You can believe me when I say love is like aliens, which everyone talks about and few have ever seen. I read it in a book once.
The day was fine, pleasant and fine, if you discounted the Sun raining murder on everything below. A certain hill in a certain place in a certain Gensokyo was getting the particularly bad of it. The truth is the hill had the luck of a squat and slant-roofed shrine on top taking most of the punch, but you would punch a hill with all the might you might muster and you’d find its gratitude hasn’t grown too much. A hill is a stubborn thing. This one was no exception, shrine or no.
A small cloud slid lazily into the Sun’s way, casting on the hill a soft, balmy shadow. Then and there a pair of young women, who had chosen this day and hill to appreciate the long-standing tradition of sipping on hot water with leaves ground in and a pinch of sugar pinched in, chuckled right merrily. It was the first time in many hours they had had a chance to chuckle so far as shadow was concerned; and where it wasn’t, leastwise it annulled their suspicions the world wanted them dried up and shrivelled up like raisins. Their judgement was vindicated by the cloud slowing its daily sail there to make their afternoon a little less full of murder. Their most rancorous critics wept misery in their lairs when the women breathed relief and stretched their legs on the patio. The day was finally just fine.
A puff of wind stirred a murmur from the trees. Marisa waved her laughter away and raised her cup to her lips. Her hair swayed on the breeze.
She has ugly lips, I thought as she drank. Cracked from biting and not much darker than her skin. Here were the lips of a budding woman with sparse interest in anything but books and trouble. I wondered how she had ever mixed the two first.
Time had been when this self-styled Ordinary Witch was a witch but in the name, but recent years had seen her lean decidedly closer to her namesake. Her clothes were often buffed from long use, and her hair was growing frumpier by the week. Worse were the shadows under her eyes. Any day now they’d start drooping. I wondered whether the recent influx of trouble had pushed her to boost her dose of books to match. Maybe I ought to, too, I mused, sucking in a smattering of scalding-hot tea myself. The newcomers’ success had proved to be howling, and who used to think theirs was an ephemeral one was quickly disappointed when both parties had wedged themselves into Gensokyo’s day-to-day for what seemed permanent good. At first Marisa had shown a polite (even deferring) interest in the Sword and the Ship; but before long her manners were violently upset when her own position became undermined by the powerful additions to Gensokyo’s already bloated roster of powers-that-be. That must have caused the lips. The books were a thornier matter. A certain librarian had no doubt gotten more than prickled.
Well, this way or that, she has ugly lips. I evacuated the cup from where it would cause the most damage if spilled over, and sighed the heat from my throat. Why am I feeling like I am dishing the dirt behind her back? I was, too, probably. That had happened too often that day. First her dress when she had crashed in my front yard in a billow of dust; after that her smell when we kissed good day. Marisa was certainly less than immaculate that day. The question of whether she was even so when she, say, went down to do shopping in the town had been gnawing at my buttcheeks since. The hell of it was, I knew perfectly what my issue was.
I was comparing.
“Marisa.” I broke the silence. As long as it was breaking things, I seemed to do a well enough job. There went a part of my advantage.
The witch smothered the laughter that was still persistent in her mouth and gave me a twinkly eye. At least her eyes are as bright as ever. A girl could envy after those eyes.
I hesitated before speaking. “Say... How are you minded to girl talk?”
“Girl talk, hum?” Marisa set the cup down on her lap. “Well, I am a girl (though I may not look it). Shoot.”
You’ll have to know about Marisa she possessed the rare talent to pronounce parentheses as if they were standard ABCs. This witch was such a one who did not shy from punctuating her sentences with whatever manner of magical power felt appropriate. She’d let off an electrical spark with a pissed-off “Haah?” and a ground-shaking rumble with an especially impressive exclamation point. She’d happily spurt colourful stars when making a pun; and when she was making threats (which Marisa was often), she blackened the air around her with a whiff of magical mist.
For parentheses, she used her hands. Around her mouth. Gods alone knew if she thought it made her more endearing.
At any rate, I wouldn’t be wise to hang on her for too long.
“This isn’t going to be pretty. You still game?”
Marisa pfahed. “Am I ever. What’s with you all of a sudden? You’re a girl, I’m a girl; girl talk is the least we can do with the two of us. What d’you wanna talk about? I ain’t tellin’ you my bloody week tricks. You care for your bloomers on your own time.”
Well, I had to laugh. Marisa was not the sort to beat around the bush, if you catch my drift. For that at least I was thankful.
“That’s a talk I could do without.” I retreated to the safety of my tea for a sip. That didn’t last long, though. I put it aside and tried to look as serious as I might in the heat. “Look, Marisa... This is something else. You promise you won’t laugh, OK?”
“Ab-so-rootely. Laugh’s a no-no. Won’t catch Marisa makin’ fun of her dears, no ma’am.”
“You’re horsing around.”
The witch made a strangled noise. Then her cheeks puffed up and she erupted in loud laughter. “Ah, oh dear,” she choked out, “now we’ve gone an’ tipped ‘er off.”
“You’re going to get your teeth tipped in at this rate,” I warned her. Marisa laughed even louder. “You... For eff-sake, watch that! You’ll spill the tea, you idiot!”
“Ah! Oh, oops.” Her hands snapped to the cup on her lap and she spilled the tea. “Ack! Ouch! Sss! You little—”
She spat a few words I didn’t think very womanly. The witch began to pick and paw at her dress, still cursing.
There was something about the way the fabrics soaked up the hot liquid and clung to her thighs that got me staring.
Whatever that was, Marisa’s suffering was more urgent, and she redirected her shouting at me.
“Gods damn it— Towel! Get me a damn towel!”
“You had that coming,” I told her, as a matter of fact. To punctuate my sentence, I drank from my surviving cup.
Marisa squelched her face at me in agony. “Yes! You’re right; now give me a blasted towel!”
“Magical word, Marisa.”
The Ordinary Witch howled at the sky. “PLEASE! Reimu!”
Smiling at my victory, I stood and went to get a towel.
You will without a doubt find it entertaining that I read books. There is not a thing unusual about reading books in most cases, yes; but when you are me, you will begin to understand that there are certain personal and theological preconceptions people are inclined to, and will, ascribe to you founded on the simple fact you are, well, me. There is not a person in the whole of Gensokyo that is not under an impression of Hakurei Reimu; and you will hardly speak with anyone who won’t either demand things of you or take with you the bashfully respectful tone rather than not. There is something to say for that. You’d be Hakurei Reimu.
A young girl had been willed the charge of Gensokyo. Hers was such a fate, once her mother had adjourned to... other matters. To its peoples, a woman in a berth of strength was common sight in Gensokyo. When certain powers had taken into their heads to play saviour to the extraordinary, centuries ago, they had been of the fairer sex. And so, where the outside world had picked and stuck with a mostly male-oriented rule, Gensokyo had known no touch but women’s since its creation. You will judge which has been gentler. At any rate, when a girl saw the carnage which powerful women had made of Gensokyo in what one may only guess a fashion of genocidal rampage, she saw very few earmarks of what she thought the good idea of a peaceful country. A girl sat down so, and devised a certain system: a set of rules for mock battles which would remove the requirement for blood that had besmirched Gensokyo for too long years. The ruleset was as simple as its two pieces: an empty spell vessel (mostly cards, as you will have doubtless realised), and a forgotten fairies’ pastime, which was old enough and sufficiently obscure for the power players of Gensokyo to engage in without tarnishing their reputations.
The Spellcard System (as you will later call it) proved to be a smash hit; and those youkai who didn’t disabuse themselves of the illusion only they could still shoot, became fiercely enraged at the attention of a certain flying shrine maiden with an agenda of enforcing her brain’s child. At first, many of the youkai who disregarded the new rules in favour of old habits found themselves challenged the traditional way and shot through the head. Later, while some of them were still not shot through the head from this cause, they began to develop a healthy interest in acquiring a set of spell cards. An early experience had taught anyone equipped with a shottable head to keep from getting under the skin of this raven-haired red-and-white-riding-hood bearing the teeth of a Hakurei. Gradually the old order of things was stamped out, and in its place raised a better, more civilised rule. The roads became safer for man, as any spell card allowed to them a fighting chance against even the strongest youkai, and they became safer to youkai, who no longer needed fear the one hunter they had still feared.
