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You tell Waka about your dispute with Seikibanki, doing the best you can to keep your voice and your temper level. The urge to cast yourself in a better light is tempting, pulling at each unformed word, but you pull harder.
Something like this isn’t going to make a liar of you.
When you finish, Wakasagi is still seated in her wheelchair, hesitation and discomfort written across her face as she continues studying yours.
Seikibanki stands behind her with her arms folded across her chest, and you can tell that her tall collar is concealing a scowl.
“I see.” Wakasagi says, quietly. “I had hoped that something like that hadn’t happened. At least everyone’s okay” She looks you straight in the eye. “Hey, Charlotte. Is it true that you’re a Templar?”
“Yes.” You tell her. No point in hiding it.
Seibanki starts as you say so. “You’re joking, right? Everyone knows that the Templars are just some fairy-tale the humans invented to feel better about themselves!”
“I assure you, we’re very real.” You cut her off, feeling a pulse in your head beginning to pound. “And while our mission is to defend the innocent, we don’t appreciate people insinuating that humans ought to... how did it go, ‘beg for mercy’.” Your glare is stronger than the Rokurokubi’s, and she looks aside.
Wakasagi’s expression remains pensive, though there’s a hint of nervousness as she looks at the tension of the scene. “I think I get it now. Seikibanki, did you say anything about humans being, um, weak, or anything?”
A mumbled response. “Might’ve. A bit, yeah.”
Your exasperation boils over. “Look, I’m still working out how different things here are, but where I’m from, it’s considered bad manners to ambush someone and talk shit about their race.”
The mermaid sighs. “Banki, we can’t say things like that anymore. Not after the mess with the Inchling and the Amanojaku.”
“She was new, okay! I thought it’d be okay if we stuck to spellcards.”
“But because she’s new, she might not understand local customs.” Waka explains, staying patient. She turns to face you.
“Charlotte, some youkai like to banter with humans before spellcard duels. They hear about really powerful people, like the vampire or the Moriya goddesses saying things like that, and it seems like a cool thing to copy. I can see why you’d take offense, especially if you were just minding your business, but nothing’s meant by it, really.”
“Why are you taking her side?” Seikibaki asks. “What about me? I’m the one who just wanted spellcards and got manhandled for my trouble.”
A thought occurs to you. If you buried Seikibanki up to her neck, you could use her to tee off for golf practice. Sure, heads aren’t very aerodynamic, but you could always go for quantity over quality.
“I’m not. Charlotte, you really can’t keep doing this.” Wakasagi’s voice interrupts the errant thought. “Lots of people are going to get angry at you, and if Reimu comes after you...” She shudders. “If you’re concerned about getting dragged into duels all the time, I guarantee you that it’ll get better. It’s just that, well, people are eager to see what the newcomers are like. Just give it a bit of time and it won’t be a problem anymore.”
“That sounds reasonable.” You say. It’s still not good, but at least there’s an out.
You can’t bring yourself to argue with the mermaid. Her eyes are clear, wide, and perhaps a bit too trusting.
“I don’t suppose there’s anything I could do to clear this up?” The offer leaves your mouth without much thought. For a moment, Banki looks about to say something that will sour the mood, but seems to reconsider after glancing back at your holstered pistols..
“Give me a proper duel.” She says, voice still colored with resentment. “Come to the piers in the early afternoon, when most of the mist has cleared. I’ll be waiting for you.”
“Alright. I’ll be there.” You promise.
You wish the two youkai goodbye and head off, feeling much more tired than when you first left. At least your guns are undamaged and back in your hands.
With that episode weighing on your mind, you’re a bit surprised when you get a phone call while flying back through the willows. You’re even more surprised to see that it’s Satori. Needless to say, you answer it immediately.
“Hello, Charlotte.” Coming through the phone, her voice sounds even more listless than you remember.
“I hope you’re doing well.” You tell her. “I’m a bit curious as to how you got this number.”
A soft laugh. “Ran provided it to me. I had a brief chat with her after bringing Koishi back home as per our agreement.”
Oh, right. It’s uncomfortable to realize how quietly the memory of that event slipped out of sight.
“If you’re worried about privacy, don’t be. Ran only gave it to me when I explained the situation to her, and I don’t have any plans to share it.” Her tone shifts to concern. “You do remember what I’m talking about, right?”
“Yeah, I do. It’s been there, just under the surface, but I didn’t realize how... unimportant it was starting to feel.” You say. Christ, that girl did a number on you.
