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Sorry for the delay of LITERALLY OVER A MONTH. I could blame how I have other stories running, but the real reason is that I find this story to be one I feel most careful with. "Hardest to write", but in a good way.
[X] Time to see the hermit on the mountain.
Reimu grumbled whilst floating above and before the most odious den of nonhumans still within Gensokyo: Youkai Mountain. She stayed posed beneath a clouded sky, arms crossed and calves as well. Good rest hadn’t worked. It aggravated her to do so, but she thought it might be a good idea to bother the nagging hermit about this. This hermit visited her shrine often, but with the skies still gray and a bit of a damp touch to the easeful, but miserably foreboding breeze, the shrine maiden was sure that Ibarakasen would stay within her special Hermit Realm today—within her Senkai.
“How do I get there again?” She actually didn’t know.
Reimu had been stolen away to the hermit’s secret place once before in the past, but she hadn’t exactly paid attention while being stolen. The truth was, even if she had, the probability steered greatly in favor of her forgetting the path. In fact, she had confirmed with Marisa (who had stayed overnight) early in the day the supposed route to sneak onto the premises, but the quickly-deemed-unimportant conversation had drifted out her memory by the time she arrived above The Great Youkai Forest. She now vaguely recalled something about lights and eagles... maybe.
“Uuu~n... should I just... go?”
She continued to stare into the greenery below, almost hoping a path would show itself amidst the fluttering birds, the branches, the darting youkai, the falls...
/ / / / /
Kogasa had spent the day before reading her rented book in the comfort of Suzunaan, and was allowed to stay after closing (although she did not realize this until ten, and the shop closed at eight... that had been terribly embarrassing). Because of this, she wasn’t able to bring herself to bother any villagers for shelter that night. It had been a while, but she had to find a quiet place and rest seated against a wall until morning instead, her umbrella half covering her overhead and keeping her dry in the alley she chose... relatively, at least.
Most youkai used Misty Lake or other rivers to clean themselves when needed. Kogasa, however, had determined that to be old-fashioned. For a tsukumogami – the kind of youkai closest to humans – to head off to nature for basic needs was an absurdist concept. No, this karakasa-obake would use public baths.
“Excuse me! Miss Proprietor!” the youkai announced, tossing aside short blue curtains that marked the entrance to a bathing establishment. She closed and put down her parasol, then marched toward a smirking woman behind a counter. “I would very much appreciate it if you let me take a bath here!” she declared, her chin up, her eyes closed. She leaned toward the owner, whose grin was widening, and put her hand perpendicular to her mouth in order to speak secretly. “I am a youkai, though. I’ll do my best not to frighten anyone else.”
The young woman flinched slightly, suppressing a laugh, and said, “Yes, Miss Kogasa, I know.”
Kogasa arched her eyebrows and smiled proudly. “I’m famous...!” she realized.
“Well, I know you,” the human girl replied, leaning forward herself to show Kogasa the house rules, “but this is the first time you’re coming to our bath, hm? Anyway it’s fine, of course we accept youkai. Men on the right, women on the left. Pay first, please.”
She observed the signboard outlining the basics of etiquette and breathed out a warm sigh of relief, letting her shoulders slump down. Inexplicably, the proprietor giggled, and she looked at the girl quizzically. “So you really do that every place?” the human remarked. She tugged one of her eyebrows up and told the tsukumogami, “You know, a youkai in the Human Village isn’t an unusual sight. Anyway, would you like your dirty clothes washed as well?”
Kogasa blinked, then returned a pleasant smile. “It seems I know something you don’t as well,” she said. She then stuck out her tongue and winked. “The clothes will be clean,” she told the girl, still winking, “it’s simple youkai magic.”
= = = = =
Choosing your appearance meant choosing your wear. As long as you had the magic for it, you could restore the clothes you’d made for yourself. Even fairies were capable of this, and in a world where colorful, violent patterns often filled the skies and tore your sleeves and skirts asunder, such magic was a necessity. Wounds were another matter... only most youkai and gods could fast recover from injury, and oftentimes it relied on some sort of “other” factor such as surprise, nature, fear, or faith to do so.
