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Today would be a good day, she could feel it deep in her bones. She had been preparing for this for months and it was all about to pay off. She made sure the palace was clean, convinced Yuugi to keep the drunken oni in line, and even somehow got a promise from her sister to behave, too. That was the true challenge, right there; if Koishi somehow screwed this up, she'd be absolutely livid.

Yes, thought Satori Komeiji, today would be a good day.

As she calmly walked toward the front balcony, hallways cleaned to a shine, Satori lost herself in thought. All of this had actually been Utsuho's idea, but Rin had supported her so fervently that she couldn't help but agree. At first it was just a token expression of generosity on her part to go along with this, but as she began making preparations, she got sucked into all the hype herself.

She put forth the idea to the rest of the Underground denizens and they were immediately on board (except for the bridge troll, but no one paid her any attention anyway). Thinking about it, she wasn't entirely sure why the oni, of all people, were so interested in this, but she figured that they just wanted any excuse to party and get drunk. As long as Yuugi kept things to a manageable level, things would be fine; she couldn't afford to look bad with all of the big names coming down.

And big names they were! Satori had enlisted the aid of one Aya Shameimaru to spread the word and responses were mixed. The Vampires at the Mansion seemed excited, strangely enough. Eientei claimed little interest, but Aya was certain that they would attend, for some reason. The Humans in the Village were very interested, she expected many humans to attend. The Hakurei Shrine showed zero interest, fortunately or not. The reporter assured her that there were others coming, but Satori was already satisfied with the turnout and got everything ready for her part. No one would ever look at the Underground the same after this!

For the last few weeks, she had assigned her dear pets to train themselves thoroughly and practice in preparation. Rin had recused herself from the festivities in favor of preparing Utsuho for the games instead, but as long as one or the other participated, Satori would be pleased. Beyond the matter of improving the image of the Underground in the minds of the surface dwellers, this event would show the world that she was still here; the hated satori of the past had grown beyond the petty witch hunts and attempted executions to become a better person in spite of it all. And if she could do it, so could those who had wronged her in the past.

And if she happened to stomp the other competitors into the dust to illustrate her wish for peace and forgiveness, then all the better!

No, Satori was not bitter at all.

Still, all her preparations would finally pay off because today was the day. The Earth Spider had built the arena and stands to perfection a short ways in front of the Earth Palace, itself thoroughly spotless thanks to the efforts of Rin, and even the oni city looked slightly less ramshackle than usual, no doubt thanks to Yuugi beating the snot out of her people. Indeed, the Bridge Troll, relegated as ticket collector (much to her displeasure), had sent a message that crowds had entered the city and grounds proper - soon she would make her appearance, the games could begin, and her public image would be revitalized!

As Satori walked toward the balcony to address the crowd, she made some last minute checks. The list of competitors had been finalized and the events were all planned. The judges for the events were present and waiting her instruction. Yamame was on standby for any emergency maintenance on the facilities and Yuugi's oni bouncers were in place to prevent any misconduct. Parsee grumbled about it, but she was secretly pleased to help, not that she’d ever admit it. Everything looked to be in order, all that was left was to step through the doors and make her speech to start it all.

She was surprised, actually. Things were going so well, it was making her nervous. Peeking through the window curtains, she saw that there were a hell of a lot more people than she expected. Hundreds, maybe. All sorts of humans and youkai, strange and familiar alike. Could she really do this? What if she choked in the middle of her speech in front of all those people? She started feeling sick, all of a sudden.

No, no! This was her moment to shine! This was what she had prepared for! Everything led up to this! With a great force of her indomitable will, Satori pushed her nervousness aside and laid her hand on the doorknob, ready to take that first step toward the future.

“Master! Master, wait!"

She hesitated at the clearly panicked tone in her pet's voice; whatever she had to say, it could only be bad news.

"Is there something wrong, Rin?"

"It's Koishi, the little master! I can't find her anywhere!"

Satori felt a pit form in her gut. Apparently her promise of ‘not causing trouble and being a good sister’ didn’t involve staying in sight. This was a very delicate event and if her sister was out and about unsupervised it could very well mean disaster. If she said something embarrassing at the wrong moment to the wrong person, everything could fall apart!

And knowing her dear sister, she go out of her way to do exactly that. Once again, Satori found herself fighting off a wave of nausea.

“It’s too late now, if she’s run off again, then we can only do damage control and pray that we find her before she does… something. Alert Yuugi’s guards that if they spot her, they’re to do everything in their power to return her to me immediately. We’ll have to deal with whatever mess she makes as it happens.”

Rin’s thoughts were a bit of a jumble and she didn’t seem particularly reassured, but she didn’t voice any objections.

“We’ll have to deal with whatever mess she makes as it happens. For now, focus on what we can do. How is Utsuho? Is she prepared?”

The kasha perked up, “Oh yes! Okuu is so excited! Just you wait, master, even you will be impressed!”

She certainly hoped so, but she didn’t let that show on her face, “Good. Make sure everything else is running smoothly and keep a sharp eye out for Koishi.”

“Yes, master! My eyes are the sharpest! Just you wait and see!”

And with that, Rin ran off, presumably to tend to Utsuho’s last minute preparations.

While she had acted tough earlier, the truth was that Koishi’s latest disappearance was giving her a very painful migraine. She could not afford to let everyone’s hard work in making all of this happen go to waste thanks to her sister’s carelessness.

That was probably the worst part of it; Koishi didn’t do what she did out of any sort of malice, it was just how she was. Truly frustrating when she couldn’t come up with the proper words to scold her.

Still, Satori hadn’t lived with her sister for centuries without learning a few tricks to keeping her occupied. If they could find her, Koishi could be kept out of her hair for at least the duration of the main event. With that admittedly feeble reasoning in mind, she pushed all thought of the trouble her sister might cause out of her mind and focused.

It was time to take her first step into the public eye in centuries. It’d been so long since she’d be around so many people at once, she wasn’t quite sure what to think. Satori reached down and pulled open the balcony doors with a great flourish, intending to make a strong first impression on the crowd.

Stepping forward onto the veranda overlooking the stadium seating and surrounding commons currently filled to the brim with people, she was struck with a sense of wonderment. The thoughts of the crowd focused on her alone, excited for the event’s commencement. She felt buoyed by the pleasant hum of the crowd’s thoughts and raised her hands in a grand gesture.

“People of Gensokyo! Thank you for coming and welcome to the Palace of the Earth Spirits! I will be your host and master of ceremonies, Satori Komeiji!”

There wasn’t much of a reaction to her name, she noticed. Usually the name ‘satori’ brought with it thoughts of fear and anger, but apparently Gensokyo had grown quite accepting these days as she didn’t feel much of that from the crowd. It was a good feeling and gave her confidence that today would be a success: today’s event would be synonymous with her name for years to come! The day Satori Komeiji broke free of the bonds of being an outcast to live however she wanted! It started here, with this proclamation!

“I hereby declare that the first ever Gensokyo Pet Show and Exhibition starts now! Let the games begin and may the best master win!” That would be her, of course.

Yes, today would be a good day - she could feel it.



When she came to, she was in a haze of pain and was surrounded by bunnies. As her vision focused, she realized that Rin, looking rather disheveled, was trying to shake her awake. However, Satori was rather more focused on wondering why the far end of the arena was on fire, why bunnies were everywhere, and also why she didn’t have any shoes on.

“Master! You’re awake, thank goodness. Are you okay?”

She was most decidedly not okay, but as ever, her pet’s thoughts were heartfelt, so she couldn’t even complain at the throbbing pain throughout her body. Had she fallen off the side of the palace or something…?

“I’m… fine. More importantly, what happened? Where is everyone?” Indeed, from her prone position at the upraised and apparently destroyed judge’s booth, she could see that the area around her was devoid of people and significantly full of rabbits. “And why are there rabbits everywhere?”

“Ah, don’t you remember? It started when Remilia Scarlet appeared during the obedience event.”

