“Hey. Say something. Please?” She appeared before him with the wind gently fluttering her billowing pink dress. She brushed aside a stray hair from her eyes, and the girl smiled, her emerald eyes smiling with her.
The man would, but there was one small problem in the way: He was, in the most literal sense, mute.
[ ] Hand motions are simple enough to explain. [ ] Mouth the words. She should understand. [ ] So he engaged in interpretive dance.
So he danced. The man did a leap, twirl, and flourish. As he landed, Kigaku cupped his ears and hunched closer to the ground, almost tripping over the temple steps as he did so. Then, in the finish, he put a hand over his mouth and threw imaginary words to the floor, stomping them into oblivion.
The girl clapped, eyes alight with giddiness. “Ahh! I get it! You’re one of those ‘mime’ things!”
The man nodded curtly. It didn’t address the problem, but for Kigaku, it was good enough.
“Oh, exciting! I woulda never dreamed of getting to see one of them in person! Can you show me something cool? Mimery, and whatnot?”
Then, Kigaku was suddenly put on the spot.
[ ] He improvised. [ ] Upon seeing his acquaintance, he signed for help.
Though he felt rather foolish for keeping up with the act, it was better that than to futilely attempt to explain to the girl that he held no tongue.
So he set his arms ahead of his body and, gripping an invisible rope, he pulled. The air cooled, as it always did when Kigaku used his divine power. The girl, who was giggling to herself prior, lurched forward—straight to Kigaku. Despite the man taking into account her tiny frame, the girl was… admittedly lighter than he thought.
[ ] Kigaku caught her in his arms. [ ] Kigaku let her be caught by her master.
Kigaku would have let the girl fall into her master’s arms, but he had two problems: One, he was in the way, and two, he feared that the girl would trip over cobblestone. So instead, he compromised and held his arms out to catch her.
She sank into Kigaku’s thick gray robes, heading face-first into his chest. The feeling was pleasantly warm, and the man had half a mind to stroke her hair, but he refrained.
The girl yelped and set herself aside at arms-length from the man. “Um, thanks,” she said. “But at least take me out to dinner before you do that.”
“Already getting along, you two?” Hijiri, entering the temple grounds, put a hand up in acknowledgment. Allowing herself a reserved smile, she added, “I presume you’ve already introduced yourselves to each other then?”
[ ] “Actually, we have yet to,” Kigaku signed. [ ] Kigaku nodded for brevity’s sake.
“Oh, no? Then I am glad that you two are already on such good terms. Kyouko,” Hijiri said gently, motioning to the man. “This is Ametsuchi Kigaku. He is our esteemed guest I’ve been telling you about, so please take care of him.”
“Aye-aye—wait, ‘take care of him’?” The girl, Kyouko, swiveled around to face Kigaku. “Does—um—does that mean—?”
“It does.” Hijiri stroked the girl’s hair. “As you may have figured, he is unable to speak. So all the training you have done to learn sign language will finally bear fruit.”
“Ah, okay! Good, because I thought you meant—” The girl froze. “Sign. Language?”
“Sign language,” Hijiri said. She curled all her fingers, save for both of her indexes, and rotated them around each other. “Sign language,” she reiterated.
“Good. Now, please provide accommodations for Sir Ametsuchi. He shall be staying with us for an extended period of time. Kyouko.” And before excusing herself into the temple, Hijiri spoke, a low strictness in her voice, “I expect you not to inconvenience our guest in any way. Understood?”
“Understood,” she repeated, nodding frantically.
As the head priest disappeared, an uneasy silence stood between Kigaku and Kyouko.
[ ] Kigaku thought introductions were in order. [ ] Kigaku, doubtful of the girl’s credentials, mouthed to her, “Are you able to sign?”
Kigaku thought that introductions were in order. If Kyouko were to be his translator, then he may as well be as personable as he could to the girl.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, miss. I am A-me-tsu-chi Ki-ga-ku. It is a bother signing my full name, so please remember my shorthand as—” He moved his right hand, its index and middle fingers pointed outward, below his left, which was held flat. Then, moving his hands back, he drew two parallel lines with his left and right. “—This. If you have a namesign, Kyou-ko, then feel free to share it with me.”
“Thank you?” She smiled, though the light creek in her lips betrayed her nervousness. “I mean, um, yes. Thank you.”
Kigaku lifted his eyebrows. Kyouko averted her gaze once he started motionlessly staring. If he were not mute, then he would have said that the silence was stifling. He stared at Kyouko until he felt obligated to say something. So then he signed, “I suppose you don’t have one.”
“Y-You too,” she stammered out, fluster tinging her cheeks.
Kigaku chuckled breathlessly. The conversation was hilariously one sided, and the girl’s embarrassment amused the man, so he offered her one more chance. “If you don’t have a name-sign, then I shall call you as this, Kyou-ko.” He extended his thumb and pinky, using his thumb to brush his nose. “’Silly,’ it means, since you probably do not understand me.”
“Gah.” She slumped over in despair as Kigaku’s incessant signing filled her with remorse. “You’re making fun of me, aren’t you? Yeah, as you might’ve realized, I… don’t know a lick of sign language. I may have, um. Forgot to learn it.” Her teal eyes clouded over in misery. “Lady Hijiri will have my head if she finds out. So—esteemed guest. Lovely, handsome, Ametsuko Higaku. Could I… earn your silence? Somehow? Someway? Yes?”
[ ] “Yes,” he mouthed slowly. [ ] He deliberated on the matter, and he would agree—but on a few conditions.
File 157293628548.jpg - (238.45KB, 2000x2119, the many stages of the kyouko cycle.jpg)
Kigaku deliberated on the matter, and he would agree—but he required something more than just goodwill.
“I have a few conditions—” he began to mouth but was cut-off halfway through.
“...Say that again?”
“I have a few conditions,” he said again.
Her ears perked up, as if she had awakened to a jolt. “Whoa! Say more words!”
“What, like this?”
“I can hear it. I can hear you! It’s a little faint, so I need to focus in on it, but I can hear your voice!” Kyouko took the man’s hand and swung it up and down with both of hers. “Isn’t this amazing? Aren’t I amazing? Yahoo, Yamabikos are revolutionary, breaking the barriers between communication!” Then, blushing, she sheepishly let go of Kigaku and brushed aside a stray lock of hair. “Um. Sorry. Now, as you were saying?”
Kigaku did not respond—the man lost track of his thoughts. He collected himself—never did he imagine that anybody would be able to hear his voice again. How long had it been since he held verbal freedom? Far too long, he thought to himself.
Her voice prompted Kigaku to gather his words. “In any case, I shall keep quiet, but I have several conditions.” It was amusing to Kigaku to see how quickly Kyouko could go from jumping from joy to despairing and back again. “The first is that you will have to learn to sign. I can’t in good conscience lie to Hijiri, so you shall study the language, and let her be none the wiser.”
Kyouko nodded sagely. “It’s only fair. And the next condition?”
“Learn my name. It is not ‘Ametsuko Higaku.’ It is Ametsuchi Kigaku. A-me-tsu-chi Ki-ga-ku,” he mouthed, signing for emphasis. “In any case, it is nice to meet you.”
“Yes!” With a beaming smile, she extended out her hand. “It’s Kasodani Kyouko. And likewise, Sir Ametsuchi.”
And Kigaku, quelling his conflicting emotions, took her hand.
As you may have guessed, I broke my self-imposed rule of 100 words or less. In fact, I broke the rule several times already. So, going forward, I'm just going to say that I'll try adhering to the rule... and if I don't, then no harm, no foul, no sharks sicced on me.
“So I’ll be translating for you?” asked Kyouko as she led Kigaku to his quarters. She had no qualms leading him by the hand. Kigaku mentally took note that, while endearing, the yamabiko had little reservations about physical contact. From what he had remembered, people of Buddhist faith, or at least in the past, were taciturn and demure—and Kyouko was anything but.
“Yes. To those that do not know sign language or can hear me as you can, communication proves to be tedious. Writing is slow and ineffective, especially so when the other person may not be able to read, and motioning and pointing only gets one so far. Having someone to speak for me makes two-way communication much easier.”
