I was furious. Seeing red. I had to get away and cool off. I stormed out of the village without looking where I was going.
Now I'm surrounded by sunflowers.
I take a deep breath. Don't panic. I haven't trod on any flowers, I'm sure of it. Just turn around, retrace my steps and I see red.
Instinctive terror freezes me in place, prey before predator. Red dress. Red eyes. Green hair. The mistress of flowers herself.
"Well, well. A rare guest. And from the village, no less."
She has a deep voice for a woman. Deceptively gentle. Her face draws near but her expression remains distant.
"Do you like flowers?"
She asked me a question. I have to speak. Please, gods, don't let me offend her.
It is the truth. For the sake of my life, at this moment, it is the absolute truth.
"Would you like to see more?"
She gestures at the path behind her. I dare not refuse.
"If you don't mind."
"Of course not."
We walk though the flower fields. Day after day, as if in a dream, my feet return me to the sunflowers. I never remember the journey. Only the flowers.
I learn their names. Their languages. Their likes and dislikes. Their greetings and partings, pleases and thank yous. Their mistress talks, they talk, and I listen.
Sometimes I talk. Mundane things, stories of my childhood. A corner of my mind tells me I shouldn't be spilling my life to mistress of flowers, but the words tumble out of my mouth unchecked.
Until one day she turns to me.
I blink, mind dull.
"For using you. For bringing you here time and again."
The brush of her fingertip against my forehead shocks me awake. The mistress of flowers looks at me with morose eyes.
"You don't need to come here anymore."
And then she's gone.
I look around. I'm on the edge of the flower fields. The sun is low in the west. The darkening sky, the lengthening shadows and the sound of my own foosteps pursue me as I hurry back to the village and safety.
...or so I thought.
"Still not listening, eh?"
Three men block my path. Two more cut off my retreat.
"It's no use. He's been bewitched."
"What? No!" I spin around, not sure who to face. "I'm fine now! I'm never going back there!"
"Too late for that, boy."
Suddenly I'm on the ground, facedown in the dirt. The back of my head throbs angrily.
I try to roll. One of them kicks me in the stomach.
I cry out, but all I manage is a gurgle.
Blows rain down on me.
The last thing I see is the mistress of flowers staring down at me with a disappointed frown.
* * *
A white ceiling. The scent of bamboo. The distant sound of a deer-scarer.
Warm, soft covers.
"Ah, you're awake."
I blink the sleep out of my eyes. The smiling face of Dr. Yagokoro comes into focus.
"Welcome back to the land of the living. How do you feel?"
I life my head and stare around the room.
"No residual pain or numbness?"
"Wiggle your toes for me? Excellent. As soon as the Hakurei gives you the all-clear, you'll be free to go."
I frown as her words sink in.
The doctor gives a small shrug and a professional smile.
"It's not every day that Kazami Yuuka of all people brings me a man on death's doorstep and all but begs me to save him, at her expense."
The doctor's reply is forestalled by the appearance of a disgruntled miko.
"Alright, where is he?"
The doctor steps aside as the red-white stomps to my bedside. I slide myself into a sitting position.
"Know who I am?"
I bow my head once.
"You are Hakurei Reimu."
"Good. This won't hurt a bit."
She puts a hand to my forehead and mutters under her breath. I catch snippets of prayer and names of gods I only vaguely understand.
"He was enthralled, but he's clean now. So clean I can't even be sure who did it."
"No residual damage?" the doctor asks.
"Nothing that wasn't there before a youkai messed with it. Now, about my fee...?"
"Yes, of course. Udonge!"
A rabbit girl leads the priestess away. The doctor turns to me.
"Well then. You are in perfect health, young man. As soon as you feel up to it, you can go home."
Home is exactly how I left it. It's almost as if I've been woken from a nightmare. The days tick by as if my ill-fated walk never happened.
Occasionally I spy the men who ambushed me around the village. They avoid me. The one and only time I try calling out, they flee as if for their lives.
That tells me all I need to know.
And so it is that I, of my own free will, set out from the village, on the path leading to the Garden of the Sun.
The flowers greet me like an old friend. They're all too happy to give me the directions I ask for.
I come to her house. It's surprisingly quaint, a cozy little stone cottage with flowers growing on the roof.
Around the back, sitting at a table drinking tea, I find the lady herself.
She frowns when she catches sight of me.
"I told you, you don't need to come here anymore."
I fight down my fear and open my mouth.
"You never asked."
I take a brave step forward.
"All those times you brought me here, you never asked... if I wanted to be here."
Slowly, Yuuka sets down her cup.
And then, for the first time since I've known her, she smiles.
Message in a Bottle (1/2)Anonymous2018/09/09 (Sun) 10:46No. 2204▼
I roll over in bed. Oh gods I think I'm gonna barf. I need booze.
My hand gropes at empty air. There's no booze.
Why is there no booze.
I groan like the living dead and heave my carcass upright.
Byakuren motherfucking Hijiri, smiling like the motherfucking Buddha himself.
I flop back down.
"Go 'way," I manage to slur. Can't words. Been too long.
"Because you've wallowed in self-pity long enough."
I flip my sheet.
"Fug pity. Mine and yers."
I struggle to my feet. Can't balance. Not drunk enough.
Got a cure for that.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
I ignore her and fling open a cupboard. Booze get. I take a big swig -
- and double over in agony as my stomach fucking folds in half.
After a solid minute of puking my guts, my life and my soul all over my poor, mistreated floor, I finally manage to breathe again.
"Whad. You. Do." I rasp.
"I made you allergic to alcohol."
I'mma kill 'er.
"It's for your own good."
She catches my wild swing like it was nothing, then adds insult to injury by petting me on the head.
"You can't go on living like this."
"Then kill me."
I slump against her, all the fight draining out of me.
"Please. Kill me."
"It's not your time yet," she murmurs.
Fuck you, fuck the horse you rode in on and fuck your godsdamned headpets, why do they feel so good.
Hijiri lifts me into a sitting position and smiles like only a mother can.
"Come see me on the surface. I'll be waiting for you."
She leaves. It's another hour before I gather the strength to follow.
Clothes. Clean enough. Towel. No, scratch that, smells of puke. Out of soap. Tub's busted.
Bathhouse it is.
"Hey hey, look who it is!"
Gods fucking dammit Yuugi not the back holy fuck how many times do I have to tell you -
"Oho, hangover? Here, have some hair of the dog!"
Wait no AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK OW SHIT FUCK
"Whoa, hey, what happened to you?"
Well whoop-de-doo, Suika's here too.
"Hijiri," I spit. "She cursed me. I can't drink booze."
"...oh no. No, no, no, no."
Yuugi cracks her knuckles. It sounds like a fucking avalanche.
"One monk smoothie, comin' riiiight up!"
Suika rolls her shoulder, already winding up to punch a bitch.
"Guys, cool it. She's mine."
"...sure you don't want some help?" Suika asks hopefully.
"I'm sure... but hey, if I don't come back, she's all yours."
The two oni grin like oni.
"We'll be there," Suika promises.
"Go get 'em, tiger!" Yuugi cheers.
A quick scrub, a short flight and a passing "fuck you" to the bridgekeeper later, I step out into the sunlight. Fuck that shit is bright. I shield my face with a wing until the big white blur becomes a big blue and green blur.
The sun glares down at me from a cloudless sky, mocking my pasty ass for hiding underground for so long.
Yeah, well, fuck you too.
With a deep breath, a crouch, and a powerful wingbeat, I launch myself into the heavens.
Gods, but it's been a while. Gensoukyou hasn't changed a bit. Misty Lake. The Scarlet mansion. Youkai Mountain. The Forest of Magic. The Human Village...s.
Hold the hell up.
There are two villages. One where I remember it, and another on the edge of the Forest of Magic. Like, right on the edge. I think they might have even cleared some of it. It's not a small place, either - it's got posh mansions, a bustling marketplace, towering walls, the works. After a bit of searching I even spot Kourindou.
Kourin has neighbours.
My curiosity gets the better of me. I change course and swoop down in front of one of the two gates - the one facing the old village. It's wide open and people are coming and going like nothing is out of the ordinary. I make myself as presentable as possible under the circumstances and wander inside.
There's a whole lotta youkai here. That's the first thing that sticks out. They're all goin' about their business openly, showing their natures in plain sight. Damn near all the shops seem to be run by them. But the humans don't give a crap. They all look right at home. Hell, I think a couple of 'em are flirting.
I recognise a few of the shops besides Kourindou, too. Double Dango. Hichiko's. The Headless Horseman. Stormy Sky Smithy. Suzunaan.
...oh hell. They didn't kick the Motooris out too, did they? Damn. That must've hurt.
I jerk to a stop and spin around. A certain animated umbrella waves me down, beaming from ear to ear.
"...Kogasa?" I hazard.
"What, have I changed that much?"
"No, just... kinda forgot your name. Been a while."
Not to say she hasn't changed. Girl's obviously moved up in the world. She's lost the tongue and shit, pimped out her dress and carries herself with confidence. Everything about her looks brand new.
Her smile softens. "That's okay. It's good to see you again!"
"Er, likewise." I fiddle with my dress self-consciously. I look like a fucking hobo next to her. "So, uh, new village?"
Kogasa blinks. "Wow, it really has been a while! Welcome to the Tsukumogami Village!"
"Tsukumogami Village? You guys built all this?"
"Yup! Well, um, not me personally. It was Raiko's idea and Kokoro that made it happen. But lots of other people joined in! Mostly tsukumogami, but there are some other human-friendly youkai living here too."
"And humans," I observe.
"Sort of. None of them actually live here, but they're welcome anytime, and we guarantee their safety just like the Human Village!" She glances at me. "...and I'm one of the people who're supposed to be enforcing that, so, um, no attacking anyone please."
I turn away.
"...oh! U-um, I'm sorry, I didn't mean -"
After a moment's pause, I feel Kogasa's hand on my shoulder.
"It wasn't your fault," she says quietly.
"Yes it was," I whisper.
Kogasa puts her arm around me and just holds me until I stop sniffling.
"...you should go talk to Kokoro," she says.
"You'll see. Her place is down that way. You can't miss it."
I just can't say no to that smile.
It doesn't take me long to find Kokoro's place. Kogasa was right, you really can't miss it. It's fucking huge. Bigger than the Hieda residence. There's even great big fucking sign out the front: Hata Mansion.
Kokoro has her own mansion.
Feeling seriously underdressed, I knock. A few moments later someone opens a peephole in the gate.
"I'm, uh, I'm here to see Kokoro." Real smooth, mouth!
The hatch closes.
The gate opens.
"This way please."
The servant girl - who's better dressed than some aristocrats I've seen - leads me into the mansion. It's flashy. Seriously no-expense-spared screw-the-rules-I'm-fucking-rich flashy.
I can see my fucking face in the floorboards!
I feel like I'm making the place dirty just by looking at it. And by the looks the servant girl is giving me, so does she.
"Marisa Kirisame to see you, Mistress."
And here's the mask youkai herself. Surprisingly enough, she hasn't changed much. No bling, no upturned nose, no nothin'. Her clothes look expensive as hell - 'cause they kind of have to in a place this swanky - but she hasn't even changed her look.
Kokoro says nothing, but waves me toward the cushion opposite her.
"I've been waiting for you," she says at last.
"Really? Well, uh, sorry I'm late then."
"Actually, you're earlier than I was expecting. Byakuren only left this morning."
Oh, I see.
"So you're in on this." My voice is as hollow as my heart.
Kokoro shakes her head. "What Byakuren does is up to her and her alone. But she means well, as always."
"She should mind her own fucking business."
Kokoro pauses to offer me the cup of tea she just poured. I take it.
"It is her business."
"The fuck it -"
"Friendship between humans and youkai."
My jaw locks up. The cup creaks in my hand.
"It doesn't work," I hiss.
"That's not true."
"I killed her. My best friend's daughter." The tea's gone. My own face stares accusingly out of the shiny floor. "She trusted me. Said it didn't matter what I was. That we'd always be friends. I h-held her newborn k-kid in my arms... and I killed her."
"You made a mistake. We all do."
"I wasn't a mistake!" I bawl. "I promised I'd bring her home safe -"
"And you tried."
"- and I failed! I failed!" I cram my fists into my eye sockets, trying to gouge that expression of horror out of my memory. "I failed Reimu... I failed both of them."
"You failed at doing the right thing."
"I lead a FUCKING SIX YEAR OLD into the FUCKING FOREST OF MAGIC and watched her get FUCKING EATEN ALIVE." Suddenly I'm holding Kokoro by the collar. She doesn't give a flying fuck. "I told her mother I was taking her on a FUCKING WALK and came back with FUCKING CORPSE, and all I had to say for myself was 'I'm sorry!'" All my strength flows out of me. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry. I'm sorry..."
Kokoro says nothing, just hugs me and strokes my hair.
"I'm not the one you should be saying that to," Kokoro says softly.
I close my eyes. "She'll never forgive me."
"You don't know that."
"I'm the last person on Earth she wants to see again."
"How can you say that, if you never give her the chance?"
"She said she hated me."
"She was grief-stricken, Marisa. She's had a long time to think about it."
I open my eyes. Kokoro gazes down at me, still stroking my head as it rests in her lap.
"Yeah. Guess she has."
ACTUAL FACIAL EXPRESSION HOLY SHIT
"Feel up to facing her now?"
CODE RED MENREIKI SMILING THIS IS NOT A DRILL
"...I guess I shouldn't keep her waiting any longer."
I sit up, taking care not to bat Kokoro in the face with a wing as I turn around, and notice with embarassment that she had to move the tea set behind her.
"Sorry. I just kinda blundered in here and started yelling and crying and shit -"
Kokoro shakes her head again. "It's good to see you again, Marisa. Yelling and crying and all."
I hesitate for a moment. "Uh, Kokoro? You've got, um..."
Kokoro's smile widens as I point at it. "Something on my face?"
"...that's gonna take some gettin' used to."
Kokoro makes a shooing motion, still smiling. "If you ever need anything, don't be a stranger."
"Thanks. I mean it."
The unflappable servant girl escorts me back outside, and I walk straight out of the village. Let's do this shit, before I lose my nerve.
I notice the changes at the Hakurei shrine well before I get there. Place has had a makeover. The main shrine's been rebuilt (again), the path's been re-laid and widened, the lawn and garden's had some major TLC, the torii's been given a new coat of paint... even the steps have been spruced up.
Seriously, this is hella weird. Have the Moriyas finally taken over or something? There's even a green-haired chick in blue and white sweeping the path. She looks up as I botch my landing, wings flapping every which way.
"Ah! Miss Marisa! Welcome to the Hakurei Shrine!"
"...Ruukoto?" Holy shit it is. "Wow. Long time no see. Reimu in?"
Robot girl tilts her head in confusion. "Reimu?"
The more things change... "Uh-huh. Reimu Hakurei. Your master? Seen her lately?"
"I'm sorry, I don't know anyone by that name," Ruukoto says primly. "My mistress is Hanako Hakurei. The only Reimu in the Hakurei lineage that I am aware of was her great grandmother. Could that be who you were referring to?"
"Ruukoto." Her eyes widen as I grab her by the wrists. "How long has it been since you last saw me?"
"Our last meeting was one hundred and eight years, seven months, twenty-three days, four - Miss Marisa!?"
My knees give out.
This can't be happening.
"Another one bites the dust, eh?" A swish and footsteps from behind me. Two people. "Atta girl, Ruukoto."
"N-negative, Mistress!" Ruukoto frets. "We were just talking when she suddenly collapsed and started crying - d-do you need medical attention!?"
"What she needs is to get lost. I don't need some crybaby youkai scaring off my visitors."
I look up. Same outfit. Same hair. Different face.
Hanako Hakurei thumbs over her shoulder. "Go on, scram. Don't make me exterminate you."
The guy in priest robes behind her - I know I've seen him before but I can't remember his name - glances at her, then back at me, frowning uncertainly.
I stumble to my feet. "S-sorry."
"Less talking, more leaving!"
I turn around and flee into the sky.
I soar around aimlessly, letting the wind carry me.
Reimu is dead.
I knew this would happen. I knew it the day I turned. But...
...the last things we said to each other...
...the things we never said...
...I didn't even go to her funeral. I was too busy drowning myself in booze.
Well, she has a great-grandkid. Guess that means she must have started again. Without a youkai babysitter.
Good for her. Really.
...no. Hijiri is wrong. Humans and youkai don't go together, no matter how well they mean. It just doesn't work.
Don't feel like telling that to her just yet though. Need to build up a proper head of steam. Maybe I should go visit some other long-lived folks first.
...what the hell. Scarlet Devil Mansion's right there.
I tuck my wings in, aiming for the lake. I pull up at the last second, hurtling though the mist, letting the rush of moist air cool me off. By the time I reach the gate I've bled off all my speed, letting me flutter lightly to a stop.
And then promptly faceplant because what the actual fuck.
"What the actual fuck?"
"Good afternoon to you too, Marisa."
Patchouli fucking Knowledge is standing by the gate. As in, guarding it. She's wearing a hooded robe that looks nothing like a wizard's and everything like a fucking demonslayer's. It's purpler than Yukari's underwear, embroidered to hell and back with don't-fuck-with-me runes and imagery, and matched by the most badass belt that has ever completely failed to ruin a woman's femininity.
Also boots. Sturdy made-for-kickin'-yo-ass boots. Which are also purple.
"...did you get Remi to turn you or something? No, wait, you have a tan!"
"And you," Patchy replies, leaning away from me, "need a bath. When was the last time you washed your wings? You smell like a chicken coop."
I stare at her in disbelief.
"...what the hell happened to you?" I finally ask. "Get demoted or something?"
Patchy shrugs. "Meiling needed to go shopping. I needed some fresh air."
"You? Fresh air?"
"It's more likely than you think."
"...okay, seriously, time out. I can't handle this. New village, Kokoro owns a mansion, Reimu's been dead for decades... and Patchouli Knowledge has a tan."
Patchy raises an eyebrow. "Where have you been for the last century?"
"I see. That must be quite the hangover."
"Tell me about it. Or better yet, tell me how you ended up with a tan."
Patchy shrugs again. "My health got worse. My research was interrupted. So I made my health the topic of my research. Problem solved."
"...yeah, I think you're gonna have to give me the long version."
Patchy suddenly smirks. "How about I show you instead?"
That's all the warning I get before she slugs me in the guts.
