A Prayer for the Distraught Souls, Part 1 WingedIkaros 2012/09/10 (Mon) 20:26 No. 34935 ▼
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The loud sound of fireworks exploding wakes you up from the sleepiness that has been assaulting you for all this day. Shaking your head to dispel any traces of doze remaining, you look above to see the dark night sky tinted with bright flares of all kinds of colors and shapes. It was such a beautiful display that you can’t help but stare at it like a kid for a few seconds, with your mouth slightly opened in amusement. It does not matter how grown up are you, fireworks have the charm to make you forget about your daily life, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
From the top of the long stairs you’re standing on, you look down to the place where all the bustle and hustle of people is coming from. The booths and stands were distributed in a perfect square on the small prairie down your privileged position, transited by lots of parents and children sporting the traditional kimono of this festivity. Along with the light lamps, paper comets, and the occasional sparkler, they made for a rather colorful and bright scenery worthy of a portrait, and only rivaled by the pyrotechnics on the sky above. You take a deep sigh of both endorsement and pride for a job well done. After all, you helped a lot in setting up those booths, planning the fireworks and, in short, ensuring that this year’s Shichi-Go-San* was perfect. You could even say that all the hard work you’ve done was for this very moment, as you admire this stunning and pleasant sight.
A pat on your shoulder suddenly calls your attention.
“I should have guessed you’d be here,” says a male voice you know very well. “You should go down there and have some fun instead of looking at it from afar like an elder woman. You deserve it.”
You turn your head left to face your speaker and see a tall and muscular man with short black hair topped with a tall blue hat, dressed in a white and blue robes that resembled the attire of a feudal souhei*. He is showing a humble smile at you that contrasted with the worried look on his dark red eyes.
“It’s you, Gyoku,” you salute. “You startled me there! Why do you always sneak up on me like that?”
“You always must keep your senses alert, even in times of peace and joy like today.”
“Cut me some slack, will you? Besides, that completely clashes with what you’ve just said before.”
“You can have fun while being alert for troubles. Ah, never mind, we’ve had this conversation countless times before,” Gyoku waved his hand in a dismissing manner. “A friend of yours asked me to find you. Mr. Morichika, if memory serves. He said it’s time for him to repay you for your help last week.”
“Oh, Rinnosuke. He probably feels like inviting me to sake again,” you say, recalling that small incident. “But seriously, it’s just my job, he doesn’t have to… Ahhhh, alright, I’ll be going. Sorry for the trouble, Gyoku.”
“It was nothing. In fact, I was getting bored of guarding the gate with all the fun going around. And I needed a nice walk up the stairs for my legs anyway,” he responded. “Mind if I accompany you?”
“Not at all.”
You and Gyoku begin to walk down the stairs towards the stands. You take a moment to glance your companion, who is showing a peaceful and relaxed expression. Along with his partner Shin, Gyoku has worked as the gatekeeper of the Hakurei Shrine for a very long time, and he has always acted as some sort of mentor to you, even though that role is formally reserved for Genji. Although he has the annoying tendency to shoehorn a preaching or an adage into any conversation you had with him, he also shows deep concern for you, to the point where you considered Gyoku your second father.
“Gyoku, I wanted to apologize to you,” you spout.
The gate guard looks at you and hummed an interrogation, urging you to speak.
“I know it isn’t one of your duties to perform the ritual, and I know it must have been a pain to learn the procedures in such a short time…”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he says. “You never know when your duty calls, and we’re here to support you in any way. Even if we have to take a monk habit and memorize sixty different mantras, you can count on Shin and me to do it.”
“I’m very grateful for that. I hope Master Genji didn’t give you a hard time.”
“Oh, believe me, he did,” he grimaced. “He wouldn’t even let me eat until I recited the lines perfectly every day!”
“Honestly…” you sigh in exasperation. “I’m deeply sorry for his behavior.”
As one of the founders of the shrine and currently the oldest member, Genji is the kind who has to do everything by the book and faultlessly, and doesn’t accept nothing short of perfection when it comes the time to perform rituals and festivals. This is the main source of problems and arguments between him and other members of the shrine. However it was also true that thanks to him, the shrine has performed its duties flawlessly, and it has gained quite a lot of popularity – as the amount of people attending this festival proves. No matter how annoying and stiff he was, it was indubitable that he was an important member of the shrine.