“Well, it’s good that you have any memory. It’d be a hassle to explain the whole thing again.”
“How’s Koishi doing?” You ask. “You said she gets... stressed when she doesn’t get to roam.”
“She’s been handling things better than I expected, and all of the pets are thrilled to have her back. Still, I’m seeing her staring out the windows more often. We’re running out of her favorite candy, too, and it’s going to be a while before I can get anymore.”
“Anyways, I’m rambling. Things are holding up.” She says, stopping herself. “Thanks for asking about her, by the way.”
There’s something about the way she said the last bit that makes you want to smile.
“Don’t mention it.” You tell her. There’s occasional sipping from her end, and faint animal calls.
“If you don’t mind me asking, how have you been adjusting to Gensokyo?” She asks.
You laugh. “It’s been bumpy. Lots of people wanting spellcard duels when I just want to get from point A to point B.”
“I can imagine. Powerful outsiders appear rarely enough that word spreads quickly when they do. As for powerful humans... I believe the most recent individual was Sanae Kochiya. If memory serves, she spent most of her first days picking fights with the mountain’s residents before her parents got her to calm down and apologize.”
“But back to what we were talking about before; Have your dreams been better?” She asks, her voice turning serious.
“It’s been... better.” You tell her. “They’ve still been strange, but there’s a downward trend in hostile strangeness. Eirin’s medicine might have something to do about it.”
“I see. The doctor certainly knows what she’s doing.” She lets a sigh escape. “Well, just as long as the gap lady leaves us alone, I suppose.”
She clears her throat, and you hear her set down the cup. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d greatly appreciate it if you and your colleagues would visit my home. There are several matters that I believe warrant discussion, and Utsuho in particular has voiced some interest in talking with you about physics.”
Getting to know Utsuho sounds like a good idea. The sooner you can scope out the person who reportedly throws around miniature suns like water balloons, the better. Still, it’s a long trip to the Underground, and there isn’t much chance of getting things done on the surface in the meantime.
Her voice turns sly. “I also have a wine cellar. An extensively stocked wine cellar, with the finest spirits acquirable below or aboveground. The Aki sisters produce a lovely shochu.”
Now that’s just dirty.
“I’ll discuss it with my colleagues.” You tell her. “Do you have their numbers as well?”
“Yes, I do.” She says. “Well, do give it some thought, would you?”
“Of course. “ You spot a familiar green-clad figure on the road below. “Satori, something just came up.”
“I see. Well, do take care. Try not to get caught out at night.”
From your aerial view, you can see how the Garden of the Sun earned the name. Ordered rows of sunflowers blanket the flat plains, bounded by a river on the far end and criss-crossed by footpaths. A few small groups of fairies flit above the flowers, playing among themselves. Towards the center, the sea of green and gold gives way to orchards and other plots, with a mansion at the center.
You catch up to Junko at the outskirts of Yuuka’s fields. The Dragon agent is strolling along the dirt path, taking bites out of a suspiciously familiar peach.
“Yo.” You hail her from the sky, and she waves at you as you set down and start walking beside her. “I take it that the fight with Tenshi went well.”
“Yeah. It turns out that I deal with her rocks better than she deals with my Chaos magic.” Another bite. “Man, they’ve got some tasty peaches up there.”
“How’d you get that, anyways? Something tells me she didn’t just hand it over.”
“She didn’t. I grabbed it off her hat while she was distracted by illusions.” Junko finishes off the fruit and tosses the pit by the roadside. “She wasn’t weak, by any means, but her bark ultimately outweighs her bite by a large margin. Even if we account for the full extent of her sword’s power, its owner is thoroughly mediocre.”
“How mediocre are we talking?”
“We went for best two out of three in an empty field. Round one was with magic allowed, and like I said, that was a complete stomp for me. The second was just swords, and it ended about the same. Her bladework and footwork both have some glaring weaknesses”
The walls of sunflowers do a good job of blotting out external noise. Occasionally, you hear the chirping of birds or the raucous laughter of nearby fairies, but for the most part there’s only the murmur of wind through the leaves.
Overall, it seems that someone of Tenshi’s caliber isn’t a huge concern as an opponent against one of you. Given that she’s considered to be fairly powerful around here, this helps you to gauge your standing.
“She’s got potential, though.” Junko goes on. “If she can just learn to put aside her ego and learn, she could be great someday. Until then...” She shrugs. “Not sure how I’d do against her in spellcards, but it’s good to make clear where we stand on the local ladder.”
