I should check more, but I had to make a decision. This is fine.
Laugh. Think. Believe the ideas created. Life can flourish on its own. But it needs to exist with life to do so.
Even with that white hair. Even with those eyes that will see everything in an eternity. I could stop. Like my footsteps. Just. Like. This. Or maybe, pause, do something different, defying what is considered logic. Defying “logic” and “reason”, as defined by others. Or whatever it is that's the argument. Or criticism. No, this is just a bit of my venting on something unrelated to her now. And even that wouldn't be right. Yes, this is pitiful. But what's important isn't the intention, but the existence of understanding the meaning behind two thoughts. Two thoughts. Right. Now I'm just exaggerating.
But really. If someone's annoyed by a bit of bamboo and can't observe the forest, then I don't quite understand it. But I suppose I see her annoyance the same way, on a tangent direction.
Someone might have noticed by now. But I can afford the time. I know, without certainty, that I will be able to escape. And even if I get caught somehow, there are no consequences for me. No. I'm not some almighty existence that defies the logic of power. I am not magically resistant and capable to overcome every challenge I face. Especially not in Gensokyo.
“I'm not lost.”
I hope that's all I need to say.
Even though her hands don't come out of her pockets, I know I've caught Mokou's attention.
“A human from the outside? Are you new? Follow me.”
...Or maybe not. Looking like a human peasant from the village would've helped, but even that disguise would probably fail.
I thought I was being as clear as I could.
“I'm here for you.”
I'd say her name, but anyone could probably figure it out with some research. So less words, more focus. I realize that this might place a target on my chest, but I'm not worried about that. If I was facing Satori, or Yukari, or even Remilia, maybe I'd be a bit concerned. Not because they're strong, but because their method of information gathering would be troublesome. This outcome is good enough. A clash of eternity. Immortality. The state of being unable to die. It has to be Mokou. It could have been Eirin. It could have been Kaguya. But Mokou is most relevant to me right now.
So what do I want? What do I say?
“...Looking for a fight?” Mokou says, a flame burning in her hand.
It's a half-truth. Would that make someone angry? No, I'm giving everyone credit, because I know they're capable of understanding. Well, the more important part is to make sure I don't make a mistake. Considering what I'm here to do.
“I'm here to send a message. But I'm also here for my own reasons. ”
My fingers flick the inside of my palm, and my own flame burns in my hand.
Mokou blinks. But now she's looking into me.
I caught her attention.
“And?” She says. “For what reason would a kid look for someone like me?”
“Actually, you can consider me your senior.” I shoot back with a laugh.
Alright, I'll admit. Mokou looks cute when her eyes widen, even if just by an inch. Maybe because I share that sympathy. When Mokou closes her eyes, the flame in her hand burns brighter.
“I need you to understand,” I continue to explain myself, “as someone who lives for...no, lasts....No.” I can't find the words. “As someone who `possesses` eternity, is the best way I can put it.”
“Then what does that make you?” The edge in Mokou's eyes sharpen.
I take a moment to consider my next words.
“I consider myself a human.”
Ugh. Now I know what it feels like. What's in her eyes? Distrust? Hate? I can only wait for her turn. And when she acts....
“So you want me to kill you, is that it?”
I muster my best impression of a cocky laugh, preparing for the inevitable.
“You can't kill me.”
A large flame tides in my direction. Raising my arm, I brace for the heat.
Hot! HOT! It's still hot! But, I'm not lying. No matter who wants to bring me down, I'll stay as long as I can. Well, if someone asks me to leave, I will. But I won't stop trying to live. Even though that's something I don't need to try to do, whether I like it or not. For anyone who names themselves my enemy, it's not like I can hate them, either.
But I won't stay silent while obvious criticism goes unsaid.
“A phoenix?” I laugh, looking up at the wings of fire behind Mokou's back. “Is that what you decided to use after you left your life behind? Left your father behind?”
Okay, yes. That's a low blow. But I get the desired reaction.
But this time, I fling them away with my hand.
I'm sorry, bamboo forest.