A girl known as Reimu will so have written herself down in the annals of history as the one overclever Hakurei who changed the face of Gensokyo forever. And forever scarred the opinion of its people on her own self while at it.
I sighed my hardships at my empty cup.
“And why so great a sigh? I thought I was’t one as has burned my buns, not you.”
Marisa had returned from hanging her tea-soaked dress; now she was standing beside me, daring me to say anything and flaunting her legs. The legs were nude and less than well groomed.
“You haven’t been taking care of yourself, miss butterfingers,” I noted.
“Huh?” Marisa tilted her head.
A golden star appeared and popped beside her ear, as if to show that, despite having nearly ridden herself of any chances of continuing her bloodline, Marisa was well and focused enough to remember her most redundant tendencies. A part of me was glad for her. A part of me wanted to finish the job.
The Ordinary Witch, Marisa Kirisame, seated her almost butt-naked butt beside me on the patio. You could have been fooled she was worried when she scanned me from breasts to nose, looking for a fight.
“What’re you yappin’ on ‘bout now?”
I wasn’t going to give her one.
“Never mind. It’s your aerodynamics you’re wrecking. Anyway,” I went on before she could pursue, “would you mind terribly if we could get at our previous topic?”
“Yeah. I’m a drag, aren’t I? But I really need to get this out. Yukari’ll be here soon if I am a shrine maiden, and I have to get it out of my system before she comes. She’ll need me with a clear head.”
“That is soundin’ more serious by the while.” Marisa crossed her arms. “I’unno that I like it.”
“Shut it. You’d be as uncomfortable as anyone if we misplaced something in the barrier because I couldn’t get my mind off of stupid stuff. This won’t leave me be, so I need to talk it out with someone. And not just anyone; I need someone I can trust. Someone that won’t rat me out. Someone that won’t laugh. Besides, you’re my friend, right?”
This set her to smiling all over again. “Of course. ‘At is, ‘less you don’t think a pain in your arse counts for a friend, I am your friend. That don’t mean I’m gettin’ out, though,” she cautioned.
“Good, you stay right where you belong.”
I brushed my hair behind my shoulder. “We done quipping yet? Mm? Can I pour myself out now?”
Marisa shot me a grin and a spine-crunching slam on the back. I barely held my tea. “Always, my girl. Always. So, what’s the grave news?” She put a conspiratorial hand by her mouth. “You reckon you been puttin’ on pounds?”
“You say that, because you’re jealous I can’t.” Not that she really was. Nor should she. Anything you could say of Marisa, beside me she was the malnourished pole not girl. “No, this isn’t about my weight. Actually, what would that matter? Kas is fuller than you and me boiled together and she flies no problem. I don’t think weight accounts into our ability to move around.”
“Yours, may be. I got to lift my own weight.”
All I could do was shrug. “The perks of shrine maidening.”
Marisa made a derisive sound. This was one thing I would always have over my talented friend.
A substantial difference was between my spellcasting and Marisa’s, and we had both profited from observing and comparing our respective methods. My innate abilities had bolstered her grasp on control; hers had shown me the value of study and pragmatism. The Ordinary Witch was restricted to whatever powers she suckled from magical artefacts or her books merited her; mine were less taught and more... divine. Many and more long nights threaded through with coffee we had sat discussing the ups and downs of both the aspects of our magic. At the end of the night, though, we had always agreed, one way or another, that both of us had yet a world to learn. And what better way to learn than from someone else’s experience?
“Anyway,” I once again tore the silence apart, “that’s not it. I get enough talk of weight from Sanae. There’s an odd obsession that girl has with weight.” I wagered I knew where the bulk of it sagged from. “At any rate, this is a serious question. Seriously serious. You’ll be straight with me, won’t you?”
“Yes, yes;” Marisa swatted my worries aside. “Out with it, girl.”
I swallowed my hesitation. “All right. Say...”
“Sayin’s the least I will do. What is it?”
I glared murder, but Marisa remained obliviously alive. She thinks this is easy. The look in her eyes spelled impatience. I think she was begging me to stop delaying. Or at least shorten it, if I had to do it. As well that I would.
“Say...” I gulped again. “You ever... had anyone, Marisa?”
For a moment, her eyes went wild. The next one, she was all Marisa again.
“Had? You mean, as in, eat?”
“What?” I blinked. “No! Where did that— What I meant was, as in, with someone. You know, with another person?”
You will notice and speculate I steered clear of the word “boys” with Marisa on purpose. You will not be far wrong.
Over the years I had found not saying things was key to healthy public relations. Many perfectly adjusted and mentally sound adults will have told you otherwise: that the secret is to choose the right words of the bunch; but they will be lying to you. Words are exactly the thing which offends people most. When you realise this, and remove this neuralgic factor, you will find there is little left to offend at. You will have heard mutterings as if Hakurei Reimu was to be an unsociable woman; but the truth of it is, I was never unsociable. What I was, was careful.
“With someone, huh.”
“Yes,” I said. “With someone.”
Marisa fell silent, sipping on the new tea, and yet making hardly a sound with those ugly lips of hers. Then she began to look at me, and passed into a hard, eye-to-eye stare. Slowly I figured out she was gauging my thrice-asserted seriousness.
At length, she lowered her cup on her lap again. Whatever answer had formed on her mind warranted risking a few more burns, it seemed.
“Well, no,” she gave her grudging confession.
There were times when the revered shrine maiden of Hakurei was too transparent for her own good.
“Oi, don’t you gimme that smirk!” Marisa hissed. “You ain’t been with anyone, either! Stop you smirkin’ like you know what’s what; or I wipe it!”
“Sorry.” I wiped the smirk with a hand. “It’s just surprising, that’s all.”
“How so? I’m a busy girl, I am. I’ve no time for amours. There’s more importan’ things than getting’ hitched an’ pumpin’ out...” She trailed off and lost the thought. “You know, I had someone, once. Not f’long, though. I was younger then. I begged them to return my feelin’s, but they wouldn’t listen. I begged an’ begged, pleaded with ‘em, but nothin’. Visually, physically, verbally; but all I got was a big, fat nothin’. There’s only so much time a human can waste’n chasin’ love, y’know? You gotta have th’ time to waste ‘fore you can waste it.” She flashed me a killer look of her own. “You tell ‘is to anyone an’ you’re dead maiden.”
“Over my carcass,” I swore.
“‘Twill be,” she promised. For a while she retreated into the safety of her teacup. Then she slid the empty thing forward for a refill and spoke again as I poured. “Well. Your turn, you lover girl, you. Where’d all ‘at come from? I ain’t sussed you th’ type t’ get all talkey ‘bout love-stuff. An’ I known you for years now, if I known you really. ‘Fess up, you ol’ sham. What’s been bitin’ you?”
“No, it’s—” I began, and ended just as soon.
There was always a moment when a girl must face up to her demons. This was one of mine.
I quit fingering the tea urn and straightened my back.
“Marisa,” I started again, “do you... You think I’m ugly?”
Marisa knitted her brows. “You could be if you tried.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence. Now. Am I ugly or not?”
The Ordinary Witch made a thoughtful hum. What she didn’t know was you could snap a girl’s nerve with such a hum. I held on to mine and pulled it down with all my might.
She motioned at me to rise and I rose. She lifted her shoulders at me to spread my arms and I spread them. She wiggled a finger at me and I turned around for her. I could feel her eyes walking up and down my spine.
At last, I was permitted to face her again and looked how she crossed her arms and nodded to herself in a sagely manner.
“You’re not my type,” she said critically.
To remind myself I could not pulverize her, I recalled my own calling her my friend the previous minute.
“Sorry.” She waved a pale hand, calming. “Can’t help you. All I can say’s you don’t strike my fancy. Can’t speak f’other folks.” She met my gaze and spurred her brain for something more useful. “Well, your hair’s kinda common, now ‘at I think on it. A lot a’ girls down town with same black hair. ‘At’s your lineage, though. You ain’t really flatterin’ yourself wearin’ same clothes ev’day, either.”
“It’s my uniform.”