“People were watching?”
Junko nods. “Yeah. Word spread through the village pretty fast that the newcomer was smacking around a Celestial. It seems that most Celestials aren’t liked much - they’re seen as condescending snobs, and Tenshi has a reputation as an immature bully. There was lots of cheering when I knocked her down.” She scowls. “I think I saw Aya flitting around. I’m not looking forward to how she’ll spin that story.”
You take a breath, inhaling the sweet, earthy scents of rich soil and lush vegetation. Warmed by the sun and fragrant with herbs and flowers, the very air feels alive and nurturing.
“Eh. At the end of the day, people will hear that we’re not to be pushed around.” You tell her. “Say, did you check on the safehouse?”
“You mean the place I cleared with Kasen? I stopped by after Tenshi stomped away in a huff. I got the power running again, and I paid some cleaners to freshen it up. It should be ready by the time we get back.”
That’s good to know. Any privacy you can get will be helpful. The next step would be warding against intrusion or surveillance, but between the three of you, that shouldn’t take much time.
By this point, you’ve cleared the sunflowers and are now walking past meticulously kept groves of trees and shrubs. Ripe fruit adorns their branches, but you resist the desire to pluck one. Considering who their gardener is, it’s likely to be very bad mojo.
“Say, do you know where Caleb went?” You ask.
You’re interrupted by a lightshow from the other side of the house. Green and yellow sparks unfurl like flower petals against the noonday sky.
“Looks like he’s getting a spellcard lesson.” Junko grins. “Why don’t we watch?”
The two of you make your way around Yuuka’s home, where you find Elly standing on the veranda with her arms folded, watching the spectacle with some trepidation.
“Morning, Elly.” Junko greets the gatekeeper, who jumps to attention in surprise, hands reaching for the hilt of her scythe before she recognizes you two.
“Ah! H-Hello, Miss Mori - Miss McGallagher. Please, do have a seat.” She stammers as she indicates a few wicker chairs to the side.
You sit down and look up. Caleb and Yuuka are both in the sky, with the former doing his best to evade the latter’s projectiles. The green-haired gardener’s cheery, effortless smile contrasts with Caleb’s clenched-jaw focus as he tries to avoid the storm issuing from the tip of Yuuka’s parasol.
He does an admirable job, but only prolongs the inevitable. A thin stream of light clips his shoulder, spinning him into one sphere that hits him in the gut and another that smacks into the side of his head. Yuuka halts her attack right away, folding up the umbrella.
“I think that’s enough for now.” Yuuka says as she descends. A smile is still on her face, but it’s more pleased than triumphant - like a teacher satisfied with her pupil. “You’ve certainly begun to understand what is needed. I have no doubt that in time, you will be able to hold your own.”
She looks at you and Junko before her feet touch the ground. “Ah. Charlotte, Junko. I’m pleased to see that both of you have arrived.”
Caleb lands with less grace, almost losing his balance as he lands.
“You alright?” You ask.
“Yeah. It feels worse than it actually is. I’ve checked.” He tells you, shaking his body out. “Don’t mind me. I’ll be fine in no time.”
Yuuka pats him on the back as she passes by, a faint glow around her hand. Caleb straightens up, surprise coloring his face for a moment. Yuuka just chuckles.
“Please, do come inside.” She says as Elly holds the door. “There is much we need to discuss.”
From the moment you enter Yuuka’s home, you’re struck with a sense of it being... off-balance. It’s a nice house, to be sure, well-designed and looked after without being ostentatious. Large windows let generous amounts of sunlight inside, and the furniture is practical with a hint of elegance. Overall, it’s clean, warm, and smells of wood.
You take another sniff. It’s living wood, as though the trees were never felled for lumber.
Well, Yuuka’s got something going on with Gaia. It wouldn’t be surprising.
Still, there’s something off. Some small but persistent note of dissonance, like a puzzle missing a single piece.
It’s something minor you’ll get to later. Everyone’s seated in the parlor, a smallish room with a fireplace by the side.
“I’d love to entertain you three as guests, but for now, we must take care of business.” She says, sighing. “I suppose we should start from the beginning. Gensokyo was created some one hundred and thirty years ago when Yukari and five others raised the Hakurei barrier to isolate it.”
“Others? You can’t be more specific?” Caleb asks, frowning.
Yuuka offers an apologetic smile. “I’m afraid so. I can tell you that I am one of them, and that the first Hakurei was another, but naming the others would draw their attention to you, and I assure you, that would be problematic. I’ve heard that you’re already familiar with Eblis, so I trust that you already have an idea of their age and power.”