“Must be tough. Playing charades must get tiring after a while. Ah, here we are.” Kyouko, taking a sharp right at the end of the temple hallway, opened the door to the guest room. The room was austere, but it was much like how Kigaku had imagined a Buddhist room to look like. Aside from the thin white cot and a single-person desk, the rest of the room was devoid of ornament and furniture. “You can leave your stuff here.”
Kigaku, though, owned only the clothes on his back, so he lifted his arms to show this.
“Ah, that’s it? Alrighty then.” Kyouko was not as surprised as Kigaku thought she would be. Perhaps, after living in the Buddhist temple, the lack of material possessions was not anything out of the ordinary. “So what now?”
The man held spare time before he needed to reconvene with Hijiri in the evening, so…
[ ] Kigaku had business with the Moriya—provided they were still around. [ ] It had been far too long since Kigaku has last seen Toramaru. [ ] There was mention of a village not too far from the temple. Kigaku wished to visit there.
It had been far too long since Kigaku has last seen Toramaru. Since Hijiri was unsealed, that must have meant Toramaru would be around as well. The man wondered how she fared—it had been many years since they’ve addressed each other.
“Toramaru Shou,” Kigaku said. “Do you know where she could be?”
“Oh!” Kyouko perked up, ears lifting up in attention. “I think she should still be around the temple grounds. Do you want me to fetch her?”
“No need. I’ll come with,” he said, and so he did.
Toramaru proved to be easy to find—she stood tall in the center of the temple grounds, seeing off the few humans that visited. Her figure was striking—even as her shoulders laxed, letting her golden curls fall listlessly down to the base of her neck. She stared into the amber sky with two golden but weary eyes that shone against the afternoon light, and with great breath, she sighed.
“Um, Shou?” Kyouko said. “There’s someone to see you.”
“Oh!” She returned at attention and turned stiffly to welcome her guest. Her eyes widened, and she let her jaw slack as she saw who her visitor was. “Wait a second. Could it be? Kigaku?” Quickly, a boisterous smile rippled through her lips. “Hoh, Kigaku! Well I’ll be! So Byakuren finally got you out too. And here, I thought I’d refrain from drinking today. Just your luck, since I've fulfilled my daily obligations. Come now. We have much catching up to do. Hey! Naaaazrin!” she bellowed. “Ready the sake! The nice one!”
Sake, so she said. The man raised a question in his thoughts.
[ ] “Does Hijiri allow you alcohol?” Kigaku said. [ ] Kigaku refrained from asking—whatever Toramaru’s answer was, it did not matter.
Kigaku refrained from asking—whatever Toramaru’s answer was, it did not matter to him.
“Shall we head inside, then?” he mouthed.
Toramaru and Kyouko both stared at Kigaku in silence, so the man threw an anticipatory glance back at the yamabiko.
“Oh, right!” she said, finally realizing. “Sir Ametsuchi said to head inside.”
“That was not what I had said,” he gently chided. “Kyouko. I asked, ‘Shall we head inside?’ The nuance is different, and you should recognize that.”
Before Toramaru misunderstood, Kigaku signed what he had said to the priest.
“Shou. Um, I think what he said was—”
“—That what he meant to say was, ‘Shall we head inside?’” Toramaru placed a hand on Kyouko’s shoulder and gave her a knowing look. “Don’t worry. I am well aware.”
The girl let astonishment stick to her face. “You know how to sign?”
“I do.” Toramaru allowed herself a nostalgic smile. “And I’ve known how for a thousand years or so. Now let’s get inside. The wind is picking up, and Nazrin must have the alcohol by now.”
The three of them, soon four, retired to Toramaru’s personal living space. The room was about as spacious as Kigaku’s, but it felt less so since the priest’s personal effects decorated the area. Most notable was the low-rise lacquered table that laid as the centerpiece. They sat at its sides, all beholding the unopened bottle of sake and its neatly stacked cups in the center.
Nazrin leaned forward to open the bottle and poured two cups—one for Toramaru, and one for Kigaku. The priest took the cup, returning a quiet thanks to her subordinate. As the Toramaru sat back down in seiza, the she let her eyes fondly rest on the man.
“Kigaku, my friend. It has been far too long. I worried that, after all these years, you’d return in a colored urn! But I suppose that if we were able to unseal Byakuren, then we could… unseal…” Toramaru started a smile but dropped it immediately. She was no longer staring at the man, but at Kyouko. “Kigaku,” she said darkly. “Does she already know?”
“Know?” Kyouko quipped. “Know what?”
Toramaru paled. “Oh dear. I let it slip. Kyouko, pretend you heard nothing and return to your room. And do not think about anything I’ve said.”
“Huh? Wait, what? Why?”
“Because—” she started, glancing over to the man. “Well… in the end, I guess it’s up to Kigaku to decide.”
[ ] He let Kyouko stay—his past was no secret. [ ] He told her to leave—it was for her own sake.
“She may stay,” Kigaku signed. It mattered not whether she, or anybody else for that matter, was there. His past was of no importance, so there was no significance in keeping quiet about it. “Kyouko,” he emphasized her namesign, “and anybody else who wishes to know may know.”
Toramaru traced Kyouko’s namesign. “Silly,” she signed with her hands, a boisterous smile creeping up her face as she did so. “Now that’s hysterical. That’s what I call Kyouko too.”
“You call me what now, Shou?” The yamabiko said, a hint of spite laced in her voice. The girl did not appreciate being left out of the conversation, especially due her own lack of education.
“I’d tell you, but where’s the fun in that?” Toramaru took a slow drink from her cup. “You’ll figure it out in due time—maybe when you finally finish learning how to sign, hmm?”
“Well, I—you—!” Kyouko stammered. “…Don’t tell Lady Hijiri.”
“As long as you keep quiet about our little rendezvous with alcohol, my lips are sealed,” Toramaru chuckled. “But enough about that. Instead, let’s focus on the man of the hour! Kigaku, my friend, how does it feel to be free?”
Kigaku put the sake cup to his mouth and sipped. “It has been far too long, Toramaru. I thought I would never see the light of day again. That mirror they bound me to—inside only held blackness. I lost count of the centuries that passed, but it was more than an eternity to me. When Hijiri told me of her time in Makai, I only felt envy. I would have taken even that over the soulless void they imprisoned me to.”
Kigaku nodded to Kyouko who, despite her eyes widening, faithfully repeated his words verbatim.
Toramaru sank deep into thought, mindlessly drawing a circle with her index finger along the lip of her cup. Her sharp, golden eyes briefly flicked to the man before settling back on the bottle of sake, looking at the alcohol crossly. But the priest shook her head in disgust and poured for two. “If only you could have been unsealed earlier.”
“I am still lucky. After all, I could have remained sealed until the end of time.”
Kyouko repeated Kigaku’s words, albeit doing a double take right after.
“...No. That’s not true. If Byakuren hadn’t already unsealed you, then I would have. This is known,” Toramaru said. “Isn’t that right, Nazrin?”
“It would have been done as obligation.” The mouse lowered her steely red eyes. “As restitution to what our followers did to you.”
“It’s in the past,” Kigaku said, Kyouko echoing.
Nazrin sighed. “I still think about it—what they did to you, prophet. Just remembering it reminds me of the guilt I bear as a follower of Bishamonten. Please, if there’s anything I can do to repay my guilt, let me know.”
Kigaku did not fault any of Bishamonten’s disciples, and he had planned to tell that to the mouse, but Shou quickly shook her head when the man looked to her for help. “Just indulge her,” she signed.
[ ] Kigaku wished to hear Nazrin play the lute again. He remembered it fondly. [ ] Kigaku thought that Nazrin should join Shou and him in drinking.
Kigaku thought that Nazrin should join Shou and him in drinking, so he mouthed that to Kyouko.
“Sir Ametsuchi thinks that you should drink with them, Nazrin,” she translated.
“What!” The mouse furrowed her brow, discontent swirling in her eyes. “I’ll do no such thing, and especially not in front of my master. You are merely encouraging her to drink more.”
“And for good reason!” Toramaru hollered. “Come, Nazrin. Don’t be so pedantic and have a pour. Bishamonten himself will say nothing to discourage you from a drink or two. Plus, you could stand to enjoy yourself every once in a while. The last time I’ve seen you taste alcohol was with Kigaku—from all those years past. Since then, you’ve practiced abstinence and now, you’re like...” Toramaru motioned to Nazrin’s being. “...This.”