Remilia Scarlet. Oh, she felt it all coming back now, along with the headache from earlier...

“-so while you are indeed a registered participant, I’m afraid the games have already started, so you’ve been unfortunately disqualified.”

“Haven’t you heard of being fashionably late? Besides, the other events don’t matter in the least. The most important part of a good servant is loyalty and obedience.”

“Regardless of that, when I accepted your entry I didn’t think your ‘dog’ would be-”

“Is there a problem, mistress?”

“Not at all, Sakuya. Miss Komeiji here was just about to let us enter so we can win the next event. Am I correct?”

“That is most certainly not correct! You can’t expect the other pets to be able to compete with your maid, that’s preposterous!”

“Well of course, Sakuya is the best servant in Gensokyo. They don’t stand a chance.”

“You flatter me, mistress.”

“T-This is a
pet show! She’s a maid and she sure doesn’t look like an animal to me!”

“I thought you’d say something like that, so I prepared for it. Sakuya-”


Seeing the maid disappear and reappear again wearing dog ears and a tail forced her argument into a standstill. Saying something about how Utsuho’s entry had given her an unfair advantage and that Sakuya would help to even the odds, Remilia Scarlet proceeded to win the obedience event, which was never precisely Utsuho’s strong point, in any case.

Though at that moment, she could only sputter at inadvertently finding out how the maid’s accessories remained in place, thanks to her cursed mind-reading.

Truly, the Scarlet Devil Mansion is a depraved and scary place.

As she was helped along the ruined walkways in the burning and rabbit-infested city on the way back to the palace, she resolved to never visit that place once her reputation became a little more positive in the wake of her successful-

Oh wait. It wasn’t successful at all. She felt a wave of resignation coming on.

“Rin, was it Remilia? Was she the one who ruined my meticulously planned show?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say it was ruined. After all, things went pretty smoothly even after she showed up. Yuugi even offered you a drink to show how well everything was going. You must’ve really liked it, master! She just kept passing them to you with a great big smile on her face and you just kept going like you didn’t even feel it! You’re amazing!”

Satori just rubbed her forehead. Her head felt like a sack of bricks and there were aches and pains all over her body. Oni brew was pretty heavy stuff, though she had never had any until today. Curiously, she didn’t even remember drinking anything at all during the events and the judging. She must’ve been trying to subconsciously erase the knowledge of Sakuya and Remilia preparing for-

“Then what happened? Why is this place deserted?” As she nearly stepped on another bunny hopping around her feet, she added, “And why are there rabbits everywhere?”

“Oh, well, Aya was right. Eientei did attend, specifically for the costume contest.”


“-cause of that, I’ve decided to attend your event with my own pets!”

“Wait, this is ridiculous! You didn’t even sign up, and there’s so many of them!”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d like just Reisen so I brought all of my rabbits to enter, just in case! Aren’t they cute?”

“T-That’s not the issue here! There’s no way we can have so many competitors in a single event, we’d be here for days!”

“Oh, is that all? Okay then, Reisen, looks like it’s up to you, just like I thought! Put this on and get on stage! You’ll do everyone back home proud!”

“P-Princess, you can’t be serious! I can’t wear this! It’s embarrassing!”

“Don’t worry about it, Reisen! You look super cute! You’ll win for sure! I brought all sorts of costumes for you to wear, too! We’ll definitely win!”

“Miss Houraisan, what do you expect me to do with all of these rabbits? There’s no way they can all fit in the stadium!”

“Hmm, I guess you’re right. Okay, everyone, thanks for coming with me this far, but don’t come in the stadium until Reisen and I win! Have fun in the meantime!”

“W-wait, that’s not-!”


Yes, now she remembered. The fact that the Lunar Princess had the gall to walk into her carefully planned show without so much as registering irked her. Even more that she honestly hadn’t had a single malicious thought the entire time.

The fact that her bunny had won that particular event, tears in her eyes, was just salt on the wound. How was anyone supposed to compete with that? The crowd had loved it so much that they cheered for an encore with every new costume and she was up there for what seemed like hours.

That poor bunny certainly was good for only one thing…

Once she had unanimously won the costume event, Kaguya’s rabbits all came rushing in like a flood to congratulate her. According to their thoughts, they had parsed Kaguya’s order quite literally, waiting until she had won until they all poured into the stadium, terrorizing the attendees in the process. Satori couldn’t blame the crowds for running for the hills after being smothered with hundreds of rabbits.

Rin had succeeded in half-carrying her back to the palace at this point, and she just wanted to take a bath, go to sleep, and forget all this happened. The rabbits had petered off at some point, apparently not eager to enter the admittedly intimidating palace. There were still some fires burning in the city and even on her own palace, but the construction of the place was pretty sturdy, a beneficial side-effect of living among oni. A little fire wouldn’t cause any damage.

Still, her carefully planned and executed pet show was ruined. She didn’t remember the details exactly, but the evidence was all around her. There wasn’t a soul in sight beyond the multitudes of rabbits in the city. All of the responsibility for the failure lay on her shoulders, though, so she had an obligation to find out just what went wrong before going back to her self-imposed isolation.

“Rin… Unless all of the rabbits at Eientei are arsonists, that doesn’t explain everything. I can’t imagine that everyone left because of the bunnies.”

“Ahaha, well, that might have been indirectly my fault, master. The talent competition was the final event and the one that Okuu and I practiced the most for. I got her really excited for it, you see, so when the rabbits came and people started running away right before that event, I guess she got a little impatient…”

“-ut I spent so much time on this, master! You’ll be so proud of me, I promise!”

“Utsuho, now is really not the time!”

“That’s not fair, master! Orin and I put alllll sorts of practice into this!”

“I know, but can’t you see that we have some more pressing issues at hand? I’ve got my hands full at the moment!”

“You’re so tense, but don’t worry about it, master! I can help you relax! You’ll feel a lot better once you watch me!”

“Utsuho, the rabbits are
everywhere and they’re ruining the show! I can’t just let all of our hard work go to waste!”

“Don’t worry, master! They’ll love it too, I promise!”

“That’s not the issue here!”

“But I said don’t worry, master! Here, I’ll do it now so that everyone still here can see! But you have to be quiet, I have to concentrate or I’ll mess up! Get ready, master! You’re gonna be so happy!”

“Utsuho, I said stop! This isn’t the time for this!”


“You’re in the way, Utsuho, I have to at least keep
some people from leaving or all of this work is ruined and my reputation with it!”


“Utsuho... what are you doing? That’s dangerous, you shouldn’t be-!”

“P-Please wait, master! I can’t talk while doing this or I’ll mess up! It’ll-!”


Everything went white after that. She didn’t know what happened, but she imagined it had something to do with her nuclear powers. No wonder there was fire everywhere. She was vaguely surprised that the whole underground hadn’t caved in, but maybe Utsuho had managed to prevent most of the damage somehow. Though it obviously wasn’t enough to prevent her from taking the brunt of the blast by standing at ground zero. That explained all of the pain she felt, at least.

In truth, Satori blamed the alcohol. She’d usually have known better than to interrupt Utsuho ever but she was so frustrated that everything was going wrong that it hadn’t crossed her mind.

She felt depressed now. Like all of her dreams had just been crushed like a bug. Her reputation was almost certainly in tatters, even worse than it was before. Not only was she the evil mind-reading satori, but now she was the evil mind-reading satori that had tricked hundreds of people into entering a deathtrap. Hopefully no one got hurt. She’d never be able to show her face on the surface for another hundred years or so - until this entire thing was long forgotten.

Still, she’d lived like that for several centuries now anyway. It wasn’t anything new.

“So where is Utsuho now? She takes a lot of pride in her power, so I can’t imagine she took that... little failure well.”

“Ah, I think she ran away to her chamber. Should I go comfort her, master?”