“You ain’t on the job ‘round th’ clock, are you?”
“Your hips are decent, an’ you ain’t wantin’ any meat. Your legs’re long as the ground, too, so that’s to the good. ‘As all I got, though. You’re a girl.” She spread her arms helplessly. “Sorry. Life ‘as taught me t’ look at stuff practically. You ain’t after impressin’ me specific, I’un’ reckon, so I’unno what to tell you. Oh! Your eyelashes are thick, too. You could bat flies in two with ‘em eyelashes. That help any?”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Marisa laughed a sour laugh. “Guess ‘s is why they tell me I ain’t much of a womanly woman.”
They meant a certain party with a certain shop and too much patience to spare a nosey teenage witch. The closest she’s had to a father, I thought, too. Small wonder her outlook on life skews toward the male-r side. The reason I tiptoed about the subject of boys with Marisa ran deeper than simple preference. There was a tragedy to unearth here, but I feared breaking my nails. I elected for a nail-safer activity. I drank my tea.
Marisa would have me stripped of even that.
“So,” she dug into my own tragedy, “care to share what ‘is all is all ‘bout?”
For a little while I dallied pretending the last drops of my tea were of the more savoury kind.
You will have to know something else about Marisa.
The Ordinary Witch, for all her outward forwardness, was a reticent soul, never comfortable but at home with her books and research around her. She wasn’t the breed to take a grudge if left alone, and would still not harbour a germ of resentment if you turned her down at an invitation. She was a homespun girl with homespun manners; and had her inclinations leant another way (and her love for books been lesser, and her lips prettier, and her mouth cleaner, and...) she would have made a housewife to behold. This was not, however, the extent of her housewife-ness.
You will have to know Marisa Kirisame gossiped like a housewife as well. With a piece of juicy rumour she was not unlike a schoolgirl with a love letter. Sooner than the evening was out, the entire world would be made aware, a certain boy thought a certain girl had a certain part which he thought a certain brand of pretty. You will piece together, knowing this, why I was not sure confiding in Marisa would result in anything but a walk of shame next time I went down for a visit in the town.
The thing was, Marisa was my friend. I had to say it once and twice and thrice in my head to solidify the idea, but she was.
All the more lucky I when the cavalry arrived to swoop me on pillion and ride me off to safety. Someone was calling my name from the shrine.
Marisa scurried to her feet. “That’s your mother. Time to get scarce.”
The messy-legged Ordinary Witch flashed me a wink and fled for the clothing pegs in the back and her dress before I might savage her for the sally. A few seconds, and she was making a high arc over the trees, her dress flapping after her on the current. Soon, and she was nothing more but a dark dot on the afternoon sky.
“She’s not my mother,” I protested to no-one in particular.
Giving up my cup, I stood up and shuffled indoors to save Yukari’s vocal cords from certain obliteration.
Before I met my husband, I’d never fallen in love. I thought I’d stepped in it, a few times, but that was just my loosely mounted ego.
Yukari sat by the other end of the table, her majestically blond head tipped coquettishly to the side. You’d suppose her sleeping, but she wasn’t; the glowing presence beside my mind attested to that much. Closing her eyes was her way of training her focus on what could not be seen. As Marisa’s and mine, Yukari’s and my powers also were divergent in their workings. Where her sight distracted her from the task at hand, mine allowed me to visualise my work better. That, and watch her while we worked. And what a sight she is.
Across from me was a woman who Marisa might become if she tended to her face and hair. The younger me had often suspected Yukari a runaway princess, from a faraway realm, whose legendary beauty broke the hearts of men far and wide in the world. The older me had all but confirmed it. Enough she effectively cradled Gensokyo in her heart, mother to all inside it; her reclusive habits had convinced stories of her to take root and bloom in the minds of menfolk across the country. To them, this fabled Yukari was no shorter from a goddess than any of the actual goddesses who sprinkled the land with their shrines.
To me, she was only slightly farther.
The ageless woman squeezed my hand, her presence tinkling softly like a bell at the edge of my awareness. I directed my thoughts at the indicated spot in the barrier and channelled a spattering of my power to spill over the thinner region. Yukari approved my work, then moved on.
We had taken latterly to this cooperative effort of maintaining our barriers.
The latest incursions of new persons into the peace of Gensokyo had persuaded the golden-haired youkai of a cardinal error in her leniency toward conserving her kingdom’s boundary. To sidestep the political, theological, and mystical facets of the situation, the core of the matter was Yukari had taken it as personal offence a number of persons had managed to break the border without her express knowledge or, indeed, supervision. A woman as beautiful as Yukari still had her own vices, as did we all.
At any rate when this had begun to drive sleep off of her eyes, Yukari met with me in her home and proposed (very formally) we work on toughening our barriers together. It was a fast thing I accepted; Yukari’s indignation ensured her input would be more than her usual, and my own work would slide much smoother with her assistance. So it came to pass, every other week, that for about an hour Yukari and I held hands over a dining table, as our spirits sought out together, and patched, the holes which had opened in our barriers.
There was another squeeze. I let out a streak of energy and allowed it to spread over the designated area. Yukari opened her eyes.
“That should do it for today.”
I breathed out my tension and tried flopping backwards on the floor. What hopes I’d had of being a brat were quickly dashed when I discovered Yukari hadn’t released my hands.
The violet of her eyes was a hard, hard colour to match when she was looking straight at me.
“You’ve been awfully distracted today,” she marked in a gentle voice. “Is something the matter?”
Gods, she is so gorgeous, I caught the thought by the tail as it left my mind. My cheeks grew hot, and not with embarrassment. An old hag or not, how was I supposed to compete with those eyes?
Yukari leant closer to me and gave me a reassuring prod.
“You can tell me,” she said. “I am your friend, no?”
“You are?” I was swelling with doubtful fluids.
“Naturally. You know this. And I know you know – I can read your mind.”
Oh, damn right you can. I yanked my hands free and scowled. “You’re a meddling old bitch and you can’t read anything.”
Yukari smiled a smile that was a hundred years her junior. “You sure have gotten a sharper tongue since we last solved incidents together.”
“I’ve grown up, Yukari. I am twenty-and-one this year.”
“You are? My, what an amazing thing. You will always remain the little girl who loves piggybacks in my eyes. Such a sweet girl, too,” she cooed. “Oh, what wouldn’t I give to have her back! You remember the day we were acquainted, yes? You called me ‘auntie Yukari.’ Your mother and I had a field day.”
Yukari! I rolled my eyes at the ceiling.
You will undoubtedly find, when you meet Yukari Yakumo, that the mythically beautiful woman was hardly, and hardlier, the image of perfection which had blossomed in the wishful hearts of Gensokyo. Here was a woman to whom the notions of delicacy pertained merely to the matters of cookery; here was a woman who would bring up a girl’s departed mother with no regard for her feelings. Here was a woman who would touch a hand to your cheek when you were riled, only to gamble on the shaky chance you will settle down this way.
Here was a woman who never gambled on a losing horse.
“What’s wrong, Reimu?” she asked me, and all the anger flaked from my heart like leaves in the autumn.
[ ] It was nothing. I had my own troubles to worry for; I scarce needed her needling. [ ] Official issues should soothe my nerve. I asked her to tell me about how the barriers were working, again. [ ] My turn to tease her. I asked after her own little family. [ ] This would come back to bite me later, of that I had few doubts; but I asked her... how to pick up boys.
>>36154 Get over yourself YAF. The taoists are worse. Miko can't be called human at this point, Futo sabatojed Tojiko making it so she would die, Seiga is a hermit and as such no longer human, and Yoshika is Seiga's undead servant.
Besides, I don't really want Akyuu, but if you're going to start something you might as well finish it. Also, you best not be going HFY on here.
[X] My turn to tease her. I asked after her own little family.
“Many and more things, none of which your business.” I cuffed her hand my cheek-free. “You needn’t get in a lather about me, Yukari. I told you, I am twenty-and-one this year. I’m an adult.”
Yukari Yakumo could probably look wounded, but it was not a skill she exhibited often. “Adulthood is not something to flourish like long legs,” she chided me. “And not what most make of it. You’d do well to remember this.”
