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gensokyan summer
See >>/gensokyo/16549 for information and announcements regarding the contest.
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Best 2hu switch game eva
It’s hot summer days season, and what could be more bone-warming than a Famicom game developed by Konami? How about one that’s mixed up with the terrifying power of ZUN to release extremely unique games about girls that can shoot lasers? Ohh, spooky! So, here we go – it’s Konami’s and Shanghai’s Alice 1987 Famicom game Youkai Summer Party!

Here’s the title screen, rendered in English thanks to the fine work of some fan-translators. Not that there’s much text in this one to translate, it’s very much focussed on the platforming and the monster-slaying and vast reams of prose are not Youkai Summer Party’s style.

Youkai, of course, refers to the panoply of Japanese ghosts, spirits and monsters that are known under that umbrella. There’s also a youkai that is an umbrella, although sadly that creature doesn’t pop up in AT ALL in this game even if they’re on the title. Nowadays youkai is probably most familiar to people via the runaway success of Yo-kai Watch, but there aren’t any cuddly cat friends in this game. What it does have is the Grim Reaper, hiding around the title screen like someone trying to remember where they left their car keys. The Grim Reaper isn’t a youkai, which is a good sign in my book. I like a good mix of monsters. A monster mash, if you will.
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Hesven 2
Youkai Summer Party! is a game concerned only with rip-roaring high-stakes action – I assume that was the intention, at least, even if it doesn’t exactly pan out that way – and so it doesn’t bother with anything so banal as an intro.

Instead, when you hit start, you’re only shown a screen telling you what level you’re about to enter. I wonder why it’s called Bhavaagra?

Oh, right, it must mean Celestial World or heaven, seeing how everything’s so colourful and beautiful and there’s literally a bunch of peaches growing around everywhere while the décor itself looks like paradise. Not the wallpaper choice I would have made for a summer adventure, seeing how it looks rather chill here than outright on the verge of getting people sweaty, but perhaps I’m too parochial in my exterior design tastes.

The Bha! part of the name is accurate, but the mansion Vaa (like WHOA!) part is way off, because this place just a bunch of, grassy fields with the occasional platform challenge that’s brimmed to every inch with signs that teach you how to move and enemies that can’t actually hurt you, yet. Like little girls with wingies and floating blue ying yang balls…

This game costs about 45 euros by the way, I’m not converting that to dollars or yen.

Ahem, as you can probably guess, Youkai Summer Party! is an action-adventure game, full of platforming and swinging your sword and throwing rock projectiles at monsters.

You play as Tenshi, a hot-blooded celestial wearing a tacky rainbow dress but has an awesome red light saber, her special power is the ability to throw three bullets at a time about six feet in front of her before she has to wait for them to actually go off-screen, not only that but she also has the ability to swing her sword on the ground or in the air to hit an opponent from close range like a smoe.

It doesn’t sound all that impressive, but it seems to be doing a good job of eliminating the enemies mentioned before.

You will notice that fairies and ying yang balls are not typical youkai. Three screens in, and I’ve already been lied to. I bet they’re not even having a summer party, either.

*As I’m limited to two posts only: Imagine the following, Tenshi is swinging her blade against a girl covered in red scarves while also jumping over a spark of lightning shot her way. All in an 8-bit glory while a satisfying thunk sound accompanies it all.*

Ah hah, that’s more like it – this room is haunted by a floating female fish. I think she might be a Catfish, but Japan has such a wide and varied buffet of sexy monster women that it’s difficult to narrow it down.

She might be a fish, a very anime one that makes me think of a certain anime with a DRILL but for some reason she’s still vulnerable to the cold reality of being hit by one of Tenshi’s spinning rock drills, so she’s hardly the most menacing foe I’ve ever faced.

Quite fitting for a tuto boss, in a way.

When you kill pretty much any enemy in Youkai Summer Party, they’ll drop an item, almost always a small red pellet in the form of an P.

These pellets add to your experience meter. That’s what I’m told they do, anyway, because I collected a lot of them during the game and never once did, I see my experience bar move after grabbing one. Oh yes, Youkai Summer Party has an experience system, because finding a Japanese Famicom game that doesn’t have “RPG elements” attached to it is a surprisingly difficult proposition.

Later, I’ll find something that actually get the experience bar moving, but for now I’m stuck picking up the pittance offered by the red pellets.

One problem is that a lot of the enemies in this game can float through the scenery, what with being youkai and all, and you’ll often end up killing them while they’re in the walls and thus you can’t grab the items they leave behind.

There’s not much else to the rest of the first stage, just Tenshi bouncing her way up some tower that’s higher and higher in the sky after the fish begged her to do so, I kinda skipped the cut-scene by accident but from the way that place is shooting a laser at the sun, something shady is happening so our celestial is investigating and stabbing the various monsters she finds.

*Tenshi is scaling a tower with a brown background and shitty mud pixels everywhere; some goblin creature tries to hop her way, but she already took the upper path so it’s impossible to reach her. *

This small goblin is trying to get his stabbing in first, but he’d have to run right up to me and frankly I’d already decided to ignore him by jumping over it. Goodbye, stabby goblin. You can go and tell your goblin friends that you have emerged triumphant in a great battle, if you like.

Waiting at the top of the tower is this blasphemous wizard or wizardess, and to perpetuate a tired old joke, that’d make a great name for a metal band. Anyway, the girl with the moon symbol on her head is your typical first boss, not doing much besides waddling around at the bottom of the screen, cursing her lack of peripheral vision and flinging the odd fireball, waterball, actively homing chainsaws and some jumping imps in Tenshi’s general direction.

Fortunately, the wizard has installed some bookshelves but hasn’t got around to filling them with her evil knick-knacks, so Tenshi has somewhere to stand where the boss has trouble hitting him.

So, they’re easily defeated. After which some other dialogue prompts up and this time, I get to see how dreadfully slow the text is, so naturally I try to press the B button to speed it up, only for it to end the cutscene again instantly, because guess what:

Pressing ANY button means no lore for you.
Because every button is the skip button!

I don’t know who made that decision, but frankly. They’ve made a big mistake. A BIG mistake that I can’t be bothered to try and rectify so let’s get this game review over it in just a single go.

Stage two is the monster mountain, or uh, youkai mountain, packed with flying wolf /crow/ tengu things and what appear to be sponge fingers sticking out of the ground.
Hopefully there’ll be a twist at the end of the stage that reveals Tenshi’s been fighting her way through a giant trifle this whole time.

The first miniboss in this stage is a little girl with green hair who pops out of a well, so it looks like we’ve got a prequel to Ring on our hands. Obviously Sadako Junior here can’t sit Tenshi down and force her to watch a cursed videotape, so instead she throws lots of… things at the celestial.

What are those things, anyway?


Severed human ears?

Let’s go with ears because it’s the spookiest option. Of course, that doesn’t explain why the ears hurt when they hit you. If ears were painful to the touch, the sides of your head would always be sore.

As for beating this boss, I found the best way was to jump up right next to her on the well and attack as fast as possible. She’ll run out of health before you do. This turns out to be the best way to beat most of the bosses in the game: find the spot that lets you take the least damage and stand there swinging your sword like a mad man, because that’s the only weapon that can actually grow.

Well, that’s incorrect. See, collect enough P points and Tenshi will become stronger, whether that’s increased health, unlocking a new move or just having her sword look a bit different seems to be a random thing as every time I take an hour to grind this out, the result really ends out like a roulette.

Though, there’s also another resource that I may have failed to mention: Solar Shards, in every level there are 2 Solar Shards, actual pieces of the sun that have been shattered out of it or something that need to be collected so that the big problem of this game can be solved. Every time you pick up one of them you instantly gain a new ability, most of the time one you’d need to progress anyway like being able to fly for a short moment, see in the dark or just charge your attacks and yada, yada.

You automatically gain one for beating the boss at the end of the stage, but the second one is hidden somewhere in the level, so if you want that one it’s up to you find some hidden passage.

They’re also other tiny solar pieces that can be occasionally found, but those work more like an invincibility mushroom or a kirby candy as Tenshi becomes immune to all damage for about 30 seconds when she touches one, so, short of being lucky, most of those are at predetermined spots.

I’m not sure how collecting pieces of the sun in order to ‘repair it’ would stop a never-ending summer party, but if I’d ask that question, I’d also have to ask who the hell managed to brick the sun in the first place so let’s stop worrying about such nonsense and continue playing the game for now.