I stick my wings out to catch myself before I end up in the lake.
"I was under the impression you'd been living among the oni of the Underground for some time now. Was I mistaken?"
Now there's the smug know-it-all I remember. I grin back.
"Like hell you were!"
I kick off again, whirling out of the way of a shotgun blast of metal darts while already preparing a return volley.
Suddenly, Patchy, one heel above my head.
Hello turf. Fancy seeing you here.
I fling myself sideways, narrowly avoiding becoming a patchouli-flavored pancake, and have just enough time to get my hands up to block a flurry of punches.
"You've been taking lessons from Hijiri," I gasp.
"And Meiling," Patchouli adds, sounding offended. She's not even breathing hard!
It takes some serious effort, but I finally manage to pluck one of her furiously flying fists out of the air. I follow up with a straight to the nose, but she twists and blocks it. I grab that one too.
So she headbutts me. A full-bore, full-moon pay-attention-to-the-teacher headbutt.
"Holy shit," I whimper, blinking tears out of my eyes.
Why is Patchy's fist glowing.
"Sun Sign 「Summer's Anvil」!"
WHY DO HER PUNCHES EXPLODE
MAGENTA MURDERWIZARD THROWING NUCLEAR PUNCHES AT ME DODGE SHIT FUCK OW HOT
"Alright, two can play at this game! Magpie Sign 「YOINK, MOTHERFUCKER」!"
Unfortunately Patchouli 2.0 is nimble enough to dodge my mad swooping like nobody's business. The bombs, on the other hand...
"Hahahaha! Now chew on this! MASTER SPAAAIEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!"
I plow into the ground and hurriedly pat out my smouldering hair as Patchouli unsummons her giant mirror.
"Do you yield?" Patchouli asks. She's a bit sooty from the bombardment but still isn't winded.
I flip into the air and lash out with my foot.
Patchy pulls a sword out of thin air.
Son of a bitch.
"Hey hey hey WHOA SHARP!"
"That is the basic principle of sword design, yes."
Basic my ass. She's swingin' that sword around like an incubus in a nunnery! I haven't come this close to being sliced and diced since I walked in on Youmu tryin' on lingerie!
"Okay, I give! I give!"
Patchouli stops her blade an inch from my throat. I'm on my knees with my hands in the air.
Someone starts applauding.
Remilia Scarlet strolls into my field of view, a grinning Meiling not far behind.
Patchy finally unsummons her sword. I sag with relief.
"You know, Meiling, I think we may have found an even better guard dog."
"Woof," Patchouli deadpans.
"Does this mean I'm out of a job?" Meiling asks, still grinning.
"Good heavens no. Who'd carry my shopping? Sakuya?"
Meiling hefts her enormous load and chuckles.
"Welcome back, Madam Magpie." Remilia smirks as she extends a hand to help me up. "I'd almost begun to worry you'd left us for good."
"...I nearly did."
Remilia's grin fades. "Well then, I'm glad the wicked witch of the east decided to pay you a visit when she did."
My eyebrows go up. "'Wicked witch of the east?'"
"Hijiri. Something of a private joke among the four, I understand."
"Hijiri, wicked? Who's the west then?"
"Why, Patchy of course! And on that note, you really should pay a visit to dear old Alice. I have it on good authority she misses you terribly." The corners of her mouth quirk up again. "And I dare say you could use some tailoring while you're at it."
I look down at my ancient, dirty, singed dress.
"Oh, but before you go, I'm given to understand the young lady Hakurei is going to be holding some manner of celebration this evening. It is to be a public spectacle as usual, humans and youkai all, so I'm sure you'll be most welcome to attend."
I pause to digest that as I witness the nonsensical sight of Patchouli helping Meiling carry shit.
"...I'll be there," I decide.
"Splendid! Take care now, and I'll see you soon!"
Remilia trots off after her gatekeeper and friend, leaving me alone with my inner turmoil.
Alice is practically Remi's neighbour, so her place is just a short hop away, as the witch flies. And I'm pleased to see it hasn't changed a bit. Same house, same garden, same obsessive neat-freak-ness.
I ignore the knocker and rap my knuckles on the door like I always do. Shit-flipping puppeteer in three, two, one...
"Oh, hello. Are you lost?"
...do I have the right house?
"I, uh, maybe?" Words where are you. "This Alice's place?"
"It is. Do you have business with her? She didn't tell me she was expecting anyone..."
"Er, right. No, I was just droppin' in to see an old friend. I'm Marisa. Marisa Kirisame?"
Blondie stares at me with widening eyes. "No way..."
And then she squeals and tackles me.
"It is you! It is you! Come in, come in, Mother will be so happy -"
"Whoa, hey, leggo!" Suddenly she's dragging me inside and what the fuck did she just say!? "Uh, Mother? You Alice's kid or something?"
"You could say that! You really don't recognise me at all, do you?"
"Never seen you before in my..."
Blondie skips backwards a few paces and strikes a pose. Arms out, head tilted to one side, eyes close, humongous grin on her face.
"Yes! You remembered!"
"Shanghai? What are you making such a... fuss..."
Whatever Alice was carrying - or thinking - she ain't anymore.
Alice raises a finger to point at me.
I grin. "Me?"
"You," Alice repeats, "are tracking dirt into my house."
"Ah, well, see, Shanghai here -"
"Take them off!"
"I'm doin' it, I'm doin' it -"
"Take them all off!"
"Shanghai, start running the bathwater." Shanghai salutes and bustles out of the room. "You are going to be clean and dressed before I hear another word out of you!"
True to her word, Alice frogmarches me into her bathroom and starts tearing my clothes off. Literally tearing, which says a whole lot about her opinion of the cheap Underground tailor who made them. Then she all but throws me into the tub before stripping off and joining me in it. It'd be pretty sexy if it wasn't so damn awkward - seriously, you ever tried to wash human-size wings in a bathtub? Can't be done. Not without soaking the entire room and everything in it.
And despite personally seeing to my personal hygiene, by the time I'm finished drying off she's back to shove me into a brand spanking new dress. A properly poofy dress, in my colors, made to exactly my measurements, with wing flaps and all the layers and undergarments that go with it. (Except a bra, because she knows damn well what I think of those.) Either she made them on the spot or she's had them in storage for over a century - and they don't look nearly that old.
I am curious to know where she learned so much about wingcare though. Girl has magic fingers no matter what she's doing.
Anyway, half an hour of spluttering, splashing, blushing and brushing later, she finally stops fussing over me.
"...where have you been all this time," she mutters, fiddling with my collar again as an excuse to avoid looking me in the eye.
She rolls her eyes but doesn't smile. "You should have said something. Anything."
I hang my head.
"We tried looking for you, you know. Me and Reimu. She -"
I put a finger to Alice's lips. "Don't. Just... don't, okay?"
She gazes at me with an anxious expression on her face.
"Promise me you won't disappear on me like that again. Please."
Alice kisses me. Softly. Briefly. I don't know how to feel about it anymore. I turn away.
"...can I borrow your couch for a while? I could really use a nap."
Alice says nothing, but finally smiles.
By the time I wake up it's getting dark outside. A slip of paper flutters off me as I sit up. Blinking tiredly, I bend down to pick it up.
You're cute when you're sleeping! - S. K.
I stretch - carefully, mind the wingspan - and shuffle out of the room. I find Alice and a girl in red sitting at the dining table.
"The Moriya priestess came by," Alice says, glancing up as I enter. "She wanted to talk to you, but you looked so peaceful."
"How'd she know I was here?"
"She didn't. She left some clothes with me after a rough duel. Happens a lot in her profession."
"Why didn't you wake me up for dinner?"
Alice smiles. "You really did look peaceful."
I roll my eyes and sit down opposite her. I take sidelong glance at Red, still stuffing her face with omlette. She looks suspiciously similar to Shanghai.
"If you'd rather save your appetite for the party, I can wrap that up for you," Alice offers.
"Nah, I'm famished." I break the preservation spell on the plate in front of me and start eating.
Alice and I make smalltalk for a bit. Red excuses herself with the dishes.
Then Hurricane Shanghai returns from whatever the fuck she was doing to drag us all off to the shrine.
"Alice. The shrine is five fucking minutes away. I'm not going to get lost. You can let go now."
"Never," Alice says. She's red as a fucking tomato, but she's not letting go of my hand any time soon.
The shrine is, of course, packed. Not the same kind of packed I remember, though - everyone doing pretty much whatever the fuck they please, getting drunk off of their asses and starting fights into the night. No, this is much classier. Classy mats, classy tables, classy lights, classy stage, the whole shebang. The booze is still flowing freely, but everyone's dressed up and on their best behaviour, and a stone-cold-sober Hanako is supervising proceedings with a glare that says it's going to stay that way or else.
Then an explosion of light over our heads proves that no, the fighting hasn't gone anywhere either.
...aaaaaand it's official, fucking everyone has taken a level in badass while I've been away. Ladies and gentlewomen, give it up for Ruukoto the Formerly Flightless, now kicking Kosuzu's ass in a danmaku duel. Even as I'm watching the robo-maid pulls out a spellcard.
"She has an interesting sense of humor, doesn't she?" Alice teases.
I'm not gonna dignify that with a reply. Instead, I turn my attention to who all else has showed up. Akyuu - or whatever her name is now - is cheering in support of Kosuzu, not that it's helping any. Looks like their friendship survived however many reincarnations it's been. Youmu, now a healthy woman, is talking dignifiedly with the mountain goddesses alongside her mistress. Kyouko and her punk rock buddies are kickin' back while the Prisimrivers are on stage.
The Moriya miko catches my attention by waving her ever-present lantern. I flash her a grin, which she returns with extra teeth.
...gods fucking dammit Hanako Hakurei is intimidating. Two words and I'm a jittery puddle of guilt.
"Y-y-yes!?" Down, nerves, down!
"You're Marisa, right? Marisa Kirisame?"
"I am." Whatever it was, I didn't do it!
"I've got something for you."
I damn near piss myself as she reaches into her sleeve and pulls out something paper and rectangular.
"A letter. It's been passed down in my family for three generations now, and it has your name on it."
I take the letter. Yup, that's my name alright.
...in Reimu's handwriting.
Slowly, hands shaking almost too much to control, I open the envelope. It's old. So old I have to wonder how it's still intact. But it is. Somehow.
In the first place, I'm sorry. I said some really hateful things to you that day. Things I deeply regret. You are, and always have been, my friend, and I should never have lashed out at you the way I did.
I know you have never had anything but the best intentions toward me and my family. You've always had a gung-ho attitude toward danger, but that's just how you are, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't need to call up my daughter's shade to know that the last thing she saw in her life was you desperately trying to save it.
I tried to reach you, to tell these things to you in person, but you pushed me away. I understand. Gods, if I'd done the same to you I'd never have forgiven myself.
But I can and do forgive you, Marisa. Completely and unconditionally.
Please come back. You are welcome at my shrine and in my life, always and forever.
The letter crumples in my hands, unseen though the haze of tears.
I stumble to my knees, tearing at my hair, ripping whole locks out.
Message in a Bottle (2/2)Anonymous2018/09/09 (Sun) 10:47No. 2205▼
Fuck birds. Fuck their stupid chirping.
Fuck waking up.
I want to see Reimu again.
"Are you going to lie there all day?"
I roll over. Owowowow piss shit ass fuck. Slept on my wing, now it's half asleep and half pain. Pins and needles suck the big one.
"Seriously, your tea's going cold."
I raise my head.
Reimu calmly sips at her teacup.
I slump back on the tatami.
"Am I dreaming or dead?"
Reimu doesn't answer. I hear a light rustle and HOT HOT HOT HOT TEA IN MY LAP HOLY SHIT IT BURNS
I squawk and flap around like a wild thing as I scramble away from her, nearly flipping the kotatsu in the process.
I sit up awkwardly and glare at her.
"Oh. Guess it wasn't that cold after all."
"...who are you?" I ask.
Reimu winces. "Ouch. How much did you drink down there?"
"That's not funny. You're dead."
Reimu shrugs. "So? Plenty of dead people running around Gensoukyou."
My brows furrow. "...a ghost? You became a ghost waiting for me?"
"I most certainly did not," Reimu huffs.
I lunge into a proper sitting position. "Then what did you do!?"
"Shrines aren't named after their priests, Marisa."
I stare at her. She nonchalantly sips her tea.
"...but... you're not the first Hakurei miko. And there was already a god in the shrine, before -"
"So?" Reimu repeats. "The Moriyas have three gods in one shrine, don't they?"
I gape at her. She finally puts down her tea.
"...but yes, I did do this for your sake. I'd been thinking about it since you turned, in fact." Reimu takes a deep breath, and looks me right in the eyes. "Marisa. I forgive you. For whatever wrong you have or think you have done me, I forgive you." She squares her shoulders, looking nervous but not looking away. "Can you ever forgive me?"
Reimu cringes and closes her eyes.
"No, I can't forgive you. Because there's nothing to forgive. There never was." I stare at the floor. "You had every right to be mad. I killed your daughter. And I'm so, so sorry."
Reimu barks out a half-laugh, half-sob. Tears run down her face even as she smiles. "Come here, you big idiot."
Strong arms drag me into a crushing hug. Her chest presses against mine, every sob shaking both of us. I put my arms and my wings around her.
For a while, the sobs aren't all hers.
"Thank you for coming back to me," she whispers.
"Thank you for waiting for me," I reply.
Reimu smiles, and presses her lips against mine.
I close my eyes.
When I open them, I find myself staring...
...into the wide-eyed, blushing and furious face of Hanako Hakurei.
"Wha-wha-wha-what the hell, granny!?" She explodes. "I am never, ever, ever channelling you again!"
Then she grabs the entire fucking teapot, rinses her mouth with scaldingly hot water and rushes outside to spit it out.
"Eww, youkai cooties," I tease.
"Heck with youkai, I'm straight!" Hanako retorts. "Now get lost before I exterminate you for real!"
Aaaand there's that aura of impending whoop-ass again. I book it while I still can.
On the way out I pass Ruukoto cleaning up after last night's party. She's already almost done and doesn't stop to chat. Real hard-workin' gal.
And out the front, just passing under the torii as I emerge, is Byakuren Hijiri. She looks like she's been hit by an avalanche.
Two of them, in fact.
"Mornin' 'Ren," I say with a grin. "How's the temple doin'?"
"The temple... is in ruins," Hijiri says tiredly.
I grin wider. "Tell you what... you get rid of this curse and I'll help you rebuild it. Deal?"
"Goodness, it's a wonder you're alive. Really, now... picking a fight with Rumia is just asking to lose a limb at best." The hottie of a doctor crossed her arms under that generous pair of red-blue boobs, fixing me with a surprisingly intimidating pout. Was enough to draw my eyes from 'em, that's for sure. "You're lucky I had regeneration serum already made, or else you would very likely be missing that hand for the rest of your days."
Her words just got a groan out of me. Never liked making mistakes, and liked owning up to them even less. Who'da thunk some squirt would have a bear trap for a mouth? "Yeah, yeah. Can it, Doc; I already know I screwed up bad. How was I supposed to know? Bitch looked like a freakin' brat!"
She give me a look that could flatline a geezer in a second. Jeez, gave me the heebie jeebies! "For one, by not punching that 'brat'." She let out a sigh I knew too well. My mom always made one just like it when she saw my grades while I was growin' up. "And, more importantly, realizing that the vast majority of such small children can and will do that or worse."
"You shittin' me?" Seriously, what? The hell kinda kids they raisin'??
"No, I'm not 'shitting you'. The fate of an outsider is bleak, and unless you reach the human village, it'll only get worse when the sun dips low and the youkai roam." She uncrossed her arms, grabbing for the clipboard at the end of my bed.
"The hell? Youkai? ...You must be smokin' some good shit..." I let out the best chuckle I could, but after last night it wasn't easy. ...That said, it's actually a little worrying, as she's my doctor. Even an idiot like me can tell that a doctor shouldn't be on anything while on the clock. Do that shit at home for cryin' out loud.
Hated that look in her eyes; pitty, clear as day. "Then tell me your account of why a small child bit off your hand. Please, I would love to hear it." She didn't even bother looking up from the clipboard.
Guess she's got me there... "...Well, maybe I was seein' things? Coulda been a shark or somethin'." Seriously, mistaking a bear or somethin' for a kid is the best I've got. But then she just started giggling. I wasn't normally one to blush, but it's pretty damn easy when a hottie like that was doing it. "Sh-shut up!" Dammit... I'm looking like a wimp in front of a fine piece of ass. Ain't no way she'll bone me after this. I blew it!
Wisking a tear from her eye, the doc said, "My apologies. That was just rhetorical is all."
Ugh... I freakin' hate when eggheads use stupid-long words. Was rhetorical... when you ain't expectin' an answer? Sounds kinda right, I guess... "Well, don't ask, then!"
She didn't even bother paying me any mind for a while. When she eventually stopped reading that chart of hers, she said, "Still, on the matter of your health, your hand should finish growing back within the hour." She eyed my freakishly tiny, very pink and veiny hand. "...But if it doesn't, just tell the rabbits and I'm sure they will assist you." Putting on a goddamn sexy smile, she added, "And if they don't, threaten them." Holy shit! It's like I'm a worm under her foot! ...And I kinda like it? The shit?? "...Well, isn't someone healthy..." When she started chuckling, I followed her eyes, and quickly put two and two together, bending to cover my boner. This bitch is hard to get comfortable around... Well, ignoring getting too comfortable.
And, before I could even begin to settle down, the door clicked shut, the doctor having apparently gotten away while I was busy with my dick. ...Well, guess I'm finally alone, huh...? Still, I can't exactly get up just yet. I'm as hard as a rock, and it's never a good idea to wander around a hospital packin' heat. So I sat there a good while. Ten minutes passed, then twenty minutes, and finally thirty more.
...Shit. My hand is still tiny and pink.
My buzz killed and my thoughts taken off of those tits from before, I finally got up. Having nothing better to do, I left the room, looking for some sorta rabbit. I was expecting some sort of not-rabbitness to be involved, but apparently not! Found a goddamned rabbit just lounging around.
Well, fuck it. Might as well try. "Hey, uhh..." Dammit, I can't tell if it's a male or female bunny. "...miss. Mind pointin' me to help?" My reasonin' is that miss is safer than mister, as callin' a woman a man just might get me eviscerated. Bitches are crazy like that. A dude I can probably at least make see reason, but I don't exactly wanna lose something else, and doubly not to a freakin' bunny.