“Are you going to fight or not?” Mokou tries to change the subject.
I dig at the information in my brain.
“What?” I lament my inability to fly. Some example I am, insert sarcastic tone here for clarity. “Ah, did you decide that you didn't care about your family anymore? Your, quote unquote, past life? I guess you also think an eternity is a curse?”
I don't actually want her to hate me. But poking at negatives, if not the truth of the matter, tends to upset people. I suppose my made-up smart-ass tone doesn't help. But I need the emphasis. Mokou's gone into the point of angered silence, or I think that's where she's gone. She's shooting fire at me (and the poor bamboo forest) without stopping. She could probably send a wave to devour me, but that would lower the concentration of heat. To explain it simply, Mokou probably realizes that I can resist temperatures that low.
“Is that why you keep on fighting Kaguya?” I keep poking, fending off the flames. “Are you afraid of the loneliness? Does it put you in despair, thinking about the future?”
Notice I'm not actually attacking. Well, physically. No, I think I'll keep talking.
I get ready for fury with my stinger.
“Thinking an eternity is a bad thing, I think you're an idiot.”
A flame smacks me in the face.
Attacks keep coming, but I manage to fend those off, at least. Well, I didn't expect Mokou to suddenly say something like “What do you know?!” She's probably wiser than that. I think.
But if she wasn't annoyed or angry, why are her attacks getting fiercer?
I search for another opening. A quicker one.
“Maybe you think that, because you killed that guy for it.”
The attacks stop.
...Ugh. I hate getting glared at. Not because it makes me mad, but because it makes me feel like shit.
“You made what you thought was a...well,” I correct my own stupidity, “it was a mistake for what it was. But you got immortality, and then you were alone.”
Unseent fury is scarier than actually seeing it on someone's face. Or deep hate at someone who tries to look for problems where there might not be any.
But then I give her the opportunity to flip the situation to her side.
“I suppose I don't really understand,” I scratch my head, “considering I haven't lived anywhere close to a thousand years. Or even half a century.”
Yes, that's right. But I didn't lie with anything I said before. Of course, Mokou wouldn't know this, nor would she trust me. Well, human or not, there's no misunderstanding the twist in someone's face when they believe how stupid they think the other person is.
“Hmph. Just a kid who doesn't know what he's talking about.”
Dismissal. That's a normal response, I guess. The difference is, she's actually still wrong.
Let's open the floor, shall we?
“No,” I sniff at the burning ash around me, “I said I was your senior. That much is true.”
“You've lived nowhere as long as I have.” Mokou floats down. “When you haven't experienced actual suffering, you have no weight to judge others.”
And now we're in this argument. She's right, but it's not like I was judging her.
“You're right.” Is all I can repeat in words.
There's no point in fighting her, either. What would that do for me? What would that imply? Just a sense of “might makes right”? No, that wouldn't make any sense. I don't need superiority. I won't argue against someone who thinks they're right, unless I'm sure, or actually questioning, the validity of their argument.
It's okay to be wrong. I know that for myself.
“But that doesn't mean I'm completely wrong.”
I glance up at Mokou.
In another possibility, I may have fallen in love. What did she look like in person when she wasn't immortal? What did it feel like, living for centuries alone? How similar will I be to her in a thousand years? I would want to make her happy, to protect her. To stand with her sharing immortality, despite the difference in our natures. Ha. Well, that would be imposing my view of her, onto her. But that doesn't mean Mokou isn't attractive to me. That also doesn't make her that special. It's just a truth. Someone who's withstood life, filled with life, and living and not just being alive. She might have faults. Everyone has them, even if that fault is to not have any. But I still find admiration all the same.
Alright, let's step back though. I do have my material preferences too, despite what I am. Like where did Mokou get her pants? That bow? Those seal things on her clothes? I'm breaking the mood a bit, but I feel it's important. By the way, what did I look like to her? I can't exactly describe what I looked like. Who would? Not even an expression or an action. Especially when lost in thought, I don't think anyone would notice their unconscious movements. Not unless you're trying to trick someone.