Well, youkai mountain is just a mountain really, you’ve got the occasional bottomless pit to worry about and wolves and crows try to rip of your kidneys but other than that I can’t say the level is giving me the whole fun summertime vibes. Though the rock monsters are adorable, bumbling around in a manner the brings to mind marshmallows rather than time-worn boulders of granite. I’d say the enemy designs are the best thing about Youkai Summer Party, with a wide variety of small, simple but charmingly drawn creatures.

Certainly, they’re a good enough reason for Youkai Summer Party to appear in this year’s Summer Festival, even if the stages themselves aren’t all that sinister or noteworthy for the most part.

For instance, check out this cute fairy wearing a white dress. She’s shouting some nonsense about spring this and spring that and how the summer feels so weird that it makes her want to go berserk, but her bullets actually make flowers boom when she misses you! So, I can’t take her seriously.

I have no idea if she’s supposed to be a specific youkai – but she’s so endearingly cute that I almost felt bad about sticking my sword into her ribcage repeatedly, albeit in my imagination.

Sadly, not every monster can be a hit, and the boss of the monster forest is this angular golden leonine girl thing that stands in the middle of the room and gets various monsters to do her shiny bidding, the lazy sod. You have to shoot her in the eyes to damage her, but as you can see her eyes aren’t always there, so you’ve got to spend most of the fight avoiding the flaming cats and such. It’s not much fun, truth be told, but happily I’d managed to get Tenshi’’s experience bar up far enough that her big pebbles have been replaced by small projectiles I can only describe as “energy croissants looking pebbles that home in on the enemy and then come back your way.”

That sped things along a little. And by that, I mean, I won, but again it’s just more useless dialogue, alongside Tenshi being a jerk in a way that’s probably meant to be funny and bla, bla, bla, more gameplay.

The next stage begins with a more platforming-focussed area, with narrow pits and jets of flame waiting to knock you down said pits. In true Konami tradition, Tenshi’s controls and jumping physics are resolutely “decent enough.” Your jumps are a little floaty, especially at the top of your arc, and sometime Tenshi interacts with the scenery in a slightly strange manner. It’s especially noticeable when you’re jumping through a narrow corridor, because her head will “stick” to the ceiling, and you slide along for a while in defiance of gravity. It’s not terrible, though, and it’s at least consistent. The bigger issue is that Tenshi slides so far backwards when she takes damage, and unlike Castlevania (the game Youkai Summer Party most resembles in many ways) there’s no way to mitigate the knockback. I’d estimate a good eighty percent of the deaths I suffered in this game were caused by a floating skull or some other nasty thing bumping me off a one-block-wide pillar.

I should make it clear that the stages in Youkai Summer Party aren’t linear, but there’s not much exploring to be done because the stages are mostly one big, “main” area with smaller rooms to explore at various intervals. As the game progresses, the entrances to these smaller rooms become less and less obvious, but the stages never really get confusing or anything.

There are a few strange moments where you can’t progress until you’ve been into one of the side rooms, but there’s no visible obstruction: you just can’t scroll the screen until you’ve stood in the right place. All in all, it’s an unusual way to gate progress but thankfully it doesn’t lead to much frustration.

The final section of this stage is a jaunt across the clouds. You jump between the clouds, and sometimes an orange cloud appears. Beware of the orange clouds, because they’re made of that really dense water vapour that can push Tenshi off the platforms.

There’s also the tengus to watch out for. That white thing up there, the thing that looks like a diagram of a uterus turned on its side, is actually a gust of wind that a tengu has wafted at me by swinging her fan. Given what I said earlier about falling off narrow platforms, it should come as no surprise that these tengus gradually got bumped up from “annoying” to “hated nemesis” during the course of the game.

The boss of this stage is the Japanese Shinto god of wind Fuujin, complete with his big sack of wind.

Except she’s a cute girl now with a garbled name, feel free to insert your own r34 / chickification/whatever choice of joke here.

A bag seems like terrible receptacle for wind, doesn’t it? It’s going to be difficult to keep airtight, you need a jar with a screw-on lid or something. By the way, I was looking up Fuujin and it’s theorised that he, I mean she was originally, before a long period of cultural assimilation thanks to ancient travellers on the Silk Road, the Greek god Boreas.

I’m telling you this because it’s far more interesting than anything that happens in this fight.

With Fuujin defeated, Youkai Summer Party prepares to take Tenshi to Bone Town.

Because everything’s made out of bones, you see. Why, what did you think I meant?

Sure, there’s a bunch of kappas now moving about in this secret tunnel, but not a single one of them manages to get close enough to Tenshi to even be able to take her ass-ball, instead they all throw out grenades, some instant camo’s and even machine-gun fire in some desperate attempt to stop the Celestial from getting deeper into the mountain. She must be thinking there’s something real valuable that they’re hiding cause otherwise I don’t see why she would be trespassing and pissing off every single person she meets, other than that she just can do it for the lolz or something like that.

Oh, neat, a classic western-style witch has appeared to increase the Halloween mood. You know, I’ve come to appreciate witches – both the hag variants but more specifically the nice cute-like kind – as Halloween monsters a lot more in recent years. I put it down to spending so much time with cosplayers.

Anyway, the witch here is a good example of what I mean about Youkai Summer Party’s monster sprites being particularly enjoyable.

If you look closely at the witch’s weapon you can see it’s just a not a tiny cauldron but an actual hakkero kind of thingy, not only that but she manages to shoot a laser with it that takes over half the screen instead of throwing some cat at you, but who needs that when you can just blow stuff up?

Either way, she’s easily beaten as well. But then, suddenly another foe appears.

It’s the Grim Reaper from the title screen, having become so fed up with waiting for the other monsters (or gravity) to finish Tenshi off that he’s come to the mortal realm to do the job himself. It’s a shame for him that he’s not very good at it, then. You know the standard battle against Death from most Castlevania games? Imagine that, but slower and without all the small projectile sickles flying around the screen, and you’ve got a good idea of what this fight is like. Stand on one of the platforms, tap the fire button, hope you’ve got enough health. The best thing about the fight is that the Reaper always moves towards Tenshi with his back facing towards his target, so it looks like he’s moonwalking everywhere.

Still, once they’re beat someone else appears as well, because clearly this smells like a party place.

It’s a giant walking daruma doll. His main method of attack is sending smaller daruma dolls to roll along the floor after you. He generates these mini-minions by grabbing his midriff and pulling it apart to reveal a gaping orifice from which his children are nightmarishly disgorged.

This makes the daruma the creepiest boss in the game by far. The Grim Reaper can’t compete with the self-generated flesh portal, can he? Aside from that, though, I think it’s fair to say that the developers had run out of ideas, motivation or both with this battle. “A square box will do for this boss chamber, I think. Don’t want to get the player too excited, not after daruma has birthed all over the arena floor.”

Again, there’s nothing new about it and lacks the colour of excitement that the cover promised, so instead let me talk about the other four remaining items one can use: You’ve got a flashlight that stuns all enemies on screen for a while, a bomb that deals damage to all enemies on screen and is best saved for boss battles, a pair of stylin’ sunglasses that let you see and kill a certain type of semi-invisible monster, and the hand. As soon as I picked a hand up I tried it out, naturally. It didn’t seem to do anything, but it did disappear out of my inventory.

Oh well, I’m sure it’s not important, he foreshadowed.

Anyway, beating this boss, finally leads to the final stage: The Labyrinth.

It’s not much of a maze despite the name though, few of the entrances to other areas aren’t marked at all and you’ll likely only trigger them by stumbling blindly into their vicinity while trying to fend off a mummy, but I never managed to get lost and my sense of direction is shocking. Also, mummies! If you can call that ugly, motionless boss a vampire, we’re only a werewolf away from getting all the big Halloween monsters on board. Oh, and a Frankenstein, I suppose. But are those in THP?

Youkai Summer Party has been doing a good job of gradually ramping up the difficulty as the player progresses, and unsurprisingly this is where it starts getting really tough. There are far more enemies about, for one thing. The problem is that Youkai Summer Party suffers from a milder version of Gradius syndrome – when you die, you lose a chunk from your experience bar. This can cause your attacks to revert to a weaker state, which means it’s harder to get through the stage, so you die more, rinse and repeat. If your attacks get too weak, you’ll have trouble getting through the stages before the time runs out. Your experience bar also acts as your lives: once it’s completely drained, it’s game over and there are no continues. It’s not that harsh, but it’s something to be aware of. No, the real frustration comes later in the stage.

