With a wandering, dreamy look in her eyes, her gaze travels outside the open window next to her desk. She sits there, one hand supporting her drooping head, while the teacher continues to drone on about the lesson. She’s not giving him the time of day, and as I continue to watch her, I soon find that I’m not, either.
I wonder what it is that she’s watching with those bright eyes of hers.
Maybe there’s something interesting going on outside. When I think that, I can’t help but lean forward, craning my neck to take a look out the window myself, though I find it impossible.
Maybe she’s watching the numerous clouds in the sky, gently pushed along by the chilly breeze of autumn. She seems to me like a romantic who would admire little things in life like that in favor of a dull lecture about English grammar.
Just maybe, she’s seeing something that none of us can see. Maybe she can see a world that’s completely unknown to us, lost in the sight of the spirits dancing about and making merry with one another in a brilliant dance of air, decorating the open blue sky with their presence.
I can’t deny that there’s something strange about this girl.
Ever since the day I first saw her, when I pedaled my bike furiously to get to the opening ceremony of the school and ended up entering through the school gates together with her, there was always something distinctive about that that separated her from the rest of us. She simply wasn’t normal, and I don’t think I was the only one who noticed that.
I first talked to her on that day, the first day of high school, that is, when we met on the way to what would be our shared school. Not wanting to be late on the very first day of the new term, I was in a hurry as I rode my bike, with a stuffed piece of toast held in my mouth. Along the way, as I turned a corner sharply at a speed that I’m sure broke some kind of record somewhere, I saw her.
She was a pitiable girl then, her knees scraped and her hands dirtied black. With a look of frustration, she tugged at the chains of her own bike. It seemed she fell over, and the bike chain was caught on the wheel.
Even in my hurry, I noticed that the girl was wearing the school uniform belonging to the school that I was on my way to. Getting off my bike, I set my bike down on the concrete, jogging over to her. Crouching down next to her, I took hold of the problematic chain, carefully dislodging it from the wheel and giving it a turn to make sure it wasn’t still stuck.
She thanked me with a smile that made me forget about the black mess on my hands, and wheeling our bikes as we walked side-by-side, we continued on our way to the opening ceremony. We were late, but we didn’t care then. We had made our first link in the years of high school to come.
On the way to school, and during the ceremony itself, while the principal of the school droned on in a dreary voice much like the English teacher at present, we talked about various things. Just small conversation topics like our names, the school, and aspirations for the future. That last one wasn’t really something I could contribute much to, as I didn’t, and still don’t, know what I wanted to do as an adult.
But she gave me an interesting answer.
She said that she wanted to be a shrine maiden.
I laughed at her then. I didn’t think she was serious about it. I stopped, though, when I saw that she seemed hurt by my derision. She went on to explain that she descended from a long line of wind priestesses serving as shrine maidens to the local shrine. I didn’t really give it much thought, to be honest. It was interesting, I guess, but I was never really very pious.
After that, we were sorted into our respective classes. It would have been a great coincidence if we had ended up in the same class, but it wasn’t so. Day passed after day, week passed after week, and soon, it had already been more than a few months since the start of the school began, and the two of us hadn’t found even a single minute to exchange words with one another again.
A distance had opened up between us then. She made her friends, and I made mine, and we ended up drifting apart. Sometimes we would see each other while roaming around the school grounds or while passing through the hallways, but we’d only wave to one another or say “Hi.”
Like that, a year ended up passing by quickly, and I entered high school as a sophomore.
And that time. That time, she was in my class. I walked in through the classroom door, chatting and exchanging jokes with a buddy. As I stepped inside, I saw her already seated at a table, talking with her own group of friends much like I was. When I entered, she turned her head to see who was coming in, and seeing that it was me, she flashed me a welcoming smile, which I eagerly reciprocated.
That was probably when I realized that I liked her.
Even in the same class, we didn’t really talk much, merely acknowledging each other with a smile and a look every now and then, but whenever I was forced to speak to her, I found that I couldn’t seem to voice my words without stuttering them, and I could feel my heart beating like a drum in my chest. During class, I would steal glances at her at every opportunity, watching her movements. I smiled when she smiled, and frowned when she frowned.
One day, after classes had ended, it began to rain. A very heavy downpour foreshadowed by thick clouds earlier that day. At my mother’s urging, I had taken with me to school an umbrella to protect me from the falling raindrops, and I was very glad that I listened to her. I made my way to the school entrance, grabbing my sneakers out of the shoe lockers and changing out of my in-door shoes.
And I saw her standing at the entrance door, looking out into the scene of rain with a look of despondency. She had no umbrella in her hands. She was probably wondering whether she’d have to head home in the rain and get soaked.
I wanted to call out to her, and give her my own so she wouldn’t have to suffer the rain. No. I wanted to share the umbrella with her, and talk and laugh as I walked her home together. But I hadn’t the courage. My lips trembled when I tried to open them, and my legs wobbled when I tried to walk to her. I stood there, frozen, watching that girl who needed my help, and did nothing.
Not long after, one of her friends skipped up to her, giving her a pat on the back and holding out her umbrella to the girl. They exited the school together, leaving me standing there at the entrance alone, silently cursing her friend as well as myself.
That year was also when she became something of a celebrity.
I was just finishing up my homework one evening when I saw something I couldn’t believe on TV. There was a news report about the shrine in the town, and in particular, the girl who lived there. They called her the “miracle worker,” and in front of the cameras, she demonstrated strange and unnatural abilities, like causing the wind to suddenly switch directions, or making a star clearly visible during the day, and even calling down rain.
The day after the report had aired she became the talk of the entire school. Students from upper and lower grades began visiting our classroom for just a single glance at the girl they had seen invoking unbelievable things on TV.
Tourists were coming by the dozens to visit the shrine the famous “miracle worker” performed at. People even started calling her a god in human form. It was a very busy year for the otherwise somewhat sleepy town that I lived in for all of my life.
And she smiled. She smiled a brighter smile than any I’d ever seen before. She seemed so happy.
I felt sad.
I felt that a complete gap had formed between us now. One that was insurmountable, impossible to cross through my efforts. She had become someone that I couldn’t reach, that I couldn’t casually converse with and laugh together with.
It was the same for everyone else as well. Her friends tried their best not to show it, but I could see it: they looked at her differently than when she was “normal.” They were… awestruck, or maybe a little admiring, looking at her like she was some kind of a higher being than they were.
I think they were even a little afraid of her.
Then, how did I feel about her at that time?
Was I afraid too?
“…come on, school’s out already.”
A quiet, subdued voice gently coaxes me from my sleep, and I groggily lift my head up from my forearms, feeling dizzy and disoriented. Wiping away the drool leaking from the corner of my mouth with my sleeve, I rub at my eyes, trying to clear my blurry vision. Remembering the voice, I lift up my chin, looking up at the girl standing in front of my desk.
“Everyone’s gone home already,” she says, gesturing toward the rest of the classroom.
Stifling a yawn, I take a look about. It’s true. The classroom is empty save for the two of us. Even the teacher’s left already. Shaking my head, I slide my chair out from my desk, using it as a support as I reluctantly lift myself to my feet.
“…and nobody woke me up until now?” I wonder out aloud. “That’s cruel.”
“Mr. Noriyuki tried to,” the girl replies with a giggle. “Even slapped you on the head with his notebook. You wouldn’t wake, so he just gave up on you.”
“That was nice of him,” I say bitterly with a shrug. “…why are you staying behind so late, anyway?”
She pauses, deliberating her words. “…I just had some things I needed to take care of before I left, that’s all,” she says at last, taking on an unassuming smile.
“Right,” I reply with a nod. Lifting my bag with one hand, I sling it over my shoulder before turning to the girl next to me with a careful grin. “Let’s get out of here.”
She nods, and follows behind me as I walk over to the classroom door, sliding it open and stepping through it and out into the hallway. The girl gently shuts the door behind her, before silently skipping up next to me to accompany me to the entrance of the school.
“It’s already almost time for graduation, huh…” I say to myself on a whim as we pass through the school gates, looking up at the twilit glow of the sky.
“Yup,” the girl affirms, nodding. “…It’s hard to believe it’s already been three years, isn’t it?”
The end of high school was fast approaching for us seniors. It’s funny. Before, I looked forward to the end of school, but now I dread it. It’s too much of a trouble to think about what life is like beyond what I’m already familiar with. And I’m sure, that this girl walking next to me must feel the same way as well.
Her fame disappeared as quickly as it had come. It didn’t matter if her miracles were genuine or not. People were bored. They lost interest in the so called “living god” and her shrine. After a few months, the media just completely stopped focusing on that shrine. There were no new visitors to that shrine.
Within just a short period of time, the world had forgotten about that girl and her incredible powers.
She began to smile less often.
“Is something wrong?” I ask that girl, who has a very troubled expression on her face.
“…huh?” she gives a delayed reaction, taking several seconds before responding to my question, as if waking from a light doze. “N-no, nothing. It’s nothing, really. Just thinking about a lot of things right now.”
“I see,” I say, shrugging my shoulders again. “…Anyway, we’re here, so you should get going.”
Blinking her eyes rapidly, she looks around the area, apparently only now realizing that she’s just outside the gate to her shrine, having been spaced out for almost the entirety of the time spent walking here. With an embarrassed, flushed face, she lets out a shrill cry of “Oh!” while nearly jumping on the spot. She half-turns to begin the ascent past to red shrine gate and up the stone staircase when she suddenly turns back to me.
“…what is it?” I ask out of curiosity as she mulls over something in her head.
“Hey, you want to draw a fortune?” she suddenly asks me. “You’re still not sure about what you want to do, right? You might need all the blessing you can get!”
“A fortune slip?”
I reach into my pockets, fumbling with my hands inside. “…I don’t have any money, though,” I say dejectedly, withdrawing my hands.
“That’s fine,” she replies with a cheerful grin. “You’re in luck. Today’s a special day. It’ll be free just this once.”
“…Okay then,” I say, nodding.
“Okay, I’ll get the box right now!” she says excitedly, turning around and half-running up the stairs.
I smile at her enthusiasm. She always seems the happiest when she’s able to perform duties related to this shrine. She really was serious about becoming a shrine maiden here, wasn’t she?
Not too long after, she returns, bounding down the steps with a wooden box in hand. Stopping in front of me, she holds the box out in front of her. “Alright, choose carefully now,” she says with a bit of a playful tone. “This could really affect your future!”
I reach into the box, where dozens and dozens of folded pieces of paper lie around haphazardly. Digging around, I pinch one of the strips of paper and raw it from the box, holding it in the palm of my hand. She urges me to open up the slip with her eyes, and with somewhat nervous fingers, I oblige.
大吉 – Great Luck.
“Congratulations!” the girl says, beaming at me. “It looks like you’re going to have good fortune after all…!”
“…Yeah, I guess I will,” I say, grinning along with her. I’m not superstitious at all, but when she assures me that I will, I really feel like I’m going to be the luckiest guy in the world. Still smiling widely, I slip the piece of paper into my pocket.
And for several seconds, we just stand there, watching the sun in the orange sky slowly sink over the numerous buildings blocking out its rays.
“I should get going soon,” I say, turning back to the girl. “See you tomorrow.”
She freezes when she hears my parting words, her gaze slowly falling to the ground. For what seems only an instance, I see a trace of sadness in her expression as she quickly raises her chin again, putting on that same radiant smile that I’m sure that I saw before only when I had met her for the first time.
“…Yeah,” she says in a small voice, hugging the box full of fortune slips to herself with one arm while using the other to give me a small wave. “See you tomorrow.”