When I bit my lip at that, Yukari met it with a smile that made me want to peel it from her face with a knife. And yet, she is right, isn’t she?
Men may lionise Yakumo Yukari, and I may deride her, I know; but with the years she had of me riding her coattails (and piggyback, though I would never say it), it was sparsely possible she would not see at least partly through my bluster. A girl may hide, as many do, but in these amethyst eyes she could as well be made of glass. There were few secrets to secrete from the woman who had known your mother, and her mother before her. Yukari understood this, and toyed with the fact awfully. Well, I thought, there’s a thing she doesn’t know.
Two could play at this game.
“What about you, though,” I struck, challenging her gaze. “You worry for me, but haven’t you a family of your own to mind?”
My mistake was plain when Yukari’s brows lowered and fell in a line. “A family?”
I swallowed. “Well, haven’t you? You live with those two, don’t you? Ran and Chen? Aren’t they your family?”
“Those? You are joking. What-ever made you guess they were my family?”
There was not a sign of mockery on her face, no matter how many times I searched it. A pit opened in my stomach. “You live with them, you work with them,” I grasped at the facts. “You have them at your side always when you move. Aren’t they a family – or at the least like a family? You aren’t treating them as students, or servants, that’s obvious. So what are they, if not a family? Yukari?”
The living legend of Gensokyo shook her golden locks left and right.
“Twenty-and one,” she murmured. “And still as green as morning grass. Whatever will I do with you, Reimu?”
My face must have burned.
To begin with, that was stupid. Twenty-and-one, thirty or fifty – not even a hundred was rival to Yukari’s accumulation of experience. A girl may deem herself clever for her age, but any number of years paled beside the thousand (or more) that was Yukari. All the wisdoms I had learned were nothing to Yukari but a passing thought. The mortal realities did not apply to this beautiful woman with amethyst eyes; playful eyes, but wise.
Yukari nodded her head, as though she had known exactly what I’d thought.
“Your understanding is very much human,” she told me, propping her chin in her hands. “You think, because those two act as my family, that they are. This is not far from wrong; but it is very far from the truth. You have studied shikigami from your books; tell me, what are they, if not servers, wrought of their master’s own power? Yes, indeed; I am training Ran to succeed me... eventually; but you will be mistaken considering her as anything more than an extension of my will as she is now. A shikigami is a servant: a tool, first and foremost, to which its master’s ends are its own. There is no free will here. No love. How is this family?
“A family, Reimu, is the one place in all this mysterious world where hearts are sure of each other. It is a place of confidence. A family is where all masks and strings are removed; where we bare our hearts wanting the guard of self-defence, for here we are safe. There are no duties in a family, no spurs, no whip, nor obligation; it is the spot where we do what we do not out of mission, but of love. Where we are equals.” She stopped for a breath. “There is no love between me and Ran,” she continued. “You will not see her disobey me. You will not see her badmouth me. You will not see her argue with me. This is everything but family, where expressions of tenderness, critique, advice, are all taken with no grain of salt, no offence, nor underlying awkwardness. Not because we are threatened, not because we are ordained, not because we are dependent. There is none of that in a true family. When your feelings gush out without restriction, when your heart is at ease, when you feel so safe you call the other person a ‘meddling old bitch’ without fear of reprisal – that is when you know you are with your true family.”
Yukari Yakumo smiled again. “And this is when you are supposed to say you love me, too.”
Shrinking to a third of my size, I attempted a humbled “Sorry.” All that came out was a faint squeak.
When fifteen minutes later I brought us Yukari’s favourite tea, the ancient woman was full in her element.
At being offered her cup she fanned the steam at her face with a slim hand, inhaling the fragrance and humming with relish. Then she took it, and enjoyed a long, loving kiss with the drink. It was all I could do to wonder how many men would come together in the tilt-yard to battle for the cup’s place in this moment. A thousand? Two? Three? How many do live in Gensokyo, again? The much-coveted beauty sipped on, ignorant of the wreckage she was leaving in her wake. The cup suffered it all with quiet dignity.
Having sucked it dry of its juices, Yukari set it on the platter with a gentle clink. It sounded like the strike of a gavel in my ears, but it was just a clink. The golden-crowned woman turned to me, an inquisitive look on her gentle features.
“You are questioning whether I had ever a real family,” she marked shrewdly. “There are no secrets in a loving family; didn’t I tell you that just now? You need only ask.”
“Well, did you?” I asked.
Yukari nodded and inflated her chest. “Once, yes. And not even that long ago.”
I gaped, with my eyes as wide as the gates of my shrine, as this inattentive woman destroyed what image of her I had constructed over the years in my mind.
The edges of Yukari’s lips curved up, but fell just as quickly. “A man, if you must know,” she confessed. “To all intents and... purposes, my husband. For certain he did not last long in the role, but... in my eyes, what human does? They were still some of the most interesting years of my life. That man had the mouth!...”
“You had a husband?” If ever I had sounded like a startled girl, it was now. “You?”
“Well, we didn’t wear bands or no such thing, if you must pry. Yes, I am Yukari Yakumo; but who-ever said I was not a woman? Surely I am allowed to succumb to my lesser side every once in a while. There is always a man in a million who will shake even the hardiest woman’s heart. That time the heavens’ sights fell on me.”
“W—What was his name?”
“You would like to know, would you not just? Yet you will have to do without that knowledge – you and everyone else. They were fun years, yes, but gone now. There are tasks at hand more important than basking in old memories. Tightening the border, for one...”
I could not deny it. Whatever past of hers had been hidden from me, it was second (or even third) to our current duties.
Am I going to call it that in the end – just duties? My fingers clamped around my cup. Marisa had been no help; whatever I had gleamed from her had been merely physical in nature. What I needed was spiritual as well as physical. There was something I had to do about the former side yet. And here was someone who was wiser than the so-mature me. Can I ask her? I agonised. Should I? Ask she, who could not be farther removed from earthly life if she had balled up and launched herself in a blast upward at the Moon?
“Speak,” said Yukari.
I had but to look in her serious eyes to know that, yes, I could.
So I took the plunge.
No, not that kind of plunge. Time for that would be later.
I righted myself on my seat. “Very well,” I said after a cough. Yukari watched me with polite forbearance as I sorted out the right words from my head. “The thing is,” I began, “I am Hakurei Reimu.”
“Yes, I believe we have been acquainted.”
“That is not— You know, this is the part where they either drop fire on me, or drop to their knees and start apologising. Anyway, I am a Hakurei shrine maiden. This is an important part, because were I any other shrine maiden this wouldn’t have been as big of an issue. The trouble is, the Hakurei border relies on my supplying it with power to keep standing. And when it’s time to mend it, I am also the one to do it. No-one else will. They can’t without my specific magic. Which means effectively, that I am more or less supporting it with my life. I don’t recall taking any oaths; but I recognise the importance of this function. I used to mope about it, but I’m past that age; I’m an adult now, and I know my responsibilities. The issue here is, well... I don’t know that I will be able to fulfil them.
“The core of it is,” I went on, under Yukari’s close watch, “I am only human, yes? I don’t have an infinite lifespan; I probably won’t even live to be a hundred. That means, I must find someone on whom to pass my duties after I... after I must pass them. That means, I will need a successor. The trouble here is that I can’t simply take an apprentice or make a shikigami. The power of Hakurei runs in our veins – our blood. Which means I will have to have a child if I don’t want the border to collapse. The problem is, I can’t make one on my own. I will need a... a husband, to do that. That’s how it is. And I am only a human, so soon or late, I will have to go about it, someway. That’s plain enough. A husband will be a must. The trouble is he won’t just fall down from a tree; I will have to find him, and I...”
I trailed off and stopped.
Yukari was grinning. My shoulders sagged and I palmed my face. I was blushing again.
“You know what I’m getting at, don’t you?” I mumbled. “You just want to watch me make a fool of myself.”
Yukari chuckled. “A woman must do that from time to time,” she said. “Even one as adult as you.”
“You’re not making this terribly easy on me, you know.”
“You needn’t fear my amusement. I only laugh because you won’t. There is no reason for you to worry here. You are already in a better position than your mother was, and she managed somehow.”
That surprised me. “I am?”
