Because nothing has changed, none of us want anything to change.
I’m still confident of that. I’m still afraid.
But then, when I look at her...
The mansion grew quiet. The guards were few.
As he and his fellows neared the inner sanctum of Eientei, it felt almost as if guards were no longer necessary; the sense of rejection from the environment itself had become absurdly palpable.
His Mistress did not care for it.
She led her humans with a thoroughly grumpy look upon her face, immediately firing down the very few rabbits that ever came to fly in their way. Little over a dozen did so, though they also seemed very determined to stop the intruders now...
“... Water,” his Mistress eventually said. He and Sakuya looked at her when she said this, and asked with their eyes if she’d misspoken. Without returning any glances, Remilia replied, “We’re going to be there soon. You’ll see what I mean.”
Shortly, the hall surrounding them began to waver. The walls fell away again, and the floor began to transform into a pier: winding yards out before them, and over what seemed to be a vast and truly unending pool.
Sapphire... cerulean night. Had they left the mansion...? It seemed so, although space still felt notably contained. Remilia soon began to descend, and so her humans followed. They stepped into the water, and found it to be strangely still, and also hardly enough to reach their soles. Surreality had fully supplanted the norm. They were not on “Earth”, nor were they in the cosmos as any of them knew it. What was here was something ancient, and special, and within this off-world all of them felt young.
Here was only the strange water, the night sky, and, of course, the full moon above.
Surrounded by glittering stars, gigantic and powerfully luminous, the moon was here. And, before it was the silhouette of an otherworldly princess, adorned, it seemed, in a dress. It had to be the Daughter of the Moon: The Princess “Kaguya”.
Kaguya turned her head. She’d been watching that moon, and basking in its golden glow. She looked down at them now, and it was clear that she was smiling. The smile was not otherworldly, the smile was perfectly polite.
“Hi there,” she said, “you’ve gotten through absolutely everything without a scratch. I’ve heard that you two haven’t gotten into any trouble here though, huh?”
“I am a diamond,” replied the Dead Princess Remilia, smirking lightly to herself as she put her hands on her hips. Her servants stifled their laughter. “I’m beautiful, strong, and I cannot be scratched, even if you try it.”
“Ah, then... you can be crushed,” answered Kaguya, and she began to descend as Remilia seethed. She slowly landed in the water twenty feet off from them, casting perfect ripples out from her feet as she did so. She closed her eyes, lifted her skirt, and curtsied. “This is your custom, no?” she asked, looking back when she was done.
Remilia, who was glaring at the other princess, momentarily closed her eyes herself... took up her skirt, then curtsied in return. Kaguya giggled.
“You haven’t gotten any kind of pleasant welcome. Allow me?” the princess of the moon offered. “Welcome to Eientei. Nice to meet you. My name is Houraisan Kaguya.”
Remilia let go of her skirt and crossed her arms. She breathed in, long.
“My name is Remilia Scarlet!” the vampire abruptly boomed. “A Departed Princess, and Master of the Night! Master of the Moon! You, who have grotesquely had your way with my moon... Houraisan Kaguya—I have come to thrash you!”
“Wow...!” Kaguya breathed. She lifted her hand to the sky behind her, and to the celestial body watching over them. “This moon?” she asked. “Then, I am your princess...!”
“That’s right!” Remilia agreed immediately. Gen raised one of his eyebrows. “Didn’t you know? I struck that moon and left my mark against it just days ago!”
Or, had she...? After his Mistress had fought his partner, it did look to him like the moon had one more crater on its surface, but... Truly?
Furrowing his brow and still watching her, he thought, Incredible...
“You see,” the vampire went on, “that moon is—”
Her face contorted with concern, and she gasped. Suddenly, she put out her arms and spread her wings wide, and Sakuya and Gen each took a step back as their Mistress covered their faces. “You two...!” she snapped, turning slightly. “That’s the true moon...! Be careful!“
What? thought Gen.
“Those two are humans?” Kaguya asked. “Then yes, its light really would be dangerous. Maybe they’ve already gone insane, in fact? I don’t actually know when it last was that the Moon’s true light bathed the Earth.”
Gen frowned. Nothing at all seemed amiss to him, and supposedly Sakuya shared this experience.
“I feel fine, Mistress,” said the Maid. “Gen? Are you alright?” she asked him.
“I don’t feel anything strange either,” he said.
“Ah...” Remilia uttered, sounding relieved. “Right, you’re very well-disciplined Sakuya... and Gen, you’re... You’re...”
She stood up straight, and turned partway to look at him.
“Are you really alright?” she asked, cocking her head.
“I’m totally fine,” he insisted with a smile.
“Well... if you’re fine that’s what worries me,” she replied. The she shook her head, and looked back to the Princess of the Moon.
Gen decided to look as well.
Kaguya was a youthful girl... She looked younger than he was, and she was, perhaps, more beautiful than Yuyuko. It was difficult to say, but... at the very least, Princess Kaguya struck him as the most ideal manifestation of a Yamato nadeshiko. Her hair was pure black, perfectly straight, and stretched out behind her thighs. Her eyes were dark, her face was pale, her hands were hidden within long and bountiful sleeves. She hadn’t dressed herself in a kimono, but... she had put on a rather fanciful blouse: pink in hue and festooned with white ribbons down its center, frilled in pillowy fabric past its cuffs. Her skirt did for her feet what her sleeves did for her hands, ending in a similarly hefty under-layer of cloth waves. The skirt was otherwise a deep red, and decorated gold with designs of flowers and bamboo. The Moon Princess looked... comfortable. She certainly shared this, too, in common with the Ghost Princess he knew.
“I should let you know,” Remilia spoke again, breaking him from his observation, “even if I haven’t got Gen or Sakuya, I myself am invincible under the full moon.” She seemed to be talking to Kaguya.
“Don’t say that, Mistress,” Sakuya beat him to speaking. “Rely on me. I’m here to be relied on.”
“I as well, Lady Remilia,” Gen urged.
“As you can see my humans are becoming reckless and uncontrollable already,” Remilia spoke in a light tone of exasperation. “It seems that I have to defeat you quickly, before they go completely insane.”
“That’s a shame, I wouldn’t mind talking more,” said Kaguya.
“What is there to talk about?” Remilia asked. “This is cut and dry: you’ve stepped on my toes, so I’m going to throw down a glove.”
“A duel... you mean?” asked Kaguya, hiding her mouth behind her sleeve.
“Of course! Have you been blind while you’ve stagnated in this embarrassing little pure land of yours?” Remilia bit at the moon princess. “A spell card duel! It is the latest fashion, and it is how I will be done with you... through power! Through cleverness! Through grace!”
“Mokou may have mentioned those...” Kaguya muttered. Before Gen could interrogate her on that statement, Remilia spoke up again.
“What is this, anyway?” the vampire pressed, casting a gaze around the strange area they found themselves in. It was sincerely quiet aside from their speaking, and the space almost tricked the eye to see how it all extended. And, of course, that stillness... No “land” within Eientei seemed purer than this. Remilia therefore asked the moon princess, “If you want the moon so badly, why not just return there?”
For a moment, Kaguya looked askance. Behind her sleeve, it was clear to them that her smile had faded. She answered, a little softly, “I... can’t go back to the Moon. I’m not at any liberty to move around arbitrarily on the Earth, either. I have no allies here, and... I have no allies there.”
“You must have done something quite terrible,” Sakuya interjected coolly, “to be forbidden from the Moon, and to have no place on the Earth.”
“Is this about whatever Mokou-nee drank?” Gen asked. The other princess perked up, and he continued. “Yagokoro Eirin mentioned something about that... and shortly after, I heard the word ‘Hourai’. Is it the same ‘Hourai’ within your name?”
“Do we really have the time to keep talking?” Remilia asked him. Kaguya ignored her.
“‘Nee‘, is it?” she said. “That’s interesting... Well yes, these ‘Hourai’ are the same. We’re all ‘persons of Hourai’, for all our own reasons... You. What is your name?”
“Itou Gen,” said Gen.
“I’m Izayoi Sakuya,” offered Sakuya without being asked.
“‘Itou’...” Kaguya repeated, lowering her sleeve. Then, she smiled once again, and laughed. “What a funny night...!” she quietly exclaimed.
“A frustrating night! Are our pleasantries done!? Let’s get on with it, already!” Remilia growled.
“Hm... I’ve been avoiding the earthlings, and any powerless people...” Kaguya muttered again to herself. Or, Gen felt it had been a comment to herself; his Mistress and friend took it differently. His Mistress and friend took offense: the former visibly (crossing her arms and glaring once again), and the latter vocally.
“An invincible lady and two invincible humans...” Sakuya spoke to the princess of the moon, crossing her arms now, “would you like to test that claim that we’re powerless?”
The princess seemed to remember who was before her. Straightening her back, she reached into one of her sleeves, and drew out a short branch... a branch Gen had most certainly seen before: on the night he had met his immortal cousin. Jewels seemed to have been born off the branch’s ends... unspoiled, full-colored spheres that shined with a strange power that already he could feel.
Houraisan Kaguya began to return to the air, lifting slowly, and measured. Water dripped carefully from the hem of her clothing. As the drops fell into the pool below, they seemed to ring out like music... The Apprentice, witnessing this, suddenly felt chills.
“I have always made five requests to humans who would have something of me, and so many humans have failed them in the past,” said the girl.
She once more situated herself before the full moon, now becoming illuminated and almost, it seemed, divine. There she asked:
“HA! What?” laughed Remilia. She planted her feet apart, stomping down and making a splash. She let her wings out again, picking up a gust and a wave of water. “Whatever you’ve got in store for us, you must understand... there is nothing that myself and mine can’t have done! Impossible requests!? Say nothing of them! Throw whatever you want at us... it isn’t going to matter!”
She began to glow scarlet. Rather, her power was now emanating off her body like slow and curling flames. Gen felt a smile growing on his lips. Remilia met the immortal’s eyes, grinning broadly.
“Houraisan Kaguya...!” she bellowed. “I’ve had enough of how you talk! If you won’t return to the moon... then I will drag you down to Earth!!”
A strange and lavender crystal began to glow near the Undying Princess’s feet. Seeing it, Gen noticed four other artifacts orbiting the girl. Before he could comprehend them, the awe of an unknown age erupted out from the Princess’s back, and his Mistress took flight.
It was light that reminded him of refraction, and it fired out with the intensity of cannons. Keeping up with his Lady would ordinarily be impossible, but as his Vampire Mistress took stock of the lights their opponent was casting, he realized that she was keeping her movements slow. He was an anchor.
But, his Mistress looked thrilled still. She was not bothered by the weight he saddled her with.
No... if anything, as she’d said before they’d entered this inner place: she needed him.
He looked at the Moon, and thought of the time.
Kaguya showed no hesitation, and though she still had an air of pleasantness about her, her first spell was purely aggressive. Its pursuit put them over water, flying past as beams split it aside below and behind them. It almost seemed to stake the ground with light when it struck, and it shook everything around them. Did Mokou come head to head with this when the two fought?
It was in every sense majestic. It was in every sense awesome. His Mistress seemed impressed... almost, appreciative. She showed this in how she returned favor to Kaguya: with her own devilish power—bullets, blood, and hellish barrage.
While Kaguya dodged what Remilia bombarded her with, Sakuya spoke to him behind their Mistress’s back.
“She’s caught on—I’m certain of it,” the head maid whispered. Though she kept an eye steady on their Mistress, he gathered that his friend was referring to Kaguya.
“Is that something you can feel?” he asked.
“No,” she replied, shaking her head a touch, “it’s something I’ve figured out. Would she be looking at the moon for this long if she’d been forsaken from it? She has to have realized, or perhaps heard from a rabbit, that the night isn’t ending.”
“... And? Can she do anything about it?”
The three of them split apart as a laser marked a path of power between them. Gen looked over to see a veritable dome of spotlights surrounding the princess of the moon. Her hand was raised, and presently she seemed amused. Her stadium of lights was followed by an avalanche of crimson stars. Over her shoulder, a queer and ugly bowl was billowing what seemed to be smoke.
They all reconvened soon enough, with Remilia looking behind herself to be sure where her humans were... and of what they were saying. Sakuya chose to whisper.
“I can’t know if she can, but that’s what I feel,” she told him. He squinted, and leaned a bit forward—trying to ask her to explain what she meant. “She feels a little familiar,” Sakuya said, “I believe she may be able to undo this.”
Another volley of lasers came, casting them all apart once more, and as it did Gen’s heart pounded. Not for narrow avoidance, not for the might of Kaguya’s spell, but for utterly unsettling fear.
Gen landed in the water on his own, flying backward as a beam of light sought him out. Water flew up all around him, the battlefield reflected in every drop that he could see. The moon, too, was there. Time... they already did not have any time. If they were “outside”, and if time ran out... it was obvious. It was very obvious what would happen.
Gen continued to fly in reverse, minding the magic chasing him. Kaguya had them all in a dance, and was lackadaisically directing her second spell at each and every last one of them. He gathered: it wasn’t that she didn’t see them as a threat, rather it was clear through her posture and poise that she respected the lot of them who had made it unscathed to her. She, at the moment, was having fun. So was his Mistress, in fact. His Mistress actually seemed very absorbed and now, as he remembered the time he had seen her wing taken by fire on the balcony—
He took to the air again as a hail of stars came upon him and then collided into Sakuya, bringing his back against hers. It was no crash—she had meant for them to meet there. Below the two, their Mistress landed with flair. She brought her hands before her chest, and began to summon a grand cross of red light. He struggled to process all that was around him, however.
His colleague gripped at his sleeve, and tugged him to attention.
“Lady Patchouli prepared you,” she said. “Don’t let any harm come to the Mistress...! You and I are here, and we are here out of devotion!” He looked into Sakuya’s face, feeling that his own was pale. Hers was sincere, direct, and invigorating. “I trust you, Gen!” she said, and before he could blink he found himself, and Sakuya, behind their Mistress’s back again.
For the red Remilia summoned, Kaguya summoned more red in return. Fire blazed around her, and a small bit of cloth began to shudder beside her. It looked like a forest fire in the air—the Princess seemed to know no limitations, and while she aimed a stream of flame toward them – and his Mistress aimed her own scarlet might right back – he remembered again the night he had first seen this girl. They had never explained the rules to her properly... and Kaguya was not at all beholden to the whims of the Shrine Maiden.
This torrent of fire burned with true flame. The magic she used was undoubtedly designed to bring about death.
The water below them burst and steamed as bullets and columns of flame pounded into it and erupted from it. He found his hand on Remilia’s left shoulder and Sakuya’s hand against Remilia’s back as the three of them, as a unit, navigated the moon princess’s third “request”. Remilia fired back unceasingly, and he could see that she was deliberately keeping to Reimu’s rules. That pride of hers greatly ebbed his fears.
Her wings spread again. He and his companion let go of her briefly. Any and all fires died for a moment around them with the might of her devil limbs... A card was betwixt her fingers, and a spear was soon summoned to her hand. She held it aloft, and threw it at once.
And for once, thrill flashed across Kaguya’s face as well.
The spear – avoided – collided into the ground below and cast up another wave. Kaguya’s fire had followed her where she had moved out the way. Her stream, briefly interrupted, now returned redoubled. He grabbed hold of Remilia’s shoulder again, and Sakuya again put her hand to their Mistress as well. And so, the parties traded blows.
Now he found his heart pounding from exhilaration. Remilia was moving with something a bit closer to her natural speed, and Kaguya seemed sincerely engaged. The air was always trembling, and both Princesses found themselves struck in the ensuing chaos on multiple occasions. Neither were deterred. They fought like monsters—and of course, at least one he could say was. Still, even what he’d seen when the sky had been shattered could not compare to what he was witnessing—feeling now.
There was soon a tunnel of flame surrounding them. They barreled through it and passed the Princess by, and after they did so Remilia threw at her another spear. It took away the fire and took a great deal of cloth from Kaguya’s sleeve. The fire returned soon, however, and a tunnel again arrived around them. As always when his sense of risk was at its zenith, Gen now could feel the pounding of his heart hammering into his throat. He had never moved like this before. He had never really experienced the power of a youkai so directly, so vicariously. He afforded himself a small glance at Sakuya. Sakuya... afforded a glance at the moon. Knowing that he would soon need to use that moon, he put his hand to one of his tomes, and focused on the battle raging around him.
The night was “over” a long time ago.
Outside the House of Eternity, past the forest and near the Lake—in the shadowed and now smoke-filled halls Scarlet Devil Mansion’s Library, Patchouli Knowledge remembered that.
The night had ended, and what was happening now was a struggle to hold on to the dark.
Around her on the ground—around her in the air, the maids and her red-haired summon were hurriedly following the directions she had given them. There was not much that she could do—Remilia hadn’t returned, and her own grasp of temporal magic wasn’t... ideal. It was never ideal for those without some kind of innate ability to control it. Time was always a force that refused to be brought to heel.
But tonight, it needed to be.
Sakuya can do some to hold the day off in my absence, but it won’t be enough, thought the Magician as she peered out over the ritual she had prepared to stop the night. Fairies were pulling materials from other parts of the library into a void circle at its center—the magic holding the dawn back. That shrinking hole, surrounded by dimming crystals and fading fires, was all that was left for her contribution. That frustrated her... however, as she counted the minutes and hours, she thought on who she had sent with her dearest friend.
Sakuya alone would not be enough, but with her student... there was some safety.
Patchouli stepped to the middle of the magic she had made, and thought only this as she stared into the starlight shining out from the void circle now below her:
Please, Gen. Please, Sakuya.
The Sun was unceasing. The Moon was fleeting.
Above the pool of Eientei’s inner sanctum, it was a rush of bullets and heat; and both warring parties found themselves moving with flame at their heels and called from their hands. And, each of their spells finally cut out. The Princesses had kept up their most red spells for what may have been an hour, and may have been more. What remained, at any rate, was certainly little. Falling down into the water below them again, the one Dead and the other Dying both found themselves kneeling in tattered, torn, and skin-baring clothing. Kneeling, yes... but only Houraisan Kaguya was panting.
The pool rippled and shimmered around them. It had been quite thoroughly damaged already. Now, Houraisan Kaguya spoke up as the echoes of their powers faded out.
“Heheh,” she chuckled first. Her hand was over her chest. “We of the moon turned some on the Earth into monsters, to regulate the Earthlings’ impurity. But, that’s all over now.”
“What are you talking about?” Remilia fired back. Her voice was still clear.
“The Earthlings have sealed the monsters by themselves,” Kaguya said. “Now, all that’s left of them are creatures who don’t know how to do anything but attack humans as part of some old contract.”
Gen felt shaken. He could tell that his fellow human felt the same.
But as always, their Mistress remained firm.
“Our current daily life of drinking tea is much more enjoyable,” she replied. “I don’t see what’s wrong with that.”
For a moment, Kaguya was silent.
“Gradually, the Earthlings lost their fear of the moon and its night,” she continued. And, she looked into their eyes. “They became more and more arrogant,” she said. “The night no longer requires the light of the moon. The shorelines have no relation to the tides’ ebb and flow. And they even say they’ll invade the moon itself in the end, don’t they?”
“Hmph. I’ve got no idea what those worthless humans are doing,” Remilia dismissed her. “But you’re from the moon, right? You seem bothered by it, but also too afraid to return against the moon’s will and stop those humans yourself.”
Kaguya fell silent again, and reflected.
“I know when a person faces fear,” said Remilia. “I’m insulted that what you’re fearing right now does not seem to be me, but...” Remilia smiled toothily, and began to stand again. “I’m getting there, aren’t I...?”
The Princess of the Moon grit her teeth.
“Stand up,” said Remilia. “You still have two more requests I need to fulfill.”
So, Kaguya stood. A shell floating at her feet made an unnerving sound.
Above them, it looked like a dream catcher had formed—one to catch the dreams of giants. It seemed like daylight was cast from the formation, and it angled down to try and take the vampire and her companions. Remilia once more beat her wings, and the beams gave chase.
Looking up through the new lattice that shone over his face, Gen began to speak to the moon.
Be careful of the moon’s light, his Master had said before they’d left. But not too careful... she’d insisted.
She’d told him that, a magician was a person who commanded the world, and on one’s dark path light should ne’er dissuade him.
With the moon’s true light filling his pupils, he felt he understood all that had been said about the Lunatic night.
However, he could not be afraid.
He continued to call to the moon, and time began to bend around Sakuya’s body.
“It’s you who’s stopping the night, isn’t?” Kaguya asked while her light dogged them. She was standing straight, and unflinching, as Remilia’s return magic beat into the ground surrounding her, cratering and disrupting the waters. “A shoddy, half-spell if I have to admit. With my spell to manipulate eternity, I’ll tear it all away.”
Try it...! thought Gen, and a clone of the moon came to his hand as a bubble of time formed around himself, Sakuya, and the Mistress Remilia.
A bullet struck near Kaguya’s feet and forced her to take flight. The brilliant light of her fourth spell made the night glow as day—reminding him of the Master Spark his Master had made to save him. A perfect reminder. He swore that he would do everything he possibly could to shield his Mistress, and began to feed his spirit to the miniature moon.
While they rolled over and under those full and vibrant rays of power, he noticed that perhaps his Mistress had been putting on a show on the ground. She was a bit slower. She was almost steaming. Rather, a bit of smoke was lifting from her skin. The moon above was beginning to break, and she had also been awake too long.
The haggard immortal and haggard undead continued to slug at one another with everything that they had, impressing both humans with their preternatural endurance. They were spilling each other’s blood now. They were truly obliterating the artificial earth below, now. Although the cascade of Kaguya’s magic was certainly trying, Remilia gave not an inch with the might of her own. With sweat dripping off their noses, they settled in the sky with the fractured moon betwixt. Sunlight was undoubtedly bleeding through, and warded off by the shield of Remilia’s maid and the night of Remilia’s ward. Remilia herself only saw the end in Kaguya’s eyes.
... had grown terribly hot.
A haze had filled up the air between them. While the end was visible, too, in Kaguya’s eyes, something else was there too. When she looked at Remilia Scarlet, she could swear that she saw fire. Her heart was beating. Remilia’s was not. Calmly, the vampire spoke to her.
“You won’t come down without a fight,” said Remilia, her voice now plainly heavy, plainly slow. “I had a little hope that you wouldn’t bring me to daybreak.”
“Are you... afraid, too?” Kaguya asked her, and Remilia shook her head.
“I only feel disappointment,” said Remilia, “in this fellow princess’s stubbornness.”
Kaguya winced. And, after a moment’s hesitation she lifted the branch she had always been holding above her head.
“Do not... look down on me...!” the Princess shouted.
And, Remilia frowned.
“You idiot,” she said, “it’s plain for anyone to see that I’m looking straight at you.”
“Branch of Hourai...!” yelled Kaguya, and her final artifact gave light. Like a river, magic flowed out of that branch, and quickly filled the air. The moon then split.
And Gen stared transfixed.
This aura was...
Was it “purity”...?
Heaven’s light surrounded them as day began to break. Gen huddled nearer to his Mistress’s back, and saw Sakuya’s fist gripping against it. Their Mistress never faltered, even as the smoldering of her flesh spread all the more.
Had he ever seen such a rainbow...? The Princess Kaguya painted the sky with a broken prism... A hundred and a thousand spheres and more rebounded the floor and firmament. When it all came—When they all turned swift and practiced through the chaos of Royalty’s strength, Gen came to realize that he and Sakuya had kept themselves undamaged until now and praised himse—
As he thought that, he took stock of his Mistress’s body once again.
... Had she not only served as their sword, but their shield?
... The heat in Sakuya’s face gave him the answer.
They followed her wherever she went, and defended her in return as she continued to fight, a new and overpowering spear in her hands.
And the moon was fully sundered, and Day broke through with glory.
Their Mistress halted, took their attention, and she screamed out—
With her teeth together—
But her teeth not grit—
She grinned and commanded them with only two words: “GO ON...!”
Gen at once threw his coat around her—
Sakuya at once held her own heart—
A black and undying night was born between all three, and like that they faced the encroaching dawn.
Kaguya’s face broke its pain and worry at the sight. She looked upon the trio with her brow constricted, her mouth open—breathless. What she now saw was what she had never seen before.
And, Remilia only continued to grin as the long-awaited day threatened to bathe her, every ray of light unsuccessful in its attempt through the night.
The princess of the moon grew once more determined, and lifted her branch up again.
The Devil would not be brought down; no matter what she sent her and her followers’ way, they dodged it all within unison—with all care—and with total precision. Remilia would keep her promise. Her spear was taking her magic—building in size and destructive power. And the Princess knew: that would be the tool to drag her down to Earth.
She fought while her lights and the Sun’s mixed and grew so bright as to be blinding. The Dead Princess continued. Her companions remained steadfast.
And what was more, suddenly a knife was in Kaguya’s left shoulder; a bullet of sunlight had struck her right.
Peering through the glare, she saw the maid and manservants’ free hands outstretched, and a barrage unique to each readying behind them—extending out above. They had once more all three settled down to the waters below, and their aim was very clear.
