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Twelve days remain.
[X] cloth that warms itself.
One day was spent.
After falling asleep, he was awoken in the morning by several fairies crowding into his room and at his door. Livy made her way to his bed and demanded that promises be kept. He had gotten so caught up in the day prior that he’d forgotten he’d sworn to spend it playing with the fairy maids. He’d also promised gifts. In fact, the maids had stolen his clothes the day before after realizing that he was not keeping to his commitment. Thus, he spent his Monday adventuring around the Lake and Forest looking for treasures to gift the mansion staff.
Baubles, shining plants, things that passed into fantasy from other worlds... they found many toys for the maids to play with, and he apologized to Sakuya later. Like so, one day was spent, and he was left with twelve to solve his Master’s riddle of an assignment.
By the end of next week, get me cloth that warms itself.
That was on the note she had left on his pillow. He wondered just when she had put it there, considering he had spent the entire evening working with her to send a letter through the Barrier. Now, the day after his Fair Folk Journey, he stood in his room looking at that note as if more detail about his assignment would be revealed to him somehow from examining it further. Did she want some artifact? Him to enchant a blanket? Something else? He knew asking her would result in chastisement. He took the letter from his pocket.
Dad and Mom should be getting it soon if it worked... When did mail come again? Assuming time between the “worlds” is one-to-one.
At this point they had yet to reply to him, all he had was a one-sided parchment with a backside that was blank, save for a broken circle. As he stared at it, he lifted his eyebrows. Black ink was filling it in.
The young lady sitting down. Is she the “Master” you mentioned, Gen?
He looked at the writing in shock, eyes wide and body still for almost an entire minute. He hastily scrawled a response, and flew out his bedroom in the direction of the basement stairs.
According to Patchouli Knowledge, The Outside World and Gensokyo did in fact follow concurrent history, however due to the barrier and other strange phenomena that were almost beyond understanding, what passed from one to the other would not always pass “sensibly”. In truth, the letter he had wrote and sent was transported with space-time magic because of this. Thus, although it was early morning in Gensokyo (and so mail shouldn’t have been received outside), it seemed the letter had been sent forward at least a few hours in time, and then its reply was sent a kind of “backward”. Such an amazing thing... his devotion to the Girl of Knowledge and Shade merely increased.
But, after gushing over the magic’s success, his Master told him that he had already wasted a day on fairy nonsense, and he should not waste an hour more putting off her assignment. “No nonsense, Gen,” that was the decree.
So he was now headed toward the Shrine.
[ ♫: http://listenonrepeat.com/watch/?v=qzIsHYksHik ]
[daisy little - 憧憬の地 (ATELIER ATMOS)]
Reimu wouldn’t be able to help him with this. He only went there intending to meet one of her alleged regular visitors. He arrived past her torii gate and landed while looking this way and that, anxious.
“Who is it!? Youkai!? Human!?” came the brusque voice of the Hakurei from her storage shed.
“Youkai-human,” he answered.
“Rinnosuke’s voice is more manly than that,” she answered, and poked her head out from the shed door. “Gen! What is it.”
A head appeared under hers, and the Shrine Maiden winced and grimaced as her chin was smacked by a long horn. Ibuki Suika showed herself, grinning brightly and shouting, “Boy!”
Reimu smacked her on her head with what looked to be her gohei, but was in fact a feather duster, eliciting a “guah!” from the oni. “Onis OUT!” the human girl snapped, striking at Suika repeatedly and shooing her out the room. Suika emerged with a crate in her arms, lifting her shoulder defensively as Reimu continued to strike her. She looked at him, one eye closed.
“What’s up, Gen? Are you here to help out Reimu too?” she asked, mostly ignoring the snarling dog at her back.
“Ah, no, I wanted to ask for your help actually,” he explained, looking at Reimu while addressing Suika.
“Oho? Ya do? That’s great~!” she answered, grinning. “What do ya need? I’ll do whatever!”
“Thank you,” he answered pleasantly, feeling happiness in his chest.
Reimu interjected, grabbing the oni’s horns like handlebars and eliciting another “guah!” “Hey,” she said, glaring at him, “the oni’s helping me out right now, so you can’t have her.”