Kogasa left her outer and under things in a basket to restore on their own, and she stepped from the empty changing room into an empty, smooth-stone and finished-wood bathing room. It was still early in the day... not a wonder then. She was a little relieved as she moved to the showers to scrub herself down—though frightening humans here would be rather helpful to her, the inconvenience would have left her feeling rather guilty.
While she refreshed herself and later while she soaked in the heated baths (her more-toolish half soaking along with her), she thought about what she’d like to do in the day. Since the room was empty, and the gentle ambience of swishing waters and rare droplets out of faucets was almost too quiet for her so as to make her a touch unnerved, she first began to put in practice a part of what she’d learned the day before. She lifted her other half from the water and spun it in her hands from its handle-leg, the tongue of it spinning in what she considered to be a rather terrifying manner. A bit of red, after all, was always sure to be an off-putting sight. The act scattered sparkles—or so the liquid all looked within the bathroom’s soft-yellow lighting—and she glowed to see that she was dexterous at this task. Perhaps, like how she easily connected with other aspects of “the parasol”, daikagura would also come to her easily.
She attempted to roll one of the nearby wooden buckets of water and dropped it close to immediately, standing out the bath at the very moment of disconnect.
She yelped at the resulting crash rebounding loud and hollow around her when the bucket met the stones, and fretted after while she turned it around in her hands, looking for splits or cracks.
Nothing was broken.
For several reasons, she felt relieved.
She let the bucket join her on her return to the bath as an apology, and while it swayed through and atop the surface she thought beyond “now”.
The mistake of seconds before must have been from a lack of proper form: her having been sat down and immersed in hot water after all. Given that, How much of a good or bad idea is it, I wonder?
I’m really excited about trying it out more seriously, and the idea of drawing a crowd is a great one, but maybe humans wouldn’t like it... It’s hard to guess what humans like. Can I ask someone?
“Someone who could know about daikagura... Miss Akyuu?” her voice rang everywhere, quiet though it was. “She knows everything, right? Maybe she’d know about this...”
She huffed, pumped her fist, and sloshed the bathwater.
I’ll go to the Hieda no MAN-SHON after this!
\ \ \ \ \
“Oh, is this the place?”
Reimu was pondering aloud while walking past trees and bamboo into a familiar-feeling place. It was the usual sense of being somewhere beyond Gensokyo, though the sense never told where exactly. The sleek, white wall and rose roof, three-story Eastern mansion before her led her to believe that she’d found Ibarakasen’s secret home. It was lined modern on every side and floor with sharp and dark pink balconies—or, perhaps, “rose” would be a better word. What had been her path to get here? Sort of... meandering toward and around Gensokyo’s other shrine. The only thing that had her reconsider this might be her destination was that, surprisingly enough, it didn’t smell like a den of animals. In fact, it was like perfume—floral. She didn’t remember the place smelling bad—which made sense, since hermits could change their worlds however they wished—but nonetheless it seemed odd that Kasen’s beast-filled realm didn’t have a zoo-like odor.
“Ooooii! Kasen! You here?”
She yelled out fully expecting an answer. Reimu was certain at this point that the hermit had to be holed up in her home. Before she’d entered this warm and sunshine realm, lush with flora of all seasons, she’d had to narrowly avoid the next steps of a miserable sky, and the first drops of rain. She was once more without an umbrella... but if she wanted, she could beat up a kappa later at their nearby den and get herself a free coat. Of course, thinking about her lack of rain gear made her think of that Kogasa again. She put on a frustrated face. That was why she was here.
While taking steps down a walkway marked by different sized and shaped stones, a gray canid openly came toward her, and toward her hand specifically. She raised her palm, and sat to pet its head and ears a little while. The thought came to her mind: I wish rabbits were this friendly... dnd her stomach grumbled.
“How did you get in here? I changed the way.”
Reimu turned up her head. She saw a pair of legs, a fresh green skirt. “You really do hide out when the weather turns bad, huh.”
“Quiet, you.” Hands balled into fists and put themselves to the hips in front of her. One was bandaged. Reimu looked up higher.
“Well, I’m here Kasen,” she said, eyes falling upon a pink head of short hair, twin-tied in Chinese buns. White covers as always, red ribbons to tighten them. She smiled. “Have any tea?”
“An intruder who wants to be treated like a guest...” the hermit whispered in exasperation, fingers just touching her forehead. She sighed, and closed her eyes with consternation.