Remilia pointed her spear at the sky; at the Sun; at the Princess of the Moon.
Was that the Spear of Odin which never missed its mark...? She’d missed with others in their fight but this... This felt much like “fate” to the immortal.
It was unsettling. It was... awful, to her. There had been thousands of years that no such thing as fate had played any part in her life. Her time had stopped, and so the ends of time ordained by fate were altogether foreign for her.
To meet it, here—
To not want it at all, but face it all the same—
Tears in her eyes, she wanted to scream, but found she couldn’t shout out anything.
The vampire pushed her left foot back, and spread her wings to further fix herself. She held her red spear steady, and a ray of crimson light sparked off of it.
The volleys of the other two came on either side of their target, and Kaguya felt at once walled by bullet and blade.
Without a word, Remilia gripped her weapon firm, winds rushed by wild and free... and from the rod a great blast to reach the sky was sent out, collided with the girl forsaken by the moon, and flew beyond to meet the Morning Star.
It was as if that very star had collapsed. Their world was bathed in red, and all auras and bullets and blades were burned entirely away. And, in the sky that was left, a scarlet spot could be seen clear upon the Sun.
Sakuya was silent.
Gen was silent.
The red all faded, and Princess Kaguya began to fall, plummeting finally down. She landed in a heap of cloth, crags, and water.
Gen looked down at his Mistress. She had easily donned his coat; and though it was much too large for her... he’d thought her very cool to be seen in it in those last moments as it had danced mad around her. Her spear was gone, and now she was retreating more into his robes. The Sun was shining, after all. He offered the vampire his arms, and she accepted: allowing him to pick her up, in his robes, and have him carry her for now while nested in the oversized article. Helpfully, Sakuya put it closed for them, and he left the sleeves unfilled to keep his Mistress secure. His reproduced moon, and Sakuya’s bubble of time, were for now still manifested—but it was, of course, only for now, and he at least knew little magic was left within him. Now his Mistress turned and looked to the radiant morning from under his chin, peeking out from his collar and from beneath the brim of her cap.
“That’s two,” she said, as she got comfortable against him.
“For day and night, I have left my mark in the sky.”
>>68387 Thanks for commenting, and I'm not sure! I know that I want to use Eiki in this story if only because I love Eiki a lot but we'll see how. I do know that post-IN is where I intended for the story to start getting "stranger". That is, less times where "something which canonically happened" happens to interfere with Gen's life. The story of the moon nudges up on Suika's own experiences with it, and that's meant to open up her life more to Gen. She does love Gen, but she's a super hag and thus there's sincerely just so much of her life he doesn't know about yet. This unlocks a great deal.
>>68388 Thanks as well! Indeed not only is SSiB a thing that really has to happen (although I'll say, Gen's involvement would likely be about the same as Patchouli's at the time--that is to say, "helps make the thing, but does not go on the trip") but there was IIRC at least one other attempt Remilia made before all of that. It's like a whole obsession with the moon for her that starts here with IN--just beat her story in the game to see her and Patchouli getting all hyped about it (and Sakuya being exasperated). Direct aftermath should be fun. I like, for instance, where Remilia literally is right now. It amuses me.
Once more apologies for how long this all took. I've had a loooooooooooot to do. Not only other writing obligations but newbies at work sucking my free time away without any regard for my sanity. I actually wrote most of this update over two sleepless nights because I was so annoyed that I hadn't been able to write my own stuff for so long. More will come here, and over in /at/ for that one Youmu story I started if anyone's still wondering about that. GOD THERE'S TOO MUCH TO DO
Somehow, suddenly, everywhere felt like the “Earth”.
One child of the earth, Ibuki no Suika, thought on this while laying on a hallway floor. She had abandoned her left leg during her previous fight—detaching it to avoid its complete dissolution against what, at the time, looked to her like a supermassive bullet. Now, she was waiting for it to slowly return as smoke. And to speak of the supermassive: the ordinarily massive and radiant Sun was shining down on her now. She couldn’t see it; at the end of the hall, and she supposed “behind” her, the hall was broken off and showed the sky. The false moon that had originally been fixed above them all was now replaced by the day.
Could she say that she’d won that fight?
Along with the familiar impurity of her home filling her body again, her “oni” sense of pride was broiling inside of her. Had she won? What, exactly, did it mean to win?
The battle was over, because another battle was won.
Suika propped her dirtied and wounded body up on her elbows, and turned her head to look back. A calm wind blew over her.
One immortal. Two immortals. Two immortals; two with white hair.
Fujiwara no Mokou had lost more of her shirt. She was staring out to the daylight, standing straight, holding her hands in her pockets.
Yagokoro Eirin had long ago lost her patience. She, too, stared out to the day. She was half-propped up on her longbow, and just like Mokou her expression was obscured by her back.
Suika’s leg finished reforming, and she got to her feet.
“Feeling frustrated? Feeling sad?” Suika asked as she began to approach the nearer, older, and slouching immortal. The oni slightly opened her mouth to a smile; the immortal said nothing. “You fled here, didn’t ya? The rest should be coming after you, then... I still dunno what you did, but... you’re too obvious with how desperate you get the Moon to stop watching you.”
“... You’d mock me? Now?” Saying this, Eirin turned her head to lay her hollowed eyes on the little, less ancient girl. She smiled, too. “Well, don’t I deserve it?”
“Do you?” Suika asked.
“I do,” said Eirin, in a tone that insisted truth. It was easy for an oni to catch, and so the oni’s smile turned over.
“So... what DID you do that got you stuck down here? You Moon punks usually think everything down on Earth is scum, right? You still do, right...”
Eirin looked toward the Sun.
“Turned traitor,” she said after a little time, “left another forsaken.” She paused, and thought before saying, “Regular, unforgivable things.”
“... Anyone can forgive. Well, everyone here...” Suika spoke, almost under her breath.
Eirin met her eyes again. “Oh, now you’re trying to comfort me? You, a youkai?” she asked. She paused again, and quietly judged: “I don’t like it.”
Suika kicked the bow the Lunar Sage was leaning on out from under her.
Once Eirin fell, the youkai brought her foot down on the Sage’s back and set about the motions to ensure the making of a point.
She jammed her fingertips through the wood below them—below, precisely, Eirin’s face—and tore it away, thereupon gathering earth beneath it. Once she’d done this, the oni tossed the broken boards aside, and with her other hand forced Eirin’s head down, into the dirt. Gripping her skull, Suika roughly thumbed the Sage’s hair out the way of her ear and leaned down to speak directly into it. From a distance, the other immortal began to watch.
“Feel that?” Suika asked. “That's where you are now.”
Eirin’s right eye was halfway open. She used it to stare into the foundation of Eientei.
“I think it’d do even an old bat like you some good to learn something about respect,” spat Suika. “Listen up, closely. This is where you are now: under the Sun, underfoot. The Moon isn’t here. Your old home isn’t here. So... what? You gonna keep pretending this is back there...? You gonna head back up with your head hanging down? Last I heard, you and your lot weren’t the types to not keep your heads high. So... Are you listening?”
“I...” Eirin exhaled, “am listening.”
“What are you gonna do?” Suika asked.
“What I... What?”
“Let me give the Brain of the Moon some options if it can’t think for itself...” growled Suika. “Are you going to move on, and deal with it—live with it—accept your new life and fight to keep it? Or... are you going to stall in your self-made Hell?”
Eirin did not answer, and her eye slowly narrowed.
“You can’t accept the new world?” fired Suika. “Don’t you get it? It’s always going to be here.”
Silence hung between the two of them. Eventually, Eirin attempted some struggle, and Suika firmly kept her down. Eirin then said, “I believe you told me before we fought... that ‘respect’ wasn’t something you really wanted from me, Ibuki-douji.” Her words were strained.
“The thing you ought to respect right now...” Suika answered, “isn’t ‘who’ or ‘what’, it’s ‘where’ and ‘when’.”
She let go of the Sage’s hair, and took her foot from the woman’s back.
“From what I know about you jerks from the Moon,” the oni said, “‘when’ is the thing you’ve got to care about more.”
Eirin began to stand, soil crumbling from her cheek. She looked at the oni. The oni had turned her back to the Sage, and was now posed defiantly in the sun. Eirin reached up to her stained face and gently padded a bit dirt from her skin—taking a little in-between her fingers.
She stared into the earth.
“I’d like to ask... Suika,” Eirin began, slowly turning her eyes onto the oni again, “were you listening...? To yourself, just then.”
Suika turned partway, and met the Sage’s eyes from over her shoulder. In the morning glow, the oni’s eyes seemed to shine crimson.
“I know of a story humanity might’ve forgotten, told and left behind in a rush,” said Eirin. “A history erased, like what has been erased of our Princess and a certain bamboo cutter; telling of Mountain Kings who fled from their thrones.”
Suika let her arms down, and faced the Lunarian completely.
“They fled to a home where they might not be seen, and would make sure that forgetting was inevitable...” Eirin continued, looking to the dirt between her fingers once again. “... I’ve sometimes thought that story rather familiar.”
“If you need a story of failure to succeed yourself,” Suika replied in a steady voice. “then you can take mine.”
“... What for?” Eirin asked, locking eyes with the youkai. She spoke to the younger girl straight and sincere.
“Because...” Suika started, her upper lip rising in a snarl, “you were really pissing me off.”
Eirin blinked, and after a moment erupted in a peal of laughter. “... This hallway is full of angry old women, then,” she answered, in a moment between her laughing. “...But in your story...” she eventually went on, “it seems you took neither choice that you presented, and came back to the home you left. I’m afraid that’s out of the question for us.”
“What’s wrong with your ears? You only half-listened because I was pressing one of ‘em to the ground?” snapped the oni. “I faced this place again, and I did it without backing down. I lost a thousand years from Earth, and I’ll admit this ‘time’ a thousand after isn’t what I’m used to at all... but I am an oni, and the last thing an oni oughta be is a coward. I guess, sure, I can’t say the same for Lunarians...”
“Hmph.” Eirin smirked.
“You left because of humans,” Mokou suddenly interrupted the two. They both looked back at her. “But... didn’t you come back here for the same?” she asked the oni. “That’s what Keine told me.”
And Suika grimaced all the more, her eyes shifting in thought.
“...You guys wanna just... talk about it all? Good grief...” Saying this, Suika grumbled, and put one hand to her hip—the other behind her head as she shut her eyes in consternation.
“You brought pasts up yourself, oni,” said Mokou gently. Suika opened her eyes to that.
“I did?” she asked. The two immortals looked at her, and knowing onis would not lie knew she had, genuinely, already forgotten. “Well... if that’s what you girls want. Why not? Come here, Fujiwara. Sit again, Yagokoro.”
Suika sat cross-legged beside Eirin, who came to kneel beside her as Mokou approached. The oni found and expanded three sake cups from her pockets, handed one to each immortal, and held the last in her hand. She lifted her violet gourd first over Eirin’s cup.
“Let’s drink,” she said, and after pouring she moved her hand to the other immortal’s vessel, “let’s drink,” she repeated. When done she made to fill her own cup, and as she did so she said, “Let’s wait for my boyfriend to get back here, and in the meantime not talk around things anymore.”
She put her gourd aside, and raised her sakazuki.
“Immortals, let us now speak of what hasn’t been written.”
Gen noted that when his Mistress said this, she merely sounded half-convincing of her interest. Glancing at his coworker, he saw that Sakuya seemed to feel the same.
“Oh? Would you really like to know?” asked Kaguya, sitting and soaking in the shallow waters below him. “You don’t seem to be very interested, Miss Vampire.” Despite how worn down and quite literally beaten she had been, the Undying Princess of the Moon still managed a rather gorgeous smile in her tattered clothes and with her disheveled hair.
The Undead Princess of Scarlet got more comfortable in her ward’s robes. Her ward held her more snugly, and resisted the temptation to rest his chin on her floral-scented hat. “I am tired,” said the vampire, “it is past my bedtime, after all.” Gen knew that wasn’t quite the truth for his Mistress. “I may yawn, I may close my eyes, but no, Houraisan Kaguya, I shall not sleep. I’ve never seen or heard told this tale of yours, and now that I’ve trounced you I’d like my reward to be that forgotten history.” In Gen’s coat, he could feel his Mistress lightly batting her wings. Was that to wake herself up? “Continue!” she commanded.
“There isn’t very much else to say, as a matter of fact,” Kaguya relented, turning her eyes to nowhere. “Like your wizard boy said, an old couple found me in bamboo, and rumors of my beauty spread. I had suitors. I refused them, very politely.”
“My wizard boy did not explain that first part. Are you made out of bamboo?”
“Bamboo is quite beautiful, but the comparison falls short doesn’t it?” asked Kaguya, unabashedly. Gen frowned.
“I heard you were sent down to earth for a crime, actually,” said Gen. “Or was it as a refugee from some war?” He twisted his eyebrows.
“I heard she came down to farm bamboo, and to become an ideal farmer she chose to become bamboo herself.”
So was Sakuya’s theory. Her companions looked at her.
“You never heard that,” said Remilia. At this, Sakuya pleasantly smiled.
“Right,” she said, “I made it up.”
“I have taken up a little gardening,” Kaguya admitted, somewhat moving past the maid’s detour. She touched her lower lip with her sleeve, and tilted her head in thought. “But no, I was sent down as a punishment for a crime, like Gen’s first theory.”
Hearing her say his name, Gen blushed.
He also swore at himself in his thoughts.
“The magic I used to enter bamboo is one way to the Earth from the Moon. I can’t be changed... physically—not truly changed, at least. It was something like... I think Gen would call it a package? Maybe you would too, Remilia. I was conveyed to earth in a small, small, and very small size. I know I must have looked unusual, but the couple who found me still treated me very kindly, even when I grew quite fast back to this ordinary shape.”
“Alright,” said Gen, “so what was your crime?”
Kaguya innocently met his eyes.
“I drank the most forbidden elixir,” she said, “and I became a Person of Hourai. I became an immortal.”
“Miss Mokou can probably understand it: why, precisely, that concoction is so forbidden. I made it because I could make it. The Princess asked if I could make it, and I gave it to the Princess even though she’d asked to drink it.”
Eirin looked at the Sun reflected in the sake of her cup. “For that,” she said, “she was executed.”
“‘Executed’?” Suika repeated in disbelief, even reeling back somewhat upon taking this statement at face value. “Can’t Hourai Immortals not die? I mean, like, when you talk about normal immortals... they’ve usually got a way—the Kishin.”
“Correct,” answered Eirin. “We cannot die—I’d never make a medicine that did not work as intended. Once you’ve drank enough of the Hourai Elixir, your soul is tied to your form, and that form is forever permanent, so ultimately...” Eirin paused, then, in consideration, “she was exiled to the Earth instead.”
The sage now put her free hand to her forehead, and her posture deteriorated until her free wrist—and her cup—were rested poorly on her lap. “I regret...” she spoke with a fractured voice. “I regret it... still, today. I saw no punishment... though it was I who made her crime possible.”
“I can’t say I get humans and youkai who want real immortality—want the elixir,” Suika said as she sipped from her cup. “But I get the Lunarians even less, with how they react to it. Yeah... it’s an affront. Those souls of yours are stuck, but that was your choice to make while alive. It was a freedom you were free to choose.” Suika thought the idea over, and soon after concluded: “I shouldn’t expect Lunarians to care about being free.”
“I can’t say that I understand the desire myself,” Eirin admitted, to the surprise of the other two with her. “Truly choosing ‘life’, and in doing so showing your fear of ‘death’... for us people of the Moon, we know that submerges us in impurity. That was why I drank the elixir myself. I wanted to clear that sin from myself, in one part by having Kaguya no longer be alone. If anything was my choice, it was that: taking her away from whatever it was my fellow Lunarians had planned for her. She deserved none of it. With her, I hid away.”
Suika tilted her head. In a moment, she asked, “Wait, but how exactly did you get away with her in the first place with the Moon knowing damn well where you all were?”
“Eirin killed the other emissaries of the moon she had arrived with to take me away,” Kaguya explained. “We eventually found this forest. She and I eventually crafted Eientei to... make an eternal time and place, and it all—the forest and mansion both—eventually became a part of Gensokyo. Eventually, a rabbit found us and... I suppose you could say she offered us help to better hide. There were a few other things... Reisen came down and we took her in, a ragamuffin who had also drank the Elixir found me and often tried to kill me—though I’ve always, properly, killed her in return, also...”
Mokou-nee... thought Gen, growing dour. He blinked. “Who’s Reisen?” he asked.
“You met her in the entrance hall,” Kaguya replied.
Maybe the purple-haired rabbit...? She seemed enough like a stage boss...
“You’ve been killing somebody?” Sakuya asked, lifting her hand thoughtfully to her mouth. Squinting, she judged: “A bloody princess, then. Hardly pure.”
“Well, I’ve been impure ever since I drank the elixir,” answered Kaguya lightly.
“I followed when you spoke of it earlier, Mistress, but...” Gen spoke into Remilia’s hat. Remilia lifted her chin. “I don’t really understand ‘purity’ and ‘impurity’,” the boy admitted, a little sadly. “I’ve been feeling fairly lost ever since that special elixir was brought up in the first place. Purity, impurity, pure land... What is all of that?”
“Can’t you ask Patche?” asked Remilia.
“I can’t now,” he answered.
Sakuya pointed at him, and informed him: “She means that she is about the same as poop.”
To which Kaguya followed, “Yes. About the same as poop.”
Feeling a little thrown, Gen merely gave a somewhat fluttering “I see...”
“It’s filth, ‘foulness’... the ‘bad’ of the Earth. Death, Earth, and life itself,” the Moon Princess clarified. “We of the Moon rose quite literally above it. It makes us superior.”
That arrogance is unbearable... thought Gen. I miss Miss Suika...
“But you know, Earth...” Kaguya started again, but seemed to abandon the thought. After a few seconds, she told them, “I did think the Earth had its own attractive qualities. The suitors were certainly an aggravation, but the couple who found me... their motivations may have been clouded—I’m still not sure, but I did grow fond of them...”
She paused again, the other three waiting for her to continue.
“I do have to admit it, before Eirin found me...” she eventually said, “... I really started to love the Earth.”
“... I really started to hate her.”
“Gahaha!” Suika laughed at what Fujiwara no Mokou had grumbled into her drink. The oni slapped her knee, and couldn’t stop feeling amused.
“I’m being serious...! I’ve hardly ever told anyone about this!” Mokou snapped.
“I guess I can understand it—I’ve met plenty of oni who’ve held grudges over far less!” Suika bit her teeth together, trying to stifle her laughter. It was a silly and human story—of unfaithful lovers, and beauty’s temptation. “That ‘Kaguya’ caught your father’s eye,” Suika repeated, “and you went to defend his honor?”
“Her father already had a wife of his own, of course...” Eirin muttered.
“Who she turned his eyes away from!” Mokou roared, slamming her cup down on her thigh. “And that stupid, insane, impossible request...! What was with that!? She humiliated him!”
“Now now, now now,” said Suika, refilling the now-spilled cup, and topping Eirin’s cup as well. “A grudge is a grudge~. It isn’t easy to let go. It isn’t easy turn your back on family.”
“As I’ve heard it, Lord Fujiiwara viewed you, his child, a bit... carelessly, didn’t he? Or was he too careful?” Eirin prompted. Mokou kept her glare fixed on the sage.
“I was a Lady of a Noble house. I just spent most of the time inside...”
This is pretty sensitive, ehh... thought Suika with her eyes closed and her own cup to her softly smiling lips. She soon looked at the younger immortal, and then the older, quietly. Hmm...
“You stayed because you wanted to?” asked Eirin. “Or were you told to? That aside you don’t have the grace of nobility. Perhaps you lost it, but Kaguya says you received your immortality through rather uncouth means, and that was very long ago, no?”
“My house was divided,” Mokou replied. “I just wanted to do anything I could to get back at her for that, and now, for the curse of being undying from that jar she left behind. I still... I still do. I’d do anything.”
“That’s why she killed a man,” said Kaguya, “to steal the elixir I’d left behind before my hiding.”
Gen’s blood ran cold.
“Her father came after me on his own, abandoned his wife—his entire family all on his own, and when he couldn’t bear the rejection self-destructed.”
Kaguya thought for a moment. Then, with a smile she said:
“Isn’t she stupid?”
Remilia gave a quiet hum of consideration.
“So she began to kill you after you met again, because of her own grudge?” asked the cozy vampire.
“That’s right,” said Kaguya with a nod.
“Gen, isn’t this girl related to you?” his Mistress asked, lifting her head again. “Would you kill for me like she kills for her parent?”
“Since when were you my mother, Lady Remilia?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow.
Sakuya interjected, “Right, Mistress; his mother is Lady Patchouli.”
Gen pretended to not notice his own blushing.
“Sorry to say, I’ve already sworn tonight that I wouldn’t kill for you, Mistress,” Gen replied, exasperated.
“It’s morning!” answered Remilia with vigor. “Your answer now...!?”
“Is the same,” he said.
Gen furrowed his brow.
Mokou-nee killed over this...? Was it for immortality? Was it just her grudge?
...I feel like I’d ought to pay attention to everything here.
“Let’s not talk about Mokou,” said Kaguya in a polite tone. “Let’s talk about the Inaba of the moon! Isn’t Reisen so cute!?”
“After losing my mind for so long... finding Kaguya again ‘focused’ me,” said Mokou. “I have to admit, I really needed her.”
Suika blinked as she stared at the wrath-filled immortal and drank more alcohol.
“That about brings us to date,” said Eirin bluntly. She met Suika’s eyes. “Is the oni the only one among us who isn’t going to share?”
Suika smiled behind her cup. “Of course I’ll share!” she boldly declared. “I may be the youngest here, but my story’s longer than both of yours combined...! You’d better be ready for it!”
Gen would hear that story as well...
 In fact, having just escaped tales of rabbits with his Mistress and friend and found the hall from where prior he’d been ejected, he would hear all of it.
 Although, Princess Kaguya’s ramblings kept him so long that he would merely hear half of it.
 Though sadly, having been too polite to reject frivolous tales from the lonely Moon Princess, he would only hear the end of it.
[x] In fact, having just escaped tales of rabbits with his Mistress and friend and found the hall from where prior he’d been ejected, he would hear all of it. JUICY. DETAILS. I want them, you have them. Anyway, I really like Suika POV moments. It's interesting to see her in these events she's not supposed to be a part of.
[X] In fact, having just escaped tales of rabbits with his Mistress and friend and found the hall from where prior he’d been ejected, he would hear all of it.
“Actually huh... where should I start? Where’d be... I ain’t ever actually told this story before!” Suika rocked a little as she spoke. Gen, who had been making to step through a doorway, stopped himself—a bit to his companions’ confusion.
It felt a bit illicit...
But still, he chose to listen.
“Ehhh... better not worry about it,” Suika said, slouching a bit and looking into her cup with a tired smile. In a cup of sake, the moon and sun looked hardly dissimilar. The moon had been gone for a while... but the sight of the heavens’ reflection in her cup still manage to bring her memories back...
To a forgotten night... to the sight of a beast which would always remember, and which a person could never forget.
“I’d guess you both know it, but... we once ruled The Mountain.”
“You have seen to a kingdom steeped in justice eschewing all the blood for which your people stand always ready and wont to spill. You have no right to a crown by your people’s ordinary measure, and so your bearing it tells all. You, Ibuki no Suika, are the only one who I will speak to.
It is an honor.”
The rare, white beast bowed its head. Ibuki Suika looked straight at the creature in silence—frozen as she stood before her throne.
The moon hanged cold and high above them. Behind her and beside her throne, three lower seats sat empty. She could never have imagined being alone here.
“You really called me here by myself,” the oni said, hardly able to breathe. Her eyes, wide, were shaking. To her words, the hakutaku raised its head and met her eyes with nine of its own. Bending slightly, Suika’s lips curled upward involuntarily and she went on to say, “... I’m not a human, beast of White Marsh... Maybe you got confused.”
“I know you know why I am here,” it replied. Suika lost her smile, and swallowed. “We will discuss what it is of late which keeps you from sleeping.”
Suika did know the purpose, and she did know a reason... for her restless nights and days.
However, although she had gotten here...
Although she had vowed to the land, and vowed to heaven...
... what had brought her here was, always, the strength of friends.
Or so she wanted to believe...
For the first time in her life, Ibuki Suika felt the true weight of her crown.
—That night there had been a party. Few nights went by without a party on Yatsugatake. She was brought back in her memory, thus, to every happy gathering before this, every drink, every meeting and every embrace in sadness.
She was brought back to what might have been any other day, save for a meeting—save for a single and spiraling choice. A night of dancing fire, the stench of sweat and oni’s blood. Fighting, lust, joy, rapture: she oversaw it all. She, who had thus far long been King. Two Devas ruled the Mountain and she, Ibuki Suika, was the deuxième and premier—her friend, the premier/deuxième—they were intertwined; they had given themselves to none other but themselves. To no woman—to no man had she ever shown passion, slavish loyalty, or romance. She swore instead to her whole people, but her otherwise most powerful and only dearest bond was with her sister through oath: the Hoshiguma-douji and given the title “Yuugi the Strong”, just as she herself was titled in a manner only illustrious to her kind: “Drinking Lad (Shuten-douji)”.