Here is a block, living up to its name by blocking Tenshi’s progress. You need to move the block, and the only way to do that is to use the “hand” power-up when you’re nearby. There are two of these blocks in the final stage, and there are two hand power-ups in the game. In the entire game. If you happened to miss either of the hands then you can’t move the blocks and you are, as far as I can tell, thoroughly screwed. Go back, start the game over again, pay more attention.

There are codes that let you start on later stages – weirdly they take the form of push-button cheat codes rather than passwords – but they only go up to stage three, so you’ll always have to play through at least two-thirds of the game. To make matters worse, the first time I played through this stage I reached the second block, used the hand… and nothing happened. Okay, that’s not quite true. The hand did disappear from my inventory, but the block sure as hell didn’t move.
What a god-awful thing to include in your videogame, and one that has the potential to ruin what is otherwise a perfectly mediocre game.

Your “reward” for getting beyond the blocks is a battle with a clown. A good choice for an honorary youkai, and it’s nice to fight a videogame clown that’s not a scary clown. Just a regular, normal clown seething with the bloodlust endemic to his kind. His attacks are all clown-based, too, which is fun: he walks on top of a big ball, he throws juggling pins and he’s got a fiery hoop. All in all, an enjoyable fight, and the chance to hurl fireballs at a clown. What more could you ask for?

Even the evil of a clown isn’t enough to claim the position of Youkai Club’s final boss, an honour which goes to this large pink blob.

Presumably it’s some kind of elder creature from a distant star-scape with the appearance of a yellow-haired MILF, but mostly it's just there. Rather than doing the fighting itself, the lazy girl summons a load of other bosses from the game to do her dirty work. I mean, it’s nice to see the Grim Reaper again but it doesn’t exactly make for an interesting fight. You might notice that this is basically the same as the fight against the lion thing, a boss that you have to fight twice during the game, so this glob of chewed bubble gum and gaps and a stupid final attack that involves a train makes it three interations of the same battle quite annoying if not a bore.

This is new, though: the boss creates a clone of Tenshi that you must defeat. Having played as Tenshi for the whole game, I was fairly confident that this wouldn’t be a difficult battle.

Turns out it was even easier than I anticipated, because clone-Tenshi only has the un-upgraded sword and rocks to attack with.

Once you’ve dispatched all her minions, the boss opens her lazy sleepy eyes and lazily tosses a few fireballs around, then a fox-girl and then a cat-girl which gives Tenshi the chance to throw her flaming spinning drill rocks into the boss’ now-vulnerable ocular region. This damages the boss, because apparently, she’s got asbestos eyelids. If she’d just gone back to sleep, I’d have been stuck, but as it is I can finish the job and bring Youkai Summer Party to a close.

“Thank to Tenshi’s actions, the sun has been returned to normal. The end.”

It’s a good job I wasn’t expecting a lavish ending sequence. Nobody likes to be disappointed.

For the most part, Youkai Summer Party falls snugly into the usual furrow occupied by games that have Konami’s name attached to them – an overall feeling of mediocrity, with one inclusion that’s bafflingly awful. There’s nothing wrong at all with the core gameplay: it’s a little loose and floaty, but perfectly acceptable and certainly no worse than a lot of other low-effort 8-bit platformers.

The stages are mostly bland, with some peaks and troughs in visual quality but nothing too extreme in either direction, the soundtrack is above average but only slightly. The monster sprites are easily the stand-out part of the game, for me anyway. All in all, Youkai Summer Party is okay, the complete bullshit of the missable hand power-ups not withstanding, but it’s never going to tear you away from playing a Castlevania game or a touhou game even if I’ve never played the latter.

I’ll give the game a six out of ten, because in our day and age that’s the closest lowest score you can give something without having a bunch of fans of either franchise send death-threats or cum into one’s mail. If the game was summerier or dare, I say fun, then I’d heartily recommend it.

But I don’t, it’s an over-priced game that tries to pull off a ‘retraux’ vibe to no good avail.

Do not play this when it comes out.
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I can’t help but feel my brows begin to burn in this afternoon heat. I set up right in the open lot I commandeer for my performances, but this has turned into quite the double edged sword over the years. Whilst those watching get excellent lighting for the stories I tell, I am under constant weathering. I feel as though I’ll sooner notice the wear of sunlight upon my own face before my dolls’.

I especially take care to track the coloration in the set pieces I use as they move the least throughout the several hours I spend repeating stories. The villagers come by within these hours shuffled by their children to hear my retellings. When I had started it was quite the atmosphere to have them look at me with unparalleled caution, but with time they learned that I was at least respectable, if queer. They still think against complimenting my performances in any way, and ensure their children do not approach me casually. The young ones still worry their parents as they ignore the warnings and take dolls from me regardless. I suppose such is the life of a magician. No one knows what form of spell I may cast upon them. Not that I cast spells of that kind.

I wish I cast spells so I could do something about this heat, however. It’s so dominating that I can hardly think of anything else other than it. How does Marisa handle all of her traveling on days like today anyhow?

With such thoughts I continue to act the burning sun further down the horizon. The people continue to cycle in and out, children in tow. As soon as a performance completes they all scatter for cover like fairies being spotted. I can feel my envy grow with each person reclaiming their comfort of shade under the rooftops.

The time continues and I truly begin to feel the swelter. My brow has been wet for a long time now. My clothes feel a horrible chaffing. My palms accumulate a moisture that seeps into the wood of my controls. It isn’t a problem in the slightest, though. Not because the control blocks are wooden to soak the liquids, but because the controls are not what I actually use to move the dolls. It’s funny how much people warmed up to me after I began mimicking mundane puppeteering.

I do find myself wondering when I decided to play with my magic almost recreationally. Amidst my experiments in magics of golemancy, remote logics, and life manipulation I still find myself enamoured by my dolls in an artistic sense. The creation of a perfect effigy always felt null to me if I were to give it to something like a rock or bundle of sticks. Even my rarer animal dolls felt moot to give my ideal autonomy to. The simplistic needs of animals cannot compare to the beauty of humans. The ability to truly think and feel in complex structures with enough room to communicate rational thought to one one another. Mayhaps that is why I play the storyteller. It is something with a sense of art that only real people can appreciate.

Of course, my love and care for the craft with such refined detail is lost to my peers. The asthmatic in her library considers anything outside of research obscene. The Jizo statue within the forest has far too much love for nature to care for the art of puppetry like I perform. Even Marisa fails to appreciate the work I put into my dolls, instead coveting them as some form of furniture I obsess with.

While festering in such thoughts the sun joins the crowd at the end of a performance. It took a bow below the rooftops of the village, signaling me to end my occupation of the space. While the lot is now shaded it still has no bearing on the heat I experience. The very ground is burning today, and it won’t be for a while that it cools. I get to work packing up my dolls into exact spacings within the case I repurposed for sets.

While I’m working, the last of the crowd filters out. In the now empty lot I see one other booth set up within the shade. I can hardly believe my eyes, it’s the idiot ice fairy. She’s on a rug with an ice grinder. I can’t believe she thought to keep that for so long. The last time I saw it was a previous summer party at the Hakurei shrine. Of course, fairies never learn, and she’s still handing out shaved ice without any syrup to flavor it. I imagine the amount of business she got today to be the same as back then.

I finish up my breakdown and prepare to leave, but I notice the fairy fumbling with her rug. It’s far too large for her to fold without a lot of finicking involved. I decide to approach her, offering a hand in cleaning.

“Cirno, It’s easier if you roll that up, you know,” I say.

She spends a few more moments attempting to reach for an opposing corner to grab, but the one she was using flops back out in defiance. She then looks to me in an awkward silence, thinking whether it best to do as I proposed or try it her own way. She’s still not happy when rolling the rug, but it does become something she can carry, so there aren’t any vocals behind the attitude.

Thinking we’re done, I once again turn to leave, but Cirno stops me herself this time.

She looks to me with expecting eyes and says, “Did you want any, Alice? It was hot so I was looking for shade when I saw you playing with your dolls in front of everyone.”

“Cirno, please. I’m not playing with my dolls. I perform retellings of ancient myths for the villagers as a marionettist.”

