It's been a while, but I'm back with a sequel to the Hakurei Apprentice. Enjoy! _________________________________________________________________
Leaves blow in the cool wind. The red blends with the yellow, sticking to the grooves and cracks of the stone pathway leading to the shrine. A familiar sight each and every autumn morning. It was as much of a part of my routine as making breakfast and doing laundry. It’s what my Master often called ‘shrine maiden training’ when it was just daily chores. I’ve done this so many times, it’s as if the days bled into months bled into years.
It seemed like only yesterday that Yukari brought me across the barrier into the Hakurei Shrine. Despite my life in the outside world, I’d like to say that, overall, coming here was an improvement. I’ve been able to form relationships with people that I would have never dreamed of meeting. Well, people being the operative word, but… they’re still ‘people’ all the same. Thoughts, feelings, hardships, desires.
Humans, youkai, gods, fairies, spirits -- all of them are different, but they can still exist in the cut-off world of Gensokyo. Despite their eccentric personalities, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
Master hasn’t let up in the years that I’ve been here, always being hard, always expecting more out of me than she was going to get. I know that should be encouraging, but I’m just not as gifted as she is. Tapping into her innate powers as the Hakurei shrine maiden seems as easy as breathing for her. For me, it’s a struggle -- considering I’m still having a hard time grasping the basics even after four years.
I struggle with the thought that Reimu might not be a good teacher. I’m still not entirely sure myself, but the fact remains that I live here, that she’s helped me, and that because of her, I’ve found a place to belong. There are moments where Master’s intuition and guidance are something to be admired, truly. I wish that I--
A wooden box smashes into the ground at my feet. It splinters from the drop, pushing the four corners outward. “Look what I found, Miss Yume!” the perp stands there with a wistful smile.
“K-komano!” I gasp for breath, nearly dropping the broom. “D-don’t scare me like that. Please.”
“Sorry,” she points at the box. “But look! They’re pretty, right?”
“What’s pretty?” I struggle to keep my composure, bending down to inspect the contents of the box. “Master might get mad if you break something.”
“What?” I blink. “Did you make that noise?” I gaze at Komano.
“Noooo, that’s not me.”
“Kyuun! Kyuun!” the shambling mound of trash begins to levitate. The dusty tarp, the broken glass shards, they all fell off of the floating mass. Revealing a…
Is that a missile?
It’s a missile.
With a smiley face… painted on? Is it painted? It’s making noise. Is it sentient? This is Gensokyo, so that’s not out of the ordinary, but… why was this in Master’s shed?
“K-komano, where did you find this?”
“Hmm?” she tilts her head as her ears flick. “The basement of the shed. You wanted me to clean that out, remember?”
“Yeah, but… why was this in there?”
“I dunno, it was right next to this weird metal girl. She wouldn’t talk to me, so I just took the hint.”
Took the hint? What is she talking about? “What?” I blink, staring at the floating, red-nosed missile.
“Komano, keep an eye on our… friend here,” I place a hand on my forehead as I make my way past the box and into the shed. I leap over the deck and open the door.
We haven’t cleaned this thing out in a long time. Last time it was me by myself, so I didn’t make much progress. Master often said that cleaning it was a ‘waste of time because we don’t use it’. I eventually pressed her enough to let me have another go at it. Komano and I made some progress these past few days, moving enough outside so we could get into the basement.
I place a hand over my nose and mouth as I press on into the dark, dusty room. Boxes are stacked nice and compact, layered one over the other. I maneuver through the wooden labyrinth until I get to the staircase leading down into the basement.
“Where is that thing…?” I reach behind me onto the shelf nearby. If I remember right, Rinnosuke lent us a…
“Flashlight!” I yell in triumph to no one. Feeling a little embarrassed, I press on with the light in hand.
Komano and I haven’t made much progress in this part of the building. It’s musty, filled with cob-webs, and disheveled apparel littering every corner of the room. Trudging through the room felt more like venturing into a swamp. Each step was harder than the last. “What was Komano talking about?” I mumble, aiming the flashlight every which way.