Nazrin looked at Kigaku with a weary gaze. “It’s your fault that my master has been in love with drinking for the past thousand years.”
“Ah, but for the past thousand years, all my drinks were poured in regret.” As she slowly appreciated her drink, Toramaru stared at her subordinate in reflection. “It’s different now. So, Nazrin, do have some. I insist.”
The room looked toward the mouse in expectation.
“Fine,” she relented and poured herself a cup. “But just this once.” Nazrin took her drink and, holding it with both hands, she downed the cup in one go.
“How is it?” Toramaru asked.
“Bitter,” Nazrin said, making a face of disgust.
“Is it now? It’s sweet to me,” Toramaru said, laughing.
“Kyouko,” Kigaku called out, “why not try some too? I’m sure Toramaru wouldn’t mind.”
“‘Kyouko, why not try some’—” the yamabiko mindlessly repeated. “—Who, me? Oh no, I can’t! I’m perfectly fine just watching, and Lady Hijiri’ll throw a fit if I have some. Really, I’m fine.”
“If that’s what you wish,” he said and dropped the matter.
Kyouko breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes. And, Sir Ametsuchi, I know I’m being rude, but may I ask something?”
“You are a youkai, right?”
[ ] Kigaku was originally a human, and he still believed he was—at least in mindset. [ ] Kigaku was a youkai. There wasn’t much point in denying it.
Kigaku was originally a human, and he still believed he was—at least in mindset. He had been human for his whole life until the time of his sealing, and after he was set free, the only change he felt was the passage of time. Still, he’d serve the followers of Bishamonten, and still, he’d remain true to his human self.
“It is… complicated,” the man admitted. “You may consider me a human, though you have most likely already guessed that I do not have a more… mortal disposition. If you so wish, I’d be happy to elaborate at length—but that is for another time. For now, let us rejoice at this reunion,” he concluded, signing his last words to Toramaru.
“Rejoice!” Toramaru let out the kind of low, grating laugh that came from the back of the throat. “And may we be fortunate for the years to come.”
“Rejoice,” said Nazrin, still warily glancing at the sake bottle.
“Rejoice!” repeated Kyouko, clapping her hands in good mood.
“Hoh.” Toramaru leaned back and closed her eyes, letting a warm smile overtake her. “After all these years, I must have forgotten how alcohol should be enjoyed.”
“How?” prompts the yamabiko.
“In good company, Kyouko,” she laughs. “In good company.”
The evening wound down long after after the sake bottle emptied. Kigaku, even after years without physical form, did not let the alcohol flowing through his veins affect him. Toramaru kept herself collected too, but it was not an impressive feat for either of them—the sake, though fine, was little in terms of quantity. It was only the lightweight mouse that fell victim to the sins of inebriation.
Toramaru kindly let Nazrin retire to the her personal quarters, for Toramaru feared that the mouse wouldn’t return in good condition had she left the temple grounds.
With the night approaching, Kigaku bid Toramaru and her intoxicated subordinate farewell. He enjoyed the brief respite, but the man still had Hijiri to answer to.
“Kyouko. We are adjourned for the day, so you may resolve your free time.”
“That so? In that case, what are you going to do, Sir Ametsuchi?”
“I have further business with Hijiri.”
“Oh, okay. Should I come with?” she asked out of politeness.
“No need. The matter of discussion with her is personal, so I’d like you to refrain from joining.”
“Oh, really? Shame.” she said coolly, though her eyes sparkled teal with relief. “I’ll see you tomorrow then, Sir Ametsuchi! Buh bye!”
Kyouko wasted no time departing. And the man, once he saw the yamabiko off, headed toward the head priest’s working chamber.
Hijiri was behind her low-rise table, kneeling over a large scroll in contemplation. Her violet eyes scrolled line after line without pause. As Kigaku entered, Hijiri’s eyes lifted and, slowly, grew into a more gentle gaze. “Blessings.” The woman nodded, the tips of her fiery hair shaking as she did. “Ametsuchi Kigaku.”
He found discomfort as she called him by his full name.
[ ] Hijiri should call him Ametsuchi, like in the past. [ ] Hijiri should call him Kigaku now—he held no authority over her anymore.
“Please, call me Kigaku,” he signed. “I hold no authority over you anymore, Hijiri.”
“I suppose you don’t. And forgive me, for I did not know what to call you myself.” The woman slouched slightly, giving pause to her words. Then, with a slight smile, she straightened her back and motioned to the man. “Do sit… Kigaku. You make me stiff just looking at you, what with you standing at attention.”
He obliged and sat at the opposite end. The table itself was no more than a worktop and so, the space to sit down was tight—and as he adjusted his posture, his leg brushed against her toes.
She paid his mishap no mind. “Kigaku. How do you feel after being unsealed?” Hijiri asked with a solemn tone, so the man figured that she was not asking him about his health.
“Bishamonten is still by my side. If anything, the manifestations of his power have only grown stronger. However.” He temporarily put a hand to his throat. “You are well aware that I am… still limited.”
“It matters not to me,” she affirmed. “Though, I’d appreciate it if you were not to quantify your own mislabeled ‘usefulness.’ I concede, however, that I do need you for my own pursuits. But, even if you had cast your powers aside, I would have unsealed you. It was only right.” The woman cast her gaze downward, her violet eyes darkening. “That being said, I shall ask a great favor of you in the future. But I shall not be asking you as the head priest of the Myouren Temple but as Byakuren Hijiri.”
“I will keep that in mind.”
“A moment.” Hijiri rose to her knees, leaning forward to Kigaku’s side of the table. She swept aside the scroll that was sprawled over the tabletop and anchored a hand to the cool wood. With her other hand, she brushed his black hair with her fingers.
“...Hijiri. What are you doing?”
“No, it’s just,” she murmured. “You say, you hold no authority over me. So, I just thought—” Hijiri broke away. “No, that was my fault. I let myself be swept away by my own want. Still, even now, you remind me of someone.”
Her brother, he thought.
[ ] Kigaku pointed out the differences between Hijiri’s brother and himself. [ ] Kigaku did not press further.
Kigaku did not press further. Hijiri would have gained nothing from his words, so the man kept silent, as he always did, and let the moment pass.
The head priest moved away, ears touched red with shame. “My deepest apologies, Kigaku.”
“It is fine,” the man signed briefly.
Out of embarrassment, she deliberately advanced discourse. “Prophet of Bishamonten. I shall not ask you to perform any duties that you do not wish to do. It would be impudent of me to tell you to serve the very people that betrayed you. All I ask of you is to forgive our followers.”
“I hold no grudges against those that had also served Bishamonten. Their fear overtook them; such is the nature of humans.”
“I am sorry, Ametsuchi Kigaku.” It was Hijiri’s second apology, though this one was wrested from the depths of her heart. She kept her head lowered in sinfulness, as if she were the one who had permanently silenced him and kept him chained in purgatory. It was not her who was at fault, and the ones that were responsible for his captivity have long since passed away.
“You do not need to be sorry, Hijiri. I am only thankful that you have saved me. As I see it, there is no reason for me to harbor resentment anymore, so lift your head.”
“As you say it.” She raised her head, but the remorse still remained in her eyes. Again, Kigaku said nothing—even if Hijiri took no part in his sealing, she thought her followers’ sins to be her own.
“Is there anything else you need from me?”
“Kigaku.” Hijiri faltered, but the man allowed her to give voice to her words. “No, it is nothing. You are free to stay here indefinitely—in fact, I do insist. My followers—they are all well meaning people, even if they are a bit… rowdy. I promise you this: They will not betray you.”
“I was never worried about such a thing. I shall trust them as Toramaru and Kumoi does.”
“And before you leave.” Hijiri fretted, glancing worriedly to the ceiling. “Your aide, Kyouko. She was supposed to have mastered sign language a month ago, but I had mistakenly left her to her own devices. How was her ability? Did she cause you any trouble?”
[ ] Kigaku told Hijiri that Kyouko was able to translate for him. [ ] Kigaku told Hijiri that it did not matter: Kyouko was able to understand him without sign language.