“It looks like you have fun being Mary of nettist, then,” Cirno conflates. I’ll let it pass. There’s no use correcting everything a fairy says.

“Yes, yes, whatever you say,” I grunt to end the conversation.

Cirno looks back to her articles, losing her common smile. It seems she really didn’t have takers to her ridiculous product. Actually, she probably didn’t even put a price to the shaved ice. She didn’t last time, either…

“Hey, Cirno. I’ll take a scoop of that.”

I practically feel her wings perk up to the words, and she responds with a chipper, “Coming right up!”

She hands me a paper cone of shaved ice, and we part with her in a more upbeat attitude. I’ll consider that worth it for this silly ball of ice. Then again, I’ve lost a lot of liquid from sweating today. Shaved ice is one of my favorites anyway, it’s just unfortunate there’s no syrup to flavor it.

I take a bite of the top of the frozen shavings, feeling a familiar texture I haven’t experienced in a long time. I think the last time I had this wasn’t since I left home. And not my house in the Forest of Magic, but my home before that. Another subdimensional space close to Gensokyo. Makai.

The world of Makai didn’t necessarily have seasons like the real world or Gensokyo, but there were times of hot and cold, day and night, a feeling of passing time. It could be even hotter there than this back country landscape, but at least it was dryer. The real infrastructure and established roads helped to make sure the forests didn’t dominate the landscape and allowed some breathing room for its people.

It was during one of these times that mother and I went into town for something or other. I can hardly remember what were getting it was such a long time ago. But I do remember two other important things during that trip: begging momma for shaved ice from a street vendor, and seeing a specific doll performance on the street.

That’s right, that’s what sparked it all. A lone street performer controlling his puppet, as if the puppet itself were alive. I know enough of magic now to say it couldn’t have been. He would have to be an absolutely ancient magician to even hope of such an accomplishment. But to the young mind I once had, it was truly magic. He performed his puppet to the simplistic tale of a knight fighting a dragon to save a princess in a tower. Gods it was so silly, but the transcendent level of dexterity he held allowed his knight to swing a sword with the exactness of any humanoid, raise his shield with the confidence of a warrior.

That simple doll, probably no more magic than the syrup in the ice I chewed, was alive. And I was possessed with its majesty. That was what sparked everything of my magic, even today. Yes, that is definitely why I perform out in the street of the village today. That’s the reason I continue to look into the means of creating truly isolated life. It’s that and not that I’m…

Out of shaved ice. The previous snowy pile has given way to an empty, wetted paper cone. The visage of strawberry flavor now gone. I find myself outside the village walls, well along the dirt path back to the forest. I’ve been walking on a greater autopilot than I give my dolls. The heat has gotten to me, making me think of such ancient memories out of nowhere like that. What was I even thinking about at the end?

I travel the rest of the way by flight with little interruption. I need to clean and rest well in case that was some form of hot flash that came on. I haven’t had the good dream pills in a while, maybe that has something to do with it. I’ll have to find Reisen tomorrow on my errands since I’m almost out.

A quick wash in the tub later and the grime of sweat leaves me. I can once again enjoy the comforts of my own house with it’s implemented cooling and drying runes throughout. A serious change from the outdoors, and much to my relief too. I set to work the many dolls of my house to cook food and enjoy some time reading the next story I might share to the villagers, imagining the next set and clothes in need to make for it. I enjoy my meal and clean up before long. I know that there’s a little more that I need to do before bed, though. The dolls and set I used today need to be treated and cleaned as well so their colors don’t desaturate. They may get plenty of use, but that doesn’t mean that they need to look like it.

I move to my study, now only moonlit, and see her at the centerpiece of the many shelves filled with dolls. Shanghai, the first doll, enthroned on a raised wooden platform unlike the rest of her sisters. The light shining on her blonde hair that’s run ragged from combat I’ve used her in.

Saying used doesn’t do Shanghai justice for just how long I’ve had her. Though she’s very different looking from how she once was, she’s still the same doll that my momma gave me for my birthday. I had studied magic for quite some time by then, but I still wasn’t articulate enough to make a doll quite as pretty as a dedicated craftsman. So, momma gave me two dolls to control from both hands.

The second one, or at least the Shanghai I call the second, broke before I left home, so now Shanghai is on her own. She may have her newer sisters, including Hourai, to keep her company, but they’re all from Gensokyo, not Makai. Much like myself…

I pick up my Shanghai, her dress dirtied and lacing split in places, and hold her close. I hold her like I did her and her sister so many ages ago, but now it’s just her. This doll lost a part of her because of my childish self, and nothing can replace it. I never gave her a proper name, either. I only set out with them to fight the girls that came into my world, thinking myself invincible.

You came with me, Shanghai, but I can’t feel happy about it. I only left because I felt like mother kept me locked up. I couldn’t go anywhere without supervision, and when I did it was so brief a glimpse of the world beyond my home.

She was only doing what any mother does, worry about her child. Making sure she’s safe. I didn’t understand back then why she wanted me to be so close, even to the point of not letting me out of the house without Yumeko.

Before it was only momma and Yumeko in our home… well, more of a fortress. We lived there, away from the city we loved, because momma had so much to take care of all the time. Every day was so much busy work for her to make sure nothing was breaking down. It’s a wonder she found time to still be with me. I’ll never understand why she considers me specifically her daughter.

I was reared with a silver spoon so embossed that I never stopped to ask her. I simply accepted my place without question. Not that I’d imagine a child could introspect. Could that have been what I left for in the first place? Trying to find myself and who I am?

I once had my own room with king sized bed and curtains taller than three men to view the icy canyon in the distance. A maid at my beck and call far classier and personable than that facade from the scarlet mansion. But I traded my marble furniture for the lacquered wood I made myself, the delicious foods for simple meals, and the love I received for chosen isolation.

What would have happened had I stayed? Would momma have given me a new Shanghai to reunite with my sole survivor? Would she have eventually let me go into the city when I wanted? When would I have truly become a magician as I am now?

No… I left for a reason. That reason. I couldn’t study magic from there, not with my mother helping me. She would have given me eventual freedom, but I would forever be copying her work in magic. Coming from her, I know that I can never reach that caliber, but I do believe I can achieve something similar. It’s why I have to be on my own to do it.

That’s why I kept you, Shanghai, isn’t it? I wanted to give you something to be proud of in the little girl who’s owned you for so long. It’s been so peaceful lately that I haven’t given you any proper care. I even left you in such a poor condition that I could assume you would become a tsukumogami given time. What a horrifying thought that one of my dolls would one day want to come back with their sword in hand to kill me. That’s quite the opposite of how I want to achieve my goal.

I leave aside the dolls and set I used today. I’ll let other dolls care to them in the morning. Right now, I decide to work on Shanghai. I could never let another doll take care of her, this can only be done with my own hands. Hands that are losing their meaning as I give more of my life to automating the dolls, letting them do everything in place of myself. I once told myself that I wouldn’t make a life sized doll of anyone lest I have them leave the house in my stead. That was supposed to be a joke when I was getting acclimated to life in Gensokyo, but it is no longer a joke.

Patchouli must have fallen into the same pitfalls, or at least similar ones to continue her reading and experimenting nonstop.

I redo Shanghai’s laces, clean her dress, and attach a new set of hair to let her feel closer to the look of her sisters. She still has a scratch or two on her face, but I think she’d consider it a brandishing of experience beside me.

I leave her upon her throne and close up my shop for the night. Heading to bed I make sure to take the good dream pill from Yagokoro. Hopefully it can clear up my head after such a spurt of old emotions. This summer day has gotten to me, and I’m not acting like my usual self. Sliding into my sheets, I can feel the fatigue come on and I drift away.

The morning light strikes my eyes, eking me to start my day. I crack my eyes, giving view to a vibrant shade of red. It covers my entire view, and I now notice the weight beside me on the bed. She says nothing, instead caressing my cheek while I’m still half asleep.

She does so for a few more moments, before eventually saying, “How long do you plan to stay in bed, Alice?”


“Come on, Yumeko almost has breakfast done. You need to get up,” she says with the loving smile I hardly remember now. I can feel my emotions again well up from deeper within. I can’t help but feel my face warm.

“Oh, Alice. What’s wrong, sweetheart?” she softly asks, as if any volume would scare me away. “It’s okay, I’m right here.”