But it was Reimu who felt more bothered, pushing down on the dog’s (wolf’s) head in irritation. “Hey,” she said as she dropped her eyelids halfway, “you bother me and use my things all the time; the least you could do is get me something to drink when I drop in on you.”
“Ehh... but... well...” the older girl wanted to express that the Hakurei Shrine was open to all. Her Senkai wasn’t.
But as she couldn’t argue against the fact she often bothered the Shrine Maiden, she turned away and began going to her house. “Alright,” she said, crossing her arms and sighing again (though this time in accepting defeat), “follow me, and bring Naoe along. I’ll feed him.”
Naoe? the shrine maiden questioned in her head, looking down at the head of the affectionate canine. She shrugged. Naoe.
She then followed Ibarakasen.
= = = = =
“So? Why’d you come here?” The hostess asked whilst tipping a ceramic pot, its contents flowing into a somewhat unusual cup. Before answering Reimu eyed it suspiciously, wanting to feel whatever it was made of, wondering why it was shaped somewhat like a hybridization of a bowl and vase. “... You’ve seen these before,” Kasen spoke before her, and she turned her eyes quick to the hermit.
“I’d remember something like that,” she stated plainly. Kasen knew this was false. “Anyway, I came here to ask you some questions.”
Finished filling the cup, the hermit’s face blanched to the words. She swallowed, forced a smile, and carried over a tray to her uninvited guest. “Questions... hm?” she confirmed.
Reimu noticed nothing of this. She looked at the tray as it was placed on the table in front of her. A white tablecloth... Kasen’s home was really rather extraordinarily fancy. It reminded her of pictures she’d seen a few times of “model homes” from the Outside World: incredibly clean, incredibly stark. The windows were patterned with wood, right-angular designs, that she didn’t tend to see in the more practically architectured human village. It all struck her as funny – that an ascetic would furnish their home so expensively – so she chuckled, making said hermit more nervous.
“I’ll get right to the point,” Reimu declared, taking the tea offered to her. She sipped, the hermit held her breath, and when the girl was done she asked, “Do you see anything wrong with me?”
“Um... ehh... come again?”
“Notice anything? Like... possession, or... a spell on me...”
“On... you? On you? No, I... You seem as ordinary as ever,” was the hermit’s evaluation, to which Reimu frowned.
“Really? You’re a hermit so I figured you might know something about this. I feel strange, but can’t recognize any usual problems... I’d go to the aliens in the Bamboo Forest, but even you’re better than them.”
She grumbled. Kasen wore a mixed expression. “Well, thank you...” she mumbled. Raising her voice, she followed with, “but I don’t see anything wrong you at all.”
“Ridiculous,” the maiden hissed, and she put down her cup a bit strongly.
“What’s the matter?” asked the hostess, sitting down across from her. “Maybe I can still help you.”
“Ahh, well...” Reimu began, and her face began to change shade. She turned her eyes to one of the surrounding white walls and explained, “Ever since yesterday I, uh, keep thinking about this one tsukumogami, and every time I do she crowds up my head almost like... like an avalanche or something. Like a bunch of clouds, just... ones I keep wanting to see. Bright, y-you know? It’s aggravating.”
Kasen blinked. “... Which... tsukumogami?” she ventured.
“Oh, that’s... It’s Kogasa... the umbrella youkai,” Reimu admitted, and she let her eyes shut.
Kasen blinked again and put the fingers of her false hand to her lips, lifting her eyebrows too. Oh my, she thought. Oh my, oh my.
“So?” Reimu asked, looking at her with one eye. “Does that sound familiar?”
Really, it was terribly obvious.
“Am I the first person you’ve talked about this with?” the hermit questioned.
“I guess you’re the first I’ve been... honest with,” she admitted. Kasen put her bandaged hand over her heart.
Oh, she... trusts me enough with that? The hermit found that she was nearly shedding a tear. I hadn’t realized...
But still, what to say...?
Kasen traced the lip of her own cup with her still-flesh hand for some seconds, then drank of it slowly. Reimu meanwhile awaited her answer racked with anxiety. Ultimately, the older woman put down her cup to a saucer, brushed a few strands of hair from her face, and told Reimu: