"How do I look?" Rumia asks while doing a quick spin in place.
Instead of her usual dress, she's wearing a dark grey yukata. Her ribbon's been repurposed; while before it was just loosely tied around a lock of hair near the top of her head, now it's being used to pull her hair up into a ponytail. Overall, this look suits her pretty well, but...
"Rumia." I answer.
"Your obi is on backward."
She looks down at the bow tied right in front of her belly.
Then nervously back up at me.
"John, can you-"
"Nope," I reject her request before she can even finish asking, since I'd had enough fussing with obi last night when Keine tried to force me into trying on a yukata. It didn't take very long for me to decide that tying the obi was too much of a pain, so I vetoed her idea. Convincing her that I'd be able to get something decent to wear took some effort, but I thoroughly believe that it was worth it.
I'm pretty glad I did, too. The white button-down shirt and black slacks I'm wearing were tailored so well that I'm almost scared to wear them for fear of soiling them, and the only other time in my life where I've worn something that fit so well was when I was fitted for a tux as best man for my little brother's wedding. Alice was still a bit weary of doing business with me, but when I explained what it was for and offered her cash up front, she reluctantly accepted.
"B-but..." she stammers, "it's backwards..."
Oh, right. Keine explained the meaning of a backward obi to me when I asked her why I couldn't just tie it in front. We were both embarassed for a bit ther after that.
"Can't you just get Keine to help you tie it?" I ask. "She's the big sister type you should be asking, not me."
"Fine!" she pouts, "See if I help when you need to, um... Uh... Whatever!"
And she leaves toward the washroom in a huff.
I take a few minutes to go over myself one more time. Keine told me not to worry about it too much, but it is my first party in Gensokyo, and I kinda want to make a good impression.
No wrinkles. Though, given that Alice enchanted these clothes to stay mostly wrinkle-free, it might be rude of me to keep checking. The collar isn't sticking up or arranged incorrectly. The cuffs are buttoned the same. Hair...Well, it feels like it's still in order, but of course it's hard to tell without a mirror. And, of course, that's currently occupied by Keine and Rumia getting ready, so I can't really go in there to check. Doesn't feel like I missed any spots shaving.
How did Rumia manage to tie her obi in the front and not realize it was tied in the front?
Speaking of which, she's back. Thankfully it appears that she's gotten over her earlier pouting, because now she looks just as happy as usual.
"How do I look?" She asks.
"Hmm... Nope, still on backwards."
She once again looks down at her belly, and then up at me, puffing up her cheeks.
"Geez! It isn't on backward at all!" She yells while softly banging on me with her fists.
"Now, now, Rumia. He was just teasing you a bit," Keine says softly as she enters the room.
Rumia puffs her cheeks out again and looks away.
I take a glance at Keine. Instead of her usual dark blue dress she's wearing a similarly colored yukata with a white obi. It's a good look for her, but... She's still wearing that hat.
I decide not to comment on it.
"Shall we leave," Keine asks, "or is there anything else you need to take care of first?"
"Nah, let's go. I can only check my clothes for wrinkles so many times before it gets ridiculous, and I think I'm already past that point."
"Alright. Rumia, let's go," Keine beckons. "You remember how I taught you to carry John safely without hurting him, yes?"
The netherworld is just about as picturesque as it gets. From the gigantic gate which suddenly dominates the sky as it fades into view as you approach, to what looks like miles and miles of beautiful landscapes, this place is just incredible. If I had to put it into words... Gensokyo, compared to the outside world, is an astonishingly beautiful place, unmarred by pollution and human development. But we can make the same comparison between the netherworld and Gensokyo as a whole.
And then we can make the same comparison yet again between Hakugyokurou and the rest of the netherworld, with its large, inviting mansion, beautifully maintained zen gardens, and of course, the cherry blossom trees that are the main attraction of today's event.
Given the apparent scale that this party, I almost expected it to be more like one of the festivals I've seen in the village, with paper lanterns, stalls with food and games, and music, but I was off by a long shot. Instead it seems more like one absolutely gigantic picnic, with people sitting on blankes laid out underneath the cherry trees.
Of course, there's alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol, mostly sake from the looks of it. And, of course, everyone is drinking.
It also looks like there are some snacks. Nothing too substantial, but they're definitely there.
...And off goes Rumia, as soon as she notices them.