“Ah! That’s right!” said Suika in genuine surprise, realizing what she was carrying. Reimu looked down at her in annoyance and disbelief.
“Then I’ll have tea and wait,” he said with a half-smile, pointing at her home and leaning to indicate that he would let himself in.
“What the heck!” Reimu yelled as Suika laughed and said, “I’ll take matcha!”
“Do you think this is a shrine for tea ceremonies?” asked Reimu in confusion.
“Well, three-halfs the times I see you here you’re sitting and drinking tea,” Suika explained in a slur, and as if what she had said had made sense. Reimu asked her:
“Or was it five-fourths?” she questioned aloud, closing her eyes and thinking.
“It’s two-thirds!” Reimu insisted, shamelessly.
He spoke up, saying, “I’ll go get the tea” as he turned to walk toward the shrine.
“You two...! Cut. It. Out!” growled the Hakurei, pushing down on a whining Suika. “Gen!” she called him, “If you’re here, help me clean!”
“Fine,” he answered easily, having had his fill of teasing.
“Ohh! Show me what you’ve got, Gen!” demanded the oni.
In some excitement and nervousness, he answered “Y-Yeah!” slightly pumping his fists, eager to try to impress her. He entered the crowded storeroom that threatened to rival the Library in its volume of dust and got to work.
But he was not too impressive.
“Magicians sure are weak, huh!” the chipper Suika remarked, walking past him with two near meter-wide boxes of needles: one in each hand as though she were simply balancing plates. He had one such box himself, and was struggling.
“It can’t be helped,” Reimu said, passing him by with a futon folded over her arms, “Magicians weaken themselves, after all.”
“I-It’s for magic, and I...” he began to insist, but stopped before explaining his exercising with Hong Meiling. “It’s all for magic!” he repeated, stomping involuntarily with the weight of the box.
He dropped the thing outside and began panting over it, despite the dust it had kicked up. Reimu passed him again to enter the shed and mentioned over her shoulder, “The oni mentioned you beat her in a game, but I guess even oni can lie sometimes.”
“Hey! I wasn’t lying at all, you know!” Ibuki Suika defended, lifting a different box with both hands. He wondered how heavy thatmust have been. “He beat me fairly!” she continued. “Not even you could do that, Reimu!”
“Sh-Shut up...” complained Reimu, stopping at a chest and resting her arms on top of it. She looked embarrassed by this fact. “We didn’t play the same game.”
This was true, and he couldn’t deny it. Walking back into the shed and eyeballing another large container, he recalled that the entire reason he’d proposed a game of tag was that he knew a straight fight with an oni... perhaps even a spell card duel would have not ended well. A game with different rules was almost the only option.
“What are you cleaning up for anyway, Miss Reimu?” he asked, putting his arms around the storage unit.
“Osouji,” she replied.
He stopped his efforts to raise an eyebrow at her. “... Did it turn to the end of the year without my noticing?”
Reimu yawned and answered, “‘Spring Cleaning’, then.”
“It’s summer!” he retorted.
“Honestly,” Reimu said, not joking any more, “it’s just opportunism. This oni showed up a little earlier and started cleaning up my shrine, so I told her to help me clean and organize my shed, too.”
“Yep!” chirped Suika, grinning. He blushed. “Anywayy, reallyyy, you humans are all so squishy and helpless, aren’t ya?” she noted, leaning onto a crate herself now, resting one arm on it and playfully lifting her other hand as she spoke. She took that hand to her head and pulled a small grip her hairs, blowing on them in her palm while wincing. Again she made a crowd of tiny clones, which immediately set about clearing the remaining containers and objects from the shed. “I missed this...” she said to herself, although he heard it. He watched her take the gourd she seemed to always keep at her side and begin drinking from it long.
“Yeah, yeah. ‘Humans are weak’, said the oni of all things,” Reimu muttered as two clones leapt up from below her to push the chest from the wall, fall back to the floor, and from there start to lift it. She and Gen left the shed to let the ancient youkai finish by herself. With her hands on her hips, Reimu looked up at the apprentice and ordered: “Help me sort this stuff,” pointing down at one vessel of assorted tools (seals, skewers, and orbs among them) among the thirteen or so currently out.