On the way home, I draw out that slip of fortune strip from my pocket. I stare at the characters inscribed on it with ink. Great blessing, huh? But a great blessing in what? Would I succeed in my goals, would I find a lost possession, or…
An idea hits me, and I turn the strip of paper to its blank side. I reach into my bag, searching inside for a pen. Using the palm of my hand as a surface for writing, I draw a line down the middle of the paper.
After all, I’d missed out on a chance to do this before.
In the seat in front of me, there sits no one.
It always struck me as odd. Why is it that there’s no one sitting there? It was, in my opinion, one of the best seats you could have in this classroom. It’s near the back of the class, and right by a window to boot.
No one had ever been sitting in that seat for the entire year.
There’s definitely something odd about that. Looking at that empty seat, I can’t help but feel that there’s something missing from our classroom, something that was with us for a very long time. It’s not just me, either. From time to time, I catch a couple of other girls eyeing the empty desk in front of me with a look of concern, and even our teachers seem to notice that there’s something wrong, fumbling their words when they call out for attendance.
I don’t know why it is that we feel this way, though.
After school ends, I find myself wandering around the town, allowing my feet to lead me where they will. As if by force of habit, I end up walking past the secluded shrine at the edge of the town. It’s been in disuse for years, and it’s only really still standing because it was deemed to have historical value to the town.
Why did I come here?
I don’t really know myself.
Sighing, I turn away from the abandoned shrine, jamming my hands into my pockets to keep them warm. As I do so, I notice something scratching against the palm of my right hand. Puzzled, I withdraw it from my pocket to see what it is: a small slip of paper, with the characters “great fortune” written on it with ink.
Looks like a fortune slip, but I don’t remember ever getting one from anywhere.
I turn it over in my hand. There’s something written on the back, too, but before I can read it, a strong breeze comes and snatches the fold of paper from my hand, blowing it away into the air.
Futilely, I try to reach for it with my arm, but it’s too late. It’s too far gone now, carried away by the wind.
…Oh well. It’s no big loss. I don’t even know how that got into my pocket, anyway.
Life goes on.
In a distant land, sometime later, a girl stands in front of a shrine, sweeping its grounds with a straight-headed broom. Looking up to the sky, she notices something unusual dancing about in it. She raises a single finger toward it, and a gentle wave of wind carries the foreign object with it, allowing it to descend into the waiting hand of the girl below.
It’s a small piece of paper, crumpled and brown and clearly worn from travel. The girl’s eyes widen slightly when she sees the characters written on that paper, as she recognizes the writing to belong to her shrine. She turns the paper over, and glances at its back.
And she smiles a warm yet wistful smile.
Written vertically on the back of the fortune slip are two names, sharing a single umbrella together.
She slips the piece of paper into the pocket of her skirt, and returns to her sweeping with twice the effort.
The traveling fortune slip had delivered its message, but its wish was one that could no longer be granted.
I was just a simple karakasa gifted with a human form of my own. Nothing much else to say, I just liked scaring people. And occasionally looking up their skirts, but I don't wanna talk about that. What I do want to talk about is an interesting encounter that changed how I viewed a lot of people, particularly a certain someone who I still can't get along with to this day, though we still make ends meet. Somehow. Actually I'm not even sure how it happens, as I used to tell myself before never to let something like that happen. But...yeah. Anyways, getting on with the story at hand...
It happened one day while I was idling Mura-oh, sorry...Captain Murasa's ship. You see, I mainly came there to see the lovely Miss Hijiri, after all, who doesn't? But it was during this time I found myself coming less and less for her and more for...something else. I wasn't entirely sure what it was at the time, and it sure as hell shocked me when I realized why, gradually, little by little. I went to ask Miss Shou where Miss Hijiri was, but the answer I was given was far less then satisfactory.
"No," she said, "I don't know where she is, but if her personality is any indication, she's probably out preaching somewhere with Ichirin and likely won't be back until later today." Rather disappointed, I sighed, sulking a bit.
"I-I see. I guess it can't be helped."
"You could always stay for dinner. Nazrin is helping me cook this time and she's really determined about it, so it'd help if you stuck around to say some nice things about it."
Normally, I would reject her on her offer. A while back, I hated staying on the ship if Miss Hijiri wasn't there. But something was clinging to me this time. Something wanted me to stay...
"Well...alright I guess. Maybe by that time Miss Hijiri will be here." Miss Shou gave me her thanks and continued on with her business after that. I was alone again. Alone on Captain Murasa's ship.
"So, Boatlights, waiting for Hijiri again?"
Ugh...speak of the devil too.
"...hi, Murasa." I barely erked out the response to her untimely arrival. Turning around, there she was, the ugly ghost sailor...thing. Wearing shorts and a mean look. She likes to call me boatlights because the lights on the front of the boat are both different...apparently. I don't know much about boats so I couldn't really tell you honestly about that one, but then, I don't exactly trust Murasa on it either. But anyways.
"If you plan on stayin', you know the price. Come on, I got some new shackles for you to try out."
"I'm sure you've already tried them on Nazrin, and honestly, I don't feel like being tied up like a rat." That's Murasa for you. I try to act nice normally, but I can't do it in front of her. She just makes my hair stand on end!
"Eh, too good for you then? I can tie you up like a donkey too in that case." It's mainly because she's an asshole herself too though.
"I'll pass. I don't feel like being tied up at all." I said to her as I walked plainly past her. She wasn't effected in the least bit, of course, she's the jerk among jerks, top percentage here. I didn't expect her to take it as anything but more fuel to the fire.
I never stopped to realize what fire I was fueling though.
Later I stood at the bow of the ship, taking in the wind blowing across my face. The air on the ship always felt so fresh, clean and cool. I think it was one of the defining features that kept me on it sometimes. There was one major factor though that kept me off it.
"Hey, I told you about the price, didn't I?" Ugh, I can't have any happy time on the ship. "You better hustle your ass over to my cabin or I might have to bring out the whips, which you won't like, trust me." I turned around to face her, a rather plain expression on my face.
"You say that as if I'd enjoy it otherwise."
"Don't tell me you're not into bondage now. I've seen those filthy magazines you know." I had enough. It was time to stop this once and for all.
"How many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone already? Your advances on me are getting on my nerves!"
"I'm not givin' you the choice, this is my ship, and what I say goes, or god forbid some miracle happens and you magically become thankful for your place here." I was once again reminded of the fact that the only reason why I'm allowed on here is because of Miss Hijiri. Murasa is totally infatuated beyond belief with her, and she continued to ignore it. I think Miss Hijiri is more then aware of it, she just pretends to be clueless.
"And yet, every time, I stay on board without so much as a scratch on me..."
"That's because Hijiri always saves your ass, or you run away like the little pussy that you are. Now are you gonna hop to it or fly the coop like always?"
"Neither, I'm just going to ignore you and pretend you didn't exist." I could feel the contempt for me buzzing off her as I walked past her yet again. She turned around though and said something disgusting.
"Hey, remember, I'll be waiting, I hope you're goin in to practice using that tongue of yours you stick out so much!" All I did was roll my eyes and continue on about my way. I wasn't about to give her the time of day.
Walking through the halls though, I stopped suddenly. I could feel it, the intent of perverted eyes staring at me. I knew exactly who it was. Or well...I thought I did.
"Give it up, Murasa, I'm tired of playing your stupid little games, so could you just leave me alo-"
My umbrella hit the floor, my back got pushed into the wall, my mouth covered by an unfamiliar hand. I was the one caught by surprise this time, as an intimidating stow-away ghost had somehow made it's way on. A burly sailor with the piercing eyes of a murderer. His sins must have been what kept him to this world, and of course, being a ghost, he can still interact with other spirits such as myself...sadly for me.
"Ehehehe...well ain't ye a cutie? Aye, came here fer sum piece o' gold and instead found meself a helpless wench I did! Ye'll be a nice wife ye will, ehehehehe..."
As much as I tried struggling, I couldn't get out of his grasp. He was retarded, but my god he was strong. He must've been lifting a few anchors in his time alive. Now he was about to take off with me somewhere that I wouldn't like. I was already not all that powerful, without my umbrella, my magic is practically nonexistent. To think, my life would take a sickly turn because I got caught by the one thing I wanted to do most.
Then, she showed up.
"Hang on, Kogasa! I'll save ya!"
No not her. All Nazrin did was embarrassingly fall through a crack in the floor boards just short of me and my assailant.
"Wha-...whas goin on here? Stupid runt."
I will say she did one thing right though. She distracted him long enough for my true savior to come in and rescue me.
"Hey! Boatlights is my shagtoy! Hands off!" My assailant didn't even have time to turn around fully, as he just simply takes a massive, ghostly anchor to the face, knocking him into the wall to the side of him. It freed me up long enough to grab my umbrella and stumble over to my would-be hero, Murasa.
"I-I never thought I'd say this, but thank you..." The captain wipes off her cheek and readies another anchor in her hands.
"Thank me in my room later, preferably without your clothes, for now I got yet another damn stowaway to toss overboard.." Despite her crude joke, that determination in her eyes, the anger under her breath...it wasn't just because there was a stowaway. I could tell.
"Gyehh!" The burly ghost tried to pick himself up from the wreckage. His physical build wasn't any lie, he was so durable you could throw a battleship at him and he'd still find a way to stand after it. Murasa wasn't about to let him stay that way for long though. "So ye finally found me, guess I better vamoose. But not before I leave ye with a nice ol' partin' gift!" He was about to take something out of his pocket but...truthfully, I never got to see what it was. Murasa simply slammed another anchor into his face.
"Shut up! You fuckface! Bastards like you make me sick! Just get the hell off my ship already and don't you dare come anywhere near me or my ship again!" Throughout this time, she was constantly beating him over the head with two of her large anchors. I could see right here that as strong as that sailor was, he couldn't match up to a captain.
Later on, Miss Shou escorted the poor ghost off the ship, who, after receiving many thrashing, promised not to do something like that again. Nazrin went to finish dinner on her own, hopefully trying not to screw things up. This just left me and Murasa on the ship. I tried avoiding the captain for a while, until I inevitably found my way in front of her cabin door. I dared not knock on her door though, but as it turned out, she wasn't even in at the time.
"I see you came to 'thank' me." I didn't even have to turn around to give the captain a proper response.
"Not in the way you think, you sick person."
"Hey, it's only fair now. Not only am I letting you stay on my ship, but I just saved your cuntass too, it'd help your reputation a little if you decided to actually show me a good time." Urgh! I really had enough by this point. I turned around in anger and proceeded to lay into her.
"Why do you keep making crude jokes like that?! What compels you to be so dirty and rude?! I can't stand you and I wish you would just stop it already!! I don't even understand why it's me you're so interested in!!!" I had to give myself a break from screaming for a moment to catch my breath. I was at my wit's end! And Murasa...she just shook her head. That's all she did.
"Boatlights, c'mere for a second." I was scared, a little frightened when she approached me. Especially with that serious look on her face. I thought that was it, she was really going to do it. Then she stopped in front of me. "You really wanna know why? I'll tell ya a little secret..." She grabs my collar, pulling me towards her, it was rather embarrassing so suddenly, but when she whispered into my ear, I learned of a horrifying, terrifying and incredibly shocking fact.
"Y-...You...you're a...you have a..." I couldn't even utter the word, Murasa just simply closes her eyes to my shaken expression.
"Why do you think I wear long shorts?"
That was the day I learned the true meaning of surprise.