She holds my hand in both of her own. My tears roll down unabated. Her hands are so warm. No matter how much I know it’s a dream, I’m happy nonetheless.

“I’m okay, momma. Let’s go eat.” I roll up from my old bed and step out, but only to tumble forward in the same breath.

I feel the cold wood of the floor of my house. My real one. Now with a small fraction of twilight trailing in. I fell out of bed, and during such a nice dream, too. I…

I’m actually crying. I can feel the heat in my face and the moisture roll down my cheeks. I thought I was fine before I went to bed, but I couldn’t keep it all from the forefront of my mind. What should I make of this? I don’t regret leaving, but I can’t lie to myself and say that I don’t miss my mother. I’m not sure what I should do with this thought. I can’t return after so long, that just wouldn’t be right. She would be so angry if she knew I only left to study the magic she supported me in. She would…

Not be mad. If she knew she’d just be happy to know how I was doing. About the life I live here and the friends I’ve made despite how foreign I am to it all. She’d be so happy, to just know that I was fine. She would be so… relieved. To know that her little girl didn’t leave because she hated her momma. I left without a single word to her. I’m a horrible daughter.

I curl in on myself, against my bed, letting it all out for a while. The thought of the grief I must have caused her makes me feel grotesque, like I’d torn apart Shanghai piece by piece. The light eventually trails in. The dolls occupying every shelf, table, and wall reflect a glisten of understanding towards me.

I eventually stand up. Not necessarily calmed down, but with enough strength to carry me over to my desk. An idea has struck me. I don’t know the exact logistics of how this will work, and I’m certainly not good at writing, but this needs to be done. I take out a piece of parchment and grab a quill I specially made to use ink in the way I learned from home. I commit to the top of the page:

Hello mother,

I hope this letter finds you well. I’m happy where I am, but I do miss you. I still love you, momma.

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Summer's final bitter wheeze blows through Gensokyo. The humid air prevents the sweat on my body from cooling me. Sunlight beaming down everything in its path with extreme prejudice. The ball of my feets aching from kicking acre upon acre of trees. I sit under the shades of one, painting its leaves to the color of fall. Every single one. With this baneful heat and countless red leaves, I can't help but feel restless! Nor is this heat wave, my goodness, I'm going to die from a heat stroke! Would anyone notice if I collapsed? My sister would, of course; anyone else? Bah. It's clear to who humans pay more attention.

I look down at the leaf I was painting and realize I put too much pressure on the brush. Moving it away shows a putrid brown spot on an otherwise eye-catching piece of work. It looks like someone folded the leaf while rabbit droppings were in it. Turning it over, I slap the brush across the leaf and toss it with the rest. Good enough. One tree down, another one to go! I can hear the sound of children screaming as they play nearby. Hopefully, their parents are keeping a close eye on them.

Setting the paint can down, I unleash two swift kicks on the tree's side. My divine might is too much to bare as it quakes, and the loose leaves fall off. It's a thankless job, but it sustains the human's faith in me.

A young boy jumps from behind the tree, "Hey! Watch it, you jerk!" He yells with a puff red face.

His boiling anger evaporates to gas as our eyes meet, leaving him pale. Fidgeting on his feet, sweating bullets, either from the oppressive heat or from realizing that he was yelling at me, a goddess. Most likely both.

His voice cracks, "Aki S-S-Shizuha?" He clutches his book.

"I'll overlook your disrespectful manner." He gives a deep bow the moment I say this, "If you tell me why you're far from the rest of the other humans." Being this near the edge of the forest is not something most children would do.

He straightens up with fire in his eyes. "I've decided today is the day I run away from home to live in the forest!"

That is stupid at best and tragic at worse. "Seat with me under the shade, you drenched in sweat," I say, setting the red paint can down.

Curiosity flashes on his face as he hurries under the tree, sitting down with me. I pull the brush out of the can and hand it to the boy. He looks unsure what to do, so I pick up a leaf. His eyes widen, and without a word, he grabs the leaf to begin painting. Ha, he's probably thinking this is some secret test. I just want to take a break.

"Before we start, could you tell me your name?" I ask because it feels weird just calling him 'little one.'

He stops brushing, "Ah, I'm sorry, my name is Mono Chiisai." The child returns to painting the leaf red.

"It's nice to meet you, Mono. So, what made you decide to make such stu..." I stop myself as he looks over at me, tilting his head. "Major decision?"

His eyebrows furrow, "My little bro, Mono Jinki, has been doing great in his classes." Chiisai presses hard on the leaf, making a dark shade of red. "It's nice to see him doing well, and my parents are really happy too."

"That's good to hear, but it seems something about that is eating you." I lean back against the tree.

The boy stops the brush and bites his lips. "I'm proud of him, but I also feel..." He moves his hand away, leaving a sickly brown spot on an otherwise decent red-painted leaf. "Forgotten."

Overshadow by your younger sibling? Welcome to the club, kid. "I understand that feeling, but isn't running away a drastic action?

He frowns, "I already tried everything else! Helping Jinki with his study, doing my study, chores." His voice goes a higher pitch. "It's all ignored whenever he does something!"

Chiisai crosses his arm, "Why haven't you run away, Ms. Aki? Your little sister is way more popular than you." I'll remember that, you runt.

"Why have you stopped painting? Who told you to?" Chiisai flinches before grabbing the next leaf and working on it at a faster pace. "To answer your question, no, I would never want to put my sister in such a situation, nor is it in my nature to run."

He stays quiet, and the harsh ray of the sun dims slightly. "I love my brother, but sometimes I wish we weren't blood siblings." He blows on the wet paint before grabbing his second leaf. "Mama and Papa pay so much attention to him that I feel they wouldn't notice if I went missing..."

"You're not alone in feeling like that." I take the red leaf he had finished, twirling the stem between my finger. "Chiisai, what do you think would happen if I go missing?"

He tilts his head to the side, still focusing on the one he's painting. "The leaves would stay green, and no one would know if the harvest season is near."

"Wrong," I state in a flat tone. "Another deity of the autumn leaves would take my place." Blistering air blows by, forcing both of us to squint our eyes.

"It is a small position; we're only changing the color to red." I lean over to place the red leaf on his ear, "Can you say the same, Chiisai?"

The white clouds above block out the furious ball of flames from view, leaving only the bitter hot winds. He stares at me in silence. His face softens as he opens his mouth, but it seems he doesn't know what to say. Chiisai shakes his head in response, and a small smile spreads on his face.

"Humans don't need I, Shizuha Aki; they need to see red leaves to tell that the harvest is near." A look of determination flares in his eyes. "At the end of the day, only my sister would notice if I'm gone."

"That's not true, Ms. Aki!" Chissai sets the brush inside the bucket and stands up. "If you ever go missing, I will tell everyone in the village! They'll all know it, I swear on my family's name!" Before I realize it, he places the second red leaf he made on my ear.

...I don't know what to say to that. I would say he's being polite, but that determined look on his face is telling me otherwise.

"Chiisai! Chiisai!" A much younger voice calls out as we look over. It's clear to see that the boy is Jinki. "Mama and Papa are looking for you." He runs up to his elder brother and grabs his hand. "Come on before you get in trouble!"

The elder brother's eyes widen in surprise, "R-Really!?" He looks over at me, beaming. "I'm going to go now; thank you for everything, Ms. Aki!" He bows with his brother and tilts his head in confusion; the smaller runt doesn't even realize he is next to a goddess.

I could feel the corner of my lips turning upward. "Take care, Chiisai, and make sure you teach your brother how to act when a god is present!" He giggles as Jinki's eyes widen and his jaw goes slack.

Once the brothers left, I couldn't bring myself to continue working. Ah, screw it. I'm going to hang out with Mino for today. The tepid wind blew again without a trace of summer in it. Yes, this is fall taking its first breath.
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Reimu lay down, arms outstretched, on the cold wooden floor. Cicadas hummed in the distance. The shrine offered some shade from the oppressive summer heat, but she was drenched in sweat regardless. As she laid there she cocked her head and made a level attempt to kill the sun with her glare. The sun seemed to mock her as it remained firmly rooted in the sky. The miko's rage built and built as the giant red fireball continued to defy her. How could it possibly be this hot?!