“Her skill in sign language does not matter. The yamabiko.” Kigaku paused to demonstrate Kyouko’s namesign, to which Hijiri smiled at goodnaturedly. “She is able to understand me without it.”
“Pardon?” Hijiri looked puzzled. “I do not quite get what you mean by that.”
“She is able to hear what I say. ‘Like this.’” Kigaku mouthed the words as he signed. “Even when I do not possess a voice.”
“That is rather remarkable. Could it be because she’s a yamabiko? Or is it something else?” Hijiri withdrew temporarily to her own thoughts. “Nonetheless, I am glad that fortune found its way to you.”
The man thought of Kyouko. He wondered if ‘fortune’ would be the right word to describe the girl, but in spite of that, he nodded in courtesy. He did, though, appreciate being able to speak to the yamabiko, even if it was synthetic.
“I believe Kyouko will be a good companion for you, and you for her. That I’m sure of.” Hijiri stared lengthily at nothing in particular. Then, she adjusted herself, returning the misplaced scroll to her desk. “I’ve stolen too much of your time, Kigaku, but you know already how long winded I am. You are free to leave. And have a good night.”
“It is no trouble,” he signed. “Good night, Hijiri.”
Kigaku took his leave from her chamber, and so he had the night to himself.
[ ] He wandered the temple interior to see if the yamabiko was still awake. [ ] He was sure that Toramaru would be outside. She liked the cool, nighttime air as he did.
Kigaku was sure that Toramaru would be outside. She liked the cool, nighttime air as he did, so he went around the temple grounds to go see her. Sure enough, the man found Toramaru near the temple’s paved road. She was humming an empty tune, taking languid steps through the faint light of the lanterns.
The priest noticed the man walking, however quiet he might have been, and put up a hand in acknowledgment. “Kigaku,” she said. “How goes it?”
“It goes well. I have just finished speaking with Hijiri.”
“We talked about the past, Kyouko, and my current affiliation with the temple. She told me something most unsettling about the last matter.”
“Do tell,” Toramaru said, her interest piqued.
“Hijiri told me that I do not have to perform my duties anymore. So I’d like to garner your advice.” Kigaku looked to the woman with helpless gray eyes. “If not my duties, then what do I do?”
“What do you do?” she asked incredulously. Then, with a restrained nighttime laugh, she said, “You do whatever you wish. No longer are you shackled to the ties that bind. I fear that it’s been over a thousand years since you have enjoyed yourself. Why not go and see what has changed since you’ve tread on ground?”
“I am rather reluctant. After all, the last time I decided to venture out, I was stripped of my voice,” Kigaku signed. When Toramaru threw him a sympathetic look, he clarified. “It was a joke.”
“Oh, Kigaku.” The sympathy in her golden eyes remained. “You’ve had a thousand years to practice your humor, and still it’s drier than salted jerky. You and Nazrin should take classes.”
“My humor is fine.”
“I’ve eaten meals funnier than your jokes.” Toramaru laughed to herself. “See, because they tasted funny. Ha!”
It was then that Kigaku wished that he had a voice to cut her off with.
“But back to the subject of the matter. You have no obligation to return as the Prophet, so why worry about the details? And I say this because, above all titles, you are my friend, Kigaku. Take this as a vacation where all you need to worry about is what you’ll be doing the next day. Now come here, you humorless scamp. Again, all you do is worry, worry, worry. Have some fun!” She quickly closed the distance between Kigaku and herself, putting an arm around his shoulder. Toramaru swung him around easily as she tunelessly sang, “Now, O~ Lo~ord, are we disciples. Now have we become Arhats, O~ Lo~ord! Sing it with me, Kigaku! But not too loud. We all know you have no indoor voice, but it’s nighttime, so do try and be respectful.”
He humored her with silent words. “One may charitably give food, soft and solid, clothing, drink, a place for sleeping and sitting, with clean coverlets; one may build monasteries of sandal-wood, and after furnishing them with double pieces of fine white muslin, present them.”
“Beautiful! Perfect! Have you gotten better at singing?” Toramaru said merrily. “The whole province must be clapping because I can’t hear you anymore over the sound of the applause! And, forgive the pun, but that was divine! Bravo!”
“I’ve had a thousand years to practice, after all,” signed Kigaku in good humor.
It was an unholy hour when Kigaku, the ex-prophet, woke up. To say that the sun kissed the horizon would be an exaggeration—it was so early that the sun and horizon haven’t even held hands yet. The world was enshrouded in a comfortable, silent darkness, and Kigaku falsely believed that it would remain that way.
He was incredibly wrong.
Kigaku was not a heavy sleeper. No, he lost sleep equally: The man was impartial to who or what made a sound. So on that day, Kigaku roused. The faint patter of feet lightly touching the polished floorboards was the first noise of the morning. He thought that was the end once it stopped. However, what Kigaku failed to realize was that it stopped directly before the door to his room. He was moments away from drifting back to sleep when he heard a second, more distinct sound. That time, he was painfully aware of what it was: It was the sound of his door opening.
“GOOOOOOOOOOD MOOOOOOOOOORNING!” sounded the horn. Despite the girl being at the door, the noise traveled as if she were right next to the man.
He wondered that if he pretended to be asleep, she would leave.
“Was it not loud enough?” Kyouko worried. “Sir Ametsuchi, are you awake? Okay then, I’ll try again.” She cleared her throat, and that was enough for Kigaku to sit up straight with bloodshot eyes.
“Today is a new beginning,” he signed out of habit.
“Today… um—today?” Kyouko murmured, doing half-motions with her hands. Her face then brightened as she said, “Ah! You’re right. Today is a good day, isn’t it?”
“Close enough,” he mouthed. “Now, my lovable green-haired rooster. What are you doing?”
She did a slight tilt of her head. “Waking you up? Shou says you’ve had a thousand years to sleep in, so I should go ahead and stop you from sleeping till lunchtime.”
“Kyouko. What I’m about to say is very important, so repeat after me.”
“Oh! I’m really good at that!”
“I, Kasodani Kyouko, shall never attempt to wake Ametsuchi Kigaku before the sun rises ever again.”
“I, Kasodani Kyouko, shall never attempt—hey, wait!” she said, pouting. “Shou said that if you try to stop me, then she’ll come in every day and serenade you with her biwa.”
Kigaku would rather be sealed again than to be subjected to that every day. “Fine. You may do so.”
“Okay! So what are we gonna do today?”
“For starters, I’d like to wait until the sun comes up. But after that is the real question.”
[ ] Kigaku wanted to go the Human Village. [ ] Kigaku was required to introduce himself to the Hakurei shrine maiden. [ ] Kigaku wished to address the odd presence that watched the temple—one that stared with closed eyes.
Kigaku was required to introduce himself to the Hakurei shrine maiden.
By the wishes of Hijiri, the man was told to search out the Hakurei Shrine and speak to its miko. He was bound by the principles of the land—even if he were not youkai in mind… but by body and by spirit, he could be called as such. So to prevent any unneeded conflict, Kigaku would address the Hakurei and tell her that he meant no harm. Of course, Kigaku’s devotion to Bishamonten and the Scriptures would not let him harm a soul anyway, but this was not yet public knowledge.
“We shall go visit the Hakurei Shrine today. I have some business there, and I need to introduce myself to its shrine maiden.”
“You do?” Kyouko’s eyebrows dropped a notch. “Just between you and me, you have a high chance of getting beaten up if you go there and do that. And then she might beat me up for the hell of it, too!”
“Hijiri said that if I do not introduce myself to her, then the Hakurei shrine maiden may ‘beat me up’ anyway by sheer coincidence.” Kigaku extended a comforting hand to the girl’s head, ruffling her hair. “But do not worry, for she shall not hurt us. This I swear.”
“Even if I laugh at her if she trips over herself?” she said worriedly.
“It would be in your best interests not to do that, but yes, I promise.”
“Alright. Then, I’m counting on you, Sir Ametsuchi.”
“The ‘Sir Ametsuchi’ is tiring, isn’t it? You may just call me Ametsuchi, or just Kigaku if you’d like.”