"Ah, there you guys are." A voice I recognize from somewhere. Ash-white hair, red eyes, a faint smell of smoke...
Ah, it's Mo-
"Oh, it's been a while, Mokky!" ...Wait
I don't have any time to react at all before her karate chop impacts with the top of my head.
"Don't call me Mokky."
"S-sorry about that, Mokou. It has been a while, though. I didn't know you knew Keine."
"Oh, yeah. We've known each other for a while. I don't really leave the forest too often, though; if someone gets lost and I'm not there, it can turn out pretty bad."
"I can imagine."
"So is that bottomless stomach not with you today?"
"Oh, she's here; she just went ahead without us."
"Ah, I see." She says. "Off to start the festivities early. Maaan, with both of them here today, Youmu's gonna be running her ass off keeping everything stocked up. Maybe I should go offer to help out..." She ponders for a moment.
"...Nah, I'm here to take a day off. I'm sure Youmu'll manage somehow. Anyway, we already have a place picked out already. Shall we head over now?"
"Yes, let's." Keine replies.
As we make our way through the crowd, I start to realize just how many people are here. Most of them I don't know, but there's a few faces that I recognize.
There's Alice, sitting with another girl with blonde hair who also seems to be holding a doll. They almost look like sisters. Given that it looks like they're having an argument, though, I'm not so sure about that. It looks like it'll be fine, anyway. Is that the star-shaped doll Marisa gave her?
We also walk past what looks like a group of people from the mountain, if the descriptions of the people living at the Moriya shrine I've heard are accurate. I do recognize Momiji, who gives me a sly smile, to which I respond with a wink. Hina gives a much more natural and pure smile and a lively wave.
...It might not be a bad idea to thank her at some point.
And there's the group from the Scarlet Devil Mansion. I've never actually seen them before, but it's pretty difficult to miss the young-looking girl with deep red eyes and bat wings sitting under an elegant parasol, or her younger sister with what look like christmas decorations a few months too late hanging on her back. Meiling seems preoccupied with keeping a girl with icicle-like wings from bothering the others...
Ah, Wriggle just came over and dragged her away. The description fits, so I'm guessing that must be Cirno.
Meanwhile, Patchouli just continues reading her book unfazed, as though there weren't a party happening around her at all. That bookmark looks familliar...
Despite everything that's happened, most of which has been pretty stressful thinking back on it, everything seems to have turned out okay. At the very least, those girls seem to be a little closer, even if only by a bit.
"Here we are," Mokou announces, coming to a stop.
I give her a skeptical look, which she largely ignores as she takes her seat on the blanket. She doesn't seem to mind that the way she sat down resulted in her elbow slamming into Kaguya's head pretty hard. Of course, Kaguya retaliates with what looks like a pretty strong punch to the side, which is largely ignored.
I give her another skeptical look.
"Are you gonna sit down?" She asks, once again ignoring my skepticism about this group composition.
"...Sure." I decide not to worry too hard about it. After all, as long as they aren't overtly trying to kill each other, it's fine.
I take a seat next to Keine.
"Good afternoon, John," Eirin greets me. "Since I haven't seen you at the clinic, I take it you're doing well?"
"Well enough, at least," I respond. "Yourself?"
"My research is going well. It helps that certain distractions have died down a bit." She quickly glances over at Kaguya and Mokou. "I don't think you've met our other residents. This is Udongein," she motions to a girl with long, rumpled-looking rabbit ears wearing a white button-down shirt and blue skirt.
"Please call me Reisen," she says while bowing. I bow in return.
"And this is Inaba Tewi." She motions toward a girl with puffy rabbit ears wearing a pink dress.
"Just Tewi's fine." She simply waves, but I bow anyway. It's a habit by now.
"Well, now that introductions are out of the way, would you like something to drink?"
Cherry blossom viewing parties are about the atmosphere. At first I wasn't quite certain about going to a party where all you do is sit around and watch cherry blossoms, but this really does seem to be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Of course, the sake helps as well... Actually, seeing how much everyone is still drinking, I wouldn't be surprised if, for some, that was the main attraction.
After a while spent enjoying the cherry blossoms, an announcement is called.
"Attention, everyone," Youmu's voice cuts through the soft rumble of conversation filling the air, "lunch is currently being served, so hurry up and get your food before it's gone!" She pauses for a moment. "No, really, they're both here today, so if you don't hurry there won't be any left."
