This thread is for posting shorts in the writing contest linked above.
However, this thread is only for those of you who have never written on the site before. If you've started very recently and would still be considered a rookie here by everyone,
Keep entry length to a single post maximum, and submit all entries anonymously. After the time limit expires (at 12/10/11(Thu)00:00), a thread will open up for everyone to vote on your favorite entries, the link for which will be posted here.
The summer rush may be over, but we can still see some enthusiasm from any and all fresh blood.
Few understand what it means to be human, and even less understand what it means to live. Though when you live as long as I have you start to realize what they both mean.
I was once human but that was long ago, now I can be called a Magician. Sadly due to my increased lifespan a lot of my friends have passed away leaving me alone.
Now I live in the Forest of Magic with my daughter. We rarely leave and when we do our trips are short, to avoid becoming close to those we will outlive. It’s been getting harder though, I can’t keep my precious child locked away forever, and she has been sneaking out to the human village. Now all I can do is sit down and talk with her, and hope she understands my feelings.
She walks in to the room hesitantly, “You wanted to see me?” Her voice like is sweet, but full of apprehension.
“Yes, come here,” I pat my leg. Though she is close to fifty years old she still looks like a child and fits on my lap snuggly. “I want you to be honest with me. Have you been sneaking out to go to the village?”
She wriggles uncomfortably for a moment, “Yes.”
Sighing I say, “You know we’ll just outlive them and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“But one day you’ll die too, and I’ll be alone! I can see it, you get older but I never change!” I had feared she would catch on.
“You’re way too smart for your own good. I suppose it’s time for you to know your origins.” I had hoped I would never have to tell her. Her sparkling blue eyes are focused on me like an annoying tengu. “I want you to know, no matter what I still love you.” I take a deep breath, “I am not your real mother.”
Her voice cracks as she screams, “What!?”
“Your real mother died shortly after you were born. You aren’t human, nor are you a youkai. You are something entirely different.” Tears start to flow down her face. “You didn’t have a soul to begin with, but she still loved you. She studied long and hard to find a way to bring you to life, when finally she came across an ancient book in the library of the Scarlet Devil Mansion.” Tears start to fill my eyes as I recall the events. “The book was on how to give life to the lifeless. She was overjoyed with her discovery, she spent months on small scale testing.”
A child should never have to hear the story of how their mother died, but she deserves to know. “When she was ready to give you life she asked me to oversee the process. It started out fine, but near the end she lost control of the magic.” I can barely hold back the tears at this point, “You were alive but you were draining her life. I begged her to stop, but she wouldn’t listen. Her life’s goal was about to be achieved. When it was over she barely had any energy left, and with her dying breath she had me promise to take care of you. To raise you like my own, and to protect you.”
“Is, is that why you don’t want me to go to the village?” Her voice shaking trying to hold back her tears.
“Yes and no. I mostly don’t want to lose you.”
I feel her tiny arms wrap around me, “I will always love you, mom.”
“And I will always love you.” I picked her up and carried her to her room and laid her down in her bed. I ruffled her golden blonde hair smiling, Good night Shanghai.”
“Night mom,” She says with a yawn
I close the door on my way out and head to the front door grabbing my hat on the way. The black has long since faded grey and the ribbon is tattered and frayed. Tears flow freely from my eyes as I make my way towards her grave in the backyard.
I kneel in front of the grave, “She’s a good girl, you know. Tomorrow I’m gonna take her to the village and let her play with the children. I promised to protect her, but I think I went too far with it. I hope you’re not angry with me.” I stand back up and wipe the tears from my eyes, “Good night Alice.”
As I turn towards the house I can almost hear her say, “Good night Marisa.”
I smile as I lay down to sleep, knowing that I will always have a piece of her in my darling daughter. It’s because of them that I understand what it means to live. And for Shanghai I will do anything.
It's not the job itself... I take pride in protecting the Scarlet Devil Mansion as its gatekeeper. And the gardens are my pride and joy. Even the flower youkai, Miss Kazami, complimented me on my work once!
Heavens know I need all the compliments I can get.
It's not the people here either... mostly. Mistress Remilia and I go way back. I don't see her often, but she's always kind to me. I have a nice, comfortable room in the mansion, near an exit (I don't live in a doghouse, thank you very much), and she makes sure that my needs are taken care of. Pay's okay, too. Young mistress Flandre is as sweet as can be... when she isn't in one of her moods, but that's tough on everyone, so I can't really complain. Miss Patchouli doesn't say much, but doesn't mind me borrowing books from the library to read. Koakuma's pretty much my best friend here. And the fairies, even if they are a bit dim, all look up to me. It's kinda cute.
And then there's Sakuya.
What can I say? Sakuya's the head maid of the mansion, and has the Mistress' best interests at heart. She's also completely, utterly unfair to me.
Okay, let me fess up here. Yes, I train during my duties. Sometimes I read a book, and yes, I'll even take a nap. All of the above has absolutely no impact on my duties whatsoever. You see, I can trace my bloodline to the ancient dragons of China. It's my youkai heritage. What this means for me is that aside from having great speed and strength, my senses are like you wouldn't believe. If someone intrudes on the mansion's grounds, I just KNOW.
I even timed myself once. I was sleeping in bed when a group of fairies snuck onto the grounds. I sensed it, and was awake, fully dressed, and out the door in just over 8 seconds. Well, okay, I had a nasty case of bed-head. But within three minutes, those fairies were being dumped outside the front gate. With that in mind, and given how BORING it can be just staring at the lake all day long, I don't think finding ways to pass the time is in any way unforgivable.
Sakuya seems to disagree.
That's the first problem I have: I get no respect at all, especially not from Sakuya. And it's not just the reputation I get for being lazy. I apparently also have a reputation for being weak, or at least mediocre.
You want to know the only two people who have ever gotten past me? Reimu and Marisa. How many people in Gensokyo have defeated THEM? Yeah.
And that's another frustrating thing. I'm strong, I really am! I have the strength of the Dragons, and have mastered numerous forms of martial arts. In hand-to-hand combat, I can almost overcome the Mistress, and that's saying something!
But Gensokyo runs on ritualized MAGICAL duels. My techniques don't translate all that well. So here I am, getting clobbered by young women I could easily take in a fair, no-holds-barred fight. Well, maybe not Reimu, but you get the idea.
Anyway, Sakuya's always on my case, and I'm already feeling humiliated by this whole situation, so it really doesn't help. I especially hate people calling me 'China.' How hard is it to remember 'Meiling?!' It's not a difficult name, for crying out loud!
Anyway, the trouble with Sakuya started when I turned her down. I mean, I like men, okay? Apparently this is a little weird in Gensokyo, or something. Sakuya's gorgeous and all (and no, she doesn't pad her bras), but she's, well, a woman. A women who doesn't take rejection all that well, no matter how gentle I was about it. It's spiteful of her, and some days I just...
Never mind. I really miss our friendship, but Sakuya refuses to let things go.
But I can deal with that. I can tune Sakuya out. What really gets me is the... loneliness of the job. Most of the mansion's residents are inside most of the time, I guard the gate. Visitors are friendly enough, most times, but they just pass by without saying much. Koakuma comes to visit me pretty often, she's in a similar position with Miss Patchouli, but it's not what I'm looking for. Or what she's looking for.
Oh, I'll just be honest. I want a man. Badly
One time on a day off, Koa and I fooled around a little bit, but it just wasn't what we needed. I like men, and not a lot come around here. Those that do are nice for a little while, but their attention always drifts to the Mistress or Flandre, or anyone who isn't me, anyway. One time, this guy was going to ask me out but panicked at the last minute and ran into the lake, I kid you not. I tried to save him, but that lake is deep and cold, and well... I didn't make it in time. That lake keeps a lot of visitors away who might otherwise keep me company or ask me out. I swear, the only other woman in Gensokyo who has as much trouble finding a man as me is Reisen. I know exactly what she's going through.
Seriously, screw you, lake.
But, one way or another, this is my home, and I couldn't bear to leave it behind. My gardens, my fairy friends, Koa, Miss Patchouli, young miss Flandre, Mistress Remilia... even Sakuya. At least Cirno will keep me company from time to time. I just wish someone would pay more attention to me, show me a little love. I feel like I have a lot to offer in a relationship. Aren't I pretty enough? Koa says I'm beautiful, but some days I wonder if there's something wrong with me.
To and fro, to and fro, such is the way that the clock hand rolls.
In a person’s life span, they never really look at the small clock that ceaselessly swings back in forth, keeping track of the progress of the moment. Many find the tick tick ticking of a clock to be a type of pendulum that judges them.
You have this long until you have to go and do this, you only have this much more time to complete this project, you only have this much more time before your final moments.
Like a little judged that dictates there every move, which determines what they can and must do in an allotted amount of moments that seem to pass them by at the blink of an eye.
However, I have always found it silly, the way people look at time in such a way. Time is not a master, neither is it a force to be feared, if it was, then one would have to worry about the time they have slipping away from them in an instant, to be born in this world to only be erased in mere seconds.
One should not look at the time piece like an overbearing landlord or an invasive spouse. One will simply cause themselves undue stress and untold amounts of headaches.
I personally think of time as a simple instrument, no different than a peeler as it shaves away the seconds as it was intended, until the Final countdown when all fate and all things reach an eventual end.
Time is a record keeper, it holds no more malice over a person then Hong holds anger over the fairies that come to play with her.
If I might be so silly, I happen to have a slight hobby. I collect time pieces for no real reason than to watch the hands tick away at the hour, minute, and second. I have always found them interesting, each one, so different, and yet, they would all do the same thing.