“Yes, please do. I’m going to take a bath and go to bed. Let her know that I’m not angry, at least. I’ll talk to her in the morning, when I’m feeling less terrible.”

The kasha nodded and ran off in search of the hell raven. Hopefully she wouldn’t take this too hard - it wasn’t her fault. The poor girl was actually very sensitive, despite her overwhelming power. She’d have to be extra gentle with her little raven tomorrow morning.

And speaking of gentle, it was high time for a relaxing bath before bed to forget everything. She’d deal with the fallout some other time.

She opened her bathroom door to a wall of warm steam. Had Rin already drawn a bath for her? That was awfully thoughtful. She shrugged and shed her garments, unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth. She was far beyond caring at this point.

The bathroom itself wasn’t particularly extravagant, though it was by no means small. It wasn’t even the largest bathroom in the palace. Even so, it was only when she had seated herself in the tub with a deep sigh that she realized she wasn’t alone.

There was a rather muscular man in here.

He was in the tub.

There was an unfamiliar man in the tub with her.


Looking around frantically and in shock, she realized that she was surrounded. There were two other well-muscled men seated rather alarmingly close to her, on the edges of the tub. Turning around slowly, she idly noticed that they were all naked.

She was speechless. Who were these people? Why were they in her bathroom? Why were they draped around the tub like that? Why were they naked?

“Ohh, I’m glad you came, sister!”

And suddenly it all made sense.

“I saw all the trouble you went to to make your show great but it turned out pretty bad, huh? But that’s okay, sister, I thought something like this would happen and figured that you would need to relax a bit afterwards!”

Satori stared at Koishi, unable to formulate a reply.

“Yeah, I knew I was right! That’s why I hired these guys to spend some time with you. I was worried that you were getting all lonely with only Orin and Okuu and the other animals, so I thought that maybe you wanted a little more involved contact but were too afraid to ask! That’s okay, though. As your sister, I’m here to help you in any way I can. I picked out only the nicest, most gentle guys for you!”

In her daze, Satori somehow realized that Koishi also happened to be in the nude.

“Oh, but I know how you’re shy around strangers, so I thought it’d be easier if you had someone familiar around too! That’s why I’m here! It’s a lot easier to do it when you have family watching over you, right? I’ll even hold your hand! But don’t worry, these guys are only for you, so I’ll just be watching.”

She wasn’t sure why, but only one question burned in her mind.

“Then why... are you naked, Koishi?”

Her smaller sister gave her a look like she had grown a third head. Satori’s vision began to waver.

“We’re in the bath, silly! You can’t wear clothes in the bath! Jeez, you must be really tense, sister, everyone knows tha-”

Satori fainted.
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Did you know there’s a lake hidden behind the shrine? The real shrine, not all those other ones that seem to keep popping up. There’s a lake tucked away in the mountains back there. Not the Misty Lake, obviously, that’s a fair hike away in a completely different direction. It’s a lot bigger, too. Pretty , if you don’t get frozen, eaten, or drowned in whatever order. The one in the mountains is definitely a lot smaller, and isn’t nearly as nice to look at, or even smell. Pretty dead, too. And it’s only got half as many vampires living off of it.

Though I swear, sometimes it feels like one is still too many. I wonder if the ones in that little red house are as aggravating as her.

Anyway, the lake. Smaller, smells worse than a corpse on the days you can smell it at all. It’s blood, you know, instead of water. Not a whole lot happens there. You don’t get any fish, and the only things that actually live in the lake itself are the weirder sort of youkai and other things that don’t seem to actually do much in the way of thinking. Kind of like fairies, but even stupider. Terrible company.

I hear people say there’s something under the lake, and there was definitely an incident there a good few years back, but I can’t say anything about that you wouldn’t already know. Shrine maidens and witches are kind of jerks is the main thing I got out of it.

Well, I guess you actually wouldn’t know that. More’s the pity. I’m not one for studying much myself, but you should always have a shot at learning the local history at the bare minimum. There’s lots of interesting stuff if you know who to ask.

What I can tell you is there’s more than just the lake back there. It’s a nice place if you don’t get too close to the bloody hole in the ground. Some nice scenic paths, only a few giant man-eating flowers here and there. Better than the forest, I know that much. Course, ‘better than the forest’ isn’t an accomplishment.

And it’s right on the edge, too. If it weren’t for the barrier, you could just walk right on out of Gensoukyou on some of the smaller paths. And there’s this one spot with this gorgeous view through the barrier…

Well, it’s nice to look at, but no one here is really that suited to the outside world unless they came from there first. Some’ll tell you otherwise, but they’re lying for their image. Kind of annoying to put up with. But I’m low enough on the pole I don’t have to listen to it that often, and everyone knows I’m low enough on the pole I don’t have to posture much myself. Makes it nice and simple.

It helps the mountains are the back end of nowhere here, where you’re lucky if you get something as smart as an actual fairy for company. I’m usually fine on my own, but even we can get lonely sometimes, you know?

Though sometimes I wonder whether she’s really listening at all. There was this one time…

It was a small cave, with only a few furnishings to turn it into something resembling a proper ‘home’ as a human might see it. The main furnishing was a jumbled pile of sheets, rags, and assorted other materials that made a make-shift cushion, occupied by a red-haired woman lying there, half her torso covered in bandages. Fluttering nearby was another, slightly shorter, blonde hair falling over bat wings that didn’t seem to actually be keeping her up.

Well, it wasn’t the worst shape she’d been in. Kurumi had been generous enough to let her rest there while she recovered. A couple more days and she’d be fine. That did mean lasting a couple more days, though…

“What kind of name is Orange, anyway?” The flying girl fluttered backward as she spoke, away from Orange herself, more interested in her thought than her guest.

“Badly chosen, I say.” Orange, for her part, kept her eyes closed. She was fairly certain they’d had this conversation before. Several times. And Kurumi still managed to find a new direction to take it every time. “I’m more red than orange.”

“And red is tastier anyway.” A quick beat of her wings accompanied Kurumi’s landing, a light twirl sending her hair around her. “You should have a better name!”

“…try and call me red and I’m putting this baton between your eyes.”

“Come on!” Crossed arms, an exaggerated pout, and, briefly, an extended tongue. “I’m better than that! You should be Daidai!”

“I don’t think changing the language improves it any.”


“I’m not a fruit.”

“Fine, be that way. You’ll just have to be…” Leaning back on nothing, Kurumi put a finger to her chin as she thought. Several moments passed.

“I’ll do it if you just come up with a terrible joke, too.”

“Better than that! I have the perfect name for you.” Another theatrical twirl sent the vampire’s dress fluttering almost as well as her hair. “You should be Laranja!”

There was a moment of silence. Orange slowly pushed herself up into something closer to a seated position, eying the vampire with a sort of weary confusion. That wasn’t awful, but she wasn’t really sure how to… what was it? That wasn’t Japanese at all. “What kind of name is that?”

“It’s…” Kurumi paused, frowning. Clicking her tongue in displeasure. “Well, it’s a thing I picked up a long time ago, talking with some funny barbarians who thought they’d discovered some place. That was silly of them, we were here the whole time. But they and some of their friends who came later are where I got the idea for this kind of clothing, too.” One hand folded toward her chest accompanied a self-satisfied smile bordering on smug. “I’m a lot older than I look, you know.”

“Yeah, sure. Cool.” Kurumi was a vampire, but she was kind of horribly weak for one. It was easy to forget just how long she might have actually lived, what kinds of weird tidbits she might have picked up. “So what’s it mean? That’s at least as important as how you say it.”

“It really is! And that’s why it’s perfect for you!” Kurumi clapped her hands together, almost bouncing in excitement. Yeah, really easy to forget. “It’s an orange!”

A pause. Silence.

The baton hit the vampire girl square in the forehead, almost knocking her off her feet as she stumbled backward.