"Now, if you ever want to return the favor, I have a few lonely porn-filled night you could help with. Until then..." She said, and with that, the captain just disappears into her cabin. I just kinda stood there for a few minutes, incredibly stunned, before running away as quickly as I could. It's okay though, I got over it...eventually.
These days I'm a more active part of the group now. It brings me closer to Miss Hijiri, so I can't complain. Miss Shou has started talking to me a lot more and I realized how motherly she can be at times, much like Miss Hijiri, which is very comforting. Nazrin is also fun to play with sometimes too. And Ichirin is very knowledgeable about things and likes teaching me stuff, though sometimes she can be a bit of a bore. And then there's Murasa. I'll just say one thing. She's...very interesting.
Huh? What was that? Did I ever repay that debt I owed her? Well...you know what the good sailors say, don't ask, don't tell~
The other kappa will be jealous. This will be the greatest danmaku weapon tool ever built, I feel it!
How should I call it? The base was made from the thing I got at the second-hand goods shop… the shopkeeper said it was a ‘’gun‘’ called ‘’M1 Garand’’ and was intended to make holes into things.
Hmm… maybe I shouldn’t change the original name. In the end, I didn’t change much. Sure, I threw some useless stuff out because I couldn’t figure out how this thing originally made holes into things, so I put some of my stuff inside. Now it can shoot lasers and high-speed projectiles with great accuracy, thanks to the design!
Visually it remained the same. I just added my name on it.
‘’ Nitori Kawashiro’’.
I just wonder on whom to test it. Maybe that new tengu reporter will fly by? What was her name? Ha… Hatate!
I step outside my workshop with the M1 in my hand and there she is!
‘’Woo, a new invention! I need this scoop!’’
‘’Want to see it in action?’’
‘’Sure! Show me your moves!’’
I aim the M1 Garand at her. I choose the laser mode and fire. She grazes the laser and then I fire three fast-moving bullet projectiles in one line. She underestimates their speed and has to use her camera! I have her now!
I follow up with another laser and a three bullet spreads. The tengu grazes the laser… she grazes the first two bullets and boom! She is hit by the third bullet. The power was low, so it should just sting her.
‘’Ouch! What was that?’’
‘’That was my newest invention! Neat, isn’t it?’’
‘’I must have this scoop! I lost, but can I take a photo, please?’’
Something passes me at high speed.
‘’Now, what do we have here? I must have this scoop!’’
Oh, it is Aya, the infamous tengu reporter.
‘’This is my scoop!’’
‘’You sure look beat up. What happened?’’
‘’The kappa has a new invention! It shoots beams and stuff!’’
‘’I must see it in action!’’
Aya? She is too fast. She’ll effortlessly evade the bullets. Well, this is the perfect opportunity to test this thing’s limit!
I repeat the pattern. Laser, three bullets in one line… laser, three bullets spread… damn, she is too fast for me!
Now I’ll trap her between two lasers- woo! That wind strike cut my sleeve! That was so close! I fire again at her-
She used her camera and cleared the incoming projectiles. She took my photo and that means I am defeated for now.
‘’Thanks, this will be an awesome scoop!’’
Was I really just defeated? I feel strange… what is this power coming from my new invention? It burns! NO! UGH!
‘’I must defeat you!’’
‘’What, another round? I am waiting-’’
I fire at her in bursts and hit her every time.
‘’Ouch, that hurt!’’
Fire! The laser hits her camera and it explodes in her hands.
‘’Why did you that, Nitori? I thought we were friend-‘’
Boom! I aimed at her wing and blew it off. She slowly falls down and crashes in the grounds. I descend and aim the weapon at her head.
‘’Nitori! Are you out of your mind?’’
‘’Kappa brutally attacked tengu reporter in friendly duel! This will make my newspaper famous-’’
The laser from my M1 Garand fries her phone, my latest invention. Next, the second laser makes a hole in her shoulder. I finish her by blowing a hole in her head. It felt awesome.
The other tengu reporter watches her die there.
‘’What have you done?’’
‘’I ended her existence.’’
‘’I won’t go down without a fight! Wind Sign, Opening-‘’
A loud bang silences her. She sure is headless.
‘’Shut up, goddamn Nazi.’’
I sense something approaching me from behind. Oh, it is the white wolf Nazi with the huge sword. When was the last time a sword has defeated the gun? Boom is all what I say!
The white wolf stands there, stunned by the wound. It appears that she hasn’t got the guts to attack me again!
‘’What, are you not dead yet, Nazi? I’ll have mercy with you!’’
Again, boom is all what I say!
Die, Nazi, die! Oh, there is another Nazi. Her devilish smile, her green eyes, her blue and white clothing, her green hair…! It must be her, it must be…
'Come on', they said. 'Don't be a chicken', they said. Why do I always let myself get roped into this kind of thing? You'd think I would learn after the cat-licking incident, or eating that orange with the peel still on, or after trying to pull that rabbit girl's ears. No, no, goodness no, why would I have figured out by now that these dares just get me into trouble? I mean, I should at least have the common sense to think about the risk before I take it. When I get back home, I'm done with this kind of thing. Never going into the forest again.
...If I get back home.
No! Stop. Don't be afraid, be angry. Angry good! Fear weak! Just because you're lost in the forest in the middle of the night (stupid stupid stupid) by yourself (just the wind it's just the wind) with no idea where you are isn't any reason to be afraid. If any youkai try to eat you (as though they would need to try) you can just stare them down and you'll be so angry that you let yourself get stuck out here they won't even notice how scrawny you are, or how hard you're shivering (god why is it so cold isn't it supposed to be spring) or that you're just a human. They'll run away before they realize how easily they could tear you limb from limb or how delicious you would be (one organ at a time).
So why aren't your legs moving, me? Now's not the time to be sleeping. I know it's late and you're tired but we can't just stop here. I'm sure we're just a few minutes from home. Just pick a direction and keep walking until the skies clear up and we're safe again in the village. Apologize to Mom and Dad, and get under some warm bed covers and put it behind us. Good? Good! Great. So let's...move? Please? Look, I don't want to pressure you or anything but I'm pretty sure that noise just now was a wolf it was a wolf is he growling I think he's growling okay moving going.
You know though, it's awful wet in here. I could swear I don't even need shoes; it looks like it's just mud and leaves. Sure there's the occasional rock and all, but they're mostly flat anyways and what am I looking at?! Eyes up. Eyes around. Nothing to be afraid of, plenty to be cautious of. Just relax. Don't cry. If you start crying, you won't be able to see through all this dark and you'll get lost (more than you already are) and we don't want that.
...Did I really walk this far? I could swear this is the right direction. Maybe it's just that it's dark. It seems further when you can't see where you're going. It's just my head playing tricks on me! Like when I see a youkai in my room and it turns out to be a pile of socks (which doesn't stop me from yelping like a little girl) and I can laugh it off. Not that there's any socks out here. I'm sure those bits of red are just...berries. Yeah. And that shack that wasn't there a second ago is just a...some kind of tree. Trees. Maybe a big rock. Rocks don't glow, though. And I'm not sure how many people go around hanging old, cracked iron lanterns that make the light look like spiderwebs up on rocks, but this doesn't seem like the time or the place to doubt it.
Through the creaking door comes a sight for sore eyes. Probably. Frizzy blonde hair over tired eyes and a wooly brown sweater that covers a matching dress. She's gotta be freezing and she's probably pretty angry, but she's here and I'm pretty sure she's not trying to eat me. "Hey. Come here." Can't argue with that. Getting closer to the lamp (and its light) is kind of comforting, even if it does hurt my eyes after wandering around in the dark for so long. It also makes it easier to see the lady that I'd really rather trust, and all the details that I couldn't pick up on from afar. Something about the way her bony little hands move up to my face is unsettling but hey, whatever. And who am I to judge her just because when she opens up an eyelid with her long, sharp nails and stares me straight in the eyes, hers are a little darker than they should be? I didn't need to see my reflection, anyways.
"Lost?" Even a whisper can be a roar sometimes (and what a raspy roar it is) but the way she strokes my cheek reminds me of Mom.
"Come in." That easy, huh? Stand spin swish stomp slam. The door shakes itself open from the force, and the sound of snapping twigs cements the idea that inside is most definitely better than outside. I'll take my chances with the shack lady.
The inside is quaint, but sometimes quaint is exactly what you need. A nice little fireplace overlooking a rug and some chairs, a table set for two, a comfy bed and creaky floorboards. It'd be a lot nicer if I wasn't alone though. Where'd she get off to? She just walked in, right? I mean she did invite me, so it's no problem that I'm here. Unless that was my mind playing tricks on me again. I certainly hope it wasn't. She's not out there, is sh-"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Okay, behind me then. I get it. No peeking through the window.
"Telling you would be just as bad." Isn't telling me that the same as...whatever.
"Uh...thank you for inviting me in, by the way. I was lost, an-"
"You told me that." Finally letting me get a look at your face, huh? With that fire lighting her, it's hard to tell what she looks like but the safest assumption is still 'Angry'. Let's go with that. Yes.
"Yeah...yeah, I did. Sorry."
"It's quite all right, you're shaken. Come, child. Sit by the fire." Awfully commanding, aren't you. Pulling me right along not just with a tone but with a grip ow ow okay right fire fine. Admittedly, it is rather nice. The rug's pretty comfy too, that kind of weave that gets all between your toes and...and wasn't I wearing shoes? Nah, must have taken them off. Of course. "Now, what business did you have in the forest? Someone your age should have nothing to do with it."
"Well, uh. There's this legend about-"
"A mean old wench, once human but turned youkai, living on the outskirts of town and eating children who dare enter her domain. I've heard it." A few hundred times, judging from the bored sigh. I'm probably not the first thrill-seeker to come by like that.
"That's not the one I heard. I mean, I heard it, but I heard a lot of versions. There's someone out here in all of them, and they wanted someone to go find out which one was true."
"A dare, then."
"Yeah." Well that came out a bit more pathetic than I'd have liked. You don't have to laugh about it, too.
"And I suppose you've been the victim of these kids' whims many times, now." How is she guessing all of this? I've never seen another kid in my position. Then again, if I knew one I'd be the one doing the daring.
"I wouldn't say it quite like that."
"So you have then. What makes you want to do this sort of thing? You know it's dangerous." It's hard to believe you sound concerned when you're practically falling asleep with your head propped up on a hand, you know.
"You don't seem to realize how stupid I am." Oh, come on. Not even a smile? I took that jab for nothing.
"I wouldn't say it quite like that." There's my smile. "Would you like to know what happened to the last person to come across this house?" Something about the hint of white at the edge of your eye says I don't, but...
"Sure. We have time to kill."
"He looked out the window." ...Well. That didn't last long. Neither did the fireside chat, unless that trip to the pantry is a quick one. "It's not all bad, though. He was delicious."
Hello, me. Must we go through this again? I know teeth don't usually grow that sharp, but you have to man up. There's obviously something very bad outside, and she probably would have already killed you by now if she was going to. In fact, no, her teeth aren't really that sharp. You're seeing things. Seeing things! I know it's hard to believe but hasn't everyone always told you about how your imagination gets you into trouble? Relax. She's just joking. Can't you hear her laughing? Just because it's a bit of a cackle doesn't make it any less of a laugh. You can't hate someone just because they laugh weird. You're better than this. Look, soup! How delightful.
"Sorry. I just couldn't help myself. There's so little to do out here." What...huh? Tray. Tray, bowl, soup. Judging from where we are, though...
"Is this, uh..."
"No, it's not human meat. It's rabbit stew. Get something in your stomach while I set up the guest bedroom. It's been so long since I had anyone over, the place is covered in spiderwebs."
"I can stay?"
"That would be what I implied. Just don't steal anything." It's a wonder that she can even walk with her legs as jerky as they are. Hard to notice when her dress is that smooth though. Kind of turns everything into a flowing motion. Turning the corner leaves it as silent as if there was never anything there to begin with. There's nothing left to look at now but supper.
I knew I didn't walk that far. Or maybe I did, and just passed by her house the first time without noticing. Hard to say. Either way, the trip's a lot easier with a friend (if you can call her a friend) and some light. Having her scold me about drooling on the sheets is a small price to pay for being able to see the gates of the village again. Definitely done with dares. Another shoulder grip spinning me to face her, this time lighter but still just as commanding.
"Now, I don't want to see you back there that late. Ever." Finger wagging? I thought we were done with that years ago.
"Hey, you don't have to be that stern. You think I didn't learn my lesson?"
"Wasn't it you who told me 'Just how stupid you are'?" Oh, ouch. You pain me.
"I thought you were above believing such slander!" Another laugh! You can't overuse the heart-clutch, but it works like a charm when you need it.
"Just making sure. You're welcome to come back during the day if you'd like, mind." That may be the first time she's honestly tried to sound nice and welcoming.
"Sure, if I can find the place again."
"Oh, I'm sure you will. Now go and say hello to your parents for me. I'm sure they're worried sick." Hey hey, hands off the hair. You don't know how long I spend getting this just ri-wait, what's this? A care package? "And here. The rest of that stew. I caught far too much for just myself. I'm sure your family will enjoy it."
"Oh, wow. This is...Thank you so much! For everything!" Considering how we met, this is really above and beyond. As fun as it's been though, it's good to have some fresh air and solid earth pounding under my feet for a change. I'm probably gonna be cleaning mud off my shoes for weeks, but who cares! I'm minutes from home at last! "Ah, one more thing." That's...not a yell. That's a whisper, and that's a grab. "All those legends were true." And that's definitely not human. I wasn't seeing nearly enough before. Those nails aren't just nails, those eyes aren't just wide, and call me crazy but are her teeth growing?
I don't think I've ever run this fast in my life. Good thing I still can't scream, or I'd never have heard that damnable cackle.
I have got to be insane. There is absolutely no way a normal human being would willingly go back to that house for any reason. I should have just said no, I'm not going to risk my life so that you can get the god damn recipe. Slapped my dad in the face and run. Done...something, I don't know. Maybe if I'd told enough people about her, they'd not believe me hard enough to make her go away. I definitely shouldn't have come here, though. Then again, getting here wasn't half as bad this time. No monsters or otherwise dangerous animals (that I could see anyways) and oddly enough, the place really was easy to find. I'm gonna chalk that one up to muscle memory. It's also surprisingly nice when you can actually see it. There's a few vines here and there, but it's not like it's in disrepair. A branch must have just fallen on the lamp or something.
Nice as it is, it isn't going to make that...thing any more inviting.
"What a surprise! I thought for sure I'd never see you again. Come in, come in!" ...There are...no words. Fine then. Good bye, cruel world. Hope I was a nice doormat. The interior hasn't really changed, but this time her old maid getup has been changed to make her seem almost attractive. Probably would be if I hadn't already seen what she's really like – Form-fitting tube top, silky smooth hair let down, some working shorts and boots. A pretty nice pair, at that. I should ask where she picked 'em ustop getting sidetracked already! "Good afternoon. I, uh...came back for the recipe." If I'm fidgety enough, maybe she'll realize I don't want to be here.
"All in good time. Would you like some lunch? I was just out catching some." Damn. Wait, what?
"I do live in the forest, you know. Do you want some or not?" Well. We did skip breakfast...
"Is it going to be as good as the stew?"
"Have a seat and find out."
You know, sitting here and watching her sway her hips in that same jerky way she walks to the tune of her own happy humming while she cooks a kid she met yesterday some lunch makes it hard to think she's the same person as last time. For that matter, it makes it hard to believe she's quite the monster that I thought she was. Is. No. Don't fool yourself. If you let your guard down she's going to kill you that is how these things work don't question it we've been over this so many times. Just eat lunch, get the recipe, get out.
"So, uh. Why do you live out here, anyways?" And maybe ask a few questions that might have been nagging at you since you might have been a little too terrified to think the first time around. Maybe.
"Care to venture a guess?" I've never been very good at guessing games...She might have been a human before. So...
"Were you driven out of the village after some horrible tragedy befell you?"
"Ooh, close. Not quite though." Close, huh. In that case...
"Then...you didn't get driven off, but left of your own accord because of...something." I may be creative, but I'm not that creative.
"Still close! Have you ever heard of the world underneath your village?"
"No. Why?" Hey, don't get all sappy on me. You're the one that brought it up.
"I guess it has been a while. Well, there used to be a whole city of youkai underneath the ground. Probably five or six times as big as your village." Whoa. Huge. And how have I not heard about this? You'd think they'd warn us about something that dangerous. "I was a resident." What.
"So I was right! You are one of those monsters!" Don't you fake being hurt. You eat people. "Hey, don't lump me in with them. I'd like to think I'm a bit classier than that. Besides, haven't I already given you food and a place to stay where other such 'monsters' wouldn't get you?" All right, you've got me there. It's kind of a reflex, I guess.
"So as I was saying. I was a resident, until this disaster hit. Nobody could figure it out. Some kind of disease or something, only it couldn't have been. I'd know if it was – er, how much do you know about youkai?" You can sit? Well. You have time to sit. I feel like this isn't going to be a story you can just tell while something's simmering, but okay.
"Well, I know they eat people and some of them can use some kind of really specific magic."
"Not all of us eat people, you know. As for the magic, that's...not quite right, but it's pretty much it. I got stuck with disease, and people don't take too kindly to that word. I don't just go giving people syphilis all willy-nilly, mind you. Actually, I've cured more diseases than I've caused; it's just as easy to do. The problem is that I could." Syphilis...Syphilis...what's that again? Actually, you know, that doesn't sound as important.
"So they were afraid of you. Which means when this thing hit and they thought it was a disease..."
"Straight back to me. No amount of convincing could help me, and they kicked me out. I don't know what happened to them all. I just hope it passed."
"And you decided to live in the forest?"
"Do you really think I'd last three days in the human village? You guys are bigger fear mongers than any other society I've ever seen, and you actually have a shrine maiden in charge. I'd be toast." Oh, yeah. That whole faith thing. Ha.
"So...you never tried? I mean, you could be a great doctor. I'm sure people would accept you."
"If only the world was that easy. Oh, speaking of which..." Oh what. Again with the eye-staring thing. At least this way I know it's really her; it's hard to mistake eyes like that. How do you even see with your pupils that big? "...All set."
"Why do you keep doing that?"
"It's better that I don't tell you." I've gotta say, I'm getting mighty tired of being told what's best for me. Whatever, though. No point arguing with her over lunch.
Which turns into more conversation.
Which turns into dinner.
How did this happen, again?
"Hey, uh. I should get going." Again with the grip thing? Do you just turn into a different person at nigwhoa that's a serious face.
"No. You shouldn't. Stay the night again. Please." I've already worried my parents once, I'd rather not stay over unannounced a second time...
"It'll be fine. The sun's barely even set, and I know the way this time. If I run, I'll make it home clear in five minutes. Tops."
"If for nothing else, than my own peace of mind. I'll apologize to your parents personally. You won't get in trouble. Just. Please. This is for your safety." Man, but these youkai types sure are strong. That grip is only getting harder, and it's kind of ow ow ow
"Okay! I'll stay, so will you let go of me?" Oh, come on. Is it that much of a shock that people get angry when you hurt them?
"I...yeah. Sorry. I'll go set up the guest bedroom." Again with that silent, jerky walk.
Without a stew to stew over, there's not a lot to pass the time while she does that. Not entirely sure what she's doing exactly, considering I was in there not two days ago, but whatever. Her house, her guest. I can't really complain if I have to wait a bit, or if there's a hair or two in the food she gave me, or if there's just one more spider than I'm really comfortable with walking along the side-table as I'm trying to get to sleep, or if there's a tiny little scritch scritch scritch at the door. That's perfectly normal, and I should respect her wishes from before.
scritch scritch scritch
Nope. Not looking. Rules are made to be followed.
scritch scritch scritch
Just gonna go to bed, have a nice night, and...maybe come back later.
scritch scritch scritch
I mean, she does seem awfully nice. For a youkai, anyways. It's just so hard to beli
scritch scritch scritch
Would you shut up already?!
Hey, me. I dare you to look outside.
...Well. One little peek couldn't hurt. Just draw back the curtains, and look through the window at...myself. I guess it's darker outside than I thought it would be. Doesn't take much light to make a reflection against nothing, after all. Speaking of nothing, that's quite the empty reflection, outside of...me. Just kind of black. All right, though, she might walk back in. Just let it drop.
...Let it drop.
Any day now.
"You looked." ...Well. This just couldn't get worse.
"I told you not to look."
"Why?" That's...not anger. That's fear.
"I was dared." Arms...an embrace? But you're not in front of me. Nothing's in front of me but a curtain that I can't...see. Can't see. I can't see anything before I can even tell that I can't see anything? Except my reflection, which is tiny enough to be in your eyes. How...unique.
"I'm so, so sorry." Whoa, now. If you start crying, how am I supposed to keep from doing it myself? "I should have told you. I knew you wouldn't want to come again, but I just couldn't..."
Hey there, me. I know it's been a while since we talked, but I think now's a good time to tell you that you are blind. I don't know how to make this more clear, here. This is a very good time to be afraid. In fact, I'm kind of afraid myself. Stop worrying about this woman. She's got the right idea. You hear those sobs? That should be you. Come on. Give her something to comfort. Just a couple tears is all it takes. There we go. Just lay down. Nice, comfy bed. You'll figure things out. "For now, just...sleep. We'll go back to your house tomorrow, and get this all sorted out. Promise." Sounds like a plan.
With a stroke of the cheek, I'm out. It reminds me of Mom.
"No way, man. Nobody in their right mind would go in there."
"But aren't you curious? We've all heard the legends."
"Yeah. They're legends."
"What if they're true though? People don't just make this sort of thing up."
"Yeah, they do. All the time."
"Guys, shut up! I think I see something moving!"
Outside of an ancient shack in the forest where men dare not dwell, three young boys who fancy themselves heroes hide. Each of them have arrived unarmed, confident in the safety of their treetop perches and the swiftness of their legs. The moon above them offers no illumination through the thick clouds that threaten to pour rain upon them, leaving only the gentle flicker of a broken oil lamp on their impromptu investigation. None had expected to find anything tonight, let alone this close to the village itself, and the idea that they may be responsible for a glimpse at the truth is as motivating as the glory it would bring them.
The order of the night is an old legend made new by the disappearance of a local boy; one of a horrible creature who offers men power and fortune in exchange for their humanity. Some said that she took him in to replace her, as a son would claim his father's trade. Others claim the boy fell in love with her, and stays of his own accord. Even yet, there are people who believe that he was a halfling all along, biding his time until his family was no longer of use to him. The legends are as numerous as their tellers, but all are founded on rumor and superstition.
In the dead silence, even their breaths seem to echo out as they watch a single simply clad woman walk out to inspect the sky. In their concentration only one notices the boy behind her, clutching a concealed hand and cowering behind safe walls. His eyes in particular seem only to be endless pits, absorbing all light that comes near. With absolute clarity, aimed at each boy in succession, the woman's head turns to address them.
File 127028664886.png - (12.77KB,
128x256 , This is going to hurt.png) [iqdb]
"I said no leaves in my tea!" Shouts a, clearly displeased, Reimu as shoves the cup of said tea off the table in which it sat. Sending it careening toward the one who made it; A robotic maid by the name of Ruukoto. "Now, clean this up and go make it right this time!" This was a common occurance for Ruukoto, Reimu had always been rather assertive with her actions, doubly so if she had gotten them wrong or made a mistake. But, for someone of Ruukoto's demeanor, taking the verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse was apart of the job. She always told herself that Reimu did this because she loved her, well when put into the aspect of 'Tough Love' it makes more sense.
"Did you hear me? I said go make more tea, you worthless metal bitch!" Yet another harsh set of words erupted from Reimu's mouth, this time Ruukoto saw the cup of tea strike her on the face, the object shattering on impact and sending the still warm liquid splashing all over her face and clothing. Although, her skin is made of steel...the things Reimu does to her...they still hurt as if daggers were being driven into her heart. This abuse has been going on ever since she was given to Reimu by her former master; Yumemi Ozakaki eleven years ago. In fact, Ruukoto remembered it like it were yesterday, the promise Reimu made to the scientist once she gave her up...
"As promised, here is your very own personal maid, Reimu Hakurei; I give you Ruukoto the first of a soon to be long line of Nuclear Powered Maids."
"Hello, I'm Ruukoto, pleased to meet your acquantince~
"Nuclear powered? I...don't really know what that all means, but so long as I have a maid I'm fine with it~"
"Now, Reimu, Ruukoto isn't like any other robot. Within Ruukoto exists a 'Human Emotion Interface', meaning, she is capable of understanding and mimicing human emotions. Basically, Ruukoto will respond to whatever you say and do to her much like a real person would. Case in point, if you treat her right and respect her, she'll be happy with you...and vice versa."
"Don't worry, I promise to give her lots of love and respect. Come along Ruukoto, let's go so you can make tea with me."
"Yes, Miss Hakurei."
Giver her with lots love and respect, she said...
Bah, what filthy lies Reimu spoke unto her that day. The minute the both of them arrived at the shrine, the miko shed that false person she showed to Yumemi and revealed her true self. A side of Reimu she never thought existed...and wished that it never had. From that day onward, Reimu did her absolute worst to Ruukoto, this going beyond your average everyday disrespect. Reimu worked Ruukoto from sunrise to sunset, verbally abused her when she made the slightest of mistakes, threatened her if she even questioned the miko just once, and worst of all...physically assaulted her sometimes just because she felt like it...
None of this made any sense to the robotic maid, it just...didn't compute. To Ruukoto's knowledge, she hasn't done Reimu any wrong, in fact, she did everything the miko told of her and tried her very hardest to give it 110% everytime she was asked to do something. And what did Reimu do to her in return? she abused her, hit her, threw things at her, and insulted her. In short...Reimu hurt her...countless times...
Enough was enough. Ruukoto has sat by and endured this for eleven years...she had to know...it mattered not what Reimu said in response...she just had to know...
"Why...?" Ruukoto uttered. "Why do you treat me like this...?" The maid looks up to face Reimu, her eyes reflecting how visibly hurt she was on the inside. Why would someone do this to the person that works so hard to satisfy them, and generally make their life easier? "You...you always say such harsh things to me...you hit me, you throw things at me, you even threatend to permanently shut me down once...I wonder...do you really appreciate me for all the work I do for you?" If Ruukoto could cry...her eyes would be shedding as many tears as they could...in fact each night she would have 'cried' had she the ability to...
She...never thought that not having a function to mimic crying would be such torture...
"I wonder when you'll shut up and make me my tea..." Reimu sneered, obviously focused more on the tea then Ruukoto's damaged feelings at the moment. "Besides, you're a robot, you're not supposed to have any feelings, you're only supposed to do whatever I say. Matter of fact why are you even talking, you know you can't talk unless I say you can."
The other words didn't mean anything, it was the fact Reimu said 'you don't have feelings' that pretty much hit Ruukoto the hardest...and oddly enough that hit was enough to break her. After all Reimu put her through, after all the abuse she inflicted on her, and through all the work and chores she had to do without a simple "thank you" for her efforts; Reimu had the nerve, the audacity, to say that Ruukoto had no feelings?
Ruukoto's pupils began to dialate as the bottom of her left eye twitched. Not long after, her head suddenly jerked to one side, the sheer force behind it's sudden movement causing the joint in her neck to let out a loud 'SNAP' as it did so.
"I...I don't....have ...feelings"..." Ruukoto's voice is hollow and barely legdible, however that soon changes. "I don't have feelings?" Her voice slowly gains volume, her fist beginning to clench tighter as the outrage boiling within her core, begins to reach it's peak. "I DON'T HAVE FEELINGS!!" Ruukoto roared out at Reimu her voice now filled with a white hot rage. "How dare you say that to someone who's done nothing but put up with your laziness!" The maid snapped as she stamped her foot on the tatami floors, the force alone causing her foot to break clean through the wooden boards. "You have no right saying how I should feel when you yourself don't have the slightest clue on the amount of suffering you put me through!"
Ruukoto yanked her foot from the hole she created and walked to Reimu, no longer seeing her as a respectable master any more. "Eleven years of torment, eleven years of abuse, eleven years of putting up with your shit..." Ruukoto muttered as she grabbed the table in front of Reimu and clutched it tightly, her head hung low and her body trembling from the out of control wrath that threatened to engulf the miko like a raging tornado. "I always thought that...we could have such a wonderful time together...Yumemi told me I was a special maid, built to serve someone equally special. When I found out that I would be going home with you, I was thrilled, excited, to finally fulfill my task as the first nuclear powered maid...but now..."
Ruukoto suddenly lifted the table with zero effort and screamed as loud as she could, slamming the piece of furniture against the floor, breaking it into a pile of splinters the moment it made contact. "Now I see that it was all a lie. If I was meant to serve someone, it damn sure isn't for someone as cold, and heartless as you!"
The room feel silent, the tenseness between the maid and the domineering miko building to impossible levels. Reimu simply narrowed her eyes at Ruukoto, having been told off by someone she saw as nothing but a mere servant to do her every bidding. Despite the maid's outburst, Reimu stood up to Ruukoto and walked right up to her face as she made her attempt re-establish her dominance over the rebelling maid. "You better watch you mouth or you'll be sleeping outside with that damn turtle tonight." She threatened in an ominous tone as she reeled her hand back and struck Ruukoto across her metallic cheek.
Reimu then clutched her palm around Ruukoto's face and brought her gaze back into her own, a look of absolute anger seering from her eyes. "I OWN you, Ruukoto. I'm the one giving you a roof over your head every night. If it were not for me where would you be?"
"With Yumemi living a happy life!" Ruukoto snarled back, as she broke away from Reimu and shoved her away, the force behind this single push knocking the miko back against the wall. "You may have given me a home, but that doesn't mean you can treat me like trash! I'm not a toy to be used up and abused Reimu...I'm..." Ruukoto paused, unable to find the right word to call herself at this moment. She wanted to say 'human' but...she wasn't a human...she was a robot...a machine.
But still...she HAD emotions...something most machines lack.
"Look at you...you don't even know what the hell you are." Reimu laughed in a mocking tone as she walked back toward Ruukoto a smug girn on her face. "That's because you need ME to tell you what you are."
"NO!" Ruukoto yelled, stomping angrily on the floors once again, and creating another hole in said floor yet again as well. "I...may not be completely human...but I HAVE FEELINGS! You've done nothing but cause me pain the moment we stepped foot into this shrine Reimu and I'm fed up with it!"
Indeed, Ruukoto was sick and tired of this disagreeable shrine maiden, at this point all Ruukoto wanted was to see Reimu suffer just as much as she did...and it didn't take long for he to come up with the perfect way for her to bring about such a punishment. "You know what...since you can't appreciate the work I do for you, I'll show you what it will be like without me!" And with that Ruukoto stands at attention her entire body going stiff and immobile. Reimu nudged the maid but she didn't budge an inch, almost as if she had nailed herself down to that very spot. Reimu stood before Ruukoto as an eerie silence washes over the room.
"Eh, what the hell are you doing?" Reimu said to the green haired maid who said nothing in response, her face frozen in an emotionless stare. "You bitch, giving me the cold shoulder huh, well I got something for-" Reimu's threat is quickly cut short by a robotic voice that droned from Ruukoto's still body as her eyes began to take on an ominous glow.
"SELF TERMINATION SEQUENCE ACTIVATED. NUCLEAR POWERED MAID UNIT - "RUUKOTO" WILL SELF DESTRUCT IN T-MINUS 5 SECONDS: 5...4..."
Reimu's emotions suddenly did a 180 as she heard the words 'Self Destruct', there was no time to wonder if Ruukoto was bluffing her or not, so Reimu did what any respectable human would in this situation; She ran. Reimu bolted for the door hoping to get out side before Ruukoto exploded, she pulled the sliding doors back and came to saw Marisa and Alice standing in front of her. Such horrid timing... "Hey Reimu~" The witch greets with a wide grin, Alice giving her the usual nod as a greeting as well.
Dammit! Why NOW of all times!"
"Get out of my way can't you see I'm in a hurry!" Reimu demands to the two of them, her voice clearly in a state of panic. Unfortunately for her, Marisa doesn't seem to notice why she's in such a rush, the witch only seeing the dread in Reimu's eyes and nothing else...
"Geeze what's up with you, ze?" Marisa spoke as she looks past Reimu's body to catch a passing glimpse of Ruukoto, who now seemed to have a rather heated aura around her body. "Hm, what's Ruukoto do-?"
Before Marisa could get another word in edgewise, the once cheerful maid known as, Ruukoto, exploded. Taking with her the shrine, and everything else that happened to be living in within a 4.6 mile radius in a hellish maelstrom of nuclear fire. The human village not far from the shrine witnessed the blast...and felt the incoming shockwave that obliterated everything with a tremendous force not of this Earth. Countless human lives were lost in those few seconds...only a handful managed to survive...
Keine not being one of them.
Even so...the worst had only begun...
The explosion that Ruukoto generated had belched forth an immense amount of nuclear radiation into the once clean atmosphere surrounding Gensokyo. With little knowledge on Radiation and it's effects on the body, the youkai who were not directly effected by the explosion did nothing to protect themselves from the nuclear paritcles that was slowly poisoning their bodies. However...it was known that the Moriya Shrine had been abandoned during this time. The gods and miko who once lived there packed whatever belongings they could carry and fled to an unknown location...
Ignorant to the radiation that was saturating their atmosphere, the denizens of Gensokyo moved on as they did from any incident, unaware that both of their prime incident solvers had been vaporized in an instant. It would take months after the accident, before the dwellers of Gensokyo finally realized just how bad a fuckton of nuclear radiation really is...
And to think, all of it could have been avoided...
Had Reimu been more respectful to her maid none of this would have transpired.
And of course...if only she would have said those magical words...
"Thank you so much, Ruukoto...for all your hard work."
The alleyway is covered in blood. The walls, the ground, the small windows and littered debris, all stained red. Small pieces of bone and flesh lie, forgotten by the feral attacker in it's haste and gluttony, and already flies have begun to gather. To a small, almost insignificant part of the city's population, this scene has become normal.
I am not one of them.
Cupping a hand across my mouth, I make it as far as the dumpster by the entrance before spilling the contents of my stomach, again and again, until only bile comes out. With shaking hands, I draw out the bottle, feeling the reassuring rattle of the pills inside.
I clutch it tightly, so hard my knuckles turn white. Unsteadily, haltingly, I take hold of the lid, twisting it off. I fumble for a moment, nearly dropping the whole thing, but keep steady. Longingly, I stare at the tiny capsules inside, more yellow than white in the street lamp's flickering light.
I just have take one. It'll be easy, and then I can go back to normal.
The green-haired woman behind me leans over, her feigned indifference barely masking concern.
"Yes. I'm fine, now." I swallow, ignoring the bitter, rancid taste in my mouth.
I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine.
I re-cap the bottle, stuffing it deep into my pocket. I pull out my cellphone, and, with a flip of the cover, press the auto-dial.
"Hello. Is this the police? Yes. I'd like to report some bodies found. Homicide, I think. On *** street, just near the textile shop. Yes. It's not a problem."
As I close the phone, I feel her hand on my shoulder. As usual her touch is cold, almost electric, and sends goosebumbs along my arm, but there's something... sympathetic this time, almost warm.
"We're should be going, Mima." I don't want to see the police. Things always get complicated, then.
"Gonna go get drunk?"
"Maybe later, at home. I need a shower."
I need to get this smell off me. Wash it away, scrub it out of my skin, out of my memory.
"Good choice. You look half dead."
Better than them.
- Two weeks prior -
"So, you say you've been seeing these... things for years?" The thin, balding man in the chair beside me scribbles something down on his notepad, his narrow, squinting eyes peering through coke bottle glasses.
"Yes, almost as long as I can remember." I'm seated in a reclined couch of sorts, counting the dots on the ceiling. Mima hovers silently to my left, watching the man with a mix of curiosity and her usual arrogance.
"And yet you never sought any treatment before now?"
"No. It was kind of amusing, I guess. Seeing things that no one else could, I mean." Mima snorts quietly into her hand.
"Didn't it interfere with your life, though?"
"Not really. I learned how to tell what was real and what wasn't, after a while." Like her.
"Then, I must ask, what made you change your mind so suddenly?"
His eyes, flashing eerily in the dim light, like those of a hundred rats, crawling inside.
The way his teeth seemed to grow, long, thin, far too many even for his impossibly wide grin.
The train's doors closing, the screams, the red stains spreading over the windows as it pulled away, his smile.
"I..." I have to pause, swallowing to wet my dry throat "...I saw something. Something I never want to see again."
Mima's face is expressionless. Dutifully, the man makes his notes on the little paper, the scratching of his pen the only thing breaking the silence.
"Now, earlier you mentioned one particular... hallucination. Let me see..." He flips back through several pages, his tiny eyes darting back and forth quickly. "This woman, 'mima' you called her? Would you care to describe her to me?"
The way her mouth turns up into that cat-like grin, the way her eyes glance at me, mockingly...
I kick the door to my apartment open, throwing my coat irately at the rack, and missing. Mima chuckles, floating past it with a bemused grin.
"So eager to get home," She darts in front of me as I pull out a chair and drop heavily into it. "You really are frustrated, aren't you~"
Her eyes narrow at an invisible paper in her hand, and she hunches herself up. "I believe she is a manifestation of your repressed sexual desires," she states, in her best imitation of the psychiatrist's voice.
Fighting a blush, I slam the glass down on the table, causing some of it to spill over. She slips vaporously across the surface, her fingers resting lightly on my shoulders, bringing her lips nearly to my ear. She whispers, almost inaudibly, letting each sound roll off her tongue.
"Would you like me to relieve them?"
The red flush rises to every part of my face, unabated. I stand up sharply, knocking away the chair.
"Stop screwing with me!"
I slam the newly-acquired bottle of pills down into the table, hard enough to send splinters of wood flying.
"It's over. I'm done with it all. If I take this, you, those things, all of it, goes away."
To make the point, I unscrew the cap, plucking out two of the tiny pills and holding them up. As I raise the glass to my lips, she speaks.
"And what if it doesn't?"
I freeze. Turning slowly, I meet her gaze. For the first time I can recall, it's serious; not a trace of the sarcasm or pride that normally fill her expression remain.
"What... did you say?"
"If you take those, what if we're still here?"
The first seeds of doubt in my mind start to sprout.
"What then? That night on the train, the garden, all of them... could you face them, knowing without a doubt that they were real? That there is no escape from them?"
Her eyes meet mine, unwavering. Shakily, I set the water back on the table, leaning against it for support.
"Once you've taken them, there's no turning back. Can you take that chance?"
I know. I know.
Until now, I could handle it, but if it was- is- real, could I stand it?
So, now, at this time-
-I can't take that chance. Not yet.
Carefully, I drop the pills in my hand back into the bottle. With a steady hand, I carefully screw on the cap.
Mima smiles at me, genuinely this time.
"Well, seems I'll be hanging around you a little longer, then." She lets out a small, casual laugh.
"Yeah." As the tension drains out, I can't help but laugh a little myself.
The stench of smoke and burnt flesh nearly overpowers her nose as the witch steps into the clearing, ripped blue robes trailing behind her, the angel-like black wings folded tight and tense, her exposed skin heating up as it is warmed by the heat of the loose embers which still occasionally spark upwards from the floor and die like phantasmal stars.
She lies on the charred ground, her back against a broken tree, her clothes ripped and her hat askew. Her once-glossy red hair has been darkened by soot, and the exposed skin of her legs, arms, neck, and face burnt and bleeding.
This is how a human dies, surrounded by dust and ash.
And was this not how she had died herself?
The witch clenches her delicate hands into fists, long nails digging sharply into the soft skin. Her eyes water, long tears running down her pale cheeks, caused by sadness as much as the smoke. Once again, the burning rage of centuries simmers in her breast. So this is how it ends? Is fate so determined to punish her for her victory that it would resort to this?
The witch walks forward and kneels in front of the dying girl. "Marisa..." she whispers for the third time. She has no other words but her name, no way of telling her how sorry she is. Once more, powerless. Once more, impotent and afraid.
"Mi... ma..." the witch has to suppress a gasp as the girl's eyes snap open, her gaze painfully unfocused but still containing a rapidly fading spark of life. "Lady Mima." At first, the words seem to be uttered to no one in particular, but then the girl seems to notice the witch, and her eyes light up and her ruined face is crossed by a smile so happy one would think she had seen an angel. "Lady Mima... did I do well?"
It is easy to tell how this had happened. The girl had used up all her power in a final, comet-like charge to slow down if not kill her opponent, an explosion of energy the shrine maiden had only survived, the witch knew, through blind luck. And the girl had done all this to buy time for the witch.
All of this for her.
"Yes, Marisa," the witch answers quietly, tensing up as she does her best not to sob. "Yes, you did very, very well."
How many people had to die before this was over? How many people would she have to betray, and how many would betray her? How many more broken bodies would she have to leave in her wake?
"I'm glad," the girl mutters, before being racked by a horrible, hacking cough. She trembles in pain as blood and spit flow freely from her lips. And the witch can do nothing but stare.
"Ah, I'm going to die, aren't I?" the girl croaks out when the coughing finally stops. She sounds serene, resigned to her fate. "I'm going to die."
The witch's entire life has been based around the conviction that there is no such thing as destiny, and if there is, as the constant blood and death that surrounded her sometimes seemed to say, then she would not be the one to heed it. She would not be a slave. Without this determination, she would not be here, but rather still locked in her hellish cage.
The girl's resignation to death hurts her not just because of the immediate implications of it, but also because if the witch admits it, it would be as if she herself finally surrendered.
But then, what could the witch do? What could the witch answer the girl, in a situation so hopeless any other soul would regard it as nightmare?
"No, Marisa. You won't die today."
The words surprise her even as they leave her mouth, for the witch knows there is only one way she can make that statement true.
The girl's eyes light up with a tiny bit of hope.
She has no right. The witch has absolutely no right to inflict this on the girl, on any living human.
But she knows she has even less of a right to let the girl die.
"Yes, Marisa," she mutters. "You're going to live."
Each word is like a knife slicing into her breast, for the witch knows that if she fails here then the last thing the girl will hear will be a lie, a lie like those the witch has uttered so many times before.
Taking a deep, shuddering breath, the witch peels back the long sleeve over her left arm.
The black scars cover the pale skin in a perfect diagram, dark tattoos mapping with utter perfection each star and planet in the night sky.
The aphotic legacy of magic past. The cursed brand that marks the witch's filthy, polluted blood.
The source of all her pain.
"This might hurt a bit, Marisa, but bear it, please." A meaningless statement. Still, the girl nods weakly, eyes almost shut. She's nearly gone, now.
There's no time left. The witch cautiously takes hold of the girl's left arm, her marked skin softly brushing against the burnt flesh.
The girl doesn't deserve this, but she deserves death even less.
"I'm sorry," the witch mutters with a choked sob as she begins pushing magical energy into the dark scars, the black diagram throbbing a dark blue as the magic takes hold. This has never been done before. If it does not succeed, the girl is dead.
Orreries Sun. The power that hides behind the stars. If the spell succeeds, then every drop of the witch's might will also be the girl's. But so will her curse.
The magic burns, the scars turning livid. The witch's skin cracks, and blood oozes down the newly made wounds as she grunts in pain. The liquid is first crimson, but turns a viscous black as it comes into contact with the air and runs down the girl's arm.
And the miracle occurs. As the black liquid touches the girl's skin, it seeps down into the flesh, forming patterns, shapes. The burnt tissue starts to reform in her arm, and so does the flesh heal in the rest of her limbs, and her face.
It's working. Against all illusion of possibility, it is working. For the first time, the witch's brand of hatred fulfills a purpose other than blood and murder.
The black liquid continues its path, drawing on the girl's arm the same pattern as on the witch's. The sun, the moon, the planets, all the starry universe contained in a single constellation of black ink.
The witch grits her teeth. She can feel her energy draining away - the previous battle had already left her in bad condition. But even if she has no magic left, even if she has to drag energy out of the void itself, she must go on.
The girl must live. Everything is worthless if she dies.
This dark ritual is already a miracle beyond miracles. To mark another person with the Orreries Sun, an innate condition of the blood, violates every law of equivalent exchange. But it is working, and there is no stopping now.
By now, the aura of dark blue magic has completely enveloped the girl, and the witch can clearly see and feel the magic as the curse settles in on the girl's weakened body, knitting together her open flesh. There is nothing holy or pure about this healing, the taking upon of ignoble corruption in exchange for a promise of power.
But it is all the witch can do, and it saves the girl's life.
On the girl's arm, the skin on which the black patterns were drawn cracks open and bleeds red and then ink, just like the witch. And just as quickly, it heals back up, leaving only the same dark scars.
The last of the witch's energy disappears, but the ritual is complete.
From this day forward the girl will never be the same, marked and branded by the legacy of an angel's legend. She will possess a dark power beyond that of any mage, no matter how naturally talented.
Orreries Sun. From this day forward the witch and her new apprentice are bound together by the same inky blood. The girl will be marked forever.
But the witch won't let history repeat itself. This, at least, she swears to herself. Nobody had protected her, nobody had helped her, everybody had betrayed her. It had ended in a river of tears and a sea of corpses. But the witch won't let this happen to the girl. If she can be for the girl the one loyal soul in the coming darkness, a guardian angel like the one she herself had never had, then so shall she be.
The glow of magic fades, forever ephemeral. With a gasp, the witch collapses on top of the girl.
"It's big." The fairy gave the bundle an experimental poke.
"They're all big." Her companion looked up from the small pamphlet he thumbed through. "And it's only going to get bigger."