“Really? I can?” Her teal eyes flickered side to side out of uncertainty. “I—I dunno. It seems like you’re on the same level as Lady Hijiri and Shou, so...”
“You do call Toramaru by her given name, too.”
“But Shou is Shou. She’s… y’know, just how she is.” Kyouko refrained from saying, ‘An honest idiot,” but Kigaku knew fully well what she meant.
“At the very least, you should drop the ‘Sir.’ It’s a little too formal for my liking. After all, you are my assistant, of sorts.”
“Yeah… I guess. But is it okay?”
“It is fine,” he assured her.
[ ] Kyouko called him by his given name. [ ] Kyouko called him by his family name.
No need to be more familiar than she's comfortable with right away. I admit I'm not very familiar with how quickly this Kyouko would use one's given name, since I know that's a big nip thing. We've only seen her interact with Hijiri, Toramaru, and Nazrin, all of whom have their own reason for how she refers to them (Hijiri is Hijiri, Shou is an idiot, Nazrin doesn't have a last name goddamn youkai), so I don't have a real gauge on how quickly she would use given names if general.
The prophet and his yamabiko assistant flew across the crimson-blotched sky. All the while, Kyouko was murmuring to herself, anguishing over what to call the man. He told her not to brood over it too much, but the girl responded with a shake of her head, saying that “it was of utmost importance.” Kigaku still did not understand it despite being a regular occurrence to the man—in the past, regardless of his complaints, nobody had ever referred to him as just Kigaku, but as the “Great Holy Prophet” and attached as many respectful honorifics as they were able to. The only exception was Hijiri and Toramaru, and Nazrin, all for a variety of convoluted reasons.
Kigaku and his aide passed over the lumpy forestry, which expanded upwards into the mountains beneath them. Kyouko led the two: Kigaku, after many years, was regrettably ignorant of the lands before him, so he let the yamabiko take the front. She took him to a conspicuous span of cleared mountainside. Past the torii and the unevenly tiled stone pathway, a homely shrine sat on top of the false peak. They touched land just before the gate, and Kigaku presumed it was to take in the full sight of the shrine.
“Ametsuchi,” Kyouko finally said, calling him by his family name. “Still sounds kinda weird to say it, aha. It’s hard to get the ‘Sir’ out of my head because you’re like this bigshot that knows Lady Hijiri and Shou and can talk to them so easily and stuff.”
“Please. Don’t think of me as anybody important. My time of relevance has long since passed. Just think of me as a wandering craftsman.”
“Then what’s your craft?” she asked.
Kigaku was largely unprepared for her literal question. “I’m sorry, I am hard of hearing. Could you repeat that in sign language?”
“I’m going to get mad, Ametsuchi,” Kyouko said, a stiff frown on her face. Though, she must have said it in jest as she’s desperately holding onto a mock-somber gaze. The girl held up her hands and crudely signed, “Then. What you?”
The man stood there, stunned. He had expected her to either give up, ignore him, or do a mass-flailing of her arms. This had exceeded all of his expectations. The man reconsidered his thoughts of Kyouko as being the temple mascot.
Kyouko, noticing the man’s limp expression, beamed in response. She patted herself on the shoulder in great pride. “Heh-heh. Yeah, didn’t expect that, didja? Yes, this Kyouko studied last night! Diligently so! So you shall praise me!”
Kigaku thought of a way to do so.
[ ] For the second time that day, he patted her head. [ ] He praised her verbally and kindly so. [ ] He’d put in a good word for her to her master.
For the second time that day, Kigaku patted her head. He put a measured hand through her hair and gave it a quick tousle. But as he retracted his hand, Kyouko looked to the man with expectant teal eyes.
“If you are inclined to do more of the same, maybe five to ten seconds more of it, then feel free. No, it’s okay! You don’t have to be shy. I don’t mind, really! So… here,” she insisted, inching forward with a satisfied smile. “You may pat away.”
Since Kyouko was adamant about it, Kigaku obliged. He took his hand and stroked the girl’s head, letting his fingers run through her fluffy hair again. He did so until the yamabiko looked pleased with his efforts.
“Good work, Kyouko. I am impressed,” Kigaku said.
Kyouko puffed out her chest. “Who wouldn’t be?”
The moment was interrupted by intermittent footsteps. A woman, clad in bright vermilion, approached the two. It could have been no other than the Hakurei, holding the broom by the edge of its handle. She jabbed it at the two. “Who are you?”
“Hey, Reimu! Don’t you remember me? I’m Kasodani Kyou—”
“Not you, you living woodwind instrument!” the shrine maiden snapped. She points a finger to Kigaku. “You.”
“I am Ametsuchi Kigaku, the once Prophet of Bishamonten. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Hakurei shrine maiden,” the man said, and the yamabiko echoed.
“Let him speak for himself, Kyouko.”
“Um.” The yamabiko threw an uncomfortable glance to Kigaku, who nodded goodnaturedly to the girl. “He can’t.”
“He… can’t?” The Hakurei said.
“My voice is sealed,” Kigaku said, Kyouko voicing him. “So I am unable to speak. Kyouko will relay what I say instead.”
“Oh.” The Hakurei blushed with shame. “Sorry, that was rude of me.”
“It is quite alright.”
She shook off her humiliation with a question. “So you said that you were the Prophet of Bishamonten. What did you come here for?”
“So you don’t beat him up,” Kyouko chimes in. The Hakurei casually bats the side of the yamabiko’s head. “Ow.”
“I came to pay my respects to the Hakurei, but I suppose I just wished to visit the shrine.”
“And, just to be clear, you’re not going to try and fight me, right?”
Kigaku stared at the shrine maiden blankly. “I would never. I follow the path of nonviolence. But even if I did not, it sounds insensible to fight someone I had just met.”
After Kyouko recited his words to her, the Hakurei breathed a sigh of relief. The anguish that furrowed her brows laxed. “Finally. Somebody reasonable.” Approaching Kigaku, she placed a hand on the man’s shoulder. “I like you already. Just don’t go causing any trouble with your Buddhist friends, and we’re good.”
The man nodded. He has yet to tell his powers to the Hakurei, but she did not ask. He was unsure—on one hand, she might appreciate his forthrightness, but on the other hand, she might see him as a threat, as did his once followers.
[ ] Kigaku told her. [ ] Kigaku would tell her if asked.
Being straight forward should appeal to her. Besides, if she ever gets a related incident, we will be informed and be able to help (because she will suspect him first and beat him up, but whatever it just works)
Kigaku would tell her if asked. He still had reservations speaking to others about his abilities—he’d prefer not to get sealed again if he could help it. Regardless, so long as he could not speak, his true powers would not reveal themselves. That, perhaps, was for the best. The man would never use his powers to harm another, so what the Hakurei did not know shall not hurt her.
Kyouko gave the shrine maiden a wink. “Don’t worry, Reimu. When was the last time we’ve caused trouble for you?”
“Every time any of you Buddhists show up, actually,” the Hakurei said, glaring at the yamabiko. “Let’s hope that Kigaku isn’t like the rest of you trigger-happy monks.”
Kyouko opened her mouth to say complain, but the Hakurei cut her off.
“If you’re about to say something really stupid, don’t say it,” she said.
Kyouko then closed her mouth, silently looking over to Kigaku in distress.
“Actually,” Kigaku said, saving Kyouko from silence, “She was about to ask something for me. I’m painfully ignorant of Gensokyo and its lands—admittedly, it has been a while. Has anything happened since I’ve been away?”
The Hakurei hitched an eyebrow. “How long have you been gone?”
“Perhaps a thousand years or more. I am unsure. I did not have the luxury to check. I was sealed away by what you call the—”
“—Yatato Kayami,” Kyouko said but not necessarily repeated.
“The Yatato what-now?” the Hakurei questioned.
Kyouko, sensing something was amiss, turned to the prophet, who could only muster a blank look. “...Did I mess up?” she asked, to which the man nodded. “Oh! Sorry, sorry!”
“The Yata no Kagami,” Kyouko reiterated, correctly that time. Then, processing the words she echoed out, she whipped her head back to face Kigaku. “The Yata no Kagami? That’s what Lady Hijiri was—!”