…now, don’t get me wrong, Kurumi’s probably helped me almost as much as I’ve helped her. Ruined more than a few beds of hers after getting into a losing fight with one thing or another. I’m thankful for that, even; growing everything back without a bed or something would be a pain. But she can be awful company sometimes. And she doesn’t even take good care of herself, you know? She definitely doesn’t eat enough, and that can’t be good for her, especially not surrounded by blood she can’t drink.

Oh, did I mention that? It’s a lake of blood alright, but it’s all kinds of awful even for us. I’ve heard some humans have this saying when they’re out on an ‘ocean’ or whatever, about how there’s water everywhere but they still can’t drink anything. I think it’s the same thing for her. She says the blood’s dead, and she can barely keep any of it down.

You ever seen a vampire spew their meal back up? You’d think blood couldn’t get much worse coming out a second time. Let me tell you, you’d be wrong. Me, I’ve seen it a couple times, and that’s still a couple times too many. You, though… well, I guess you don’t have to worry about it. You’re definitely not seeing it tonight, at any rate.

Oh, this here’s probably my favorite part of the hike up. We’re out far enough we don’t have many real predatory youkai competing anymore, so it’s nice and quiet. But you’ve got a great view of the area around her as you go up, and the grass and trees and such are in great condition. One of those flowers I mentioned is rooted around here, one of those man-eaters, and it keeps the place in great condition. Tried chatting with it once, actually. Wasn’t very talkative.

Well, anyway…

“I did say she isn’t eating enough, didn’t I?” Orange’s voice was readily heard in the cool night on the mountainside, even with the calls of insects and occasional scuttling of one creature or another. She appeared over a ridge, casually walking along, baton in one hand, a limp body in the other. “Yeah, I’m helping her with that. Not every night, you understand. No one’s got time for that, and we’re not really that close. But every so often, when I find someone like you. Basic neighborly decency, you ask me.”

She was content in leaving her one-sided conversation there for some time. Quiet steps slowly brought her up the mountain, navigating a path she had walked countless times, and flown even more. It would have been faster to fly again, but sometimes just making a hike out of it was nice. Stretched her legs, gave her some time to think. To chat. And in time, as the grass gave way to lifeless stones not far from the bloody shores, she resumed her talk.

“It is a pity, though. You, I mean. Can’t imagine what brought you out here since I’ve never seen anything right near the border and certainly haven’t heard of anything. But I think you’re going to a good cause. If not her, probably the ones at the Misty Lake. I did mention them, right? Pair of vampire girls, big red house?”

“Hey, Orange!” Kurumi’s voice carried well across the lake, and her silhouette was visible fluttering from one boulder to another. “Are you talking with food again?”

“Like that’s weirder than anything you’ve done.” It was then that Orange finally took flight, coasting above the rock just above the ground. She definitely wasn’t swimming when she got there, that was for sure. “Sometimes I think food’s a better listener than you are.”

“This kind of thing is why people mistake you for a human. You just go chattering away at anyone who’ll listen.” The vampire girl settled on a rock not far from the coast, and even in the dim light of the stars, her displeasure was evident. Planting her feet, arms crossing, expression actually visible. Youkai perk, if human chatter was anything to go by. “I hope that isn’t going to happen again just so you can get a few extra words in.”

“Hey, I’ve only had one wake up on us. And this one definitely won’t for a while.” At all, really. Not in that body, at least. Orange briefly wondered, in the back of her mind, what dying was like. Actually dying. She’d been dismembered before, which would count for humans. Messy business, that, but it hadn’t really killed her.

“Good! That was just a mess!” Kurumi fluttered over to the shore proper, waiting just long enough for Orange to draw even with her before turning back alongside her. “They actually managed to tear one of my dresses! I had to ask Elly to patch it up and everything! Do you know how embarrassing that was?”

“From the dozen other times you’ve brought it up, yeah.” Her response was completed with a casual shrug. “Like I said, this one isn’t waking up.”

“Yeah, but it’s so scrawny!” Then the vampire girl was flying backwards, pouting at her again. “You know I don’t like scrawny!”

“I don’t see what you’re complaining about, I’m the one that gets most of the meat. ‘sides, you know I’m not getting first pick.”

“Maybe I should just move into that mansion, then. I’d get better service there.” She turned away again, arms crossed, with entirely too dramatic a swish of her hair.

“Yeah, and I’m sure they’d just welcome you right away. What’s a completely unrelated vampire when you’ve already got two?” Orange rolled her eyes, not that Kurumi would notice. For the better. She’d just be insufferable if she saw that. “You got the fire stuff ready?”

“Oh, yeah!” And Kurumi instantly whipped around again, practically beaming. “I saved what we had left from last time! We’ve got enough for a big pyre! It’ll be cooked well in no time!”

“Yeah, I hope so. Got kind of hungry talking my way up here.”

“Well, if you didn’t tell everyone your life story, maybe you wouldn’t need to eat as much.” Kurumi briefly stuck her tongue out – and Orange refrained from commenting on how unladylike it was – before darting ahead again. “And if you keep moving at that rate, it’ll be burning before you even get there!”

“Yeah, well, don’t mind me. Some of us like to take our time.”

It was good to vent sometimes. Kurumi certainly wasn’t going to listen; tell her about the Misty Lake and she’d either get all sparkly eyed or start off on a rant on the ‘iniquities of the universe’ and the ‘pretensions of the youth’ and ‘disrespect for elders’ or something. And it’s not like anyone in the village cared to hear, even if Orange could pass there when she felt like it.

But dinner?

“You’re always good listeners, you know? I almost miss you when we’re done. Don’t worry, by the way, you won’t feel a thing. Though when you’re out like this, I guess I don’t need to tell you that.”

Dinner didn’t know, so dinner wouldn’t mind if she rambled on and on about one thing or another. And even if it didn’t, it couldn’t really talk back. Either way, it was nice to have someone who just listened. Sometimes, that was what she really needed. Just an ear to talk at.

And sometimes eat.

Well, she was a youkai, after all. That was just how things were sometimes.
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Hunger woke me, but the first thing to capture my attention was the girl. She was no older than ten and had no visible injuries, despite being covered in blood. As she staggered closer, I could see that tears had washed much of the blood from her cheeks. With what looked like Herculean effort, she managed to come before me as her strength failed and she collapsed on top of me. From this position, I could see her mouth moving ever so slightly, so I strained myself to listen.

“I-I'm sorry.”

“I never wanted this to...”

“This shouldn't happen; they're just like us.”

I could only listen as she spoke, as though to someone she could not see. After a while, I was able to piece together what had happened. Some family had gone hunting in the wrong area and angered the locals. For some reason, the locals went to the girl to resolve the incident. As in any ideal family, the father died defending his mate, who died defending the children, who died screaming, unable to comprehend why any of this had happened. Almost too late, the girl discovered that the family had friends that stood ready to avenge their deaths. And so, the girl created a sea of blood to return, first to her home and then to a place that would praise her for the slaughter.

As she spoke, it became more and more clear that the girl was talking to someone other than me, even though I was the only one there. At some point, she had stood up, growing agitated with the lack of response.

“Why did this have to happen?”

It shouldn't have.

“Why me?”

It shouldn't be.

“Why don't you say anything?”

What would I say?

“Why won't you do anything?'

If only I could.

“You're no god! You don't care about anything! Answer me!”

After a silence that lasted far too long, the girl collapsed on me again, her voice barely a whisper.

“H-have you abandoned me too?”

We stayed that way for some time, as the blood that covered her slowly flowed onto me and dried. Right as I thought she had finally fallen asleep, she spoke once again; her voice soft but with more strength than I had heard before.

“Never again. I don't care if I'm alone. I will change things.”

And change they did. The next day, I was given a great feast by many people, but the girl was nowhere to be seen. I began to fear that I would never see her again, but then some sort of change passed over the land and the girl landed in front of me with a satisfied look on her face.

“It's done. I don't care what those idiots think. This is definitely the right thing.”