The rabbit just twitched its nose all adorable-like. Y'know, the shit that drives women wild. Makes 'em start shriekin' and shit.
The bunny looked up at me. Finally some recognitio- Dammit, it looked away.
The fluffy furball started doing that hop-scoot that rabbits do, obviously tryin' to get away.
Okay, enough's enough. "Hey, bitch! I'm talkin' to you!" Aaand then it started running off. "Get back here you little-" And then the wall next to me started giggling like some sorta girly instrument. A harp or somethin'. When I looked, I found the rice paper panel slid open just enough to see inside, and inside was a pretty face looking at me with just one eye. Also had the corner of a sexy smile.
The door slid open the rest of the way, and a woman in more silk than any one person has any right to be wearing stepped out. "Sir, I'm afraid you may have misunderstood something. The rabbits are just that: rabbits. No matter how you try, they will never speak."
Her eyes were a beautiful brown, and her hair as much like silk as it was like tar or some shit.
Her smile was friendly and inviting, while her body was just... shapely. Shapely save for one important area.
Her tits were nonexistent.
She was like some kinda hot pear.
...Not to self: don't say that. Gotta act cool.
Took off my sunglass, slicking back my hair with my free hand. "...Yo." She looked like the kinda girl you'd remember for the rest of your life.
Letting out the most pleasant giggle ever, she returned, "Yo."
I was pretty sure that meant she wanted to get it on, but I was also kinda speechless. "You're... pretty." ...And my silver tongue turned to lead, too.
It didn't stop her from smiling, though. "Why, thank you, sir." Was a pretty, genuine thing, her smile. ...Not often I saw anything like it. "Would you perhaps care to join me for tea and snacks?"
Her words got me chuckling all goofy, like I'd been hit in the head a few times too many. "...Yeah."
She motioned me inside, stepping out of the way. Now that my attention was on it, I realized it was... far simpler than I expected a girl's room to look. Nothing fancy, just a futon, some pillows for sitting, and a goddamned kotatsu. Freakin' love those thing. It drew my eyes as much as she did, though her beauty had a certain... gravity to it, too, even if it fell short of the appeal of a kotatsu. It just sucked me in and wouldn't dare let go. When she sat down, she gracefully slipped what I assumed to be legs under the toasty prison and reached for some fancy bell. All gold and wood, with a long shiny handle. Thing looked more expensive than the entire room's contents combined.
While I made my way to join her she rang her little bell, and I was surprised when the door opened not five seconds later. Looked that way while easing myself under the cloth, finding a weirdly out of breath rabbit-eared... business woman or some such? Girl had a suit and tie and all that, though those eyes of hers were just... painful to look at. Like... they were more red than any red, and more eye than any eye. Shit was crazy. Although, she had some crazy hair, too, not to mention her crazy crinkly rabbit ears. ...Must be who she meant.
"Yes... Princess...?" Girl was huffing and puffing, looking about ready to keel over.
The apparent princess smiled at her bunny, requesting, "Tea and mochi, if you would please."
Suddenly the door snapped shut, followed by me hearing an odd creak from above and the pitter patter of someone running off. Looking up, I saw nothing but a ceiling fan. Wonder what made that sound?
Leaning her chin on her palm, the princess asked, "Now, whatever brings you to our humble manor?"
"Well... I kinda got my hand bit off." Set my baby hand on the table's top, tapping my still soft nails on the hard surface to get her attention.
It, of course, did. She looked shocked by it, but not exactly repulsed or anything, which put up more than one red flag. "Is... that the hand you lost, or is your hand always in such a state? I do not intend rudeness, but I don't wish to assume."
Gave a hearty chuckle, though her words did sting. "That red-blue doctor jammed a thick needle in my arm and it grew back. But, well... it kinda stopped. Doc said to talk to rabbits if it did."
The princess gave a nod. "I'll have Reisen fetch Eiren after she brings our tea and treats. My apologies that my servant did such a poor job in assisting you."
"You a princess or something?"
"My, how astute." She smiled, giggling behind a sleeve. "I am 'a princess or something', yes. Princess Houraisan Kaguya. A pleasure, to be sure. That doctor was my retainer, Yagokoro Eirin, and the rabbit was... well, just call her Reisen. It works for any lunar rabbit, but her being the only one here simplifies things greatly."
"Kaguya? What, like from the stories?"
"The one in the same~"
While I was left looking at her like she grew another head, suddenly the ceiling fan fell on top of her with a sickening crunch.
I was left gaping and confused, my mind going a mile a minute. Not a second later I shot up, running over to get it off of her. The thing was damn heavy, and in the process of moving it, suddenly her neck made a sickening crack.
"Ohh shit ohh fuck ohhmanohhmanohhma—"
"Princess, are... are you alright... in there?" Suddenly huffy puffy was back, speaking through the door.
In an instant, I did the only thing I possibly could without even thinking. "O-Ohh, yes. Just give me a moment, Reisen." I had put on my girliest, most nasally voice in a last ditch effort to not be found out. If they find me with their dead princess, I'll be executed on the spot!
I grabbed at the poor woman's robes, untying them and pulling them wide open. The sight beneath them was enough to get me harder than steel, but I had to act fast. I next undressed my own clothes, and dressed her up in them fast as lightning. They didn't fit at all, but they had to go somewhere. After that, I shoved her under the kotatsu and started putting her clothes on in their place. I had never fastened the damn thing from this side, but my little sis's festival kimonos gave me plenty enough practice to tie it right by the third try.
Reaching under the kotatsu, I grabbed her by the hair, ripping a good chunk of it in half, followed by chucking it into the air, watching it rain down like a silk storm. Felt a little bad for it, but the bitch is already dead. What's she gonna do, haunt me?
The door slid open with the help of bunny butt. After she nudged the door shut, she looked at the hairy situation before her, and she looked about ready to crap herself. "P-princess, your hair!" You've gotta be shitting me. "Who did this to you?!" She... has to be blind, right? I thought this was my only option, not an option that'd actually work
I let out my most girlish sigh, answering, "That brute, of course. Were it not for the fan falling in the struggles, I dread to think what he might have done to me..."
The rabbit girl gasped, looking pretty pissed. "The outsider we just released?! After all we did for him, he tried to...?"
I gave her my most princessish grim nod, doing my best to pout cutely all the while. Not that she must see that, as bad as her eyes must be. Seriously, I'm not exactly a small man, let alone anything approaching princess material.
The rabbit reached into her jacket, pulling out— Holy shit is that a silly... gun? Is that a gun? It looks like Baby's First Gun or something. "You wait right here, Princess. We'll make sure to lock things down and make sure he doesn't get away with this."
I nodded, putting on as relieved of a smile as I could muster. "Thank you, Reisen." I gave her my kindest smile, half expecting her to burst out laughing and pop a... whatever in my ass. A goddamned bubble? "See that you do."
Her eyes widened and her cheeks reddened enough to match her eyes. "Th-thank you for the praise, Princess! I'm not worthy!" ...You know, that makes her sound like she's starved for attention.
That hardly will do.
"Reisen." As she was about to step out, she stopped in her tracks, turning to face me. "Come here a moment."
She paused, though eventually did as I asked, nearing me. When I patted the nearest pillow, she sat her ass down, thankfully not slipping her legs all that far under the kotatsu.
And then I gave her head a pat.
She melted into it like a whiny cat or something, so I added in a bit of ruffling, mussing up her hair. When her eyes started to lid, I started scratching her behind the ears, which got a damn moan out of her.
I was quick to hide my boner under the kotatsu, as good lord was that a sexy face she was making.
"Truly, I thank you." I could get used to this, ignoring the princess crap.
When I finally stopped, and she shook away her daze, she said, "Th-thank you, Princess. I... ...Thank you." She had the biggest grin on her face now, those crinkled ears standing much taller than before, as if I just revitalized them with the power of love. ...As if.
I'm gonna have to fucking spoil the shit out of her if I'm not dead soon.
After a moment, the rabbit regained her senses. "But, erm... why are you in such a good mood, Princess? I've failed you again... I should be punished, shouldn't I?"
And then my hand magnetized to her ears again, scratching her just right. While she drooled, I answered, "And yet you put in such effort to return so quickly, did you not?" Talking like a princess is easier than I expected. "Your attentiveness is to be commended." Shit, now I'm using big words, too. It's hard again.
And, with that, her ears finally uncrinkled. No idea what that means, but I had a hunch it meant she was happy. No idea why, other than the bliss plastered on her face. "Shank yooouh..." ...And now she seemed more like she was drunk, so I stopped. When I did, her lidded eyes shut the rest of the way, before opening bright and cheerful. "Alright! I'll go find this bastard now, Princess! Just you wait!" She looked infinitely more cheerful than she had the first time I saw her. Damn, I didn't know my ruffles were such a potent weapon...
And then she sproinged into the air, doing a flip out of the room, and kicked the door shut before I could even register that all that had even happened. "...Good luck." I let out a deep sigh, finally able to breathe again. Acrobatic or not, she must have been blind as a bat or something. Now alone, I took the time to check up on my tiny hand.
Yup. Still tiny.
After that, I looked down at the tea and snacks I was left. The tea was still steaming, so I figured it was plenty hot. The snacks, though, looked so damn good. Been a long time since I last had mochi, so I couldn't not cram a couple in at once. Chewing them up, I moaned at how tasty they were. They were freshly pounded, I'll bet. Nothing like the cheap shit I was used to, that's for sure. After swallowing, I washed them down with some tea, followed by mochi, followed by tea, and I kept stuffing my face and guzzling until both cups and the whole pile were gone. I have a feeling I wasn't supposed to eat all that myself, but I was honestly pretty damn hungry. Thirsty, too, apparently.
And then there was a rapping at the opposite-facing door, to which I answered, "You may enter."
Not a moment later, an angry-looking albino chick slammed open the door. It being on a track, it didn't put a hole in the wall, but the sound of it did startle me real good. "Kaguya."
...Shit. I don't know her name. "Good evening." Had to say something safe. That said, I put on my best 'annoyed princess' look, figuring I looked mildly irritated enough to be convincing.
"Nothin' good about it, you unapologetic bitch."
I flinched at her words, and I wasn't even acting; I was genuinely surprised by her hostility. "...My apologies."
"Can the peasantry; we both know full well that you don't mean it." She cracked her knuckles, eyeing up my not-so-lengthy hair. "The hell happen to you? You look like something mauled your hair." ...Y'know, I'm actually a little upset by that. "And the hell is that black thing on your face?"
"Black thing...?" I felt my face, and instantly paled. How the hell did I miss that I was still wearing my shades?? "A-ahh, erm... They are- H-hey!" She plucked them from my face, trying them on.
"...Moon crap always does the most useless things, huh?"
"They're supposed to keep the sun out of your eyes, now give 'em back!" I felt naked without my shades.
She gave me a smirk. "Why don't you make me?"
I just shrugged, rising to my feet. "If I must."
And then I punched her in the gut, plucking my shades from her face when she doubled over, coughing out the contents of her stomach. "You..." She gasped for another breath, finishing, "...bitch...!"
And then I sat back down. "Perhaps you will listen to my request next time." Nobody touches my shades.
We spent the next few minutes to the tune of wheezing as she tried to regain the wind I knocked out of her. Slowly but surely, the sound of her wheezing settled down. "You're gonna pay for that, Kaguya..." She stood up, her eyes blazing with as much anger as her hand blazed with fire.
A few seconds later, I found myself blasted clean out of the room and through the door she entered from, though I didn't go far before the bamboo started to slow me down one snap at a time. By the time I stopped, I was pretty sure I broke a rib or something, but at least I survived, and could even move.
And move I did, as I was back up in a jiffy. Being in my line of work, I was used to this sort of crap, so I spit out the blood in my mouth and took a fighting stance. I'm not about to care more about my princess level than my life. "Well, then, why don't you get over here and make me pay?"
That was enough to get a snarl out of her, and she kicked off the tatami with a smokey blast, clearly trying to ram her fist down my throat. That said, at that distance I had plenty of time to time my avoid, sidestepping her when she was too angry to realize what was behind me. Not a moment later, it was her turn to be the one making a path of snapped bamboo.
When she finally stopped, I called out, "You okay?"
Could see her breathing, but I was a bit relieved when she glared at me from under her heap of hair. "Go to hell... K-kaguya. Don't pretend you suddenly care."
I cleared my throat, getting back to acting like a princess. "I hope you don't mind if I decline your offer."
That got a good snort out of her. "Like it would matter. You know we can't die." ...Good to know. With that said, I heading towards her. "What now?" She just glared at me, clearly out of steam after that.
And then I hefted her up unto my shoulder. "You're hurt." She was pretty battered after her run-in with the bamboo thicket.
"I'm bringing you inside."
"...Get your hand off my ass."
"We're both girls." Never thought I'd use that lie, but man was it worth it.
"Well, stop fondling my ass!" I could practically feel the heat of her blush, not that I could see her face.
"Very well." I couldn't help but smirk at my victory over the apparent immortal.
With that said, I began marching my way inside, finding the bunny girl in a bit of a panic over half the room being in shambles.
...Aaand the charbroiled corpse of the princess now out in the open.
Her eyes were wild with shock that was settled on me. "Princess?! I-I thought that you had been burned alive!"
I shook my head, answering, "No, nothing of the sort. I see that you have managed to find the culprit, however."
"Huh?" Her eyes settled on the corpse. "N-no! It wasn't me! I just came running and thought that Mokou had torched you alive again..." Shit. Note to self: don't piss off fire girl.
I gave her my best wry smile. "Do I truly look so masculine?"
Rabbit ears waved her hands in front of her, clearly sent into a panic. "N-n-no! You look far more feminine than this brute!" Oww, my pride.
"The hell's goin' on?" Toasty was unsurprisingly in the dark. Not that I was expecting her to see from that side anyways.
I gave fire girl's ass a smack, enjoying the sound of her yelp, and answered, "I must thank you for catching this horrible man, Mokou."
She wasn't quick to respond, but eventually asked, "...Horrible man?" I pulled her off my shoulder and into my arms so she could see what she had done, and I was surprised when she gasped. "Where did he come from??"
It was Reisen who answered, "I... think he was hiding after ripping out the princess' hair."
I nodded, answering, "I never saw which way he went in the confusion. That he was still here all that time is a frightening prospect."
Mokou let out a snort. "Yes, because you're ohh-so-delicate that a man's a big deal for you."
"I am hardly so loose."
The fire chick's nose spouted flames, and her cheeks matched their heat. "Not like that, idiot! Jeez!" She let out a long sigh to settle her nerves, before adding, "Just saying that some human wouldn't stand a chance against that stupid-looking twig of yours." Note to self: look for stupid-looking twigs.
Reisen jumped to my defense, saying, "The jeweled branch of Hourai is not 'stupid-looking'. It's a weapon of utmost beauty!" Note to self: look for stupid-looking gaudy twigs.
I held up my hand, and Reisen backed down. "Now, are you alright, Mokou? You did take quite a tumble."
Once more her cheeks burned. "Since when do you care??" Shit. "I'm fine! Just have a few broken ribs is all." Well, I might as well try to make her in a less shit mood.
"Reisen, please see that Mokou is taken care of—"
I was left blinking in surprise as Mokou crumbled to ash in my arms. It took a few seconds to register that Reisen killed her, as she was blowing smoke from her megaphone thing. Dusting the Mokou off my robes, I pinched my brow. "I meant medically, not lethally."
"O-ohh." Blushing, she meekly said, "Sorry, Princess."
Mokou's ash suddenly suctioned back together, clumping and becoming human once more, surprisingly returning to her place in my arms. After another moment, I ordered, "Reisen, see that Mokou is clothed." Damn, she sure came back to life fast... Wait, she's naked. Shit! I'm probably straight!
Don't stare. Don't stare. Don't stare. Don't sta—
Mokou grabbed Reisen by the tie from where she was lounging in my arms, pulling her nose to nose. "The hell was that for?!"
The bunny whimpered, shrinking under Mokou's gaze. "I was just trying to follow orders..."
"Our deathmatches are none of your concern! Now, git!" She tossed the rabbit aside, who then scrambled off the moment she hit the ground. She didn't go far, that said, as she seemed to be gathering largely intact clothes from a closet I didn't notice I had. Or, well... the princess had.
She then scrambled back over to us, more frazzled than I'd seen her thus far. The clothes in hand, she held them out towards the naked hottie. "Wear this."
Mokou pushed her hands back. "Why should I?"
The parcel was thrust out again. "You're naked, Mokou."
That got a reaction out of mokou, who looked down at herself. At first she was pretty blase about it all, but then the air around her started shimmering at how fierce her blush got.
I was about to insist, but I was left surprised blasted back outside, then made to dodge out of the way as a bolt of fire or six whizzed by me.
"You saw, didn't you?!"
I looked over my shoulder, just staring at her like she was an idiot. "No shit."
The fire died in her hand, as she was left completely speechless, with the rabbit mirroring her reaction.
"I-I mean, erm... my apologies." Shitshitshitshitshitshitdon'troastme!
Mokou didn't seem to be listening, as she was just silently dressing in my torn and burnt clothes.
Reisen seemed to be just letting out a sigh of relief, though she did send an odd look my way while I was busy staring at them and all but praying they were complete numbskulls.
When the dust finally settled and Mokou was dressed up, I complimented, "You look lovely, Mokou."
"Like hell I do; I look like I was set on fire."
"These things are not mutually exclusive, Mokou."
Mokou opened her mouth, though a moment later she closed it, averting her eyes with a grumble. Must not be sure what to say to that.
This time it was the doctor showing up, a bow and arrow in her hands. "Is everything alright? I heard an explosion, and it seemed to be inside. I- Ohh, you were burnt alive. Lovely."
I climbed back up to get a better look.
She locked eyes with me.
Her eyes lowered to the rest of me.
I laced my fingers, trying to look at innocently princess-like as possible.
She looked like she was trying very hard not to laugh.
I was left blushing, shrinking a bit under her apparently functional eyes. This may be a problem.
"I see that you are alright..." She began to snicker. "...'Princess Kaguya'." She then nodded to Mokou and Reisen, greeting, "Good afternoon, you two."
Mokou was first to answer, asking, "The hell is so funny?"
Sheathing her bow, the doctor answered, "Ohh, nothing important." She eyed the burnt corpse while saying this, her eyes looking to me with wry amusement, though I couldn't help but think they were seeking an explanation, and that the owner was more than prepared to laugh.