“Why, yes. You are a sweet girl, Reimu; sweet and dear, despite what you say. Your mother was much more... intimidating, shall we say? Yet that was the least of her troubles. What bulk of them there came before, came mostly from her head.” Yukari smiled fondly. “Such a silly girl your mother was. Altogether exasperating.”
Suddenly I found myself shifting forward. “What was she like? With boys, I mean.”
You’ll notice the word came out of me unrestricted this time.
Yukari gestured at me to refill her cup. Another whiff of her favourite scent, and she was recollecting.
“Your mother,” she said; “first of all, she had this bizarre conviction she was somehow too heavy for a girl her age. True; in her line of work the extra... weight, shall we call it? – it was a bother at best when it came to more intricate manoeuvers; at worst, it became a huge liability. Well, curiously, your mother did not mind overmuch it hindering in her work; but outside of it there wasn’t a day she didn’t spend at least an hour sulking before a mirror. And how she huffed, how she puffed when I tried impressing upon her that kind of ballast men did not consider unattractive as a rule – would that you heard her! She would scream, ‘You’re just taking pity on me!’ and fling my way anything that happened in her hands. For the rest of that day she had locked herself in her bedroom – that one, actually, just beyond this door – and mourned her cruel fate. Your mother could be the silliest girl on Earth, when she put her heart to it.
“There was, of course, the sensitive matter of her work being more... dangerous, at that time,” Yukari continued. “You will have to remember, though: that such was the rule of nature in those times. Youkai assaulted humans; youkai were hunted and exterminated by humans; more youkai were born from hearsay of those hunts. The circle closed, and Gensokyo went on its merry round of existence, bloodshed or otherwise. There wasn’t much extraordinary anything in your mother’s risking her life for her work; nor was she the sole only one doing so. Youkai hunters were no new profession, nor much unusual; but you will have noticed how all the same they are treated with a certain amount of... respect, from both their targets and their contractors. That, right there, turned out to be the crux of your mother’s problem.” Yukari paused for a sip. “This has to be said, though; your mother was more neighbourly than you are. You have rather few friends.”
My ears flared up, but I forced out an, “Er... Yes,” even so.
Yukari nodded her cup knowingly. “That’s what I thought. At any rate. That was a part of it. Your mother spent much of her time rather in the village than the shrine, and interacted much with is people. She repaired to them for what she had thought her slip of womanly duties with more manlike contributions. She lent her expertise to her fellow hunters. She gave a hand in organising festivals. She shared whatever knowledge was appreciated in the village school. At times, she even sat with the village elders to opine how best to expand the buildings for good defensibility. She was as much mother to that village as she was to you. The villagers respected her tremendously.”
“So what was the problem?” Unknowing whether to be ashamed for being different from my mother or to be proud, I spoke up. “You say they respected her, right enough. Then why was it so hard for her to find a husband?”
Yukari bared her teeth in a pearly grin. “And here is all the rub. You’ll recall your mother scarce respected her feminine charms, yes? That is not to say she wasn’t pretty; you will find proof enough of that if you look in a mirror. This, greatest, drama of our times was frightfully simple in truth: on the one side you had your mother, who thought herself workhorse, not woman, and scorned romances; on the other, meanwhile, were handsome, energetic young men her age, who nonetheless respected her too much to slight her with their lowly attentions. You can smell the disaster all the way from here. Way back when, the stench of shilly-shallying was unbearable.”
“What’d you do?” Somehow I was not at all sceptical Yukari had had a big hand in this story.
“Why,” Yukari hmphed, “of course I snatched one of those men into a narrow alley, rolled him up into an accordion, and threatened to have him gelded if he doesn’t hazard his and your mother’s precious reputations and confess already.”
My jaw dropped to my collarbones. “You blackmailed my father into marrying my mother?!”
“That is an ugly term, and one which professionals use. I am everything but. All I did was encourage him – a little. There were already feelings there; everything I did was nudge them to cross the boundary which they valiantly fought not to cross. Your mother was outraged, but I think she was the only one; and in the end the whole enterprise returned a rather formidable profit – you will find that when you look down.”
I looked down and saw the strap of my bra lazing in the collar of my vest. Yukari’s lips quirked up in a smug half-smile.
My head swam from these new revelations. I held on to the steady table and attempted at putting them in order.
Firstly, that is difficult to believe, that such a thing even happened. My mother, with her silly haircut and her chirping adoration (and less than respectful kisses when she thought I looked the other way), too venerable to find a husband? Were this a storybook, I would have tossed it then and there; no-one told me the wherefore my brave father took a wife was the threats of another woman. And certainly no-one told me my mother – my mother I had known so well! – had once fretted over a thrice-silly “weight problem” over all. Sanae wouldn’t let me hear the end of it. But this was Yukari, who had laughed along with my mother when I had decided the legendarily dangerous woman to be my “auntie.” Why would she lie to me on this?
“So, do you want help finding a husband?”
Yukari’s blunt question jarred me back to the present.
There were many answers I could give her – one worse than the next. The one I chose was expertly half-way.
“For now I’d be glad with just meeting people.”
Yukari smiled, and hers was the smile of a cat who was about to be dumped in a tub of cream. All of a sudden I was not sure what I had just signed, or that I liked it anymore.
The golden legend of Gensokyo swished to a stand.
“Good,” she announced. “That’ll do for a start. Today is...”
“Friday,” I supplied.
“Friday. That means your kind will be resting after the week’s work. Yes, today will do nicely.”
“You didn’t even know it was Friday.”
Yukari shook her palm, all “Details!”-like. “You will need more presentable clothes. Your mother had a smart collection of dresses. What has become of those?”
There was a note of pleased self-indulgency in Yukari’s voice that told the collection was more than just Mother’s. I concluded best not to theorise.
“They ought to be in the attic someplace,” I guessed. “Should I go and—”
Yukari silenced me with a hand, and her eyes shut close. “Where?”
“There should be a basket...”
A frown of focus mounted on the woman’s forehead; but it passed as her face lit up, and a basket filled with bright fabrics thumped on the table. Yukari dove into the pile, tweeting with delight at each excavated piece. All were light; all were colourful. And some very daring. Mother really wore these?
Yukari’s brow rose at me when she noted my staring.
“What are you standing around for? Strip. You will have to try these on. Oh! This one I bought your mother myself. This one will match your eyes... Well? What did I say? Strip. You have nothing I would not have seen before; don’t play coy with me. Now, now. This one will be baggy, but we should see anyway...”
What might I do? There was nothing left but to fall in with Mother’s old friend.
Grasping the bottom rim of my vest, I rose from the floor, and, with a stupid smile stretched on my lips, began to strip.
My nerves were at their all-time highest when the town finally rolled out from the continuous expanse of trees.
The slopes of Mount Moriya were visible in the distance, splashed across with sunset orange. Far below I saw specks of dark moving about on the darker roads: carts and teams of field hands rolling back home from the day’s toils. First lights blinked from the village square, where crowded still the motley roofs of merchant-stalls where men and women of the village did their business. More women since recent months. The rising of the Buddhist temple nearby had accustomed the sight of youkai travelling and settling down to the curious eyes of the villagers, and the looks of humans innocent of fear to the arriving youkai. The period of tentative acceptance and strained politeness lasted no longer than the first human to venture into the temple grounds bearing greetings and open arms. Youkai themselves soon began to be seen in the streets of the town, mingling with the populace, studying the latest achievements of culture, or coming out at night for entertainment. The rising fumes of mutual understanding eventually attracted the ceaseless vigilance of the Moriya, who lost no time in demanding the opening of opportunities for exchange – of people and goods both.
As trade increased, it became more open, with Moriya carts trundling in and out of the village, laden with crates of treasures both for and from the newly sprouted shops and market-stalls. Commerce began to run rife, even obscure goddesses from far reaches of Gensokyo coming in to advertise themselves and their services. Moriya quadrupled their efforts of swaying the fresh market with promises of luck and promotional events, warning of the blasphemous ways of their insidious, cross-country competitors. The other gods’ response was simply to cleave their prices in half. A savage match of price-cutting followed. The religious business had ran into and survived a furious boom, its fading echoes rumbling in my ears even now, when I descended from my flight and touched down in a shadowed, out-of-the-way alley between two storehouses.