The next day, the hunger returned. I was still fed a bit every day, but it was not enough. She still visited me very day but with complaints that grew alongside the hunger.

“I suppose I should have expected this.”

“Don't they know I'm still protecting them?”

“Gaaaah, I guess I can make the rice last another few days.”

Still, I always had enough to eat until the red came. It came and went without fanfare. The sky was simply red one day, the girl left, and the red vanished some time later. She returned a little after that, looking only a bit more tired than when she left. I served as a chair for a little while, and she left, happier than I had seen her even on the days I was fed better than usual.

Four days later, I still hadn't been fed. I knew that I could survive for some time without food, but the girl was faring much worse. As the long winter and night came and passed, I was sustained by a black-white girl who only fed me when my girl was gone. Indeed, my only steady companions for that time were the black-white with her food, my girl with her long-suffering complaints, and the hunger, always the hunger.

This barely sustainable status quo continued for some time, until the two days that I nearly died as everything around me collapsed. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people I had only seen a time or three before as they rebuilt my home. At that time, someone must have noticed my hunger, as I gained some new visitors in the maid and the rabbit. More surprising was the return of two who fed me before the red, the butcher now accompanied by three children and a wife instead of a baby, and the beggar, who never brought food, but always a flower.

Yet the arrival of new and the return of old saw the loss of what I had. The black-white never again stopped by on her late night visits with just enough food to survive. I don't know if she thought she wasn't needed anymore, or if her sources had run out, but the end result was no change in the hunger. With the hunger came grumblings at each of my girl's daily visits, but such is the way of things. In her voice, I heard none of the brokenness that was in our first meeting, just a subtle urgency and the worry that comes from having no guarantees for the future.


Today is different. My mind has grown since that night of blood all those years ago. I know what I am, a tsukumogami, and I am capable of understanding the irony of waking up in a shrine. I know that someday soon, I will have the power to assume human form and properly meet my girl for the first time. Today, I simply hear her complaints, as she uses the same words as always. But after hearing those words every day for years, I can hear a change. The edge of desperation is gone, replaced by a softer, almost amused tone. This matches my feelings toward our daily ritual. After all, the hunger has been lessening for the past few years.
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These recordings are protected under the provisions of SGB/273/ST, paragraph 87, of 7 September 1024




ID CASE NO. 6543/15


"Jade, this is Luna Base. Status report.

This is Jade One, we are currently on approximation course to TORIFUNE's Landing Bay I. Current distance: four-point-five kilometers.

Roger, Jade One. How does it look from out there?

Nothing new to report. It's as ruinous as the ground photos showed. Over.

Intelligence says TORIFUNE used to hold a highly specialized ecosystem for terraforming experiments, but given the condition of the station, we expect atmospheric leakages. Jade One, Jade Two, keep your envirosuits at 'Outer Space' setting during the entirety of the mission.


Entering TORIFUNE's gravitational pull. Beginning hookup procedures.

Copy that, Jade Two. Release lateral flaps and ignite side propellers. Stand-by..."


"Luna Base, come in. Do you copy?

Loud and clear, Jade One. What's your status?

We have securely attached our spacecraft to TORIFUNE's landing bay. We're about to open the hatch and disembark.

Ten-four, Jade One. Begin operations.

You heard the lady, Two. Hit the button.

On it, One. Sealing vacuum chamber, synchronizing atmospheric pressure, and... Done. Good luck!

Alright, door's open. Let's see what those Earthlings were up to-- Whoa.

Jade One?

... Luna, I think we've got a problem here.

Say again, Jade One.

The biosphere, it's gotten out of control, the plants--! You have to see this. Switching to cam feed, over.



Jade One, this is Jade Two. I don't get your video signal. Screen's pitch black.


Luna Base here, we're experiencing the same incidence. Your camera circuits must be malfunctioning.

Dammit! I knew we should've stuck with the old ones. Prototypes always break down at the worst times.

Focus, Jade One. Stick with audio comm, tell us what you see.

I see, uh... Long Message. It's a green forest. Ivy vines covering the walls and the floor, overgrowing out of control. Suit sensors pick up large amounts of heat and humidity. I see a strange species of... grasshopper? Bopping around in low gravity. A morpho butterfly too. Looks venomous. I-- I don't think that color is natural. Probably derivative sub-species mutated by solar radiation. Audio feed records the sound of a water stream nearby, but I can't see it. I think it's covered by all these plants. This is what Earthlings call a "jungle", isn't it?

Impossible. Intelligence said there were no signs of life inside TORIFUNE.

Then Intelligence was wrong again. I know what I'm seeing, and what I'm seeing shouldn't be in a space station. Luna Base, what are your orders?

... In light of the new situation, HQ has changed the mission's objectives. Jade One, head over to the Bio-Experimentation Bay and look for any clues pertaining the abnormal growth of the controlled ecosystem. Jade Two, suit up, gain access to the Central Computer system and make a backup of all the data. We must learn what happened here before the purification ritual.

Jade One, roger.

Jade Two, roger."


"Jade Two, Jade Two, come in.


Jade Two?

Read you, One. Slight interferences here, but it's all good. Send your traffic.

Uh, the doors to Bio Bay are locked, and the standard hack codes don't seem to work on the e-locks.

Really? Those Earthlings must've stepped up their game.

You were heading to the Central Computer, right?

Already here, master.

...What did I tell you about calling me that while we're on a mission?

Sheesh, why so stiff? It's not like anyone's listening on us.

Professionalism, Jade Two. I need you to unlock the doors to the Bio-Experimentation Bay once you manage to get inside the station's system.

Roger roger, mas- Jade One. Working on the first encryption files... Wow, they still use that 0-JI OS? Man, this is even easier to crack than their old DOS! They even kept that 'Take it easy' stupid welcome message, for crying out loud. Couldn't be any lazier even if they tried.

Cut them some slack, Two. TORIFUNE was pretty advanced for their time. I wouldn't be surprised if they had to cut budgets somewhere. They can't help being two millennia behind us.

If you say so. There, got us clearance to all areas. No door will remain closed to us! Sending data, over.

... Data received. The door's opened automatically. Good work, Jade Two.

Yeah, no sweat. ... Too easy...

Come again, Two?

Nothing. I'll get back to copying the database. Let's do our best, master! Over and out.

... Why do I still keep putting up with that airhead?


"Luna Base, Jade Two, do you copy?


Luna Base, Jade Two, respond!



Why don't they answer? Luna Base--

Luna Base here, we hear you, Jade One. What's your status?

Where's Jade Two? I haven't heard of her since our last transmission, ten minutes ago.

Uh, it appears Jade Two is in an area of high interferences, and our radio can't reach her. Her suit's vitals are fine, though.

Thank goodness, I was starting to worry.

Want us to rely that to Jade Two?

Wha-- No! Don't you dare!

Hahahahahaha! I swear, sister, teasing you never stops being fun.

... Where did your professionalism from before go?

I'm sorry, I'm sorry. So, do you have anything to report, Jade One?

Affirmative, Base. Very important, in fact.

Ready to copy.

Long Message. I explored the Bio-Experimentation Bay, and I found several rows of tubes. Inside there were... abominations. Giant dogs with serpent tails and goat heads. Biped bulls with prehensile hands. Monkeys with bat fangs. Those earthlings weren't just doing experiments on terraformation, they were trying to make an army of mutant monsters! I found some documents HQ might want to look. Those guys were into some really nasty stuff.

...de One, say ag... receive one... interf...

Luna Base?

... lease... out... itals... missi... turn to...

I can't hear you, what's going on--!?

Shit, lights went off. Too dark here, gonna turn on the flash. What the hell just happened? I'm getting static over radio... Better get out of here to somewhere with better signal.

Huh? The e-lock's inoperative. Wait, there's a message on screen. 'TAKE IT EASY'? Did Two touch something she shouldn't? Maybe she screwed a piece of code up and the system crashed... No, she's too good to make that kind of mistake. Something serious must've happened.