Meanwhile, Reisen returned, "Good afternoon, Master." Shit. The doctor's into some freaky stuff.
And so I offered, "There was a bit of an incident with a brutish man." While she started stifling her laughter, I continued, "He ripped out my hair, and I thought fled when the ceiling fan fell, but it seemed he only hid under the kotatsu."
Mokou added, "Then she pissed me off, just like she always does, and I guess I saved her by trying to murder her? Whoops."
The doctor seemed to be struggling to keep a straight face, and she answered, "Well, that will not do." The blood drained from my face. "It seems I shall have to rejuvenate her hair again. The brute seems to have somehow..." She began to snicker again. "...stripped it of its sheen, not to mention given her a nasty case of dandruff. Clearly I shall have to fix such a thing, just as soon as I have treated these issues.
Reisen gave her dominatrix a questioning sorta look, asking, "But didn't you teach me that such things fix themselves?
Mokou pointed out, "I dunno, my hair still grows and I gotta cut it."
"But don't you also have your hair right now...? I just disintegrated you..."
Her amusement ending, the doctor asked, "Disintegrated, Udongein?"
And now it was the rabbit's turn to go bone white. "A-ahh. Erm... I mistook an order from the princess for a request to kill Mokou."
"And how, pray tell, was it that you killed Mokou, Udongein?"
The rabbit swallowed a rabbit-sized lump, timidly answering, "W-w-with the weapon you gave me, Ma'am."
And then Eirin made like a farmer and hoisted the rabbit onto her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. "We shall continue this discussion shortly. It seems that my apprentice is in need of a correction in her callous use of such a splendidly devastating weapon."
As the doctor made her way back out the door, Reisen cried, "Please spare my bottooom...!"
...Huh. I guess that means that she's not a dominatrix, the girl is just a doctor in training. "Well, alright, Eiren." Then again, she's about to dole out a spanking from the sound of it.
As she left, Eiren dragged the burnt corpse with her, followed by putting the opposite doors to the ones I was blasted through back up. It was impressive, what with the corpse and rabbit in tow all the while.
"Ugh... It's been forever since I dressed up in silks. This shit just feels weird now."
I gave my best girlish giggle, glad that the doctor had stopped laughing at me every time I spoke. "I'm sure you would prefer to bear that rather than such a draft, yes?"
"I guess." She then let out a snort, adding, "Still, what was up with the doc?"
"Ohh, uhh... ...She had a bit of an accident with some laughing gas, I believe? I may be mistaken, however."
"Huh. Well, that must suck."
"Ohh, I assure you that it does."
Her eyes drifted off to a particularly interesting corner of the room. "So..."
I gave her my best puzzled look, all cute and confused. Or, y'know, it would be if I weren't a thug. "Yes?"
Her eyes turned back to me, and I was shoved against the wall by the considerably smaller woman's considerably smaller arms. "Wanna blow each other apart?" Her stare was a far cry from the intensity from before, but now it was downright sensual.
I opened my mouth.
I closed it again.
My cheeks went red at the closeness, not to mention the weird mix of perfumes and charred silk. This wasn't my proudest boner, but it was definitely one that was well deserved.
That said, when Mokou looked down in confusion, that redness drained away.
That draining seemed to affect other regions, as it had the nice side effect of killing my friend's rise to power.
Although, when Mokou gave that area a squeeze it both went back up and I doubled over in pain, knocking her down. That left the two of us in a very precarious position when the door opened back up, and I was almost certain that it hadn't been even half of the agreed upon length of time.
Giving the two of us a bit of an amused smirk, the doctor asked, "Am I interrupting something?"
"Why the hell does Kaguya have a..." The immortal trailed off, before mumbling, barely audible even at my range, "P-penis?"
Raising a brow, Eiren question, "A what? You'll have to speak up if you plan on having your question answered."
Still quiet as a mouse, that once angry whitehead muttered, "Penis..."
After a moment's pause, the doctor looked to me, hoping for and answer. I supplied, "She asked about my penis."
For a long moment, Eiren was a silent, but then it passed. "The princess requested it to be attached, and I am not one to refuse such a request."
That left the immortal in shock. "Why??"
"Why, for what purpose do you think she might want one? You see, as it turns out, she was never interested in men at all, much to my surprise." ...You know what, I'm just gonna go with her story. Whatever.
"Wait, so all this time, the impossible requests were..."
"Yes, that's right. All in an effort to be left alone by her suitors."
Mokou was left baffled by the answer she got."Why??" Talk about a broken record...
Seeming satisfied with her own explanation, Eiren asked, "Now, shall we, Princess? We've much to do to see you brought back to your full majesty."
While Mokou was grumbling, I answered, "Ahh. Very well, Eiren." I rose to my feet, allowing Mokou to finally breathe easy now that I was off of her.
"Seems someone needs to lay off the sweets. Jeez... It's like you've tripled in weight while I wasn't looking!" Kinda did, I'm pretty sure. The princess was a twig, but a hot one.
Eiren turned, looking over her shoulder. "Come along, Princess."
I looked over my shoulder, thinking I had a way to get this murderous moan off my ass. "We'll finish this later..." I gave her my best 'sexy woman' look. Either she'd be disgusted, so I'd probably be saf— Wait, why is she blushing?
With my peace said, I followed after the doctor, leaving Mokou all by herself in my scorched room.
When we finally arrived after making our way through the winding corridors, we were back where it all began: the office of the good doctor. Closing the door behind me, followed by turning a latch, Eiren turned to face me. "Now, isn't this a pickle you've gotten yourself into, 'Princess'." She didn't have to bother with any finger quotes, as the air was thick with 'em.
I flopped into a chair, groaning. "This is well beyond apparent, I hope you reali-" Wait, I don't need to act like a princess. "No shit."
"Now, how pray tell did you end up in this situation? I assume your story is far from the truth, yes?"
I rubbed the back of my head, answering, "I mean, most of it is true. Only the very start changes anything."
I let out a sigh. "Well, it began when your princess found me yelling at a rabbit—"
"Ahh, yes. I had hoped you might realize that I meant a humanoid rabbit, but it seems I was wrong." She gave a short bow. "My apologies, 'Princess'."
"You can stop calling me that, y'know."
"I would, but your reactions are just wonderful." ...Great, she's a weirdo.
"...Aaanyways, she pulled me into her bedroom and called for that rabbit girl. They talked for a bit, so if you want a second witness, talk to her. She was sent off to get some mochi and tea when the ceiling fan fell. I tried to get the thing off of her, and her neck snapped."
"I presume you didn't realize she cannot die."
The way she said that got me to look at her funny. "Why would I?"
"You could have been told by the... fairest competing princess, as it were." When I gave her an odd look, she added, "Mokou."
I lowered my shades for effect. Seriously, that's something that calls for it. "That rough tomboy is a princess?" Y'know, assuming she meant her. I knew the names of everyone else thus far, though.
She began to chuckle. "Once upon a time, yes. ...Or so I am told, at least. But, well... who am I to question the stories of my princess?"
"What, was she exiled?"
"No, no. That would be ours." I lowered my shades just a bit lower. "Ohh, will you stop that already? You look ridiculous. As for what I mean... let's just say that immortality is frowned upon in our homeland. As for Mokou, the two of them have been more or less at war for the last thousand years, give or take. You see, Kaguya scorned Mokou's father's interest in her."
"Sounds a bit petty, honestly."
She began chucking again. "Beyond petty, to be frank. Not that Kaguya handled things much better, as much as she taunted the poor girl." She headed over to a cabinet, withdrawing a syringe. "Now, leaving that aside, I've need to 'restore' your 'beautiful locks'. Try not to bite your tongue off."
I paled a bit at the implications of her words, but didn't stop her. "Why, though? You'd think you'd want to be rid of me by now."
She tested the needle, and rolled up my sleeve. "Let's just say that I'm curious how my princess will go about reclaiming her rightful place." She began to swab my arm, cleaning the area, before lining up the needle. "Now, this will hurt quite a lot."
She jabbed the needle in, getting me to wince. At first I thought she was exaggerating, but then she started injecting the serum. My eyes widened as liquid flame spread up my arm, every fiber of my being screaming in agony.
No, wait. No, I was the one screaming in agony. It hurt so much it was making me dizz
When I finally woke, I found myself feeling like new. How long was I out? Must have been a while.
When I sat up, I yelped and fell back down. Who the hell was yanking my hair?? I look left, and I looked right, finding nobody either way. Looking up, I saw a snickering immortal. The albino one.
Giving her a scowl, which seemed more right than what I was giving before, I asked, "What is it, Mokou?"
"You're sitting on your hair, dumbass."
"My hair?" I looked over my shoulder, finding myself laying in a pool of hair. ...Well, shit. Looking up my sleeve, I found that my tiny hand was still exactly the way I left it, and couldn't help but groan. Dammit, Eirin. I should have asked her to fix my hand while I had the chance.
I began to struggle with my lengthy pool of hair, trying to get it so I could sit back up. After yelping six more times, Mokou rolled her eyes, offering me a hand. When I gave her an odd look, which I expected of the princess, she explained, "You look pathetic. As nice as it is watching you struggle, you've been at it for at least five minutes now."
Satisfied that Kaguya'd be satisfied with Mokou's answer, I took the offered hand, and was unceremoniously rolled to the side with a painful jerk of my arm. For the next minute, Mokou started gathering up my hair in her hands, tugging it out from under me. While she did, I asked, "Was that necessary?"
"Nope. But it was enjoyable." She had a self-satisfied smirk on her face when I looked over my shoulder.
"Bitch." If she wants to fight with words, fine.
"...Trollop." Shit. I'm out of insults.
She had a bit of a shit-eating grin on her face when she asked, "Trollop? Really?"
I just rolled my eyes, shooting back, "Do you have anything better? We've exhausted a great many insults already."
She blinked, clearly at a loss. "Uhh..." She started scratching the back of her neck. "...Obviously." I smell a lie.
"Ohh? And what might that be?" Now it was my turn to smirk. Noticing my hair had been cleaned up, I rolled back over, sitting up the rest of the way.
She stiffened, before blurting out, "Bastard."
I did my best to giggle, and for some crazy reason she started to blush. Hopefully she didn't actually like the sound of it, and it just amused her, as that was the stupidest-sounding laugh of all time. "Much better." I put on an even bigger smirk, and shot back, "Cunt."
She jumped, now backed even further into that obscene corner. "You... uhh... rascal??"
And then I just burst out laughing, while she was left grumbling.
It was then that there was a knocking on the door, and I looked, spying a rabbit-eared silhouette through the ricepaper. "Yes?"
In a very familiar voice, the shadow said, "It's time for breakfast, princess."
I smiled, answering, "Very well, Reisen."
I was surprised when she slid open the door, and as I began to stand, she quickly located another well-hidden closet. Gather up various pieces of clothing, she then was suddenly in front of me, reaching to remove my clothes.
Of course, it was at that precise moment that I got hard, and my sleep clothes put up little resistance, straining against it very noticeably. From the look of it I was in a kimono, but even kimonos have limits, no matter how thick they tend to be. The rabbit's hands froze up, and her eyes went wide in alarm. Mokou, on the other hand, averted from it, trying to hide the redness that even reached her ears.
It was honestly adorable.
Swallowing, the rabbit set into motion once more, clearly trying to ignore it as she tugged the obi slack. Taking a steeling breath, she then tugged open my robe, making sure she wasn't in what obviously was the direction a towering tree would fall. Which is to say she did it from behind, making sure that I was as exposed as exposed can be. Mokou, of course, averted even harder, as she was in the direction that towering tree would fall.
First, she prepared granny panties for me to step into, which I reluctantly did.
Next, she set about layering me in kimono after kimono, then placed what amounted to a frilly mess of a shirt on top of that. Thankfully that was enough layers to hide my erection, as it wasn't going down any time soon after being stripped by a woman as hot as the Rabbit.
She retrieved a fancy comb, and set about running it through my hair for an agonizingly long amount of time after that, though the humming made it feel like even longer, even if in a good way. The combing did feel kinda nice, that said.
Mokou was left with even less to do than I was, so she flopped onto her back from where she was sitting, and just stared at the ceiling. She had a sad look on her face. Melancholic, I think they call it? It was as if she was remembering something from a long time ago, and she eventually turned that frown into a bitter smile, though it only ended up transferring the frown right over to myself.
"Reisen." If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a sad girl, infinitely older than me or not.
"I want you to comb Mokou's hair."
The two of them looked at me in varying degrees of confusion, Mokou's so shocked it caused her to shoot upright just to look my way.
After a long, awkward silence, Reisen moved over to Mokou, looking about ready to flee at a moment's notice.
Mokou huffed, complaining, "Sending the Rabbit to do your dirty work? That's low, even for you."
I held up my hand, signaling for Reisen to stop, and she actually obeyed. If I were the power hungry type, that'd be plenty enough to put a grin on my face. With Reisen stopped, I headed towards the two, holding out my hand to Reisen, getting a far greater shock out of the two, though it said something that the rabbit still complied, and much faster this time, handing over the comb.
"Then I suppose I shall just have to do it myself, now won't I?" I gave her my best 'amused bitch' look, and sat down behind her. I could tell that Mokou was tense beyond belief, having me so close and in her most blind of blind spots.
I started undoing her ribbons with practiced ease, and realized that I must have been out a while. She had her old clothes back, after all. Weird that she has multiples of the same outfit. Still, if there was one thing I knew about women, it was the hair, even if only on this front. The ribbons were oddly warm, and seemed to be charms of some kind, but they undid just like any other knot. When they were all in a neat pile, though not really neat-neat, I started running my fingers through her hair a bit to get those bundles back into the main mass of hair.
"Tsk, tsk. You really should take better care of your hair, Mokou. It's a mess." Seriously, she was atomized just earlier! You'd think it'd not still be this bad off if she regenerated!
"Ohh, can it."
"Very well." With that said, I began gently running the comb through her hair, smiling as I did. Doing this reminded me of my little sister, who used to always beg me to do this to help her fall asleep at night. More than a few times she fell asleep on the spot, even. At first Mokou was stiff and rigid, resisting every motion of the comb, but with time she began to relax just a bit, her body going from a coiled spring to an uncooked noodle. Not the fresh kind, either. The crummy ones you get in a box, all dry and hard. Still, her hair was practically a jungle of tangles and knots, resulting in me needing to go at it for quite some time.
Just as she was nearing total relaxation, Reisen pointed out, "Breakfast is going to go cold if you undo every tangle, Princess." She had a wry smile on her face as she said it, so I knew she meant no harm, but the moment she did, Mokou flinched, returning to her springy self.
I let out a disappointed sigh, saying, "Very well, Reisen. I can make my way through this jungle another time." My words got Mokou's ears to go as red as her eyes, and put a smug smirk on my face as I reached for a ribbon, gathering the girl's hair up in the other hand. I wasn't about to leave her alone just yet, and so I began to put her ribbons back where they belong. There were quite a few ribbons, so it wasn't a quick thing to do, but I was able to do it at a fairly good speed, I felt.
Huffing and clearly not sure what to make of all that, the immortal muttered, "Thanks. I guess."
With that, I rose from my knees, smiling at my apparent servant. "Shall we?" Said servant blushed as she gave a nod, and then lead me along to where she had in mind. I was thankful for her help, as I had no idea where to go, and so said, "Thank you, Reisen."
"I-It's no problem, Princess..." Her ears began rubbing together out of extremely obvious nervousness, as if she wasn't used to something as simple as a 'thank you' for her work. Not that ears should probably work like that, but it was the most likely thing that actually made sense, all things considered. She's a rabbit, not a bug or something, right?
When I arrived at breakfast, the table was a lot more full and the selection way more scarce than you'd expect to see a princess eating. Sure, there was a lot of it, but there couldn't be more than 5 different dishes piled high. With the rice and mochi taking up a massive section of space, I couldn't help but wonder if it all would be eaten, even with the countless rabbits and rabbit girls scattered about.
And, on the note of the rabbits, they were also seated at the table, with what looked like napkins used as bibs, wielding chopsticks like any other of the occupants. Not the rabbit girls, which there were plenty of, but the normal rabbits, just surrounding a big ol' banquet sorta table.
Before I could take my place at the head of the table, one of the numerous doors that lined the walls suddenly opened. It didn't just slide open, but practically shot open.
The happy, friendly atmosphere of the room evaporated just like that, and every eye in the room looked in the direction of their princess, who still was dressed like me and was covered in dirt. Seemed someone or other must have buried her.
The ex-princess roared, "Who the hell buried me?!" Called it! "I am no corpse, you stupid rabbits! We have been over thi—"
Suddenly my favorite rabbit was behind that girly 'me' and had her in a stranglehold. "So you were alive after all, you bastard..."
Gagging on the arm around her throat, the real Kaguya grabbed at it, trying to pull it free, but to no avail. "What—" She coughed at trying to speak through the tight grip. "What is this... this treachery...?"
Eiren cleared her throat, looking beyond amused at it all. "Release him, Reisen. I seriously doubt a man that nearly met his end to Rumia would be a threat that could do anything approaching lasting damage."
Reisen at first persisted, but eventually let the woman that was dressed up like me break free of her grasp. Seeing as I was reported to do some pretty horrible things, her reaction wasn't exactly all that strange. After that, the real princess coughed for a while, clearly not happy with the treatment of her windpipe.
Y'know, I have to wonder if I'm being used as some convenient tool to get rid of their princess.
...Good lord, they aren't planning to replace her with me, are they? Because, seriously, that would be beyond stupid! I'm not even a freaking woman! There's only so many asspulls you can do before your story falls apart, dammit!
The obviously superior princess pointed at me. "This is clearly an imposter!" No shit.
Reisen just scoffed, as if it were completely outrageous.
The rest of the rabbits, rabbit or otherwise, looked between me and the real princess, seemingly confused. Too confused for my tastes, as it gave the impression that the stupid things couldn't tell who was who.
Eiren, on the other hand, actually bothered speaking. "And on what grounds do you say this?"
Like any normal person would do, Kaguya stared at the doctor as if she grew a second head. "Surely you jest, Eiren."
"That is Dr. Yagokoro to you."
"You can't be..." The ex-princess let out a long, annoyed sigh. "I am the princess, Dr. Yagokoro."
"Is that so?" The doctor looked amused, as if she didn't already freaking know. "And what makes you believe such a thing?"