She was prideful for she had every cause to be proud: Ibuki, oni, young, powerful, honest, and dynast.
Suika went down from the summit into the smoke and stench of jubilation lower on the Mountain. She had been watching, and wanted to beat somebody’s face in. Shortly after she walked into the storm of pleasures, she did just that to whoever it was that drunkenly wandered into her first. She drunkenly slugged this man (or woman?) down to the ground. She grabbed and tossed who came at her next down into the Great Forest. She laughed raucously, and threw the chaos further into mania.
She found Yuugi—big, buff, blond and blissful—and stole and drank from her cup. She bashed heads with her compatriot, only just avoiding the other oni’s brilliant red and one-starred horn. She sang and threw down with one Ibaraki-douji. She loved this life. She roared into the night sky: a roar of the sincerest terror-bliss of the greatest youkai.
This was Ibuki-douji, at a fresh and youthful one-hundred years.
“AAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHA!! WHAT A NIGHT!”
Her scream became laughter. She grabbed and pushed a younger oni’s face into the earth, and used his now-unconscious form as a seat. She rested her elbow on her knee—her chin on her knuckles. Grinning darkly, she called out—
“Yuugi! Start a fire! I wanna see the Sun tonight!!”
“Get a cup of sake and use it to watch the moon....!” her friend, who had another woman in a headlock, called back, “If you’re drunk, they may as well look the same!”
“What!?” Suika growled back in reply, stomping her foot. “Are you talking back to me!? Huh!?”
“Are you telling me to do something...?” Yuugi replied, smirking. She chokked out the other oni she’d been holding, and let the girl drop to the earth.
“I’ll spark a fire off your horn, you oaf! Listen to your friggin’ friends!” rumbled one King of the Mountain, leaning forward and glaring intensely.
“Yours look more like firewood, Suika,” answered the other.
“Break em off, see what happens!” fired the smaller oni. The larger opened her arms and beckoned, and to a chorus of cheers Suika launched forth and joined her fist with Yuugi’s stomach.
They hugged, after rolling halfway down Mount Yatsugatake.
“Gahahahaha! Suika! I love you!” With this said, Yuugi squeezed her sister close, bending the smaller oni’s ribs.
Suika returned the gesture, matching her friend’s strength and trilling out a, “Yuugiiiiii~~~...!”
They rolled out of one another’s arms, and side-by-side stared up through the canopy of the Great Youkai Forest, at once counting the stars in the sky in warm, thrilled silence.
... Though shortly, Yuugi sat up quite suddenly.
Suika slowly rose up as well, eyeing her friend curiously.
“You smell that, right?” Yuugi said, her eyes listlessly crawling past tree after tree. Suika did smell what Yuugi must have meant. The taller oni began to stand up, and as she did she said, “I’m getting hungry after that. Smells like a human.” She glanced back at her friend. “You want any?”
“You know how this works,” Suika answered. “You want human blood instead of a bird’s or a boar’s, you either do it outta my sight or you earn the blood by spilling some of mine.”
Yuugi looked at a red streak on her knuckles. She then looked at Suika. “This yours?” she asked, and she grinned brightly, closing her eyes and scrunching her nose.
“Who cares,” Suika answered as she stood. She first patted dust from her skirt, and then gathered all the dirt from her clothing with her will and power. She tossed the filth aside, and looked across the woods as her friend was doing.
That smells like a human, but something’s wrong with it... Suika thought to herself as she dully gazed around the forest. There’s a youkai, too... I’m not sure on that scent though. Kappa, tengu, satori, beast... no.
She slowly blinked her eyes.
 Take out Yuugi right now to protect the human.
 Join Yuugi and find the human together (Yuugi isn’t hard to dissuade from eating.)
“Hm... Let’s see who can find this one first, then, Yuugi,” said the smaller matriarch with a light tone and half a smile, slouching forward and looking at her sister through her falling hair. “Loser bathes the winner.”
“It’s not really fair, huh?” Yuugi replied, her arms crossed and her tone frank. “You can just gather the human before I even find it!”
“Nah... I’m not actually sure this is a human in the first place. And besides, I wouldn’t cheat.”
“Of course you’d cheat.”
“Okay, then don’t worry: I won’t cheat.” Saying this, Suika grinned at her friend.
Yuugi brought her palm down fiercely on her sister’s skull, looking her in her eyes as the earth trembled beneath them. “You’d better not, Suika. It’s a deal,” Hoshiguma said. Unfazed by Yuugi’s strength, Suika freely nodded within the larger oni’s grasp, and soon that oni walked off into the woods, sniffing at the air.
... A hundred years prior to this, she’d found conflict between her own way of thinking and that of an “oni’s”.
She was a living contradiction. She was a true anomaly.
She felt true respect for freedom, and so found that she could not steal away any human’s.
A youkai’s meaning was the meaning humanity gave to it. Ergo, Ibuki Suika should have had, along with the violence inside her, an understanding that she was humanity’s “enemy”. Not a playful, rival-like thing, but truly...
She was a monster. She reveled in this—in spreading terror, in fighting, but she could not reconcile with the aspects of what truly defined a beast: bringing death, spreading misery, being an absolute “threat”...
Did being an “oni” mean that she had to do all of these things? That she could befriend no human but the rarest sort, and had to drape herself in malice, in evil?
One morning after her sister in all but blood had nearly taken her life over these grievances, and she too had nearly taken Hoshiguma Yuugi’s, she made a vow whilst standing on a face of Mount Yatsugatake where she had never stood before. She knew an oni to be a being that represented “freedom” and “strength”. She would be a figure of both, even if the world itself stood against her.
Even if her own people stood against her.
“Oh...? It’s close...” Suika muttered as she moved through brush. It couldn’t be a youkai, could it...? Feeling the presence of an oni, and what was more a Sovereign... no youkai on The Mountain would ever have the gall to not show themselves and show reverence—even an amanojaku, if only out of the instinct to survive.
Even if her own people stood against her...
She’d made such a promise, but a funny thing happened, and happened soon after she’d become self-assured:
She earned her people’s respect and, as said, in time she came to rule them.
Suika stopped her search, and dispersed into mist.
She reformed and settled above in the high branches of trees, taking care to mimic sound of birds amidst leaves as she landed.
She widened her eyes, and gathered the light of the night to them.
There was a girl a little ways out from where she now perched. By sight, there was no telling whether she was human or monster, alive or apparition-dead. Yuugi was not nearby.
Suika decided to approach as silent smoke. When she next became whole, she was leering above the new visitor to her mountain.
A flare of mischief kicked up inside of Suika. She smirked, and began to speak.
“Human there...” she bellowed, deepening her voice through her command over density. In the dark, she saw the young girl shiver. She finished her words with a question: “have you any name?”
She had thrown her voice around the forest. That so being, the likely-human below her threw her head around in confusion, unable to discern the source.
Suika grinned a little wider, but... where was the fear? This human was sweating, frantic... Suika could even hear how heavily her heart was beating and yet, “fear”... the most fundamental and ephemeral essence which fed into a youkai’s existence... that “energy” was completely absent.
Once again, Suika became unsure what this young woman was, and her smile faltered.
“Well...” she followed, “you are indeed a human, aren’t you...?”
“You aren’t going to show yourself? You aren’t going to attack?” the girl answered her, and answered with an accent Suika was not familiar with. Before continuing, the girl put a hand to her chest. “That’s a little surprising,” she said. “A civil youkai?”
“Don’t call me civil,” Suika retorted. “And aren’t you bold? For my questions, you’re giving me questions?”
“It isn’t often that youkai speak to me, to put it lightly.” And now, albeit nervously... the girl below Suika smiled. “Could you tell me where I am?”
“This is Yatsugatake,” Suika replied, “the greater Mountain of Yamato.”
The girl blinked, a little rapidly. “You changed your voice,” she remarked. Suika narrowed her eyes. “... Did you say ‘Yamato’?”
“Oh. Pardon, human; you’ve all decided to call it ‘Japan’ for some time, haven’t you?”
“... As I thought.”
“What did you think?”
The girl continued to smile.
Tears then began to well in her eyes, before rolling down over her cheeks.
In shock, Suika flew down to the earth.
As leaves and dirt erupted from her landing, Suika crouched at a distance from the girl—keeping her eyes wide. She stood, and straightened her back.
Why are you crying? the oni thought, frowning as she stared across at the girl. She then glared, and looked around the forest. Her ears perked up. As the girl before began to sob, Suika glided forth, and took the girl’s head into her arms. She brought the “human” low, rested her hand on the the girl’s back. “You can’t be weeping here,” Suika told her as the girl shook against her front, wetting her clothes. “Monsters lurk in this forest, you know?”
In reply, the girl’s sobbing deepened. Suika grit her teeth in annoyance. The girl was gripping now at the oni’s clothing, her nose pressed in, running as freely as her tears. She shook, and shook, provoking the oni more.
So weak.. Suika thought in disgust. How could she make it up this way without dying? She’s so fragile, stupid, and defenseless.
Suika narrowed her eyes again.
I’ve half the mind to let Yuugi have her. Only...
...intrigue. Only intrigue is staying my hand, “human”.
“A-Aren’t, you, a m... monster!?” the girl managed to say. Suika opened her mouth, but did not want to answer. “What... a-are you?”
The girl lifted her head as she spoke. Golden eyes met Suika’s, and gleamed under the moonlight. The girl’s pretty face was wracked with grief. Memory in mind, Suika turned away from it, pinching her lips together.
“Look!” Suika commanded at length. “I can only be one thing.”
“Ha... haha...” the girl laughed. Suika looked at her again. “An oni,” the girl said. “A little... oni.”
Suika shoved the girl to the earth.
Dust filled the air. The girl curled into herself.
“Would you like my grace, or would you like to die?” Suika asked. “Show respect, and watch your tongue or I will tug it from between your lips before you can even think to wag it at the Yama.”
With the word “tug”, Suika showed with her hand and a jerk just how that would go about.
“Hahaha... oh... ahh... dying, I...” the girl muttered in the dirt, as grass and sand moved from her breath. “I could... I could die, that’s right...”
Suika’s eyes widened. She became filled with revulsion, and bared her fangs, appalled. The oni lifted her clawed hand, and swiftly struck down toward the back of the human’s neck.
Within her own hair, beneath the bow holding her locks together, something pricked at her skin—at her nape. Confused, she glanced behind herself, then stared down at the girl. She had meant to scare the lass. What she saw now underneath her was her own hand diving through a perfectly flat, bound-shadow—suspended above the girl’s neck. It was bound by a milky white and sickeningly pink thread, and two red bows fastened either side of it. In the shadow, crimson and disembodied eyes gazed back at her. Suika turned to look behind herself fully, and saw another shadow bound above her back, and the unmistakable shape of her own, shackled arm, tapping at her own nape with her own sharpened nails.
She split her arm where it met the shadow, and was unsurprised as both shadows went taut, shut, and left only wisps of herself behind before vanishing.
Suika grabbed her falling right hand with her still-whole left, and connected herself to herself. Dauntless, she stood above the youkai on the ground and glared at her. It was a sudden, vicious kind of retaliation the girl had plotted...
Mm... hm. That’s right, Suika thought.
Slowly now, Suika crouched low and grabbed the girl by the back of her shirt. She was crying again. Suika dragged her upward, and brought the both of them to stand.
Suika let the girl go, and watched her a little longer, and severely. Eyes closed, the youkai girl continued to sob. The girl, taller than Suika, carelessly let her tears fall, even as Suika stepped underneath her face and allowed the drops to fall upon her own cheeks as she watched the distorted countenance closely.
... Too right—
The memory Suika had first recalled had been wrong... this was not a reflection of her own face, and the pain of weakness. Therefore...
... What Suika mirrored now was her act after she had met the young, and once-human child “Kasen”.
As the pink-haired and newly born oni had sobbed within the filth where she was found, Ibuki Suika had brought her palms slowly to the girl’s sorrow-bent face. She did this, too, to the youkai before her now, bringing her their foreheads together. She closed her eyes, and took the now-kneeling girl, tightly, into a caring embrace. The girl was quick to embrace her back.
The oni offered no apology. In the warmth of this new youkai’s face, she felt “understanding”: that the girl’s words had been fast and foolish, and that the oni’s lunge was only meant to show her only that. Though, the oni could apologize for her earlier shove, perhaps... For that, she pat the girl’s back and began to gently rub it.
The girl from somewhere else had to have lost her humanity.
Though Suika had seen it only once before, that agony and confusion were completely unmistakable. “Why”... and what it now meant to “be”...
Suika could not quite understand that specific pain, but she would recognize and nurture whatever soul found itself facing such woes.
Though this is no magic I’ve quite seen before... Suika thought while the girl cried, now, against her shoulder. Are you from across the sea...? What was that space you made...?
 Bring this young youkai somewhere secluded (and secret) for now. That would be a repeat, like stealing a cup and taking it to a wounded and rose-haired orphan in the past. Perhaps in sensitivity what she needs is quiet and time.
 Call Yuugi here. Someone’s won the bet. And besides, Yuugi’s head is quite level. No other knows how best to be a youkai. Perhaps I don’t know what best to do.
There's still a long way to go before the edited version is caught up: over 140,000 words, but after I re-engaged with the pipeline that past me set up for quickly formatting AO3 updates, I remembered how streamlined it was. I'll keep on updating it! For me, it's also interesting to see how much I remember writing, and how much slipped my mind.
>>68589 btw, thanks! It's hard to believe it's been years now...
[X] Bring this young youkai somewhere secluded (and secret) for now.
Suika slipped her right arm from under the other girl’s left, chain rattling harshly with the motion. She brought her hand up to the youkai’s shoulder and pushed at her very little. She shortly brought up her left hand and with it did the same with the girl’s right side.
The girl swiftly clung to her close again, and stronger.
“Oi...” Suika growled as she was brought to the once-human’s chest. That human’s nose now ran beside her ear. “We’ve got to go.”
She attempted to move the girl again, but the girl would not budge.
Smoke eased off the oni’s skin, or rather her skin itself became smoke—mist. Her body there began to swell...
The other girl began to notice with a little delay. To her awe, Suika grew out of her grasp and so grew before her to the size of a cypress tree. Crouching above the other youkai now, the elder youkai was at such a giant’s height that she could easily take that other youkai into her palm, and did.
“We’re going,” she said, and while the child was still shaking, the giant set off to a secret place of hers, stalking best she could beneath trees, and making her steps light.
At some otherwise nondescript portion of Yatsugatake’s base, Suika brought her to a somewhat lived-in seeming camping site, or so it seemed by how it was clear, and how one spot of it looked to have been lied upon now and then. It was beside a steady, towering rock formation, sported a pair of logs for seating, and featured a circle of stones surrounding what looked to be an assortment of burnt out kindling. Suika let the girl down, and in a cloud of her self the oni became a “normal” size.
“Sit,” the oni commanded. The girl, hesitating always, stood and looked about the place, touching her own hands with obvious nervousness.
Suika loudly clapped her own hands together, and instantly brought heat between them. The dust that almost always lingered on her palms now lit with fire, and she flicked it downward in the wake of the younger youkai’s surprise, lighting the campfire up.
She licked the fire from her right hand, and palmed away the flames of her left on her dress.
“Sit!” Suika ordered again.
The girl sat, in a hurry. Her hair bounced, and after eyeing it Suika reached out and pinched some of it, keeping her left hand at her own waist.
“I’ve not seen hair quite like this in my hundred years...” the oni remarked as she played with a curl. The girl stared at her, terrified. She’d stopped crying, on the trip having grown comfortable within Suika’s hand. Suika brought her left hand to the girl’s cheek now, and the girl slouched. “Your features,” the oni muttered, “you’re not from this island, not from the Mainland. I haven’t seen these eyes either—not on what was a human... What’s this on your lips?”
Suika touched the girl’s bottom lip, and rubbed off some of what coated it. Not a color, but something clear. “You don’t paint your face...” Suika noted, “what is this?” She brought it to her own face, and raised her eyebrows at the scent. “...Fruits! Were you eating some before I found you?” Continuing to play with the youkai’s hair, Suika licked the substance from her finger—which evidently left the girl before her rather perplexed.
“... Do things that poison humans not poison youkai?” the girl asked.
“Poison!?” Suika yelped. She promptly spat at the earth.
“Only if you had a lot of it,” the girl added. Suika took her hand from the girl’s hair and now grabbed her face from beneath her chin—squeezing her cheeks together and her lips out.
“Say that sooner!” the oni snapped.
“Mmsurry,” the other youkai apologized.
“Well... not that poisons will usually best a youkai...” Suika admitted, looking at her spit in the dirt. “Usually, just leaves you sick...”
She brought her gaze back up to meet with the the girl’s. The matriarch was quiet... she palmed the young youkai’s cheek rather than squeezing both, and the youkai relaxed once again, closing her eyes.
“How easy you are...” Suika remarked. “Are you still looking down on me? Have you forgotten what I am?”
She watched the girl carefully, and eyed the youkai’s hand as it slowly came up and held her own. It grasped, tightly, and it hurt, a little. The girl looked back at Suika with a gaze steady and daylight blue...
“I may not know youkai very well...” the girl muttered, “but enough have tried to kill me that I feel I should know when I’ve met one that isn’t interested...”
“You think that I don’t want to kill you because I’ve hugged you once and twice?”
Surprisingly enough, the girl frowned at this question. She stood, and lifted her hand far over her head—lifting Suika with it. Suika, hanging, stared back at the youkai steadily, waiting.
“My stomach is here,” the youkai said. “Kill me.”
Suika puffed breath through her nose, and finally she smirked. “...No,” she said at length, and then the youkai brought another hand to the oni’s back, lifting her from there before holding her tightly in another embrace. “St-Stop hugging me...! Enough of this.”
Suika tried to pry herself from the youkai’s hold, and could not with little effort—keeping aware to not use “much”. Little should have been all that was needed, and that this evidently needed more began to disturb her... Pouting, other the youkai held Suika tightly.
“Why did you hug me at all...?” the girl asked.
Hearing the question, a pang shot through the oni’s heart and had her flinch. She pushed at the youkai’s shoulders again.
The youkai let her go, and swiftly pushed her down to the ground below.
Leaves and twigs shot upward in the force. One of her horns entered the nearby fire. She picked a foot up and planted it into a stomach that felt akin to iron. The youkai pinned her down at her shoulders and looked down at the oni’s frantic eyes until they settled on looking back in return.
“Why did you hug me!?” the girl snapped.
“Don’t push any more of that luck you’ve got—I’ll start pushing back.”
“You... You cur! You would call an oni a liar!?” that oni spat.
“You’re a lying oni!”
“Shu... Shut up!”
“An oni that hugs humans!”
“Get off of me!!”
“Why did you hug me?”
With a voice high, the oni answered, “Wh-Why must you know!?”
And the youkai said nothing. Her teeth were almost bared as she ground them together, still glaring down at the oni.
Tears filled those eyes again. The oni swallowed.
“You don’t know why I am, you don’t know where I’m from, you—you who lives in a forest. You: a little monster. You have a heart inside of you!?”
That heart beat, and Suika began to struggle further. The youkai felt this, and pushed back. The flames over the oni’s horn danced, and embers now scattered to the forest floor.
The youkai pressed Suika’s body down further.
...!? This... it almost feels like Yuugi...!
Suika strained against her. She felt her bones tighten under the younger youkai’s palms. She increased her own density, and wondered whether she would need to let loose a scream and let fly this youkai’s head from its neck.
And suddenly, the youkai fell. She dropped her head to Suika’s chest again, and was at once was once more weeping. Breathing heavily, and unusually unsure, without thought Suika simply brought her hands over the younger girls.
“You’re much worse than a young oni...” Suika remarked in exhaustion, remembering the tears the youngest Ibaraki had shed. Suika lifted her chi, and looked up past cliff and branches to the stars.
... They were alone, here. In fact, that had been the entire purpose.
... Still, she worried even whispers on the wind might be caught here... though the alcove caught sound first and easily by virtue of the great stone overlooking it.
And really, regardless of all that, at... some point...
... she would need to be honest.
For a little while, Suika closed her eyes as the youkai gripped her clothing and cried against her chest.
“... I hugged you to comfort you,” Suika admitted. “I brought you here to comfort you, I wanted to ease your heart—listen:”
Suika lightly thudded the youkai’s skull with the heel of her hand, through the white cap that donned it. Reluctantly the youkai lifted her miserable face. Suika began to crawl up on her knees, and the youkai subsequently knelt before her. Horn still on fire, Suika quietly dismissed the flames with her power.
Straightening her back first, Suika pushed her right hand against the youkai’s left breast. She also brought her left hand to her own.
“We feel,” she assured the newborn. “We each have hearts in here.”
With that said, she leaned forward and pressed her ear again the youkai’s chest (and so a horn as well against the youkai’s shoulder). In there, she heard a rapid, fluttering beat. “Yes...” she said as she leaned away. It looked as if the other youkai’s breath had caught in her throat. “...Can’t feel it beating? Listen to mine.”
Suika reached up, and the youkai allowed her head to be guided to the oni’s chest, where she pressed her ear against the oni’s shirt and listened quietly to the steady, robust, and reassuring beat within.
Eventually, the girl’s sniffling had completely stopped. She brought her body to the floor and she brought in her knees. She curled much as she could to Suika’s lap, warmly listening to a monster’s heartbeat. Suika placed her hand beneath the girl’s cap, and slowly began to stroke her head.
“I am Suika of the mountain Yatsugatake,” Suika simply proclaimed. She chose to leave her titles at the mountaintop. “And, I am sorry,” she truly apologized. Lastly, plainly, she requested: “I would like to know your name.”
“‘Suika’...” the young youkai repeated. “... It’s an adorable name.”
“My... name is...” the girl trailed off. Suika tilted her head, but the girl continued to hesitate.
She got closer. Her strength began to leave her.
“If you wouldn’t mind...” she said in a quieting voice, as sleep encroached in her eyes, “... would you call me ‘Merry’?”
New chapterKizin!3bPfzwokco2022/06/29 (Wed) 18:42No. 68652▼
She woke with a start to a name that wasn’t hers, but the intonation and voice were something she could never forget.
Quickly, she lifted her head.
“You told me you slept last night. What’s up with this?”
She stared across at the usual well-kept both dark and bright outfit of the girl in front of her. A finger was raised. A coming declaration...
“Either you bring me into your dreams, or you bring your dreams into reality! That was the deal!”
An eastern-flavored dress shirt... a small and fit shortcape around the shoulders...
They didn’t have any such deal.
“Don’t say we didn’t have a deal like that.”
...Tears welled in her eyes.
“Well we’ve already gone over that, too—your dreams aren’t dreams. Reality is reality, and it’s absolutely provable.”
Renko grinned across at her brightly. She said, reassuringly—
...She woke to a known name and an unknown voice, and so the quick onset of frustration, of anger, and then, and shortly, sincerest gloom.
She was awake. Tears rolled down her cheeks.
The year might have been seven- or eight-hundred CE.
True and natural daylight poured down from the sky and onto her face. By now she certainly recognized it, but it was truly her first time waking to it. Not waking into dream, waking into this world. Whatever that meant...
A thumb reached down and took the tears from one of her cheeks. She looked a little more upward, and there saw pretty and hazel eyes staring down at her, unshaking. A pair of long horns... a child’s face... An oni.
“Are you awake?” the oni, “Suika”, asked her.
“What does it mean to be awake, really?” Merry asked in return. The oni frowned and cocked an eyebrow.
“Are you stupid?” she posited. “You’re an idiot, and awake. You’re an awake idiot.”
“Actually, I’m very smart,” Merry replied.
The oni’s frown deepened. She shook her head slow, and slowly lifting her arms—she began to stretch. Her joints popped with sound. Had she slept that way the entire night? With a girl sleeping at her lap?
Merry sat up, feeling rather embarrassed.
Suika ground one of her palms against her eye, gnashing her teeth in evident frustration. “I’m called ‘Sovereign’, ‘Matriarch’, but hold... I am not even a mother yet.” The oni removed her hand from her face and brought it to a knee. Her other arm was lazily outstretched, rested on an ankle.
Merry looked on at her. There... really was no returning. She had not made this trip with real “intent”—she couldn’t have. The trip may’ve been born of a wish, but she had not actively sought its granting. How she had wound up here... truly here was beyond her.
...There was little else to do but understand what was now all around her.
>>68651 >a gaze steady and daylight blue... Gold, actually.
Some things I ended up learning by looking at official artworks-- *Merryberry has gold eyes in most appearances. Otherwise, she has red/brown eyes rarely. *Renko wears brown and white clothing, not black and white. *Despite it being popular in fanart, Renko barely ever ties her hair. Maybe only one instance? Even in her first appearance I can't exactly see a tie in her hair though there does seem to be a side length of hair. In fact only the latest design has a ribbon for sure--and it's red, not white.