Shit, I think I heard crystal breaking behind me. This is bad, this is really bad. Don't have time to hack the lock, gotta get out of here now! Setting weapon to 'Breach'!"


"Jade One Mission Log, stardate 4-0-7-2. Lost communication with Jade Two and Base Command. TORIFUNE power's gone off, I'm walking in the dark. All the doors are locked, only displaying the message 'TAKE IT EASY' in their screens... except the ones that lead to the Central Bay. I have the feeling I'm being led on by someone. Or something.

I sense a malicious presence around me ever since I exited the Bio-Experimentation Bay. Must be one of those mutants that broke free from its tube, and now it's stalking me. Sometimes my flashlight catches a glimpse of that monster as it crawls through the vents and the vines. A ferocious feline with wings. I believe humans call it a 'chimera'? Its wings are too small for its body, so I don't think it's able to fly, but its speed and its claws make up for it. So far it hasn't tried to attack me, but I will consider it an hostile ULF until the emergency code's cleared.

Foolish earthlings, trying to recreate their legends... No wonder why everything's gone to shit.

There it is, the Central Computer System. Door's open, there's a dim light coming from the room. Still can't make contact with Jade Two...

... Clear. Place's empty. The tower seems active. Screens are off, but the pilots blink on and off. That means the power must be still running. Probably a back-up generator. No signs of Jade Two here. Where the hell did she go?

Oh. One of the screens has turned on. And there are... green line of texts, appearing as I speak. A message from the computer? It reads:



...The hell is this!? This is not normal. Gotta find Jade Two and get the hell out of-- Who goes!?

Huh!? Jade Two? Don't scare me like that! Where were you? Your radio comm went dead and I couldn't--

--Jade Two? Are you alright? Answer me! Is your mic broken, or-- Hey, hey, hey, careful with that gun, don't go pointing it at-- ARGH! Shit! Friendly fire, friendly fire! It's me, Jade One, don't you recognize me!? What's wrong with...

Oh god, what is that black thing on your chest? Jade Two, what happened!? Reisen--! Oh gods, no. No, no no no! DAMMIT!"


"Hah... hah... fu... Jade One... Mission Log, Stardate... 4-0-7-8. Still can't contact Base Command. Jade Two... dead. Had to shoot her... self-defense. She was not in her right mind... Something possessed her. Shot me once in the leg, another in the abdomen... Envirosuit's punctured, bleeding out. I... I'm not going to make it out of here alive. But I... But I can still complete the original objective. This goes far beyond genetic experiments... or potential invasions. There's an evil lurking in this station... Must exorcise it. For the sake of my people... For my pet.

I'm heading... limping to the Crew Quarters Bay. According to Intelligence, the shrine gate must be there... if they haven't screwed up this time too. Gkh, it hurts! I'm... leaving a trail of blood on the roots. If that chimera smells it, I'm as good as dead. I think... I think it's watching me from the shadows. Waiting for the perfect time to strike... I'm scared. Why won't it attack me? Let this be over already! I can't stand this...

... No, I have to calm down. I have to. I am the leader of the Defense Corps. I have... a mission to complete. I can't die yet. Not like this.


Reached the gate to Quarters. Lock's closed, of course. Screw it, I'm shooting it down.


... Shit... Have mercy on their souls.

Found... found the crew. All dead. For a long time... judging for the blackened flesh that remains... attached to their bones. Their rudimentary weapons couldn't protect them... from whatever killed them. Several of them... curled up in front of the chapel's door. No matter how much... how much their science advanced, in the end... they still relied on their gods. And they abandoned them, poor Earthlings... Perhaps their power couldn't reach here. I guess mine doesn't either...

Huh. This one doesn't have an e-lock. Well, it'd be rude to enter the home of gods guns ablazin', after all.


Here it is... The Shinto shrine gate, housing the goddess Ame-no-Torifune... or as they call it, the Heavenly Bird Boat. Humans worship her for safe travel through space... But nobody said anything about surviving in there. I guess her presence also has... also has to do with this station resembling the myth of the Ark. Good ol' Noah didn't mess with animals' genes, though. Heh heh heh heck ack agh agh!

... Right. Don't wanna bleed out before the altar of a deity. Commencing... Commencing purification ritual.


"Jade One Mission Log... stardate 4-0-8-0. About to finish... the preparations for the purification ritual. My arms and legs feel numb, my body shivers, my mind blacks out at time. Not even my envirosuit can warm up... this cold from my bleeding insides. Only through sheer force of will I've resisted the urge to... faint. But... I don't have much time left.

It's a miracle the chimera hasn't attacked me yet... With my back turned... and my mind focused on this, I make for the easiest prey there could ever be. Maybe Ame-no-Torifune really is looking after me...


Ofuda, set.

Candle lights... lit.

Incense burning. Only the purifying rice and the sigils left, and--

Huh? Radio transmission coming in... From Luna Base? Now?




... Luna Base?


No, impossible. It's sounds just like her, but--



Who are you!? Why do you have her voice!? Answer me!




The hell are you talking about!? Stop screwing with me! How did you manage to broadcast in our--

Shit, someone's banging at the door. Who's there!?


Whatever it is, it's budging the door. Won't hold out much longer... Setting weapon to 'Lethal'.

Here they come! ... No. No way.


No... Please no... How can this be... I saw you dead. I put you down, dammit!


Stay away from me! No! Stay the hell away from me! Don't come any closer! Argh! Get off me! No no no no AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-"

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Shhh- it's a secret!
"I want you to eat this."

Yukari motions towards the meat bun on the table. I glance up at Yukari for a second, but her face is plastered with a calm smile; I can't get a read on what she's thinking. If she's putting in effort to hide her intentions, I can't help but feel reluctant accepting this "gift".

I take the meat bun in my hands. The weight seems fine, and upon inspection I can see nothing that indicates this bun is anything but ordinary.

"C'mon Ran, hurry up and eat it! The whole thing." That frozen smile tells me there's no way I'm getting out of this, so I buckle to her whims and take a bite.

Mmm. Not bad. Actually, this is pretty good. I take a few more bites.

Hmm? Oh. Oh no. Why is my mouth suddenly on fire? Oh no.

I stop chewing and clasp my free hand over my mouth. I glare at Yukari through tear-filled eyes. From behind her back, she produces a glass of water. I reach out to take it, but she pulls it away, pointing at the half-finished bun in my hand.

Damn it.

I start tearing into the bun, struggling to swallow down large bites as fast as possible. Finally, I shove the last piece into my mouth. I lunge out at Yukari, nearly knocking her over in the process, and swipe the glass from her hands. I can practically hear steam sizzle as I douse the flames and wash down the last morsel of food.

"Why-" I take a moment to catch my breath, handing the glass back to Yukari, "why did you make me eat that?"

"It was fun," Yukari explains with a smirk, "Now tell me, how do you feel?"

"How do I feel?" Honestly, I'm pretty angry, but I decide not to openly show it as I voice my displeasure, "Lady Yukari, you know I can't stand spicy food-"

"Yeah, yeah," Yukari cuts me off nonchalantly, "Tell me, do you feel any different?"

"Different?" I don't think I feel any different. I look myself over, nothing seems out of place, my tails are all there, as fluffy as ever. "No, not really."

"Catch." Yukari pulls something from a gap and tosses it to me.

What's this? An apple? Does she want me to eat this next? I hope this isn't a bad apple.

I notice the apple start to change. The glossy red surface of the fruit slowly fades to a dull matte grey. It's become harder, and is noticably heavier than it was a minute ago. What I'm holding in my hand is no longer an apple, it's been turned to stone!

"It works!" Yukari exclaims, her face now displaying a genuinely bright smile.

"Uh... what just happened?"

"That meat bun I gave you, it contained a new program I've been working on just for you, my precious shikigami. Now you can turn things to stone just by touching them!" Yukari exclaims excitedly.

"What!? Why?"