A realization hit Reimu. The sun shouldn't be strong enough to resist her powerful Hakurei stare. She's the Shrine Maiden of Paradise damnit! That subterranean sun does what she tells it to, what makes the one up here think its so special?! It must be so strong because someone else caused it to be that way. An incident! A streak of red fabric shot away from the Hakurei Shrine to solve the incident at once, leaving rustling summer leaves in its wake.

Reimu rode the arid currents around Gensokyo on the hunt for suspicious people. As she glanced around the Human Village, Reimu caught sight of a redhead floating in a basin of water. Wait, no. On closer inspection it was a literal red head. Next to it, a headless body dressed in red and black fanned itself. Sekibanki was beside herself with heat exhaustion and could not see that her presence as a decapitated torso scared the whole village out of their now empty streets. It obviously was her fault and had nothing to do with the blazing red sun overhead, and what was about to happen next had nothing to do with jealousy over someone else getting to cool off in a pool. Reimu nodded to herself at this line of logic, confident in her deductive skills, and dropped down to chase the poor overheated rokurokubi out of town with her gohei.

The sun continued to shine and Reimu seemed no closer to solving the incident. Clear dry skies made it easy to spot some of the more unusual floating fixtures of the realm. Flying near to the Shining Needle Castle, she noticed the drum Tsukumogami reclining in front of a strange machine. It was a small white box that showered the girl with such a gale that her crimson hair splayed out behind her like a fan. Reimu got a glint in her eye and an evil grin made its way onto her face. She had to have the machine for herself. The marauding miko snuck up behind Raiko who, being deafened by the roar of the machine, did not notice a thing until her proverbial high hat got smacked a little harder than usual, courtesy of Reimu's improvised bachi. The unwitting taiko girl went down with a bass tone THUD!! and the red-white moved smugly to collect her prize.

Reimu was hot, frustrated and without a lead to follow. Strangely, the machine stopped working the moment Raiko crumpled into a heap. Flying low to the ground to to find some shade in the tree cover, Reimu bemoaned the unreliability of Outside World inventions. Her previous motivation almost completely forgotten, she began to focus on this new problem. A more reliable sorce of cooling was clearly needed. As she pondered where she could find such a source, a refreshing, and unnaturally cool, breeze hit her. Reimu excitedly looked around for its source, and realized that she had floated her way to the gates of the Scarlet Devil Mansion. Beneath the grand archway, the mansion's gatekeeper and a certain ice fairy were staring intently at a group of watermelon. Reimu watched as Meiling split the watermelons with quick precise karate chops and Cirno chilled the pieces with her natural ability. They then sat down, grabbed the cool slices of fruit, and began munching away happily, unaware of the dark aura beginning to emanate from the tree line.

Reimu had found her source of cooling. She strode briskly up to put a hand on her shoulder and stared meaningfully into her eyes. The fairy cocked her head quizzically as a frigid sensation instantly spread through Reimu's body, revitalizing her. As Cirno's red-haired companion tentatively said "Heeey Reimu... what- uh, what are you doing here?" Reimu smiled sweetly at the both of them, produced a set of needles from her hakama and turned Meiling into a pincushion as she tucked a protesting Cirno under her arm. Momentarily free from the blistering heat, and with a loudly protesting icepack strapped to her side, Reimu renewed her original hunt for the perpetrator and proceeded into the mansion.

As she made her way through the dark halls of the mansion, she ran into a red-haired librarian. The little devil looked at the still-struggling fairy, who had now escalated to using schoolyard explicatives, with concern. "E-excuse me, could I trouble you to leave? Mistress Remilia doesn't want to be disturbed today..." She said, hoping to reason with Reimu. Remilia? That was a name Reimu recognized. She did something with the weather before right? Made it all foggy and stuff. Perhaps she is the cause of this incident as well! As she continued purposefully down the hall Reimu swatted away the nameless librarian with her gohei as an afterthought.

Red, white and icy blue burst into the large bedroom. The miko stood, gohei in one hand and fairy in the other, sternly facing down the rooms occupants. At a square table in the middle of the suite sat the Scarlet Devil herself looking prim, proper, and not at all amused. Across from her sat the unmoving great library Patchouli Knowledge with a small but very smug smile on her face, as though she had won a bet, or was about to win a game. Between them was chess board with Scarlet and Violet pieces. Reimu was unfamiliar with the game and didn't care enough to ask about it, but there seemed to currently be more violet pieces than scarlet on the board. As she advanced upon the duo, Remilia spoke first. "You're here to solve the incident, aren't you?" Reimu stopped, in shock as to how the vampire figured her out so quickly. Ignoring the obnoxious shouting from the fairy in Reimu's grip, Remilia continued, "The one you are looking for is not here - your fated clash with her is on the moon. Go now and you may yet catch her by surprise." Convinced by the conviction in Remilia's words and elated that she finally had a lead, Reimu left the mansion's denizens to their game.

Patchouli made a sour face at the duo as they left through the way they came in. That ice fairy's yelling was loud enough to give her a slight migraine. "Why'd you tell her to go to the moon?" she asked as she turned back to Remilia. "It will buy us enough time to finish this game." She responded simply. Patchouli noticed that one of her pawns was not in the same position it had been when she turned to watch Reimu leave. She shot the vampire an exasperated scowl. Remilia simply grinned and slid her queen up towards the witch's king. "Checkmate."

Hecatia reclined on a gaudy deck chair she had set up on the moon's surface. The goddess had come up with the brilliant idea to escape the summer heat by hiding away on the moon. Here she could enjoy the sun's rays with none of the heat. In her bliss, she barely noticed someone flying down towards her out of the sun. Whoever they were, they couldn't possibly ruin this moment. Hecatia languidly waved to them.

Unfortunately, the person flying towards her was a rather peeved Reimu. Cirno was still tucked under her arm, but at this point had passed out from a lack of oxygen. Only a glowing charm on Reimu's chest prevented her from sharing Cirno's fate. When she saw Hecatia waving at the sun, she knew with utmost certainty that she had found the culprit. Hakurei intuition wins again! She dropped the fairy like a sack of ice and rushed a surprised goddess with needle, gohei and amulet in hand. An epic battle filled with danmaku from raging miko and screams from a terrified goddess ensued.
Only after Hecatia belted out a promise to "stop the sun from shining please stop hitting me" did Reimu relent. Nodding in satisfaction she turned on her heel, scooped up her new property, and flew back to the shrine. After stowing her loot, she sat down on the deck and stared into the sunset, satisfied that she had not only solved the incident but also gained a new way to beat the heat.

The next day, Unzan flew up to the sky to take a nap. His large bulk blocked out the sun, which forced its baleful rays to cease. Reimu watched contently from her new position in front of her Cirno-powered cooling machine. Another job well done, she thought to herself.

>When the wind is slow and the sun is hot the miko prowls to find whats not
>Oh how petty, all the larceny, Reimu makes no sacrifice
>When she floats on through with a brisk attack, the Ice fairy ripped from her snack
>One hot incident, they will not forget the RED SUN OVER (Psuedo) PARADISE

shoutouts to my friend for editing
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“Lee, have you finished moving my materials inside?”

Shizuha poked her head out of a window, searching for the newest addition to her and Minoriko’s household. She soon spotted him stagger around the corner of the storehouse clutching several cloth bags.

“Almost!” he managed to grunt, panting from both the weight of the pigments she had asked him to fetch and the smothering heat of the Gensokyo summer.

Shizuha muttered something distinctly unbecoming of a goddess of even her modest stature, then ducked back in. Internally, she scolded herself. Wasn’t she supposed to be the responsible one? At least Minoriko was tending to her fields and not around to witness the gaffe.

Lee had finished putting away the bags and was laying down in the shade by the time Shizuha walked over with a pitcher of water and a few worn cups. She sat down beside him while he caught his breath and poured him a cup.

“Thank you.” He accepted the water with a grateful smile.

Shizuha found her eyes drawn to him as he drank in silence. She lingered on how his larynx punctuated the contour of his neck and followed it as it moved up and down as he swallowed the water. Out of habit, she found herself rendering her subject in terms of shapes and lines, of color and shading - means by which to more easily depict him with her brush.

Perhaps as a painter, it was natural for her to see her shaman through the lens of her art. By the same token, however, Shizuha had to wonder how she appeared to him.

Lee interrupted her thoughts with a satisfied sigh as he finished the last of the water. “Say, Shizuha, what’s in these?”