Mokou puts an end to the silent period of contemplation.
“By the way,” She takes a step toward me, “who are you?”
As in, “What's my name?” I don't want to think she's prying to scope me out. But regardless, I was going to use this name for this occasion.
“Jakou Renri. That's what I'm saying now, but it's not my real name. It's not like my real name is a secret.” I get out as soon as possible. “There's a reason.”
Mokou's eyes pause for a moment. My rushed words might be too telling, but I respect her too much to leave it as an obvious lie.
“Then, Renri, let me ask something else. Where did you come from?”
I let out a disapproving hum.
“What?” Mokou places her hands in her pockets. “You get to know who I am, but I don't get to know who you are?”
“That's not it.”
“Then what is it? It's rude for a man to hide more than a woman does.”
Really? Mokou, of all people, is pulling this card? I mean, I suppose I can understand, but....I suppose it's fine. Call this exposition. I believe in the natural flow. If this is natural. Hell, who would know what's natural?
“Technically, I'm from the outside world.”
Mostly because I'm unsure. Partly because it can't be verified. And that I don't want to verify it.
“Put it this way,” I try to make my answer simple, “I'm not from Gensokyo. For sure.”
Mokou gives me a look. Unsure? Distrusting? No, not quite either. Skeptical is close, but that's all I can describe the way her eyebrows move. I'm definitely not a product of, or a person who was born in, Gensokyo. But I don't consider the Outside World my point of origin, either. And I'm not someone who's reaching through boundaries or crossing through to Gensokyo, either. Maybe saying “from the outside world” was a bit misleading. I'm not picky about details, but if someone wants them, I try to provide important information. Or, in other words, I don't provide information that does nothing for anyone. Although, if there's anything that can be said about that, then it's quite difficult for a piece of information to be meaningless. Someone can always glean something, whether it's a thought, or a visual, or an emotion. Or anything, really. I guess it's more important to say that someone shouldn't be misled by my words. So when Mokou stares at the ground, I assume she's thinking about my initial answer to her question.
“Don't think too hard about it.” I wave a hand. “It's not that important. Definitely not as much as the name I'm using.” I make sure to add.
“Hmph. Fine by me.”
Mokou starts walking away. I start walking behind her to the side.
“You still have business with me?” Mokou glances over, her face not quite visible to me.
“Well. Yeah. Considering I never got to do what I came to do.”
“I thought you did.”
“No.” I think back. “All that really happened is that you attacked me after I said a bit too much.”
What a shitty thing for me to say. “A bit too much”, that is. Call it consideration for the person I'm talking to. That doesn't get through to anyone normally, but isn't that supposed to be there? I guess I treat everything too realistically.
“Ah. That's right.”
Mokou starts walking away again.
Okay, so I went too far. I think so.
“I just wanted to personally witness your life.”
“Then why don't you go bother the lady of this forest? She lives not too far from here.”
Is she baiting me? Or is she really asking?
“I could. In fact, I could really kill her, her assistant, or you, if I had the chance.”
Mokou stops, her body bobbing forward and back to halt her momentum. Before she can speak, I cut in.
“You guys could probably stop me before I even tried, and I don't plan on doing something like that.”
“What you're saying. Is it true?”
An ice cold ball of iron seems to drop in my gut.
I'm not afraid of death. Maybe of the unknown. And certainly any pain that comes with it. I'd guess even Mokou would rather avoid enduring pain if she could avoid it. But what I'm afraid of, if I could “die”, is the loss of potential. Granted, returning to life itself isn't such a bad thing. But despite all the crap that happens, there's some good to look forward to doing and experiencing, as well. And certainly, in Gensokyo, death isn't so much a bad thing (unless you're judged otherwise). But if reincarnation or other similar “afterlifes” don't exist, if an “eternal oblivion” awaits...I'd be sad. Well, that's another conversation entirely, one that I used to think had a certain theory. And that's outside the confines of what Mokou expects.
And she speaks.
“Do you think you could kill Kaguya?”
The way she chuckles. She's probably joking. Probably. If Kaguya isn't really a friend, then maybe she does have revenge on her mind. Sure, a lot of time's passed, but....
“Ah, that'd be too troublesome.” Mokou says somewhat loudly. “You said you'd have trouble, right? Then forget it. I'm the one who wants to kill her anyway.”
...Yeah. That's right. I'm not deluding myself, it's the likely truth. If the day does come that Mokou has the chance, if that is her goal...she'd do it. How could anyone else deny her? Unless I'm totally misunderstanding, which is a likely possibility. A lack of experience does that much to me.
“By the way.”
Mokou looks over at me while we're walking.
“How would you do it?”
“Well, despite what I am,” I skip around my nature, “I can take away someone's life.”
“Explain it to me.”
On the outside, her eyes are just as dull and uncaring. But there's a light in them. Or at least I feel there is. Is it interest? Is it curiosity? Does she believe me?
“Well, I mean,” I start to try, “you drank the elixir, right? I don't think I'd ever understand the elixir itself. But as someone who watches over life, I can—in simple terms—take it away. I wouldn't `kill` you, but take away `the life that possesses immortality`.”
“And that's enough to kill someone like me?” Mokou glances around the bamboo forest.
“No. Then I'd have to kill you physically, just like I'd have to kill anyone. Stab them. Burn them. Old age. The usual. Well, if I was interested in doing any of that.”
“Yeah, but how do you do it? The first part?”
“That's like explaining how you can revive after being burned into nothing.”
“Doesn't matter, I find you interesting. So go on. It can't be any harder than trying to understand what Kaguya did.”
Whoa. Me, interesting? There's a warm, fuzzy feeling in my chest.
“Well,” I take a breath to think, “first, I'd have to weaken you. Probably by actually fighting you, without actually killing you. It makes it easier to take away your immortality.”
“And if you get that far?”
“Then, I start manipulating your life. There's not exactly a physical equivalent. Just like you can't exactly see your immortality and how it affects you, I can't see how I'm taking it away. If I could explain a visual representation, it'd be as follows.”
I start walking beside Mokou, motioning with my hands.
“Say your body gets torn apart by Kaguya's magic. Your immortality would proceed to restore your body, maybe by gathering the...uh, `energy`,” I avoid any scientific terms, “in the air to do so. If your immortality had a form, it might be an aura that works with the physical world to heal you. I can't exactly destroy that aura, much like nothing in this world is ever really removed from existence. Instead, I would drain your immortality, the `aura`, and revert it to energy for my use. Of course, that's not what would kill you. And when you die, I can't interact with your immortality. So I have to do it when you're alive, but weak enough for me to take it from you. Then I would, if I wanted to, kill you. Then,” I repeat over my words, “you'd die for real. Or at least, as real as it is here in Gensokyo.”
I have to admit. When I decided to confront Mokou, I never thought I'd be explaining what I can do to her in this much detail. I'm probably naive for doing so, if she's planning to kill me. Again, I can't die. But it's the intent I'm keeping in mind, as much as I want to believe Mokou's not...that bad of a person. If she's bad at all. This does make me wonder, though.
“Did you...?” I speak with my thoughts. “Were you wondering if...you wanted to be normal again?”
I avoid saying “human”. I consider Mokou to be “a human with immortality”, one who lives for an eternity. But Mokou stops walking.
“Did I ever say that?” Her shoulders rise and fall, her hands still in her pockets. “And how could I die without killing Kaguya first?”
“Oh. That makes sense.”
“And besides, that would be disrespectful.”
Mokou says that somewhat quietly. But I think about her past. The same past I criticized as she was attacking me. And I think I can understand somewhat, if it's what I'm thinking of. I want to hope I can. I shouldn't pry too much, but if I don't try to understand Mokou, then what's the point of watching over life? I'd just be indulging myself for my own ego. Assuming I know how the other person feels. Or maybe just leaving someone the way they are. I think the act of trying to help someone is ultimately a selfish endeavor. But I still want to try. I still want to know more. So I have to think and make assumptions. Observe and act upon the information I process. And if I'm wrong, I'm wrong.