"C'mon Ran, just think about it! One touch and, POOF! Instant statue. Useful not only for decoration, but also an easy way to get pesky opponents out of your way. Heck, you'll even be able to take out immortals! It'll be like your new secret weapon!"

Though Yukari is trying her hardest to make it sound helpful, I can't help but to anticipate how much trouble this power can cause. "Lady Yukari, I DON'T want to turn things to stone!"

"Don't worry, I'm working on coding a patch that will give you complete control this new power. I should have it finished by tonight.

"Anyways, I'll be out until then, so don't go turning things to stone and don't tell anybody about this. Not much of a secret weapon if everyone knows about it, right?"

With that, Yukari disappears into a gap, leaving me standing here alone.

Well, I guess until Yukari get's back with that patch I'm not leaving the house. I begin contemplating what to do until she gets back when I hear the front door slide open.


Ah, Chen! Chen's back! And look, she's coming over to give me a hug!

"Ran!" Ahaha, look at that cheerful face! Chen, you're so cute!

I'll give you a hug in a moment, just let me just put down this stone apple... wait, oh no, Chen!

"Chen, STOP!"

"Huh? Ran?" Chen stopped in her tracks, staring at me with a puzzled expression.

"Get away! Don't come any closer!"

"Ran? What's wrong?" She takes a few steps towards me.

"Nothing, just, stay back and don't touch me. Stay at least three feet away from me!"

"Did I do something wrong? Ran, I'm sorry for whatever I did, please don't hate me..." Chen whimpers quietly.

Ow, my heart! Ah, those teary eyes, that worried face! I'm dying inside! She's shaking like a leaf! Yukari ordered me to keep this power a secret, but I wish I could just come out and say what's wrong...

"Chen, I'm sorry! You didn't do anything! It's just.... I'm...uh- sick! Yes, that's it, I'm sick. I caught a virus and I don't want you to catch it." I put on a calm, reassuring smile.

"You caught a virus? Oh no!" Chen's calmed down now, but she still looks worried for me.

"Yes, and since this virus was strong enough to infect me, it would be really bad if you were to catch it." I start coughing to emphasize my point. "Lady Yukari is bringing me some medicine, so until she gets back, please, stay away from the house for today."

Chen looks up at me with pleading eyes, "But, but, I can't just leave knowing you're sick and suffering all alone. Please, I'll be careful, let me help take care of you. Pleeease?"

Ah Cheeeeeen! You're such a good girl! And that face! As much as I want her to stay away for the day, Chen believes I am sick and is genuinely worried for me.

"I can't deny that face... Fine, you can help. But be REALLY careful. I don't know what I'd do if something were to happen to you."

Chen hops up and down ecstatically. "Yay! I can help! Do you need anything? What should I do?"


"Um, how about you go down to the village and buy us some dinner?" This way, Chen will be safe away from the house and can help take care of me at the same time.

"Okay! I'll get you your favorite, so take a nap and try to get better."

"Thank you. Bye Chen, stay safe!"

I wave goodbye until I hear her feet pitter-patter their way out the door. Finally, she's gone. That should keep her occupied for a couple hours. Time for some tea, then straight to bed. Or rather I would if I were actually sick. For a second there I was starting to believe my own lie. Though tea does sound good...

Hmm? Uh oh, I just accidentally turned the teapot to stone. Ugh, this power is gonna be a pain. Time to do some tests...


Okay, the flower turned to stone when I touched it, but the soil and the plant pot did not. When I put my hands in my sleeves and picked up the pot, neither my sleeves nor the pot turned to stone, but when my tails brushed up against the pot, it turned to stone. From these two tests, I have come to the conclusion that only direct contact with my body, my tails, or my hair activates my power. Items loosely connected to the one turning the stone will not turn to stone, so while the petals of the flower did change, the dirt it was rooted in did not. For some reason, none of the items of clothing I am currently wearing have turned to stone. I can only hypothesize that this is because they were already in contact with my body before I acquired my new ability. Further tests show that once an object is turned to stone, or is already made of stone of similar makeup to what my powers would change it into, said object is immune to any further changes, like the already-transformed flower or the pebbles lining the inside of the pot.

"Hey, didn't I tell you not to turn anything into stone?"

Wha-? Yukari? I look behind me and I see her upper half leaning out of a gap. She winks at me and I bow my head.

"I'm sorry Lady Yukari, I have no excuse."

"You'll receive punishment later. For now, I have to tell you that the patch for the new program may take longer to code than I said. It's giving me some trouble, but I'll probably have it done by tomorrow morning. I can see you have trouble keeping your hands off of things, so I'm changing my orders: you are now allowed to turn things to stone, just don't touch anything expensive, okay?"

"Lady Yukari, can I please tell Chen about this? Right now she believes I caught a virus, but I don't know how long I can keep this up for."

"Virus huh? That's a good excuse, you should just keep going with that. If she finds out, she'll tell her friends about it, and those brats will blab to everyone else, so just keep quiet and everything will turn out fine. I trust you can do this, yes?" She raises an eyebrow at me. I guess I have no choice.

I bow, "Yes, Lady Yukari..."

Satisfied, Yukari retreats into the gap.

For a moment, the room is silent until the front door crashes open and Chen makes her way in, parcel in tow.

"Ran! I'm back! Guess what I brought? It's fried tofu!" Chen holds up the dish and presents it.

I try to look as refined as one can be with puddle saliva forming on the ground in front of me.

"Thank you Chen, I really appreciate it, but I'm afraid I'm feeling too sick right now to eat anything." As much as I want to enjoy eating fried tofu with my favorite shikigami, with the way my power is now, I'd only end up chipping a tooth. "You should go ahead and eat without me."

"Are you okay? Did you get any rest while I was gone?"

"Yes, I'm fine. Please, eat. Tell me about your day."

We sit down at the table and start our usual pleasant conversation. Apparently Marisa discovered a new type of mushroom and was giving them away to show off their medicinal properties or something. Chen even brought one for me to help me get better, but I seriously don't think it's safe for any kind of consumption. For one, it's pretty feisty for a mushroom; when I went to smell it, the damn thing nearly bit my nose off.

"Then Reimu smacked her over the head and- huh? What happened to that flower?" Chen pauses for a moment, her gaze fixed somewhere behind me.

I turn around and freeze when I realize she's staring at the stone flower I had tested my new ability on. I probably should have hidden that somewhere...

"Doesn't it look weird and grey?" Chen squints as she peers at it.

"Huh!? It looks fine to me! Must be the lighting in here!"

Chen walks over to the plant and struggles with it a bit as she picks it up.

"Woah! It's heavy! What is this? Is this a statue?"

"Statue!? Uh... yes! Yes, I forgot to tell you! I carved a statue that looks exactly like the flower that used to be there! And I didn't tell you because... because I didn't want to let you know the flower had died! Yes, sorry Chen, I know you really loved that flower."

"You did that for me? Oh Ran, thankyou thankyou thankyou! I love it! It's amazing how real it looks. It's almost as if the flower itself had been turned to stone."


"Turned to stone!? Hahaha that's silly, you're such a silly girl, Chen! Hey! Tell me more about Marisa's mushroom, huh?"

"Ran, you're acting kinda funny. Are you feeling okay?"

"Me? Acting funny? Nonono!" I say that, but the sweat building up on my brow and the fact I haven't been able to look Chen straight in the eyes for a while now tells a different story. " ... Actually... yes. I guess my sickness is getting to me. I should turn in early for the night. I'm just going to head to my room, don't forget to put up the protective seals on the doors before you go to bed, okay? Goodnight Chen!"

I quickly make my exit, making sure to keep my tails close to my body so as not to brush up against anything.

"Goodnight Ran..."


I guess the sooner I go to bed, the faster the night goes by. I'll wake up tomorrow, Yukari will bring me the patch, and everything will go back to normal. No more turning things to stone, no more lies. Well, no more lies after I explain why I slept all night in my daytime clothes. Or why my pillow, futon, and blanket are all made of stone.