Suika flinched, and quickly stood before the younger girl. Balling her fist she shouted—
“Are you saying that I stink!? I am Suika, you know? ‘Sui’-‘ka’!”
She wrote her name with a finger through the air. Merry watched, and read.
“‘Gathered fragrance’...? No, your name makes a lot of sense, I'm not saying that you smell at all bad,” she replied, still seated and still eye-to-eye with the oni. “Rather, I could maybe... I was wondering where you might... I mean, it’s not... impossible that I—”
The oni reached forward and grabbed at the front of her blouse.
Pulling the young youkai toward her, the elder brought her face to the now tugged-open collar and breathed in deeply.
It was so sudden that the only reaction which Merry could manage was a full face of beet red.
After sniffing at Merry for some time, breath scattering both pleasantly and unpleasantly across the blonde’s skin, the oni finally pulled her face back and beamed at the girl.
“Well!” said the youthful king, “You smell pretty good!
Merry’s hand flew out in an instant, and struck clear against and past the oni’s cheek. She bared her teeth in anger; Suika still showed hers, and kept her eyes closed, in obvious joy.
“Ahahaha!” the oni laughed. She then looked, coolly, into Merry’s eyes. “Alright,” she said, “maybe it smells under your skirt?”
She was still holding Merry by the shirt, and knowing the potential struggle that might result from trying to remove that hand—Merry decided to only beg, with a quiet and not a little incensed, “Pl-Please stop...”
“Haha!” the oni laughed again, and she let go of the distraught youkai. “OK...!” she cried boisterously, turning on her heel and marching toward the alcove’s outward-facing opening. “You’re in luck,” she went on, rotating each of her shoulders, “someone owes me a bath.”
Stopping at the edge, overlooking a great and sun-sparkling lake, Suika cupped the sides of her mouth and with no further warning boomed out—
The forest trembled, the distant lake rippled. Merry, of course, shook.
“YOU COULD GUESS IT’S MY WIN!” the oni continued. “GET OVER HEEERE!!”
There was a crack, and then a boom, and a little ways in the distance it seemed that a bomb had gone off. Eyes wide and pale-faced, Merry stared up at the vast and rising plume of dirt and pulverized trees before them, and then jumped in place as a yellow blur rocketed toward them and slammed at once into Suika.
Her eyes followed the lunge. Now behind her, she saw the little oni enthralled in a rolling tussle with what seemed to be a significantly larger oni: one with golden hair and a single, crimson horn jutting from her forehead.
Suika was grinning once again, and her teeth were again all bared. Her left forearm was in the other (and also grinning) oni’s grasp. Her right hand was caught against the other oni’s left.
The two were locked, the two were matched.
Suika kicked the other oni's stomach and brought her overhead, tossing her behind and, in some literal flash, getting to the giant’s back. She brought an arm to the other girl’s neck and hooked another underneath a shoulder A trembling grin. Hoarse laughter.
“I-I can get out of this, Suika...” said the new oni. Suika brought her heels forward and dug them beneath her friend’s(?) ribs.
“Try then,” she said. She waited.
The other oni sat up—struggling to do so.
She held Suika’s forearm with her free hand...
...and very suddenly she fell back down to the earth. Flattening the littler youkai.
In seeming mutual pain, the two guffawed and guffawed, careless of the third wheel still watching them.
Merry saw now that a yellow star was set upon the bigger oni’s horn. Was she born with such a thing...?
The oni sat up and caught Merry’s line of sight, remarking...
“Hey... Suika... this little one is looking at my horn.”
“Is... she...?” Both were out of breath. The larger oni grinned.
“My horn... is more... beautiful...!”
“One horn...” said Suika weakly, “small... cute... not... ‘beautiful’...”
“It... It’s not cute...!” the other oni whined. She sounded genuinely hurt as she glanced back at the still-floored oni. “Don’t say that...!”
“You’re cute, Yuugi...” Suika mumbled. Merry could hear the smile in her voice. Yuugi, the younger youkai committed that name to memory. “Yuuuugi... pick me up... bring me somewhere and... scrub me down.”
“Huh...? The deal was to find a human, Suika!” Yuugi snapped. “That’s a youkai, right?”
“She was human...” said Suika, and she finally sat back up—carelessly covered in dirt (or, well—she did seem to want a bath).
“‘Was’, you say...” Upon repeating this, the oni “Yuugi” stood and easily towered over both of them. Dressed in a loose-fitting kimono, her womanly features being so suddenly pronounced after her so unfeminine display had Merry altogether shocked. She barely registered when, after plucking Suika from the earth, this vivacious oni plucked her up too.
“Then, it’s a welcome bath!” shouted Yuugi, fully energetic once again. “A new face on the Mountain! Consider yourself my honored guest! I’ll wash you, too—how about that? I’ll wash every inch of you myself—that should be fun! How’s that sound? Huh? Let’s do it! Let’s go, let’s go!”
It sounded embarrassing, and Merry tried to say as much, but was evidently reeling and regardless not of enough “presence” to even slightly distract this new oni from her joy.
Hopping, skipping, and singing as she went, the oni named Yuugi brought the two of them along in her hands as she traipsed toward some other place...
Were the bodies of oni simply warmer than others? As Merry shivered with her waist submerged in the waters of a creek, she looked on at the two oni with her who seemed completely at ease within the wretchedly frigid flow and thought on this question. Had Suika’s lap been warm? Her hands certainly were, and her stomach, arms, and chest too. Yuugi was truly a giant... and larger people tended to be warmer too, didn’t they? A cold bath... of course the idea was around when she came from, but it was also just so unthinkable. This was her first, and it was simply harrowing. She could not sit down. Stuck in her head, with her arms crossed around her torso, Merry had sincerely too much to think over, and too much to engage with.
“You’re shaking like a leaf!” the larger oni yelled. The smaller answered “no I’m not” to which the larger replied, “I wasn’t talking to you!”
Merry looked again at the pair. The one called Yuugi had lathered Suika with soap and was now scrubbing at her body with something. It could have been a sponge or maybe a rag—it was not possible to see, camouflaged in suds. She had finished with Suika’s face and was onto Suika’s arms at that moment, but now stopped and stood to her full height. At once, Merry was not sure where to look.
As her eyes darted around and not at the intimidating form of this oni, she caught out the corner of her eye the grinning blond crouching low. Was she... Were her hands scooping at the water?
“Hoorah!” the oni cried playfully as she tossed water at Merry.
Thus, what looked to Merry to be a tidal wave came. Eyes like saucers, within this freezing creek she finally and completely froze.
The water smashed over her and brought her onto her bottom. Forced to adapt, Merry hugged herself closer—now neck deep and sat on innumerable stones and pebbles. That was right... of course, she’d never bathed outside like this before either.
Through the blear from being briefly submerged, Merry saw Suika lift a hand. Behind the newborn youkai, the wave (which had still been going, out and down the mountain) immediately stopped.
“You’ll throw all the water out of the creek,” Suika chastised.
“No,” the again-standing Yuugi said honestly and happily, “it’s being fed.”
It was. The creek was being fed by an (admittedly small) earnest and short waterfall.
Somehow, the water from Yuugi’s toss was brought gently back to the creek where it would flow into perhaps a river, and almost certainly that lake Merry had spotted now and then.
“How did you even manage that? Yuugi.” Suika asked, holding her arm out and flexing her fingers. Yuugi returned to her and returned to work with that arm.
The blond oni shrugged. “I dunno,” she said. Merry realized... that had been a very good question. How had she moved so much water at once? Physics would take quite a lot of issue with how that transpired.
Suika, who had been sat upon a boulder all this while, reached down to something tied to it—a plain gourd Merry had learned was filled with sake. The oni took it up, and took a swig. Seeing what looked like a “child” doing this presented Merry with something else that easily and casually threw her.
“You were the one worried about getting clean!” Suika shouted in a bit of a hazy voice—at Merry. Merry pointed at herself. “Yeah, you! Clean yourself already!”
“It’s fine, it’s fine—I’ll wash her tooooo—!! Scrub scrub scrub! Scrub Suika!” Saying this, Yuugi got her hands around her friend’s torso and scrubbed away. Suika began laughing uproariously.
“Y-You! Bear—Bear, you’re too cute!” Suika yelled between her chortles.
“Stop calling me cute when you’ve got a cute belly like this—” Yuugi murmured in play annoyance, gripping and tickling at the smaller oni’s stomach. After enjoying more of Suika’s laughter for a little while, her mock pout erupted into a grin, and she moved onto Suika’s lower body. Merry watched in her newest stunned silence as Yuugi unabashedly cleaned every part of Suika’s body, and her Suika unabashedly got back to drinking. Certainly, Merry had been surprised with Yuugi’s boldness in how upon reaching the creek she had undressed at once and openly cleaned herself before them first, but this... “bond”? What she had with the other oni who was likely not her blood seemed just as strong as such a connection—if not more so.
After scrubbing at Suika’s last toe, Yuugi wrung out the rag she was using (revealed by water) and washed off her hands before throwing the cloth over her shoulder. Turning to Suika, she started to pat at the little oni’s body here and there, all over. It looked a bit akin to sumo... though that sport should not have had any history just yet, if Merry had guessed correctly. Suika kept drinking, until she started smirking, and then grinning, and soon she began lightly striking at Yuugi as well with her own free hand, before dropping her gourd and matching the big girl “blow” for “blow”.
Inevitably, they began to wrestle after nearly a minute had passed.
Merry turned her head away and wondered if she should ask for any soap, or would that be an embarrassment?
She could hear the two oni laughing and splashing about regardless.
...A smile snuck onto her lips.
She became distracted, and did not notice Yuugi coming up and standing beside her.
“You’re next...!” the oni rumbled.
“... I can just use—” Merry tried, before once again the other blond had taken hold of her in both hands and lifted her with ease.
“...Wha... You’re still shaking? You need to get more used to the water.”
Saying this, as Merry went quietly “no, no, I don’t actually”, Yuugi brought Merry straight to the waterfall.
And here, more shame would be endured.
Yuugi was washing the new youkai’s hair, and from what Suika could tell was mainly just exploring it. She could understand the desire, and in fact at night or perhaps tomorrow she planned to do the same to this “Merry”...
She looked at the sky.
Was that not the girl’s name? Not that Suika had smelled a lie in that introduction; her ears only had caught the specificity. The one called Merry had asked that to be her address.
Currently floating on her back in the water and sometimes sipping at her almost-empty gourd, Suika eyed the other two once again. She could ask about it.
Although... new day, new matters: she needed to sit down with Yuugi at some point and talk about the Mountain... perhaps call down some crows or wolves for reports, or maybe just a casual talk on rule... Maybe the little kid-youkai wouldn’t like such prodding, either.
 Ask Merry for her full name. Give your own.
 Talk to Yuugi for now.
 Honestly you’re a little drunk, how about rambling randomly for a little while?
Though the girl’s eyelids were slick with soap water, Merry squinted at Suika all the same.
“You were a human with only one name? Even us oni usually have two.”
“What is your family? What name do they have?”
The girl opened her mouth, and her jaw quaked. Behind her teeth, her tongue seemed to go stuff. The oni finished her gourd.
“Mg... pah, so, you won’t tell me even though I bathed you?”
“I did!? I am!” Yuugi snapped. Suika chuckled.
“You and I are one, Bear.”
To this, the bear said nothing. She frowned, though, and her frown could hardly be held. How an oni lies...
“I bathed you, and you won’t tell me—we’ve a real uncouth guest come to our house, hn?”
“Your name is Melly?” Yuugi asked.
“That isn’t her name,” Suika said.
The third youkai shrank, and her brow furrowed. She closed her eyes and mouth.
“Then why have you called her ‘Melly’?”
“‘Merry’, Yuugi—though ‘Merry’ is not it either; it is the name that she asked me to call her,” Suika replied.
“Mer, ry— Merrrrryyy— Mell... Melli,” Yuugi practiced the name on her tongue. She grimaced lightly. Her brow twisted. “S’an odd name,” she determined. Suddenly, she clapped her hands down on Merry’s shoulders, tugging her backward and letting the waterfall clear her head of soap. “I am ‘Yuugi’!” said Yuugi with a bright smile as the other youkai yelped in her grasp. “First and Second of the Mountain—Yuugi the Strong! Highest! Strongest! My family is—the Hoshiguma! Hoshiguma no Yuugi! ‘Yuugi’, yeah! Can you say it, Melly!?” She shook Melly. Merry.
“Y-Y-Yu-ugi-i-i...” Merry’s voice vibrated, and Yuugi knelt immediately to hug her from behind. “Kyaugh!?”
“Loooook at how cute she is, Suika!” moaned Yuugi as she squeezed the child. Suika nodded.
“I see her,” she said. “‘Merry’...” Suika went on as she stood up in the creek. She put a hand on her hip, and let go her gourd—the tan thing floating downstream until it was caught by its leash to a nearby boulder. Lifting a hand, she called a clean kimono to her arm, and around her shoulders. It landed gently over her naked and drying body as she gave “Merry” her name. “I am the First and Second of the Mountain—” said Suika, “The Drinking Lad. Highest, strongest. My family is the Ibuki. Ibuki no Suika. Su-i-ka.”
Merry looked on at her. Over Merry’s shoulder, Yuugi rested her chin and looked on as well.
“Your ‘name’... keep it. I will call you Merry...”
Saying this, Suika met Merry’s eyes perfectly.
And, she grinned—a little wickedly.
“When I am your friend, you will give me your true name. Then, we will decide if it should be ours to hold dear, or yours to share. You hear me, Yuugi?”
Yuugi gave a little response, “Mm,” and then, “nothing the matter with a secret in the heart. Haven’t we all those?”
“We do at that,” Suika said, still smiling. The one who wanted to be called “Merry” seemed to think, and for a time after that all three were peacefully quiet.
Fall down seven times, stand up eight—
弱 – Jaku 肉 - Niku 強 - Kyou 食 - Shoku
The weak? Meat. The strong? Eat.
“When I was as old as you are now, I was given that phrase and four letters these. There by, I want to give them to you. But, I see you—you are not in-visible. I see you, little less young than I am, and I see these... they must be bones, and you have the most thin flesh that I have ever come across. Your skin is so much like paper, and may be it is too earlike for you to be thinking of eating— Your stomach is sick. Your body is foul. But you are not dead, and you ought to drink. So, all though I have now told you what I have been told— All though when you drink from this, in time you will be strong and your teeth might crave ‘the weak’— Will you die, or will you dri—”
The other child’s hand flew out.
She grabbed the box from the oni, and brought it to her own lips.
It splashed to the ground. It slipped into her nose—
A new taste, but an old smell.
The alcohol burned throughout her mouth.
But, with what life of her remained, she forced the sake down her own throat.
She gulped and gulped from the Ibaraki Cup of One Hundred Medicines.
The people of her village had always been mistaken...
She was never weak. Perhaps, honestly, they had even known it—
And yet they had all lied, and betrayed her.
In filth, she would find a new name, and the strength of her heart would be given flesh.
And she would consume flesh.
The cup dropped from her hand as fire ran through her veins.
Blood trickled from beneath her hair. New bone sprouted from her scalp.
The fangs she already had now elongated—grew fiercer.
Yet, all the pain of rebirth soon passed. So suddenly, she felt truly and uniquely alive.
She looked up from the mud, at the Ibaraki Cup.
“Do you want that name?”
Asked Ibuki Suika.
“What you want, take.”
And again, the girl began to cry. She clawed through the muck around her, but shook and cried. Almost worse than ever before her heart—her mind—now suffered so much. Too much.
“I have to,” she said as she crawled from the dirt. “I have to take that name. They... THEY have not wanted ME...”
“That is sad, love.”
The oni said this, and then cupped the girl’s face in her hands. Her body felt warm now. Her mind went at ease. So sudden... so pleasantly...
Her fellow child, and fellow monster, told her this: “Take the name; I will give you an other.”
She was brought to Suika’s chest, and hugged there.
“Beautiful girl,” she said again, just as she’d said when she had first appeared—just as she’d said, despite the hated face that she found, “never cry on gain. Family, and bonds, are not some thing ever meant to break.”
She reached around the oni’s back, and brought herself even closer. Suika let her do this...
In time, the oni brought a hand to the young girl’s face again. Lifting her gently by the cheek she told her:
“Come to my family, and be an other in our houses, and never, ever, cry on gain. I will save your pretty heart from tears. It is an oni’s promise. I will swear that to you...
Be strong, and stand on gain beautiful girl: Ibaraki Kasen.”
The field where she stood had been set afire. She smiled, and thought that it was funny—the sky always looked so much like night under the smoke of a field such as this. She really was beginning to recognize it—so, were humans beginning to recognize her again?
The child of that village... anyone who remembered that child had been gone more than a few years.
As soon as she could take their lives, she had descended from the Mountain and swiftly snatched at that opportunity.
And ever since... Ever since...
This oni of rose-colored hair, this oni of wiles and cunning...
She had to this day menaced the lands of Yamato, and would forever do so. She would bear a title. She would stand with her sisters at the Top of Yatsugatake...
And of course, as always, nothing as timid as fire could threaten the hell of fury that rested in her heart. She simply knew how humans worked.
The smile disappeared from her face. She fell into the water of the rice field, and began to cough.
“NOW!” came a chorus of human cries.
It was hard to sniff out the number of humans in a village masked by fire.
Also, what unique power she possessed granted her nothing like “detection”.
It was dangerous to go alone like this; that was an obvious truth. But, that was the entire purpose.
An oni who was human—an oni not born with some ‘notable’ skill—
To rule, to be recognized, to eat—
She had to show herself as so much more than any other, and she welcomed it too.
Her ear perked to the sound of a sword swinging down. She smiled again, and stood, and her horn caught the blade.
She jerked her left hand leftward, and the chain bound to her wrist whipped before her to catch the head of a spear at a link—a spear that had been pointed at her heart. The oni then raised her right hand as quickly. For this, she took part of the right wrist-chain into her palm, brought her hand backward—
And, she swung that chain out and around herself in sudden and blinding black, grinning wildly. It moved faster than human eyes could really see—like a darting wasp across those eyes, and suddenly all smoke cleared and fire had died in an instant.
And, in an instant, seven humans were severed around her by their waists.
Their corpses fell, and their blood would feed the crop.
Kasen tugged her right chain taught, and there it went slack. In quiet ecstasy, she dragged its links over her tongue.
This little twist truly never lost its luster. Thinking this, the oni dropped her hands and walked past the half-spearman fallen before her. The screams surrounding her threw shivers throughout her skin. Glee.
Ibaraki Kasen, seeking the honor of being known “Ibaraki-douji” to call herself the blossomed and greatest pride of her house, was the fresh-faced picture of brutal oni, just less than a hundred years of age, and boundless in ambition.
She moved, she trudged, she muttered—
“I saw scales fall From the maiden’s face And how she wept, alas!
She had powdered her face. Only powder, I tell you. And her face was now falling off!
Her skin only seemed to be skin. It broke like a plate. We saw behind her eyes... Hm? What’s that?”
As she approached the end of the paddy she’d been standing in, she realized she had been looking nowhere in particular as she’d walked. Now, she looked up to see a young human boy. A teenage boy. Another, littler boy was standing behind a home and watching. Dripping from water and blood, and blackened from ash, Ibaraki Kasen continued to walk to the teenage boy petrified on the ground, glancing between him and what was likely a brother.
An arrow flew down toward her neck. She pinched it from the air, eyed backward to whence it came, and tossed it back whence it came, so quickly piercing the neck of an archer who had climbed atop a roof to take that shot. The archer’s gurgling pleas played out now as Kasen stopped before the older boy and looked down on him, inexpressive. She looked into his paled, sweating face.
“Aah,” she said hollowly, “was I not the luckiest demon, to find a pocket of air just in time. Fires are truly, truly terrible.”
She waited a moment in silence before she softly added, “But humans persevere.”
She looked toward the younger boy.
She was feeling hungry. Spiritually, she was very full with the wealth of fear come now into her. But, the sight and taste of blood were just too bolstering.
“Youkai Mountain”, then “Yatsugatake”, was ruled by the might of ogres.
In the land of fantasy, in the dark region known as “Gensokyo”, blood would often run through the fields, rivers, and hills.
It was the truest and highest realm of youkai.
However, youkai cannot exist without humans’ terror—humans’ blood and flesh, yes, but always and most importantly their terror.
In terror, humanity still stepped foot in this place.
And, honorably, they fought against the monsters that had settled there.
It was a world of give and take; a world of simplicity and honesty.
Three great hearts would be born into this world, and those same three would shatter it:
One child, “Ibaraki no Kasen”,
Another child, “Yakumo Yukari”,
And, she who brought the other two to new life: the first and fourth king, “Ibuki no Suika”.
The boy uttered this now that his knife’s blade was caught in the oni’s hand.
Not a command, but a plea. Begging. For the knife had truly been caught. Presently, the oni held it and looked back at him.
He repeated his wish incessantly. He had fought as best as he could—that would be: not well at all. He had nothing in his movements indicating practice with a blade. He had nothing in his head, it seemed, of exorcism. The conclusion Kasen found was thus simple to come to.
As if it were a twig, Kasen snapped the steel blade, and at once it looked as if the boy’s knees gave out.
Kasen watched after him, and watched how in spite of this he stood once again.
He let out a guttural screech and threw his hands at her neck.
She could not drop her smile. He could not drop his grasp—
With everything he had, he tried to strangle the neck of an oni.
Smoothly, slowly, Kasen put her hand against his chest.
—She pushed him back.
He stumbled horribly, forced to let her go, and he tried to right his footing—tried to come back at her again.
His self-ruined face—Kasen grabbed at it with her other hand. She kept him at that length.
She smiled at him warmly, and glanced back at the boy’s brother.
“... That’s right,” she said, and she vanished there.
The boy fell to the earth. He came to realize the ordeal was over all at once. He dug his nails through the fallen shards of his broken weapon, and he wept. Shaking terribly, he cried on as his brother ran to him—as his fellow farmers came to him. He wept as the oni watched on from afar, perched in a peach tree at the base of Yatsugatake.
“...” She had lost her smile.
“...” She looked backward, and upward. The Mountain was waiting for her.
How long has it been...? she thought. She rummaged through her bloodied clothing and began to stand up on the branch she’d come to. Finding what she was looking for, she drew it out:
A tightly woven, and rather thin rope. Tied onto its length were the circle-shapes of several sword guards. There were great teeth, and a few curved bones. There were the sashes of priests, and there were many flowers as well. Whatever odd she could find; whatever trophy she could take—she had tied it to the string. She found the weak guard of the knife she had just destroyed as well, taking it from behind one of her shackles. She plucked a fiber loose, and used it to claim this newest memory.
She put a hand to her hip and looked over her spoils, all.
This should be enough, shouldn’t it?
Will they have heard of me, too?
I can smell that Suika’s home...
Her face began to warm.
She looked once again at the farmer boy she had teased.
... It had been a whim, but she was glad that she had spoken to him. He was not a warrior, and yet he’d found himself on a battlefield...
Usually, they all ran when she descended. In the high of battle, she would’ve usually killed a straggler like him on the spot, or...
Straggling...? ... Was that some normal thing to do? She couldn’t remember... There were many dead men, and many dead women, she had made until now. Surely, she had killed some who could not fight as well. But, she would not kill those who would not fight... And, she could not kill someone’s family before their eyes, if that death were to become meaningless.
With a smile to herself, Kasen stashed her treasures away.
... If humans could not understand how one should feel for family, she would show them that.
Her family was here.
Ibaraki Kasen took a peach from the tree, took a bite from it, and vanished again. Her direction: the mountain top.
A breeze flowed cool through innumerable trees, and up and over an immodest village. The rooftops were fit with gold and jade shingles. The walkways were set with immaculate onyx and marble stones. Overhead, crows flitted about carrying news and messages. A troupe of turtles carried a long pipe toward a waterway. Youkai, of all kinds, made merry and made business. Clothwork, inking paper, crafting... and then there were the oni. The oni, who ruled, now directed, watched, played, and made business too.
Their kingdom, crowned at the top, carried on to all parts of The Mountain. Giants’ breweries sat in the west, and breeding grounds for sake bugs sat to the south. In the north, where there was a road to the Sanzu River, there was a segment of meditative guards fit to fight back any lurking spirits. East... down east, humans, and the Lake could be found.
And, Underground there was Hell.
Suika, carried by her friend (who let her sit on a shoulder), was now drinking again and considering Hell as they approached Heaven (or, just “the top of the Mountain”). Vengeful spirits had been spotted over the last few nights... it was the responsibility of her sister, Touka, to manage them now. Ordinarily, kishin were sent below and did enough to help manage the blazing fires et al that needed managing to continue a healthy cycle of death, but perhaps there was some missed spot... Not unthinkable. So, Touka was fit to do. It worried the king, however... vengeful spirits were a truly detestable blight toward youkai-kind. Although, she did not worry much. Or rather, her spirits were too high at the thought of what today would bring.