It must be hard on poor Youmu.
"Well, you heard her," Mokou states. "I, for one, could eat a whole cow." She glances at Keine.
A moment passes.
"Um, Mokou, is something wrong?" Keine asks, with a concerned expression, "Is there something on my face?"
Mokou's shoulders slump. "Nah, don't worry about it. Let's go get some food."
We follow the crowd toward a large clearing filled with dozens upon dozens of tables. They really did go all-out with this, didn't they? On the way, I spot Hina making her way toward the large buffet table, so I decide to excuse myself from the group.
When she notices my approach, she flashes me a smile.
"It looks like you've been doing well," she states. "I'm glad to see you're still alive. Or is that just your misfortune again?" she jokes.
"Nah. I'm still not sure I've completely gotten over what I did, but at the very least I've been trying."
"That's good," She says with a nod. "You've been doing a very good job of keeping Rumia in line as well; as a goddess I must thank you for that. You've prevented a lot of misfortune."
I rub the back of my head.
"I don't think I'm really doing anything special. Was she really that bad?"
"Hmm..." She looks at the ground for a moment. "I wonder if that's a question I should answer? Does it even matter if she's like this now?"
That's actually a pretty good question. Does it really matter? I mean, she seems to have already gotten along with other youkai just fine, but now, not only does no one even seem to bat an eye when they see her in the village, but I've even seen her come home with snacks she was offered by the shopkeepers while out shopping with Keine. And I know they weren't doing it out of fear; I can't think of anyone that would be afraid of Rumia as long as Keine's around.
But really, from the very beginning, I've never seen any trace of a murderous man-eating monster in her. Well, okay, she did proclaim herself to be around the time we first met, but ever since then I haven't seen her be anything other than a sweet little girl. Other than, you know, a couple of times like that one time she told me she needed to get laid. I still haven't figured out what happened to her personality then.
So, really, it seems just as odd to me to hear about how big of a threat she apparently once was as it is for everyone else when they see how little of a threat she is now.
...Actually, I'm not sure why, but that's starting to get on my nerves by now. It seems like that's all anyone has to say about her: "good job keeping her from eating people!"
"What's wrong?" Hina asks.
"Oh, nothing." I try to brush those thoughts from my mind. "It just always seems strange to me whenever people talk about Rumia like that."
"Maybe that's just a sign of how furtunate you really are," she responds with a smile.
After grabbing a plate of my own, I find my way to the table that the rest of the group ended up at. It seems Rumia had also already found her way back to the group. In addition, she apparently found her way to the buffet table, going by the three plates she has sitting in front of her.
Before we can even start to dig in... Well, before anyone but Rumia can start to dig in, at least, another announcement is called.
"Good afternoon, everyone. May I introduce the organizer of this party, Lady Saigyouji Yuyuko." Youmu's voice comes through over what looks like a large PA system. That's an interesting thing to see in Gensokyo...
That thought is interrupted by Yuyuko's buoyant voice filling the air.
My eyes are drawn in the direction of the small stage that seems to have been set up just for this occasion judging by how new it looks, where I find the lady of Hakugyokurou herself standing with a microphone in hand. A soft breeze flutters her hair, as pink as the cherry blossoms that surround. Despite the rumors I've heard of her being a slob and a glutton, right now she looks immaculate and beautiful standing up there on the stage.
"Welcome to Hakugyokurou! It's wonderful to have you all here today! I think back on the past few years, and, well, we've really put each other through hell, haven't we? No pun intended," she pauses a moment for several people who giggled anyway, even though it's pretty obvious that the pun was intended. Someone always does.
"But, well, the best thing about Gensokyo is, no matter what we fight over or how bad it gets, we always end up coming together, if not as friends then at least as rivals. I'm talking about you, Miko and Byakuren! I didn't invite you here to bicker all night, you know!" This illicits a bit of laughter.
"So let's enjoy the cherry blossoms, the sake, the food, and most of all each other's company on this lovely evening."
Our eyes meet.
"Let's remember those who we have wronged, the misdeeds we have done, and the friendships we have formed despite them."
It almost feels like she's talking directly to me. I'm just imagining that, right?
The feeling passes as her eyes sweep across the entire group.
"And keep those in mind as you enjoy today's festivities!"
This time, the grounds erupt into applause.
I take a moment to think.