Yukari had cautioned me to fly low not to ruin my hair, but my anxiety had taken the stage. Smoothing my dress, I padded toward the alley’s mouth, my shoes making faint squelching noises as they pulled free of the muck. Mother had always seen stepping in stuff as a prophecy of good starts. Maybe that day she was looking over my shoulder.
A few faces turned when I emerged, my cream-pink dress still ruffled from the flight, but none stayed on me longer than my drawing my unruly bangs behind my ear. My reflection had looked decidedly cuter with its ribbons off when I had examined it in a mirror, I had to say; but the loosened hair felt alien on my back. That, and it keeps getting in my mouth. Yukari had said beauty had its price; but when I’d remarked I was neither beautiful nor rich, Mother’s friend had ripped the ribbons from my hands and dunked them in a yawing portal. She was right, though. I look so good no-one even recognises me.
With my wet hands clutching my purse (a purse!), I started down the wider street at a walk, considering where I was most likely to make new acquaintances.
Where was I?
[ ] The square was where most of the action happened. There was my chance. [ ] A pub or some such place would do. I needed something to steady my hands anyway.
Here’s to my style hopefully not taking a nosedive because I stupidly started re-reading the shitty* Merde! series (which I had been enamoured with while writing MiD) and it is attempting to sneak its tendrils into my current writings.
[ ] The square was where most of the action happened. There was my chance.
Fuck you. Guess I can drop the Sam lines and just say it. This is good. This is better than Tiits so far. I fucking hate you but this story is excellent. You're writing hits upon emotional notes to well.
[X] The square was where most of the action happened. There was my chance.
To square one it was.
As I stilt-strode along on my stiffened legs, I began observing those villagers whom my mother had once served with an eye and care. The boulevard streamed primarily crews of field-workers: tall men, with rakes and shovels leant upon their wide shoulders; but now and then a robed matron or man already returned from work scuttled from their lane, curtsying or nodding in recognition. To my relief I found myself trailing after one such fragrant knot of workers, excusing me from the glances of most of the oncoming townsmen. Who of them noticed me never looked long; the vast majority turned away meeting my gaze, as if fearing that recipients of the attention of parties with two eyes and a floppy part between their thighs were prone to explode in bouts of castratory rage. A spare woman or two appraised my dress (well, it was a pretty dress), but none accosted me for the whereabouts of my tailor. Good, I thought. The disguise was working its magic, and the tailor was like long dead besides.
At length the party before me dispersed into a crossing of side-streets, and I was left to enter the close in the centre of the town wanting a less than decorous vanguard.
The deck of the Human Village market churned as towners of all stripe and state pushed between varicoloured booths and stands. The shoppers packed and undulated despite the hour, once and again a desperate one shoving through to run to another stall, as though unable to keep a monogamous relationship with either of the shopkeepers. A few women milled about, some distracted and some more distracted, but none as grandiosely dressed as I. Here I stand out like a sore thumb. I would have less in a taproom or a tea-house. The air smelled of smoke and animals, and rattled with the grinding of clogs on the cobblestone. All of this made for a fine lively display, I grant you, with criers shouting and some unseen band thumping and twanging at a folksy song as if they had a vengeance against silence; but I was not there to savour the lowest prices in Gensokyo, nor the power of enthusiasm to overcome even the most flagrant lack of musical talent.
To the easterly side of the close ran a flank of tended trees in even spaces, looming over a row of long benches for the overpowered buyers; it was there I aimed my initial steps. All the while I craned my head sideways at the scenes unfolding on the square, my curiosity taking my misgivings and kicking them aside for the first time that evening.
A bevy of children together with some older overseers caught my eye, flocked about someone crouched on the ground in the open mid of the square. Time and time gasps of exasperation and relief poured from the crowd, clearly taken with whatever occurred within their circle. Then I started, for a roar of victory tore across the air from the opposite end of the square. A riotous game of arm-wrestling was full in swing on a tacky table and stools, tucked away on a patch of dirt clearer of bystanders. Or just the other way around. An audience of the whole spectrum from boy to man watched as players came and went, coin changing hands quicker than decanters at a wedding. There was a howl of laughter as the latest challenger was launched from his chair by his hulking opponent.
From my left, another sigh escaped the audience of the mysterious squatting showman.
What do you think I did?
[ ] Went to see the show. [ ] Joined with the arm-wrestling crowd. [ ] Took a bench after all.
The strongmen were assisting their felled comrade to a stand when they lost my mind; and I peeled away from the surface of the fair to bite into the dissolute pith. My mouth warped into a squiggly line as I made for the showman’s circle, veering out of the path of hotfooting shoppers. When I finally joined with their backs, I was noticeably shorter of breath.
The gathering scarcely marked my attendance, enchanted with whatever happenings taking place within their circle; but as I peered over their heads toward the centre of the crowd, I got no more than the sight of several more juvenile heads. These viewers were no taller than my shoulder (discounting the otherwise few); but in a row three pieces deep (and the showman hunkered on the ground) they proved a trial for my less than giant stature. Tiptoeing, smothering the urge to hover those few infuriating inches, I peeked to this side and that between the heads, struggling to see what a wonderful performance had garnered a public this thick.
At last I discovered a gap between two less intimate shoulders, and through it saw what a show this was. A foursquare goal of a sort had been raised on the cobble: two vertical rods topped atop with a horizontal pole, the performer hunched on a cushion behind the contraption. Framed in the goal were two marionettes: miniatures of a boy and a girl, clad in livery, suspended from half-translucent wires. A puppet show, then, my head decided. Though I could not make out the voice of the puppeteer over the buzzing of the crowd, the events portrayed were unmistakeable. The girl (her jet hair crowned with a ribbon) laid into the blue-dressed boy savagely, flailing her arms and black locks whipping, while the boy busied with his hands rubbing abashedly on his belly. Then suddenly the girl was upon him; and she smote him mightily across the face, the sheer force of the strike ripping open the buttons of his jacket. The attack excited a gasp of horror from the children, and the puppeteer lifted their face to meet it with a grin.
When she did, I felt my heart ram in my throat.
A number of uncomplimentary words crowded on my tongue, but I stopped on the verge of spitting them out. You will recall children were present.
At any rate after I’d almost swallowed my tonsils I found again my viewing window and, hoping against hope the performer was too occupied at her play to notice my freakout, continued watching how the lovers’ fight ramped on.
That is, right until a voice harrumphed at my side.
“What a fraud!”
I drew up my head to a tall man, scowling and cross-armed. He looked twenty, or right unto, and glaring at the duplicitous puppeteer. His ankle-long robe bounced up and down with the tapping of his foot. It was cottonwool, light and airy, a handsome pale violet that underlined the flax of his hair. At the waist he fastened it with a burgundy sash, this soft and frayed with long use. The whole of his presence chuffed ill humour.
As bounds tightened between the Human Village and Moriya, more and more of the queer fashion the mountaineers preferred slipped into the wardrobes of the villagers. None too soon it was no longer unwonted a man would be seen sporting parti-colour summer-shirts with strange, seductively angular embroidery; before long it was not unusual to see the knee of a woman playing below the bottoms of shorter and shorter skirts. The materials the Moriya sewn their alien clothes of became a thing of hearsay, and much sought-after; this especially since no animal the Human Village grazed on its fields produced such hide. Who of the townsmen who rejected this latest style mostly did so either out of disdain for the mode, or more prosaic shortage of funds.
This one, I thought, with his black looks, must have been of the former camp.
“How so?” I asked, mimicking Marisa from the afternoon.
The man (or boy – he was younger than me) looked in my way, his eyes flying wide open as though he’d only seen me now. A faint blush warmed up his cheeks.
“Sorry,” he murmured, fingering his mouth. “Thought you were...”
I never found out what he thought I was; but it couldn’t have been a thing that stared as a rule, because once I have for a while, he went on to explain himself.
“She’s obviously usin’ magic for that stuff. ‘Tis plain as day she is.”
“How so?” I repeated. The blush must have calmed me into a false sense of security, because I was not at all unnerved.