The night before, they had celebrated for the news that one of their sisters, the pride of the Ibaraki, would be returning. Suika wondered: would that Ibaraki be more worldly now? Suika herself had not explored much of the lands beyond the Mountain... she had gone to her birthplace and namesake, Mount Ibuki, and she had rampaged a great deal throughout Yamato to the benefit of a powerful reputation... but she had had a goal in mind. She had not rampaged too long, and she’d returned soon to rampage, too, on the Mountain, taking the crown before Yuugi then kicked it from her hand, and demanded they share it.
Now Ibara—no, Kasen’s reputation preceded her. While a little disagreeable to Suika, Kasen had evidently carved a path of blood along with needed fear. It made her impressive... Soon, the crown would need to be shared among three. Likely, thought Suika as the image of Touka came to her mind, the crown would be placed atop four heads in fact.
Yuugi had brought it up too: they would almost certainly be fighting today. Touka had left the party the night before to prepare exactly for that Yuugi wagered. Yuugi told her fellow ruler, “Touka’s absolutely going to blind us and remember, Suika: our Kasen fixes to murder!” and she’d laughed. It was certainly true though. Touka used all means, their more vicious friend and sister Kasen... to tussle with her always brought to mind the image of a human tussling with a wolf. Rule could not be given to them easily, and they would not easily take it.
Suika smiled and shivered.
On Yuugi’s opposite shoulder, the one who wanted to be called Merry sat awkwardly and quietly, using the shoulder as if it were a legged chair and pushing her hands stiffly into her dress. Suika watched her curiously.
Would Kasen know where Merry hailed from?
Suika fiercely shook her head. All beings of thought had curiosity, but curiosity was no excuse to betray the trust of a friend—or, a to-be-sworn friend. Merry would need to tell her where she was from herself.
The smoke and smells of the main village came across to the senses of all three. Two looked up to the crows and wolves—to the tengu now spotting them. Looking around, one could see spiders—tsuchigumo eyeing the landscape. She forgot... were they planning for some new architecture?
She looked up past treetops and through mist. Near the very highest point of the mountain was a pair thrones, and a crowd of youkai waiting before it.
Back to work, huh...
It was time to go back to the business of rule.
 Go find Merry a place to stay in the village, for now.
 Take Merry with you as you go to sit on the throne near Heaven.
 Take Merry with you as you go to see Touka in Hell.
Suika tickled her friend’s ear, nearly causing her to fall.
“Up, Bear! To our thrones!” she commanded.
“Would you rather walk? It seems that wa—off! Off of my ear, Suika!” the bigger oni whined, shrinking from her touch. Merry nearly fell down, and began to panic.
“I am giddy, Yuugi!” said Suika.
“Aye, same, but off my ear already!”
She bent low... and snuggled against Hoshiguma Yuugi’s hair.
“You...” was all Yuugi gave, growling, but she allowed it.
And, they ascended, to many passerby calls of “Sovereign! Sovereign!”
“HEY all, HEY now—Make a path ‘fore I’ll make one through you! Don’t tempt me, now! Go on, scatter a little!”
Yuugi carried on while walking through the crowds before the throne above the village. Turtles, crows, wolves and long-necked things and more did as they were told. The few too slow to react, Yuugi swept them aside with the reverse of her hand. With a sound like thunder from every strike, they would in an instant each fall from the Mountain.
Suika took one foot to Yuugi’s shoulder, and she slouched, surveying the audience that awaited them. She gathered their whispers and yells to her ears.
Hmmm... alright. Thinking this, she hopped backward from Yuugi’s shoulder as the larger oni went on. She vanished into mist, and appeared behind Merry.
“Eep!” the nervous youkai yelped, and Suika swept her into her arms.
“They’re speaking about you...!” said Suika, quietly, but with vigor. “They don’t recognize ‘you’ at all. Neither do I, though...”
“What do you mean...?”
“Well? Do you know what you are, girl?”
The girl remained silent.
“They will not know...” Suika told her as she moved toward a towering throne of stone behind the crowds. “So, I will tell them you are my newest friend.”
“O-Oh...!” the girl breathed, and they moved into the throne’s seat. Suika made herself comfortable, and made “Merry” sit across her lap. “Oh!”
The younger youkai blushed as the older relaxed with a proud smirk on her lips. Yuugi strode toward them and, turning, sat heavily in a throne of the same make and stature which sat right beside Suika’s.
“WHAT would you have us hear, you lot!?” the littler oni roared. It was with a volume that silenced the crowd immediately. “Crows!?” she ordered, and there some tengu came to roost before her. “You’ve sorted what we needn’t hear from this crowd, haven’t you?”
“We have, Sovereign,” one of them claimed. She looked at him.
“For your sake it had best be the truth! SO MANY OF YOU HERE!” she boomed, and the crows dispersed. She laid her eyes on the crowd of more than a hundred youkai. “You admire the words of drunkards so much?”
Yuugi laughed uproariously, and slapped at the arm of her seat.
“Right!? Actually, shall we drink, Suika? So many of them, yeah...?” The bigger oni leaned toward the littler’s chair. “It’s a nuisance. Let’s drink and forget them a bit.”
“I would like to drink, but wouldn’t it be rude, Yuugi?”
“My, weren’t you ‘The Drinking Child’?”
“Ohh...! Yes, Bear, I was! Let’s drink then! Hm, Merry!?” She hit her palm against Merry’s back, who stiffened. “Let’s drink,” she repeated, meeting the shivering youkai’s eyes.
“Um—Um—“ the youngling youkai stammered, and Suika swirled a finger through the air. A great sake dish manifested above, and she caught it over Merry’s legs as it fell. Meanwhile, crows brought a dish of the same size to Yuugi, and brought sake for both matriarchs’ cups, filling them expediently. Suika put her arm firmly and suddenly around Merry’s shoulders.
“Come on,” she said, lifting the dish high and bringing it to both of their faces, “together.”
She waited for Merry’s acknowledgement. The younger youkai seemed to consider it for a moment as she looked in the oni’s eyes, and after she minutely nodded. Suika beamed, and cheek to cheek they drank from the cup together.
And they drank, quite a while, until it was empty. Happy, warmed—impressed, rather—Suika squeezed Merry closer. Merry... her cheeks were flushed. Suika dismissed the dish with her power.
“And that is done...!” she declared as Yuugi had her dish ferried away. “We’ll hear you.”
And hearing they did—
About crop fields, about bouts and sake—
About wandering spirits, about boundaries and exorcists, familial feuding—
About Merry— “My newest friend!” —that said, and nothing more needed.
They heard of the Mountain, and of Gensokyo.
Their duty was not simple. Rather, it was immense to bother a pair so at ease as they. What they always wished for was frolicking and fights. They did not delight in rule.
However, they had chosen it; it meant that they were strong.
Of fist—Of heart—
The two oni were the strongest among them, and so the steadiest guides. They knew it, and bore their responsibility proudly.
And as they listened, and as they spoke and advised (“spread seeds over the highest hill”, “hug your brother, then strike him for his foolishness”, “beg, and you can bet she and I will crush you”, “Why, kill the ingrate!”)...
Suika noted, their “Merry” listened too, quite keenly—with clear fascination.
It was the first she’d seen something in the girl’s face other than worry or fear.
Slowly, yet surely, the crowd steadily thinned. When it would be the last woman or man, they could abscond their thrones if they wished and... why, do whatever they wanted.
Her duty, and the duty of her sister Yuugi, was to make it so they could have such minutes and hours.
Peace, maybe. Conflict, often and definitely...
They ran the world as they saw was right: a world of might, muscle, and righteousness. A simple and factual world where passion and power would grant success, and weakness would perish.
And under their hands, it would last forever...
Suika grunted as she picked up on a new scent in the crowd. She noticed, too, that Merry did not miss it either. Surely, neither would Yuugi. In fact, what youkai would not be familiar with it? Blood, and bile. Murmurs went through the youkai gaggle, what little of it was now left.
“I...!” called out a voice, and all listened— “have made a name for myself.”
The three seated at the mountaintop looked beyond the other youkai. A horned youkai covered in blood was approaching...
“That is: ‘a tree of thorns, a gorgeous rose’,” said the new visitor. Suika felt herself beaming. She nearly stood, but remembered Merry and merely gripped at the throne’s rests.
“Ibaraki—” said their youngest sister, full completely of pride, “Kasen! My sisters, I have returned!”
Knowing what was coming, all the two onis’ subjects made way.
Not knowing what was coming, the young Merry was tossed to the ground as Suika – along with Yuugi – hurriedly stood up and hurtled toward Kasen.
A sound like a whip. Once more: a sound like an explosion. The ruling pair slammed into Ibaraki Kasen with all their might, and the younger oni did all in her power to not topple over.
“Kasen!!” yelled Suika, pushing at her skull.
“Kasen!!” yelled Yuugi, grappling her around her shoulders. The Mountain began to shake, and there was an uproar throughout it.
The triplet of oni... “embraced”, as far as Merry could tell. It was an embrace, unthinkably, even more intense than what she had seen earlier. Rather, arcs of lightning had begun to be cast from the three. It might have been cute, were it not so awesome and frightening.
They grunted, they pushed more and more.
The three flipped over themselves, with a vast and profound BOOM across the land. Birds scattered, distant.
“Kasen, you reek!” cried Suika.
“Shut your mouth—it’s a victor’s proof!” the pink-haired oni retorted.
“Sweaty—Bloody—ahh, incredible!” roared Yuugi. She suddenly let the smaller oni go, and suddenly thrust both her palms at the girl. Kasen lifted her palms quickly in turn. Another boom...
“Let’s bring her down!” Suika declared, struggling now at the new oni’s back. A crowd began to gather, of more oni especially. Energy began to rise.
“On it!” Yuugi agreed.
“Ohh!? OHH, A FANTASTIC GREETING!!” growled this “Kasen”. Merry picked herself up and watched what transpired nervously: throbbing muscles, more visible arcs of power, and now cracks in the earth.
And a new oni appeared, over the three of their heads.
This latest oni carried herself... lightly. Quite literally she seemed to be lighter than air.
A dark-haired, fire-eyed and childlike youkai now floated above them. Her jet-black, ceremonial-seeming clothing was held aloft by nothing, and she herself only seemed mildly interested in what the three oni below her were doing. She lowered her foot—lowered a two-toothed geta—onto “Ibaraki Kasen’s” head. She lifted her hand.
Quite suddenly, Ibuki Suika and Hoshiguma Yuugi lit afire and were completely, violently, launched away—far out of sight. Merry shook before suddenly going still. The new oni frowned, and looked at the pair of smoking trails left by the two dispelled kings. She then looked down and unceremoniously stomped, suddenly reaching the ground and suddenly burying Kasen’s face into the stone below. The crowds around them erupted in ecstasy and mirth.
The new oni looked over them, her hands on her hips. She opened her mouth, waited a moment as they hollered, and then said, “... Go and do something else.”
They hurried, stumbling, away with all speed. The new oni stepped from Kasen’s head, crouched before her, and then grabbed her skull—pulling her up by her hair.
“Kasen,” said the oni.
“Touka!!” Kasen yelled at once, and she threw her arms around the oni before her.
“Don’t rile those two up. I want to beat them at their best,” said the new “Touka”, embracing Kasen in turn and rubbing her back. “I want none on the Mountain to question when we trounce them.”
Kasen pulled back, her hands on Touka’s shoulders, and she grinned brilliantly.
And so, there were only three atop Youkai Mountain. Two only now noticed the third, who wondered at once whether she should hide.
“Who are you?” Kasen asked.
“M-Merry,” Merry answered without thinking.
“Why are you sitting there?” Touka asked of the youkai sitting next to the two seats of power. “You want the throne?”
Merry rapidly shook her head.
“So, why?” asked Touka.
“A girl who was with Suika...” said Kasen happily as she stood up. “Or, that’s how you smell don’t you?”
“Hmmm... she does,” Touka agreed. “You were sitting with Little Suika?”
Slowly, and once more without thinking, Merry nodded. The two new oni eyed one another.
A rose-haired and stone-horned oni (two: from the sides of her head), dressed in a thorn-patterned tabard, a skirt colored jade, and a rose-fixture blooming from her chest. Like Suika and Yuugi, she was dressed in chains.
A midnight-haired and flesh-horned oni (two: from her forehead), dressed in a modification of a shrine maiden’s garb, and decorated in tassels. From within her sleeves and shirt and skirt, the sound of chains rattled.
“Take care of her,” Touka commanded Kasen, who looked irritated at once.
“I just returned. Can’t I take a bath first?”
“And wash off your... ‘winnings’? Go take care of her. Take a bath if she finds you repulsive.”
Touka began to stand up. Merry was bewildered. The two of them began walking toward her, and she froze once again.
“I heard there was some trouble at an entrance,” Kasen muttered to the other oni.
“I’m taking care of it, which is why I’m having you handle this little one before any on the Mountain get ill ideas.”
“Ooookaaaaay...” sighed Kasen. They reached her, and Kasen plucked Merry up by the back of her top with a bloodied hand.
“And prepare me a drink for when I’m done,” Touka kept commanding.
“I’m going to flick you away from me if you give me another order.”
To this, Touka smiled very prettily.
“I’d love if you prepared me a drink!” she said.
Kasen frowned, then twisted her lips. She glared, and she bared her teeth. Snickering, Touka disappeared—quite instantly, with no special gleam or smoke. Kasen stood still for a moment, and then took flight after that, heading elsewhere.
And Merry, still hanging from Kasen’s hand, for her part continued to not know what to say.
Kasen returned to her home, carrying some unknown youkai. As she remembered, the Ibaraki house was emptied. As she remembered, her feet took her toward her room when she landed past the door.
The “Ibaraki” were more “legend” than “known”. A great name for a few oni, and most of whom had left this place for other lands. It was a name she had adopted, and unlike that name “Kasen” which was granted to her, “Ibaraki” she wanted to craft on her own. She would be a live legend. She would shape the name.
The home was still largely barren. The decorations were still very ancient. The bath was not drawn; the tengu would be here soon enough to draw it.
Kasen found where she used to sleep and gently pushed open the wood door. She dropped “Merry” beside it as she entered her old room and began looking to see if everything here was where she, again, remembered.
Merry looked around.
They were in a darkened, clay-hewn home, lit only naturally by some bored holes for sunlight. She could guess she was in “Kasen’s” bedroom... There was a bed... there were large things standing to store smaller things. Kasen moved about the space unremarkably. But Merry was, of course, horribly unsettled.
More than fear now, the awkwardness of being in close presence with somebody new was much more pressing. She couldn’t tell if Kasen was “friendly”, and of course...
...Kasen was drenched with blood.
For many, many reasons, that factor had Merry on edge.
Kasen continued to silently sift through her things...
“So you were a human,” said Kasen, glancing back to the other youkai from over her shoulder. “That right?”
“I... am,” Merry answered. “Was.”
Kasen fully turned. She brushed hair aside from her eye. “Suika...” was all she said. She rested her back and elbows on the cabinet behind her... Was it a tansu? But then, how? Really, what was the year— “What are you?” Kasen asked, taking Merry from her wandering thoughts. The girl thought instead on the posed question.
“...I... you mean, am I rokurokubi, or a tsukumogami, or a tsuchigumo, is that what you’re asking?” asked Merry in reply. Kasen nodded. “...I’m not certain there’s...a ‘race’ I’m part of...”
“Are you hungry?” Kasen asked, and as Merry began to reply with a “Well—“ the oni clarified: “For ‘humans’?”
Merry closed her mouth, and then swallowed. She asked the oni, “If I am?”
“Well if you are, I think you’ll be fine on the Mountain,” Kasen told her. “Will you be fine with Suika...” she muttered. Then, she smiled lightly and added, “I wonder?”
“I love Suika,” Kasen said frankly, proudly. “But I sometimes think she loves too easily. For us halves... it’s a little burdensome, isn’t it?”
Merry processed the words, and at length asked the oni, “‘Halves’...? You were human, too?”
“I was not born so beautiful,” said the blood-soaked oni. “Are you in pain, girl?”
Rather than answering, Merry eventually, softly, nodded.
“Well...” gave Kasen, as she pushed from the boudoir behind her and strode toward the door, “more important than if Suika can love you is, of course, whether you can find the heart to love yourself.”
She stopped in front of Merry. With firelight behind her, her front was a shadow, lit above by two pink-hued eyes As Merry looked up to meet those eyes, they came suddenly down as the oni squatted before her.
“MMm!?” the young youkai grunted, backing up against the wall.
“You should...” Kasen followed, her voice low and scraping. She pushed the bone beneath her flesh at Kasen’s lips, parting them. “enjoy...” she bid, and she twisted her wrist to lower the youkai’s jaw enough. Eyes wide, Merry finally felt blood against her tongue. “what you... should enjoy,” Kasen finished, and she waited until she felt that tongue lap, once, against her skin. She grinned. “Life should be full of likes.”
Kasen stood back, removed her hand, and Merry’s hands flew over her mouth. The taste circled inside it. Kasen told her, “I’m going to have a bath—” and she left the room.
Incredible. The taste— Like descriptions of, mythical— Ambrosia. A pleasant lurching in the stomach... Was that even possible? Rushing, rushing. A chorus. Loud—wonderful. Every sense felt pleasured. Every bud now tickled. She bit. God... How?
She swallowed, and she shrunk into herself as sheer joy blossomed throughout her.
What a perfect feeling...
Like stars aligning in the sky. Like a perfect peg fit for a perfect receptacle.
So many words, so many feelings, and the most frightening of all—
The two kings were smoking on the mountain side—surrounded as always by immense and shadowing trees and, quite literally, smoking as the fires that had consumed them had only now begun to die out as they lay in the dirt. They had cratered a few minutes before, and with the shock both seemed to have lost consciousness. It was unpleasant...
“Think she was trying to make us weak, Suika?”
“No... She was mad at us, wasn’t she?”
“Wanted to hug Kasen herself, I bet. I’ll ask a crow later—I’m sure she hugged little Kasen.”
“Hm, well, hm.”
Suika sat up, and there began to mash her hands against her face.
Yuugi began to pick herself up as well. “Are we old already...?” she asked. “The two of them... they aren’t quite like we were, are they?”
Suika looked at her friend between her fingers.
“They’re only a few years younger, Yuugi; even a mortal would say so.”
“But you get that feeling as well,” Yuugi challenged her. “You do, Suika.”
“Times change,” Suika replied with a smile. “We vowed to change them ourselves, didn’t we? On this very mountainside...”
“Well, it might have been another side...”
“I’m being poetic, Yuugi.”
Waiting near a minute without Yuugi finishing, Suika offered, “Anxious?”
Yuugi, slouching, smiled at her warmly. “I’m feeling old,” she said.
“Soft bear, always! Soft heart, always—”shouted Suika with flair, tossing her hair and opening her arms wide. “You’ll make me kiss you, Yuugi!” she declared, voice a blend of irritation and amusement.
“You can always feel free, Suika,” Yuugi told her honestly, still smiling. She already knew this...
Suika rose to her feet, and put her hands on her hips.
“Yuugi, we ought to do something before tonight,” she told her sister. “We’ll be fighting again.”
“You have something in mind?” Yuugi asked, meeting her eyes at level despite still being sat down.
To remind the Mountain of who ruled it:  “We go down the Mountain, and spread terror,” Suika said.
To warm up their ‘old’ bones:  “Well Yuugi, we fight now,” Suika said.
To ease their nerves, and to be “oni”—  “We drink,” Suika said.
[X] “We drink,” said the grinning Suika, and “we fight,” she added.
Drink, thought Kasen, and fight. Fight and drink, endlessly That’s the best life... A life for the strong.
Soaking in an extravagant bath of the Ibaraki house, the remaining Ibaraki, now-spotless, watched as ripples were cast through what should have otherwise been still water. A light but definite tremor ran through the wooden tub and up into her spine. This familiar feeling... meant that Yuugi and Kasen were now sparring, far away on the Mountain.
She moaned, and relaxed. For very long now, the only “power” in her life had been hers alone. She missed the shared feeling: the connection.
She was truly blessed. This was truly home.
She went silent, closed her eyes, and eased further into the bath.
Humans disgusted her.
Not that that had been why she teased the young youkai she’d left in her bedroom, no... This fact was just one she'd grown more and more comfortable with in the past hundred years. She was born into it, born again to it after what drove her to disgust had nearly driven her to death, and in one hundred years since, she found humans more and more vile.
“...The weather goes clear, and wind combs the young willows’ hair...”
She murmured that line to herself, then smirked.
One human. One human was nice enough. However it was just one, “Yoshika”, who she had found while rampaging through Kyoto, and when she had made camp at Rashomon. Cloaked in blood as often, she’d answered that poem with a poem, and had even made a friend.
It almost made her understand Suika...
But not enough.
Every other... Every other human she’d come across could only ever be called “admirable” when facing death, or perhaps the near-death of somebody they cared for. They were weak. She was ashamed she was ever even considered a part of the race...
“Well...” she grunted, and she rose to her feet, water running off her body, “I can bring them to heel... soon.”
She stepped from the bath, and approached where crows had left her clean clothes. From there, she took up a cloth to dry her hair and skin.
And then, “Any beast can be,” she affirmed to herself as she changed, and after, she made to leave the room.
Sliding the door to the changing space open, she found “Merry” bent, though standing, with a hand against the hallway wall.
The Mountain shook again, and Merry flinched. The young youkai, in fact, was already trembling.
“Did you turn just today? Was it yesterday?” Kasen asked. She smiled toothily. “I gave you your first taste, did I?”
“I-I-I d-don’t—” the child stuttered. Her nails gripped against the clay beside her, marring it at once. “W-Why...!?”
Kasen thought on the question. Then, she answered, “It is right.”
Merry lifted her chin, and met Kasen’s eyes with ones wild.
“Youkai are the enemy of humans,” Kasen went on. “You are no longer a human, you are a youkai. And, unlike frail humans, we monsters are ‘sure’ and ‘certain’.” The oni lifted a hand, her nails pointed upward. “When ‘it is right’, we feel it. You like it, no? What words did I leave you with, girl? ‘Life should be full of likes.’”
Merry broke gaze, looking instead to the floor.
“I can’t be like this...” the girl whispered. “T-Turn... c-c-c-can’t I tur... t-tur... turn—”
“Aah, turn ‘back’? Well, you turned forward. Can’t you turn back?”
Merry’s head whipped upward.
“I-I—! I... I... can!?”
“Well,” muttered Kasen, leaning on the same wall Merry now used as support. She crossed her arms, and felt another pulse through the earth. “Would you, hm? Would you? Turn back?”
Merry’s face distorted. Her eyes shook away again, and shined. Tears formed at the lids, and fell from her face.
“I can’t imagine a full accident for what you’ve become. Certainly it’s not always a choice...” Kasen admitted, shrugging, “but it’s a very rare surprise. ‘Merry’, you knew what you were becoming, did you not?”
Gritting her teeth, Merry dug her nails deeper into the wall.
“I... I... had to... our... dream...” spoke the young youkai, disjointedly. Kasen’s eyebrows twitched.
“Oh...?” she moaned. “You left somebody behind?”
“C-Can I even... t-tell... can I... even tell you?”
“You would tell me?” Kasen was surprised. “I only met you... why, not an hour ago.”
“I wanted... Suika... tell Suika...”
“Our Suika...? She must have met you only yesterday to compare... You’re already so fond and trusting of her?”
Hearing this, more tears began to fall from Merry’s face.
“She... held me...” said the girl.
She would... thought Kasen. “Our Suika is often more mother than sister...”
“What did you know, Merry?”
“Don’t call... Merry...”
“You would like a new name? I can bestow one to you.”
“Oohh, is ‘Merry’ not your name either?”
Merry let her weight fall into the wall, nearly going to her knees. Weak, she looked again at Kasen. She was quiet. Pitiable.
“It sounded like a lie,” Kasen told her, smiling.
“You’re a mess.”
Kasen gazed upon the still shivering youkai
 And, “Let’s get you something to eat,” Kasen offered. Or: Take Merry human hunting.
 And, “Let’s get you something to drink,” Kasen offered. Or: Bring Merry alcohol.
 And, “Let’s get you in bed,” Kasen offered. Or: Take Merry back to your room, and personally take care of her.
[X] And, “Let’s get you something to drink,” Kasen offered.
She snapped her fingers, the sound striking powerfully through the air. From one of the hallway’s windows, a face shortly appeared: a female crow’s face. The red-eyed youkai peered in, glancing briefly at the collapsed Merry before looking instead to the one who’d summoned her.
“Yes!” the tengu answered.
Kasen, still watching Merry, commanded: “Bring us enough sake for two oni and...” she waited, and thought, before pointing at the shivering girl before her and saying, “one weakling.”
“In a moment,” the tengu confirmed, and she was gone. Kasen stepped toward Merry.
“I thought about giving you human flesh to chew on...” she revealed, and Merry flinched, “but in the state you’re in, maybe you’d start a massacre off the high.” She rested her hands on her hips, and looked out the window where the tengu had arrived and left. “I’m going to be a King in some hours. So... I will take ‘care’. I will... support you.” She looked down at Merry. “I’m nice, aren’t I?”
Merry did not answer, only staring back at the oni. The oni sighed through her nose after a second, and gave a small, soft smile.
“... You should say that I am,” Kasen warned, “when I’m not inclined to be nice, I am quite the terror. As any oni... I suppose. Let’s get you up.”
She bent low, put her hand under Merry’s left arm, and pulled her to stand. Merry fell into her then, trembling. Wordlessly, she held the youkai steady and made toward the underground.
There were many ways into Hell. The “underworld” beneath Gensokyo was expansive—greater than Gensokyo itself. One way was just below the Ibaraki mansion. In her childhood, Kasen often went there to hide during games, stack stones, or play. In the little atrium before the long path down to Hell itself, she’d spent many years with fellow monsters, healing.
It was still an apt place to heal. Once she had grown, though, she and some earth spiders had shaped it more into something of a resting spot... A place to sit, sometimes sleep, and to drink.
Fantastic white stones set along the walls lit the way down to that spot. Without them, only a few feet in one would lose all sight. Still with Merry, Kasen continued on quietly, gazing halfly at drawings she and the others had clawed into stone so many years before. Eventually they met an open area—the resting place—and a furred rug greeted their steps. The place was furnished with pillows and bedding to rest your top or bottom or body upon, and a few tables. A cabinet of dishware was shoved to one corner. The right wall had become a place to stock pots and barrels of sake: a wooden shelf, currently empty. In a second after they’d entered here, the tengu from before arrived to stock it.
While the crow, dressed in white and black robes befitting a servant, went about placing a barrel three-fourths her size onto the shelf, Kasen brought Merry to sit at one of the place’s tables.
When she did, she blinked as smoke flew in from deep below, coalesced at the other side of the table, and formed into the shape of a young girl.
“Touka,” Kasen said. Touka, already sat down, stretched out her arms before dropping her upper body over the table.
“Done,” she groaned. “A tengu said you wanted to see me here.”
“They assumed,” Kasen said with a smirk, and out the corner of her eye she saw the tengu she had called flinch. “They were correct though. I want to be seen ‘above’ any rank and file oni and... those two—”
The caved shook, and the earth boomed.
“—they’re preoccupied,” she said with a chuckle.
“That one’s close to you,” Touka said, nodding upward at the youkai clinging to her. Merry was still shaking, and only returned the oni’s gaze.
“I fed her,” Kasen replied.
“Another pet...? It’s less of a beast than usual,” Touka remarked,
“I won’t make her my pet. She’s too pathetic, and not at all cute.”
“She’s a bit cute.”
“If Suika has taken to her, I just want to... not see Suika cry, I suppose. So, I’m going to watch her while Suika is away.”
“You should kidnap her, and bring her with you when we fight the two Kings later today,” Touka suggested as she brought herself up into a slouch. “Suika would be off, then.”
“Of course I’ll bring her,” said Kasen, grinning and gripping Merry around her shoulders. “If Suika’s heart wavers from something so simple in a fight, well... that will be her loss. We only want to win, no!?”
She laughed heartily. Merry winced, and made to look at the oni ‘tending’ to her.
Touka sighed. “Ibaraki, Ibaraki...” she muttered. “You know, we’ve all been hearing about you.”
The tengu came to the table bearing three great dishes of sake (one cup in each hand, and one balanced atop her head). She gently went to her knees and put a dish before each oni, before taking the third down and putting it between them. She stood quickly after, and went to the sake rack to wait on the two’s command.
Each oni took up a cup.
“Good,” answered Kasen. “What have you heard?”
She drank while Touka answered. “You’ve rampaged through Kyoto, become the dread at Rashomon gate...” Touka drank. “They describe you pretty wonderfully.”
“Good, good!” Kasen replied, jolly. She squeezed Merry closer. “Truly, I am dreadful! Truly, I am wicked!”
“Well to speak of the wicked, between us I’m the only one unafraid of wicked spirits.”
Kasen pouted. “I’ll invent some way to crush them, mark my words.”
“Crushing them would be no help...! Hmm, hey, tengu girl.”
The tengu stood at attention. The cave shook again with the might of distant battle.
“The yellow-haired youkai isn’t drinking. Take her from Kasen and get her drunk.”
The tengu moved swift to Kasen’s side and brought Merry up, before pulling her gently to the third seat at the table. Merry looked at the tengu, who assertively did not look back at her.
Kasen, still drinking, addressed that tengu. “You are... what was your name? I’ve seen you.”
“I am Shameimaru Aya, O Ibaraki-douji,” replied Aya as she took up a cup.
“Ahaa...! When we were children—Suika threatened to kill you! That was it! You’re that bird!”
“And you let the rest of the Mountain know... Well, you kept one or both of them alive for that, eh?”
“I would like to believe that my actions were correct and that my intervention helped Ibuki-douji and Hoshiguma-douji,” Aya admitted. Seated, with Merry slouched against her, she brought the dish to the youkai’s lips. Reluctantly, Merry began to drink. “I was mercifully not punished by the Ibuki Sovereign for defying his daughter.”
“You were brave,” judged Kasen. “Commendable! We were all fool children then!”
“Why you were fighting... I understood. I only wanted a peaceful resolution.” Aya pulled the dish away from Merry, letting her swallow what she’d taken. “I, as all tengu since times long past, have watched the oni grow. Your suffering is our suffering.”
“Well, I wasn’t there though,” Touka remarked. “Even back then my fire was too precious. Never any time, never enough free moments...”
“I am sincerely glad that you were uninvolved, O Kane-douji,” answered Aya as she brought the dish to Merry’s lips again.
“I just feel the four of us are best together,” said Touka, watching as ripples beat out from the center of her cup at what felt like Suika and Yuugi’s final blow. “... Surreal, Kasen.”
Kasen continued to drink. Touka looked up at her.
“You’re back... we’ll be together...” Touka went on, with a voice growing faint. She trembled, eyes shut, and tears soon fell from her face. “I worried... by yourself... they’d find some way to slay you... I’d never see you... I’d be more... by myself.”
“Ghh... don’t cry,” Kasen grumbled. “You’re quicker to cry than Yuugi...! Stop it!”
With both hands, Touka brought her dish up and downed what was in it, still crying. She let her arms fall after, and it drop against the table, and her face was scrunched and terrible.
“Kasennnn... why didn’t you say... when you were going...”
“Touka... In front of... a tengu, Touka!?”
“I can’t... be like Suika and... disperse, I couldn’t find you. Suika was too busy. Crows... crows lost sight of you...”
“Lords of hell, really...?”
Touka began bawling.
“Fff... Damn it.”
“Hgg...! Waaah... Oni...!”
“Yes, yes, ‘oni’...?”
“Oni can die... too...”
“Mocking me! You really thought an exorcist would put an end to me!? To an oni!?”
“We’ve lost... so many, Kasennnn... while you were gone... Brothers, sisters, dying...”
“I can’t just keep... doing this... I need to... become King...”
“If you will allow my interruption,” Aya interrupted. Merry, now sat in her lap, was drinking on her own. “It’s something of a usual matter—”
“What is ‘usual’ about oni being killed...? The humans know how to kill us, now, do they!?” snapped Kasen.
“Sorry, O Ibaraki-douji. I meant that... Well, humans persevere.”
Kasen slammed her cup to the table.
“So you watched me this morning, did you!? And now you’re mocking me? You? A lowly tengu!?”
“I... heard on the wind—”
“Piss in your wind, why would you repeat my words here if not only to taunt me!? Matters of life and death—Touka is crying! Who is it!? Who among us has died!?”
“With all due respect. O Ibaraki-douji... all men and women live and die. And as we know... humans have always persevered.”
Kasen stood at once and snatched the tengu up by her collar, sending Merry to stumble into the dirt below, spilling the remaining contents of her cup.
“Have crows forgotten their place in my absence!?” Kasen shouted. “Have you gotten big-headed from a few compliments!? Scavenger... Liar you—you want to insult me!?”
“...” Aya stared back quietly at her superior. Closing her eyes, she breathed in. When she opened them again, she told the oni clearly: “I would not serve under a King who knows not the weight of the crown. Kane-douji... is more suited to bear it than callous you.”
Kasen grit her teeth and gripped her fist tight.
Below, Merry stared on.
She still felt tremors in her body. She still felt “hunger”.
But, hazy from drink, and remembering who had come to greet her in this world... she felt full bothered by this “Kasen”.
Quite frankly... it was like she was watching a petulant teen.
It was... oddly infuriating.
She clawed her nails through the ground.
 Get up, and shove Kasen out the way.
 Manipulate the borders around “Aya” and move her away.
 From the ground, give Kasen a piece of your mind.
A voice of effort; weak but wanting to be heard. It reached Kasen’s ears, and at once those ears perked. The oni turned her head, looking down upon the fledgling youkai. Was that girl... speaking to her?
“What was that now?” Kasen asked. The tengu in her grasp turned and listened too.
Merry dug her nails further into the earth. “A child... I think you sound naive and... and foolish. You sound very... stupid.”
Kasen let go of Aya. She faced Merry completely, standing straight, and “You...” she breathed. Merry continued.
“You must surely be older than me... but I can't shake that sense. Like you're eleven, or twelve... at best in adolescence.”
She pushed at the ground, lifting her upper body and locking eyes straight with Kasen.
“...” Kasen looked back, silent.
“A brat...” said Merry. “A demon... brat.”
Kasen squatted before the other youkai and brought her hand down fast and heavy on the young monster’s cap. She gripped through it, grabbing the girl’s hair as well. “Up,” she said, tugging in that direction. “You would try to beat through me with words. Your body would best be ready to be beaten back.”
“Oh, oh, an oaf as well,” answered Merry breathlessly. With one eye closed from pain, she stared still at Kasen with the other. “A graceless and ineloquent ogre.”
And... Kasen’s face went scarlet. She was embarrassed.”This is a world of power...!” roared the oni. She stood, and violently dragged Merry to her feet. Beside her, Aya watched with worry. At the table, Touka’s tears slowed, and she began to watch as well. “If you haven’t power, you had best tread lightly! You traipse here with an impudent tongue! Would you expect to hiss at dragons and not be swallowed whole!? Fool!”
“Oh, there are your words,” teased Merry. At this, Kasen left words behind. She let Merry’s cap and hair go, clenched her fingers tight to her palm again, and with nothing held back heaved up her fist to meet entirely, fiercely, with wrecking force against the young Merry’s cheek.
At their left, a wooden case collapsed to dust. The cave shook, and the sound of Kasen’s strike burst from the mouth of the place like the signal of a horn of war.
And in the wake, Kasen went still. Her bangs fell forward as she slouched from the ending arc of her strike and she lifted her hand into her vision. Her fingers trembled. Her mouth was, beyond her own awareness, now agape.
That had hurt.
“That was the first time I have ever been punched. In my world, it is just unthinkable for girls to hit girls like this. However, thank you; it was refreshing. I’ve sobered up.”
The three older beings looked to the youth before them, each shaken.
“Isn’t it good I only was hit like that after becoming something... more than some ‘human’ girl? It is, right? So... oh, right, what was your name, little girl? Ibaraki... Kasen? I believe that I should let you know....”
Kasen held her shaking hand and kept her eyes on the other girl. She closed her mouth. Behind the youkai... the world had split in three places, and within those wounds to the air darkness waited, mixed with red, and unbodied eyes red in iris as well stared out toward her.
“That ‘power’ you swear by so dearly.... I have it. And if this is any indication... why, doesn’t it look like I have much more of it than you?”
Still standing, and now turning her head back to look upon the oni, Merry proved entirely unshaken by the blow.
Kasen felt her flesh go cold. She hadn’t felt such a feeling in a century...
“Just what...” she stammered, “what are you?”
Merry blinked, then lifted her chin. Staid, she answered: “... Why, a youkai I imagine.”
Kasen’s heart thumped. For an instant, she remembered the sight of this youkai at the throne.
She stood, and she covered her mouth.
“I...” she spoke behind it, “I will beat you down...”
Merry narrowed her eyes and frowned.
“It doesn’t sound like you will. And why would you? I’ve proved I have what makes me free to speak, as you demanded—oh.”
She noticed something: something familiar in the oni’s eyes.
“—You’re scared,” she realized.
It was difficult to describe.
As Kasen stood silent, she realized that there was never before something so awesome standing before her... the world had always been flattened before her. Even Yuugi, even Suika, Touka... they were her equals. They were—they had to be. The gift she’d been given—she hadn’t wasted it. Not everyone could have risen to where she was now. It wasn’t only by right—it was earned.
What have you earned? thought Kasen, looking at the new youkai. You, so young... There isn’t anything in this world that could rise so rapidly. A... A god?
I... I fear no gods...! The gods fear us...!
“Is it incomprehensible?” asked Merry. Kasen did not answer. “I don’t feel like alleviating your confusion, I feel like telling you off.” Again Kasen swallowed. “I have only just arrived here... truly arrived. A girl earned my respect instantly. You have lost any before it could even be gathered. Let me tell you something:”
Touka rose from where she was sitting and Aya took steps away. Kasen watched, and listened, as Merry lifted her arm above her head, one finger extended.
“I have gathered two especially important truths in my visits here. First, that humans should fear youkai—”
She slowly brought her hand back down, with her middle finger also raised. In this odd shape, she pointed at Kasen.
“Second,” she said, “youkai should fear humans.”
Like an eruption from her fingertips—
Red “force” exploded from where Merry was pointing, and her arm was blast backward. Kasen, too, was blast backward as that force impacted her stomach—and impossibly and suddenly, she found herself high over Misty Lake.
“Huh!?” she exclaimed. She lifted her head forward and caught another strange gap there where she was flying from, now going thin before being suddenly shut, and gone.
While she could, in theory, take flight from the fall she’d become so quickly disoriented that no plan as to how would manifest in her skull. She struck against Misty Lake and was engulfed by its waters. She howled with rage, and then despite being submerged found herself falling again.
Surrounded by water, she saw through it not the sky but darkness. In only a second, hard earth cracked against her back. All the water splashed down, rushed down her nostrils and throat. She coughed, and turned onto her side. This was the Underground. She was back in that cave.
“It would be nice if you took some kind of lesson from that,” she heard—Merry’s voice. She turned her head and eyes to see the other monster striding past her. Both Touka and Aya continued to watch, still. “I’m going to see Suika,” said Merry, and she began to leave.
Soaking and still reeling, Kasen turned over onto her stomach. Her face was hot. She felt her back teeth grinding. So... not only would she have this half-private shame here, the girl would see Suika and tell all? Suika would know?
Kasen bared her teeth and clenched her other fist.
The image of Merry’s back disappeared from her sight behind a blur. She closed her eyes and water broke from the shut lids. Standing above her, the tengu Aya and the oni Touka knew not what to say. What was there to say? She had been shown plainly to be a fool. A barrage of her foolishness had been aired in only a few seconds. In at most a minute, so much had been made clear about her—all to summarize her in only one word: pathetic.
How many oni had died while she’d been gone?
Was that Suika’s fault? Yuugi’s? Was it Touka’s fault? Was it her own? Could she truly, justly, cry for them with how much human blood she had spilled?
What a true fool. Truly an oaf.
Suika did not only have strength. Yuugi was not only “the strong”. Even fellow Touka had gathered a reputation for Zen remarkable even among oni. Behind Kasen was simpleminded massacre.
Who could call a force such as her a king? Would one call a storm a king? A raging beast?
As she let herself be upset, as Touka in time came to her back, Kasen swore at herself, and swore too to change.
The youkai called Merry did little else of note that day. Like she said, she went to Ibuki Suika (who was still with Hoshiguma Yuugi) and quietly stayed at the little oni’s side. Suika smelled sake and blood on her breath. She saw grief hanging at her shoulders.
However, she didn’t learn the circumstances of her new and old friends this day. She only smiled at Merry, and happily took her along.
On this day, not 1000 years ago but just over more, two more kings were crowned on Mount Yatsugatake. The Mountain saw set of legend: an unprecedented Four Heavenly Kings. To sit behind Ibuki Suika and Hoshiguma Yuugi were now also Kane Touka and Ibaraki Kasen, two oni who – with hand in hand – struggled against and toppled the two currently seated. It is no expression: tightly, the sworn sisters had grasped their hands together as they’d fought. In solidarity, they made clear their measure. Smoke had swirled above the mountain, and dragons had roared from the cliffs during the fight. And after, in the wave of battle and in the midst of celebration, the younger Kasen found the youngest Merry in the surrounding crowd of cheering youkai. She came close, and took the back of the girl’s head suddenly before as-suddenly crashing their foreheads together.
“I will never apologize to you,” she’d said, looking fiercely, steadily, into Merry’s quivering and blearing eyes, “I will only show you why I have made it here. You had better watch me, Gap Youkai.”
The crowd of monsters murmured around them. “Gap” Youkai... What sort of name was that? Why was she in the eye of the new king? And, didn’t she know, too, the old?
Merry found a new name against her wishes. Kasen let her go and marched back toward her fellow Touka. The oni knew by how Suika had fought her... “Merry” had said nothing of what had occurred in the cave—and the tengu there had not either.
But, she vowed that such weakness would be left behind her.
Even if the truth of her weakness spilled from the mouth of a gap, a crow, or even some satori—
She swore to herself: it would always be an old truth.
Merry would come to, platonically, share Suika’s bed that night and every night after for quite some time. She found such comfort—such charm in the little, gigantic girl’s smile and in her warmth. Even when Suika would whine that she wanted a bed or sometimes mountainside to herself—Merry would insist and cling to her head or arm or legs or stomach. She needed the other girl, and though grudgingly, it was a need which Suika would never deny.
Not 1000 years after this, but perhaps one-and-a-half-times (but certainly not doubled) more, a girl took a seat in a quiet room on a bustling campus in a small country of a ruined world. The room was densely decorated, with metal baubles that moved on their own, ancient books, staves, posters, gemstones and glass and seemingly even more ancient machines. A calculator from the early 90s was sat against a pot of dirt, and at a window a pair of hatted teru teru bozu hanged still in the little sunlight coming in. The girl looked at a thin machine on the table before her—a computer, opened to an almost entirely-textual website. She took a mug of coffee from that table and began to sip it, wincing at the screen. She gestured before the screen and searched for something.
The door opened behind her and she glanced behind herself. At what she saw, at once, her face lit up with a grin.
“You don’t have any classes either, today?” she asked.
“Why would I... Why did I even come in today? It’s so dangerous...”
“If you keep to the tunnels and overpasses it should be fine.”
“What if there’s a leak?”
“That’s unthinkable, honestly.”
“You sound so sure.”
“Because I am! Come in so I don’t have to turn around.”
She turned back to the screen.
“What are you reading, there?”
“There’s... supposed to be a missing town somewhere in Shizuoka,” she answered.
“A whole missing town would definitely be documented.”
“What if it vanished? Like, the border around it turned strange and it experienced a time slip?”
“Like with Hawking’s theory on the arrow of time? How it could be reversed... Actually I—”
“Didn’t you go through something like that yourself, Merry?”
She sat down at the table.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Though a whole town seems like it shouldn’t be possible. If it’s one person, the dimensions and mass you’re working with seem a lot more manageable.”
“Well, Renko...” Merry muttered, “that red mansion I saw in my dream seemed to clash very much and not at all with everything around it. A mansion, in Japan!”
“You’re really sure it’s a part of Japan?”
“Well, of course I’m not.”
“A mansion doesn’t seem too out of place, I’d say. The world has only gotten smaller, you know?”
“Weren’t we sure that I’d went to the past?”
“But how far? Actually, mansions as they’re popularly known have existed since the fifteenth century.”
“I think I’d gone back farther than that... No, well, wasn’t it sooner?”
“You’ve gone a bunch of times.”
Renko glanced to hanging dolls at the window.
“Well if this fake town is real, or I guess if it isn’t real,” she continued, before looking back at her friend, “we should go there and look for it together! You can find the border, Merry!”
“Out in Shizuoka, with no GPS or anything?” answered Merry, worried. Renko lifted her left hand, and pointed at her eyes.
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
“Say ‘we will’!” Merry snapped in complaint.
But, they would go together.
In the Secret Sealing Club, life often felt like an adventure, and that bravery of Renko’s felt contagious.
Of course she agreed to go.
One day, together, they would find Gensokyo’s border.
On a short mountain to the east, there lived a husband, a wife, their daughter...
...and a god.
A powerful god, a wrathful god: ally to mankind, and enemy of youkai. The tools it blessed upon its chosen had famous potency, for with or without faith they burned through any that would think to threaten humanity: be it foe man, frightful monster, or even another fiendish divinity. The priests of this god, the shrine maidens especially and their lineage of daughters, stood like a mirror against a vile and distant mountain that stretched beyond the clouds to Heaven. At that place, atop the mountain once highest in all Japan, all youkai there already knew the name of those exorcist humans, and the god whom they served:
“So we’ll crush them right, Sis?”
A muscular oni with a bucket at his right side, asked Suika this at his left. Both were sat before a show that the tengu were putting up for all youkai of the mountain. Dressed in red and white, dressed with false horns, the tengu were pretending to be humans and oni. A story had already sprung up: of Kane-douji facing a “Hakurei” at a wind-swept cave on the mountain’s side. Her triumph was becoming legend, and the priestess who had survived her had grown in reputation as well.
Merry was beside—or, rather, “around” Suika, relaxing heavily against the oni with arms over the little girl’s shoulders. She listened curiously for Suika’s answer.
Suika frowned as she looked back at the young oni who had bid her attention. Silently, she reached across the young man’s lap and snatched up his bucket. Inside it, Merry saw a creature that seemed part catfish and part salamander swimming within. By the scent sloshing up, this was a bucket of sake, and the creature a “bug” of sake. She had heard of them, but in her month of living among the oni this was her first time seeing one herself.
Suika looked past the brim of the bucket that now sat in her lap, the entire object nearly the size of her torso. She reached down with her right hand and dipped her finger past the liquid within, and swirled her hand for a little while. The bug inside curiously swam around her hand for some seconds, before brushing up against it, examining it. She carefully scooped the creature up, alcohol dripping from its skin as it settled in her palm.
“Hold it, Merry,” Suika bid, bringing the bug to her left side. Merry took her left arm from Suika’s shoulder to receive the creature, which wriggled at her touch. It was a slimy, red little thing, with one fin, two arms, and a pair of drifting whiskers. Its beady eyes were unconcerned with the open air. Thinking it cute, Merry thought to perhaps poke or play with it. While she thought of that, the audience cheered as smoke burst from the ring where the tengu were performing. In their revelry, Merry’s other arm was suddenly thrown up. Suika had quickly raised her sake-slickened hand over her head, and now took it to the back of the skull of the oni beside her. Without pause, she forced the boy’s head down into the bucket, splashing up alcohol as her limb tensed, veins filling out across her fore- and upper arm. She kept the now-thrashing oni’s ear clear of the sake, and now spoke just above the noise of the crowd—
“‘We’, you coward? Are you blind? Listen, then, brat.”
The other oni struggled futilely against his boss’s grip. Merry stared on, transfixed, as Suika leaned to the oni’s ear and growled into it.
“Our Touka went against a Hakurei on her own, and more admirably a Hakurei faced an oni on her own. You want ‘us’—you want some ‘we’ to ‘crush’ them...!?”
The oni’s throat crushed against the wooden brim. He pushed at the ground below them, dug his knee into the stone—but it did nothing.
“You’re really more the like of some bug. You want us oni to ‘swarm’... How does this feel, Soushi? Is this the ‘crushing’ you want to inflict? Do you think that this satisfies me? This is simple...!”
Suika put more force down on her subordinate’s skull. “Soushi” began to tremble. His horns carved small, fidgeting shapes into the cage-bucket’s walls as he tried to shake his head.
“I hate this lack of ambition and this gutlessness, you pathetic scum wearing horns more false than the tengu we watch now. You have betrayed your blood, Soushi...!”
She finally pushed down again, and with her shout and with the noise of the bucket breaking, bursting, and splashing down below, the youkai all around them, and the stage, saw their matriarch clawing through the short hair of a shaking oni with cheek forced down against her knee. She let him go, and punched his skull from her leg.
“Kenryou no Soushi! Leave this mountain at once! If come tomorrow I hear of your shape skulking through Gensokyo then I will find you, I will come to you, I will pin you to the earth and tear out your throat! Until you have gained sense—until you have learned pride, do not breathe the same air as any here. You have shamed us all—now go, get away, begone, depart! You sicken my eyes, you worm!”
In a person-pile, Soushi accepted being berated. After, he lifted his buddy, turned, and went away from them all without a word. Suika watched as he left, grit her teeth and gripped her fist, and slammed her hand down against the ground in rage. The youkai all around her went still as the mountain quaked and a crater was made below her.