She motioned to me. "His shoulders are wider than mine."
"Our princess can be brutish, yes."
"Wha- I- You-" Taking a deep breath to untangle her tongue, the princes ground out, "When has your princess ever worn glasses such as those?!"
"I believe she began to make such a fashionable decision as of yesterday." Trying too hard, Doc; even the princess is giving her a dumb look!
Finally having enough, the beauty let out a long sigh. "I hereby challenge your princess for her vague right to the Lunar throne." Woo! I can get out of thi— Wait, Lunar?
Reisen was the one to speak up this time. "What?! Why would a man want to be a princess, let alone know of a tradition like that??"
Giving me the stink eye, the princess muttered, "I have to wonder much the same." I was left averting my gaze, a blush on my cheeks. I wasn't exactly planning this.
Eiren just rolled her eyes, asking, "And what, pray tell, are the terms of this challenge?"
"Why, that is simple." The princes had the most wonderful smile on her face. It didn't last long, though. "You kill us each, and whomever it is that gets up first wins."
That was enough to drain the color from my face. Shit, no wonder nobody seems to like her.
The doctor just smiled, answering, "We accept. Such a condition will be easily met."
Before I could get a word in, some particularly authoritative and short rabbit girl decided she'd speak up. "You really think that's a good idea, Doc?"
Eiren smiled, seemingly confident. "Why, yes. Reisen, kill them both."
Reisen pulled out her gun, aiming at the newcomer.
Eiren corrected, "The princess and the man, Reisen."
Reisen cursed, seeming to be upset by this and aimed at m
I blearily opened my eyes, feeling like every atom of my being hurt. "Anyone get the license plate of that truck...?" Shit, what hit me...?
Suddenly a giant hand scooped me up, bringing me to giant chest-height. "It seems that the princess won, as should be expected."
I looked at Eiren's giant face, then at all the ash on the ground, and finally to the shocked rabbits around us.
Shit. Now more than just my hand is tiny.
Ohh, right. I guess I'm the new princess of the moon or something...? I don't see the princess around.
Somewhere, deep under Gensokyo, nestled in a cave, was a little house. Any human villager who happened to see it would think that one of theirs got swallowed up by the earth. According to most tales, they would also soon be dead. These stories were, strictly speaking, true at one point but not now. Not at this moment.
Long after the day had started above, a human stirred in a futon on the second floor of the little subterranean house. He didn’t want to wake up; it was too comfortable in his bed. Things tended to be cold down there until you went deep enough to meet a certain lady, the place being hell’s hollowed-out ruin. Of course, this young man didn’t know that. All he knew is that it was cold, and his futon was too warm to consider leaving. But he would have to get up eventually.
He did try to get up. Something was clinging to him, preventing him from rising. That was why he had been so warm, he realised at all once.
“Geez, Mom,” he muttered blearily, tugging at the arms wound around him. The neighbouring futon lay messily splayed open. “Come on. I gotta get up. Unless you don’t want breakfast.”
His hanger-on shifted in vague recognition of his words. A mess of blonde hair poked out from under the covers. The impromptu heater whined. It wanted five more minutes, or so it thought. Or maybe that was just the boy’s intuition.
“You don’t have to get up. I always make breakfast anyway. Just come down when you want.”
His bed-mate complained inarticulately again. “Do you have to? It’s too cold,” came the feeble, muffled voice of a woman under the covers.
“I’ll die if I don’t eat, Mom. You know that,” replied the boy.
Rather than loosening the already solid grip she had on him, the boy’s mother squeezed him tight. Two pairs of spider legs were now securing him, and with much more strength than human limbs. This was a bit distressing, considering his fragile human skeleton.
“No! You can’t die! Don’t leave Momma all alone.” There was a sniffle. “I’ll be so, so sad if that happens. You can’t.”
“Then stop squeezing me!” he cried out, now sounding strangled. He smacked at the arms and legs holding him until they finally loosened.
“Fine,” said his spider-legged mother sulkily.
The boy wrenched himself from the bed, eager to get up while his mother would let him move free. While he got out, he accidentally kicked the covers back, uncovering the woman. Her hair was a messy, loose tangle of gold thread, and her eyes were squinted in the faint lantern light that shone through the holes in the windows. Despite her groggy looks, she regarded her son with a motherly smile. Incidentally, the boy’s mother was none other than the earth spider, Kurodani Yamame.
“Don’t forget I got you some eggs,” she called, watching her son descend the ladder.
To common sense, the idea that an earth spider, to say nothing of Kurodani Yamame specifically, would have a human son was nonsense. Humans didn’t hatch from eggs embedded in sacs stuck in dark corners. Both Yamame and her son were aware of this fact, and neither of them paid it much mind. This was Gensokyo. Common sense was, for starters, something of an entirely separate nature from that of most humans.
The simple fact of the matter was that the human and the spider lived as mother and son and that was that. It was all in all a comfortable life. The boy would take care of the house, while Yamame would take care of… whatever it was that required handling outside. He was never quite sure what she did for a living, only that it often involved drawings, though he occasionally saw her spinning silk into spools. She discouraged him from prying into her work, and so he kept a respectable distance, not wanting to upset his dear mother. And she was truly dear to him.
Faint memories stirred to mind for him at times, but he considered his first memories of being carried to Yamame’s house when his life started, for better or worse. That had been a handful of years ago. Just like with her work, Yamame preferred he not ask her many questions about why and how he was there. It would all come in due time, she told him. Thus, life carried on as usual without any difficult questions asked.
This particular morning played out much like any other. Yamame’s son was busy with preparing breakfast when she finally made her appearance, crawling down the ladder upside-down, scuttling across the ceiling, and waiting for an opportune moment to drop down and greet him with a hug him from behind. He jumped and greeted her with an indistinct yell.
“Good morning! How’s my precious boy doing?” she crooned, nuzzling her face into his back. Since he was a fairly young man, he was just the slightest bit taller.
“Fine enough without the ambush.”
Yamame laughed. “Sorry. Can’t help it. You should be thankful I haven’t eaten you up, anyway. Momma’s tasty little boy. Num-num-num-num!”
“Lucky I have breakfast to distract you, then,” he said, fending off his spider-mother’s tender nips at his neck.
With the little morning game out of the way, Yamame feigned sulking and retired to the table to await breakfast. It soon came and they tucked in with their customary restraint — his, exceptional, hers, non-existent. Words were rarely exchanged as they broke the fast. Yamame was too busy eating, and the boy preferred to remain silent. Still, it wasn’t like they didn’t talk at all. Even with his reticence, her boy chimed in with his own occasional comment.
That was why Yamame found today’s table strange. When she looked over at him over her rice bowl, his eyes were often downcast. There was a real hesitation in his answers when she prodded him. It was like he either wasn’t listening or… something. She didn’t like kind of ambiguity.
Finally, she set down her chopsticks and looked at her son. “What’s wrong?”
“No, not sorry, what’s wrong? Something’s bothering you and I wanna know what.”
The boy stared into his soup. That direct way of talking was what he least liked the most in these moments. He sighed. “I, um…”
“Yes?” Yamame prompted. She had the look of a mother who’s caught onto the answer and just wants you to confirm it for her.
He looked around a bit hurriedly before settling on something. Yamame followed his eyes, groaning as soon as she noticed that they were both looking at the door leading out. “This again?” Yamame said with a mother’s exasperation.
Before he could say anything, the boy was held fast in his mother’s arms, her tiny hands running through his black hair. He sat still, only looking at Yamame through the corner of his eye as she continued to hold him. His throat felt dry. Yamame’s appraising eyes, drinking him in with their depths, felt oppressive as they passed over him. She turned his head to face her.
“I know you want to go out, and I can’t let you. It’s not safe, dear. You know that. It’s never been safe for humans.” A sad smile passed over her face. She stroked his cheek. “You’re my precious son. I’m not gonna let anybody eat you. I’m gonna keep you safe. You understand?”
His eyes looked once more past Yamame and at the door before returning to her face. “Yes, Mom.”
“Good. Now, gimme some sugar.”
Seeing that his dear mother’s eyes were closed and her lips held out, he obliged her with a warm kiss, generously covering her in his embrace. It was embarrassing every time she practically made him do it, but he wasn’t so cold as to deny her his warmth.
Immediately after, he wiped her cheek with his napkin. “Try eating your soup more carefully.”
This made Yamame burst into peals of laughter. The boy’s cheeks reddened. Try as he might to keep his staid dignity, his spider-mother’s simple, bestial emotionality always got the better of him. He couldn’t help but love her all the more for it.
That was always what stung the worst.
Something that might have struck an observer was the question of why an earth spider, a bearer of all diseases and devourer of life, would care for a puny human at all. Were spiders really capable of such emotions? None but certain underground dwellers would be able to say for sure. Yamame was sure in her her heart that she at least regarded her son differently from others. Whether or not that was true love was beside the point. Though, in truth, it probably bore a closer resemblance to pity.
Regardless, breakfast done, the two of them quickly split into their separate lives for the day, Yamame leaving after anointing her boy with her own maternal kiss and begging him to be good. What passed between then and evening is of little importance. Yamame went on with her daily life, unsuspecting of anything. Indeed, if she had been more suspicious, she would have found a dirtied pair of clogs hidden in a corner near where she sat at breakfast. She probably would have noticed the boy’s eyes on her, following her as she left the house. The way her sketchpads for work were askew, some of them not marked the same as she’d left them, would have aroused suspicion. Her intuition told her nothing.
Even when she returned and found the boy sitting at the table instead of bustling about the kitchen, nothing struck her as odd. He was a diligent boy with habits that were fussy but nonetheless agreeable. Perhaps he had started dinner early. This was the case, in fact.
He had stopped her in the middle of a welcome-home hug to suggest that she go ahead and eat. Portions were laid out for her. None were served for him.
“You’re not eating?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Not hungry now. I need a bit.”
“Don’t be getting sick on me.”
“I’m not. Just eat, please.”
Accepting this without more than an affected air of hesitation, Yamame did as she was told and found her seat. The food looked delicious as ever. It was only when she felt she had kicked something over beneath the table that she noticed anything awry. She reached down to pick the thing up.
It was one of her shabby packs she took with her to the surface sometimes. Besides a pair of clothes, all that was in the light bundle were some small items. Things that her son used. His things. All of them.
The impact having hit after a few moments of staring, Yamame shot a look straight at him. He stared back. “Why—” she began hotly.
“I’m sorry. I tried to tell you,” he interrupted, his voice turned to flint. There was a forcefulness in his words that Yamame hadn’t seen before. His eyes had a gleam that was far from the somewhat melancholy resignation that was his custom. “I tried to tell you. This morning, even. I wanted to tell you. To let you know. To say I’m sorry.”
His hands balled into fists. “I found my old shoes. At least, I think that’s them. I took them and I… went out. You know that garbage dump? I searched it. There were bones, Yamame. That’s all it was. You knew that and you didn’t tell me.”
“You didn’t need to know!”
“I didn’t, but I wanted to. And, another thing, I looked in your work books. You did a lot of good work. You did so much more of it before me. Why, Yamame? Why would you throw away so much?”
“Throwing away? What are—”
“Thank you for carrying me home, Yamame. I appreciate that. I really do. I don’t understand why, but thank you all the same. But I’m leaving now. I can’t do this anymore. I need to go back. I need to be up there now. I’m sorry, Yamame.”
“Stop it! Stop saying ‘Yamame’! Call me ‘Mom’!”
Both of them had hot tears in their eyes by that point. They both wanted to sob. Pride kept Yamame from bursting into a crying fit. A need to avoid doing further serious damage kept him from doing the same. This would hurt, but it was for their benefit. Maybe she wouldn’t see it now, but she would later.
The boy turned from Yamame. “I’m leaving tomorrow. And now I’m going to sleep. Good night.”
Some animal instinct in Yamame told her to pounce on him. She was in the hold of some raging storm of emotions that made her want to do something to him. No, she told herself. She couldn’t do that. That would kill him. He would be dead. She didn’t want him dead. That was why…
That was why…
Despite the rage, she sat still, watching him ascend the ladder step by step in his slow, careful human fashion. They were delicate creatures. They broke so easily. They had to be careful.
Yamame stood riveted to the spot. How much time passed while she stood there, she could never be sure. Her mind detached from herself and fixed itself on the question she couldn’t answer, the persistent ‘why’. It irritated her arachnid mind. Things were so much simpler when it was a matter of predator and prey. Gradually, the tears started to dry.
In times previous, those who came to see the earth spider’s house very nearly always died soon, either immediately or not long thereafter. The sickness got to them, or Yamame devoured them. Many were even dead before that, their sightless eyes catching the little building as mere reflections. That was why there was a garbage dump near the house. The sick and dying were thrown down in hopes that their suffering was brief. The practise had gone on since before Yamame could think.
She thought about the boy going and seeing the pile of bones, maybe picking up a skull. He had to have been terrified.
Walking forward softly, she took to the ladder, mirroring his steps, so slow and deliberate. Inch by inch, she saw something in the dark as she poked her head up through the ceiling. His futon was set out. A softly stirring lump sat on top of it. The faint sound of snoring floated from it out of the dark.
Yamame sat watching the dearest human she’d known recently. What should she do, she wondered.
Rice and RainAnonymous2018/09/17 (Mon) 00:31No. 2209▼
(Too late to count, but I'm posting it anyway.)
Rain hammered down on the warehouse's tiled roof. Some villagers scrambled down the streets, hunched under their umbrellas. The rest simply waited inside the nearby bars, grills, and covered shops.
Reimu glared at the dark, grey clouds, hanging low over the village. She stood less than half a pace away from pouring rain, a sack of rice hauled over one shoulder. She had a simple lunch planned for this. A little pickled seaweed with a pinch of soy.
She had work to do. No worthwhile extermination requests lately, so that work would consist of lounging and checking on the donation box. Maybe she'd harass Marisa in the evening; see if she'd stolen all the good requests again.
Reimu set the sack down and slumped against the wall. At this rate she'd be forced to waste her idling at this lousy warehouse rather than her shrine.
Reimu glanced to her side, into the red and blue eyes of a visiting ‘babysitter.’ The babysitter, Kogasa, gave a token huff. It seemed she didn't expect anything from her outburst anyway.
She extended one hand, holding out her purple umbrella, its tongue lolling off the side.
“C’mon, let me help you.”
Reimu sighed. “Why?”
Reimu stared, perplexed. “Because you've got more important things to do?”
Reimu paused. Kogasa had at least one job, but Reimu had better things to do than argue with a youkai about how its schedule worked. “Nevermind.” She stepped out, slinging the rice back over her shoulder, under the girl’s umbrella. “Take me to my shrine.”
The two set off down the street, passing by the listless faces of those still waiting for the downpour to end. Kogasa hummed a cheery tune. Reimu stared listlessly back, adjusting her grip on the heavy sack.
There were certain unspoken rules when it came to interacting with the village, which Reimu generally found inconvenient, but less obnoxious than dealing with irritated villagers. One these rules were ‘respect our security.’ Or perhaps, ‘pretend our security means something.’
So she and her youkai acquaintance walked through the pouring rain under the shelter of that youkai's other body, or umbrella. The markets clustered near the village entrance, so they wouldn't be here long, anyway.
Reimu glanced at Kogasa's smile. How did she find anything pleasant in doing what amounted to someone’s chores? They both turned their gaze to the approaching gate.
The posted guards gave Kogasa a brief glance, but let them both through. Kogasa spent far too much time here for someone who tried to act like a ‘proper youkai,’ not that it was any of Reimu's business. Perhaps they'd talk later, if Kogasa wanted. Listening was a pain, but it was one of the few things Reimu could do that held any meaning to her these days.
Apart from incident resolution. Maybe.
Once through the gatehouse, Reimu rolled her shoulders, adjusting the sack. “You sure you can keep me dry?”
“Of course! Don't underestimate umbrellas.” She grabbed Reimu’s side, pulling her close.
Reimu yelped, blushing. Her mind spun in tangles at the feeling of another’s body.
Only close, close friends ever dared touch her like that and she had half a mind to remind this brat why. And yet, as Kogasa took off, Reimu followed, letting herself remain in the brat's embrace. Just to keep the rice dry.
“You don't visit the village very often, do you?”
Reimu grunted. “No.”
“Why not?” Kogasa angled the umbrella as the rain changed direction.
“But I never see you doing things at your shrine, either.”
“You wouldn’t understand it.”
They flew in silence for a moment. They sailed over the roads, just below the tips of the trees. There was, of course, the temptation to climb higher, but fairies would always swarm those who did.
“Wouldn't you get more visitors if you stopped by sometimes?”
“No.” Reimu bit out.
“Too out of the way.”
A couple fairies popped into view. Then popped into glowing glitter with a couple well-placed needles.
They'd be back tomorrow, of course.
“Do you want a hug?”
The foothills came into view and they flew upward. Kogasa angled the umbrella again as they passed over the many switchbacks leading up the slope.
“How about we take a trip together?”
Reimu grumbled. “Why do you even care?”
Kogasa audibly fretted. “Promise you won’t get mad?”
Reimu pondered the thought, then relented. “Fine.”
“You sound like you’re sad.”
“I’m not. I'm just tired.”
“Are you always tired?”
Reimu stared off. “Maybe. I’ll think about it, okay?”
They rose to the shrine's great red gate. Passing under it, they touched down just in front of the shrine porch. They stepped onto it and under the shelter of its roof. Reimu dumped the bag down and stretched her arms, then turned to the door.
“Thanks for the help, I suppose.”
“Of course!” Kogasa threw her arms around Reimu's back and buried her head in Reimu's shoulder. “You'll feel better, I promise.”
Reimu froze. Her skin burned a deep red, her arms hung in the air, and her mouth floundered.
Kogasa felt soft and warm.
Reimu shoved her away. “It's fine. I'm fine. I'm going inside now.” She heaved the sack over her shoulder one last time and, jamming her foot in the door, kicked it open. She'd have to carry the rice back out to the shed at some point, but she could worry about that later.
Right now she had a hug to forget and the first hints of a warm smile to keep off her face.
The Youkai Are Coming 1/2Anonymous2018/09/17 (Mon) 06:23No. 2210▼
It’s not every night a rabbit like me comes to find her bedroom playing host to a pretty Lunarian stranger like her. Especially not one who’s tall and silver-haired and in a trenchcoat and stockings, fidgeting the way someone in the trenchcoat-wearing business for to hide a lot of nothing underneath tends to fidget.