Tick tock, tick tock…
Forgive me, sometimes I find myself whittling away the hours of my day simply watching the hands tick by. It’s amusing really, when one who simply escapes the binds of time finds herself so attracted to it.
You must think it right Irony, and I might be inclined to agree with you, if not for the fact that I find it quite tasteful.
What’s that? Not all humans simply have the power to simply defy time such as I?
Ha ha!! I believe you have misunderstood me stranger! I never said to rebel against it! Though time is simply a record of events, you can no more defy then I can!
Time is simply there stranger, it is something that one can make for themselves, or to let others dictate how the moments they have be used.
If I was to put it into retrospect… ah! Do you know of your fate stranger?
Of your destiny?
Of course not, to simple people such as you or I, one’s fate is as you make it.
But if I told you that one could actually see the wheels of fate, and even change the cogs like a clock, would you consider this person akin to God? Someone who could see the bindings of fate could easily do what they wanted?
Then what if I told you that that person was no God, but My mistress?
Yes, that would be a little hard to swallow wouldn’t it; but rest assured, I tell no tall tales and simply state what I know.
Back to the subject, My mistress can look and even change a person’s fate if she so desired at the drop of a hat. And Yet, she told me that this ability is nowhere near Omnipotent. She once told me, that she changed a man’s fate for the worst, that his life would be wrought with misery until his last dying breath.
Do you think this man died in lonely Misery?
You think so?
What if I told you that he died a happy old man with two children and six grandchildren?
You would call me a liar?
But Like I said stranger, I simply speak the truth. The man swore to My mistress that he would change his fate, even to his last dying breath. And so he did, everything my mistress set forth for him was destroyed at his will to defy the fate given him.
This man must have been a Hero, a Demi-God you say?
I fear not, he was a simple farmer, with no more concern then those of normal farmers, he simply had the misfortune to sell my mistress bad Squash.
But I’m getting off track; as you can see, one could change his fate if he so wished, which brings me back to my point, Time is no different than the whims of fate, it can easily be shattered if one has the will and drive for it.
I can see that you are only somewhat convinced, but I am afraid that I have no more ability nor example to change your mind on the subject.
That is alright, one is inclined to his or her own opinions, if everyone shared one opinion, this would be both a drab and dry world, one in which I would hope the whims of Time would crush into dust.
Ah, it would appear that we have run out of Tea, I will go and fetch you more Stranger.
Here we are, ready and hot. I also happened to bring some more Biscuits with me as well.
What’s that? How did I do that?
He he… Like I said stranger, Time is simply a tool to be used; and if I may be so bold, none uses it better than the Head Maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion.
Not a day went by during which Shou didn't feel thankful that Bishamonten had agreed to make her his disciple. She was so much more than she had ever been before. She had power, a less bestial shape, a -purpose- beyond merely surviving. The only dark moments since then had all been her fault, namely the whole 'letting Byakuren be sealed and do nothing to try and stop it out of a mistaken sense of duty to her god' thing and the centuries of trying to take care of a slowly dying out temple until the return of the human turned witch had revitalized the temple and the faith of its followers.
Though she did feel a need to atone for her mistakes and helped at the temple beyond what her duties as Bishamonten's representative required, her duty was, first and foremost, to her Lord, to gather faith in His name and provide His blessings in return. The human village, in particular, tended to be a very good place to go. Many liked to beseech the warrior god of generous luck and vengeful protection, either praying for luck or protection. For that reason, she and Nazrin fairly regularly walked around the town in His name. In fact, that was what she set out to do that very day.
Not a day went by during which Nazrin didn't wonder about her lot in life. Didn't wonder if, perhaps, sending her out and away from him to instead serve and keep an eye out on his disciple was Bishamonten's idea of a joke. There she was, His general, His faithful servant, reduced to serving one who merely represented him, had to call another than him Master. Oh, she quite liked the tigress she had served for the last several hundred years and had served her as she would have served him. However, it still felt a bit demeaning to have a beast youkai that, by all rights, should have been serving her instead be her master and she fully considered it well within her rights to poke and prod at her whenever she had a chance to.
It was never anything too overt or mean spirited, a gentle jab here, a sarcastic comment there, perhaps a prank once in a while but it did help her make it through the working day. Like these trips they did far too often. Wandering around town, preaching and proselytizing at people while conducting miracles in Bishamonten's name. Was there even any point to her coming along? It needed to be done, yes, but what she herself ended up doing, usually, was organizing the faithful and maybe helping attract people's attention, things that just about anyone could do. Yet again, on that day, they set out to do exactly that.
Really, for the most part, they had their path mostly planned out apart from the occasional break in the routine to try and find new people to preach at. The market tended to be their bread and butter though, they'd get there as the busiest period starts and would go around stall to stall, providing blessings of luck to the merchants while also helping anyone that might be interested. With the sheer amount of people around when they went by, she was left wondering why people thought she was always followed by too many mice. Just going by numbers, let alone ignoring the sheer -weight- difference, there were a lot more humans and youkai around than mice so really, the occasional nibbles and pilfered morsels were inconsequential.
In between bites and directing her troops discreetly, she stood around and waved people along, getting those that sought out Shou's services into a semblance of order while trying not to yawn or grumble too much, lazily getting the job done. Really, such a stupid and pointless duty for her goofy master... she didn't even need to keep an eye on her anymore to make sure she was a good representative.
The tigress had shown that she knew the job and was trustworthy already, following along was just a formality at this point. She was barely trying on the menial work she was stuck doing either, she might as well be asleep really. For that long lazy afternoon of person after person, the upside of the day was stealing food and offerings meant for her master, in particular any cheese that came by. Other than that, she busied herself having her troops conduct formation and cooperation drills
Really, another day of same old, same old, was it any wonder that the whole troubles when they were trying to get Byakuren unsealed had been the highlight of the year? She had even been able to use the pagoda a bit, wield divine power and unleash it on her foes, the memory was still enough to have her chuckle happily as they walked back to the temple, her basket full of choice bits and morsels that she would ration out to her own faithful soldiers.
It was a well known and often threaded path for Shou, one that Nazrin and Bishamonten's faithful knew by heart as well and that she sometime elected to shake up a bit to reach out to more people who could benefit from her Lord's blessing and protection. Most who wished to seek her out, though, knew that the market was the best and most reliable place to go since they were both careful to go there at extremely regular times to make it easiest for everyone interested to get a chance. The merchants were quite willing to allow her to take up their customer's time in that way, blessings of wealth and luck as well as the increased patronage being an ample repayment for that service. Oh, her fellow servant of their Lord often complained and people sometimes wondered why she brought her and why the mouse and her cohorts were allowed to steal food from the stalls.
Few people took the time to truly understand the mouse but after so long spent together, Shou liked to think that she knew Nazrin pretty well. She tended to be serious and grumble a lot but really, a lot of it was affected, a lot of it was a facade that she put up even for herself. Even as bored as she looked as she worked, every action, every duty was taken care of with a care and attention to detail. When she attracted people's attention, she did it in an efficient and yet respectful manner. As she organized the people, she kept them entertained with what, by now, was a game that many people took to participating in. After all, why else would so many people bring cheese than to have a bit of a contest to see if they could keep it away from the mice and their general.
And though Nazrin would tell you she wasn't necessary, her detail conscious and focused work ethic ensured that everyone had a chance to offer their faith and received their blessings in a timely manner. As for those who had children, she had her mice conducting a show of forming words and shapes as well as making intricate dances and even circus tricks for people to watch even as she denied doing anything like that and called such entertaining tricks drills for her troops.
So really, was it any wonder that 'losing' the one single important artifact she had been given by her Lord had occurred. After so long not using it to ensure that she would not be sealed as well, the oldest and most faithful of Bishamonten's servants was the logical person to have re-establish a link through the religious artifact. That it caused Nazrin to giggle happily to herself fairly often since was an happy bonus. So really, bits of cheese that was mostly donated for her benefit in the first place was a tiny price to pay to try and reward such faithful and selfless service.
The sun was still shining brightly as it began to settle over the horizon of the Bamboo Forest of the Lost.
A lone figure strode through the forest with a confident hop in her step; long dark-brown hair glistened as it flowed behind her. The figure wore a beautifully sewn pink kimono embroidered with silver thread in the motif of the moon. She was, undoubtedly, the Lunarian princess, Kaguya Houraisan. This walk was a ritual she repeated every day.
Every day for the past 300 years.
There was only one other soul who knew of her ritual, and it was the one whom she was meeting.
‘Ah,’ thought the princess, ‘There she is. Always there, always on time.’ Kaguya always thought that there was always something nice to be said for punctuality.
“You’re late,” the voice huffed in the clearing.
But it wasn’t like she really gave a damn about being nice.
A smirk tugged on Kaguya’s lips, “Deal with it.”
A human girl wearing a faded dress shirt and crimson overalls stood in the clearing. Her overalls were decorated with hap hazardously strewn red-white talismans; however, her most prominent feature was her ankle-length ash-pale hair. She was Fujiwara no Mokou.
Thoughts passed through her head as she basked in warmth of the declining sun, ‘How? …how today?’
She was, of course, thinking of how she would kill the princess.
‘Char her into ashes? An explosion maybe… or I could just beat her until she’s unrecognizable.’
It spoke volumes about this girl’s character that as she pondered these murderous visions, her expression was completely impassive.
‘Finally, here she comes,’ the girl’s red eyes focused on the approaching figure.
“You’re late,” Mokou called out. ‘Always late,’ she added within her mind.
“Deal with it.”
A slight grimace formed on Mokou’s expression, ‘Tch… How annoying.’
The two figures faced each other in the clear, twenty paces apart. It was time to begin their ritual again.
The dark-haired princess folded her arms, waiting for the other to begin. It was the same every time. The princess would never begin, for it was not in her personality to initiate conflict, but she was always more than happy to settle it.
Meanwhile, the light-haired girl held her legs apart in preparation. She began to breathe deeply, white vapor escaping her lips as if it was a cold winter day even though it was the middle of summer.
An audible pop resounded as Mokou’s figure blurred, covering twenty paces in one… two steps. An instant before the two collided, the girl stopped on a dime, her right arm coiled back for a brutal haymaker.
Kaguya did not react, her expression still as if she didn’t perceive the girl’s hostility. ‘She has become faster,’ the princess judged, ‘still… it is meaningless for one who can control time.’
The inhuman princess disappeared as the girl’s fist swung at nothing but air, creating a loud rush of displaced air.
‘Behind me,’ thought the girl, already familiar with the princess’ usual power and tactics.
Using the momentum of her missed swing, Mokou dove down, supporting her weight on the palm of her hands. She couched her legs in anticipation, hoping to catch her opponent with a savage kick.
Of course, the kick was inevitably dodged. So following through her motion, Mokou flipped away from the princess, landing exactly twenty paces away.
The brief exchange occurred in less than a second.
“Such a brute,” Kaguya commented haughty.
“Such a fucking cheater,” Mokou shot back, voice filled contempt.
This was their ritual, for the past 300 years. There were no rules, no danmaku, and no spellcards. Their only goal was to kill.
The two inhuman beings slowly circled each other, and as if there was a mutual agreement, the two charged at the same moment.
Their bodies moved in blurry motion as afterimages of jabs, feigns, counters, and dodges appeared one after another. The light-haired girl avoided a sharp jab aimed at her neck, and countered with an uppercut. In response, the princess bent backwards, letting Mokou’s arm fly harmlessly before her.
‘Tch, she dodged,’ thought an annoyed Mokou, ‘Knock away her arm, now kick! She teleported again- shit! Duck!’
Laws of physics caused the girl’s ash-pale hair to suspend in the space where her head occupied before she crouched down; directly in the path of the princess’ clawed, grasping hand. For these two bitter enemies, hair pulling, while immature, was not only a valid tactic but also extremely painful and humiliating. That particular tactic had resulted in some of the most catastrophic battles in the past.
The Lunarian princess internally squealed in delight when she saw the girl’s red eyes widen in alarm, however the girl’s hair was not her target, it was the red-white talisman of a hair tie. As her hand closed around the enchanted talisman, it violently shredded into paper scraps.
‘She played right into my ‘hands’,’ Kaguya punned inwardly, adding a shameless giggle at the bad joke.
However, Mokou was in no laughing mood. Instead, she chose to strike preemptively while Kaguya was occupied and still within arm’s reach. The girl’s fist flashed in a vicious uppercut, and a sickening squelch and an audible snap resounded as her right fist impacted into the Lunarian’s abdomen, rupturing several organs.
A muffled grunt of pain came from the princess’s lips, as she instinctually grabbed the girl’s offending arm.
“Hah!” a triumphant call from Mokou, “That’s it? You’re getting sloppy, Ka-!”
Suddenly, the princess’ out-stretched right hand started towards Mokou’s face. Her hand was held in a V-sign, and it was flying directly toward the girl’s red eyes.
‘Dodge!’ the girl screamed in her head, ‘My arm-get off you-!’
Two wet, distinct, popping echoed throughout the clearing.
With a disgusting squish, Kaguya’s fingers tore away from Mokou’s face. The two separated from each other, Kaguya collapsing to the ground and Mokou staggering back blindly.
“You didn’t ‘see’ that coming, did ya?” another of the princess’ shameless pun, this time vocalized from her position on the ground. Despite the gravity of the situation, she still kept her strange and whimsical sense of humor.
“You fucking bitch!” roared Mokou as she clutched her eyes in agony, smearing fresh blood across her visage.
If the two beings were mortal, their injuries would have surely killed them. However, that was not the case.
They could not die, they will not age, and they would exist for all of eternity. They were immortal in the truest sense of the word. An immortal human and an immortal Lunarian.
“I’m gonna kill you!” snared Mokou as her trembling hands left her bloodied face, revealing her enraged red eyes in unharmed states.
“You’re not,” the usual humors in the princess’ eyes were clouded in melancholy for a brief moment, before she stood back up, the injury to her abdomen healed.
This was a battle between immortals. It was not a challenge of skill, speed, or strength. There was no ‘killing blow,’ the only way to end was for one to admit defeat. Thus, it is a contest of endurance, not physical, but mental.
“You…” Mokou started bitterly, wiping blood away from her eyes.
“Me?” Kaguya’s usual humor returned as she played along with her opponent’s dialogue.
“You... Are. Gonna. BURN!”
With a roar, light erupted from the sleeves of Mokou’s shirt enveloping her arms with spiraling wreaths of fire. Nearby bamboo leaves and grass turned brown and shriveled from the heat, and the clearing was lit as bright as day, even though the sun had already disappeared over the horizon.
From a forward thrust of the girl’s arms, a massive wall of flame spewed out and consumed the two immortals’ field of vision.
Bringing up the sleeves of her kimono, the princess shielded her eyes away from the brilliant aura. “How grossly incandescent,” intoned Kaguya almost admiringly, “yet… how painfully futile.”
With a gentle gesture, glowing, silver orbs materialized around the Lunarian. Each sphere had an ethereal quality and contained the surreal power to bend and warp time, causing objects in the orb’s vicinity to revert in time. Ashes turned to charred plants, charred plants to live, and live plants turned into seeds.
Another gesture from the princess and several orbs flew forth puncturing Mokou’s wall of fire. However, the target on the other side was nowhere to be found.
Instead of standing and waiting, the girl had produced great wings composed of fire and rocketed herself over the deadly silver bolts. At the height of her leap, Mokou’s wings broke apart and released numerous great gouts of fire towards the princess.
In response, the ethereal spheres intercepted the flying spears of fire, creating spectacular explosions and
phantasms in the night sky. As the projectiles collided and nullified each other, Kaguya quickly realized that it would be impossible for Mokou to change her trajectory whilst in the air; a rookie mistake but Mokou has always liked taking herself to the skies. Wishing to end the fight in one clean stroke, the princess focused within herself, drawing up reserves of power.
The gathering of Kaguya’s prowess in the temporal arts took the form of a hexagonal pane of silver, glimmering light floating in front of the princess. The panel of shimmering light hummed with fantastic power as Kaguya directed it to face Mokou’s descending form.
“This ends now, Mokou,” it was a princess’ promise.
A pillar of silver light consumed the clearing, the two females, and everything within a mile radius. Like the silvers spheres before them, Kaguya’s beam had the effect of reverting time, just more… drastic. Bamboo trees regressed into fungi from millennia in the past, animals became the very first bacterial life, and even the air itself felt primordial. It was an effective, if contrived, way of removing an enemy.
If Mokou’s body was touched by the light, her body disintegrated would into base particles. Her immortality would always piece her back together, but it was still an unpleasant experience. However, as always, for Mokou, the solution was simple: burn a brighter light.
“Don’t fuck with me, Kaguya!” it was a girl’s declaration.
With those words, an inferno blazed within the pillar of light, layers upon layers of fire and flame permeated from Mokou’s body. The fire grew and consumed as she descended back to earth, and it ate greedily into the area’s oxygen. Ironically, because the air of prehistoric earth was far richer in oxygen content than todays, Kaguya’s silver beam helped to actively feed into Mokou’s firestorm.
As a result, for the second time that day, a sun descended.
Later that night, from within a smoking crater in the clearing, a girl with ash-pale hair could be seen straddling a princess with dark-brown hair in what could be considered a very provocative position.
“Heh, it’s my win Kaguya,” the girl gave a satisfied look.
“Indeed Mokou, it is as you say,” the princess sighed dramatically as if struck by misfortune, “However, if I may ask a question?”
“…Yea, what’s up?” the girl looked at the princess.
“Did it not hurt, using your fires after I destroyed your hair tie talisman?” the princess asked, “I know that even with your natural fire resistance, stronger flames still burn you. That’s why you need those talismans, right?”
As Mokou paused in consideration, she recalled how much her own fire has hurt her, how many times her own fire has suffocated her, how many time it has killed her.
“Yea, I guess it hurt,” the girl shrugged casually.
“Then… why did you continue?” asked the princess a little hesitantly, “I thought that you would be easily defeated if I turned your own power against you.”
“Why? ...I thought it was obvious,” the girl smiled ambiguously; “I hate you.”
“…Ah. I see,” the princess started, “well, how foolish of me to not realize. So, same time tomorrow?”
“Of course. You better get here on time though,” the girl complained as she stood up, “I’d like to catch dinner on time at least once in a while.”
“Maybe I should start bringing you boxed lunches,” the princess suggested teasingly, “I know that Eirin would love to test out new poiso- I mean, ingredients.”
The girl smirked in response, “Maybe you should come over and try my new yakitori recipe. I call it the triple flame: one flame when it goes in your mouth, one flame when it’s in your stomach, and a huge fucking flame when it comes out your ass!”
As the devastated clearing slowly mended itself behind them through Kaguya’s powers of time, an impossible rift seemed to tear open in the floating space behind the two walking immortals. A woman with long blonde hair and purple eyes peeked out from inside the rift.
“Well, it has only taken 300 years and they still need more time, but it looks like my gut was right as always,” the woman gave a smile and a noise of satisfaction before disappearing once more into the impossible rift.
The bell on the shop's door chimed softly as a woman entered a shop, her tall form clad in red robes followed by a shorter blonde girl. Calmly, the taller of the two walked up to the register, where sat a young man with dark hair, his head resting on the counter. The boy snored softly as she approached, unaware of anything that was happening outside of his dreams. She cleared her throat in an attempt to wake him, once it was apparent that he would not wake on his own.
After a few seconds and a second attempt, the gangly boy gave a start, snoring loudly as he finally came to. "Whoze hier?" He blinked once more, rubbing his eyes as he tried to focus on the sight before him. "Who's here…" His voice trailed off as he stared at the two that were looking at him. "Customers? We have customers?"
The taller of the two smiled at his reaction. "Indeed. There was something about this shop that made me want to enter." Her companion made a comment under her breath, and was rewarded with a cuff to the head. "Please excuse her. She is rather cranky, as we have been very busy today."
The boy nodded eagerly, a smile coming to his face. "Then let me summon my master. He would be most eager to assist you." Turning towards the rear of the shop, he leapt to his feet, stumbling slightly over the stool he was sitting on. He yanked open the door, sticking his head inside. "Master! Master, we've some customers here!"
There was but silence in response for a few moments, before two hard boots hit the floor. They began to pound across the floor, before the owner of the boots flung open the door. "Boy, what is it that you are wanting me for? Isn't it your job to make the sale?"
Wincing at the accusation, he nodded slowly. "Yes, but these two sound like they've had a long day. I thought you might like making a sale personally." The boy paused, before explaining. "I've been busy with the project, after all. Not being a salesman."
A snort came out of the man's nose. "True, that you have. Quite the diligent apprentice. And it has been quite a while since we've had a sale." Sighing again, he turned to the two customers. A smile almost crossed his face, but it immediately turned into a frown. "I hope that this is a joke. These two are much too young to even be thinking of purchasing one of our products."
The shorter of the two women glared back at the man for the accusation. "Just what kind of product do you sell in this shop? I assure you, I am mature enough to handle it!"
Her words were stayed once more by the hand of her companion. "I do not believe that is what went through the proprietor's mind, Chiyuri. Instead, I believe he was worried that we might not have the means to pay." She turned her head back towards the owner of the shop. "Am I not correct, sir?"
Crossing his arms, he leaned back against the wall. "That's the gist of my problem. Isn't often that I have two kiddies your age coming in, all by themselves."
Smiling slightly, she asked, "Then, what type of customers do you have coming into your establishment?"
"All sorts." Ticking off on his fingers, he began to list off. "Rich parents, who want a protector and guardian whom they can ensure will take care of their children. Government types, wanting sophisticated systems to protect their installations and personnel." He chuckled as he added another. "The occasional creep that wants someone to have fun, but for some reason can't get a girlfriend of his own."
That last example made both of the women frown. "You do not appear to be the type that would sell one of your creations to such seedy customers."
The man's shoulders drooped as a sigh passed his lips. "There is a difference between what one wants to do, and what one will do to keep his shop alive." Shaking off the thought, he looked closely at the two. "So, you are ensuring that you can pay?" At the taller girl's nod, he stood up straight, brushing himself off. "Very well. I suppose I can show you what we have here, Miss…?"
"Yumemi." Patiently, she waited for the man to walk over to one of the switches on the wall. "I noticed something different than any of the other shops we passed by. Something that was, I dare say, magical."
The words brought a smile to the man's face. "I'd hope so. Every one of our products is handmade, not churned out of some factory." Before he flipped the switch, though, he looked back at her. "You don't look like one of the natives. Neither does your companion, for that matter."
Brushing back a lock of her red hair, Yumemi replied, "My mother is said to have liked the name quite well. She was not concerned about whether or not it was appropriate considering my physical appearance."
Shrugging, he finally flipped the switch. "I'm in the business of physical appearances, so I notice these things. I suppose that it was her prerogative, though." As he spoke, the lights on the ceiling began to hum. The room began to come into focus as it did, revealing walls lined with curtains. "Boy, go and make yourself useful, and make sure we don't have another power surge. I'd hate to have to pay the utility company to reconnect us again."
"Yes, Master Garth." The boy slipped out back without another word, quietly shutting the door behind him as he left.
Yumemi smirked slightly as she approached the curtains. "Trouble with your power?"
The shop owner sighed again, nodding. "Yes. Energy isn't quite as cheap and plentiful as I'd prefer it. Especially when we spend so much fabricating new products. Not to mention how regulations are quite stringent on how one may patch in to the electrical grid."
Behind the two, the short girl laughed to herself. "Tell me about it. Why, the one time that I try to-"
"Chiyuri." Coughing slightly, Yumemi glared at the short girl for a second, before turning back to the owner. "My apologies. My assistant does like to run her mouth at times. I suppose we could go ahead and move on to what you wish to show to us?"
He just gave her a curt nod. "That would be best. Alright, as to the ones that I currently have on display…" Trailing off, he pulled an old tasseled cord that had certainly seen better days, drawing the curtains and revealing his wares.
Lined up along the walls, each standing in their own recession, were what appeared to be women dressed in the uniform of a maid. All lined up with their hands folded and eyes shut, their heads bowed. Not a one looked alike, some being short and nearly the size of a child, while some were as tall as an adult. Some were chubbier than others; while one in particular was so thin it might have been a beanpole.
Yumemi looked at each of them in turn, a frown on her face as she examined them. "I must say that they are indeed interesting. I am to assume that you create all of them yourself?"
The owner nodded. "The ones on display are all ones that I have created by my own hand. Though, recently, my apprentice has been assisting me in the construction of more recent pieces." Raising a hand, he motioned to the first in line. "The most generic of my models. It is capable of every task that you might imagine a maid would be required to perform. From cleaning to cooking, from weeding to dressing, it is qualified to perform most mundane tasks."
Humming her acknowledgement, Yumemi gave no other signs of responding. After a few seconds of waiting, the shopkeeper cleared his throat, moving to the next product in line, noticeably taller and slightly bulkier than the rest. "This one here is built more for outdoor work, as you might be able to imagine. Its servos are capable of far greater force than a standard unit, and has a much larger power supply than the others."
The shorter blonde girl piped in from right behind him, almost making him jump. "Oh? What is it that you use here? Giant batteries in the torso?" Chiyuri's face curled into a wicked grin as she spoke, seemingly ready to pounce on whatever his response might be.
However, the shopkeeper seemed to agree with her derisive tone, raising his nose just slightly. "Perish the thought! I'll have you know that anything we make here is guaranteed to use a proper power source, not one that will easily wear out before a day is halfway over." Walking over, he spun one of the maids about on the dais it was currently occupying, revealing a nuclear hazard sign on the small of its back.
Before her companion could say anything else, Yumemi spoke over her. "That is certainly unorthodox. May I hazard to guess at which type of power you currently use in your creations?"
"You could, or I could just tell you." Turning the maid back around, he explained. "Standard is a fission powered reactor. Thorium is the current favored fuel, and is the standard power supply for all that are on display. Fusion reactors can be done, but are especially pricey to miniaturize. Unless I have a down payment, I would be unable to make one for you."
Yumemi waved him off, turning back to the line of maids. "That is fine. What I am interested in is currently in stock, not what you could possibly create. So please, if you could continue."
Without further pause, the man did as asked, frowning slightly as he did. "Very well." His hand moved down to indicate the third in line, which was far shorter than the rest, appearing to be a child. "This unit is favored for those that have children, and want a proper role model for them to aspire to. It is not nearly as adequate in performing its duties as any of the others, not the least of which is due to its stature, but due to much more complex emotional processing, it is able to effectively guilt children to assist it in any housework that is considered necessary."
Under her breath, Chiyuri muttered, "Sounds like a recipe for disaster right there."
Idly, the shopkeeper nodded. "It can be. Which is why I must give a disclaimer, and inform you that if you do purchase this model, I am not liable if any child or children you may have endures shock or mental scarring upon learning that their playmate is a robot."
Chiyuri gaped at him. "B-but I'm to young to be a mother!" She began to chant quietly, trying to block out the mental image. Stifling a laugh, Yumemi waved the owner on.
Huffing slightly at the lack of serious interest either were showing, he shook his head before continuing towards a matronly model. "The next unit is designed in a similar role, to care for children. Instead of doing it from the role of a fellow, she does it in the role as a favorite sitter." Pausing for a moment, he continued. "It is particularly skilled with treating children, although how spoiled children under her care become is adjustable. The only problems with this model tend to be that the parents are ignored in favor of the maid."
Taking a break from staring at the robots with a discerning eye, Yumemi turned towards him. "This must be quite a sad world if robots are needed to keep children in line."
Once again, he idly nodded in agreement. "Perhaps. Or would they simply hire a regular maid to assist? Maybe they would they simply leave their children alone, to fend for themselves?" He shrugged. "I am by far from the only that creates them. There are simply few that take such pride in their work."
Yumemi nodded shortly. "I had seen some advertisements. Mass produced by the hundreds as if they were appliances, each one identical to the last."
"Exactly." He stared at the last lining the wall. This one was similar to the first, but had a much sharper lines, its mouth frowning as it stood there. "They all are slightly different. All are unique." Shaking his head, the shopkeeper returned to his sales pitch. "The last one is a basic self-defense model, purchased by both private and government entities. While the others are capable of protecting themselves, they are not designed to do so. Nor are they designed to handle weaponry, which these can."
Stepping forward, he pulled back the apron, showing slits for knives just under its folds. "Whatever they are programmed to protect, they do so earnestly, and with wild abandon. However, they are expensive. Especially as I have to construct them from a much stronger material than most others." Stepping back, he folded his hands above his own thick work apron, watching the two carefully. "So, is there anything that strikes your eye?"
Yumemi glanced at Chiyuri, before the two began to look at each of them in turn. The taller woman looked at each one carefully, an expert eye studying every single piece. The younger just seemed content to glance at each in turn, alternating views at the products with glares at him and Yumemi.
Stamping her foot in annoyance, Chiyuri whined at her companion. "C'mon, can we just go ahead and leave? There isn't anything here. I know it, you know it; can we just go on ahead and leave?"
Frowning at her, Yumemi immediately shook her head. "No, because I am sure that I read something while we were traveling, and it was in this shop." She turned her head towards the shopkeeper before asking, "Are there any more models that you have on hand, currently?"
"No. At least, no complete ones." He shrugged. "There are none that are here available for sale. The only other complete unit that we have is one that my apprentice has been working on. His first complete unit, to be more precise."
Ignoring her companion's groan, the elder lady smiled slightly. "Would it be permissible for us to see this other model? I believe it may be what we came here searching for."
Completely disgruntled at not being able to make a sale, he threw his hands up. "Sure. Why not. Maybe you'll like an amateur's work better; I don't know." Grumbling under his breath, he led them into the back room, holding open the door for the two of them automatically as they entered inside.
The back room was a much greater mess than the nearly barren store could have been, covered with various parts everywhere. At a few stations were half completed robots, their metal frames grinning menacingly without their skin. Automatically, Chiyuri stepped a bit closer to her companion as they passed one unit that was not much more than a head. While they walked by, it slowly rotated, fixing them the whole time with glowing red eyes. "A-are they awake?"
Her question earned her a disappointed frown from the taller girl, who answered, "I imagine not. They are probably tied into a central mainframe, so they can be tested without activating the onboard central processor." She gave the girl a push, hurrying up as she started to lag. "You shouldn't act in such a way, though. They're just unfinished robots."
Chiyuri gulped. "But they're creepy when you seem them like this…"
Pinching her nose, Yumemi dragged the girl out of there. "And that is why I wish the educational system would bother actually showing them how we create products, not just stylized process in a slideshow. Sometimes, I hate self-righteous bureaucrats."
Ignoring the byplay, the shopkeeper walked into the next room, the two still behind him. "Boy, the two customers want to see your creation. See if it is what they're looking for, and not anything that actually is for sale."
Across the room, the gangly boy nearly hit his head on a lamp above him in his hurry to stand. "What did you say, master?" He tilted his head, looking at the owner of the store as his hands idly closed the access panel he had been working in. "Are you serious about this? They want to see her?"
"It is not a woman boy, it is a robot. Something we are selling." Sighing, the older man shook his head. "You shouldn't let yourself grow attached to them. But yes, they do want to see your first. Although, I'm not so sure if they are serious."
Taking the slight in stride, Yumemi strode past the owner, walking up to the table the boy was using as his workstation. The body on it was that of yet another maid, lying face down. From the distance she was now at, she could see the small seams that were on the back of the neck, among other places. Still, she frowned the longer she looked at it. "What is so special about this one?"
There was silence for a few seconds as the apprentice waited for the master to speak. Eventually, he realized that he needed to respond, and so awkwardly cleared his throat. "Erm, well, nothing particularly, really. I wanted to make one was general as possible, and not have it focused on a specific task."
"A more difficult process than what a beginner should attempt." The owner shrugged as he butted into the conversation. "A focused model is much simpler to program, while a general-purpose unit must be competent in everything. Besides that, the only thing special is that odd color of hair he chose to stick on its head."
Blushing lightly, he shrugged. "It stands out, and it matches with its uniform." One of his hands idly leaned down, patting on its neck gently. "Sh- It is still untested, though. I am not sure how capable that it is until I run her through testing."
Yumemi nodded along, musing to herself. "I haven't come this far to come back empty-handed." Clearing her throat, she spoke louder. "Could you activate it? I'd like to meet it personally. Maybe when I hear it, I'll recognize what I'm searching for."
"If you are sure…" The boy's voice trailed off as excitement tinged it. Eager to see her impression of his work, he struggled to flip it onto its back. Reaching down to activate it, his eyes met his master's for a second before stopping. "Should I?"
Eyes narrowing, the older man looked back between the two women and his apprentice, before slowly nodding. "If they truly are interested, then you should do it."
Nodding to him, the young man pressed the switch on the nape of the robot's neck. The only thing that was heard for the next few seconds was deafening silence, as the boy waited with baited breath. After a few more seconds, the robot's eyes blinked open, as she immediately sat up, looking about. For a moment, hazard signs filled its pupils, before they faded away into a dark black. "I have been activated. What is needed of this unit?"
Yumemi stepped forward slightly. "I am Yumemi Okazaki. I am searching for something particular, and I believe that you may possess some of this quantity." Ignoring the bemused looks from the two men, she continued. "May I please know your name?"
Immediately, the robot answered, the voice fading to monotone. "Current technical designation is capital R backslash backslash forward slash forward slash vertical bar less-than sign zero capital T zero greater-than sign. Regular designation is Ruukoto. Current operating system is custom version zero point forty two point three." It paused, before it spoke again, the more human tone noticeable. "What is your inquiry?"
Behind the tall woman, Chiyuri was shaking her head, yanking on the back of the taller woman's robe. However, that did not stop Yumemi. "What I want to know is something that must be observed, not sought after with words. But I shall ask a few other questions that might help me discover it. First, what is it that you're capable of?"
The robot eyed her for a moment, before answering. "This unit is designed primarily for various low, medium, and high-intensity housework and basic protection. It is capable of low and medium-intensity industrial work, along with low-level commercial work. Not to mention this unit also has ample capabilities for protection that could be added on, as current power source is being used to only fifty nine percent of capacity."
"He wasn't kidding about general-purpose, that is certain." Chiyuri scampered forward, looking up at the robot. "Are you capable of fulfilling your design specs?"
Hesitating for a second, Ruukoto ground out an answer. "…Unknown at current time. Dedicated tests have not been performed by creator, and cannot assess capabilities until such is accomplished." The robot looked away, not meeting their eyes. "This unit will try to perform to its utmost, in the case that active duty is necessary before trials can be run."
Staring at it for a few seconds, Yumemi began to shake her head. "I don't know. It seems like a standard robot. And I was so sure, too."
Crossing her arms, Chiyuri walked back to stand next to her companion. "You were, and look where it landed us? We're empty handed now. The best chance you have is an imperfect at best maid."
"Now, Chiyuri, don't be like…" The elder woman's eyes snapped back to the boy. "Is it true what my companion said? Is it likely to be that?"
"Hwah?" The young man just scratched his head for a second, before he realized what it was that she was asking him. "Oh, you're asking if sh- it isn't perfect? I'd imagine so. Especially as I haven't fine-tuned the operating system with data from testing. There are bound to be some bugs in the programming." His shoulders slumped a little bit as he finished. "I hope that its construction is perfect, though."
"Hrm." Again, she stared at the maid. "Something imperfect is quite rare where I originate from. Just that alone might make it valuable, even if it isn't what we were searching for."
The owner rolled his eyes at her words. "I shouldn't even be surprised at this point. Wanting a less-than-perfect product. Next thing I know, you'll be loosening the parts in it so that it grinds with every step."
"Master!" Coughing to cover his embarrassment, the boy turned back to Yumemi. "Are you serious about this? I wouldn't want to foist an unfinished product on you."
Staring at it for a moment more, Yumemi nodded. "I am sure." Ignoring yet another whining groan from next to her, she began to dig in her robes. "As for payment, I wish for you to see if this is adequate." Pausing, she asked, "What is your name, by the way? I never did bother to ask."
The gangly boy quickly dashed forward, not believing she actually wanted it. "I am Erich. The last name doesn't matter at the moment, considering my terms of employment."
"Indeed. Well then, Erich," she began saying while pulling out a bundle of papers, "You seem like a smart boy. I want you to take a look at this."
Gingerly, he took the papers from her hand. "What is this?" Flipping through the pages, he frowned, seeing it wasn't a notice of payment or a deed to some property. However, as he continued to read deeper, his eyes widened. "What is this that you are offering me, Miss Okazaki? This can't be possible."
Yumemi nodded, her smile growing somewhat manic at the look on his face. "Oh, trust me, it is possible. Have Ruukoto look at it. I am sure it can confirm that my math is correct."
Not responding, Erich did as suggested, handing page after page to the robot as he finished it. The robot scanned every page briefly, eating through the paper faster than the boy could finish them. Once it had managed to finish, Ruukoto fixed the two with a steely glare. "Nothing is out of place. But certain processes that you suggested have not yet been invented. Others are still in the prototype stage currently, only possible in laboratories. How is this unit worth that much in the way of knowledge?"
Nodding along with it, he looked at the women suspiciously. "What is it that you want? If you desired, you could go out and sell it, making a fortune if it turns out to be true. You could say that you created it."
Shrugging, the tall woman replied, "It is easy to say that one creates something, when the knowledge for the act of making it simply doesn't exist where you are currently located." Slowly, she reached for the papers. "But if you do not want them, I can easily take them back-"
"No!" Erich shouted at the girls, blocking her attempt to fetch the papers. "But I am still suspicious. What could your motive be, to let me have this?"
After giving it a few seconds of thought, Yumemi eventually replied. "For as much as I am willing to tell, it is but an experiment I am conducting." She chuckled softly. "I am aware as to what happens if I claim to create it in my name, so I shall instead try something different."
Walking in front of her taller companion, Chiyuri shook her head. "Listen, we haven't got all day, bub. So, tell me, do we have a deal, or is it not good enough?" She emphasized the last word by poking him in the chest, making sure that he was looking down at her.
Erich sighed, before closing his eyes. A minute passed as he though, one handle twitching as he mumbled under his breath. Eventually, he turned to the owner of the store. "Master, do you think this is a good deal?"
"No." The man gruffly shook his head. "I haven't even looked at it. But whatever you're holding, it sounds like it's a fool's hope." After a few more seconds, he shrugged. "But it's your work, not an ounce of mine. And it is up to you to determine whether it's a good enough deal. If you get gypped out of what is yours, then tough luck is all you'll get from me."
The boy contemplated his decision for a few more seconds. His hands answered before his mouth did, clutching the papers to his chest. "Very well. I'll do it."
"Good answer." At that, Yumemi stepped back, looking at Ruukoto in the eye. "Coming now?"
The robot looked at Erich one last time. "Is that your decision, creator?"
His mouth opened to answer the robots question, but he suddenly stopped. Looking at Ruukoto, his breath hitched, forcing him to turn away. "Ruukoto… please designated the tall woman before you, Yumemi, as your new master."
"Affirmative." With that, Ruukoto turned its eyes to the two women, its eyes flashing the warning sign once again as its new orders were saved.
Eventually, Yumemi turned to both of the men. Bowing shortly, she said, "Many thanks to you both. Have a good day." Glancing at Ruukoto, she ordered, "Come along."
Immediately, the robot moved itself, silently standing up from the table she had been sitting on. With a minimalistic grace, it mechanically followed after the two. Before they departed completely, Erich managed to speak once more. "T-take care of her, will you?"
Glancing back, Yumemi smiled. "That I will. Goodbye." With that, the two left the store quickly, their new maid following dutifully behind.
Once they were out of earshot, Chiyuri asked, "So, what's the real purpose of handing over the data? I know you've more planned than just an experiment without a control group."
Yumemi grinned devilishly at her companion. "Simple. Since our targets have eluded us completely, I am providing the means for the majority sentient population of this planet to become powerful enough to meet them head on. That way, they shall be more easily flushed from hiding, should they make a mistake."
"What are the odds that they'll make one though?" Chiyuri scratched her neck as she looked away. "They've managed to avoid us completely, only leaving traces. What if they disappear completely?"
"We will manage, Chiyuri. We have no chance of catching them as it is, so we must upset the equilibrium." Yumemi turned her head towards the sky, looking past the dirty skyscrapers into the deep blue. "Unless we find a more suitable target in our searches, we will return up the time stream, and see if we were successful."
"…Master?" The two turned, looking at the newly acquired robot they had been ignoring. "What is it that you are speaking of? A target that is in need of acquisition? Can this unit in some way assist?"
Yumemi stood there for a second, before laughing softly. "Not at the moment, Ruukoto. But there is a lot to catch you up on. There is so much knowledge you have yet to understand. And so many theories that the two of us are attempting to crack." Turning her eyes to Chiyuri, she asked, "Time to return to the ship?"
The shorter girl let out a long-suffering sigh of relief. Yes, thank you. I'm ready to be off of this planet. Much less this dimension." In response, Yumemi nodded, before grabbing Ruukoto's shoulder.
Not even a second later, they had disappeared from the street, as if they had never even been there.
Inside the building, Erich laid down the copy he had produced of the papers. Scribbles had covered all of the margins, the product of his frustrations and plans on what to do with his new knowledge.
One last time for the evening, he took the papers in his hand and began to study them again. Plans began to form in his mind as the title of the papers rang in his head. Schemes that would one day change the world, just as his customer had intended. His eyes crossed the title once more, scarcely believing what he possessed in his hands.
“Where unrecorded names and navies rust; where untold hopes and anchors rot; where in its hold the rocks are ballasted with bones of thousand of the drowned. T here, in that awful water-land, there is its home.”
Despite having only such an unreliable source, it seemed like the nun had luck and found the place relatively soon. There was one gloomy mystery about those rocks and those shipwrecks in the middle of the sea, whose awful stirrings seemed to speak of some hidden soul beneath.
The monk was so focused in maintain her balance and getting the water out of the boat that she didn’t notice the thick fog setting in, obscuring everything further than ten meters away from her. A smart captain would’ve ordered to turn around or anchor by then, for the risk of hitting a rock or grounding was too high. But the nun, against all common sense, let her fishing boat to be guided by the strong current and the erratic wind. If there really was someone –or something- causing shipwrecks, her boat was already on its turf with no chance to escape. Nonetheless, that kind of spirits like to sink their victims personally, so the nun had confidence in that the funayurei wouldn’t lead her to a rock.
“Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha. Sabbe Satta Anigha Hontu,” the monk kept reciting the mantras over the loud sound of the wind. “Om Tare Tuttare Ture Mama Ayuh Punya Jñana Pustim Kuru Svaha. Sabbe Satta Abyapajjha Hontu.”
After a couple of minutes of aimlessly wandering through the unnatural fog, the water became calmer and calmer until its surface was almost as flat as a puddle, and the hurricane-like wind died down until it was but a mild gust. The fog, however, got thicker, to the point where the nun couldn’t see anything past her ship’s bow. The monk stopped her prayers and began to observe her surroundings intensely. She had arrived to her final destination, where the marine spirit was probably awaiting. Soon enough, a dim green light flashed in the distance, like a ghostly lighthouse guiding the lost ship in the storm. Taking a deep breath, the monk took the sculls and began the row towards the light.
“Greetings, lone traveler!” a woman’s voice reverberated from several directions at once, startling the nun. “What brings you to this godforsaken place where hapless ships come to die? Has the storm swerved you from your way?”
As the fishing boat got closer the light, the nun could see its source in more detail, despite the fog being thicker than before. Sitting atop a small rocky hummock, there was a girl in her midteens with short black hair, pale skin and teal eyes. Her whole body was emanating the ghostly green light, and she only wore a ragged white sheet that made her look like a beggar, or more appropriately, a castaway. She must be the lingering spirit of a victim, thought the nun.
“On the contrary: they’ve led me to my goal, though the trip wasn’t exactly pleasant,” she answered.
“Is that so? It’s been so long since someone came here by his own accord. What you could be searching for in this place, I wonder?” the ghost leaned forward, pondering the question with interest. “Let me guess: you must’ve lost an important person in any of these shipwrecks, and you’re searching for his body to give him a proper burial, right? Or are you one of those treasure hunters who’re willing to risk their worthless lives to steal whatever treasures these ships might hold?”
“I’ve lost my brother in the seas, but not here. And my religion forbids me from taking what is not given to me.”
“So you’re one of those votaries, then. What is a servant of God doing here? Did you come to commend our souls to your saints? How thoughtful of you!”
The last sentence was filled with sarcasm, which indicated the nun that this particular spirit could be holding a grudge against God and religions.
“I serve no god; I merely follow the way of The Awakened One,” she corrected.
“‘I’m not interested in your deity; I’m asking about you, the person standing in that boat right now,” the girl pointed at the nun.
“The Buddha is not a deity: he was a man who- !“
The ghost made an exasperated pout when the nun attempted to explain the true nature of the Awakened One. The monk didn’t take the spirit’s disrespect well, but she shut her mouth and refrained from answering in an equally rude manner, for the ghost was her only lead to the funayurei.
“Alright, alright, I’ll tell you! Lately the numbers of ships disappearing in this area has increased a worrisome lot. Some people suspect it’s the doing of a funayurei who dwells here, and I’ve been asked to find it and stop it,” explained the nun.
“Ah, I see. So they finally decided to send an exorcist, huh? About goddamn time!” The ghost shot an apologetic glance at the nun when she realized her bad choice of insult. “Um, you don’t mind if I use that word, right? It’s just my way of speaking; I don’t intend to insult your beliefs or anything.”
“No offense taken,” lied the monk, for the sake of not starting a pointless argument. “I already told you I worship no god. Anyway, could you please point me to where the funayurei is?”
“Yes, I could. But should I?”
“Don’t you wish to get your revenge on the maleficent spirit who took your life, spirit? Isn’t that why your spirit is attached to this world?”
The ghost girl chuckled.
“So that’s how it is, huh?” she murmured. “And what makes you think you can take on that ‘maleficent spirit’?”
“I spent days with nothing to eat and drink, I surfed the fiercest waves in this small boat, I fought the strongest winds and currents deviating from my path. The funayurei is nothing but another façade of Death that I must confront,” replied the nun, determined.
“Those hardships you speak of are insignificant compared to the power the spirit holds. I’d tell you to leave this place if you hold your life dear, but what can a pitiful soul like me do to stop you from heading to your sure demise, if nothing else could?”
“Tell me where the spirit is, for example,” said the nun, pressing the point.
“It was a rhetorical question…” the ghost sighed. “Ah, alright. Who am I to stop people from losing their lives pointlessly, when I was one of them before anyway? I’ll tell you, but at least let me treat you to your last drink.”
“I’m sorry to turn your offer down, but my religion forbids me from drinking alcohol.”
“Seriously? Oh well, your loss,” the girl shrugged her shoulders. “I shall serve myself, if you don’t mind. My memory gets clouded sometimes, and rum helps me remember.”
After an approbatory nod from the nun, the ghost shook her hand in an upward movement. Close to the rock, a small barrel of wood surfaced from the water and floated to the ghost’s side, who took it between her translucent arms. This didn’t escape the monk, who pondered if the girl she was talking to was really a ghost, or if the barrel itself was only an illusion.