“Sappanwood bark, powdered cochineal, clusiaceae sap…”, she noted a lack of understanding on his face. “Pigments for my paints.”

“Oh, that’s right! Autumn’s right around the corner. The most exciting time of year for you and Minoriko, right?”

Shizuha would have called it the only exciting time of year, and even that much would be a very generous interpretation of the word. There was little excitement in being overshadowed by her younger sister yet again.

Rather than dwell on it, she reached out and flicked his sweat-streaked forehead. “You’re just excited for the cooler weather, aren’t you?”

“Can you blame me? I’m baking alive out here”, he laughed. “It is interesting to see you making paint from scratch, though.”

“You flatterer.”

“No, really. To me, paint was always something synthetic and foul-smelling that came in a can or a tube, ready to use with little extra thought required. What you make feels much more…”


“Sort of.” He paused to think. “When autumn comes and I’ll see the red and yellow of the leaves, I think knowing that it was you will feel comforting to me.”

“Will you still feel that way after you help me with the animal glue?”

“The what?”

“We’re going to render animal skins, bones, and other parts to make the glue that makes up the body of the paint. What, you didn’t think I was going to just smear various dry powders on leaves, did you?”

“Oh no.”

Shizuha smiled as she teased him. “Oh yes. Just you, me, and hours of stirring a big, boiling pot…”

Lee pointed up at the midday sun still blazing away. “In this weather? Are you trying to kill me?”

“No, but if you do happen to die, I’d appreciate it if you could fall into the cauldron while you’re at it. Every bit helps.”

Lee laid his upper body down on the wooden porch with a sigh. “Keine lied to me. I should have gone to the village when I had the chance.”

Shizuha scooted beside him, wearing a serious expression that was betrayed by a certain gleam in her eyes. “Too bad. Now you’re at the mercy of two goddesses and their every whim. For example…”

She leaned over and cupped his face in her hands.

He inhaled sharply. “Shizuha, I’m all sweaty and gross.”

“I don’t mind. Do you?”

“No, but-”

“Then hush, my shaman.”

Shizuha closed her eyes and brought her lips to his, gently parted them with her tongue. At this distance, she breathed in his scent - the tang of sweat, a hint of masculine musk, and the dust from the pigments he had been hauling. Mostly, he smelled of the sun and summer air heavy with the lush scent of plant life.

It was a pleasantly intoxicating mixture. The humidity and sweat made their skin slightly sticky, but now the summer heat felt inconsequential compared to their internal passion. Shizuha felt Lee relax into her embrace, and her laughter turned to humming as the quality of the heat seemed to become more figuratively sultry than literal.

“What?” Lee asked, taking the opportunity to catch his breath. Was he nervous about being a bad kisser?

“Just thinking that I need to properly thank the village teacher sometime.” Shizuha stroked his face tenderly as though trying to memorize its shape.

“Hm. Me too. It would be awkward to officiate your own wedding.” Lee looked away from Shizuha, blushing. “I’m glad you two found me, and liked me enough to let me stay.”

He sat up again, still not making eye contact. “You know, I wasn’t in a great spot before I wound up in Gensokyo.”

Shizuha nodded. She could tell as much at the time, though she hadn’t wanted to pry.

“Actually, I wasn’t in a great spot after winding up in Gensokyo, either.”

“Minoriko would disagree. She’d say her pumpkin field is, in fact, a lovely spot to take a dirt nap in.”

“Ha, you’re right.” Shizuha was gratified to see him smile at that. “Well, being with you two, getting to spend the rest of my life with you two, is a blessing. Thank you.”

Kami did not pray, but they could wish for things like any other; right now, Shizuha wished that Lee might be transposed to a medium more enduring than flesh and faith. And yet…

And yet Shizuha had enough wisdom to know that such a wish should not be granted. Just as the seasons passed, just as she painted and scattered the leaves of gensokyo, just as the glue in her paints spoiled, Lee too was mortal - transient and fleeting.

Fortunately, Shizuha understood the beauty in transience better than anyone else in Gensokyo.

“Lee? Pumpkin?” They were interrupted by Minoriko’s voice calling out from the house. “Have you seen Shizuha? I haven’t- oh my.”

The younger sister peeked out of the house with a coquettish smile. “Sorry to interrupt, but I just brought some watermelons home. Maybe you two need to rehydrate yourselves-”

Minoriko ducked back inside before Shizuha could find something within grabbing distance suitable for throwing at Minoriko’s smug face. Still, she couldn’t stay angry for long.

She took Lee’s hand as he moved to stand up, keeping him with her for a few more moments. “You’re a blessing in your own right. I can’t remember the last summer I enjoyed this much, and I hope to have many more with you.”
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The ambush was executed flawlessly. It took place at the bend on the narrow trail as it dipped downwards around a small hill. The dense, thorny, and berry-laden bushes hedged the path on the sides. At the extremely-close range, the moment it would take to turn around and run was pointless. Short of leaping upwards and flying, there was no escape.

The ambusher stared at me firmly, her eyes showing little of their usual emotion. Likewise, her dark lips were drawn taut and her breathing silent. There was tension in her haunches as she leaned forward, appearing ready to leap should she detect a false move. Countless generations of careful breeding had endowed her with confidence in the hunt and prowess. That this was quite underappreciated in the village at present was a shame.

Her ancestors had been the proud sort, no doubt, used to the hard life of tracking and cornering youkai. How many cousins had been killed in their pursuit? Survival was never guaranteed, even when the conditions were favorable. Surprise was certainly something that favored the hunter but so did wits and the ability to collaborate with others. Before my time, only a few generations ago, hunters had gathered in groups and set out to exterminate troublesome youkai together.

Of course, today she was on her own. She may have been tracking but she was not hunting. Extermination was not on her mind either. Her behavior was instinctual, something that originated in her blood but was, ultimately, a vestigial impulse. Though impressed, I did not smile, instead crouching down to level my gaze with hers.

The bitch remained impassive for a few moments more. As I stretched my hand out, however, flickers of her usual gaiety reappeared in her dark eyes and the black lips curled at their base into something that could be generously interpreted as analogous to a smile. Her pink tongue flitted out as she brought her face close to my hand, making something of an imperious showing as she wrinkled her nose to sniff me.

I brushed my fingers against her soft cheek. It was more an acknowledgement than an act of affection.

She had managed to find me yet again.

I had left home early, before the sun had been high up in the sky. Partly to avoid attention and partly to do as much of the journey as was possible before the day became truly sultry. I stuck to the lesser-known paths and trails around the village as I usually did, encountering absolutely no one on my way. The occasional morning breeze that blew over overgrown brush and grass, making undulating waves among the green, was the only movement I spied. It was likewise silent, with only the muffled sound of my own footsteps on the dry earth keeping me company. Not even the birds seemed to have been aroused to song yet.

She sat on the dirt in front of me, allowing her legs and back to relax. Breathing through her mouth, she let her tongue loll out as she continued to stare at me. Triumphalism encouraged her playfulness and I could not deny her her prize. I pat her on her head, letting my hand rub down the back of her neck and ears. Her short coat felt ticklish against my skin. She closed her eyes with what was doubtlessly satisfaction, allowing her curled plume of a tail to move a little from side to side.

“You may as well come with me,” I told her, standing back up and straightening up my pack. The bitch seemed to understand my intention and stood as well, turning to lead on the path ahead as if that had always been the plan.

I followed her brisk pace gladly, saying nothing else. The cold — almost lupine — edge she had displayed earlier had melted into familiar ease. The sort she displayed daily when the various children in the village. They would often call out to her and play games with her, throwing sticks or balls for her to fetch, then rewarding her with sticky and sweet snacks like bits of dango. How she managed to stay so lean even with the passage of years was probably due to all of the running around that she did. She had no home that I knew of, so she was always on the move and looking to curry favor from whoever might be nearby.

I had been chosen today but I could not really explain why. She was one of the few beings in the village that ever took note of me and one of the fewer still that had ever approached me. Even my neighbors were too caught up in their own lives to ever talk to me even if they spied me coming and going from my home. Perhaps my aloofness was what attracted her to me. I gave her little attention and never fed her nor gave her shelter. Perhaps tracking me down was a sort of game to her. Maybe part of the attraction was a sense that she was the only creature that regularly had me at a disadvantage.