“Eh, I’m already used to it. And seeing your daughter in that kimono was worth it the end. It looked beautiful on her,” says Gyoku.
“I’m glad you liked it! Though actually it was Shin the one who chose all the garments and decorations for the dress, so…”
Gyoku nods assertively.
“But still, little Reimu has grown so fast in just three years… I still remember when she was just a tiny baby in your arms. I’m sure one day she’ll be as gorgeous as her mother,” he compliments.
“Oh, drop it, you! You’ll make me blush!” you punch his shoulder lightly in a playful manner to cover your embarrassment. “You’d better not let Shin hear you say that or she’ll slap your face to the Youkai Mountains.”
Gyoku gives a hearty laugh.
“She won’t, I assure you. Besides, I’m already at an age when you stopped looking at women’s skirts a long time ago.”
“Now who’s acting like an old geezer, eh?”
“Well, at least I am an old geezer. You are still young, my dear miko. You have to live it at your fullest.”
“Yeah, ‘time is fleeting” and ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ and all that,” you say, mocking Gyoku’s voice.
“You’re not taking these seriously, are you?” he says, feigning affront.
“More than you think. When you’re at my line of work, you have to think a lot about the future, and plan your actions with its long run consequences on mind. But you’re right. Even if it’s just once in a while, it’s okay if I forget everything and enjoy this, right?”
“Yeah, you got it.”
The conversation dies down as you finish walking down the long stairs. The fireworks have already ended a few minutes ago, but the laughter and shouts of the people maintains the hubbub as loud as ever.
“Is something worrying you?” Gyoku suddenly asks.
“You look absentminded, even a bit apathetic if you ask me. Are you alright?”
“Oh, no, it’s probably nothing…” you say, averting his inquisitive gaze.
“I said it before and I’ll say it again now: you can count on me if something bugs your mind. Come on, you can tell me.”
He puts his arm around your shoulders, like a father counseling his child. You wish he’d stop doing that, especially since you’re not a little girl anymore, but apparently some habits die hard.
“It’s… I just can’t brush off the feeling that this is too idyllic, that something bad is going to happen and will ruin the day…” you finally speak your mind.
Gyoku stays silent for a few seconds.
“Come on, you’re supposed to say something like ‘you’re just imagining things’ or anything,” you say.
“And I’d do so gladly, but your intuition has proven itself right too many times to ignore it,” he explains. “Look, this is a special day for you and little Reimu, and you deserve a day off with your daughter. Just leave it to Shin and me; we’ll make sure nothing bad happens tonight. We’ll be extra sharp on our rounds so you don’t have to worry about anything, alright?”
You ponder his proposition for a few seconds. You feel bad for making the gate guards work harder on a day that was supposed to be festive for them too, but on the other hand, your intuition keeps warning you about something… and you really feel the need to disconnect from work. You finally let out a sigh.
“Okay, if you say so…”
“No worries. I’ll be at my post. If you stumble upon Shin, tell her to meet me at the gate.”
“Will do. And thanks, Gyoku.”
“Anything for you.”
The gatekeeper waves goodbye and blends in with the crowd ahead. Suddenly you realize you forgot to ask him where Rinnosuke is waiting for you.
“Hey, Gyoku, wait!” you shout.
Your cry is lost in the hassle of people walking between the rows and rows of stands. “Well, he wanted to invite me to sake, so he’s probably at any bar stand around here. He should be easy to find…” you think. Still, there are other people you want to meet with. You stare at the crowd, and make a decision…
Search for Rinnosuke. Free sake at your friends' round is always welcome.
Search for Shin. That nasty premonition still bugs me. I should find her ASAP.
Search for Reimu. It’s a special day for her, and I should spend some time with her.
*Shichi-Go-San (lit. "Seven-Five-Three") is a traditional rite of passage and festival day in Japan for girls of the age of 3 or 7, and boys of the age of 3 and 5. It is said to have originated in the Heian Period amongst court nobles who would celebrate the passage of their children into middle childhood.
*Souhei (lit. "monk warriors") were Buddhist warrior monks of feudal Japan.
I'd like to give my thanks to that unknown anon who showed me mistakes regarding Japanese honorifics and direct speech. This version has corrected all of those mistakes (hopefully). I might make similar mistakes from now on, so if you spot any, please tell me. However, if they're too small or trivial to warrant a post deletion and rewriting, I won't do it, since copying from word to here it's a complete pain in the ass. I hope you understand.