“Oh, that’s right. Do you have a cup or a glass with you?” asked the spirit.
“Don’t you have one?”
“It’s… I don’t like borrowing things from the ships. Makes me feel like a lowly graverobber, stealing from the place where the dead rest,” she said.
“And the rum isn’t from the ships?”
“There was a time when I did take food from the ships. It’s not like they need it anymore, after all. Then I remembered I don’t either, so I quitted,” explained the ghost. “But sometimes I find a barrel of rum adrift, and I keep it for old time’s sake. Or for special occasions like this.”
“Taking the afterlife with a grain of salt, a slice of lime, and a shot of rum, eh?” joked the nun, which made the spirit laugh. “I have a hisaku here, but it’s drenched in sea water.”
“So is the rum. And I’m not picky with flavors, anyway.”
As she handed the wooden ladle to the ghost, the nun noticed a slight mischievous grin on the girl’s face, but it quickly disappeared. However, it was enough to make the monk feel unsettled. “I have a bad feeling… Was this a bad idea?” she thought, while she watched the spirit inspecting the spoon intensely.
“Yep, this will do, thank you. Now…” Using the ladle’s handle as a crowbar, the ghost opened the barrel’s top, and then introduced the hisaku on it, filling it with the dark liquor.
“This one goes to this valiant woman, who in her foolish pride decided to challenge the evil spirit, and for that she will join us by its hand! Cheers!”
The ghost raised the ladle up and titled it, skillfully letting the beverage cascade from the spoon to her open mouth as she gulped it down nonstop. The ghost let out a satisfied sigh, and the nun took that moment to repeat her query:
“I’m afraid I don’t plan on staying here for long. Do you remember now where did you last see the funayurei?”
“Mmm, no, not yet.” the ghost said, helping herself another spoonful of rum. “You see, wanderer, I have seen many things, for I have been where bell or diver never went. For example…”
The spirit waved her free hand to her left, prompting the nun to look in that direction. Another green light, this time of much bigger proportions, began to shine amidst the fog in the distance. As it got closer, the nun could distinguish the distinctive shape of a merchant barquentine of the 16th century. Although the sea and the wind were calm, the ship was violently swaying to its side, as if it was in the middle of a storm similar to the one the nun fought a few minutes ago. She spotted some human figures running in panic on the deck, but her attention got caught by the one standing still on the bow – the captain of the ship, she guessed.
“I saw this barquentine, smuggling an illegal shipment of… spices, was it? Doesn’t matter. Apparently they were several days late, and the captain decided to recover time by taking a shortcut here, despite the storm threatening to vault the vessel over. His crew knew it was suicide, but he wouldn’t listen to them. This was going to be his last trip; he was going to spend the money he’d get for the cargo to retire and to buy a house for his wife and son, but he had to arrive to his destination in time to get paid.”
Suddenly, an orb of white light jumped from the seas and wrapped on the captain’s arm. His silhouette fell from the bow like he was being pulled over by the light, and plummeted into the sea until both the orb and the captain’s green light faded in the dark sea. Soon after that, the vessel finally vaulted to its board, making the rest of the sailors slip and fall to the water as well. As the ship began sinking, the light that it emanated flickered and turned off as well, putting an end to the ghost’s illusion.
“What… What did just happen to the captain?” muttered the monk, confused. “The funayurei - The funayurei did it,” she said, as realization struck her.
“Correct,” nodded the ghost. “But it was him who brought this end upon himself. His greed and his over-eagerness proved to be their demise. The funayurei only shackled the weight that sunk him and his crew to the deepest nook of the ocean; but he was already headed to where the final harbor lies, whence they’ll unmoor no more.”
“Why are you showing me this? How will this help me to find the spirit?”
“No, don’t you see it? You’re about to make the same mistake!” exclaimed the spirit, pointing at the nun with the ladle. “You’re so determined and eager to complete your duty that you ignore all the warnings that are being issued to you. Keep it up, and you’ll join that poor lad under the sea very soon.”
“But he certainly wasn’t expecting it. I do,” the nun argued.
“Readiness doesn’t necessarily determine the outcome of a conflict. There are some foes you just can’t beat, no matter how prepared you are. Too many people have learned this the hard way…”
The ghost took another sip from the ladle, and then waved it to her right, where another ship-shaped light appeared out of nowhere. This time the vessel was much smaller, only slightly bigger that the nun’s boat, and its crew members consisted of a man and a woman of apparently similar age. By the way they were so close to each other, it seemed that they were lovers or engaged. But what picked the monk’s curiosity this time was another orb of light floating a few meters in front of the couple.
“Take this lovely couple, for example,” narrated the ghost for the second time. “If I recall correctly, they were members of rival families, but these two were completely enamored. You know, the typical; both families didn’t approve of their secret affair, and the two lovebirds decided to take a ship and sail to another place where their love couldn’t be fettered. But destiny, fate, or luck decided otherwise, and they ended up here because of the storm. Matter is, unlike the guy before, they knew of the funayurei. And when it appeared, the two valiantly faced it, for they believed their love was true, pure and strong enough to fight their impending doom.”
“How hopelessly romantic,” conceded the nun.
“Indeed. You can imagine how it all went down.”
The ghost chuckled at her inadvertently (in)appropriate choice of words. Meanwhile, the orb of light that represented the funayurei flashed ever so brightly, and a few seconds later, a green bolt came down from the black clouds and struck the boat’s mast, setting the sails on greenish flames.
“The spirit, for some reason, was feeling benevolent, and decided to test their so ‘unshakable’ love,” continued the ghost. “To put it short, it promised to let one of the two live if the other was willing to sacrifice his or her life.”
“And that’s being benevolent?” gasped the nun in horror. “That’s outright sadist and cruel!”
“Considering it doesn’t let any people alive, I’d say that offer was rather generous. But anyway, I’ll spare you the melodramatic part and skip to the end.”
The nun could see the two lovers share a last farewell hug, as the fire spread all over the boat. But, in a sudden turn of events, both of them jumped to the sea, still locked in their passionate embrace, and plummeted into the seas just like the captain from the first illusion did.
“Yes, they couldn’t let their other half to die, so they decided to meet their death together. Now ain’t that tragic?” the ghost drank another spoonful of rum. “Truly a senseless waste of lives. What’s the point of dying to prove your love, if you can’t be with your beloved one at the other side?”
“Who are you to question their feelings? You don’t know what lies beyond Death, since you’re stuck in this world. For all you know, their souls might have reunited in Nirvana.”
“Ah, that’s where you’re completely mistaken, again. Their souls are still lingering at the bottom of the ocean, among thousands of others,” the girl took another sip. “And for your information, I did see what awaits when you die. I have been where bell or diver never went, remember?”
The grin the ghost flashed at the nun made the woman even more uncomfortable, and a unsettling suspicion started to grow on her mind. Why was she telling her all those stories of fellow victim, and what does she accomplish with that? Was she honestly trying to talk the nun to stop her, or was she trying to buy time for the funayurei? Did she really know where it was? Or was she…?
“Tell me, sister, do you feel peaceful and relaxed whenever you contemplate the sea?” asked the ghost, after drinking yet another cup of rum.
“Yes, meditation and water are wedded forever, as they say,” answered the nun.
“Have you ever wondered why? Surely this is not without meaning. Consider it; and then turn to the docile earth you left behind. Consider them both, sea and land. Do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man lies one lone island, full of peace and joy, encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life.”
The ghost stood up and stomped in the rock she sat on all that time, as if to make her point. The nun stayed silent, as the girl dramatically waved to the area behind her. Like the two previous illusions, a pirate galleon closed in through the fog. The ship wasn’t particularly big, but its long beak, the four lateen-rigged mizzenmasts, and the beautiful crafting on the square gallery at the stern off the captain's cabin proved that the Palanquin –the name the nun saw engraved on the ship’s freeboard- was amongst the finest boats ever made, even though the monk wasn’t too knowledgeable about ships.
However, her attention was immediately grasped by the small girl walking the plank on the starboard. She was holding in her hands an anchor, strapped on her feet by a cord, and she was being forced to advance by the pirate captain’s sword pressing on her back.
“That girl…” Despite being still far away from her, the nun noticed the cunning resemblance between the girl of the illusion and the ghost standing in front of her.
“Born and raised on the boat, shy yet proud, she aimed to become a pirate, for it was the only life she knew,” the ghost’s voice was filled with melancholy. “She was treated as nothing more than a slave by the pirate crew, for she was the unwanted daughter of the captain and one of the prostitutes they’d captured. Despite that, she kept on working for them, for it was the only life she knew. Until the day she was caught stealing food from the cellar, and the one who she called ‘father’ made her walk the Table of Death.”
The slave girl lost her balance when she reached the end of the plank, which budged under the weight of the girl and the anchor combined, and fell to the sea head first. As the pirates on deck laughed soundlessly, the girl sunk and sunk at high speed in the ocean because of the anchor, but her light didn’t fade out in the darkness unlike the other two illusions.
“As air escaped her mouth and water filled her lungs, she saw the infinite darkness that lied beyond. Rejected by those who she considered family, she embraced the darkness as she abandoned her previous life… And she understood. She understood why she always felt so connected to the sea, why did she see herself in the ocean every time she looked at its surface… the image of the ungraspable phantom of life. And she thought, ‘This darkness is what there is after dying. This darkness is where we came from, and where will return to. This darkness if Life! I should show it to my family! And everyone else!’”
The ghost’s voice was now tainted with maniac laugher, while at the same time, the silhouette of the drowning girl changed shape and morphed into the orb that appeared in the other two illusions. It was at this point where all pieces fell to their place in the nun’s mind.