What I did-
Okay, let's not beat around the bush here. I'm a grown man, I can handle calling it what it is.
Murdering Amy was abhorrent. You could try to say that I was provoked into it, that I wasn't in my right mind or whatever, but it doesn't change what I did.
Here in Gensokyo, however, I've done a decent amount of good. From what I gathered during the random conversations while watching the cherry blossoms, Kaguya and Mokou couldn't stand the thought of each other, and would immediately begin trying to kill each other on sight. Now they're...
Well, still growling at each other, but they seem to be getting along well enough to be able to share a table, at least.
Everyone seems to be getting along with Marisa a lot better as well, as evidenced by her being able to sit in between Alice and Patchouli peacefully without them trying to forcefully take payment for the items she's stolen, and I feel like that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't tried to stiff Alice on those swimsuits.
And, of course, Rumia. It still seems strange that everyone was so afraid of her, but I can tell that many of them are truly thankful for the way she is now.
At the very least, I seem to be having a positive influence on the lives of a lot of people here.
I remember what Reimu said to me. I probably can't make up for what I did, but as long as I try...
While I don't think I'll ever be able to accept what I did,
I might just be able to accept myself, the way I am now, despite it.
I smile at this realization. Somehow, it feels some of the stress I've been under since that night has evaporated.
After a moment, the applause dies down, and Yuyuko speaks again.
"A good friend of mine, Miss Yakumo Yukari, also has some words she'd like to share with everyone."
Yukari comes running onto the stage and trips. It's quite obvious to everyone, even those who weren't paying attention, that it was faked.
She brings herself into a sitting position and lightly touches her fist to the side of her head while winking and sticking out one tongue.
This is met with absolutely no reaction.
The full second of complete awkward silence doesn't seem to bother her, as she stands up and waves one hand joyfully as she introduces herself to the crowd.
"Hi hi! It's everyone's favorite pretty youkai idol, eternally 17-year-old magical Yukarin~☆"
She once again winks, this time holding two fingers in front of her closed eye in the shape of a sideways V while forcing a very clearly manufactured smile.
Absolute, complete dead silence. Everyone, every single person, is just staring at Yukari silently with a completely blank expression. Even the spirits off in the distance seem to have frozen still in protest.
"Ahem." She seems to drop the act. "Today we have with us a very special guest."
This seems to catch everyone's interest, as a murmur starts making its way through the crowd.
"Despite having absolutely no noteworthy abilites to speak of, this person has been dutifully helping to make Gensokyo a safer place for humans, and livelier for youkai."
"His methods are unusual and usually completely ineffective, but that's just part of his charm!"
"I give you..."
And now I can't see, because there's a blindingly bright light shining right in my face.
"John! John... Uh... I forget what his last name is!"
I can hear the applause. I can hear it, but I still can't see anything, since that spotlight's forcing me to squint. It hurts, and I have no idea what's going on, and-
And now I'm falling
Now at least the lights aren't in my eyes, but now I have even less of an idea what's going on.
Okay, I seem to have fallen into someone's arms.
Okay. Calm down.
It seems as though I'm now being held in a princess cary by Yukari, and apparently this has provoked the most enthusiastic applause of the night. My calm disappears once again, but this time it's replaced with an entirely different emotion.
After giving me a smug grin, she sets me down. After giving the applauce a moment to die down, she once again speaks into the microphone.
"Do you have any words for us on this fine evening, John?"
She offers the mic to me.
And as soon as she does, I become calm, for I know what I must do. It may be that I was in fact destined for this evening. It seems like every event that's happened to me through my entire life shaped the path that's led me to being right here, right now.
I take the mic into my hand, and gaze out across the crowd of people gathered. Of course, I have everyone's complete attention, with the clearing filled with an eager silence.
Bringing the microphone up to my lips, I say
no, I yell
the only words that could possibly leave my lips at this moment:
"God damn it, Yukari!"
Well, it seems that you've gotten a bad end. Usually this means that you completely failed to kill John before he truly started to accept himself.
Of course, this isn't very useful information to you at all. What you need is some advice for how to succeed on your next run!
Unfortunately, I'm just the disembodied text that appears at the end of the story. All I know is that you fucked up somehow. I couldn't possibly hope to explain to you how or why.
Fortunately, we have someone else here who can give you some answers.
It's time for...
「 Help me, Amy-sensei! 」
That's odd, she was supposed to...