You and your friends blanch. One Eblis was bad enough.
“Please tell me that at the very least, they don’t share his temperament.” Caleb asks.
“Or his goals.” You add.
Yuuka laughs. “No, no. They all have their eccentricities, but nothing so destructive. Yukari doesn’t take kindly to vandals, after all.”
“If you’re using Eblis as a measuring stick, does that mean Yukari’s working with Angels?” You ask. “Even fallen ones.”
Yuuka just gives you another thin smile. “I’m sorry, but for the same reasons, I can’t tell you.”
That’s worrying. The more you hear about Yukari, the more some part of you wants to just shut the door on Gensokyo and throw away the key. Dealing with someone that can apparently wrangle Angels - Angels! - into some semblance of cooperation... you might be a bit unprepared.
Eblis was a fallen Nephilim, marooned in Hell with most of his power atrophied, and he still took a small army to put down. You’re good at your job, very good as a matter of fact, but you’re just one person.
“Don’t be alarmed.” Yuuka says, leaning forward with a terrifying intensity in her eyes. “I will be the first to admit that my strength has declined, but I can tell you with no trace of arrogance that there is nobody in Gensokyo is foolish enough to cross me and what I stand for.”
She takes a breath, and her demeanor is gentle again. “I have always stood for Gaia, I will stand beside her Chosen.”
You think back to her Sparks - searing pillars of golden light, as pure and inevitable as an act of nature.
You feel a bit safer with those backing you up.
“Now, where was I? We created the Barrier. It is the purpose for Gensokyo’s existence.” Yuuka goes on. “It was envisioned as a defense system to protect the world from the Dreaming ones. The fact that it has been breached is not encouraging.” Her expression darkens for a moment. “Filth mutates endlessly. Our work is thorough, but we never expected to account for every possible strain. Still, I doubt that the creature we faced at the shrine was able to slip past on that principle.”
“Each member of Yukari’s circle provided some service or function essential for the Barrier. I have already explained mine. To my knowledge, each other member has upheld their obligations, except for one. Hakurei.”
“Do you mean Reimu?” Junko asks.
“No. The first Hakurei. She was one of you.” Yuuka explains. “Chosen by Gaia and blessed by the Bees, though as you can see, she is no longer with us. That isn’t to say that she’s dead. When it became apparent that something was wrong, I personally demanded answers from Eiki. She swore upon her office that they didn’t have any clue where Hakurei’s soul was.”
“Do you have any idea who or what was responsible?” Caleb asks.
The answer is immediate. “Yukari.” The contempt in her voice raises hairs on the back of your neck. “She has so many secrets and schemes, and Hakurei was growing stronger and stronger. By removing her from play, Yukari would have eliminated a perceived threat and delivered her infant replacement into the palm of her hand.”
“Reimu didn’t seem particularly fond of Yukari when I met her.” Junko says. “In fact, the first thing she asked was whether I was a part of Yukari’s latest joke.”
Yuuka laughs at that. “Reimu can be like that at times. She’s such a sweet child, but there some things that you shouldn’t touch unless you’re looking for a fight: Her shrine, her money, her food, and her free time.”
“But leaving that aside, I can’t stress enough how good of a manipulator Yukari is, or how far her reach extends. No doubt she is already working to ensnare you.”
Yuuka’s eyes flick over yours. For some reason, guilt flashes in your stomach.
Yuuka goes on without incident. “Still, it is possible that Yukari was not involved in Hakurei’s disappearance. If I had been certain that she was, I would have already ended my involvement with her.”
She places a hand on the grip of her umbrella. “And rest assured that I will not sit by if someone attempts to make any of you disappear in a similar manner.”
“Now, I said earlier that I could not name the others for you, but I can point you in the right direction. I can think of several leads you may wish to pursue. The Hakurei Shrine, for example, has deeper foundations than one might expect, and although the Dragon statue in the Village does not command the same respect it used to, the devout still offer libations of beer.”
“Now then, I’ve taken up enough of your time. You must have questions for me.”
Vote for up to three topics.
[ ] Yourself
-Why are you so feared?
-How did you meet Elly?
-What... are you?
-How does your Master Spark work?
[ ] Gensokyo
-What’s the deal with Fairies?
-Where are the Anima Wells?
-What was life before Reimu like?
-Are any groups that will cause trouble?
[ ] Individuals
-The First Hakurei
[ ] Other?