That’s when I saw it.
A light refracted in the darkness.
Glazed, dead, blue eyes.
“Eeep!” I jump back.
“What’s wrong, Miss Yume?”
“AAaaa!” I yelp, tripping onto my rear, collapsing into the stack of dirty clothes. “KOMANO!”
“H-how did you get down here without making a noise?”
“Ah… oh,” I sigh.
“You can fly, right?”
“Yes, but why would I?”
“Kyuun!” the missile floats freely behind Komano’s head. Whatever that thing is, it’s taken a liking to her.
“I-I didn’t ask you,” I pull some cobwebs free from my hair. “Anyway, is this what you were talking about?” the flashlight illuminates the face of the strange ‘girl’ that Komano ran into down here.
“Yeah, that’s her! She’s kind of rude, isn’t she?”
“Komano, I’m… not sure that’s a girl.”
“Sure she is. Look at her,” Komano floats over the trash pile to the doll (?).
“I guess,” I approach slowly, placing a hand out to touch her face. “She’s cold.”
“Oh, is she dead?” Komano begins poking the metal girl’s cheek. “Very cold!”
Is this one of Alice’s dolls? No, that couldn’t be, considering the designs are very different.
Komano begins running her hands up and down the doll’s body, feeling around for anything that interests her. “What does this do? Is she a toy?”
“Komano, that’s not a good idea. Get away from there.”
“Kyuun!” the missile encourages her.
Why is this happening? Why is there a sentient warhead here? Why is there a doll in the basement? What has my Master been hiding from me this whole time?
“Ah ha! Found it! Whatever ‘it’ is! Look, Miss Yume!”
The doll’s eyes flash blue. I leap back, expecting an explosion, a flash of movement, anything… but she just stretches. “Aaaah!” the doll’s joints crack as if it just had a good night’s rest. “Is it time to get back to work?”
“Kyuun!” the missile chimes in.
“Oh, Mimi! It’s so good to see you again!” the doll greets the ICBM.
“Kyuun!” it coos happily.
It has a name? Wait, no, this is happening too fast. What is going on? How is this happening? “Time out,” I motion over to Komano. “Time out. So, uh, she is alive.”
“Yeah! I told you!” Komano reprimands me.
“S-sorry for doubting you,” I scratch the back of my head. “But seriously though, what are we going to do about this?”
“I dunno!” she beams with pride.
“You’re not helping, Komano.”
That isn’t helping either.
[_] Ask for Reimu’s assistance. [_] Ask Mimi and the maid to help clean. [_] Go find Kasen, she can make sense of this. Hopefully. [_] Leave this shed and never look back. [_] Custom
If the maid girl wants to help clean, then I’m not opposed, but I am worried about the missile Mimi. It seems docile, but I’m still not sure about the danger it could pose. A sentient missile is weird enough, but that’s not the issue at hand.
The glare in the robot girl’s eyes makes me wince.
“W-what’s your name?”
“My name’s Ruukoto, creation of the brilliant Professor Okazaki!” She puffs her chest out with pride. “This is my friend Mimi!” she says as the missile floats above her hand, gazing at me with its lifeless, black eyes.
“Professor?” I point the light away from Ruukoto. “Does that sound familiar to you, Komano?”
The komainu scrunches her face and twitches her nose. “Oh yeah! Miss Reimu did something with her!” she says, staring intently at Ruukoto as the gears churn in her head. “It’s really close. I think—Oh! This girl is part of that ‘thing!’”
“What thing?” It’s cute watching her put so much effort into this, but again, she isn’t making much sense. I appreciate Komano’s help, but she doesn’t have to strain herself so hard.
“You know, a ‘thing.’” Her tail wags vigorously as she jumps up and down. “Uh, it’s… the incident. Right, it was an incident! There were brochures! A-and tourists! Miss Reimu got Ruukoto from that Professor person!”
“Komano.” I gently pet her head. “Slow down. You don’t have to rush. So, can you tell me a bit more about it?”