So he spent time doing just that, studying Reimu’s implements all the while and trying to understand how she used them too. Marisa had told him that essentially, Reimu’s weapons and techniques worked because she was Reimu. She could write and had written “seals” that were complete nonsense, and yet they were no less effective than truly expertly crafted ofuda in her hands. While organizing a pile of envelopes that all read “new year’s money” he considered this. Reimu was most definitely human, but her natural ability and spiritual strength were almost miraculous.
As he thought about how much more proud he was of being someone successful in this land of fantasy who had no innate ability or power, a question came to his mind that he felt he ought to ask later. Before that, there was another he had in mind as one of Suika’s clones walked by him with a bottle of sake four times its height held over the little one’s head.
“Miss Suika,” he said, addressing the drinking oni sitting cross-legged beside the storeroom door. Before he could continue on, she giggled and blushed.
“Miss Suika! Ahahahaha!” she laughed. “‘Mi~ss’... cute,” she spoke fondly, looking at her gourd. She then resumed drinking.
He lost himself for a moment, finding her words and actions terribly affecting. He looked away from her, and asked his present question. “The clones you sent to our library: what happened to them?”
“Nng... Glp... hahh... Mm, I... re-absorbed ‘em after they finished fixin’ your broken things,” she told him. “When they’re spent, they turn into mist, find and come back into me,” she explained. He decided to look at her charming figure again.
Suika was looking into the shed, waiting for one last miniature inside of there to remove a broom. She looked serious, something he recognized as a rarity for her. Before he could let himself admire her bare neck, sleepy-gaze, and relaxed yet certain seating posture – standing the gourd at her side as though it were a staff representing prestige and power – he spoke again, in thanks, to prevent that. “I... I should thank you on behalf of Master Patchouli! F... For fixing the shelf and floor!” he said a bit louder than perhaps was necessary while looking askance.
He glanced at her and saw a thin simper cut along her face. “Nah...” she said, “you shouldn’t thank me for that at all. I busted the place up, so it’s on me.” She turned the look on him. “I’ll apologize to your Master later.”
As a waddling broom passed beside her face, Suika lifted a hand again. This time, dust from all around was collected and condensed above her palm until Reimu’s shed was spotless. Reimu was openly impressed, eyes wide and mouth slightly open as she applauded the oni, who accepted the praise with a look of immense self-satisfaction. After a few seconds of silently gloating, Suika held the orb of dust between her thumb and forefinger, and brought her gourd under her arm. She then lifted her other hand to begin “gathering” and “dispersing” Reimu’s things, swiftly sorting them all out and from box to box with only the slightest movements of her wrist. He had flashbacks to The Sword in the Stone to see it, though without the shrinking of the storm of flying objects. He had to admit, seeing her make light of what he and Reimu had been tediously working on for several minutes in a matter of seconds had him understand why she described his kind as “helpless”.
The youkai firmly tossed the ball of dust into the sky, launching it like a rocket in time to fall somewhere in the woods, and crossed her arms confidently after putting her gourd back on her belt.
“Humans, in,” she said, jerking a thumb toward the shrine’s main building and putting on a cool face, “I’ll take care of the rest, you kids can go relax.”
Reimu accepted the offer immediately, though as she left for her house told the oni, “Sure, but if you’re going to work without me looking then don’t break anything like you did at the Mansion.”
The oni’s façade broke and she became embarrassed at once, uncrossing her arms. “I-I won’t!” she cried, but Reimu was paying her no more attention. Suika’s face became sullen, she sighed, and with her eyes closed she put her hands on her knees and let her head fall back. After a while, she brought her head forward and whispered, “It’s just been a while~... that’s all, mhm,” while staring at the ground. Her brow furrowed then, as she noticed Gen’s shoes out ahead of her. She whipped her head up, surprised and embarrassed again. “Eh, uh, g-go inside!” she said to the human standing meters away.
“I just thought I’d wait here,” he answered, taking a seat on the ground, “sit in the Sun a while, not leave you feeling lonely.”
“W-Well...” the oni answered, lightly scratching at her cheek and staring off toward the woodland, “th-thanks... Go... Go ahead and watch me work!” She flexed an arm and clasped her bicep while beaming, finding her spirit again. He smiled simply in return and raised his thumb.
As Suika got up to finish the job and he sat looking between clouds and her, he wondered why it was that she seemed so eagerly helpful. She had beaten Reimu three nights ago, and rather apparently had taken a liking to the shrine maiden regardless of that. However, amicable as an oni could be, they were most often known for beating their own drums as far as he knew. They would help a sworn friend if they felt that they could, but helping of no accord was far from usual. In legend and myth, humans mostly considered the average oni to be at best a nuisance, and at worst an absolute terror. That the oni had been forgotten from Gensokyo of all places, with only Suika’s return, informed him that despite their reputation her race had not been banished either: for whatever the reason, they had to have willingly left. And so, Suika had to have willingly returned.
She had a pair of her clones relaxing on her shoulders while she brought something back in, having already returned a third of the items to the shed by now and abandoned most of the miniatures. She stood for a moment analyzing the space of the room, absently stroking a finger along a place on the bottom of her left horn in minute motions. He had a lot of questions for her, and began planning out how he might ask them in the future. He did not want to intrude, but he found he was desperate to know more.
A few minutes later, Suika had returned over half of the things that were out on the grounds back to the shelf, and began sweating—quite a lot in fact. She came to rest on the chest Reimu had been resting on earlier, and in the same way, breathing a little heavily. It is hot, he thought to himself. “Do you want some water, Miss Suika?”
She tilted her head and looked like she found that question funny, confirming this with, “Heh... I’ve got something better than water here.” She patted the gourd at her side, sweat dripping from her chin.
“Alcohol dries you out, Miss Suika,” he informed her, taking one of the small tomes from his belt.
“It’s what I drink when I’m thirsty,” she said, closing her eyes and letting her mouth hang open as a cool breeze gently rolled over the shrine. “Ahh... feels good...”
He scoffed, “What? You never drink water?”
“Nah, nah, I do, I do,” she replied, and looked toward him cheerfully, “I do need some. Could ya?” she asked.
He repeated the word and motion his Master had used on him the night he returned after the Spring Snow Incident, and water appeared above Suika’s head, dumping down on her. The clones sitting on her saw this coming and dropped to avoid getting wet, but the original Suika herself had a head of soaking hair now.
Behind her cloaking bangs she blinked now, and a wicked grin found its way on her face as she parted her hair to look sharply at him. “Why you...!” she growled playfully, and she leapt at him, getting his head under her arm before he could even fall back. Her skin was warm against his cheek, but he had no time to enjoy this, as she let him go and put her knuckles on either side of his head, grinding them “gently”... as gently as an oni could manage. He felt like he was under a millstone. “Impudent human...!”
“Whoa! Ow, ow! I-It was cold, though, right!?” he tried to defend himself. It was cold. He knew as her hair was now falling over his face and soothing him from the heat.
“I wanted something to DRINK!” she declared emphatically, pushing her knuckles further into his skull
“Sorry, sorry!” he yelled, putting aside the retort he had prepared to remind her that drinking had not necessarily been specified in her request.
“Ahh, jeez,” Suika grumbled, and she finally let his head go. She turned, and leaned her back into his, her hair between them and chilling both bodies. He let her stay like that, and he slouched forward to observe her two remaining clones finish the work of returning Reimu’s equipment and things. The human and oni stayed in silence like that for a while, nobody coming to bother them.
Eventually, he found that he was watching the diminutive oni fragments sitting on either side of the door, legs out, and basking in the Sun. He hadn’t really been thinking about anything in particular, he realized. The last several minutes had been no-fret or worry downtime. He wasn’t sure when the last time was that he’d genuinely, non-contemplatively, sat and done nothing but live for a little while.
“Since when were you two so chummy?” he heard Reimu ask. He turned slightly his ear to her voice, and heard her say more. “Watch it,” she said in a plain and sensible tone, “this one is still an oni. She’s dangerous, you know?”
As she said this, Reimu pulled him up by the shoulder cloth of his coat, dragging him away from Ibuki Suika. He heard a thud behind himself, and turned his head completely to see the short girl fallen on her back on the stone grounds, arms spread and sleeping heavily. The girl in red and white continued talking, “She fell asleep standing while against you? Ridiculous.”