“To people in the past?” I take a guess.
“Maybe?” Mokou answers while shrugging. “There's a lot I'd need to do before I even think about dying.”
“Yeah, dying's serious business.” I answer with my own shrug.
We walk in silence for a moment, before Mokou brings up another question.
“So,” I notice her head turn my way, “you said you wanted to `witness my life`? What does that mean?”
My hands go into my pockets. “It's a loaded phrase. In general, I just wanted to know more about you. So I want to watch over your life, for what that means.”
A unsatisfied grunt comes out of Mokou.
“So you're interested in me? Is that it?” She laughs at me.
Yes. At me. That's the best way to put it, right? After taking a second to calm down, I respond.
“Well, you definitely didn't disappoint. You're a lot more...you're nicer than other people I could go see. Not that any other choice would be bad, but....Yes.” I catch her glance and return my own. “You're interesting to me. So I wanted to see your `life`.”
“What's so interesting about watching over the life of an immortal?” Mokou speaks out with a spot of irritation. “Even if you're similar, what else is there? Being unable to die, having to watch others die around you. Why is that a good thing?”
She doesn't say anything after. The two of us continue to walk through the bamboo forest.
Yes, her life is interesting. I don't think there's a bad “life”. The same to say, I don't think anyone is a bad person. And even for anyone who is by society's standards, I can't say I wouldn't understand if someone decided to share their reasons. Or if I knew the true reason behind one's motive, for those who've lost their way. Those are their thoughts. Their opinions, their criticism. Yes, there are arguments and insults in places I can't hear. Yes, there are tragedies and atrocities in areas I can't always observe. But someone's thoughts? Hell, thoughts are something no one can know about, unless you have the ability to know about them. And even then, the mind isn't some secret diary of truth. To some, it might be. To me, it's more like an open war-zone. A page of a notebook for scraps. That's why I find “the power to read minds” or similar abilities not as great as they sound. That's why I find the act of judging one's thoughts to be somewhat absurd. Sure, if someone's playing a game, or fighting, or hiding a murder, it's useful to know how someone thinks. But to judge someone based on the way they think or form their thoughts? It's actions that are the heavier weight that should be judged. Like Shikieiki, who judges people based on her rules and their pasts. Or Reimu, who exterminates youkai with her powers if they commit incidents. An action weighs heavier than a thought because it's potential to change life is greater than that of a thought. It's usually a conscious commitment to fulfill one's thoughts rather than a whim that can be created in a moment's contemplation.
But even I won't judge that. How can I? I've sworn to watch over life. Even Mokou's, who lives hers because she's immortal. I prefer not to interfere and let life flourish by itself. Perhaps that's also why I can't stand watching life die out, in a figurative sense. But for life? Especially lives that are immortal? I would rather offer opportunity. Possibilities. A criticism that creates life, rather than gauging quality. If anything else, to prevent someone from giving up. There are always reasons for someone to stop doing something. But giving up on one's own volition? I refuse to do so, just as I refuse to accept the thought that Mokou would view eternity as a negative thing. To give up her immortal life. If even one person exists to support someone, then there's no reason to give up. Maybe I'm not the best at doing what I must, or continuing in a timely manner. But if there's life that exists, then I'll continue to live. If there's a response, then I will reply. Just as I spoke out on Mokou's life, even if I can't share most of her experiences.
I can see the clearing. Both of us stop, facing the end. The full sunlight gleaming through the bamboo, instead of the rays and beams shining through here and there. I first ask a question.
“Do you think death is the opposite of life?”
Mokou doesn't respond for a moment, and she doesn't move. Ten seconds and another breath passes before she takes her hands out of her pockets.
“That's a rhetorical question, isn't it?”
“Well, yeah, but I was curious if you had a confident answer to that question.” I shrug. Then, I continue. “If anything, death is an extension of life. Or rather,” I correct the misunderstanding phrase, “life contains death. I said the first part because the concept that `death is the end of life` is untrue.”
“Is this the start of your explanation?” Mokou mentions her question from earlier.