“Finally! Do you get it now? I have been where bell or diver never went! I am Minamitsu, the marine spirit, and I will make you see the Darkness that waits before Death, the Darkness that envelops Life!”
As she revealed her true identity as the funayurei, the orb of light flied into the sky, revolving the clouds around it. Soon, the wind started to pick up again, the fog cleared, and heavy rain fell all of sudden.
“I now know you, evil spirit, and I now know that your right worship is defiance!” shouted the nun over the rising storm. “To neither determination nor love were you kind, and even for hate you can’t but kill! The sea has kept your lingering spirit up, but drowned the infinite of your soul!”
“And so will yours, once I’m done with you, monk! Now fall out of your ship and bathe in the cursed oceans!”
Minamitsu, using the ladle she got from the nun, splashed some water into the monk’s boat. At the same time, a huge wave approached from the East and swallowed the Palanquin ship whole, and it now got closer and closer to the nun’s small boat. There was no way she could survive that, the monk realized. She had to stop the funayurei before it was too late.
“Give not yourself up to Darkness! There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness,” exclaimed the nun. “Even if your time in the Saṃsara has ended, I can still show you there’s another thing besides Sunyata after death! I can show you the way of Light!”
“Oh please, spare me the mystical crap! Say your last prayers, priest! [/i]Harbor Sign: Eternally Anchored Ghost Ship![/i]”
Illusionary anchors made of magic appeared around Minamitsu and shot forward towards the nun, surrounding her and pinning her down with their not-so-illusionary chains. The nun had no way to defend herself against the incoming tidal wave. When it finally came, her ship vaulted over violently, hopelessly sinking the monk, who was dragged down by the weight of the multiple anchors.
“Can you feel it? The air escaping your lungs? The water crushing your limbs from the inside?” Minamitsu was diving at the nun’s side, keeping up with her speed, all the while flashing a mischievous smile. “Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon. Soon you’ll be freed from the shackles of your body, and you’ll embrace the Darkness that lies at the bottom of this sea. And then you’ll understand…”
The spirit stopped midsentence when she saw the nun’s face. It was not a pained expression, nor a pathetic pout to try and hold as much air as possible. It wasn’t the horrified face of someone who knew his life was going to end, neither the resigned look of someone who accepted his fate. No, the face the nun was showing was that of absolute tranquility and focus, totally unfitting for someone about to drown.
“What’s with that face? Don’t you see you’re about to die!" Stop, I don’t want to see it! Disappear already!”
After strapping more anchors to the nun’s body until she couldn’t sink faster, the funayurei left her and ‘swam’ upwards. Once she surfaced from the water, she sat on the stone for a little while, contemplating the storm she had created. Her mind was still confused; it was the first time she ever saw that peaceful look in one of her countless victims, and it left her with a rather strange feeling. Shaking her head to dispel those thoughts, she took a last sip of rum, before sinking it down as well.
At that moment, Minamitsu noticed a white light shining under the sea, just where the nun’s boat was a few moments before.
The light grew brighter and brighter, while the waves started to shake violently. By some sort of divine force, the wind calmed down, and the clouds cleared, revealing a circle of light blue sky above them. From the raging seas, three long masts started to surface, and soon after the rest of the ship floated in the sky, releasing a bright and pure light like a sun. Minamitsu could do nothing but stare with the mouth agape, for the ship’s long beak, the four lateen-rigged mizzenmasts, and the beautiful crafting on the square gallery at the stern off the captain's cabin were recognizable at first sight.
By a miracle, the Palanquin Ship had resurfaced from its place of slumber, brighter than ever. And standing in the top of the main mast, the Buddist monk spoke to the funayurei:
“Oh, the world of Dharma is filled with light,” she said in a clear yet clam voice. “I have brought you the proof that there is Light in the unending Darkness, that there is Redemption even in the infinite Emptiness. Now come in your lowest form of love, marine spirit, and I will kneel and kiss you; but at your highest, come as mere supernal power; and even if you send thousands of full-freighted storms, I’ll still remain indifferent.”
Minamitsu kneeled over, for she knew her powers had been utterly defeated by the light of the monk.
“There is something beyond you, woman… Through you, your bright self, my scorched eyes do dimly see it,” muttered the spirit. “With your foundling light and that inconceivable feat you have given me an incommunicable riddle, a small hope. But please, at least tell me your name first.”
“I am Byakuren Hijiri, a humble follower of the way of the Buddha. If you follow me, I can show you the way to obtaining the answer for that riddle you speak of, but ultimately it’s a road that you must walk on your own.”
“Yes, Master Hijiri! Leap up, and sail the skies! I’ll leap with you; I’ll worship you, if you can show me how wrong I was!”
“Very well, Minamitsu. But first…”
“We must find you new clothes. A captain shouldn’t be wearing a torn out sheet, right?”
Somewhere high above, thunder rolled. A blue norther was coming across the Texas prairie. Down below, the solitary horse and rider rode on largely ignoring it; the experienced war horse merely sniffing at the dropping temperatures while his rider suppressed a shiver. He brought his mount to a halt so he could take one last look behind him as the flames from his family home lit up the night sky. This wasn't the future his momma had in mind for him when she sent him to Baylor in that bright summer in 1860.
Shiloh. Perryville. Murfreesburo. Chattanooga. Chickamauga. The man shuddered violently. The abomination at Fort Pillow. Atlanta. This whole war went straight to Hell when Colonel Terry died. And now...
The man halted his horse and looked up into the torrent of rain, as if asking God for an explanation. “Yellow Fever. A Yellow Fever outbreak a month before the war ended. Two months before I got home! Why? WHY?!” he screamed at the sky. The only answer he received was another crash of thunder. After another moment's pause, he continued his slow journey westward.
There's still gold in them hills out west, he thought to himself. And where there's gold, there's a need for men who can relieve prospectors of their gold. Hopefully I can have a couple rounds in the best cathouses in California before the world catches up with me and demands its due. He snorted. Or maybe I can just rob a stage. I've heard that has a good thrill to it. Bah. I'll deal with this in the morning. It's too gorram wet to deal with this shit now. He briefly considered stopping to try and find a place to sleep, but the prairie was just as flat and empty as it always was. With a sigh, he resigned himself to riding through the night, and let the gentle motion of his horse's walk begin to lull him to sleep in the saddle.
Something stirred him out of a reliving of a nightmarish cavalry charge. He was groggy, trying to pierce together what woke him, when it hit him: a smell he hadn't smelled since the Atlanta Campaign.
“HYDRANGANEAS?!” he exclaimed has he yanked his horse to a halt. “I'm nowhere near the Appalachians!” As he opened his eyes to take in his surroundings better, his horror grew: he wasn't in Texas anymore. He found himself on a simple dirt road, in what appeared to be a mountain valley. On both sides of the road fields hydrangeas stretched out to the foothills, and ahead of him in the distance a hardwood forest grew skyward. All of this made his horror grow more and more; when he fell asleep he had nothing but Texas prairie around him for hundreds of miles.
As the fear of his displacement grew, it was suddenly snapped by a low demonic grow. The reflexes honed in combat clicked into action, and he quickly located the source of the growl. What it was wasn't what he was expecting.
“...Is that a Gorram parasol?”
Before he could process the absurdity staring him in the face any, it reared back with an unearthly agility and lunged at him. Without even needing to think he filled his hand with his Colt sidearm and blindly fired at the approaching “object”, but the shot went wild and it smacked into him with enough force to knock him out of the saddle.
As his horse bolted, the man fought for his life. The parasol had somehow grown a gorram mouth, and was doing a good number at mauling off his arm. Fortunately, it was having trouble with his raincoat, and that gave him several precious seconds. With a quick glace, the man located his pistol, and then made a savage roll, knocking the thing off of him. Seizing his chance, he lunged to where his gun fell out of his hand. As he grabbed it, a sharp pain lanced up through his leg causing him to scream out. As he rolled over again he found the parasol had proceeded to try and bite his ankle off, but that was a fatal mistake.
With an savage grin, the man let loose a rebel yell as be shoved the pistol into the folds of the parasol and fired. Crack! after Crack! echoed out across the fields of flowers as he fanned the pistol empty into the demonic canopy. Even with the smoke of the last shot partially obscuring it, the man could tell that it was still “alive”, but stunned. With a tug, he wrenched it free of his leg, and started smashing it against the ground. Again and again it fell, until the wood inside it splintered and then finally broke in two.
The man fell back onto his knees, his chest heaving. Then, it hit him. He had fought for his life against a ruttin' PARASOL. The thought sent him into hysterics. He laughed, harder than he had in years. He had just managed to bring himself under control when he glanced at the wrecked parasol again, which sent him back into the throws of laughter. After bringing himself back again, the thoughts he had the night previously came back to him, and that nearly set him off again. “A gorram highwayman?!” he said aloud, “What in tarnation was I thinking?! After all the world had thrown at me, I was just going to let it win? Let myself slip into the ranks of the damned? No. No! I've got better things I can do with the things I learned in that War,” He pulled himself up. “By God, I'm a Texas Ranger. And by God I will not tarnish that name!”
With some effort, he tracked down his horse, grazing in the flower fields a good half mile away. With a hop, he mounted his horse again, and led it back to the road, leading it back the way he came.
After a short amount of time riding back, another traveler seemed to just mist into being coming towards him. He was wearing some kind of...bath robe? He shook his head. It doesn't matter. I've seen far stranger things today.
As he walked past, he called out to the man. “You best be careful, stranger,” he said with an amicable smile. “It's a mite bit excitable back there.”