his hands on his hips, “let’s get out of here and help resolve this Incident. Even if Reimu stops whatever’s going on, I’m worried about whether or not she can bring spring back on her own.”
“Alright, Gen,” Aomu answered, also putting her hands on her hips and sighing before she continued, “but you’ve got a problem, first. You have to get us out of Genbu Ravine without you dying.”
“Hm, that is a problem.”
He crossed his arms and thought.
“Keep in mind, Gen:” Aomu said calmly, “I can’t really vouch for you. Well, I can, but it won’t matter; if someone wants your blood and shirikodama, I can try to stop them but it won’t do you much good. Every kappa in Gensokyo is here now. I also don’t want to look like a traitor forever after you’re dead, y’know.”
“Yeah, I know...”
Ideally, he had intended to make his presence known to the other kappa under significantly better conditions. Today, Aomu was absolutely right: they were surely all agitated, and they might really enjoy the warmth of his blood on this cold “spring” day.
He grimaced and considered his options.
 Be a hero.
 Be a villain.
 Be a coward.