“I think the Taoist bunch had that mirror last.” The shrine maiden put a hand to her chin. “But I might be wrong. It was only mentioned in passing.” After much roundabout, she finally wound back to the question at hand. “Anyway. I don’t really know what you’ve missed other than literally everything. I could tell you about the last few years or so, but I don’t think you have that kind of scope in mind. So maybe go talk to Hieda no Akyuu. She’s the Chronicler, meaning she has the last thousand or so years on record.”
“Hieda?” Kigaku said, smiling. “I am glad to know that she is still around.”
“Of course you know her.” The Hakurei rolled her eyes. “Seems like everybody does at your age.”
With the visit drawing to a close, Kigaku thought to go elsewhere.
[ ] He thought to visit the Taoist practitioners. The mention of the Yata no Kagami got him curious. [ ] He thought to visit Hieda and glean history from the Chronicler.
“Hieda is a person of much history—in many senses of the word,” Kigaku said, smiling.
“Sure. I guess she is,” the Hakurei sighed. “However, Akyuu can be a bit… overbearing at times. Though I’m sure you can handle her way better than I can.”
“But Reimu, don’t you find everyone overbearing?” And where Kyouko should have stayed silent, she continued instead. “That’s why you go around, beating everyone up for no reason.”
That was the last straw. The miko’s eyebrows formed a sharp cross—and cross she was—as her voice dropped several tones. “You. Kigaku, forgive me, but I’m about to make a mute out of Kyouko real soon. For once in your life, you sorry excuse for an echodog, could you just shut up?”
Kigaku looked over in silent horror.
Kyouko smiled nervously. “Um, I’m a yamabiko, so it’s not exactly easy to—”
“Not!” the Hakurei barks. “The echoing! I could not care any less when you’re retelling Kigaku’s words. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing! I’m talking about what words come out of your dumb mouth when it’s you talking! Do your job by echoing what he’s saying and say nothing else. Nothing! Else! Lest you say something incredibly stupid again! Okay?”
Kyouko was quiet. Her gaze wandered downwards. The yamabiko’s lips quivered as they moved to a full pout, and her ears, which always had a slight lift to them, drooped straight down to her bangs. She remained that way for a moment as she gripped the hems of her pink, flowery dress as if she were hanging onto her life.
The Hakurei’s previously fiery irritation sputtered out into smolders. She coughed the smoke of her anger away, and with an ashy voice, she stammered out noises that vaguely resembled words. The Hakurei looked to Kigaku for help, but he slowly shook his head.
“I know I say some stupid stuff.” Kyouko said, fighting back tears. “But I’m not just a tool to be used, you know.”
“Yes! I-I know that. And, err, I’m sorry, I said too much, I went over the line, and—”
“I’m sorry. I… just—” Kyouko did not bother listening. Instead, she dashed to the stairs and disappeared downward.
Kigaku gave the shrine maiden a look of one-part sympathy and nine-parts disappointment. “We shall take our leave. Thank you for your time and good bye, Hakurei.”
Without Kyouko, however, his silent voice did not fall on able ears, so the Hakurei looked on in guilt as the man followed his assistant down the steps.
>>42493 I mean, Kyoko also commited a faux pas with the whole "you just beat people up for no reason", but I won't deny that Reimu made a bigger one, especially since she even started off the conversation with that attitude.
“Kyouko,” Kigaku called to her. He found the girl sitting at the base of the steps, her head buried in her knees. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” she said, nodding into her dress. “I’m fine.”
“The Hakurei should not have lashed out at you like that. You did not say those words out of malice, so she should have restrained herself instead of taking it out on you.” Kigaku said, but he felt that his words were stiff. The man, even after all these years, was astonishingly unpracticed at comforting people when they were feeling dispirited.
“No—Reimu’s right. I really did say some stupid stuff. Things I shouldn’t have.” Kyouko sighs. “I just can’t help it. And I know that I’m no good at this—at translating for you. It’s so silly. You’d think a yamabiko would be the perfect person for the job, but I’m not. I think that’s probably the real reason that Lady Hijiri wants you to drag me around: so you can babysit me. Why else am I here? Almost everyone else in the temple knows how to sign except me. I’m just… dead weight, is all.”
“You are not, and you should not say that you are, Kyouko. It is you and only you that can speak to me without needing to sign. That alone is more than enough. And should you make mistakes along the way, then so be it. There is no need to be ashamed. So long as you earnestly learn from them, I shall not fault you for making honest mistakes. I myself have made plenty of them in my life.” He chuckled silently. “The last time I did, I got sealed away for a thousand years.”
Kyouko paled. With pity in her eyes, she sat up and stared at the man. “I’m sorry about that.”
“It was a joke,” Kigaku said, lamenting at the fact that she did not laugh. “And if you really wanted to know why you were chosen, I believe Hijiri said that it was because we would be ‘good companions’ to each other, by her words. So do not worry. At the very least, I would love for your continued assistance.”
Her ears lifted up in anticipation. “Really?”
“Of course. It’s always a joy when you are around.” Kigaku emphasized this by putting a hand to the girl’s head and ruffling her hair. The man internally acknowledged that he should stop stroking Kyouko’s head so frequently, but it was hard to do so.
“...Thanks,” she said curtly out of embarrassment. “Should we go?”
“We may go when you are ready. But I have a question. Do you know where Hieda currently resides?”
Kyouko blinked in response to a question that she had no answer to. “...Ah.”
Kigaku and his yamabiko assistant made an embarrassing return to the Hakurei Shrine. Apologies were thrown around from both Kyouko and the Hakurei—it was a delicate affair, but at least the two were able to reconcile fairly quickly. The man was relieved. From prior experience, Kigaku believed that it was best for the matter to be resolved immediately rather than let regret simmer over the two. Still, the air was prickly enough for the prophet to wish he were anywhere else. So he curtly asked the miko for directions to the Hieda residence, and, after confirming she stayed at the Human Village, the dark-haired man and his green-haired assistant left the shrine.
The pass through the village was tumultuous: Kigaku had expected the village to be a quaint, neck-of-the-woods type of area. Instead, it was bustling, and how. Trade specialists yelled to the public, directing their voice to nobody in particular, children wandered the common pathway until they were pulled back by their guardians, and on several occasions, Kigaku—and by extension his yamabiko assistant—had to explain that Kyouko was not malicious and was there to translate for him.
Kigaku had already expected the wariness of the villagers, but contrary to his expectations, they let the matter drop without much resistance. A welcome change to the past, he supposed.
The prophet’s reaction to House Hieda was similar to his first look at the village but to accented affect. The residence was no house: No, it would have been discourteous to even call it that. House Hieda was an estate, fit with a stretching, paved pathway that led to the main home, and in between was a colored garden that served no purpose but to be looked at. It was a sure contrast for Kigaku, whose only memory of House Hieda prior was it being a utilitarian shack with about as much personal effects inside as a monk’s own home.
A servant came in passing, so Kigaku waved for her attention.
“Excuse me, but do you know where I can find the lady of the house?” The servant stared quietly at Kyouko, who had repeated Kigaku’s words. “My apologies. The girl speaking is translating for me. I cannot speak myself, so she shall be doing it in my stead,” he clarified.
“Ah—yes,” she said, nodding once to Kigaku, then to Kyouko. “She is in her private quarters. If you do not mind, you may have to wait until I notify her.”
“That is fine.”
The woman scurried away hurriedly, leaving the two rather awkwardly in the hallway.
[ ] Kigaku took a look around. However, he made sure to stay near the area. [ ] Kigaku diligently waited for the servant to come back.
Kigaku diligently waited for the servant girl to come back. He thought to look around and see what has since changed, but he did not feel comfortable doing so. Around him were servants, and yet none were familiar to him. That was just a fact of life to Kigaku: Time could not be so easily stopped. Though Kigaku had remained in oblivion for the past thousand years, the world—and its inhabitants—continued on without him.
He found the matter to be a tinge wistful, but there was naught he could do but appreciate the now. Unfortunately, he had a long time to appreciate it: Neither the servant nor her mistress were in sight. Kyouko took the opportunity to practice her signing, which Kigaku appreciated. The yamabiko frequently asked the man if he were hungry, to which he’d reply with nonsense, and she’d respond back with a confused expression, a flailing of her arms, and a lot of, “Easy more you!”