“He did not even try to fight me, or show any anger...” Suika whispered. Still evidently fuming, she gathered the sake from her clothes and from the now-cracked stone around her. “How was something like that born on this mountain...?”
She compressed the alcohol swimming through the air into a bead above her left, open palm. She threw the bead at her tongue, and swallowed it.
Then, she looked at those looking at her.
“... Do you need me to tell you to go on?” she asked at length, and at once the crowd turned away and the tengu went back to performing. Suika, miserable, returned too to watching them.
After some time, the bitter oni glanced at Merry. “Merry,” she said, and the other youkai flinched, “you need to get that little one into sake. Go to where we keep the other bugs and pass it to the oni there.”
Merry looked back at her new and frightening friend.
 “You took this child from its home. You do it.”
 Just do it.
 Agree to do it, but ask Suika to come with you.
>>68870 It'll be quite a while, basically until Suika's history is established. I've chosen to go with explaining her story as a story, rather than doling out the many details of her thousand years of life piecemeal. Gen will thus know a great deal more about her by the end and will understand her much more, which is something he's wanted for a while. He's been bothered that she isn't forthcoming about a lot of her past.
“Where you keep the other bugs?” Merry repeated lightly, glancing off to the sky. “I haven’t the faintest where that is.”
“It’s—” began Suika, as Merry turned her eyes back and interrupted her with—
“Take me there, Suika.”
Suika looked back with irritation. Merry looked back with a smile.
...And in some seconds, a smile was returned.
“Backbone...” she muttered, and then she stood with her hand on her hips. “Alright! Follow me, then! I’ll show you where, Merry!”
Still smiling, Merry gave her friend a nod, and shortly stood as well.
Though she had made a play to have Suika be her guide, in truth Merry was already growing quite accustomed to the Mountain—to Gensokyo. She may not have ever seen a sake bug before today, but before today and for quite some time she did know where to ever go should she have wanted to find them. Even if she had not known, she knew who else to ask: for information, the tengu; for invention (useful tools), the kappa; for indoors furnishing, the tsuchigumo. While it wasn’t at all like her home, it was fast-feeling home-like. Youkai were frightening things, yes...but here they were making a world of their own. It was Suika, and Yuugi, and now also Kasen and Touka to whom she had to thank for that.
But of course, it wasn’t yet a perfect world.
Strolling through crowded streets of monsters and living tools, Merry kept close behind her first oni friend, watching the sway of the ribbon and the bow from her two horns.
“...How have things been since Touka fought the Hakurei?” asked Merry, and Suika tilted her head.
“You’d like to know, then you should be asking Touka,” Suika replied in a gruff voice. Her hands were still on her hips. She was still “edgy”.
And alas, with a big bug in her hands, Merry could not hug—well. Yes, she could not hug Suika. Not with it in her hands.
She placed the bug down on Suika’s head, letting it roll until it could rest against the first great big bow behind her friend’s head. Her friend stopped, flinched, and crossed her arms. She quickly began to turn, and Merry quickly fell to her knees, embracing the oni from behind and burying her face in the girl’s orange hair.
“What!?” the oni exclaimed. She tried to break free. Merry kept her arms pinned, slid her face from the oni’s lovely, fragrant hair, and pushed her chin over the little one’s shoulder, placing her cheek against Suika’s warming other cheek. “L-Let me hug you back if you’re to hug me at all!” she snapped. An adorable retort.
“Suikaaaa...” sang Merry, squeezing the King tightly and making said King squirm, “you’ve been upset, haven’t you?”
Onlookers looked on. Suika grit her teeth and began to growl. “Not here...” she whispered. And—
“Exactly here,” Merry replied. Where else could she force shame into this shameless heart?
“What do you want, Merry!?”
Merry rocked left and rocked right with the oni in her arms for a bit. A good tune was playing overhead, from a distance. She kept to its jaunty rhythm—smoothly, slowly, and in time, of course against her first wishes, Suika began to relax.
“Tell me what you plan to do about humans,” Merry finally answered, lips curling up once more—deliberately against her friend’s ear.
“...” Suika would not reply. Instead she became mist and flowed out of Merry’s arms, turning to look at her angrily. She reached up and scooped up the bug. She reached down and scooped up Merry’s cap. She placed the bug on Merry’s head, and Merry’s cap over the bug. Two sets of eyes looked back at her now, cutely, in confusion.
Finally, she reached out. Merry took her hand, and Suika brought her upward.
“You are like a fox girl,” grumbled Suika. “You’ve gotta do everything underhanded?”
Merry did not answer but with her still-warm expression, letting Suika turn back and pull her along to another side of the mountain amidst whispers and watching from all around them.
“Cute little guy!”
A great and burly oni bug-breeder greeted them and their cargo with a wide, beaming smile as the confused bug under Merry’s hat stared on at him blankly. He took away the bug, hat and all, and asked Merry, “Can the little one keep it?”
“I would like to have it back,” Merry answered apologetically, and with deliberate exaggeration the big oni sighed.
“Sis, we should give all the bugs little hats,” he said as he gave Merry’s hat back to her. Suika, rubbed her chin and considered it.
“Clothes on them would just spoil the sake, Entou. You’d be covering up parts of their bodies, but every part needs exposure. We can’t do it.”
And this Entou laughed heartily. “AHAAAHAHA! Sis! You always take us so seriously!”
“It’s good to be serious about what’s cute, Entou. Don’t you understand?” To this, Entou nodded and turned away.
They were stood below a towering series of steps, on which were perhaps forty or so immense and wooden vats labeled with “酒虫”—shuchuu. Suika looked back at Merry, who was looking up at the sight of them all in awe. Beneath her notice, Suika began to fly, and went beside the other youkai’s shoulder, tapping her on her once-more donned cap. Merry looked up, and again Suika extended her hand.
Not only once had she done this. While Merry was powerful, the girl was still trying to get her knack for flight, so often Suika pulled her or carried her up into the sky—to see all of the great lands over which she ruled. Now Merry let herself be pulled up, dangling, to a high cliff overlooking the breeding vats. Suika let her down gently, so many meters above, and went to sit beside her. The two sat with their legs hanging off a cliff face, staring down at swirling buckets of sake, from which, every so often, a little creature would crest excitedly from before diving deep within. More often, bugs would come to the brew surface and merely gaze vacantly at the wood walls around them, at one another, or at nothing at all. And then, again, deep into the dark they would sink. They all seemed to be smiling, and each barrel held ten or twelve of them. Just watching eased both youkai girls, and even, eventually, Suika leaned right to drop against Merry’s side.
“Things seem fine to me, Merry. Have you figured it out yet?” Suika asked.
“Figured what?” asked Merry in return.
“This place’s order...” Suika slowly breathed, and Merry almost felt the tickle of a sneeze coming on. Was it the vats, or was it Suika’s breath that smelled like sake? The smell of alcohol that had once been rather rare to her was fast becoming imprinted in her nose. At any rate...
“Well, tell me Suika, and I’ll tell you if I have.”
“If you haven’t you haven’t and if you have you should know, aye?”
Merry placed her other hand on Suika’s head, and began to stroke it, leaning into the oni a bit as well.
“Tell me... please?” asked the girl, and Suika dropped a hand over Merry’s thigh, clutching angrily at her skirt.
“Humans and youkai fight, Merry!” the oni snapped. “What will I do about humans...? There is nothing TO do! We are to fight, until forever you fool!”
“...” For a bit, Merry did not answer. “...Really?” she eventually asked. “Well, ‘fight’... but do either parties need to ‘die’?”
Now Suika went silent.
“Maybe, if a human falls to a youkai’s hand...they should be eaten, and that’s just that,” muttered Merry, gazing down at the oni playing with and alternatively feeding the salamander-ish beings below. “But although humans are quite delicious...not all of us eat them. So, I propose—”
“Hold that hungry tongue of yours,” said Suika flatly—but not bothered. Rather, she continued to ease under Merry’s petting. “What you’re asking for would take perhaps a thousand years.”
“To change?” Merry asked.
“Oni like me, oni who... don’t...” Suika paused. “Oni who...see you—no, see humans as... ‘alive’, and see ‘alive’ so differently...well, there are no ‘oni like me’. I am me, Merry. I am Ibuki no Suika, and even my closest sister has nearly taken out my heart for being so.”
A story Merry had heard on one very dark night, a fortnight before this as Yuugi and she had stood before an exorcist’s corpse and the blond oni had offered the blond other youkai first bite, was that old Suika had never taken a bite, and how that had infuriated Yuugi an age ago.
And after, when she had imposed upon Kasen shaking after midnight about familiar blood now coursing unfamiliar through her gut, Kasen said that she, too, had wanted to kill Suika for refusing to “bite”.
“Yet like you,” Kasen had said with one hand on Merry’s trembling head, “our Suika is strong.”
Now, Merry said: “Suika...you’re so strong, but you won’t force the world to change?”
“‘Force’ it, oh...? Would you, Merry—”
Merry answered at once, her hand stopping between Suika’s horns.
“I would force this world to change,” she went on.
“You, aye...?” Suika muttered.
“It’s such an almost perfect place,” Merry said. “Wonderful, magical...though so cruel and vile. It’s... easy, to love blood’s taste, but the terror that you taste in it... making that terror, making a corpse... it’s still strange to me, I suppose.”
Suika waited, and listened.
“If this world is so fantastic, one should be able to forge any fantasy—even one better than what ‘is’.”
“And you will be the one to forge this... less-bloodied fantasy, Merry?”
“Well I’d love for all of you to help...” Merry said, and she began to twirl Suika’s hair around a finger, “but only you really listen to me, Suika...”
“You’re mine to look after, and I will look after you,” Suika maintained, and Merry felt her heart tighten. She brought the oni closer. “...I think that only you and I would ever want such a gentle peace. Man, and monster, can’t forget all this bloodshed, nor so easily the simple want: to fight. Even I want to fight.”
“I’m very smart,” Merry repeated, and Suika groaned. “I’ll figure something out, in time. Though before that—it does bother me how I still feel so ‘apart’, other than from you. Suika?”
“I have a plan. Would you tell me what you think of it?”
“You’ll need to tell what it is, first.”
 “I want to leave the Mountain on a journey.” —“And I want you to come with me.”
 “I want to leave the Mountain on a journey.” —(alone)
“...You, Merry?” Suika asked. She paused, and lifted herself from the other youkai’s side. “Although you’re such a baby...?”
The girl let the comment sink in with a still-pleasant face, although the remark had irked her. After all in a few ways, the evaluation certainly wasn’t wrong. “It’s because I’m a baby,” Merry answered after a while.
“Then, I am truly your mother in your eyes, Merry—is that it?” Suika asked, raising up her hands and resting both behind her head. She closed her eyes and dropped her back to the ground, a small cloud of dust bursting upward. Suika opened her eyes to see that earth drifting down. She took one hand from her head and, raising a finger, conducted the earth. Merry watched as it swirled the sign of infinity—a sign she wasn’t sure meant anything to Suika, given the age. Suika soon turned over her hand and coaxed the dirt to her palm, clenching her fist once the last grain had gone there. When her fingers unfurled, something in her hand there now caught light and glittered. In Suika’s hand, now, was a small and rather ugly diamond.
Merry’s eyes widened at the sight. The king’s hand had had to reach over fourteen hundred degrees Celsius, been pressured too-much and cooled too-quickly to have done that. Suika took her other hand from behind her head and plucked up the five- or six-faced thing between her fingertips, looking it over for some seconds. After examining it enough, Suika handed the little miracle to her youngest. Merry picked it from the oni’s grasp, and began to look it over herself.
“I’m not thick or cruel, Merry. I wouldn’t have one of mine leave this land only on ambition...” the oni went on, eyes closed once again as she traced the lines of her palm. “Even Soushi I did not banish thinking him too weak to survive. You are not weak either, Merry—or, your body is not weak.”
Suika opened her eyes, and caught Merry’s through the glint of the stone she had only just made. “Your heart,” said Suika, “is.”
Now Merry took the diamond to her own palm, closing her fingers around it. She squeezed it tightly, and one sharp point of it pressed against her skin but could not pierce it. She held her gaze with her latest friend.
“Take that with you, then, and look to it whenever your weak heart trembles, girl. Remember that you have a home here. Though for now...”
She sat up, and looked at the young youkai beside her. The two shared a gaze again for some time, and after, Suika revealed a toothy grin. There, and playfully, she told the youkai girl: “get out of it.”
Suika then faded away.
A wind blew over the mountain as she swept away in a blue. Merry, left alone, turned her eyes to the landscape: to a mountain of youkai, living strongly. She brought her hands down to her sides, down to the rock below, and she clenched her hands tighter. As she looked down at the shuchuu pleasant and content in their little places below, she winced suddenly. A pain ran up her right arm.
There, the blond youkai lifted her hand, and opened it to gaze into her palm. She thought on what she saw, and felt her mind snap a hundred times in connection. She stared transfixed, and felt a clear path fix out before her...
Beside the diamond of Yatsugatake was pricked a growing and ruby bead of blood.
Merry set off from the Mountain not very long after Suika had left her, with Kasen following shortly behind and thinking herself hidden. The young youkai thought little of it, and instead walked out of the Great Youkai Forest and into some other and unnamed one beyond the Mountain’s foot without calling the rose-oni out. The trees all here...seemed very young. A smell of blood was always present in the air, lending a strange atmosphere. Beneath the green canopy overhead, despite it being day the world was also very dark. In truth: regardless of the true light or shadow ever surrounding her, a “darkness” felt like it had seeped into her body for quite some time now. Ever since she first began to know the smell of blood; ever since she had first tasted it.
The world was not any different, but how she saw it really was.
Eventually, she stood still and looked out ahead of herself. There were no “borders” that she could see here in the past. In this world before – or she thought it was this world – she had most certainly detected some presence before “surrounding” it or existing throughout it. It did not feel like a cage, but...well, rather, how free the world felt now was somewhat terrifying. Merry felt at her sternum, until her fingertips graced a small bump in her dress. She’d had the diamond Suika had made fit onto a steel chain necklace by a craftsman before she’d gone...
She glanced behind herself to where Kasen was hiding. The oni’s movements made only enough noise for another youkai to hear. The noise around them, otherwise, was she thought typical of what a forest needed to sound like. Of course, the Mountain had been forested too, but down here and away from embodiments of fear more animals seemed comfortable to flit about and forage unafraid. It was a lively world—a world so full of life, and very unfamiliar.
She didn’t know the first thing to do.
 called out to Kasen --() and asked her where to go. --() and asked her what to do. --() only, really, to call her and let her know that she knew she was there.
 ignored Kasen --() and suddenly ran ahead. --() and listlessly walked ahead. --() and stood there, silently and indecisively.
One vote hurts. I guess the options were too many/the vote itself was uninteresting.
As an aside, the new "character" that appears in this update is not "a certain 'character' seen in late canon", just getting out ahead of that since it might seem like I'm doing A Thing with "omg I clapped when I saw it". I'm not, but am instead setting up other probably obvious things. This chapter is near completion, then there'll be I think 3 more chapters, 4 depending on whether I wind up thinking it's necessary before we go back to the present.
[X] called out to Kasen --(X) only, really, to call her and let her know that she knew she was there.
Saying this, she heard a new shaking of leaves from behind her, and then the sounds of an obvious fall. In a few seconds, a pink-haired oni slouched out from behind a not-distant tree. This oni, Ibaraki Kasen, had her eyes on the now-turned Merry, who smirked at her.
“You’re leaving, although you only came to the mountain not yet two months ago.” Kasen spoke to her in a low and bothered tone. “You’re showing off.” She plainly said what she was thinking. “You mock me again.”
“It took you long to leave the Mountain?” Merry asked her lightly, and honestly curious.
“It took me near a hundred years,” Kasen answered, slowly trudging toward her now. “I was afraid for a long time about people recognizing my face, still thinking me hideous.”
“You were human. Don’t you know how humans can think of humans as monsters?” Saying this, Kasen stopped and looked in another direction. Merry, looking as well, saw nothing but more strong trunks of trees.
When I’m from... Merry thought, squinting, not so much, anymore. But of course I know the history.
“You were hurt by humans, and that’s what you hate them for?” asked Merry. “...I’ll offer an apology for bullying you without that context.”
“Don’t pity me. I couldn’t stop you and I spoke weakly at that.”
There, a pause in the conversation fell down. Under birds and beside rabbits and rodents, they stood and listened.
“You...” Kasen spoke again, catching Merry’s attention, “you aren’t thinking about becoming strong ‘for this world’, are you? The way that you speak... are you plotting something?” Merry met her eyes, and found them to be straight and steady. “And should I kill you before you begin to act on those plots?”
“I still love humans and I still feel human. I would love to find a way that we might coexi—”
“So I should kill you, that’s what you’re saying?” Kasen cut through her words. Merry held her tongue and stared on. “The two ‘kinds’ are opposed, you know? If humans do not fear us, then we have no means to exist. You are asking for us all to die.”
“Am I? Do humans need to die, then?”
“Humans ought to die,” said Kasen. “If they are weak, if they are pathetic, then they would be better off as meat.”
“I did tell you that youkai should fear humans...strong humans, I suppose...” whispered Merry. She took a finger gently to one of her lips, narrowing her eyes again. “Humans who are weak or sad should just die...that is your philosophy?”
“...I might agree with it,” said Merry, lowering her hand. “But we might not agree on the idea of ‘weakness’.”
“You annoy me, still,” Kasen told her, and she smiled. “You still have a weird scent in your hair and on your clothes. Your eyes are strange and your thoughts are stranger. I want to beat you down, ‘Merry’.”
“How you said that... You still don’t think ‘Merry’ is my name?”
“Oni abhor a liar,” Kasen remarked, folding her arms and looking the other youkai up and down. “As a liar,” she said, “I know you don’t believe your name.”
“And so what if I don’t? What will you do about my dishonesty, weak Kasen?”
“I’ll give you a gift,” Kasen replied. Merry blinked, her smile collapsing. She tilted her head and furrowed her brow. As she thought of how to question Kasen, Kasen looked toward the sky and remained still as a crow flew down to her and took roost on her right shoulder. Kasen looked back to her, and continued to speak, “I was speaking to my pets about you, and this one eagerly volunteered.”
“...For?” Merry asked, pure and purely confounded.
“For your strength in exchange for its servitude, girl. It wishes to take on a shikigami of yours.”
“Shiki...gami...?” Merry repeated.
“A forest of magic lies after the Lake, Merry,” Kasen went on. “You’ll be able to find a magician there, surely. Take this little one with you to the forest and have a shikigami possess it.”
Kasen grinned thin and toothily. “I don’t see you flustered often of late,” the oni said. “I like it.”
Merry stared back, frowning and ever-so-slightly shaking. She said nothing, only quietly fuming.
“You do that,” Kasen commanded her, and Merry straightened up—readying protest, “you are still under the Mountain, which means you are a subject of mine. You will take my command and follow it, girl.”
“Where...do you get off? You...! You, who is so much weaker than I...!” Merry complained. “Are you forgetting that I shamed you? I can easily shame you again! I don’t need to follow you! I don’t need to listen to thi—”
A jab from a fist collided with Merry’s face. She was knocked backward, onto just her left foot, and though she felt herself falling she managed to steady herself and pull forward again into a wide stance. A fist in the face rather than across—another new kind of punch for the girl. It hadn’t hurt, but it had been quite the surprise.
Merry shook her head rapidly.
Merry was suddenly tugged forward by the cloth of her top. A blinding white filled her vision, and a crack of thunder rang out. Her skull felt a twinge of pain, and in an instant she found herself forced down on her back against the earth. With her vision returning, she bent her head and looked up to see Kasen brushing at her own forehead. Kasen then lifted her left foot and stomped it heavy against the other youkai’s stomach. Wind rushed outward by the impact, and all the birds of the area but the crow still on Kasen’s shoulder flew off.
“You aren’t weak, Merry, you’re an impressive being—a mountain, perhaps. Perhaps ‘a volcano’. Near indestructible, and holding so much force for destruction. Pushing you down, keeping you down, is quite the task...” Kasen admitted this to her as she struggled to stand. The oni now brought her hands down to her hips as she kept her cold glare on the youkai under her step. “But I am your King and your Queen,” the oni said. “If I can’t make you listen then those titles become air. But if you are a mountain, a volcano, I am the most solid stone of the earth. Maybe I am beneath you day to day, but mountains are only shifted stones. And so, stand above me one day, and another I will turn you over like this.”
“You’re having revenge...? Very delayed, ha...”
“I am helping you. You aren’t an enemy, Merry...” Kasen pushed her foot further down, and for another first in her life Merry became conscious of her ribs. The oni crouched, bent forward, and pressed now a finger against Merry’s skull. “You are mine.”
In that hand, Merry sensed a ready fist—a waiting new strike. Though she still knew little of fighting, a threatening oni always wore their threats without cover. Kasen would strike her, with new strength, if she so much as bent her neck again.
Therefore, she listened.
“Before you delude yourself into thinking only of power, and before you walk your journey to change the world, I am going to push into this skull of yours an idea that you have graciously put into my own. You ought know fear, and not only for yourself. Take this crow with you and see to it. Learn for it. Take it, fully, as yours. And, when you have it as yours, consider making a return.”
“You don’t get to ask me why, Merry. You listen and follow Rule. If you won’t listen, I will break you and command the bleeding heap I leave you as. That is a promise. I will tear down half this forest if I need do that to have you hear me.”
Merry stared, Kasen stared. Their place in the forest had become entirely silent. Not even bugs scuttled beneath leaves nor between blades of grass around them. Kasen let Merry have a minute to think, before lifting away her finger and instead putting her hand to the younger youkai’s face, squeezing it by its cheeks.
“Will you take the crow with you, and learn?”
In Kasen’s grasp, Merry slowly nodded. With that gathered, Kasen released Merry’s face, and stepped off.
The crow on Kasen’s shoulders hopped from there and flapped down beside Merry’s face. Merry, then, sat up. Having never touched a wild animal before, the younger youkai hesitantly reached out. She flinched and pulled back once her fingertips connected with the bird’s sleek feathers. The crow seemed to think nothing of it, and Merry let her hand fall fully – and gently – on the crow’s back.
“You are younger and more foolish than me by fields,” said Kasen. “But stronger, too. You are a devil.” Merry looked up at her once again. As the day reached noon, sunlight pierced the forest canopy and the rose-oni was at once illuminated and shadowed. With her arms crossed again, she spoke again with majesty: “I will have this devil walk the path of Heaven a while, before it inevitably turns off and falls down to Hell.”
“Hmph... Blood-reeking Kasen, speaking of Heaven...” grumbled Merry, eyes turned down to her new and companion crow.
“That’s right, girl, I am speaking of Heaven. I am speaking of the world.”
But Kasen left, refusing elaboration. Merry frowned now at the oni’s retreating back. She stuck out her tongue.
“We will both learn of those things in this world that we have overlooked,” Kasen stopped and added those words, surprising Merry with them as her tongue was still out. “I will be happy to see you again, at the top of the Mountain.”
When Kasen was nearly gone, Merry finally drew back her tongue. She looked up in the darkness of the forest, now broken here and there by shafts of light, for a good while in silence, until silence was broken with the departure of an oni and the return of small, buzzing, chirping and purring life. Alone, Merry looked at her crow.
“All of the oni are soft and bizarre, aren’t they?” she remarked to it. “And that flower-oni is the most bizarre of all.”
Her crow offered no remark. When, eventually, she stood to find this “magic” forest that Kasen had spoken of, it flew up to her shoulder and comfortably took roost.
Good update. Kinda find it morbidly amusing how Kasen left Merry with what/who I would presume to be one of the crow shikigami Merry(Yukari) ends up with and then sends to the moon on a scouting mission. Only to be killed by the moon bitches. (Although I think it was just one casualty.)
Probably something to be said about the results of the journey Merry ventured.
A tight and branching bridge and braid has been woven since before history, winding, widening, and thickening with millions of strands—efforts until now. Until now and, surely, to continue beyond. Where the weave began, few are still alive who know. But, this braid—this rope binding together uncountable threads both pristine and split—whole and unwhole everywhere you look across its infinite length has surely been waiting for hands to tie it together since “thought” sparked across the minds of human, god, and youkai.
That is: the dark braid twisting through history called “magic”.
That beautiful thing, that bloodstained thing began only with sparks and flames, as those who were drawn toward it and attempted to make sense of it felt out its potential. Now, it is known that that thing called “magic” is both limited and unlimited, its potential at once bound and boundless. In effort to map out either – what circles, or parts, are dead ends of free and open plains – you may pluck away a strand and take it for yourself to prepare and add another. You yourself might be pulled apart, and your experience made another fraying thread in the great weave of past knowledge.
Whether you are torn apart or your knowledge becomes a set “knot” of understanding from which entire schools of thought might form, you will eventually vanish, only left in writings or words: memories that one might find across the braid. God, youkai, fairy or human: you will surely die before ever seeing toward what end that great bridge is extended—if, for that matter, there even is an end.