"So what do we do with it?" She adjusted the blankets carefully, giving the infant room to breathe.
"Well, we can't leave it here. It'll start crying and some youkai will come along."
She had to agree. "So how do we carry it?"
"I have no idea." The boy circled the baby and peered back and forth between it and his reading. "I think you need to support the neck and... ... I definitely don't have the reach to do that right."
"Okay, you get the legs."
Little by little the two fey carefully hoisted the child off the ground.
There was a moment of silence. "...So where do we take it?"
Without anyplace in mind, the fairies found themselves back on familiar ground. Rummaging through a hollow stump, they fished out blankets, bottles, books, and anything they thought could help.
The boy read through yet another book. "Humans have a myth about this, you know."
"Yeah. Apparently they think fairies steal their children and replace them with copies. Changelings, they call 'em."
"Weird. Not like we're the ones who left it here."
"Well, I'm just saying," he replied, picking up a battered copy of an out-of-date parenting guide, "We may not want to just show up in the village and say 'here we are.'"
"Then what are we supposed to do? We can't take care of it."
"Not for long, but until we work something out..." he trailed off. "You know some humans, right?"
"A couple, yeah." The girl rubbed her chin. "But I've got no idea how to get ahold of them." They fell into silence for a little while.
The fairy boy abruptly shot upright. "Wait--crap!"
He held up the book. "Says here they cry when they get hungry."
She grimaced. "How often do they get hungry?"
"Okay, okay, we can handle this before we're youkai chow. Look for... stuff you'd eat if you were feeling sick. Simple, easy to digest."
"Mash up some berries?" She ventured.
After a mild frenzy, the boy carefully scooped some of the pulpy red juice from its plate of leaves and gently brought a hand to the baby's lips. It began to suckle his finger and disaster was staved. At last the tension broke, and he let out a long sigh, wings twitching. "It feels like we're toting around a time bomb."
"We can't keep up with this," his friend agreed, "It's going to cry eventually no matter what we d--"
The two scrambled frantically as the cries rang over the treetops and, to the little fairies' minds, called every dangerous creature in creation to their doorstep. They were expecting something dark and terrible.
Instead, they got opera.
Do mi faaa, mi soooo...
They froze. From the canopy above a blur of motion barreled into the clearing opposite the fairies. The girl was the first to move, stepping ahead of her friend and raising a hand, fingers open and palms outstretched. "Get behind me."
"Relax," said the whistler, "I'm not going to hurt you." She was a short woman, with sharp features and nails to match. Neat white sleeves and a dark red blouse complimented her bright pink hair. Feathery wings tucked back into place behind her as she stood straight, sizing up the pair with clear, dark eyes. After a moment, she looked at the baby, and the girl tensed.
And the youkai began to sing. It lilted softly, but carried over the baby's percing wails. Sweet, mellow, and gentle, the light seemed to bleed out of the little clearing with each note. The girl eyed the deepening dark warily. "Is she...?"
"Mm." Though it was getting hard to see, the boy relaxed. The song continued, comforting and nostalgic, like something heard long ago but just past grasp. Slowly, the baby calmed, and the crying finally relented. The song drifted away.
"...Thank you." The newcomer nodded and serenely sat beside the baby, gently picking it up and laying it over a shoulder. "If I heard correctly," she said, "you need to find a way to return this child?" They balked, drawing a little laugh. "I've been keeping an eye on it since I noticed. Just in case."
Mystia Lorelei didn't have many customers, but the few who were willing to risk monster and misdirection on their trek through the forest were worth taking good care of. Thus did the little lamprey stand turn a tidy profit and carry a stable of faithful regulars. Tonight was fairly quiet, which in all honesty was for the better with the stand's new "mascot."
Humming softly, she rocked the baby on her shoulder with her free hand while she turned over the sticks. They were just about ready when the door chime rang.
"Come in, come i--oh, Mokou."
"Wasn't sure if you were gonna make it today. Sake's to your right." Mystia slid her customer a cup and grabbed a fan. "So how's tricks?"
"Same old." She unceremoniously pulled a paper lantern over and lit a cigarette from it.
"That stuff'll kill you, you know."
"And that joke's older than I am." The two shared a laugh as Mystia readied a dish. "So how about you? You branching out your menu options, there?"
"Funny story, actually. I found a pair of fairies trying to take care of it."
"Yeah? How'd that go?"
"Pretty well, actually. You want to hold it?"
Mokou laughed. "I'm not exactly the motherly type."
"And I have talons. Come on, you'll be fine. Just support him, here." Carefully (and with some nervousness), the immortal took the child and held him to her warm body. "There you go, see? It's not so bad."
"He hasn't soiled his diaper yet, give it time." Mokou grimaced and spat her cigarette away from the infant.
"You're such an optimist." Mystia grinned and stroked its cheek. "You know, I was actually hoping you'd come around."
"Oh no, you're not passing him off on me."
"Not you, your friend."
"Keine? She can't take--oh, you mean--"
"Yeah, she has her ear to the ground. I mean, even if I wanted to raise this kid... I was thinking she could either line up an orphanage or track down his parents."
Mokou nodded. "Yeah, all right, I'll talk to her. You gonna need anything in town when I go?"
"'m good." Mystia carefully took back the baby and returned it to its familiar shoulder. Mokou took the opportunity to have another light.
From them to Mystia to Mokou to Keine. Last they had heard, the child had made it back home safely--though how the misadventure started in the first place was a mystery.
Speaking of mysteries...
"They're never going to figure this out." She finished tying the card onto the bottle of cider.
"They don't have to. That's the best part. Just about done..."
Our little changeling, following his first of many adventures, to be opened when of sufficient age and taste to enjoy it.
From your surrogate parents, from the songbird and the phoenix, and the friendlier denizens of a forest of mystery and intrigue. May we see you again if the accident will (but we hope you will be better equipped for your stay.)
The gifts were left on a doorstep one quiet morning, delivered without ostentation and left without notice.
The only clue to be had came with the silver flask; an etching of an apple and a clover, side-by-side.
It's morning, dear. Time for good girls to wake up.
Mother's voice. I grumbled wordlessly in response, yawning sleepily and pulling myself up to a sitting position, and gave my eyes one last rub before putting on my best smile and squinting out against the light of day at... nobody.
Oh, well. Mother was normally too busy to wake me in person in the mornings, anyway; her voice was all I heard of her until lunchtime. I would just have to smile that much brighter when I actually did see her, then!
I covered my mouth to hide another yawn and turned to step onto the floor, bouncing off the bed and into a stretch so big that all my joints made crackling noises. Another new day! I smiled to myself as I let my arms fall to my sides and spun in place, ending up facing back towards...
...not my bed. Oh, dear; today was going to be just full of surprises, wasn't it?
"...don't want her. You take her." The sound of muffled conversation echoed through the wall behind me, and I spun back to my previous position, taking a closer look at my surroundings this time. Nope, this definitely wasn't my room; the door was in the wrong place, the furniture was all different, none of my stuffed animals were here...
"C'mon. You're the one who brought her back here, right?" A different voice, a bit lower-pitched than the first. Where was I? The last thing I could remember was... dinner with Mother, right? Yep; she made Chinese fried rice, and laughed when I asked if she had to go to China to learn how, and told me that she would have to teach me how to cook someday, too, and... then what? I... couldn't remember. Why couldn't I remember?
Don't worry your little head, dear. Everything will work itself out.
...Oh, well. Everybody forgets things sometimes, right? I would just have to get myself back home and make sure Mother knew I was safe before I got scolded! Nodding to myself resolutely, I spun around once more and got to work making the bed. Chores were chores, after all, even if it wasn't my bed.
"At that time, I wanted her. Now, I do not." The conversation in the room next to mine continued to progress as I worked. That voice... reminded me a little of Mother's, actually; a slow, even tone, just as a lady ought to speak, and never raising her voice or stumbling over her words. Where Mother was gentle and kind, though, this person sounded... angry, or at least not very happy. Did she sound like that all the time? I would have to be extra polite to her, I thought to myself as I smoothed out the bed sheet one last time before tucking the corner I was holding under the mattress.
"Listen, it won't take more than a few days, alright?" This woman, on the other hand... it was a woman, right? Yes, definitely, even if one could barely tell from the way she spoke. "I can take care of everything, but I won't be able to talk to her if we have to fight off wild youkai from the forest. All you need to do is keep her here."
"Is that right?" Oh, now she sounded happy! "Tell me again what I need to do, would you kindly?"
"Uh, t-that's not what I--"
You know it's not polite to eavesdrop, dearest.
I felt myself flush as I focused my attention on my chores again. As happy as it made me to hear Mother's voice, I knew that it when I did, it meant I was behaving improperly. Mother herself wouldn't know unless I told her, of course, but that was no excuse; I would just have to try harder to behave myself.
I was still trying to mind my own business, fluffing up my pillow to place it at the head of the newly made bed, as the conversation came to a close and the door to my room opened behind me.
Green... hair. Beautiful, silky, green hair, just a little above shoulder length, framing a face with unsmiling red lips and even redder eyes. I didn't have to think twice before I knew that this was the owner of that ladylike voice; everything about her, from the cut of her dress (just below the knee, with a matching vest and a tasteful yellow ribbon under her collar) to the way she carried herself (a light pink umbrella in one hand, even indoors, but she wasn't leaning on it or waving it about unnecessarily) confirmed it.
No matter how long I looked, though, my eye was drawn back to that hair. "In the olden days, a woman's hair was her crowning glory" is what Mother would say as she brushed my hair; maybe it was because of how closely this woman's style matched my own that I liked it so much. In place of my own blonde, though, was that lovely green, and on top of that, it just looked so soft...
Surely she would take it as a compliment if I liked it so much that I couldn't help but reach out and touch it? And everybody likes being complimented!
"C'mon, don't be like that, Yuuka!" Before I could make it even halfway to my goal, though, my hands were interrupted by... more green hair! How lucky! This hair wasn't quite as soft, though. It was also attached to a very different person; a girl, slightly shorter than me, with a worried scowl on her face as she grabbed by the middle and lightly pushed me back, away from my original target. "I'm sure this girl won't be any trouble at all!" she said, giving me a sharp look as she emphasized those last few words. Was she trying to tell me something? It was sort of hard to take her seriously when she looked even younger than I did. And that outfit! Short pants, like a boy would wear, and -- was that a cape?
Mind your manners, dear. Prejudice is unbecoming of a lady.
"Ah!" I gasped aloud, blushing at being reproached twice in one day. Really, where was my head? Taking a step away from the shorter girl, I reached down and grabbed the hem of my dress, bending my legs slightly in a curtsy. "How do you do? My name is--"
"I don't care." Before I could finish, the taller woman -- Yuuka, was it? -- turned on her heel and left through the same door she had just come through. "You have one day, Wriggle," she called out without turning around before shutting the door behind her, leaving me alone in the room with the other girl.
"Yeah, yeah," she muttered, too quietly for Yuuka to have heard her, before looking up at me with an uneasy grin. "Well, I was gonna stay and talk for a bit, but it looks like I'm gonna have to be quick."
"You're gonna need a place to live, right?" the other girl -- Wriggle? Such a cute name! -- asked. "I'm gonna have to go to the village and--"
"But I have a place to live," I said plaintively. "I just need to know where I am, and I'll be able to go back to Mother's house."
"...Oh. Oh, geez." Wriggle slumped in place, bringing a hand to her forehead. "Yeah, that's... okay, yeah, we're gonna need to talk when I get back. Just... geez. Just stay here for now, okay?" Wriggle said, making for the door herself. "Whatever you do, don't bother Yuuka, got it?"