“Not really. It was a long time ago, like a hundred years or something.”
“I’m… pretty sure that’s not true.” I chuckle and turn toward Ruukoto. “I’ll take your word for it. You said you wanted to clean, right?” It wouldn’t be too bad if she just wants to help, but why was she down here in the basement?
“Yes! Of course!” Ruukoto nods. “Lead the way!”
I ascend the stairs, floating a few inches above the ground. “Let’s see what you can do.” ________________________________
“I am cleaning, Mimi!” Ruukoto says with a joyful smile, swinging the broom to and fro. The shaft whittles down little by little with each forceful grind against the rock.
“Kyuun!” Mimi orbits the maid’s head, deftly avoiding the splinters flying through the air.
When Ruukoto said she was a maid, I thought she was able to do her job. Don’t blame me for thinking this, but now I know why she was locked away in the basement. If she wasn’t able to do her job, then having her around would’ve just been a burden on Master.
“I don’t think they’re cleaning anything, Miss Yume,” Komano says with a frown. “They’re gonna destroy the broom. Won’t Miss Reimu be mad?”
“Isn’t she always?” I sigh, strolling over to Ruukoto. I reach out for the remaining half of the broom. “Hey, can I—”
“Yes?” The maid’s eyes shimmer with delight. “I’m happy to help. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to work, so doing this much has given me a new sense of purpose. I’m delighted to assist you with anything you need, Mistress Yume!”
“Um.” I stop myself short, my face getting hot from embarrassment. “P-please don’t call me that.”
“Why not? It is a maid’s duty to serve her master, after all.”
“J-just… flip the broom over. Use the brush to clean, not the handle.”
“Ah, of course!” Ruukoto clenches the broom with both hands as if brandishing a sword. She beats the ground into submission, blasting leaves and rocks out into the shrine’s front yard. “That is much better, don’t you think, Mimi?”
“Kyuun!” Mimi affirms with a nod.
“R-Ruukoto, I have… another question.”
“Yes, Mistress?” she says, smiling at me through a settling plume of dust.
I choke, waving a hand to push away the cloud. “W-What was your relationship with Master?”
“Do you mean the great Professor or Mistress Reimu?”
“You were in the basement, so I’m curious if you know why you were down there?” I say, eyeing the sharpened notch of the broom’s shattered handle.
“Ah, yes, Mistress Reimu said, and I quote, ‘Please, stop cleaning. I’ll do it myself! You’ll destroy the shrine if you keep that up!’” she says, smiling innocently.
Gensokyo is full of bizarre people, but this is new, even for me.
“S-so she stowed you away because you almost destroyed the shrine…?”
I’m speechless. Forgive me, Master, for I may have brought doom upon us all.
“Kyuun!” Mimi rests upon Ruukoto’s head, nestling in her locks of green hair.
I glance back at Ruukoto. “What about Professor Okazaki?”
“Ah, the esteemed Professor Okazaki!”
“Yes. Can you tell me about her? W-what was she like?” I want to know more about her creator. All I’ve gathered is that she has a knack for maids and missiles.
“Exorbitantly intelligent, competent, and lovely!” Ruukoto sings praises while playing with Mimi’s tiny arms.
“I-I see.” I take a step back. That didn’t tell me much at all. “Anything else?”
“No!” She smiles. “That’s all I was programmed to say!”
I pinch my nose and shake my head. “Ruukoto, you can go back to sweeping if you want.”
“Posthaste!” Ruukoto shouts as she returns to assaulting the cobblestone walkway.
I massage my temples to quell the growing migraine. Komano isn’t going to be of much help, and I couldn’t bring myself to crush Ruukoto’s newfound joy. This is hard. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I wish I had some help.
As if answering me, the wind picks up as a large, winged shadow passes overhead. Rolling dirt and debris are carried away by the cleansing gust.
“Kume!” I yell the familiar bird’s name. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling since Kasen hasn’t been around for a while. She’s definitely a welcome sight.