Now, that might sound extremely uncomfortable to sleep in, and you would be right: the blanket is weighing down on my chest, it's cold, and my pillow has absolutely no give to it. Yet somehow, through sheer determination (and exhaustion) I'm able to relax enough to drift off to sleep.


Zzzz... huh...? What's that? Someone's coming in?

Yukari? Yukari, is that you? I don't want to get up yet, please, five more minutes...

Oh, it's you Chen. What's that? You made me breakfast in bed? Oh Chen, thank you, I love you so much! Oh? You love me too? Oh Chen, that makes me so happy to hear!

Chen? What are you doing? No, Chen, don't kiss me! I'm sick, remember? Chen, please, stay back! No, no!

Chen, you've turned grey, you're so cold! Chen, please get up! Chen, please speak to me, say something!

Nooooo! I shouldn't have lied to you! I should have told you the truth! Chen! CHEEEEEEEEEN!!




Oh, thank heavens! It was only a dream. I wipe tears off of my face with my sleeve.

Still, my heart won't calm itself. I've got to check on Chen. Oof, this stone blanket is heavy...

I stealthily sneak my way into Chen's room. My heart finally calms itself as I see her dozing. She looks so peaceful. As innocent as an angel. Her ear even twitches a bit. I turn to make my way back to bed, when something in the shadows catches my attention.

Sitting in the corner of the room was the mushroom that Chen showed me earlier. It looks like it's been doing some serious growing since I last saw it, it's damn near the size of a full-grown wolf now! And speaking of wolves, my, what big teeth it has!

Huh? Is it growling? What's it growling at? At me? No? Then what... wait, oh no!

"Chen! Look out!"

"-what?" She starts to sit up, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.

There's no time, that thing is getting ready to pounce! (How the heck does a mushroom pounce!?)

I leap at the mushroom, tackling it to the ground. It sinks its teeth into my arm, piercing the fabric of my sleeve. From where it bit me, I can see the mushroom turn greyer and it looks like it's starting to slow down. I pull my arm away, its teeth break off still embedded in my arm. I pull the blood-stained chunks of stone out and put pressure against the wound.

"Ran! Ran, are you hurt!?" In a flash, Chen climbs up out of bed and starts crawling towards me.

"No, Chen, stay back!"

"Ran?" She looks terrified.

"Chen," I sigh, "I'm sorry. I should have told you earlier.

"Did you see how this mushroom has turned to stone?" She nods. "Lady Yukari gave me a new power that lets me petrify anything I touch. I wanted to tell you, but I was ordered to keep it a secret. I was only pretending to be sick to prevent you from touching me.

"You were worried for me and took care of me even though I wasn't really sick. If I hadn't lied to you, you would have never brought this mushroom home and end up in danger like this. This is all my fault. So again, I'm sorry Chen. Can you ever forgive me?"

"Ran, of course I forgive you! I understand. You were only trying to protect me. I was the one who brought the mushroom home. You did nothing wrong. Besides, I know just how important it is to follow Lady Yukari's orders. And don't worry, I won't tell anybody about this, I promise! Not even Lady Yukari!"

"Chen..." I stare at her, awestruck. Ah, Chen, you're such a good girl!

"C'mon Chen, let's get everything cleaned up before Lady Yukari gets home."

"Mind if I lend a hand?" I yelp as Yukari's hand reaches out from behind me and grabs me on the shoulder.

"Wha-? Lady Yukari! How... how long have you been listening?"

"Long enough. Lucky for you, you don't have to keep it a secret anymore. Here, I have something for you." Yukari reaches into a gap and pulls out a meat bun. "In the end, I determined that even if I were to create a patch for controlling the program, your operating system is just incompatible with petrification abilities. Now, if you were a cold-blooded shikigami, like a snake or a lizard, it would be a different story, but as you are now, it's impossible for you to ever control this power. That's what I get for buying cheap knockoffs from the Scarlet Devil mansion..." The annoyed look on her face tells me that a certain magician is going to get an earful when we're done here. "Anyways, just eat this and it will wipe the program from your system."

She hands the meat bun to me and it quickly turns into a stone bun.

"Uh... Lady Yukari?" How the heck am I supposed to...

"Here, smash it with this hammer." She drops a hammer into my hand, making sure only the handle touches my skin. "Swallow every single piece or it won't work. Consider it your punishment."

Chen gives me a determined look, "You can do it, Ran!" Thanks Chen, I'll give you a big hug soon as I finish this.

Well, at least it won't be spicy this time.
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Wonderful Numbers
Something was near.
He couldn't see what it was yet. Leaves didn't rustle more than usually and there were no unexpected movements in the corner of his eyes, but there was a faint hint of unmistakable awareness in the air. He didn't know what the other being was, but it didn't matter. No matter the size of an interloper, the intent of a forest creature walking by or the amount of danger that anything could pose, something was there, so his body changed accordingly.

There were no different levels of change. Over the course of the years, the... beast he transformed into looked more and more threatening, gaining traits from many a predator who had stumbled upon him, as was his nature. While his entire body rapidly grew to a monstrous size, razor sharp teeth sprang from his widening maw and two imposing tusks started to form at the sides. His skin tightened, so that rippling muscles revealed itself to any who looked upon him. Horns sprouted from his forehead, towering above the lower branches of the leaf-roof while claws extended from his forearm, ready to tear apart anything that threatened him.

As the transformation came to its end, he spotted something looking at him a good distance away, nearing his beloved home. The creatures attention was however undoubtedly drawn but the noises his growth made. He straightened his body, making himself as tall as possible, and let out a bestial roar...

He was lost. Hopelessly lost.
He shouldn't have gone into the forest, heck, he should not have gone near the forest, but with only two days left to pay the colossal debt, there were only three options left. Pay with his life, give up the farm or pay in rare goods... Youkai...
His life was obviously out, and when you only have one option, you have no choice, as his late father used to say.

Of course he ran at the sight of the first youkai he encountered, he was no warrior, he was a goddamn farmer! He ran into the woods, accepting the temporary safety the trees offered in return for his way home, losing all sense of direction in the endlessly twisting forest. Of course he couldn't just run in a straight line, of course he couldn't keep track of cardinal directions and of course he couldn't just have brought a damn compass before he set foot outside of the familiar grounds of the family farm. Now he'd been searching for a while, until he saw what looked like a beautifully bright glade in the otherwise dark forest. He decided to rest there for a bit and try to discern his whereabou-


WHAT WAS THAT? Trees were creaking as if a huge youkai was trampling through the forest. And it was close. Very, very close. He turned to his right to see... what could only be called a monster. He'd seen youkai before. Some came to the village to shop, some youkai tried to take food from the village in different ways and then there were those who thought the village was the food. But never had he seen something that could be compared to the likes of this.

Primal fear swelled up in his chest, there was no doubt the monster spotted him, as it turned his gaze towards him, looking more dangerous than he thought the entirety of Gensokyo to be.
His body was in shock, the paralyzing fear keeping him in place. He knew he had to turn around, run, run and never stop, run and run until he got out of this place. It did not matter where to, as he had already found the worst this place could possibly have to offer. If only his body hadn't betrayed himself, if only he could tell his body there was no time to panic, if only-

A deafening roar.
He ran, and never looked back.

The creature ran. He could smell the panic it felt from this distance, so he knew he did not have to feign a chase. The creature would never return, his home remained untouched and he would live. Slowly, the ground came closer, as his body rapidly shrunk. There was nothing that could disturb the peace, so there was no need for appearances.

Tender fingers reached for the berries from a nearby brush. It got roughed up a good bit by the transformation he had undergone and the monster he had become. But it was still in a good shape, and the harvest would be good this year. As it always has been.

To be continued if it doesn't generate too much discontent, and (,and I only dare dream) maybe someone shows interest.
Of course, that's not for this contest.
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