It was a spectacle, and a lot of servants paused work to watch the circus act unfold. Kigaku caught their glances and waved in response, but they would all rush back to work in embarrassment. A broken conversation and a half later, a brown-haired, fair-skinned servant girl came rushing back to the foyer, spouting apologies as she escorted Kigaku and his assistant to where Hieda was residing. Kyouko did not seem to mind the wait. She was too occupied with figuring out how to sign that her umbrella was broken without knowing any of the words.
The servant took them to an enclosed office space, but the word “space” was used leniently—towering shelves of books bordered the room to the point where the walls could only be seen in between the cracks of wood. Meticulously centered was a polished dark-wood table with a brown-stained finish and stacked on top of it were parchments and scrolls that spilled over to the floor. The stack of papers were at least two heads over the woman behind the desk, who was quite tiny even without the comparison to the rest of the room. Behind blackened rims, two violet eyes flashed briefly in recognition, and the woman, Hieda, without a modicum of surprise, set down her pen to usher the two in.
“Come on in, Prophet of Bishamonten, Ametsuchi Kigaku,” Hieda said, taking off her spectacles by its earpiece. “It has been a while.”
[ ] Kigaku made small talk first. [ ] Kigaku went straight to the point.
I'm kind of wary about this choice since we don't know in what way we're recognized. Akyuu knows him, but since there was nothing about her tone of voice, we can't tell if she's talking to an old friend or if it's an "I don't like you but I'm being professional, state your business and get out" kind of greeting. But I'm going to be optimistic and assume that it's not that negative, at least.
>>42515 A continuation of my thoughts. We readers don't know exactly why he was sealed (a general idea but not the details), but we can assume he did something at least. If this is a "I remember you, so I don't like you" situation, we can argue that we've learned our lesson and we're trying to turn over a new leaf (with apologies if appropriate). The world has moved on and it is, quite literally, ancient history at this point. Also, just about everyone involved have died at this point, so there's no reason to hold grudges, on either side. He even said himself that everyone is gone so he has no grudge.
Then again, looking back, the only thing said about it is that people feared his powers, so it wasn't even about him, personally. Which reinforces my optimism.
“It has been a while, Hieda.” Kigaku said, with Kyouko echoing.
Hieda’s indigo eyes held a worldly weariness that were accented twice over, now that her rimmed lenses did not obscure her profile. Her skin, however, remained timeless, tragically so, with colored youth rounding out her noble face. Her visage reaffirmed Kigaku that she, like the prophet himself, was a victim to time.
“So it has.” Hieda offered a smile of relief, and the strict lines of worry on the woman’s forehead relaxed. It must have been a long time since she sat back on her chair. However plush, the chair did not lie as it creaked slowly to place. “And the small animal?”
Kyouko waited briefly for Kigaku to answer, but then she realized that the Chronicler was talking about her. “Me?”
The yamabiko jumped. “Oh! How do you know my name?”
“I know everything,” Hieda said, her smile flashing mischief.
“She is—” Kigaku paused to let Kyouko translate. “—my assistant… of sorts. As it so happens, she can echo what I am saying without needing to sign.”
Hieda straightened her posture. The Chronicler’s eyes darkened to shadows. And yet, worry surfaced in her eye. “Does that mean… your powers—”
“Rest assured. Those powers are still at rest. She may echo my words, but she cannot echo my voice.”
The woman sank back in her chair. “Thank goodness. We are living in rather turbulent times right now. If you had resurfaced in full glory, then I don’t know what I’d do.” She frowned, allowing the faded circles under her eyes to resurface. “I have my hands full with everything else that is going wrong in my life already. Really, that blasted wolf—”
“A wolf?” Kyouko said with a tilt of her head.
“Oh yes, very vicious, that thing.” Hieda rolled her eyes and pointed to one of the bookshelves. “Kyouko, be a dear and have a look behind the shelf.”
Eager to find out, she peered into the space in between the shelf and the wall. “There’s a huge chunk ripped out of the wall. Did the wolf do this?”
“Indeed. Amongst many other, nuisance-filled things. But I shall talk no more about the matter. It does not concern you greatly, and unless you’ve made a mind to hear my complaints—and they do go on, by the way—I’ll bore you not. Onto more important matters.” After she dropped the subject, Hieda’s complexion returned to a healthier color as if she were freed from a curse. “I forgot to say, but it is nice to see you again—truly. It has been much too long since I’ve spoken to anybody reasonable around these parts.”
“Oh,” she sighed. “How I wish for that to be the case. You should know, of all people, that sound judgment is a rare practice. There’s been a shortage of said talent—even in the tiny slice I have of millennia.”
[ ] Kigaku asked about what had happened since his departure. [ ] Kigaku let Hieda complain about her grievances.
[X] Kigaku let Hieda complain about her grievances.
Since we were apparently friends (or friendly enough) it makes sense that we would listen to her getting her troubles off her chest. Besides, getting some unfiltered news will help us understand the most recent events, even if not the more historical ones, we've missed.
“It seems as if you have had quite the ordeal since I was gone,” said Kigaku.
“‘Ordeal’ does not even begin to scratch the surface, my friend. I’m sure you know my constitution, or lack thereof, so you’d think I’d live my life in accordance to the time allotted to the ‘Child of Miare.’ However, I have died an untimely death five times by the hands of others.” Hieda’s brows re-knitted. “Me, a scholar, have died a warrior’s death for more than half my granted lives. Perhaps I have an inclination for trouble, but if only that were the case. It is not mere coincidence when I fall to the same person multiple times—” Her expression swelled with sour humor. “I’ll not speak of that person anymore. My, it says something when my mind cannot stop revolving around him.”
“Likened to an adolescent crush,” the prophet joked.
“Yes, yes, very funny,” Hieda said with a pout, waving off his words. She paused to close her eyes and knead her brows.
“You seem to be tired. Are we taking your time away from rest?”
“I was tired a few weeks ago. Right now,” she opened her eyes to glare at the assorted papers around her desk, “if I were to… accidentally fall onto my bedding, I fear that I may not wake until the next calendar year. So please—keep me entertained. Should I fall asleep now, then my work shall continue until my inevitable death.”
“What are you working on, anyhow?” asked Kyouko, curious.
“Records,” she replied. “Transcriptions of events that had happened in the past several years. It has been an unfortunately eventful time. Excruciatingly so. So much that, by the time I finish the records of one event, another seems to emerge—unannounced, of course. Even worse, I fear that I may soon be caught in between the affairs of youkai again. The head monk of the Myouren Temple asked me to find something pertaining to the Chougosonshi-ji. Perhaps it is nothing, but I do not have a good feeling about the matter.”
“You understand that we are associated to Hijiri.”
“I do,” she nodded. “And that is precisely why I am telling you. I trust you enough to keep me aware of the dangers that may come. The head monk… she is a precarious woman. You know that as I do.” Hieda massaged her temples. “I think I shall get some tea. I require something relaxing. Will you join me, Kigaku? Kyouko?”
“Uh?” Kyouko didn’t expect to be addressed again. She looked content enough listening to Hieda’s spiel. The yamabiko turned to you for guidance.
[ ] Kigaku thought tea was in order. [ ] Kigaku believed that they have bothered Hieda enough.
Kigaku thought that tea was in order. He had no pressing matters to attend to, and he believed that it was wise to keep Hieda company. If he had left the Chronicler to her own devices, then he feared that she would work until her body gave out. Plus, Kyouko, despite her reservations, looked like she wished to have some tea. He nodded to his assistant.
“Okay, tea is good,” she said with vigor. “So agreed Ametsuchi.”
“Pleasant.” Hieda stood, then hobbled over to the nearest bookshelf, resting an arm on its wooden frame. “Tea it is,” she rasped.
Kyouko worriedly rushed over to Hieda and hooked her hand over the yamabiko’s shoulder. “Are you alright, Miss Hieda?”
“I am fine, or at least relatively for the Child of Miare.” She let out a restrained cough. “I shall live. But I hope you don’t mind that I’ll be taking your shoulder for a little longer.”
“No, it’s fine!” she insists, already guiding her forward. “Please do, actually.”