The man (boy) stabbed his chin over the children’s heads. “The dolls move too freely, f’one. Th’ way as she does it, she has those big rings on her fingers, right? There’s some kind of fishin’ line attached to every one, and they go to the horizontal stick on the frame – then go ‘round. Like this.” He wound his index finger about his thumb to demonstrate. “So she can sit o’er back there an’ waggle ‘er fingers an’ move the dolls that fashion. The tell’s the damn thing’s pristine. Not kissed by a single scratch. An’ look how those dolls rush ‘bout. No way that’s normal. She’s usin’ magic, or I’m a toad. What a humbug!”
And blowing smoke from every pore of his body, he strode away, muttering offence.
“What’s wrong with using magic?”
The boy (man?) screeched to a halt and spun around, half surprised that I had followed him, and half that I had followed him. I was surprised, too – entirely for the same reason.
His brows slanted in thought. The crowd he’d ploughed through started closing back around us.
“Well,” he said. “‘Tis unfair, for starters.”
“Unfair? Since when is life any fair?”
“You want to discuss philosophy, missy?”
Missy? Had he no care for his words at all? “That isn’t my longest suit, no,” I told him; “but I’ll take it over vogue any day.”
“That so?” The man latched his hands on his pockets. “Well, we’d ‘ave t’ find for ourselves a place to – no sense standin’ aroun’ riskin’ collision. Watch it! Gutter-eyed bastard... You still up for game, missy?”
I gripped the folds of my dress and stopped just an inch short of huffing an irritated, “Very well!” at him.
What am I doing? I chided myself. This was to the good, yes? Yukari had delegated me here to see people; I was doing it no good hesitating now. I made a quick decision. My dress whispered relief when I released it.
“... OK,” I murmured a response. “Let’s find a place.”
To this day I don’t know which one of us was more nonplussed.
Sitting was out of the question, however, as we found ourselves when we retraced to the benches I had wavered for before. Any of the ones on this side of the square were taken; to sit we would need to share it with another person, and one at the least. We weren’t much minded to sharing, though; so we backed out into one of the walkways parting from the main market, and colonized an ownerless plot of pavement.
Across that space of time, I learned two things.
First, this man (honestly he was too tall for a boy) was incensed by Alice’s usage of magic to operate her play by way of simple artist’s integrity. As a boy (which had been anywhere between twenty and one year ago, I surmised) he had displayed an enormous interest in the arts; his was an artistically inclined family who saw no merit in denying their son’s challenging his dreams. For a looker-on, it is easy to make dolls carp with one another; the reality of the matter is greyer by half. A kink in the shortest finger might send the marionette into an unintended tango. The art of a puppeteer is a punctilious one. Cheating, as my company put it, was vile enough; but to cheat with magic was barefaced naked villainy and a mortal insult to anyone who had spent years exercising the motions. This had been the reason for his upset.
Second, my new acquaintance wasn’t stupid. He had the same incrustations of lackadaisical disrespect for proper articulation I’d long suffered in Marisa; under the surface, however, his impressive memory and keen observation skills would have made him a fine Shōgi adversary. The Ordinary Witch and I disagreed on many angles of our lives, which was perfectly natural and all right by us. We practiced different disciplines and had grown in vastly different surrounds. Any difference was merely effected by the fact. The same held for this man and I.
Well, less his name.
“So, anythin’ they shout at you when they want your attention?” he had asked me, following our failed expedition for the mythical free bench.
“... Mreimei...” I mumbled.
“Reimei,” I sighed. It was as good a name as any, though I didn’t know why I had lied. “My name’s Reimei.”
“Reimei.” He committed the name to memory. “As f’me, I’m Rat. R-A-T. ‘At’s me.”
“Rat.” His tone defied anyone to make an issue of it.
So I didn’t. He didn’t seem very ratty with me, but I trusted his parents’ judgement had been for the best.
When we shook hands, he held it for a second, his fingertips pressing into the top of my palm, as if to test my outermost barriers. My heart fluttered in my chest when it struck me the first time I touched a boy’s hand had just come and gone. Small loss, I told myself; but deep inside I kept thinking it wasn’t. Anyway Rat made nothing of it.
As we sat around on the neatly swept paving, there came my turn to upraise a little of the curtains of my life. Cued by his “What ‘bout you?” I began entangling myself in an even deeper web of lies.
“Well, I don’t live here, for one,” I told him. The fib went down so smoothly I was the one who swallowed.
“That so? Where you from?”
This could mean anything from “Long way home, huh?” to “Sorry, my religious affiliations dictate I make myself a necklace of your tripes.” I determined waiting with fists clenched was my safest course.
At length, Rat decided to leave my tripes alone. A probing expression assumed on his face, he resumed his flurry of questions.
“You been here before?”
“No. This is a first. Why?”
“Thought I seen you’s all.” He shook his head. “No matter.” My eardrums almost ruptured from my blood pressure taking a leap for the Sun, but the man continued unenlightened of it. “So, what’s goin’ down t’ blow ‘un such as you all th’ way o’er here? Many o’ you Mori-yans we’ve been gettin’ in recent years, but hardly ever for sightseein’. An’ you don’t look the merchanty sort to me, if you’ll ‘scuse. Nor no upstart goddess. If you’ll ‘scuse,” he added quickly.
I chuckled uneasily at his slip. “N—No. My father is.”
We shared a laugh at the joke. Then I generalised at some length on my father’s thoroughly fictional exploits.
You will not believe me, but ever since, I have not once had a man listening to me as attentively as back then.
Some half an hour later (or it might have been two halves, or eight), Rat stood from our co-sequestered pavement and dusted his outmoded robe.
“Got me a friend with a cask-cart,” he announced. “Small beer, ‘mong others. Goin’ t’ get me a cupper. My throat’s parched. You want, too? While I’m up.”
He smiled at my lame jape. “A minute in that then case.”
I inclined my head and watched him jog back for the market with all the dispatch of a seasoned butler.
As soon as he had vanished from immediate eye-shot, I slumped on my seat and buried my face in my hands.
“What am I doing?...”
The answer may be evident to you, whatever you make of it; but to me, the rush of blood in my head made it less than clear. The Sun had made tracks and gone long ago now, and I had the gloom radiance of street lanterns (a team of lamplighters had passed us by at some point) to hush the burning scarlet of my cheeks. My clothes stuck to me like second skin; I had quit wringing my hands some time before, but it did nothing for sweating. And sweat I did.
For the first instance in my twenty-and-one years I felt aroused and queasy at the same time. Worms and razorblades boiled in my abdomen. My chest felt tight, and not for my mother’s dress had shrunk from its impressive size. You will speculate the obvious here, I know that; but I assure you it was nothing like it. The problem was not my inadvertent falling in love with the blond of his hair or his confidential manner. Nor was it the studious watch I’d been subjected to since I had tailed this man called Rat from Alice’s spectacle. Nor even his preposterous name. A name with a story, most likely, as I came to conjecture, hearing of his decidedly unscoundrelly parents. Which I would have absolutely loved to hear, if only were circumstance otherwise.
Which circumstance was that? This is a simple question, with an even less complicated answer.
I didn’t like Rat.
My hands stopped quaking for a moment as I restated it once and twice again into the night.
Though he was friendly, though he was handsome, though his jokes were funny and his repartee easy to follow; even so I felt nothing for Rat but the mildest of mild curiosities. There was no attraction here; and though my heart went all stripes of insane when our hands touched heedlessly (which was five time as we sat, or close to make no matter), this was my inexperience speaking; it wasn’t love. And he; I can’t tell through the sallies if he’s seeing me as something more or no. No sooner had I done thinking that when I knew they were bad thoughts; but nonetheless a small wonder remained.
No, no. My temples throbbed. This won’t work out. You know it won’t. You are a shrine maiden and he – a puppeteer, and a twice-foundered one besides. My head screamed at my legs to “Work!” – but they had no more than tensed to lift me up when my head changed its mind. “Stay!” it was saying now. My legs itched with irritation.
That was right. Who was to bond me to a spot I did not like? Whether I wore immodest clothing made no matter; I was still a shrine maiden of the Hakurei! My will was supposed to be made of iron, not pudding.
