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[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?”
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.
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.
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.