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File 134730880040.jpg - (642.61KB, 800x800, shingyoku1.jpg) [iqdb]
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.

[x]Search for Reimu. It’s a special day for her, and I should spend some time with her.

A mothers should care for her daughter.
[X] Search for Reimu. It’s a special day for her, and I should spend some time with her.

I haven't seen any mention of a husband, or anyone watching Reimu. What kind of mother would allow their three year-old run around the village alone? It doesn't matter if a festival is going on, you don't do that ever.
[x] Search for Reimu

Copy pasta into notepad, make sure it's a plain text though.
It'll get rid of Word's excess formatting
[x] Shin.
File 134774698086.jpg - (216.85KB, 765x1000, shingyoku2.jpg) [iqdb]
[X]Search for Reimu. It’s a special day for her, and I should spend some time with her.

“Look, this is a special day for you and little Reimu, and you deserve a day off with your daughter.”

You recall Gyoku’s words and decide to follow his advice. Taking a small breath, you walk towards the crowd and begin to push your way through, while searching for your daughter’s small and slender figure dressed in red. The last time you saw her was just at the end of the ceremony, and she said something about buying chitose ame* to her new friend. That was some time ago, but at least it was a small lead to her.
As you roam through all the chitose ame stands and the people, an inkling of worry squeezes your chest. You have the certainty that youkai won’t attack the festival stands, thanks to a large chain of pacts made with them that forbid them from attacking humans on the villages. But those rules don’t apply on other humans. You taught Reimu not to wander outside the village at night, but what if another person decides to bully her and chase her off the festival recint? It was highly unlikely, since villagers have developed a sense of attachment with their neighbors, but it the possibility was there. And if that happened, youkai would mercilessly prey upon her…

You shake your head to dispel those dark thoughts of your mind and continue your search with more effort than before. As you trot to the third stand, you bump into a young-looking man who wore a long red decorative horn, maybe as a part of an oni disguise. In a split second you move aside to avoid getting your eye torn out in accident.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!” you say to him.

However, he doesn’t seem to have heard you, probably due to the loud shouting that filled the place. He disappeared among the crowd, leaving you jilted with a complaint in your mouth. “He might be in a hurry as well and didn’t even notice me… Whatever, I have more important things to do,” you think.

As you stroll to the next stand, you hear a familiar voice gleefully singing over the music and the people.

“Come, my friends, let us rejoice,
for now it’s time to play till dawn!
Come and join me, girls and boys
let us dance, for our lives are short!”

You spot a wide ring of people bunched around a red-haired woman with goat horns at each side of her head, wearing a red and white combination covered by a navy blue coat. The woman is dancing –or should you say prancing?- following the rhythm of the music, and making gestures to invite some kids to join her. Some of them look at their parents, and after a “not-so-convinced” nod from them, the boys and girls step in the ring with the woman and mimic her dance steps –if those could be called dance steps. At the beginning they were still shy, but after a few seconds they give in to the fun and laughter and follow the woman’s moves with more energy. In the end, even some adults begin to clap their hands following the rhythm. When the song finished, everybody cheers at the woman and the children who danced with her. You take this chance to call her attention with a whistle.

“Hey, Shin! Over here!” you shout to her from the crowd.

Shin hears you and spots you, then waves you back. She crouches down to speak with one of the girls, who makes a pout as Shin leaves. You feel a bit bad for interrupting the fun, but the matters you must speak with her are important.

“Ahhhh, I was wondering when you’d show up!” Shen says when she reaches you. “I’m glad you still have some energy to come here!”

“I can see you were having your share of fun with those kids,” you point at the crowd of children with your chin.

“Well, it’d be a waste of effort if nobody here did anything amusing today, so I decided to start myself!” she puffs her chest with pride. “And you see how quickly they joined. They just needed a kick start.”

“And how many cups of sake did you drink to come up with such an idea?”

“Two and a half. Why?”

“Nothing, nothing.”

Truth is, Shen reeks of alcohol. Normally this would’ve earned her a scolding from Gyoku, Genji or yourself for inappropriate behavior, but you decide to let it pass since today is a special day. And it certainly isn’t the first time that she does something unbecoming of a gate guard, gets scolded and repeats it later. Everybody at the shrine has given up their hopes already to reform her from those bad habits.

“Anyway… why did you choose to sing that song, of all of them?” you ask.