“Are we alone?” she murmurs, tossing fidgety glances around the room. Around my room.
Well, it’s been happening enough nights out of the week to make me think of putting up a sign.
“No, no, no; look.” I jerk my thumb off to the side. “Lady Toyohime’s room is the third window from the right. And I know how she gets, but the walls are a little thin, okay?”
Really—some of us have to work in the morning. With that addressed, I hit the lights, crack a good wide yawn, and I’m out of my blazer and unbuttoned halfway down before the silhouette that shuffles over me tells me tonight’s caller hasn’t jetted express back out the window in a flush of pink the way they usually do. Very much the opposite, in fact.
“Listen very carefully,” she whispers; “I shall—” “You’re too close.” “Listen very—” “You’re too close.” “I shall say this only—” “I can smell the syrup on your breath, Miss Pancakes-For-Dinner. Is it an every day thing, or was today a specialhrmph—”
She grabs me quite brusquely by the wrist and shoves her hand also quite brusquely over my mouth, and it’s just as I’m winding up my knee for an accordingly brusque response that a feathery wing sprouts from somewhere within her trenchcoat and wraps us both inside.
It takes me a few seconds to realise she’s decent underneath, and also that I haven’t just been taken by a Trojan ostrich.
Then the rest of the dots start falling into place.
It is her. Oh, no, no, no.
While I’m in the middle of trying to will myself back in time, I hear a faint murmur. “Just once.” Then another. “Just once, okay? “I mean, I’ve been doing my sit-ups and keeping off sweets all week. It should be okay; and besides, trying to push too hard all at once is no good, that’s what I’ve read, it’s staying with it in the long term—” And then her hand shoots towards her own mouth, and her voice flies up half an octave. “Ah— I shouldn’t be—”
“Lady Sagume?” I blurt. “Um, I didn’t mean to—”
“I— I’m not here right now, okay?” she hisses, pulling me in closer until I can barely move at all. “Ah, um, okay? Um—” “This reaches no one. Not the Palatines; not the Sages; not even the Watatsukis. Do you understand?” “Yes, but—” “Pay close attention. We have a problem.”
Yes, we do! Your nose is tickling my ear!
Oh, I can’t just say that to her, though, can I . . . !
“—youkai invasion.” Huh, what! “You, as the Watatsukis’ ADC and head of party planning, are in an ideal position to intervene—” “Wait, wait, wait!”
I wave my free hand to try and get some of my personal space back. It works, kind of. Lady Sagume lets up a little. “What is it?”
“Shouldn’t we cancel the party, then!” And, you know, order a general mobilisation— “Not on your life!” Whaaat! “It’s usually just the one or two, anyway.” “Did you really just say that!” Lady Sagume twitches. “Ah—”
I want to cry, now.
“I— Reisen, listen.” Lady Sagume takes a step back and takes both of my hands in hers. “Reisen, you— I know you’re a very hard-working rabbit, and I appreciate that. That’s why I— I believe you to be more than capable of handling this in my stead.” With that, and a smile as serene as a dead fish, she turns to scarper.
“How am I supposed to ‘handle’ a youkai invasion!”
Lady Sagume is already one leg out the window when she says: “Make sure they don’t pinch anything this time!”
I’m Reisen. You’ve probably heard about that by now. You should probably also hear about where I’m not the trans-Lunar fugitive Reisen. I mean I’m not the still-a-trans-Lunar-fugitive Reisen. The hero-turned-traitor-of-the-Apollo-War Reisen. Listens-in-on-the-relay-at-night-but-never-says-anything Reisen. Reisen Udongein. The tall one.
That’s not me. I’m in charge of party planning.
There was an invasion last week. You might’ve heard about that, too, even though nobody who was here when it was supposed to have happened remembers much or anything about it. But the Sages say we won, so we won, and the Sages want a party, so a party it’ll be.
“It did happen, man. I got shot at and I bloody well remember it.”
Continuing the pattern of implausible and frankly irresponsible fabrications is the recognition of two front-line Defense Corps rabbits for acts of military valour during the invasion, to take place at that same party.
“Like I said, man, I got shot at.”
“So did I,” complains the back of Seiran’s head.
“I know,” Ringo says. “I took a video of it. It’s pretty funny.” “Is that what you were doing! Why didn’t you come and help!” “And get shot at?” Ringo chuffs. “No, thank you.” “You got shot at anyways, hey!”
“I didn’t know that was going to happen, alright? I would’ve helped otherwise.”
Seiran goes quiet for a moment. “. . . Do you promise?”
“Um, well . . .” “I want you to promise me, Ringo.” Ringo blushes. “That’s . . . I mean . . .” “On your honour as a rabbit.” “—Oh. Okay, sure.”
You, of course, understand the source of my doubts.
Especially when you consider how the rabbits in question have, in fact, just abducted me this morning.
“That’s—” In a messy, beat-up orange station wagon. “The September Pumpkin is not ‘beat-up’!—” Heading east on Zelinskiy, approaching Van de Graaff. Be advised, driver is a blue-haired rabbit in matching pajamas—
“Quit sending that stuff over the relay!” Ringo grabs me by the shoulders. “You’ll get us nicked!”
There’s really nothing for me to say to that, is there?
“Agh, man, look, ’pologies for the rough handling, okay, Reisen?” She grabs her hat and screws it about on her head—talking, and talking fast. “We needed privacy; we’ve had eyes on us ever since they pulled us back Moonside, and we had to slip the leash somehow; but look—” her eyes dart down at her feet, where sits a faded cardboard box—“there’s a metric fortune riding with us here and it’s all up in smoke if we get the Palatines on us! This is the chance of a lifetime, man. We caught the big one. The biggest one!”
I want no part of this.
That’s what I should be saying. It’s what I would, if today were any other day. If last night were any other night, and I were left blissfully un-graced by the episkepsis of the One-Winged Ostrich.
Today? The wind blows off the shore and the udonge trees drink deep of earthshine.
Ringo trades the breath she’s holding for a new one, plus a toothy smirk. “Knew you’d be in.”
I smile back. Laugh it up.
She picks up the box, cheerfully labelled ‘Stereo CASSETTENDECK mit Autoreversefunktion’, and sets it down on the seat between us, opening it to reveal a mass of silky carmine cloth.
“This,” she announces, “is the legendary robe of the fire rat!”
“The first asbestos fire blanket ever made!” adds Seiran. “No, man, it’s fire rat fur.” Seiran sighs. “What, are you still going on about that?” “That’s what the legend says.”
“Look, you can believe in dumb primitive Earthling myths if you want to, but keep it to yourself, please and thank you.” Ringo slaps the robe. “Why would Princess Kaguya’ve held onto a regular old asbestos fire blanket for over a thousand years!”
Oh, Princess Kaguya—
“I’m not having this argument again. You’ll rot my brain cells—” “Red light red light red light!” I shout, hissing as Seiran guns it straight through.
“You see that?” she snaps, and Ringo says something back, maybe, but I can hardly care right now.
“You did up Princess Kaguya,” I mutter, once my breath finds its way back to me. “You poached Eientei.”
These two idiots drop their quarrel, just like that, locking eyes in the mirror and grinning like they snuck the last cup of Lady Eirin’s yogurt on the way out.
I take that as my cue to scoot ever-so-slightly away from the robe like the burning radioactive dog it is.
“That’s not the only thing we swiped,” chirps Seiran. “We also got these.” Ringo reaches underneath the robe, pulling out each item in turn: “The Buddha’s stone bowl—the jewel from the dragon’s neck—the swallow’s cowry shell—and these original Phantasmoon production cels!”
—I cough. “Is that?” “The chikuwa scene, yes.” She fans them out like a royal flush of six aces.
“You, um,” I fold my arms and try not to stare too hard, “you’re not just here to show off.”
“’Course not.” Ringo organises the spoils back into their cardboard chest, putting it up in the back to join the rest of the September Pumpkin’s cluttersphere, and tossing a bloodstained T-shirt over it as last-minute camouflage. “It’s two things. First is it’s not just eyes. Any day of the week, any time of the day, they’ll be cutting up the carpets and pulling up the floorboards for contraband. This,” she throws her thumb over her shoulder, “needs a place to stay while that happens.”
That sounds straightforward enough—which means I just know number two will be anything but. “So the second is? You need a fence?” I hazard.
“No, man, second is we need a diversion.” At my lack of response, she continues: “We’ve got a getaway lined up, but it’s a squeeze and we need the opening to take it.” “Hold on a moment,” I ask; “getaway where?” “Kaian Passageway #4.”
“Kaian,” I mutter, and that’s as far as I get in repeating it before I realise: “You’re going to the Earth.”
“Yeah, man.” There’s this faint note of confusion in Ringo’s eyes, like she’s not quite sure just why I should be surprised.
At a plan to flee to the Earth. Expecting to live out long and leisurely lives of impurity. With artefacts stolen precisely from the notorious Lunar terrorists known to be in hiding there.
There is such a thing as overconfidence, you know!
“Palatine presence’ll be at a minimum during the party.” Ringo continues on, heedless. “Big incident lights off while everyone’s plastered as mochi, and the three of us’re trans-Earth injecting before anyone knows we’ve left the pad. We pull it off, and we’ll live like— like—”
“Imperial Tsars,” I mutter. “Yeah, that!”
Shot, bayoneted, and thrown down a mineshaft, idiot!
“I mean we’re going to die!”
Her eyes flutter shut, too long for a blink, and open again, the confusion coming back double. Then she says the next thing:
“We all are, aren’t we?”
And it’s my turn to blink out my confusion, for just a moment, until I realise just what she’s said; what she’s really saying; what she’s accepted for herself. Life, true life, mortal life—and where that road ends. It bears down on me with the weight of sin.
I clench my hands and force myself to breathe.
The Earth changes a rabbit. I know that.
“. . . Reisen?” “Shut up!”
Ringo flinches—actually flinches—and I grab her by the neck of her shirt, pulling her down so I can stare into her soul.
“Let’s clear up some misconceptions.”
The Earth changes a rabbit. That may be true.
So does staff college.
“I’m Reisen. You’ve got that part right. You’ve got the next part wrong, though, because I’m not a dead-end rice-pounder like you seem to think I am. This—” I grab the aiguillette on my uniform, Ringo’s eyes following obediently—“means I work for the Watatsukis. It means I have a desk and an office, and a job and a pay grade that aren’t an insult. And you know what? I’m good at my job.”
I let go, leaving her to sit in stunned silence. My blood comes to a fever pitch, and I muster all my willpower not to shake or stammer, because my next words need to be clear and deliberate—
“Here’s my counteroffer.” No sooner than that’s said do those floppy ears of hers jump, shooting up and knocking her hat askew. I wet my lips and continue: “I’ll keep your loot safe. I’ll even gift-wrap it in a Lunar veil, when I hand it off to you. After the party.”
She’s collected herself at this point, both hands on her hat and eyeing me warily from underneath it. “What’s your angle?”
And then I drop the finishing blow: “You are going to help me make sure my party goes flawlessly.”
Ringo doesn’t say anything at first; just pulls her hat lower, until it covers her eyes, and then her whole face. Then she starts shaking, starting from the shoulders, spreading slowly, until she can’t hold it in any longer—bursting into peals of bright, heady laughter. “Reisen,” she manages, between gasps, “you beautiful—” before she falls back into wordlessness, tears welling in her eyes.
Seiran cuts through the mood with a warning: “Palatines on our tails!”
“It’s fine; I’ll talk to them.” I smile, sweetly as syrup. “Pull in right there—I’m in the mood for pancakes.”
The Youkai Are Coming 2/2Anonymous2018/09/17 (Mon) 06:24No. 2211▼
This is it. After a gruelling week of overtime securing every inch of the château—every wall, every window, every mullion and every mouse-hole—on top of planning the party itself!—it’s finally time to see my hard work pay off.
I stride up to the stately banquet hall doors and pull them open.
And then close them again, wondering idly if it might be possible to hate someone out of existence.
“Reisen?” calls out Lady Yorihime from behind me. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I lie, making a show of twitching my ears. “I’m just a little, um, nervous.” I crack the doors open again, just for a peek, and then let them back shut, focusing my hate beam through the lacquered wood.
A hand drops down on my head, gently ruffling my hair. “Lady Toyohime?”
“Reisen,” she whispers, “it’s all right. You’ve done a wonderful job with the party. We’ll be handling it from here—all that’s left is for you to show everyone in, and then you’ll be free to enjoy yourself.”
I scrape together whatever dregs of comfort I can get from those words and pour them into an enthusiastic croak of “yeahh”.
“That’s a good girl,” says Lady Toyohime, before she returns to her place by her sister’s side.
I fix my hair, make peace with my life, and open Tisiphone’s gate.
At the head of the receiving line stands Yukari Yakumo wearing a Lunarian admiral’s uniform and a fake moustache.
I reach the count of twenty-six before I start wondering about the distinct lack of bullets saturating the room.
Carefully, I pull a glance off to my right. Lady Toyohime smiles at me. I glance back to my left. Yukari Yakumo smiles at me. To the right again. Lady Yorihime smiles at me. And to the left again. ‘Admiral Donuts’ smiles at me.
Her nameplate says ‘Admiral Donuts’.
“Lady Toyohime, Lady Yorihime,” I recite, “may I present—Admiral Donuts.”
Lady Toyohime extends her hand. “It’s very nice to see you tonight, Admiral.” Yukari Yakumo takes it firmly. “Fwafwafwafwafwah.” Lady Yorihime also extends her hand. “Glad you could make it, Admiral.” Yukari Yakumo also takes it firmly. “Fwah fwafwafwa fwah.”
And then she twiddles her moustache at me and walks off towards the bar.
Lady Yorihime! Are you ill? Did you hit your head while training? Lady Toyohime! Have you eaten something strange off the ground again?
Yeah, right! You don’t make it in the Defense Corps by being the bearer of bad news!
Next is two oni stacked under a Lunarian admiral’s bridge coat.
Actually, the one on the bottom isn’t even short. She’s crouching. And her head still comes up to my chin. I can tell that’s where her head is because that’s where her horn is sticking out. Lady Yorihime is doing her best not to stare at it. That’s okay, because Lady Toyohime is doing enough staring down there for the both of them. I didn’t know you swung that way, Lady Toyohime.
“Lady Toyohime, Lady Yorihime—” I glance up at the nameplate—“Admiral Tallsey.” “Fwah fwafwa fwafwah.” And ‘Admiral Tallsey’ waddles off.
To be followed by Remilia Scarlet, dressed as ‘Admiral Batty’. “Fwafwa fwafwafwa fwah.” Plus her maid. “Good mooning.”
I’m not sure if that’s a lesser or a greater insult to the Lunarian language.
The next pair of guests haven’t even bothered with a disguise. They’ve just shown up as themselves.
The one with the fruity hat walks up and grabs my hand, shaking it up and down and introducing herself in English of all things. “Hey, nice party. I’m Tenshi, how ya doin’? Really a nice party. Hey, I just flew in from Bhava-agra, and boy was my hovercraft full of—”
Her companion flexes her hand, and apologises in, um. Lunarian, I think.
“Thus do we, the eldest daughter of the Hinanawi and the envoy of the Dragon Palace, beseech thee, that thou wouldst be pleased to forgive us our trespasses: for thine is the château, and the party, and the little finger sandwiches with the tomato and the basil, for ever and ever.”
It’s probably Lunarian, anyway. Probably.
“Well, I,” demurs Lady Toyohime, “wouldn’t say no . . .”
“All right!” Tenshi Hinanawi pumps her fist in the air. “Nice goin’, Iku, I knew I could count on—”
I could get used to hearing that.
Next is . . . oh, it’s you two. And, from the line of white floppy ears behind them, an end to the youkai ‘guests’. Well, hopefully. Hopefully.
“Lady Toyohime, Lady Yorihime, may I present Second Lieutenant Ringo and Technical Sergeant Seiran.”
Hey, man, do you know what’s going on? A party. I mean why is the place crawling with youkai, smart-ears. Oh, you noticed? Save it for the Palatines. Well, beats me, honestly. By the way, you remember our deal, right? Yeah? Wait, you—you knew about this? A little birdie might’ve whispered in my ear. You knew. Ringo clenches her fists—in the middle of shaking Lady Yorihime’s hand. You knew! Hey, you’ve fought off an invasion before, right? So you’ve got prior experience. Hey, don’t move; you’ve got something on your solar plexus—
Seiran drags her off before she can start anything in front of the Watatsukis, Ringo biting her dango skewer in half under a deathly rictus as they walk away. That’s all right. Welcome to my life.
Lady Yorihime? Is your hand all right?
What is happening.
“Reisen here works very hard, you know.” Lady Toyohime pauses halfway through her fourth plate of sandwiches to pet my head some more. “She set up this whole party for us, the snacks and the balloons and everything. She’s the one you should be thanking, really.”
“We’ve always thought the Sages shouldn’t be so quick to write off our rabbits,” adds Lady Yorihime. “They’re full of surprises.”
“Heeaargh,” suggests Ringo, on account of being stuck arm-wrestling Lady Yorihime.
“Fwafwa fwah fwafwah,” suggests Admiral Tallsey. “Drink,” suggests Admiral Tallsey (lower half). Admiral Tallsey slips another bottle down her trousers.
“Thus does the envoy of the Dragon Palace beseech thee to hear us, that thou wouldst enlighten and confer upon us the salt shaker, please.” “Fwafwa fwah fwafwah,” obliges Admiral Batty.
Why are they so well-behaved.
I’ve seen enough. There is definitely something going on here. I need to go check on the booze!
“Lady Toyohime,” I say, putting a cute waggle into my ears, “if you would excuse me?” She covers her mouth with a hand. “Oh, what’ph fhe matter?”
Um. “I . . . feel something in my bones.” No, no, no, that was rubbish!—
Yukari Yakumo twitches.
A-ha! I’ve got your number!
“Yhore—” Lady Toyohime swallows. “Your bones?” “Yes, I— I feel it in my bones!” I grab at my ribs, which are bones, for emphasis.
Yukari Yakumo is trying to hate me out of existence.
“Well, do go on,” says Lady Toyohime, eyes clouding with worry.
And I do.
The halls of the château are quiet as ever, once I leave the hubbub of the party. I take care not to break that silence, ears pricked up for any errant rustle of cloth; any tell-tale creak of wood as I make my way through the darkened building. With each step, I pass by treasures the Watatsukis have collected over millennia, lit faintly in that abyssal blue earthshine.