Some may be here for the end. Others, still, would rather take for salvation; take for safety; take for might. In that age before the Eastern Land’s stories were committed to paper, a girl sought all these three, and cared not for the ultimate “truth”.
Magic—the occult—was something that she already knew, somewhat. While she could never practice it in her time as a human, the youkai called “Merry” had often looked into the esoteric. For her purposes, she had sought to find a world she could only ever see in her dreams. In certain ways, she grew to think herself uniquely positioned to find and cross that boundary. In others: she knew herself to be “plain”. Just a university girl with a pair of special eyes that could sometimes glance at things beyond her reality—she even knew another girl with eyes stranger than her own, which could see the stars above in ways surreal. She could “find” herself by starlight, muttering as she gazed into the sky. However, in time, that girl insisted: you are special, you can find it—that “other world”. And, Merry began to believe it. She even began to believe she could “make” it.
And, in time, it made her arrogant.
However not too—her heart was split with the anxiety of a frightened girl and the confidence of a powerful, “chosen” kind of entity and for the purposes of the crow that joined her now the latter was very much a draw. She would understand, soon, a familiar tale.
A witch in a dark forest full, indeed, of other witches and warlocks. A student who came to that witch to learn. A set of important lessons, a new world of learning. The youkai named “Merry” became a part of the braid.
We can examine now one aspect of magic that became important to her: the answer to “What is a shikigami?” The crow with her was so eager to accept hers—but what did that mean? What did that entail?
Precisely what her master said, and precisely how she taught it, Merry never quite let Suika know—and so to the oni who a thousand years after had a waiting pair of immortal listeners—the details of Merry’s lessons in the forest of magic were beyond her. But, what youkai is unfamiliar with “shikigami”?
Was it the fault of Ibaraki Kasen? Was Merry, perhaps, just an appealing perch to dark birds? Had that friendly crow, after all this, happily told others of the joys of the youkai Merry’s employ? Well, one can only guess. Whatever the reason, a veritable flock would join Merry as she learned more of magic. For them, magic was the opportunity to gain even a sliver of her power.
If one follows magic too closely, and too recklessly, for simplistic and straightforward gains it is possible they might be utterly consumed by magic and fall into filth and ruin. However, if they have that same singleminded ambition—for power, for control, for knowledge—there is a way to gain it safely. That is, to relinquish your form to something greater. That is not to “become” a shikigami, but to accept a shikigami unto yourself. A thousand years later, a great magician could explain it—
“If you’re too weak—in form or mind, and usually you’re some beast—you can accept a shikigami. A magician or youkai will craft an entity of their preference to supplant the being’s consciousness. Behavior, access to power, connection to the first caster—it is all dictated in the ‘shikigami’. You can think of it as a set of instructions, or putting it in another way it’s like a contract. Really...it’s like both. The contract reads the instructions and becomes a living thing, using the body it has been placed into to act out those instructions. It might be as simple as something like your ‘calculators’. It might be as complex as something like ‘a robot’—well, using your terms. Yes...a shikigami is something like an ‘operating system’ from Outside World magicians, with the being it is installed upon acting as the ‘computer’...and its powers, its magic, its spirit, its eyes, heart, brain—its organs are ‘components’. The caster is then their master, and its original soul is, if done correctly, completely suppressed, just like the machine-tool spirit of every computer which might make them tsukumogami in perhaps a hundred years is completely silenced when you...install...?
“Yes...’Windows’ or ‘Mac-OS’...”
Those would be terms Merry might understand them as. And, in fact, she would ironically and whimsically use them herself as she made her first shikigami, her second, her fourth, her fifth, her eighth...
In a thousand years, through magic’s braid, a boy would hear the echo of what Merry had learned in terms they both understood. Why would you submit your body to another? Why would you force another to submit?
These questions have simple answers outside a paradise.
To beings with long lives, days sometimes seem to pass like seconds, and years like hours. And so, almost suddenly it seemed, years passed and the youkai named “Merry” was almost forgotten by the beasts and monsters of the Mountain. After all she’d only stayed for a little while of a little while, never had made too much of an impression, and only the tengu would ever whisper rumors of what she may or may not have done after the highest sovereign, Shuten-douji, had taken a shine to her. The great oni herself was not one for gossip. She did not speak of Merry, but like all her precious friends and fellows she would never forget the girl.
Maybe it had been five or twenty years since she’d gone. While “Merry” wasn’t often mentioned by the youkai of Gensokyo, a “gap youkai” was being mentioned here and there. A strange ability, that ability to make, peer through, and reach through gaps. So strange, in fact, that no name had been given to the creature—and there was only one it seemed. What was known was that whatever this gap youkai was, it was a deeply frightening creature, and so of course Suika—certain this was Merry—always had her ear perked when sukima passed another youkai’s lips. One day in some autumn, the word came up again.
Suika was resting her head in the lap of Ibaraki Kasen, who was almost sleeping above her, and kissing at a dish of sake when she heard again “sukima youkai”. The two oni were low on the Mountain, by a kappa’s stream, and through fire colors of lightly falling leaves, Suika spotted a pair of turtles amid gossip while they washed their feet. She squinted through twinkling light shooting in vagrant directions by the flow of the ravine and why of course, she perked an ear.
“—and that’s where her gaps were said to be cutting into the air...slowly opening, slowly closing...”
“It’s not gaps at all, it can’t be!”
“Come, come...They say it’s a gap. Are you mad over the word? A youkai of spaces, of crevices, of in-betweens—”
“In-betweens! It must be in-betweens!”
“A gap, one might say...”
“Fool! It’s the matter of separations! That youkai... I’m sure her command is over boundaries!”
Boundaries, eh...? Thinking she should say this as she took a sip from a dish of sake, she shifted, spilled more than a bit of sake onto her sister’s clothes, and slurred, “Boundaries, eh...?”
Kasen slowly came to true consciousness, glaring at the little imp in her lap. The imp said—
“Oi, you heard me? ‘Boundaries, eh?’ I said.”
“I heard you...” Kasen growled.
“Like you, Kasen! You have a deft hand over boundaries don’t you?”
“...I can fashion or sniff out a gate or two between worlds, yes,” the other oni admitted.
“So? Boundaries? Or was it gaps?”
“You, flowery Kasen, were the one who used the name in the first place! You’ve forgotten?”
“I’ve nearly fallen asleep...and just been awakened...as if I might have pissed myself—thank you, Suika.” Her face lacked any glint of gratitude.
Suika went on, “I think it is Merry! The very same you named a ‘gap youkai’! It’s her! Do you not think so!? And gaps—boundaries—!”
“Suika...” groaned Kasen in what was now to Suika a rather familiar and exasperated tone. Suika looked up to her face, and winced to the sunlight flowing past it. However, Kasen said no more; only leaving her sister’s name heavy in the air.
Suika sat up from her lap and slurped at her dish’s rim until no sake was left to drain. Absently, she took some pebbles from the earth with her power and let them gently turn around her. One, wet a side and muddy another, slowly dragged across Kasen’s cheek in its orbit. Shivering at the sensation and frowning with bared teeth, the pink oni made a fist and struck Suika against the back of her head—making her drop her dish.
The two kappa at the riverside turned with worry to see Ibaraki Kasen stomping toward them and...eventually past them, as she entered the river and began to wash her clothes and face. She left behind Ibuki Suika, who seemed to be contemplating dirt and stones.
That was a good punch... thought the oni. She cupped her chin. There are three others now. It has been well, hasn’t it? I have warmed the throne enough, haven’t I? I can venture as I please, can’t I...!?
The Mountain King struggled to acknowledge that she had made a decision quite a while ago, and was furthermore completely unaware that her talking to the others about little rumors she had heard—little tales of a frightful and lurking creature—little legends, growing bigger—was to the others telling and obvious:
Ibuki Suika was going to set off to find the rumored girl in the gap.
 she would ask these kappa where those gaps they’d mentioned were last seen.
 she would visit and prod the exorcist Sunai Clan an old and gone friend had fostered for “human” rumors on the gap.
<> [X] she would ask these kappa where those gaps they’d mentioned were last seen.
Suika marched over to the pair as they chattered—vaguely listening to them. When she reached the back of one, she planted her foot into it and kicked the kappa into the river. Kasen watched with disinterest as it passed her by in the flow, splashing and hollering.
The other kappa yelped, and made to fly away. Suika snatched her robes before she was able to take off.
“What!? Who dares!? Leave u—ssssooh. Ohh! I-Ibuki! S-Sovereign Ibuki!” the blue-haired youkai stammered out, going from flailing about to clasping her hands together and bowing her head.
“Where is it said you can find this ‘gap youkai’?” Suika asked the now-meek kappa.
“Wh-Whyyy...it is said you can find her in the North, I’ve heard. Sh-She might be crossing the Kuril Islands?”
“The Kurils?? Is she heading for the Rus?” Suika spat in confusion. The kappa in her hand flinched. “Hm. Mayhaps she tires of dealing with kappa and she’d rather make friends with vodyanoy...?” muttered Suika as she contemplated the wet stones beneath her feet.
“Wh-Why, would that mean she tires of oni as well?”
“Hm?” grunted the oni, turning her eyes once more on the kappa.
“B-Because surely that is impossible! Surely she is only in Hokkaido!”
“This cowardice from you is why I mentioned those frogs. You turtles here are our saddest sight. Well—” Suika abruptly lifted the kappa a bit higher, before swiftly tossing her into the waters ahead as the youkai screamed, “—go swim after your friend. I have my own friend to find.”
The kappa fell in by her head. Kasen watched with a raised eyebrow as a pair of kicking legs passed her by in the flow. She looked at her sister, who grinned bright in return.
“See me again, Kasen,” said Suika, and she dispersed there into mist.
A question pulled Suika from her story as she prepared to describe her flight from the Mountain. She spilled some sake in her lap, and with bemusement looked across her cup at Yagokoro Eirin. The Sage of the Moon smiled, and waited for an answer. Suika answered—
The Sage laughed, the Apprentice laughed. Fujiwara no Mokou relaxed her posture, by now about as drunk as the two ladies she was listening to. “You actually left Japan, then?” she asked. “I’m surprised.”
“Many times!” Suika boasted, and grinned. “To find lost friends, sure, but also only to see it! To see this land—this Earth!”
“This land is filthy...” remarked the woman among them who would say such.
“This land is beautiful!” shouted Suika. “I leapt into the air, then, and I saw it all for the first time in almost fifty years!”
For the first time in almost fifty years, she cast a gaze over the earth as air wrapped around her infirm body. As a drunken breeze she, moved through the sky—pushing aside clouds and carrying grass and flowers of Yatsugatake along with her. In the firmament, she reformed, and with her robes dancing around her she witnessed her land one last time before she would leave it—for she did not know how long.
Gensokyo. Then, it had no Great Barrier, and there were more human villages than one. Youkai, too, settled throughout the country—not only thriving on the Mountain. In the sky, she could smell earth—she could smell blood, and distant fire.
A world of green, turning yellow and red—a mountainous and plains-painted expanse that was not only hers: it was an expanse for any free of heart—human, animal, or monster—verdant and not wild: tamed. She loved it. She left it, for the North.
The air had still not yet fully cooled with the turn of the season. Warmed by the sun and not-too chilled by the sky, the Sovereign felt that her trip to and perhaps past Hokkaido would not ask for heavier dress.
“You’re going to tell us every step of your journey?”
Interrupted once more, in present day Suika froze with a smile on her face. She then glared at Yagokoro Eirin.
“I was flying!” she snapped.
“Well, every flap of your arms then.”
“That isn’t how I fly! No way you forgot! I flew at you too many times for that! Or what is it, Moon Dust? You only remember my fist or something?”
“Tell me about the Kuril Isles. Or, do Earthlings call them the Chishima now?”
“Hm? Do we?” she asked this while looking askance at Mokou and refilling her sake dish.
“Don’t ask me,” said the bamboo forest hermit. To this, Suika shrugged.
“They’re cute little mountain islands,” the oni went on. “Here and there. There aren’t a thousand of them, but there’s a good number. I liked them.”
“You only went once?” asked Eirin.
“Yeah, there weren’t many youkai, and I’ve never liked poking at the Ainu.” Saying this, Suika looked at Mokou again. “You humans have done enough of that, yeah?”
“Again, don’t ask me,” said Mokou, now slouching. “Before three hundred years ago, I didn’t exactly have my bearings for one thousand to put that lightly. And during those three hundred, I haven’t kept up with Outside World politics, I’ve just been killing and being killed by Kaguya.”
Suika glanced at Eirin, who offered, “Yes, I can confirm that she has.”
“...Yer odd, you Hourai people,” said Suika. The two people of Hourai said nothing. “Well then I guess I’m the expert. Yeah, I ‘get’ the Ainu a bit. I only watched them as I passed into Hokkaido. Sometimes stayed with them, but I always disguised myself well—I looked perfectly like a human.”
Gen and Remilia, still listening, doubted that.
“The Kuril Islands can get covered in smoke from its volcanos, and it’s a real magic kinda place whenever it does. And—And the water! It was crystal clear, and moving over huge parts of it with smoke all dashing around me from all those fire-hills and the steaming seas...ahh... It was real impressive to me, I tell ya. I felt like a little girl again, tumbling through the sky and over great and mad valleys! I remember thinking—thinking, ‘Ah, ahh, I should thank her for this’!”
“Was it really so nice?” Eirin asked.
“Yeah,” Suika replied with a smirk. “I’d tell you you should go, but you being a fugitive whose butt I just beat—I bet that’s not too likely for you, huh? You’re in this forest—in Gensokyo—to hide.”
“Yes,” said Eirin, “...but maybe there’s little reason for that.”
The Sage wore a still and distant expression. Watching it a little while, Suika shrugged once again.
“...I forget how long it took, but eventually I sat on the emerald and super jagged mountains of eastern Sakhalin Oblast—sitting there with some real friendly Nivkhs who’d heard of me coming down the islands, and what I was looking for. They didn’t like what I was looking for, and were hoping I’d get rid of it—hah hah hah! Ahh...anyways, Cape Lopatka was hidden by the curve of the Earth, but ehh...I wouldn’t have wanted to see it anyway.
“Clouds pushed halfway up the hills like a white sea underneath us. On the other side I could see brilliantly rich earth, and sparse sightings of trees! Nothing like Japan—nothing like Gensokyo! It was a place that sitting there, you felt you were seeing everything the world had to offer. At the time, I thought about running amok and having some oni settle there. After all, although it was gorgeous beyond belief I was a little ticked that Merry had brought me all the way out there. Was she trying to go across the entire world...!? Her damned gaps were cheats! I couldn’t move faster than she could dip through a portal! And I couldn’t reach home, of course. No way to quickly reach home, or talk to anyone, and I’m not the kind of youkai who wants any shikigami beneath her—so, stubborn as I am I couldn’t send or receive any messages. I was feeling really frustrated on top of being drawn in by a new land’s majesty, and all of a sudden then and there a crow landed in my lap.”
“Ahh...Merry’s?” asked Mokou.
“It didn’t talk. When it landed on me and my human guides noticed, they started getting worried. Maybe they thought it was a little creepy...? I couldn’t say. The crow flew up to one of my horns, landed on it, and started scratching at it.
“Well I thought ‘If this isn’t Merry’s, then it’s gonna be my dinner’. And almost like a Satori, it took off northwest after I thought that, like it was scared!
“‘Northwest’, I thought...” Suika whispered, with some gravitas. Then, she declared: “It was the new country’s direction.”
“...You weren’t hiding your horns?”
“I stood up, thanked the Nivkhs with me, and flew through the cloud-sea to find the ocean. I’d find it, I’d cross it, I’d reach the gray and rocky lands on the other side and there...
“I eventually found myself wandering into a forest.”
(anyways, obviously the previous story post was also me)
To be more accurate: at the time Suika rode her way into a forest, by way of bear. She found this brown bear charging at her while wandering through barren plains, whereupon she smacked it on its head and made her way to its back, sitting there. No real beast tamer like Kasen, she merely...”urged” the animal to listen by way of force, ultimately declaring “You shall be Yuugi” when it finally ceased struggling against her or trying to run off. She cleared its fur of filth and bugs with her power and had it take her into a forest where crows looked to be gathering as murder.
Unlike on the islands before, on this the Kamchatka Peninsula the trees had already thoroughly succumbed to the embrace of Fall. They were bare, and ugly, and stark. The woodland she walked into was nothing like her stuffy home, and she felt her skin prickling as she laid on the bear’s back by her back and looked up between skeleton branches to the orange heavens above—those now growing purple.
Crows cawed; not often, but often enough to tell that they were talking about her.
With her arms behind her head and her legs dangling from the bear’s sides, Suika waited for the creature’s march to find whatever—or likely whoever—lay in this woods’ heart.
As evening finally and fully fell, the bear stopped, and Suika craned her neck back to look out ahead:
To a figure surrounded by black feathers...
To a young and flaxen-haired girl, not looking at, or at all concerned with, the beast behind her...
To Merry, standing alone in the forest of a new foreign land.
Suika rolled from the bear’s back and lightly struck its side with her knuckles twice, sending it off as she crouched behind the somewhat distant Merry.
She rose to her full, miniscule, height and quietly watched the other youkai.
Merry’s ears perked up. “Someone’s here...?” she whispered. Turning, she froze. A shine ran over her eyes, and a smile spread across her face. “Suika...!”
“Hey—” the oni said, and in a flurry of more black feathers Merry leapt at her, slouching to lift her up and hug her tightly.
She’s gotten even stronger...! thought the youkai, not bothering to resist.
“Why are you here!?”
“I’m here to ask you that. Why are you here, Merry? I told you you ought head off, but so far...? Were you not going to return?”
“You are one of my subjects...” murmured Suika, now pushing Merry away. “I don’t believe I granted you entire leave.”
Merry let the oni have (more, but still absolutely not much as she still held on to the girl) space as she was pushed back, letting Suika return her sandals to soil. Under what was now moonlight, she curiously examined the oni’s face—an obvious touch twisted in consternation.
“...I...was spreading the idea of ‘me’,” said Merry, and Suika tilted her head. “Everywhere, I wanted to spread the word of ‘me’ through as many lands as I could reach. Spread terror, spill blood, drink blood, and take; I wanted to be ‘youkai’ before I came back...” The girl showed her palm to her Queen—in it light glanced and Suika saw a diamond—that diamond of Yatsugatake’s soil. “Before I went back to my mother’s home.”
“Mother...” Suika repeated, blushing as she looked into the stone she’d left with Merry, now catching moonlight.
“Though, this is a secret for your ear only Suika...” saying this, Merry leaned in and she whispered—indeed past Suika’s ear: “I’ve been looking at this stone each night and day, like it’s a wishing star in my hand. I’ve been lonely—lonely for you.”
“Tease!” Suika snapped, shoving a now-laughing Merry off of her with a palm. “You! You want me to feel like my own loneliness is fine—shared! I see your play—making fun! Fooling at me! You think I’m weak! To this day you do, aye!?”
“No,” said Merry flatly as she dance-stepped backward, arms held up coolly—and she wore an easy smile as she denied the accusation. She closed her hand around the diamond, and from the sides of her clenched fist Suika caught the sight of pale ribbons going tight before vanishing. “I think you’re strong, I love you, and I’ve missed you,” the youkai said with simple, sure, sincerity.
Suika continued to feel her face burning. “You—” she began with a growl, and stopped there, fuming silently.
“I...?” asked Merry with song in her voice.
“You love me, and you won’t tell me your name?” Suika hissed. Merry lost her smile.
“...You aren’t happy to call me Merry?” she asked.
“You aren’t happy, you’re ugly about this,” Suika told her, and it was true.
Merry scoffed, with a wry smirk she looked off at the ever-darkening woods. A crow of hers landed on her shoulder, blocking her view. “...It’s no good for oni to lie. Haven’t we been over this?” she asked.
“I lie, yea,” said Suika, firmly. Merry looked at her. “I am not lying now.”
“...‘Ugly’ how, then?”
“I’ve lived a long time! I can well-see a bad memory on a man or monster’s face! And yea—on my journey here, so much they call you ‘gap’—not once will they ever say ‘Merry’! It’s precious that you have us say it on Yatsugatake—listen! I am not deaf or blind, fool!”
The youkai stared back at her with half-lidded eyes, breathing lightly through her mouth.
After some time watching, she breathed in sharply and spoke again. “...Didn’t you come here to ask one question? You’ve asked and had it answered. I still think there’s much work out in foreign lands for me to do.”
“You set me unwell, now I wouldn’t like to leave you without having another answered. Child of mine:” Suika addressed her, raising the sharp nails of her right hand and pulling back the sleeve to show the arm as well, “I will beat an answer out of you if you won’t willingly tell it.”
“...Well, Suika, I’m actually afraid of you. I wouldn’t want that. I came out here also to fight with men and monsters until the idea of fighting you wouldn’t bother me at all. That’s not done yet, so...”
“I am Maérevérie Hearn.”
“I am, from my view, the latest of a line of a family cursed to see the boundaries of reality, born in over one thousand years from when we are now.”
“Mul...You’re—what are you!?”
“I fell here out of time, and when I realized when I was—I wanted to die, I wanted you to kill me.”
“Because of your smile.”
“Because you are stubborn.”
“You’re too much like her.” Maérevérie paused, and took the crow from her shoulder to have it perch on the side of her hand. She let it preen, then looked past it again to Suika. “I left behind humanity, and the human girl I called a dear friend. She could never say my name either, and would always use another...often, and often enough that I thought my ‘true’ name would eventually be lost. Hearing you, seeing you, being healed by you—I wanted you to say that other name she gave me.” The youkai lifted her chin and said, “‘Merry’.”
Suika held her tongue and straightened her back. She considered what she was being told...and felt she understood perhaps under half of it. She crossed her arms and shut her eyes; frowning, concentrating.
She opened her mouth after a minute had passed, looked also past the crow to the other’s waiting eyes and said to this girl she had chosen to care for: “Maérevérie.”
Maérevérie shook, and blinked, but said nothing.
“I am no dead girl from another time. You won’t use me in her place. You have here Shuten-douji, Ibuki no Suika, Sovereign—one of the Four Heavenly Kings of our Mountain—none other before you. And who are you now? Running from names, running all over and becoming a whisper on the wind. You still want to disappear so badly?”
“So be it!”
Declaring that, Suika spread her feet apart kicking up a cloud of dirt, and she boomed out—scattering all the crows out from the forest but the one perched on its master’s hand— “You shall have a new name! In that name, live! You lose your coward’s freedom here, and gain freedom anew by my steady hand! Your name, your life, is what I shall give to you!”
“You...!” Suika yelled, causing the earth to tremor, “are no girl from a thousand years out of time! You are no mortal, you are no longer human! Spit on one thousand years—here and now you, ‘Yukari’, are one thousand red and violent eyes, lurking and watching this world from within gaps! Friend of oni, honored of Ibuki no Suika, youkai! From this night and forth, Yukari—you live, hear me!?”
Yukari repeated the name, and considered it. She shook again, and suddenly dropped to her knees—gripping the cloth over her dress as the crow finally flew from her hand. The oni before her stomped forward one step, and threw her palm toward the newly baptized youkai’s face—making Yukari shut her eyes and flinch to the whirlwind and gale brought about by that darting hand. Yet...she felt no strike. In time, hesitantly, she opened her eyes to see: to see a steady hand indeed, found at her cheek. Suika looked down at Yukari, Yukari looked up at Suika Suika’s other hand was firm now on her hip as she held her child’s face with indeed a mother’s care.
“So you love me, I can’t have that unfairly and not love you in return,” Suika told her. There, she thumbed the side of Yukari’s eye, taking a ready teardrop away. “Grow alongside me then, love. Don’t bother me with sadness. For your secret earlier, I will tell you a secret too—
“I love all this world, Yukari, and that means you as well. And I see it in you: aren’t you also in love with it all?
“I’ll watch this world go on together with you, however it’s shaped—or however we shape it. Then, what say you stand together with me from now-on?”
It was a pact Yukari would accept, even when later she would tear the world asunder and plow and harrow the ashes.
It was the second thing Suika would regret, when she would find herself long-after soaked in the blood of her brothers and sisters, and for the first and only time of her life off-kilter from intoxication.
But now – then – they held no regret. Yukari placed her hand over Suika’s and brought her face to her stomach—holding the oni around her back in acceptance, and letting an old name die; being born anew.
And to that end—
“You’ve made me free...?” said Yukari into the oni’s robes.
Warming, Suika replied, “Aye.”
“Then with this freedom...I’ll freely take a second name, to put alongside this one you’ve given me.” She picked her head up, and let their eyes meet again. That night, the girl in the gap told the oni she had met, and been saved by, at her lowest point: “I’ll take that name, and add this other: I want it to show that I’m with you, Suika, forever...”
“So, then, who are you?” Suika asked.
Yukari held her close again, and told her that name as old memories finally, silently, disappeared from her head:
Kiz comment: returning to your regularly scheduled Gensokyo antics soon (tm)