And, with that, she was gone, slamming the door behind her.
Well, how rude. Just what did she think I was going to do? And what was it that we 'needed to talk about'? I didn't even get her to tell me where I was!
Don't hold a grudge, dear.
Oh, well. Mother was right; it wasn't as though there was anything to be gained from staying mad. I would just have to show her just how wrong she was by getting along swimmingly with this 'Yuuka', wouldn't I?
After smoothing out the bed one last time, I walked to the door myself, stepping out into... a kitchen? My, this was a small house, wasn't it? Standing in the doorway like this, I could see from end to end!
And there was Yuuka, standing by the windowsill, watering a small planter full of flowers. "Hello, Miss Yuuka!" I called happily, closing the door to the bedroom behind me and stepping into the kitchen.
To no response. There was no sign that she had heard me at all as she continued to tend to her flowers. "Hello, Miss Yuuka!" I repeated, stepping closer.
Still nothing. Perhaps she was hard of hearing? "Hello, M--"
Oh. Well, she certainly wasn't in a good mood.
Well, I would just have to be even nicer, wouldn't I? "Those flowers you're watering are simply lovely, Miss Yuuka!"
Ah, progress! "I really like flowers!" I said brightly, taking a step around to try to catch a glimpse of her face. As if in response, she turned away from me, moving further down the planter with her watering can without a response. "My mother likes flowers, too!" I continued, trying to strike a chord of familiarity with her.
"Your mother?" Another response! "You really are quite deluded, aren't you?"
Hmm... what did that mean, I wonder? "Why do you say th--"
"Huh?" I jumped at the sudden sound; a hoarse whisper, just within the range of my hearing, not like Mother's voice at all. "Did you hear that?"
No response. Maybe I had imagined it?
"There it was again!" That same whisper, fading in and out, from no particular source. Something about it... Even without words, it made me uneasy, brought thoughts of Mother to the top of my mind. Maybe I really did need to go find her.
"Miss Yuuka, are you sure you didn't hear anything?" I asked, my voice wavering.
"Miss Yuuka... Can't you hear it? There's a voice..."
"No, there is n--" Finally, Yuuka stopped in place, seeming to give attention to my complaints at last. "Ah. That was quite quick." She turned around to look at me directly, smirking slightly. "It seems Wriggle will be too late, after all."
Too late..."I didn't understand, but her words just added to the discomfort I already felt. I needed to move, to run, to leave--
It was the house, wasn't it? Something about the house was doing this to me! "Miss Yuuka..." I moaned uneasily, rising to my feet; I felt sick to my stomach, and every second I spent here made me feel worse. "I think I need my mother..."
"Well, I suppose Wriggle will be unhappy if I don't put up a token resistance." Placing her watering can on the floor, Yuuka turned her back to me and walked to the front door, crossing her arms behind her back and scooping up her umbrella. "You may not leave," she said with a bored expression.
It's not ladylike to disregard your host's instructions, dear.
Mother's voice, echoing above that other voice, made me pause, and for an instant, my nausea receded. That's right; Yuuka was my host, wasn't she? If she said I needed to stay, I would just have to--
come back come back come back come back come back
I bent double over the table, wracked with pain as the voice returned more forcefully than ever.
"Miss Yuuka, I'm sorry, but I need to leave." Every step towards the door held the promise of this uneasy feeling disappearing, and I felt like I had almost returned to normal by the time I was standing next to Yuuka. "Please move."
"What?! I can't--"
she's in your way
I had to leave. I had to leave now. Ducking my head, I shot under Yuuka's outstretched arm, shoving her out of the doorway as I ran out into the night.
What are you--
"I'm sorry, Mother!" I cried out as I ran, not looking back as I made my way into the forest. I didn't know where I was, didn't know where I was going anymore, just that I had to get away, couldn't spend another second in that house with that voice and--
What are you doing, child?! Go back and--
"Aaaahhh!" I screamed, clapping my hands over my ears as I went. Why?! Why was it still there?!
I had to find Mother. She would know what to do, she could fix me when strange things started to happen, just like she always did. But if I couldn't find my way--
Wait...! This path... that's right! My run gained some direction as I rounded a tree into a cleared path, making my way down the forest, past the landmarks I remember on the way back home. A smile rising to my face, I turned the last corner, dashing out from under the canopy of the forest into...
...flowers. A whole field of bright white flowers, extending almost as far as I could see.
This... wasn't right! Where was everything? The house was supposed to be here, our house, and Mother would be outside, sweeping the porch or something, and I would run up and give her a big hug and she would pat my head and scold me for getting lost and where was she?
"Mother?" Maybe it was just another one of Mother's spells, and the house really was here, after all. "Mother?!" Yes, and if I just called out loud enough, she'd hear me from wherever she was and come get me, and then I could go back home and get away from these youkai and voices and everything would still be fine! "Mo--"
"You really still don't understand, do you?" My heart swelled at the sound of a response to my cries, only to wither a moment later as I recognized Yuuka's voice.
"Where...?" I spun around, surveying the landscape for something, anything, but all I saw was Yuuka, walking closer.
"There is no house here. There never has been."
But... I remembered...
that was me
Apologize for running away.
"I'm sorry, Miss Yuuka!" I babbled, just as Mother ordered, the fear in the pit of my stomach tearing its way out in the form of words. "I'm sorry I ran away! Just... please help me find my mother...!"
"...Very well. Perhaps I should do something, after all." For the first time, that anger wasn't in her voice, and she extended a hand towards me, beckoning me forward gently. "Take my hand."
Trembling, I followed her direction, reaching out to her outstretched hand and laying my own atop it. As I did, she rotated her hand below mine, slipping her dainty fingers between my own, and for a moment, I didn't move, simply feeling the warmth of her hand as it wrapped around mine. Breathing out slowly, I gathered the resolve to hold back my tears and looked up at Yuuka's face to find... a smile, a real, genuinely happy smile, the first one I had ever seen her wear. Faced with that expression, I couldn't help but try to return it, my face twitching erratically as I forced my lips up into a weak smile of relief.
And then, with all the ease of someone crushing a bug, her hand formed a fist around mine, snapping each of my fingers at the joint with a sickening crunch.
"You are not human." She was still smiling that same pleasant smile, even as she continued to tighten her grip on my mangled hand. "You are a crude facsimile, created by a middling magician. A body given a false history and a small memory of commands to make you act like a living being."
"..." There was... no pain. The only thing that told me that my hand was broken was my own eyes.
"It would seem that, for whatever reason, that magician no longer had any use for you, and chose to simply abandon you here, rather than dispelling your enchantments and destroying you properly." Another crack, and my middle finger was broken away from my hand entirely, turned at an impossible angle; where there should have been flesh and blood, all I could see was empty air and cracked porcelain, molded into the shape of a finger. "At first, I had intended to give you a grace period of sorts before destroying you, but that seems to have become more trouble than it would be worth."
No. No no no no no NO NO NO
"M... Mother! Help me!" I screamed. "Save me!"
Your finger is broken. You should be screaming right now.
"'Why'?" I heard Yuuka's voice echo through the fog of my own thoughts. "Well, youkai born from human actions tend to make trouble for the rest of us."And then, a brilliant smile, not so much seen as it was felt. "But mostly, it's because I enjoy killing."
scream you useless little doll do something right for once in your miserable existence what good are you if you can't take alicia's place
"While I have no patience for overly complex magic, destroying your physical form should prove moderately enjoyable."
And, like that, Mother's voice went silent.
"I'm not..." Vaguely, I felt myself drop to my knees, the will to hold myself up gone. "...not human...?"
"Ah, has it begun to sink in?" I felt Yuuka's hand grab my hair roughly, pulling my face up to look at that horrible smile of hers. "Don't worry. It'll all be over soon."
"Mother... didn't want me..."
I felt a small twang as the remainder of my ruined hand was torn away, crumbling like ash under Yuuka's heel.
"Then, I'm... not wanted by anyone..."
"Ah." Suddenly, the hand grabbing my hair released me, and I caught a fleeting glimpse of Yuuka, coughing and clutching her chest, before I fell to the ground, my face buried in the dirt.
"...Let me... die..."
"Ahahahaha...!" Yuuka cackled gleefully, all pretense of civility gone. "For a newborn to have this much power... Interesting...!"
"If Mother doesn't love me... why should I live...?"
I was dimly aware of being lifted, grabbed by my collar and raised until my feet dangled off the ground.
Just as I had risen off the ground, now I fell, dropped onto my back, my body supported by the flowers. Looking ahead of me, I saw Yuuka, enveloped in a strange, iridescent purple mist, staggering backwards, stumbling, dropping to one knee, unsteadily rising from the ground, flying away.
"...Who... are you...?"
Now the purple mist was around me, swirling, sparkling, drawing ever closer. A feeling that wasn't the same as a warm body drew close to me, pulling me in; a sensation not quite like a pair of arms wrapped itself around me, shielding me from the world.
just rest for now
I opened my mouth once more, only to find that I really had nothing to say, after all. The last thing I felt as my eyes closed was a droplet of condensation from the mist that surrounded me, starting in the corner of my eye and trailing its way down my face, and then unconsciousness took me.
"It's her, isn't it?"
and a really big bug
i can get rid of them
The two of us watched as Yuuka and Wriggle drew closer in flight, then angled downward to land before me in silence. Wriggle, for all the boisterousness she had shown before, seemed to hide in Yuuka's shadow as the taller woman stepped forward, heaving the small carrying case she held into both hands.
"I'll have you know that I had to call in a very old favor to get you this," she said, snapping open the case and reaching inside, "and that it was not my decision to do so. Show some gratitude."
It was... very close. The skin tone was an exact match, and the measurements were close enough to the other one that it wouldn't be too difficult to use. As Yuuka extended the hand to me, I grasped my own broken one by the wrist and pulled, watching the space between the joint widen until the entire thing was separated from my arm. Dropping it down to my friend, I took the hand proffered to me and popped it into the place of the old one.
"Thank you, Yuuka," Wriggle said quietly as I wiggled my new fingers. Everything seemed to be working well.
"You're not the one I want to hear that from," she said, staring at me.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, very weakly, I heard a voice telling me that it wasn't very ladylike to let a gift pass without a show of appreciation. I ignored it, scowling back at Yuuka, and after a silent moment, she turned away without a word, lifting off into the air and flying away.
"So, uh..." Wriggle was still there, though. "I guess you two really don't get along, after all."
A moment of silence.
"Well, Yuuka doesn't really get along with most people. I don't think she'd bother with me if it wasn't for the help I gave her with the flowers."
"And you haven't been around for very long, either. She'll probably get used to you after you've been around for a while longer."
"...Did you really nearly poison her to death?"
"My friend did," I said, gesturing down at the flowers below us.
"Wow... Yuuka's really strong, you know. You should be proud, if you're capable of fighting at her level at your age."
Another moment of silence.
"Uh, so me and some of my friends have this place where we get together and hang out, so I was wondering..." Wriggle's words came out all at once, accompanied by a slight blush. "Would you, maybe you would like to, uh, come? With me? Er, us?"
i think he likes you
"She's a girl," I whispered, too quietly for Wriggle to hear.
i think she likes you, then
"I mean, if you don't want to, that's fine, I just thought maybe I'd ask, you know."
go on, go
"Really?!" Almost immediately, Wriggle, bobbed up into flight. "I'll show you the way, then!"
"I'll be back by daytime," I told my friend.
I allowed myself a small smile, rising into the air after Wriggle.