Plates adorned with scenes long forgotten by any mortal eyes.
Flowers, rendered ageless in the splendour of full bloom.
Jewels carved of crystals born under the stillest cold of the Sages’ devising.
Racks of burnished armour wielding nameless weapons, stood in silent vigil.
Where did all these suits of armour come from.
What is this, Gothic? Maximilian? We’ve never had anything like that here!
Oh, this is bugging me out!
I make as much haste as I can while trying not to alert the intruders, fingers white around the grip of my gun. My eyes dart frantically left and right for any hint of movement from the gantlet of mystery armours, which seem to spring up one by one as I clear hallway after staircase after hallway.
It’s not long before I’m just about ready to start putting holes in the next suit of armour I see, and I have to pause beside a doorway to recover my nerve. That’s when two of them drift past me, pollaxes in hand and sabatons hanging inches above the floor.
My fight–flight reaction settles for ‘freeze and also cry a little’.
Five seconds later, I open my eyes to find myself still in one piece, which is about two dozen fewer than what I was expecting, and the suits of armour drifting lazily away down the hallway.
Against my better judgement, I move to pursue.
It’s when they pass by an exterior window that I notice the two of them are sporting hats on top of their sallets: one a black courtier’s hat; the other a blue pointed number. And it could just be coincidence, but it’s as I notice this that I start to hear voices; ethereal whispers, tugging at the corners of my ears—
“How many more of these fluted fuckin’ shitcans do we gotta bring in?”
“We’re almost done. I’d say, what, a dozen more?” “Fuck’s sake.” “There are two of us, so that’s only six more trips.” “I can divide just fine, dickhead.” “Look, it’s been ages since I got to pull a good spook like this, and I want to do it right. Can’t you get into the spirit of things a little?” “Itta’ be easier if you tell me what the fuck you’re thinkin’.”
They stop, both sets of armour touching down softly on either side of the hall.
“Alright, alright, alright. Listen.” “Well, I got fuck else to do right now.” “When you think of a haunted mansion, what do you think of?”
“Uh.” The harness with the black hat shrugs its pauldrons. “Fuckin’. Konjac jelly?” “. . . What?” “Y’know. Ya get up in the middle of the night to take a piss, and you’re walkin’ down the hallway, and this block a’ konjac jelly’s hangin’ in mid-air.”
The blue-hatted harness just stares.
“It’s the konjac jelly ghost.”
“. . . Are you six years old?”
“Fuck you, okay?”
Blue-hat throws up her gauntlets. “Look, we’re not some two-bit dining room poltergeists. We’re vengeful spirits! So when you think of a mansion haunt, it’s gotta mean possessed suits of armour walking around, right?”
“Does it.” “Yes. It does.” “A hundred and eight of ’em.” “Well, usually I’d possess the ones already in the place, but they didn’t have any.” Blue-hat scratches her bevor. “Pretty tacky of them.”
“So you’re makin’ us lug in a hundred and eight of ’em.”
“We need to get the bottles out of here somehow, and look—where’s the best place to hide a tree?”
Black-hat trembles silently for a moment, and then raises her pollaxe with a war-cry of “Fuck off!”
Blue simply takes a measured step backwards, winding the shaft-end of her weapon around the incoming axe-head and forcing it off to the side, before rushing forward into Black’s guard and driving the cue at her gorget—twisting at the hips to lever her opponent off her balance.
Black-hat clatters to the floor in one big pile.
“Don’t even try,” gloats Blue.
Then the world explodes in light and sound.
The pungent smack of ozone is the first thing I can sense again.
Slowly, my vision comes back to me, the burnt image of the one harness standing vainquant over the other fading into the present reality of both lying discarded on the floor—one intact, one with a charred and gaping rend in the cuirass.
My hearing is last to return, bits and pieces of speech just barely reaching me through the ringing, pulling my attention upwards to where the two spirits hang at duelling range. They stare each other down, fulgor and stardust all overflowing.
“You’ve got some nerve, Soga,” hisses Blue-hat.
“And you got a couple a’ fuckin’ screws loose.” Soga rolls up her sleeves. “No worries, though, I’ll tighten ’em for ya.”
This is totally not good! I need to do something! Um, um, um!
I jump out of my hiding spot, making a finger moustache and waving my gun around. “Fwafwafwafwah fwafwafwah!”
The angry ghosts whirl around at my intrusion, incipient attack magic now fully directed at me, and the sight of it is enough to make me think that maybe, just maybe, this was a bad idea. I brace myself for my imminent transformation into a vaguely rabbit-flavoured stain on the floor. Thank you, Lady Toyohime, Lady Yorihime, I’ve lived a good life—
“Shit, mooners!” the ghosts shout, diving clean through the floor.
My knees give way and my gun slips out of my hand.
I’m going to cry, now.
. . . Something flutters in the corner of my vision.
I wipe the moisture from my eyes and crawl over to it.
It’s a pure, white ostrich feather.
I pick it up and bring it to my nose.
It smells of syrup.
That’s right, Reisen. You can’t give up now.
I crush the feather in my hand.
Not while you still have all these axes to grind.
I reach my office at the stroke of midnight.
Wasting no time, I move straight to where I’ve cached Princess Kaguya’s treasures. A place no Lunarian would ever, even in the wildest reaches of the imagination, think to look.
I open the drawer labelled ‘JUNIOR ENLISTED FEEDBACK’.
The salamander’s robe drapes loosely over my shoulders, the sleeves hanging past my wrists. I fill the pockets with the other treasures in turn: the dragon’s bullet, the diamond bowl, the cowrie shell, and the—
They forgot the jewelled branch!
Well, it makes sense, since they’re more liability than asset down on the Earth, and they grow everywhere along the streets of the Capital besides, so . . . nothing to it. I fling open the French window, climbing up onto the railing of the balcony to snap one off of the backyard udonge trees.
Am I going to have to make do with an unbloomed branch, though? There isn’t any impurity to be found up here.
Wait. The Phantasmoon cels!
I pull them out of the filing cabinet, waving the branch over them. Yeah, this’ll work!
. . . It twitches, but nothing else happens. Um. Maybe it needs a little more encouragement?
I try stroking it gently.
It gets longer and a bit heavier.
If I . . . pretend it’s a chikuwa, and put the tip of it in my mouth . . . and roll my tongue around it a little—
The branch blooms brilliantly into those mesmerising seven-coloured jewels, and also stiffens in my hand in a way that makes me kind of really not want to hold it anymore. I swallow, drawing in the lingering traces of the Princess’ power from her treasures.
It’s nothing more than dregs and fumes. But a rabbit is nothing if not resourceful.
The trap is set.
One hundred and eight racks of armour.
Two—possessed by vengeful spirits. One hundred and five—sporting rabbit-ear headbands. One—possessed by this rabbit.
Let’s see them try to cross this forest.
“Fuck did all these rabbit ears come from,” complains Soga. “It’s doin’ me for a fuckin’ loop.”
“We’re being watched,” says Blue-hat.
“Cut that shit out!” Soga rubs her rerebraces. “I hate this feelin’.”
“We are being watched,” Blue hisses.
“Seriously?” “Yes.” “No shit?—”
I let go of the string in my left hand, and the set of armour across from me drops its sword.
“Ah shit fuck piss!” startles Soga, nearly crashing into her companion. The two of them whirl around, scanning the hallway, to no avail.
“Careful!” snaps Blue-hat, patting her cuirass. “I’m carrying the bottle here!”
“Fuck was that,” Soga grumbles, pulling up her visor. She reaches out to the offending set of armour, pulling off the fake ears. “Hey—”
The konjac jelly swings down from the ceiling and into her face.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAA FUCK MIMA HELP GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF”
“Oh, you dumbass!” Mima tries, but fails to get through Soga’s mad flailing. “Quit moving!”
That’s when I make my move. The Lunar veil, balled tight in my right hand, now springs free, and I wrap the silken moonlight around the two, calling up the last of my power over instantaneity to stretch out my window of opportunity.
The moment passes, and the three of us fall to the floor as one. I pull the laces at my sides and let my armour fall apart, scrambling over on hands and knees to tie off the Lunar veil and bind the ghosts in their new metal prisons.
A thought crosses my mind as I’m catching my breath.
You didn’t stand a ghost of a chance!
Tempting. But no.
I burst triumphantly back into the banquet hall, dragging the ghostly intruders along by their hats, the veil rendering them weightless. Even though I’ve already stowed the Princess’ treasures away again, them having fulfilled their purpose, by the time I reach the Watatsukis and the Lunarian Admiralty Board, I’ve got every pair of eyes in the room on me.
“—GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF—”
That might have something to do with it, yes.
I slam the stolen bottle down on the table, smirking at Yukari Yakumo. “You didn’t stand a—”
“—GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF—”
Oh, right. Um.
“—GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF—”
Lady Toyohime sets down her fan. “Yes, Reisen?”
“You, um.” Okay, no, I’ve changed my mind again. Um, how about . . . “Lady Toyohime, Lady Yorihime, may I present—”
I reach over and rip off her fake moustache.
Lady Toyohime gasps. “Yukari Yakumo?”
Lady Yorihime narrows her eyes. “Yukari Yakumo.”
“Yes,” says Yukari Yakumo, “it is I: Yukari Yakumo.”
“We got your inside guys.” I tug on Mima’s hat. “Trying for a repeat of your last scheme?”
“You would think so lowly of me, the great Yukari Yakumo?” Yukari Yakumo smiles. “Think again! You’re dealing with Yukari Yakumo, after all! There’s no such thing as predictability when it comes to me—the Youkai Sage Yukari Yakumo!”
“All right,” I say, slipping my hand into my pocket, “what are you planning?” Yukari Yakumo lets out a bark of laughter. “Why, you’ll never guess!” “We don’t have to,” I bluff. “We know a lot more than you think we do.”
Come on, come on . . .
“I, Yukari Yakumo, find that hard to believe.” Yukari Yakumo crosses her arms. I bang my fist on the table. “What are you saying!”
“I’m saying you’re too late—I’ve already won!”
“By those words,” I declare, pulling the feather out of my pocket, “let the circumstance be overturned—” focusing, as Lady Yorihime did, as I had watched her do, every morning and every evening—“Ame-no-Sagume!”
The feather shines bright in my hand, and not a word is spoken as the room is filled with divine radiance. The light grows, and grows, and grows, the winds of fate reversing their course as the presence of the goddess herself descends upon us.
Privately, I share a little smile with myself, ticking off the first name on my list.
Lady Sagume blinks, finding herself floating ten feet in the air in the middle of a crowded banquet hall, clothed in nothing more than soap suds and armed with nothing more than a bath scrubber.
She launches the scrubber at Yukari Yakumo, knocking the crudely-drawn paper mask off her face.
In the highly likely event that I am literally the only newbie for this contest, and I'd feel weird about that ))))))) reposting (((((((
Hellooo~? This still works right?
Hearing you loud and clear.
You hear what they’re saying? How couldn’t you? Nobody will shut up about it.
All rabbits of the Partridge Unit, please respond. Going to the sea tomorrow, should be fun. We still hidden? We are. Quit it with that. Yeah, you. Present. Present. I’m honestly... Yeah, I’m here. Present. I’m honestly kinda scared. Lady Yorihime is asking for you. Crap! Ahh, shit! Lady Yorihime!? Hey, we all are. Seiran sneaks mochi from the pounders when no one’s around. You alright? Hey! I don’t! Yeah. They aren’t interfering with these channels? What a relief... Ke~gare kegare~! They already landed. What’re we gonna do? Hey, cut that out, that’s not funny. It’s kinda funny. Stop using the coms to talk about eating mochi. They’re humans. All of them? All of them. YUM YUM MOCHI’S GREAT Stop it! What are humans doing on the Moon? Ringo sneaks mochi from the pounders when no onGUILTY Hey if any of you guys want to give me mochi What about Keiun? Does she steal mochi? I will take your mochi. Lady Toyohime is in talks with Lunarian higher ups about what to do. The truth is: all rabbits are mochi thieves. NO! No! Nuh uh! I’m not. No. I’ll still admit it, at least on here. Don’t rat, guys. Does Reisen steal mochi? Of course! For rabbit ears only! I don’t. Looking for my mallet. Anyone seen it? Are we gonna be okay? What’s it look like? I hear we’re deploying. Like, for real. We can take ‘em! No. It has a star on it, heh heh. Oh no... really? Hey guys, have you heard? Hey! Someone come over Eastways and help me with the training dummies! Toyohime, or Momohime? Heard what? Out with it! No way! Heheheh Haha Ha, that’s funny. She won’t stop stealing peaches! Hey remember we’re all in this together. Peaches or mochi, who do you love more!? Hope you can fight, rabbits. I’ve got all of you. You, mochi! Always you! None of us can fight. Thanks, Ringo. HAHAHAHA!! Heheh Come on guys this is serious. Except Reisen. I don’t want it to be serious. Can’t we just goof off? “Come on” yourself. Hey Reisen, how you holdin’ up? Reisen? Hey! Listen up! Won’t be long now! I’m gonna try to broadcast some music, The pure land is definitely being tainted. Wait what Reisen? hold on.
The chaos of worries and chatter, rumors and feeling all fade.
Except that music.
Music on the Moon’s been the same since before I was born. Our Lunarian masters like “eternity”, and not changing.
But, this music Ringo’s bringing in is from Earth. She caught the signal and is sending it over our ears. I’ve got to give it to the humans: it’s a nice sound. They use old, primitive instruments to make laid-back, smooth tunes in their orchestras. It helps me relax. I really need to relax. I send Ringo my thanks.
「You’re welcome, but the others are worried about you, so get back on the wide band.」
No can do. I tell her to tell them I’m asleep.
「Putting lies over the waves? That’s unheard of.」
I laugh, mainly through my nose, and hug my knees to my chest. I look out past the Sea of Tranquility, watching and listening to the Earth below us. The sea’s calm ambience goes nicely with these easy sounds.
... The name they gave me was Reisen. I don’t know if my parents would’ve given me a different name. They were named like that, too, by their owners. I’m one of the pet rabbits of the Ladies Watatsuki, and they decided to make me a soldier of the Lunar Defense Corps. It doesn’t tend to mean anything... strict training that most rabbits skip out on, and no sorties or real combat. We exist in the Lunar Capital, and it’s not easy getting in here in the first place. We’re the first line of defense should any of our other automatic defenses fail, and we’re a hidden society ran on incredible technology so I think it says a lot how unimportant we, the Corps, ultimately are. But, unfortunately today marks one of those rare events in history: a time when the Lunar Defense Corps has to mobilize. I was hoping I’d die before that happened, not that dying’s easy when you exist in a pure land, away from mortality. I don’t really want to die before I “should”, that’s all... Or, no, that’s not all. I really, really don’t want to go. I really don’t want to fight. But, even more unfortunately for me, I’m good at it: fighting. I’m going to fight.
And, I’m going to die.
I try focusing on the trumpets and slow strings coming over my ears, but I keep thinking about the truth: that my job is to prove more serious measures need to be taken. We are the test. They won’t say that outright, to not slander our masters who manage and direct the Corps, but that’s what we are. I remember learning about it: how during the last invasion all the lunar rabbits sent to fight were killed, which prompted the Lunarians to fight on their own. The way they wrote about it, “The Lunar Defense Corps were unsuccessful in stopping the initial attack of the youkai,” is just like them, too. We know. Even if it happened a long time ago, we know what happened to our comrades and family. We’ve told it throughout the ages – the deaths and meals made of the rabbits in those battles – and not over our ears, but to each other, in our homes. It’s the truth.
The truth is, no matter what, I’m a tool.
My ears begin to crinkle and droop.
“Ohh...” I moan, petting them and trying to smooth them out. I pet, and pet, and my anxiety keeps building. My resentment keeps building. I may be the best rabbit my masters have seen, but I am still a rabbit, and I’m still scared, and worried, and I just want to hide in bed—just want to munch on something away from everywhere else. Just don’t want to get caught up in anything. Just want to sleep, and dream. But that’s not anything a slave can do, at least not now. They’ll let rabbits off the hook when nothing serious is happening, because rabbits will be rabbits, but during history-making like this... It won’t only be me; we’re all going to fight.
「You’re still broadcasting a little to me.」
「Don’t worry about it. Get back to the estate, we’re mobilizing.」
I go completely silent.
I get an incoming, 「You there?」
「I’m heading over. Can you give me the equipment storage key?」
「We’re not supposed to have that, or go in there without Lady Yorihime’s permission.」
「But you have it right?」
I feel frustration from her signal.
「What do you even need from there?」
「Listen, I’m the one who knows the weapons and equipment best. I’m going to do an evaluation and try equipping everyone properly.」
「... That right?」 ... her signal is... cool? 「Just this once, Reisen.」
I give her my thanks again, and stand up.
“Listen up!” shouts Lady Yorihime.
“The first strike—” can be heard echoing over the manor from a distance.
“The humans have planted their flag just beyond the Sea of Tranquility, claiming it theirs and spreading impurity in this Pure Land.”
“—is for Lady J̰̥͓o̯̰͚̼̤̕u̦͉̲̚g̸͚̭͇̹͑̄̈́̄͒a̭̘̻̱͇͙̻ͦͮͦ̓̔ͩ͐!“
“You will depart for the Sea and move past it in an hour.”
“The second strike—” the chant continues.
“I know that you are all scared...” says Master, her hands behind her back.
“—is for Lady J̶̺̻̥ͧ̄̇̓̒̎o͙̝̼̹̦͛ͩ̌́̉̈́u͓̟g̀͗ͮ͡ȁ̙͎̖ͣ̉͐̚!“
“... but this is where you will prove your worth to Lunar Society.” Her eyes are closed, and she seems to mean this earnestly.
Of course she does. For all our follies, Lady Yorihime always believes in us.
I stand at attention in a group of fifty rabbits, dressed in black blazers and white skirts woven with Lunarian technology for defense and more. We each have a rifle to fire bullet curtains (each with unique settings and properties to suit every rabbit), a helmet, magic, and red eyes that cause Lunacy. We are the first line, and I am part of the vanguard. Beside me is Ringo, a short-haired blond, floppy-eared and mostly lazy rabbit (which, if you think is redundant, you haven’t met Ringo), eating dango as always. She gets that allowance since it makes her more powerful. What a funny ability...