The bitch strolled ahead with confidence, finally coming upon the shaded area at the edge of the lake. She stopped and looked back at with a twinkle in her eye, having guessed that this was my destination. Once before, in the late spring, she had come upon me sitting at the edge of the water. It seemed that she had remembered that I liked to fish from time to time.

A small stream worked its way down the mountains and fed into the lake. It was one of many in the area and a favorite of the more adventurous humans that came down to the lake to fish. I approached one of the large trees whose roots dipped into the clear water. There, on the side that faced the stream, was a small wooden bucket and ladle. I unfastened the strap on my chin, loosening the hat that had kept the sun off my face during the walk. I drew water from the stream with the ladle and drank. No matter how hot the day might get, the stream’s water always proved to be cool and refreshing.

Seeing that my companion was watching me carefully, I invited her to have a drink as well, placing the ladle close to her lips in an unnecessary act of kindness. She lapped at the water noisily, her lightly-colored tail swinging vigorously. I rinsed off the ladle and put it back by the trunk and continued onward, fixing my hat into place as I went along.

I sat on a rocky part of the shore that was elevated just above the water. It was a partially-shaded place with enough of the sun burning through the canopy to warrant keeping my hat on. I readied my pole and set the bait and mindlessly cast out my line. I placed the small bamboo basket I had carried on my back next to me. That would hold anything I might catch. There was nothing else to do but wait.

The water was a splendid blue. I couldn’t see very deep into the water and had no idea if there were fish nearby. Though I could see the far shore at the moment, I knew that soon it would disappear. The lake was known for its sudden spells of mist that enveloped all and severely limited visibility. Youkai were known to come out as the mist was at its densest — it was perfect cover and allowed them to sneak up on any humans, should any be around.

My companion at first had sat next to me, casting her gaze across the water as well and looking rather pensive. Her ears raised themselves as she scanned the area, their tips alert and pointing forward. Before too long, however, she seemed to grow bored of nothing happening and decided to take a better look around the area. As nothing was biting, I let my eyes follow her as she went along.

She approached a series of trees that lined up in a small crescent of the shore. Their leaves were green and vital, pods fruiting and becoming brown, and their branches covered a large area all around their venerable and thick trunks. A few months earlier there had been little hint of their eventual verdant transformation. Deep purples and pinks had streamed down in threads from every branch, luscious as well-brushed strands of hair. The flowers came every spring and clustered together on multiple levels for a few weeks before falling away and leaving behind only the green leaves. With its beauty largely gone, all that remained was the promise of death. The bitch did not come close to its fallen pods.

She came to a sudden stop by a thicket. She sniffed the air for a moment, tilting her head upwards. In the direct sunlight, her pale coat shimmered. Her body drooped towards the earth as she took a few cautious steps towards the greenery, once more sharp and focused. She may have well hunted me down in a similar fashion. There was no hesitation in her motions. With a bold leap, she jumped into the thicket.

A cry rang out.

There was a struggle but the bitch seemed to have the upper hand, soon emerging with her prize in tow. A child-sized figure was struggling to free her dress from the hunter’s jaws. Though she tried to use her icy powers to hit her captor, the latter made it clear that if she was attacked she would simply rip away and rip apart the fabric. As much as the prey tried to kick away, it was clear who had the upper hand. The fairy had been well caught.

I watched with some indifference, ignoring both the fairy’s exasperated cries and the bitch’s playful growling. They seemed well matched. Before too long the fairy tried to free herself with an unwise show of violence and found herself on her back, pinned down by the medium-sized animal. The excitement continued as distress turned to laughter. Evidently the fairy was ticklish and the bitch’s playful licking of arms and legs had her all but conceding defeat.

The air was still. My hair was becoming sticky where it came into contact with the hat. My fishing line had stayed completely still since I cast it into the water. Though it was unlikely that anyone would recognize me, I was reluctant to cast off my outer layers of clothing. There was no need to reveal myself. Exposed legs would have to suffice. If it got too hot, I could always dip them in the water.

The fairy quickly became friendly with the bitch. Their wrestling was now entirely benign. Both ignored from me for the time being but came to the shoreline some distance away. I did not really care to watch what they were up to but, seeing as there seemed to be little hope of catching anything anytime soon, I kept track of them out of the corner of my eye.

It seemed like the fairy was all to happy to treat the bitch as a peer, talking to her as if she understood what she was going on about. Her voice carried far in the stillness and it was full of pomposity. Without hearing what she was saying, I was certain that she was showing off to her new friend. She froze some of the water further away and scared off a pair of fairies that caught sight of the spectacle with ease. Easily amused, she ran around with childish glee, ignoring the sweltering weather.

Her new friend grew tired of it all first, coming up to the stream to drink more water. The fairy followed, chatting away all the time about this or that. I secretly blamed her for scaring away the fish.

The sun seemed to have had an effect on them both in the end. The bitch lay down nearby, directly where the shade from the nearby tree was its densest. The fairy followed suit, laying supine with her arms sprawling outwards from her side. No effort was made to talk to me or otherwise bother me. I was glad to be left alone.

They slept for a while. I nearly followed suit, stunned into an unthinking state by the heat. My head felt heavy, like it was liable to collapse downwards, perhaps slipping off of my neck in the process. Still the line remained immobile. I kept a hand firmly wrapped around the fishing rod, not wanting to tempt fate and let go if surprised.

Salvation came in the form of mist. It was only a matter of minutes before it overtook the area. The cold and wet air felt good against my skin, instantly making the midday heat tolerable. More than that, it made me feel alert again. I noticed that someone had been staring at me for some time.

Only a few foolhardy individuals bothered to leave the village. No one liked dealing with youkai. Still, that didn’t stop the stupidest of fools believing that there were a few youkai that were relatively harmless. Or even good luck. In a manner of speaking. A fisherman going to the lake naturally wanted to catch the biggest fish they could. So, well, seeing a really big fish was a good thing. It must mean that there are others close by that can be caught.

The confluence of those thoughts was, therefore, sighting a mermaid. Really great luck and all that.

I was unsure what a mermaid staring at me really meant, however. The girl was stealthily gazing at me from further down the shore, where the mist was less dense. She smiled bashfully when she noticed I had seen her and looked unsure of whether or not she should come closer. After a moment’s hesitation, she swam close to where I had settled down, moving as gracefully in water as might be expected of something part-fish.

Her dark blue eyes avoided looking at me directly in a show of modesty. She played with a curled strand of hair as she spoke, “I’m sorry. I thought you were somebody else. I was supposed to meet someone by the eastern shore around this time.”

Other fishermen would be ecstatic over encountering a maidenly mermaid like her.

“That’s alright,” I said. I kept my face hidden under the brim of my hat.

The fairy was stirred and awoke her new best friend. The fairy and mermaid spoke and the latter laughed softly at her antics. It seemed like they were acquainted. The bitch was introduced in a bombastic way and she quickly ingratiated herself with the mermaid — as a result the youkai was soon scratching her behind the ears.

The mist began to recede almost as quickly as it had appeared. The sun bore down relentlessly. The larger party withdrew to the shade, with the mermaid flopping half of her body onto land as her tail remained underwater. Some other fisherman might have found that alluring instead of undignified.

There was another lake up in the mountains. Likely clear of mermaids, fairies, or dogs, seeing as it was near a shrine. It did come with the risk of potentially dealing with gods and shrine maidens. Or the tengu who had a reputation for being territorial. Not the most appealing of prospects. The quickly-rising temperature made me grumble. Perhaps summer was the problem. Bodies of water were obvious locations to cool off and idle about.

The bitch growled. Her body became tense and she barked at a new arrival. A woman with a long dress and covered hair. A disguise. The mermaid’s friend by the look of things.

The youkai smiled uneasily at the bitch and paid me no mind. She clasped her hands behind her back, hiding long and sharp fingernails that would unnerve most non-youkai. The mermaid defused the situation by petting and reassuring the uneasy animal. The cajoling worked. The bitch remained alert but lay down and stopped growling threats. She was wary but allowed the badly-disguised youkai to join the rest of the group. Soon, mermaid and her friend were engaged in spirited conversation while the fairy and animal decided to beat the heat by splashing around in the shallow water along the shore.

I thought of moving. Either to another, more peaceful, spot or simply heading on back to the village.

The water rippled where the line began to bob up and down. The bamboo rod was pulled forward. I gripped it firmly with both hands. I tuned everything else out.
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