Komano tilts her head up, eyes widening in surprise. “Oh, Miss Kasen! Welcome back!”
Kasen descends from the eagle’s back, landing on the ground nearby. “How have things been?” she says with a warm smile.
“T-they’ve been gr-... fine,” I curb my enthusiasm to seem less desperate. “T-things are going as well as they can be,” I say, frowning, “but Master has been mostly the same.”
“Really? I suppose that’s all we can really ask for.” She examines the shed from afar. Clean boxes lie out in front of the yard with stacked bags of trash lining the outside wall. “It looks like you’ve made quite a lot of progress,” she says as she makes her way to the shed’s open entrance and traces her hand along the shed's interior. “Seems like you still have some cleaning to do,” she says, pinching grime between her fingers.
“Even with me and Komano, it’s still going to take a while.” I’m not looking forward to completing the job. It’s going to be hard.
“Miss Yume and I can definitely do it!” Komano thrusts a victorious hand into the air. Her enthusiasm is appreciated, but I’m not really looking forward to cleaning out the basement. Considering the amount of clutter and dust, it would take us weeks to make any kind of meaningful progress.
“Kyuuun!” Mimi lightly nudges Kasen’s side, begging for attention. Kasen relents, instinctively petting what she thought was an animal. Her hand freezes as it makes contact with Mimi’s metallic exterior.
Kasen stares into Mimi’s painted eyes. She clenches Mimi with both hands, shooting glares between me, Komano, and the missile. “Where did this come from? Is this one of the kappa’s inventions?”
“T-That’s Mimi.” I scratch the back of my head, unsure of how to explain the pet missile. “K-Komano found her in the shed. And no, someone named Professor Okazaki made it. At least, that’s what I’m assuming.”
“Professor Okazaki?” Kasen quirks a brow, releasing Mimi. “I think I need to have a talk with Reimu.”
“Oh, Miss Kasen is going to talk to Miss Reimu?” Komano brandishes a set of ear plugs. A bit extreme but not completely unwarranted.
“I’m not going to scream at her,” Kasen sighs. “We’re just going to talk.” ________________________________
Reimu sits, her legs tucked under the kotatsu, cup of tea in hand. I’ve gotten so used to seeing this that I’m not even annoyed anymore. The well-worn tea kettle sits on the corner of the table, lid open, begging to be filled. I roll my eyes, venturing over to do my self-appointed ‘duty’ as the apprentice of the Hakurei Shrine.
“Thanks,” Master says, grinning as Kasen and Komano follow in behind me. “Oh, Kasen, what’s up?”
“Visiting.” She narrows her eyes before chuckling. “Aren’t you the model granny, cozying up inside on a nice spring morning?”
"I'm not 'cozying up,' okay? I have a cold," Master says as she, the absolute model of perfect health, feigns a cough before sipping the rest of her tea. “More importantly, I heard a crash. What the heck was that?”
“The broom!” Komano chimes in, finding her own seat on the floor. “Miss Ruukoto minced it up into fine little bits.”
“Ruukoto?” Master blinks in surprise, then stares up at the ceiling for answers. “Oh. Oh. I forgot where I put her.”
I scoff, returning after putting the filled kettle on the stove. “She’s earnest, and she wanted to help, so—”
“You let her?” Master leaps up. “What else did she destroy?”
“Nothing, Reimu,” Kasen says, motioning for her to sit back down. “Calm down.”
“But if I don’t, then—”
“Reimu, if you’re as sick as you say, then you shouldn’t be jumping around like that.” Kasen stands, reaching a hand out to Master. “Relax.”
“Relax? How can… guh,” Master groans, wanting to find fault with Kasen’s advice. Seeing no reason to fight, she plops herself back under her kotatsu.
“I’ll deal with it, Master, don’t worry,” I say, even though I was a little out of practice with my power of reversion. Fixing a broom should be easy enough. Anything more complex than an inanimate object could pose a problem. Putting that thought aside, I pressed forward, “I actually wanted to ask you something.”