Behind me is the blue-haired and twin-braided Seiran, looking and glaring at Ringo. She’s one of the top soldiers in our Corps. Keiun, another skilled rabbit, is somewhere at the back of our formation. Every rabbit aside from us looks pale, and they’re all trembling. I take my hand to my abdomen, and grip at my uniform.
“If all goes well,” Master continues, striding as she speaks, her long ponytail (violet as mine) flowing in the wind along with her split skirt, “you will engage in no fighting. The plan is only to sabotage the humans’ vessel, the ‘Apollo Eleven’. A ship named after the Sun is doomed to fail on the Moon. You will most definitely succeed.” She stops, the hilt of the sword she always has at her waist clinking at the abrupt motion. She looks over us, and it seems particularly to me. “And should it still come to engagement, if you still have to fight...” Lady Yorihime begins in her deep voice, “some of the best rabbits to have ever entered the Corps are with you today, and Reisen—” I jump, “—has given you all means to win, equipping every last one of you uniquely to best ensure your survival, and of course, victory.”
I swallow, and harden my eyes, not looking at anyone else. Ringo looks at me, and her ears twitch in the corner of my eye, but she doesn’t send me any ESP waves. I feel my own ears crinkling.
“Elder Sister? Do you have any words for the rabbits?” Master asks Master, who is sitting in a tree watching us, eating a peach.
Lady Toyohime, gorgeous as ever, her yellow, bountiful hair radiant as the Sun, still won’t give us much to bolster morale. We all look at her; she swallows a bite of fruit and says, “I think you’ll all do fine. You may just be rabbits, but they’re just humans.”
A backhanded compliment, like always. Nobody is happy about that, as our murmuring thoughts meld together in collective disappointment. If there was ever a time to cheer us on, Lady Toyohime, it was now.
“Then, my last word is that I have all faith in you. Prepare for deployment in approximately fifty minutes! Dismissed!” Lady Yorihime shouts, and all the rabbits but me begin to scramble.
I stand still, my comrades running all around behind me.
And I keep my abdomen gripped.
“Hey,” comes a whisper at my ear. I look to see that it’s Ringo, with her hand on my shoulder. “Let’s talk a minute before anything else.”
She looks serious for once... She... probably figured me out, I guess.
This smaller rabbit drags me beneath a tree, out of any sort of earshot, and says in a voice only for my ears, “Why’d you take a Lunar Veil?”
I don’t answer her, shifting my eyes. She grabs me by the shoulder again, “Hey, Reisen, I get it but... you’ve gotta be strong now, for everyone. Come on.”
I can feel tears welling in my eyes, and suddenly I’m pulled down into her chest, where she keeps me hugged. “Alright, alright, calm down little bun,” she says, squeezing me further. I grip at her blazer, and keep hiccupping as I wet it, almost uncontrollable. She keeps trying to console me, starting to pet my hair, “Chill Reisen, I know... I know it’s tough, ‘cause everyone’s relying on you. You especially. You haven’t been listening, but most of us are putting our hopes on you, and that’s not fair.” I shake, sobbing. “We good guys are the ones everyone’s going to look to in this battle and... yeah, I think it’s gonna be a battle.” She finally lets me go, looking into my broken face with pity, “But that’s why we need you. We need everyone, together. You can’t... You can’t escape now. Please.” She grips my shoulders, and I continue sniffling. She takes out a cloth, and begins wiping my face.
“I-I-I’ll t-try b-but... I... I’m not any less s-scared than you guys...” I tell her.
“Yeah,” she says. 「I know.」
This is Reisen, the vanguard is nearing the opposite shore of Tranquility. Alright girls, do your best.
scared Can anyone see it? Can anyone see Apollo 11? This is Keiun. I can see ‘em. Hey, our suits generating atmosphere correctly? How many? scared Yep, no problems. I’m scared Three, looks like.
Just three? There’s fifty of us, this’ll be cake! Are we gonna be okay?
stay strong, stay strong I’m really scared Don’t get lazy now, they’re spreading impurity, and we don’t know what sort of weapons they have.
Let’s make Lady Yorihime proud! gogo gogogo goOOOOOHHH!! gogo ░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ ▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒ ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓
I raise my gun. I can see it now too.
Humans. I’ve never encountered any before them, and only know about their culture. They’re primitives, nothing at all like Lunarians. Impurity rots them to their cores, and they live and die on a ball of polluted dirt. Going down there... is an absolute last resort.
「Landing! Make it soft and make it gentle, ladies! Let’s keep our cover, come on come on—move, move!」 I order, and we begin to land on the sands of Tranquility, hiding behind dunes. I look behind myself: the rabbits from the middle and the rear guard are waiting for our signal to approach. Ringo is still beside me, having gone into a meditative seating position with her eyes closed. Her ears are nudging under her helmet; seems she’s trying to figure out the area and situation. I excel at wave manipulation myself, but Ringo has a knack for “finding” things.
I begin organizing the other troops. Most of the girls here are for backup in case things go poorly; we at the front just have to get in, sabotage the Apollo 11 vessel, and get out. To that end I’m paramount. I can manipulate waves surrounding us such that we can’t be perceived visually or audibly. I just... hope it’ll work on humans. Lady Yorihime said it should, but my heart is pounding and I’m anxious beyond belief.
Ringo opens an eye to look at me.
I nod at her to reassure her, and she picks herself up, getting into a squatting position to start briefing us.
「Here’s the deal: they’re definitely prepared to deal with threats, and they have weapons, but I couldn’t figure out how they work from what I could gather. There’s also no good news, unfortunately.」
「What?」 someone asks.
「They have some sort of equipment that should allow them to find us if we get too close, even with Reisen’s manipulation. I don’t think we should risk a man to test if that’s true. I don’t want any rabbits dying today.」 Ringo starts rubbing her hands together harshly, and I get the feeling she’s worried. 「 I’m saying we overwhelm them.」
「It’s what we’re really trained for, and we have our orders, right? No diplomacy.」 She looks at me with a severe expression. 「We have to fight.」
I swallow, nod, and begin delivering orders.
We form a sniping-heavy position while I send others to begin surrounding the airspace. I tell them to be careful because of Ringo’s call that they could see us, but I cloak them and make them imperceptible just in case.
And, while I’m looking over the surface and sky of the Moon, I’m shocked by a piercing scream beside me. We all huddle down under the dune we were manning, and try to identify who that was. It turns out it was Terere, and she’s holding her face and struggling to hold back her voice, writhing in agony on the ground. I take charge at once, and pull her hand from her face,
“Wh-What the...!?” I whisper, and a wave of panic spreads throughout our ears and minds.
Terere’s cheek has been sliced open, her blood burst across us all and her own face. Nobody knows what happened.
I order her treatment at once by Yuuwa, who rushes over and applies medical tape to start healing. I shoot a look at Ringo.
“What was that!?” I shout.
“I-I don’t know! Their weapon!?” she says in a loud whisper.
And the rumor immediately spreads, sinking our morale. The invaders seem to possess invisible bullets. Nobody knows how to comprehend that.
“Why’d they fire on us...?” I murmur, thinking, thinking. Did someone get spotted? They got too cocky? Did the enemy notice our rifles? What happened?
“Can’t you use your skills to see anything invisible!?” Ringo asks me.
“Wh-What if it’s not? It could just be fast...”
“That fast...!?” she whispers, sinking into herself and pushing her hand under her helmet. “No, no, there’s no way.”
I send out an order: 「Those in the air! Rain on them!」
And a battle begins in earnest.
First, with our weaponry, it seems the humans have mostly no problem surviving attacks in their strange white armor and bizarre, dark, mirrored helmets. What’s more, they can avoid most of what we throw at them. They hold rectangles in their hands, and though using them seems to throw their arms out of whack, it isn’t long before I’m seeing rabbits dropping out of the air as they loudly blast them over and over, aiming at the sky.
I charge then, not even thinking.
I hear actual shouting behind me while frequencies blare with insistence that I come back, but they’re wrong. I need to act. I need to get out there. I abandon use of my rifle, letting it swing behind me on its strap, and I lift my hand. I look at them and point, shooting a volley of my own raw magic at them while sending madness and fury through my gaze. Steadfast, they throw a sphere.
It drops below me and I stop, concerned. A white streak flies before my face then. That must mean—
Keiun, the pale rabbit, scoops up the sphere that had dropped at my feet and hurls it away before grabbing me into the cradle of her arms. I see the scar over her closed right eye for a second before she turns her face from me and leaps back toward our sniping position. The sphere then explodes.
The air shimmers, and pieces of metal fire out from it in all directions. A bit slices over the side of Keiun’s ear, and she doesn’t flinch. As the smoke fades, I look over the battlefield surrounding the three men from Earth, and feel myself going cold.
... The white and gray world is being stained. Pink and red colors have been streaked and cast all over. My comrades are either motionless, or braving the chaos to retrieve the motionless. Bullet curtains are being bombarded down on the humans and their ship, while more explosions go off, crackling POPs resound, and rabbits make sounds of horror. But it isn’t the sound that starts to break me: it’s the quiet. The voices ending over our ears. It’s not something I’ve ever felt before, like I know the others are vanishing and I think they’re only going to sleep, but no calming waves come from their signal, no images of dreams... no, no signal. Just gone.
Keiun brings me back to the company of the others, and as I realize there are twenty of us still thinking, I immediately recede into myself. She looks at me through her messy bangs with her sole red eye and turns to explain to the others. “I never thought the humans would bring their Earth weapons to the Moon, given the difference in gravitational force,” she says. “They’re stupider than I thought, or desperate at least.”
“What do we do?” asks Yuuwa.
“I’m not good at strategy, Yuu. It’s better if...” she pauses, and she looks at me, “... if someone else takes charge.”
“We’re losing real bad!” Houka exclaims.
Then, another voice goes silent, and Ringo opens a pouch of hers.
“R-Ringo,” I say, “don’t,”
“I’m tired of this deal,” she says, reaching into the pack, “I’m going to take a better hand for all of us.”
“Even if you go, it’ll just be you!” I yell.
She takes out her hand, and a grip of candied balls. Dango.
“Then,” she says with a maverick smile, “don’t let me go alone.”
She begins swallowing the mochi desperately, gorging herself while also sending out orders to the rest of the troops. Stopping herself from choking. Forcing it all down. 「Try to confuse them,」「Someone have my back,」「We’re going for the ship, and then for our friends.」
“Ringo...” I say, my voice fluttering.
She stabs a skewer into the pouch, taking the last of the dango in it from there. She stands up and says aloud, “It’s really now or never,” putting the skewer to her mouth, and biting the dough off of it. She swings herself over the hill, her clothing ruffling in the small amount of air, and she starts racing toward Apollo 11 at once. The rest of the Corps flies to join her, as she picks up the fallen on her way with ease, her strength overflowing.
I sit at the hill, still too scared.
Ringo is shot, in her arms, and in her stomach, and the strange bullets don’t pierce or wound her skin. I can see her face, as the other rabbits see it and broadcast: her look like stone and her eyes focused. Finally, one of the humans manages to get a shot off on her forehead and her neck cranes back from the blow, knocking off her helmet. She skids to the earth, gray smoke spreading like fog, before she brings her head forward again, and a small piece of crushed metal falls down from between her eyes. A tiny rivulet of blood is left behind, and she grasps tightly the clothing of the corpses in her hands, determined to move forward again.
She has one more minute of power, and no more dango left. Using it all at once like this is almost miraculous, but a constant stream of strength is why she tends to eat all the time instead.
Everyone is desperately fighting but it’s not good. I can see where this is going, and know where it’s gone before.
Ringo wants to save whoever we can and still succeed, but this is the truth:
Everyone hears me broadcast this, but they all tell me this can’t be over. I reach for my abdomen again, inside my uniform, and remove the Lunar Veil. It shines and glitters, twice my size but weightless in my hands and cool as the moonlight it’s spun from.
I look up. “Above” (below) is the Earth, colorful as ever. I hold the mantle around myself, and with more tears in my eyes as the screams grow louder, the sounds of battle fiercer, think: 「Everyone, I’m sorry.」
I leap toward the blue planet, “voices” split between calling my name, and fearing the End before it comes, it comes, it comes, and it comes, cutting them short again and again.
But as I go, one thought is clearer than the rest. Crystal clear in my head, I hear the words:
「Reisen, I understand. Don’t be sorry. I’m sorry, too.」
I enter the stream of cosmos that leads to the Earth, my form and spirit carried through space by the Veil in a tunnel of blearing and infinite stars. After that, all thoughts fade.
They say that using the Lunar Veil will remove parts of your soul, and you’ll come out the other end with memories missing.
My last selfish wish, is that my memories of today all leave me.
The Apollo 11 departs, and it won’t be coming again. In the end, it’s me, and seven other rabbits who survived. Did we even hurt those humans? Doesn’t matter. I got my helmet back at some point during all that... I take it off myself this time, shake out my ears, and fall down.
“That fighting reminded me of what I saw when we last went down to Earth,” says Keiun. “Humans... aren’t they just barbaric?”
I sigh and answer, “Never been, but yeah...” while picking myself up. It’s no time to rest, we’ve got comrades to bring back home and send off. I put my helmet on again, and with the others walk toward the dead I’d gathered while still fighting.
The next several hours are a blur, at the end of which I find myself seated behind a table before Lady Toyohime and Lady Yorihime inside the manor. They both look serious, for once.
“Those are the losses for certain, Ringo?” Lady Toyohime asks me.
“Yeah,” I say, looking at nothing in particular, “forty-one rabbits dead.”
“And eight who returned,” says Lady Yorihime, seemingly crossing her arms, “but that brings the count to forty-nine; we sent fifty of you.”
I look up, not at them, and gaze off to the side, sighing through my nose.
“We haven’t taken a survey of the names yet but,” whispers Lady Toyohime, before she addresses me in a normal tone, “Ringo? Did someone run away?”
“Reisen,” I say.
The sisters look at one another, or I can guess that’s what they’re doing out the corner of my eye.
“Why!?” asks Lady Toyohime. I’m surprised she’s reacting stronger than Lady Yorihime. I slide down in my chair, fold my arms, and finally look at them.
“She was a scared rabbit,” I explain, “not a scared soldier.” And I think to myself, Is any rabbit a soldier?
“We can’t let this be acknowledged, Elder Sister,” says Lady Yorihime, turning to her elder, “At least not the whole truth of it.”
“You’re right...” the older Lunarian agrees. “The humans won’t believe any reports either, nor would they want to admit that they failed. Our mission was... ultimately a success, after all. But, how will we explain the loss of so many rabbits?”
“This sounds like it’s words for higher councils, Masters,” I say, getting up with my hands on the table. “If you’ll allow me, I’d like to get to my family, and honor my friends.”
“Wait, Ringo,” says Lady Toyohime, stopping me. I stand in a lazy posture, hands in my skirt pockets as I twizzle the stick I used to eat that last dango from the battle between my teeth. “We didn’t only bring you here for a status report. We’d like to promote you.”
I ask, “Is that the medical tape for my psyche?” Not having it.
“No... No, Ringo, it’s just acknowledgement. You’ve always proven yourself incredibly resourceful and intelligent, and not only for a rabbit. Your findings mid-battle today were what saved those few lives that were able to be saved, as well as your leadership. You even brought about a win for us, in spite of everything. The successes of today were all by your hand. What you suffered today was our fault, and I am deeply sorry for that.”
“Yes,” says Lady Yorihime, “we are sorry that our negligence led to this outcome, little Ringo.”
And they both bow to me.
I want to just spit in their faces, but I hate this: I appreciate the gesture and want it too. No matter what I go through, no matter what my friends go through, these are my Masters who raised me. Seriously, what an awful and rotten society this is.
“Don’t bow to a rabbit,” I tell them, looking away, “it’s patronizing.”
They lift themselves up.
“So we would like you to stay, and hear what we have to say, as a sign of trust,” my blond Master tells me.
“We already have reason to believe you spy on anyone as it is, including us. It would just be better if we more assuredly knew you were using your intelligence-gathering for us rather than for fun.” She gives me a polite and placid smile.
“Well,” I say, “I don’t exactly have the freedom to refuse, do I?”
“You do,” says Lady Yorihime. “We can’t expect there to be trust between us if we order you to do this. We won’t punish your refusal, either.”
I stare at them.
And after a while, I take my seat again.
“Fine by me,” I say. “Alright, Masters, I’ll be your eagle-rabbit.” I sit in a pretzel and lace my fingers, slouching something awful. “Now,” I breathe, “go on and give me all the juicy details of Lunarians’ closets.”
This world is full of life.
I wake up in a strange green hall with the Moon shining down on me. Home... that’s right.
With quick confirmation, I realize: I remember almost everything. Whatever the Lunar Veil took from my memories, if anything, it must have been very insignificant. I am still very much “Reisen”, and it feels like no part of me is missing. Reisen... Reisen who abandoned everyone... Reisen. Are there any left? ... I don’t want to know. If it’s one, or none, I don’t want to know.
I pick myself up, bringing my body onto my knees and letting the Lunar Veil fall over my back, floating above the ground.
“This is...” I mutter to myself, looking at my surroundings. It’s bamboo. We don’t have any on the Moon because it’s a horribly invasive plant. It seems like I’m in a massive thicket of it. Something leaps out from a bunch of stalks and I yelp, falling back onto my rear as I discover it’s some awful little night crawler. I feel like throwing up. The color pink flashes through my head, and I do. I puke gooey mochi onto the earth, chunks and strings dropping from my mouth and my stomach churning. I just barely saved my clothes from that... Looks like I still have my reflexes... The scent meets my nostrils and I heave, and heave, back bending, but thankfully I don’t have anything else to vomit.
I stand then, and look at the Moon once more, and I realize... I’m about to cry.
The Pure Land makes everything unliving, and therefore undying, separate from the usual cycle of an impure world. I cut myself off from that. Now, for certain, I will die on this filthy rock...
And I may never hear from my fellow rabbits again.
A sobbing runaway enters the Bamboo Forest of the Lost, regret shaping her.
And another fugitive, bow and arrow in hand, watches her closely with her aim steady.
The Eleventh Sun has returned to the Earth, and this is now the recorded history:
“The Lunar War was fought with no battles, the humans successfully routed by a team of eight of the Lunar Defense Corps. The human invasion was unable to start, as no forward base could be established, and their ship, the Apollo 11, was disabled. A ship to the Moon, named after the Sun.