“Thank you for being polite, child. Now if you could lead me to the front of the room, I shall escort you to our sitting room.”
Hieda and Kyouko drew anxious glances from the passing servants, but Hieda assured them that everything was fine. They looked as if they had much to say, but silently nodded and let the master of the house do as she pleased.
She sat down, with Kyouko’s assistance, at a rounded, dark-brown table. Without prompt, a dark-haired servant entered the room with a silver tray that held a ceramic white teapot and cups that matched. He poured for three and left without so much as a comment. It was clear that Kyouko wanted to thank the servant for his service, but the man was too quick for Kyouko to say anything.
Hieda took the first sip. “So, Kigaku, I assume you needed me for something?”
“It is not a need, but rather a want,” he said. “I am very lacking in knowledge about what had happened since I had been sealed. Plus, this ‘Gensokyo’ is rather new to me. If possible, I was wondering if you could impart some knowledge to this man.”
“I understand.” She smiled wryly. “Much has changed since your departure, after all.”
Kigaku was about to respond, but he allowed Kyouko to sip her tea. Hieda gave the girl a knowing look. “Yes. And in my time here, I’d like to familiarize myself with the environment. But also, I wished to look into something that had happened in the past.”
“A thousand years ago?” Hieda surmised.
The man nodded.
“So I figured. You may find a revised copy of the Chronicle at the local bookshop in the village. It involves more history than its sister book, so I believe that you may find it useful. Tell the keeper that you were sent by me. And, as for what you are seeking...” Hieda glanced afar. “A thousand years is a long time. I may have some records, but check back with me another day. I shall compile them for you, but I fear that you may be grasping at straws. Especially if my suspicions are correct in what you are looking for.”
Kyouko looked to the man for his response, but he shook his head. Instead, he asked something else.
[ ] “So how goes your love life, Hieda?” [ ] “Do you know anything about the Taoists and the Yata no Kagami?” [ ] “What did Hijiri ask you to find?”
Kyouko almost dropped her cup of tea. She took a moment to let it sink in as she stared back to the Chronicler quizzically. Then she returned her gaze back to Kigaku, her teal eyes asking, “Are you sure?”
Kigaku nodded, and she exhaled, took a deep breath and reiterated: “So, how goes your love life, Hieda?”
Hieda did not flinch. She remained composed, opting instead to finish the rest of her tea. However, her lack of fluster was only surface level—the woman continued to drink, taking in hot sips of nothing. Her semblance of control quickly deteriorated as she shakily put down her cup, which sounded a shrill clink that echoed throughout the room.
“Kigaku,” she said, exposing her mortification through her cheeks. “Say no more! I understand that you are curious about my… personal affairs after all this time, but there is a time and place for that.”
The man stroked his chin. “I do not think there is a time and place better than now, and here.”
“However...” Hieda looked regretfully at the yamabiko.
“I won’t tell a soul!” Kyouko piped up. “Even if you go into explicit detail about this and that, no—your most depraved wants shall reach the ears of no-one. I may cover my ears if you’d like, too!”
“Though your intentions are noble, Kyouko, you only hurt me so,” Hieda said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Very well. If you are so curious, then I shall tell you: My love life is as barren as the ghostlands.”
“I’ve heard that the Netherworld has some lovely gardens,” Kigaku said, though Kyouko voiced it quite pitifully.
“Don’t express your condolences, Kigaku. Perhaps time has tested this woman’s mind until it snapped into a pool of her own self-deprecation, but my expressions can only sour, and my personality—miseried, it is.”
“Nonsense,” he said. “You are still as lovely as ever. I still find it hard to believe that you have no potential suitors.”
Kyouko, after translating, added onto Kigaku’s words. “I think you are very sweet, Miss Hieda. You went out of your way to invite us to tea, despite your work. And you went out of your way to acknowledge me. I’m just Ametsuchi’s assistant, but you’ve treated me very kindly.”
“You two flatter me, Kyouko especially. And to answer you, Kigaku, there is always a list of suitors. But I do not have time for that—nor do I want to. Finding someone like that does not seem right. I’d rather have a more… natural encounter.”
“So you do have an interest.”
“Of course I do. Sometimes, I see the weaver’s son pass by, and I wonder…” She trailed off, sighing. Keenly, she noticed two sets of eyes on her. “What?”
“The weaver’s son?”
“You shall not catch me with that nonsense. Out, you two. I’ll return to work, else the both of you bombard me with more wives’ chatter.”
Kigaku and his assistant were shooed away, so they made their way out of the Hieda manor and into the village.
[ ] Kigaku took a look around the village. [ ] Kigaku went straight to the bookshop. [ ] Kigaku visited the Taoists to inquire about the Yata no Kagami. [ ] Kigaku returned to the temple. He still had yet to say hello to the others who resided there.
Kigaku went straight to the bookshop. Though he’d love to remain idle, there was still much to do in the day.
The bookshop, as Kigaku had realized, was harder to find than he initially thought. He had assumed that it would have been striking to the eye or as grandiose as Hieda’s estate, but there was none of that. It was not until Kigaku begrudgingly asked a villager where the bookshop was that they found the store—though, technically, it was a library.
From the outside, it was like any other building in the village—from its unassuming beige-colored walls to its gray tiled roof that clattered when the wind blew east, the only way that Kigaku recognized that it was the library in question was from two details: One, the slightly tilted sign that read, “Suzunaan,” and two, the not-so-slightly maniacal-looking girl who was kissing the cover of a book as she would a lover.
There was the sound of a faint chime as she did a twirl on her feet—dancing with literature, she was. Kigaku took a full look at the girl. Though diminutive in stature, her attire padded out her thin frame: She wore a thick, red-and-white checkered kimono with flowing sleeves, a billowy green skirt on top, and a blindingly yellow apron over the front that spelled “Kosuzu.” Her auburn hair was tied up into twin locks by sets of two bells at each side. It was this girl that was nuzzling a book.
Kigaku and Kyouko could only stare in shock as she lovingly rubbed the book to her face.
“Excuse me,” the prophet said. Kyouko hesitated and stared at the man for confirmation to talk to her. He nodded slowly.
“Excuse me,” she repeated.
The girl jerked—she checked her surroundings and, upon the sight of the yamabiko, she hid the book behind her back, innocently smiling as she replied, “Uh. Yes?”
Kyouko was about to say something, but she shook her head and instead awaited the man’s words.
[ ] Kigaku confirmed the girl’s status as the bookkeeper. [ ] Kigaku’s interest was piqued at the book she held. He wanted to know why the girl found it so interesting. [ ] Kigaku let Kyouko speak her mind.
Kigaku’s interest was piqued at the book she held. He wanted to know why the girl found it so interesting. What kind of book was it to have the girl spinning on the balls of her feet?
“The book that you are desperately trying to hide—Would you mind showing us?” he said, giving Kyouko a nod.
“What book?” replied the girl, her voice shrill in tone. She stood at attention with her arms behind her back. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Kyouko spoke up. “He’s talking about the book you’re trying to stuff into the sleeves of your dress, miss!”
The girl tripped over herself as she tried to explain herself, but all that came out was blubbering. In her frantic state, the dusty, leathered book fell from her hands. Why she would put her lips to such a thing was puzzling to Kigaku, but out of courtesy, he leaned down to pick it up from the soil.
“Ah, wait—” said the girl, but he had already taken custody.
And so, the book, carried by the prophet, burst into flames.
Kigaku merely stared at what he held—which was scarcely a book anymore—and contemplated how to explain the incident at hand. And “at hand” indeed: The fire burned a milky yellow, yet it did not scorch his skin, not did it singe the hems of his robes. The pages were but ethereal ash in the wind as it dissipated into nothingness, and a final, unholy scream echoed into the man’s ears before the book was no more. In the end, the only thing he had gripped was air.
Kyouko, hands clasping her ears shut, looked at Kigaku with many questions swirling in her eyes.
The aproned girl, arms limp at her sides, asked, though it was more of a pleading, “What? Why?” She continued staring at the man’s hand in disbelief.
Why indeed, thought the man.
[ ] He offered what he thought had transpired. [ ] He made no hasty judgments. Instead, he asked for details. [ ] He apologized first to the girl.