“It is. But it'd make less sense if I didn't explain this first.”
A breeze of wind conveniently passes in coincidence. Or maybe the refreshing gust gives my mind a second thought.
“Well, actually,” I sigh, “it's more like another detail to the answer. But it's not unimportant.” I glance over at Mokou, who does the same. “The answer is...your definition of life is incomplete.”
Mokou's eyebrows lower, her eyes narrowing in discontent.
“It's that, and your understanding of it.” I ease off with a laugh. “I'm not saying I do. No one does. It's just that, it makes no sense to ask for a reason when I'm willing to do it because I can.”
Mokou glares at me harder. “I don't get it.”
“You don't have to. In fact, I'm okay as long as you don't hate it.”
“Yeah,” Mokou jams her hands in her pockets again, “but what if I do?”
I feel my own happiness with a single laugh.
“Then just let me know and I'll stop. But you can't stop me from living my own life. Unless you want to stop me yourself?”
Mokou's stare remains hard. But I don't have any intention of analyzing that.
“I'd be okay with that,” I go on, “but it's not like I won't resist.”
Mokou stands without saying anything. So I continue to answer.
“As for the other points. For one, there doesn't need to be anything else. I just wanted to meet another person who doesn't die. The interaction is enough for me. Although I'm sorry if that's a bit too much.” I apologize.
Which is true. What's the saying, sometimes the simple answer is best? Well, it's not that it's the simple answer that's best. It's just that there sometimes isn't much else to what happened. Not that that's a good thing, either. There's definitely more. It's just that the intention of someone who does sometimes comes from something very simple and straightforward. Does it get more complex? Of course it does. I could discover more reasons for what I've done, or look into why I did what I did. That doesn't mean that I did it without any initial reason, though.
“As for the other after that,” I say after a moment of silence, “it's a good thing based on what we're talking about. If we're trying to kill each other, it's actually not. But if it's someone I want to share my thoughts with, or who I want to meet, I think it is if I just want to get to know them more. Or simply talk. Or was that also too much?” I apologize again.
I prepare the flame in my hand. Not for any ill intent.
Mokou notices, her eyes glancing downwards.
“No, I'm just preparing to leave.” I correct any possible misunderstanding. “I've done what I wanted to for the moment. Actually, I could stay. But for now, it's goodbye for the sake of saying goodbye, isn't it?”
I don't know if it's simply that she doesn't care, or if Mokou doesn't know what she wants to say. My optimism believes the latter, but my knowledge of Mokou's life believes the former. I wait for Mokou.
“Where are you going?” She glaces back at me.
My eyes shoot upwards, nowhere precise. “Somewhere. Depends on where I want to go.”
“The Outside World?”
With a shrug and closed eyes, I can only answer one way.
“I guess you could say that.”
It's not true, but for simplicity's sake, we'll stick with that. After another moment, Mokou hangs her head a bit.
“Well, just let me know if you want to meet Kaguya. I'd like to see you scare her.”
“If I do that, I might get hunted down. I don't want to do that yet.”
A normal goodbye. Should I expect anything else out of a simple occurrence? Well, it's not like I know the state of Mokou's mind. Just another goodbye? Actual contemplation on who I am? Two extremes, but I'll never know. Not unless I did something absurd.
“Well, I'll see you if I see you.” I expand the flame, which engulfs my arm.
No, I'm not killing myself.
Mokou watches the flame travel over the rest of my body. All she does is nod.
Maybe she'll just walk away. Actually, that's what she would do. She'd look strange if she just stood there. She can think while walking back into the forest, or walking out and toward the village. All I know is that she keeps her crimson eyes on mine as I must seem to disappear before her eyes. A life that exists for life. If there isn't a reply, then there's no answer. I will never leave, unless someone tells me to leave. Would she understand? Well, I never talked to her about that, did I? But now that I think about it. That's what part of what makes her life interesting, isn't it? The way her life can flourish on its own like that.
I hope she got what I left behind.
Actually, I had something darker. But dark doesn't do anything for this.