Once upon a time-
Except that was wrong, of course. There was no time here, time had shattered with the infinite possibilities of yourself across this unchanging world. The past was impossible to change, only the future could be altered.
She - you - had found herself battling for her life - fighting for a chance to live, to exist. Fighting with youself, different versions of who you might have been. As a soldier, as an engineer, as a merchant and monster and healer.
-You recall the Engineer, a wily version of yourself who had fought a battle-hardened veteran of a hundred battlefields, fighting to exist for the sake of the lives of her friends that would be saved by her in the wars she fought in - that possibility ended when Momiji, persuaded by the Engineer, cut down the Soldier in a desperate battle between two time-warpers.
She'd allied again in the round after with the shopkeeper-witch Ellen and her familiar Socrates - and even fallen in love and marrying the little book-reading ibis Tokiko.
And all of this had ended, all cut short when one of the traps she had set killed one of the angry mob who you
had incited to drive the Engineer out.
Killing people was forbidden in this game - only other possibilities having their threads cut were valid. Those who did so were targets of another threat - the Paradox Spiders. Ghastly creatures of skittering shadow and fractal legs and moving in the frozen grey of timestop, of too many insectoid eyes and fangs. Creatures that erased what they bit into from the timeline. You saw it happen - you caused it to the Engineer, destroyed the one who just wanted to see the dam she would build completed, to protect Ellen and Tokiko.
You had your own reasons - two children, the grandchildren of the Maid of that Red Mansion. Your children.
An interlude, then? Was this sounding all too grim, perhaps? There was a little break between each fight to anhillation. A great feast with each of the possibilities, in that Purple woman's infinite hall - a little simple meal with pasta, apparently. A moment to reflect and recoup yourself. You had seen your own past enemies there - a murderer, dark and sadistic - one that you'd poisoned yourself. A being of warped metal and clockwork.
And you'd spoken to your golden-haired host about your dreams, and your true enemy, your brother.
The one who had forced this game on you, on all of you. Who had now changed the future - your future that could have been, erasing your third child (you had a third child?) in your dreams, trapping Yukari there, another copy of her in another time, anothet place. She had been most intriged by that, you recalled.
Your brother - or rather the one who should have been your brother. Denied by his gender an existence in Gensokyo his non-existence coupled with the need for a guardian of time left him as a vengeful guardian of time. One bent on revenge against any target he was allowed to strike against - one of them being you. All of you.
No choice but to press on, and survive.
Within the village you had seen a chance to build up leverage, a force to use to defend yourself with. Each round of the game left you dangerously close to hostile possibilities. And this time was no different. But for once you did not find one quite so violent - a small girl, with vampiric teeth and indescribable, shapeshifting wings. One that you were loathe to destroy.
-And that might have been your downfall, had chance not intervened. A clockwork monster, a nightmarish mix of flesh and metal forged into a time-stopping killing machine. One that had torn into your new friend - your self proclaimed sister - as she had fought it to a standstill until both had parted, both heavily injured.
And you sacrificed yourself on her fangs to save her.
-It was different, this time. You were not discarded like the others - finding yourself travelling to hell on a ferrywoman's vessel. And finding yourself there, you found yourself working off a penance for a rather irritated Yama - which in turn protected you from the burecracy of the Paradox Spiders and their deployment. For the time being...
Your sister fought, then. Searching out the Teacher, who had been coerced into helping out. Learning how she'd been - would be created - as an experiment, part of a crossbreed between vampire and Chimera. Finding out there was a healer that was also a pacifist - and being chased by that cyborg monstrosity. She also got a pet lizard! It was cute, or so she had thought. As she had lured it over the Sanzu, letting it see you and land on the shore first - without a dispensation crossing the Sanzu was death - and a success for you and her. And now, your fates were joined together. She was your sister, you a half-youkai, now - your future possibility, what you were in your own past - was changed to include both of you.
-And that was the present moment, a current event, a snapshot of existence of how things existed in one brief moment, everything up to date. But much was to lie in the future...
Your sister -
The rooms are a dimly lit series of stone walls, parts carpeted, part not.
Your feet pad across the uneven tempered floor in silence. What was all that fuss about? nononono why is he here he was not here do not be here
It would be bad if it woke your brother up - he works so hard and he needs his sleep. You love him very much, of course. please die and sleep forever!
"And so we thought our young ones had made a pretty impressive statue, but for the fact that they didn't have any materials, tools or training. Quite odd, wouldn't you say?"
The voice of the Mistress. Her normally amused, childish voice seems somehow... strained?
You see you brother, then. Already up, he grins to you as you stay back - wanting to surprise them with the grey statue of her
And she entered in white and in orange and purple, and with a glance, saw everything there was to see. Eyes staring at the statue, at you, at the cramped conditions. Skipping over your brother.
"This statue's a poor likeness of me. They made it, you say? I hardly think it an appropriate one..."
He lurks behind her with a giggle, making symbols with his hands as you tried to shoo him off discreetley, quailing as she stares at you.
The Mistress intervenes, fortunately, hugging him back against her pink dress. "Regardless, would you like it as a gift? It's hardly an appropriate thing to have in the basement." They both look at the greyed out, furious statue of the gap youkai, and he looks victorious as the Purple host reached out as if to touch it.
"Yes. I think I will." And it vanishes through a gap.
Without a word more, she strides out, and you begin breathing again.
And that was the first and last time you had seen her up close in your life.
The rounds went quickly. Trapping an elemental of knives in a magicannon fire. Trading a tsumogami's sentience for some of your lifespan. A fistfight with another human over the Palanquin's bridge while the shapeshifter sister bled out.
And each time the Purple Host learnt more. She had unfrozen herself, evaded the trap laid in the other's essence. Learnt of the Paradox Spider's form from the other's dying breaths.
With two, it was easier to protect each other. As the ending of other possibilites were less... Morally ambiguous, more of the time.
"Only the nastiest ones surviving..?" was one theory. Once the two of you had fled, not wanting to deal with one mornful half-ghost. A battle after battle, as your dreams entwined together.
And then, one day, just four of you remained in the Hall. Yourself and your sister, and - your sister and yourself. Identical duplicates, eyeing yourself up as if through a mirror. She
spoke, watching your reactions. Pulling back golden hair.
"This will be the last battle." Pointing at each, the Sage placed her hands across the table. "I have made a... countermeasure... to your brother. Survive, and you should make it. Back to your families, or wherever you would be headed."
For once, she reached out, tasted the simple pasta dish. "Thank you for helping remove this menace from Gensokyo. I hope your stay in Mayohiga had been pleasant enough."
Amidst the backdrop of titanic forces raging against each other, of time's negation and boundaries pushing against one another - in the guts of clockwork that fill the Tower - against the backdrop of your mother's laboured screams - you battle with yourself.
Silver knife blade meeting knife blade, slowed time maneuvers of a harried, middle-aged woman lashing out at herself. Soon bleeding from half a dozen superficial cuts, jumping off walls and wrestling each other. From level to level, giant metal gears grinding against each others as you tread amongst them. As each jump and step through time makes the seconds tick by irregularly.
As you ascend the clock-tower you both can see the growing greyness leeching colour from the world - a ring of the Spiders closing around the outcropping, as they do around the basement. Further out the world cracked apart in hairline fractures and purple rifts.
No time to focus on that. No time for anything but the woman before you, desperately defending herself.
No time at all.
-End it with
--[ ] A knife
--[ ] A hug