“You know what I am talking about. That song is not suitable for children.”

“But I only sang the ‘safe’ part! And children need to learn to enjoy their time while they still can, so it’s educative too!” she argued.

“What if you accidentally spouted the chorus, huh? And don’t tell me it teaches children human anatomy or I’ll smack you in the head.”

“Please, you offend me! I know how to handle my booze, y’know! I would never, ever say such things in front of the little cubs.”

“Whatever…” you sigh.

“So, do you need me for something? Or you just wanted to scold old cute Shin?” she asks.

You look at the gate guard and exhale a snort of exasperation. Diametrically opposite to Gyoku, you can’t stop wondering how the hell someone as carefree and happy-go-lucky woman as Shin managed to raise you in place of your deceased mother. If someone else looked at both of you, it’d appear to him that you’re the motherly figure instead. This observation makes you remember why you were searching for her in the first place.

“Actually, yes. Have you seen my daughter recently?” you ask.

“Reimu? Hmmmm… I think I saw her some minutes ago, with her new friend,” says Shen after making a bit of memory.

“Her new friend?”

“Yeah, she was such a cutie! I think it was Mr. Kirisame’s child. They did the ceremony together, and Reimu took a liking to her. Do you remember her?”

“I couldn’t arrive in time, so no, I don’t,” you respond.

“Oh, that’s right… Well, anyway, she was very shy, but she had this beautiful blonde hair and a cute round face! I think Reimu said she was looking for a nice spot to watch the fireworks with her. Which reminds me, I should get myself a nice place too.”

“Shen, the fireworks were over twenty minutes ago.”

Shen stood with her mouth agape in mild shock.

“W-what? They already ended?”


“But how… Impossible, there’s no way I could miss them!”

“You probably drank too much and didn’t even pay attention to the explosions and lights above,” you guess.

“No, I don’t think I drank that much… did I?” Shen appeared genuinely worried.

“E-excuse me…”

A male voice calls you from behind, prompting Shen and you to look at him. The speaker is a man on his late thirties that is growing some canes in his black short hair, and wears a simple black and brown kimono over his slender body.

“I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation…” he begins to say.

“Oh, Mr. Kirisame!” Shen greets him. “We were talking about you and your daughter a minute ago. How are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you. And you must be Ms. Hakurei,” says Kirisame, addressing you.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” you respond, making an educated bow. Kirisame returns the bow politely. “Do you need something from us, Mr. Kirisame?”

“Yes, you see, I am looking for my daughter, and I heard you were describing a girl who looked very similar to her, so I thought you were talking about her, and I wondered if you’ve seen her,” he explained.

“Well, look at that, how convenient. Ms. Hakurei is looking for her daughter as well. You can search for them together. Isn’t it nice?” says Shen.

“I guess so…” answers Kirisame, abashed.

“Any clue where they might be?” you ask.

“Hmmm, lemme think…” Shin scratches her head in a meditative manner. “Why don’t you look at the small hill at the East, under that big cherry tree? It’s a popular place for sightseeing, and even if you don’t find them, maybe someone else may have seen them.”

“It seems it’s a good place to start. Shall we go, Mr. Kirisame?” you say.

“Yeah, let’s go. Thank you very much for the help.”

You and Kirisame say goodbye to Shen and proceed to part ways, but then you suddenly remember you wanted to ask Shen something else as well.

“Wait, Shen!”

Unlike Gyoku, Shen hears you and stops on her feet.

“Yes, what is it?” she says, turning around to face you.

[]”Could you help us search for Reimu and Kirisame’s daughter too?” We’ll have more chances to find them if we search in different places.
[]”Gyoku wanted you to meet him at the gate.” Although he said I didn’t have to worry…
[]”No, it’s nothing” I already caused her enough troubles; better let her have some fun.

*Chitose Ame: A traditional candy stick given at children on the Shichi-Go-San. ‘Chitose’ means ‘1000 years old’ and symbolizes the long life that parents pray for their children to enjoy.
[X] "Gyoku wanted you to meet him at the gate.” Although he said I didn’t have to worry…

More then half the time, you used Shen instead of Shin.

Cripes, good call! A huge slip up from my part. Well, at least it doesn't distract too much from the story -I hope- since you knew I was referring to Shin. I'll try to be more careful on the next update.

I wonder why do I keep unconsciously calling Shin "Shen"...
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