“I wonder if she’s tired,” he thought aloud while looking.
“She’s drunk,” Reimu explained, and she presented him with a cylindrical yunomi from a tray she was carrying atop her other hand. “Thanks,” she said.
He took the cup and drank from it. Tea... The child really was a good host. He looked down at her tray and saw that two cups remained on it.
“Come on over,” Reimu spoke, walking back toward her home, “let’s relax and wait for her to wake up.”
So he did.
Gen’s opportunities to speak with Gensokyo’s protector were very few. Aside from the parties of the last Incident, indeed he had conversed with her all of thrice. As Patchouli’s apprentice, he simply had little reason to head all the way out to where she resided. The Shrine was not a hotbed of magical ingredients, and Reimu was not a magician or magical being of any sort.
But he enjoyed sitting with her. When not being provoked, Reimu was infectiously calm and an amusing partner over drinks. Today as well, he spoke with her about his recent studies and observations, which she would comment on lightly yet seriously, and with infrequent nonsensical thoughts such as, “If you’re collecting bamboo seeds, you should grow them in that library so the two of you can breathe better in there. Just give me some shoots if you go through with it.”
But she didn’t tend to talk about herself, mainly because there was little to say. If she didn’t have a job, he would easily think of Reimu as a hermit.
After some time, Suika woke up with her cheek on a stone, having rolled over in her sleep. She pushed herself up by her hands, looked to her two now-resting clones, and recalled them absently while focusing on getting her gourd to her lips. She drew herself up to a seated position while chugging, put the vessel down, and muttered, “Water... tea...”
“Over here, oni,” Reimu called to her. “Good work.” To this, the youkai turned in some bewilderment, stood, and made her wavering way to the porch where they were sitting. She grabbed up the remaining yunomi on the tray between them and drank it down in an actual second. Wiping her mouth with her hand, she looked for more, and when Gen saw that she was discovering there was none, he offered his cup. She took it, and drank it halfway with careful gulps, holding it out to him when she was finished and saying,
“Thanks,” with a light voice. He took the cup in both hands and looked at where her mouth had been.
“Well I don’t need you anymore so you can shove off if you want. Honestly I don’t mind you staying though,” Reimu addressed her, and she looked glad.
“Nuah,” she breathed her friendly refusal, “I told Gen I’d help him out.”
Hearing his name, the magician’s apprentice looked up suddenly, giving a, “Huh!?”
Suika put her hands on her hips and smirked brightly, seemingly now fully awake. “What, you forget? Come on...” she chastised.
“Looks like you forgot what happened about an hour ago,” Reimu answered for him, looking at her helper dully. Suika merely looked confused at this statement.
Red-faced, the boy quickly drank from where Ibuki Suika had, and pulled the cup away to stare into it when he was done, swallowing, heart beating. Whoa... th-there’s a taste—
He shook his head rapidly.
Trying not to look as ashamed as he felt, and so wearing an open smile in consideration of that, he spoke to Suika, “I’m looking for something in Gensokyo: a cloth that warms itself. Want to join me on discovering it?”
“A warming cloth?” Suika repeated, cocking her head a tiny bit, “Well one place you can go to would be the Land of Oni. We’ve got plenty of stuff like that.”
“I don’t particularly feel like dying today,” he answered, and she laughed heartily. “More importantly, could I even get there in the first place?”
“You? Hmmm...” Suika held her chin, her thumb up and her forefinger parallel to her lips. “Well, even if you could I can’t show you. ‘Cause I made an oni’s promise. If you want to find it on your own I can join you, though.”
“Well, we’ll probably go somewhere else—uh, ‘we’—” he stammered, and Suika laughed harder, holding her gut.
She swung to his left side and pulled him close with an arm over his shoulders, squeezing him and saying, “I already said I’ll do whatever! Come on, let’s go, let’s go!”
“Okay...!” he replied childishly, and then was embarrassed again for the innocence of his inflection.
“Don’t die, Gen,” Reimu said, sipping from her cup quietly. “Remember, I’m not going to help you if you’re not right in front of me.”
“Yeah!” he replied.
 ... to the human village!
 ... to Muenzuka!
 ... to the Bamboo Forest!