My guts had been motioning at me to slope off; I had ignored them for a man’s smile inflamed in me some frivolous want. He smiled a lot; I could not deny it to him – as if the world had been his private puppet show despite his twice-tripped up career. My teeth bit down on my lip, but I schooled them to let go. You will disappoint but a boy that was an ill suit to you. Man that was an ill suit. Maybe my mind would change yet again if I’d stayed myself; but I worried at what would happen if it didn’t. Then nothing would do but I must stay ‘til the end. Laugh together at his overfree jokes with a bugbear squirming in my belly. And I certainly don’t want to hear another word of this queer costumier he is apprenticing at.
That set my mind. And...
A blast of wind whisked away my next thoughts as I launched into the starry sky. No matter, I told myself over the roar in my ears.
The trouble was, there was some matter. As the lights of the town burned away behind me, and the night took me, I did my best not to think about it. All I wanted was a bed and fast sleep so I could forget it.
Sometimes, nothing happens. Sometimes, for all the things you do, all the choices you make, the world refuses to change.
The morning came too quickly, a stab of light through the windows, and the stinging warbling of birds. They fled when I dug out of my sheets and slid open the door to the patio. The Sun was scorching again.
As I sat beside the table, picking at my rice and suffering the cold yesterday’s tea, I wondered. Though I could certainly surprise at my sordid mood, I didn’t.
They will tell you the trick to making relationships is not to get disheartened after the first dozen of failures. When one date turns out spoiled, move on to the next; enough fish in the ocean to be picky. They will not be lying. There were decisively more men in Gensokyo than the one I had hooked; and if I was to tie up my hair and go again, I doubted he would ever give a second glance. Were I even to doll myself up same as the last time, what guarantee had I we would run one into the other again? For all the disappointment I had made him, I was but one girl in a great Gensokyo. Neither of us lost anything in the ordeal, and I knew it. That did nothing for my mood, mark you. You’ll call it silly, but I sulked.
The entire venture had a big question mark beside it abruptly. Was I right taking Yukari’s counsel? The woman had certainly matched my parents; but love was already there when she had taken matters into her hands. Was I right in actively arranging myself with menfolk? Marisa had spoken of “chasing love,” yet I wagered hers was also a love which had already been fostered. To wait around for it sat wrong with me; still I began to understand the error of my ways. To hound at would do little but run it off; either it came to me willing, or I...
Or I what?
Shoving aside my half-empty bowl, I slouched out to open air. As I emerged in my front yard, I almost stubbed my toe on the sleeping form Suika. The smell which hung about the oni’s stunted body told volumes of what she’d been indulging in during my love-hunting adventures. I allowed to the drunkard some more beauty sleep. A momentary buzz, a fleeting premonition flashed somewhere in the back of my head, but for now I gave it no mind. My mind had other things to gnaw at right then.
The truth is, I did like him, I resolved as I walked my dry excuse of a garden. My lettuce was dying in this heat. Whatever I maintained then, I did like that boy, or man – as far as liking men goes. There had been nothing about him which struck me as exceedingly immoral or lewd; though he was less than courteous, but he had scarce reason to glorify the “Moriyans.” Which, to all he knew, I was one of. More so, when I unlocked the floodgates of my mind I found it was not overhard to imagine entertaining myself around him. His pastimes lay in an unusual direction; and what defeats he had taken for his dreams painted him more a determined man than failure. Appalling diction or no, he was good conversation; whatever his quips were made of it was not a sour thing, and despite what I say, his hair had been quite bewitching. Easily I could see Mother taking to him fast if she were still around. Marisa even faster.
Yet something was amiss, and it was a long while when I figured out finally what that was.
The first reason he had prompted my interest was for he had talked down to me.
What are you getting into now? I chided myself, glaring over a rack of tomatoes; but there it was, the memory of my blood racing when he had first called me “missy.” Harder than when he’d watched me speak my ludicrous stories, hotter than when our hands had touched; my heart beat for him the most when he played me for a little girl. What is this? There was the flash again, but I brushed it aside.
Was this the thing which Yukari had warned me about? You may discover things about yourself you never knew existed, I recalled her words. While I’d understood at once she had spoken from the hindsight of the brief romance she had enjoyed with her human, her true meaning had eluded me – until now. Who was to say what Yukari had learned of herself; yet the thing which I found was more amazing to me by half.
So I like being talked down to. My cheeks went like ovens when I thought it, but the evidence was unambiguous. The thing which electrified me the most about my date had been that he did not know who I was; or if he did, but hid it, he did not care. Too much was my heart trashing in its cage when he made fun of me those few times: ten or twenty or close enough. What did he know? One motion and he would have been meeting with his gods sooner than he’d have liked. And yet he went on. This was what had tempted me about him. This was why I sweated, blushed and sighed. All of that, for he had called me “missy” and treated me a fool – a little fool, but cute without her ribbons. Was this what I wanted?
You are insane, I told myself. But inside I was mush.
A third flash ground my thoughts to a stop. What is it, now?! I snapped, spinning on my heel.
When I grasped what was taking place, I went cold.
Someone had breached the Great Barrier.
At once a pull of distress cleared the clutter from my head. This is not supposed to happen. My clothes whipped and snapped when I broke for the skies. The amulets in my sleeves found my fingers, and already the fingers felt made of steel. A feeling of absolute confidence washed over me; this was my most treaded territory. The wind snarled in my hair. The disturbance wasn’t far, but it was desperately what I needed right now. I flew on, a red-white arrow ready to loose.
At my back, a slow noon was unrolling over Gensokyo.
Where the fields crashed on the tree-line the Forest of Magic began its sweep over the land, where Marisa lived, and her caretaker who sewed my uniforms when I required it. To the east, roofs glittering, the Human Village bathed in the midday Sun, its streets surely crowding with men hurrying to their work – farmers and puppeteers both. Far north, farther than eye leapt, the cliffs of Moriya watched the land for opportunities. The lake before the Scarlet Devil Mansion glistened in the golden rays, so despised by the lady of the house. And beyond: the mountains, the river of the dead, the place of the ghosts, and farther; forgotten, abandoned, deprived – all the places which Yukari had plucked from the claws of destruction together with my ancestors, timeless stood fast yet, confident. Confident that I, the shrine maiden of this world, would ensure no harm would come to them. Confident that I, Hakurei Reimu, would serve Gensokyo with my life.
And so I would.
This was what I was made for. Yes, this is what I was born to do. And if I couldn’t serve it now, as I so feared, I would when the time was ripe. I was twenty-and-one: a woman just flowered, with her whole life still ahead of her. Finding a husband before that life was out was a trifle in comparison with my other duties. Trifles could wait. Trifles were for later. The source of the disturbance loomed near.
I swivelled in the air, and my course was broken. The ground soared at me when I dove for it, having spotted what I recognised for the reason of my alarm. I swung closer, weapons bared.
You will know, though I did not then, why I sensed some sublime and indelible part of the world click into place the moment I saw them.
Down on the ground, on the green summer grass, a youkai was assaulting a human.
※ ※ ※Turbulent Starts continue in This Shrine※ ※ ※
>>36270 depends on the timing really; it hasn't exactly aged well by today's standards (same is true of many of the site's clasics), though for its time the early runs of This Shrine were said to be pretty good.
>>36400 >Good >Objectively speaking Pick one and only one.
And before you start talking about pacing and context and shit let me assure you no one here is qualified to make a statement like that. The best I can offer you is some poorly-worded justifications to exalt stories we like.
good thing you said few as well most seem fond of resting on their past stories' fame.
I would beg to differ on the matter of classics
Those being SDM LA Forest LA Youkai LA SCIENCE (though I think it may have aged a bit better than most) Misadventures in Gensokyo When You Wake up in Gensokyo This Shrine Border Crossing and Aria of Deception ASSM (Even despite Owen's own insistance that it's not that great)
and a few others.
Archetype of self is a more modern story though while amusing, could be better in some areas.
>>36564 I don’t have the notes for this anymore (as I was quite literally scraping whatever notes I hadn’t used for other things to create this one), but I think what the plan was, was that there’d be a short scene of Rat coming back, then a cut to the next day when Reimu agonises over receiving a kiss on the forehead and being forced to flee through the bathroom window of an inn her “father” was “staying” at so as to maintain her disguise. Otherwise the same deal.