“What?” Master mumbles.
“Who’s Professor Okazaki? Ruukoto said her name, and gave us a … description but nothing else.”
“She’s a stupid jerk who can’t follow through with her promises.” Her chin flattens against the table’s surface. “I wanted someone to do my chores, not cave in the front half of the shrine.”
As expected, this taught us nothing new.
“I know explaining things isn’t your forte, but could you please be a little less concise?” Kasen furrows her brow.
“What else is there to say?” Master sits up. “There were these ‘fantasy ruins’ that showed up out of nowhere. There were brochures advertising a ‘wish’ floating all around the village. Ended up attracting a lot of people. I showed up, met that professor and her assistant, beat ’em up and got a maid.”
That clarifies the incident that Komano mentioned earlier.
“A past incident.” Kasen nods. “It makes sense, though that seems to have been a long time ago. What about that metal cylinder?”
“Oh, that’s… Momo? I think?” Master struggles to remember the name.
“Mimi, Master. Its name is Mimi.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“Right.” I don’t bother arguing with her. “Is it yours?”
“No, that’s Marisa’s. She wanted a weapon from the outside world, and she got it.”
“Why?” Kasen and I blurt out our worries.
Master shrugs, “I dunno, ask her.”
“I’ll refrain, thank you.” The hermit shakes her head. “Still, those are some very dangerous ‘gifts’.”
“I figured it was best to just forget about them.” Master glances at me. “But then… well, I can’t really blame you, I should’ve said something.”
Master took responsibility! There’s a first time for everything after all! “I-it’s fine, don’t worry about it,” I say, waving a hand in front of my face.
“Hmmmm.” Master quirks a brow. “Well, whatever. Hey, you.” She points at Kasen.
“Me?” She points to herself.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m here to visit—”
“Yeah, you are, and you have a reason for being here. Cut to the chase.”
“Well, I was… going to propose something.” She scratches her cheek. “A training camp for you and Yume.”
“Again?” Master cringes. “Going to have to say no, sorry.”
“Are you going to at least ask Yume how she feels?” Kasen pleads with Master after the immediate rejection.
“No, because she feels the same. Right, Yume?” she says with utmost confidence. Why did she word it like that? “She’s trying to learn how to be a shrine maiden, so what good would hermit training do?”
Honestly, it sounds like a lot of fun. Kasen has always done what she could to assist me. Her teaching methods just click with me. She’s patient with me when I don’t understand something. It’s true that Kasen can’t teach me how to be a shrine maiden, but training can still help me better myself as a person.
“She’s obviously not making much progress by staying here,” Kasen says, slapping her hands onto the table.
“Of course she is! She’s gotten better at cooking! And cleaning!”
“What does that have to do with being a shrine maiden?”
“Plenty, because I do it all the time!”
“You used to, and now you’re even lazier.”
“No, I’m not!” Master stands tall, pointing an accusatory finger at Kasen. “And you’re just coming in here to start some trouble. Some hermit you are.”
“I’m just trying to--”
“Butt in where your nose doesn’t belong?”
“This is my problem just as much as it’s yours.”
“It’s a Hakurei problem, so the Hakurei will deal with it! Mind your own business!”
“It’s about Gensokyo and Yume’s future. Of course I’m going to be concerned,” Kasen yells, gritting her teeth, failing to quell her growing frustration. “You’re being obstinate for no reason. Think about someone else for a change, Reimu.” She holds a hand out toward me. “If you won’t deal with it, then it’ll sit and fester until it's too late to do anything.”
Master bites her lip and explodes. “I didn’t ask for her, Kasen, so why should I have to deal with her!?”
It hurt to hear her say that, but of course, it’s nothing new. I knew that when I first came here that this entire ordeal was forced on her by someone else. Even after spending years together, none of that really seemed to change.
I was used to feeling unwanted, so coping with it came naturally. But not this time. I’m going to--
[_] Try to calm them both down. [_] Leave with Kasen. [_] Leave the room with Komano. [_] Custom