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[X] Give her the music box
The music box clings to your fingers as you try to set it on the table. Then the naked red and white musculature of Izumo’s hand closes around yours and gently pulls it away.
“A Gaia Engine.” She muses, turning it over. “Has she learned humor?”
She clenches her fist. The music box cries out with the dissonant sound of screaming gears.
“Help - she’s out - I can’t keep her in - Executor - run.” RK2 babbles, lying on the floor.
“O strange sinless child, We are beyond that point.” Izumo says, shattering the music box. The distortions retreat with the final wail, collapsing back into reality so fast you feel whiplash. The only signs of the anomaly are an incoherent and half-wrecked RK2 and a whispering echo.
Something was reaching to you from behind that chaos. Had the song played any longer, would you have seen a white-gloved hand emerge?
“Disappointment. Frustration. You feel it as well, do you not?” Izumo asks as she looks around the cave. “Yukari is not used to being denied within her sandbox.”
“I didn’t know the music box would do that.” You blurt out.
She raises a skinless hand to silence you. “I would call you foolish, though I too am guilty of placing trust in Yukari and her myriad gifts. For now, it is enough that the beacon was destroyed before she could be called here. We have the luxury of enough time to converse.”
A moan draws your attention to RK2, lying discarded on the floor. She reaches for you with a trembling hand.
Hakurei merely watches as you approach the wrecked AI. “Curious. You have an attachment to this strange tsukumogami?”
“It’s not a-.” You stop yourself. There’s no time to waste on nitpicking. “My mission was to recover it. I thought that this place was a laboratory, not a tomb.”
RK2 twitches on the cold floor. Your heart sinks. The damage is too severe and your tools are too few. The most you could hope for would be preserving either the black box data or the AI itself - and your orders were clear on what your priority was.
For now, all you can do is put her in emergency hibernation. Her remaining eye gives you a pleading look before closing.
“The distortion’s gone now, whatever it was.” Caleb pings. “Char, what’s your status?”
“I’m fine.” You ping back. “For now. There was something inside-”
Hakurei’s unquestionable voice cuts through your own. “I am Hakurei Izumo, the first shaman of Gensokyo. Your companion is unharmed.”
A shocked silence follows.
“Char, is this legit?” Junko pings.
“As far as I can tell, yes.”
“What are the Kappa going to do?” You ask.
“They will leave.” Izumo states. “This is a mercy. They will be spared the worst of Yukari’s attentions.”
“Yeah, Nitori just went ‘fuck this’.” Junko reports. “Can’t really blame her with the pucker factor of this situation. But what’s to stop Yukari from just gapping in to interrupt us?”
“There exist blind spots throughout Gensokyo that she cannot view.” Hakurei says as skin blooms across her exposed flesh like rust on metal. “Backdoors she cannot traverse. This chamber is one such area, though her servants may still intrude.”
“I’m not sure how we’d explain this to Ran.” You ping.
“Who?” Hakurei asks.
“Yukari’s kitsune familiar.” You explain.
“Ah.” Disgust flashes across her face. “She is known to me.”
Caleb and Junko step through the entrance with their weapons held at the ready and Mimi fastened to Junko’s back. They spot Hakurei’s still-regenerating form and train them on her.
She waves a hand at them. “Lay down your arms. This place has endured enough defilement. If nothing else, I would spare it the honeyed blood of my fellow Chosen.”
Her steely tone and the neat stack of corpses in the other rooms leaves little room for dispute. Your comrades holster their weapons and carefully stand near you.
“RUUKOTO.” Mimi blares, almost speechless at the sight of her sister AI’s condition.
Silence passes as Hakurei and your party size each other up. Izumo cracks a smile that turns into a grimace as blood drips from the corner of her mouth.
“Three of you. One for each of the great factions. One for each facet of Yukari. She must be laughing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you taken a good look at her gaps, and what lies beyond them?” She asks. “More eyes than the stars to observe Gensokyo to the smallest pebble. The gaps themselves as a mouth, a tear in reality from which her whispers can reach any ear. And when a more forceful approach is needed, she is not above having her arms reach through.”
She steps toward you. In a flash, she has a hand around your chin and a contemplative expression on her face.
“Yes, you know what I mean.” She says as Caleb and Junko reflexively raise their weapons. “She’s reached out to you. She’s touched your dreams.”
“How’d you know?” You ask as you push her hand away.
“Yukari is a creature of boundaries, gaps, thresholds, liminality... and dreams are between fiction and reality.” Izumo frowns. “You’ve all been in the presence of the Cultivator as well, and - what’s this?”
She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “Hm. I thought I sensed traces of the Auditor on you. It’s been quite a while since anyone’s seen her.”
“I don’t think I’ve heard anyone use those names but you, lady.” Junko says.
“Just as well. I have no idea how true they have stayed to their duties.” She laughs and grins. “I might have some big heads to knock sense into. But enough of that for now. I have spent a long time slumbering, and I have questions. Can I expect answers from you?”
“Depends on the question.” Caleb says. “We’ve got a few of our own, to say nothing of the rest of Gensokyo.”
“How long has it been since the Barrier was completed?” Hakurei asks.
“Approximately 133 years.” Caleb answers.
“How did you arrive here?”
“We pursued a major Filth creature through a portal in Agartha.” Junko answers.
“Who is the current Hakurei shaman?”
“Reimu, child of Hakurei Nanako.”
Hakurei’s eyes narrow in confusion. “Child? By birth or adoption?”
“Birth.” Junko answers. “Every source was consistent on Reimu being her biological child.”
“Unexpected. Unexplained...” Hakurei mutters to herself. “Something to examine personally. What is her present condition?”
Your hands feel clammy. “She is currently in Yukari’s custody after being injured in combat against a major Filth creature.”
Hakurei receives the explanation calmly. “I see.”
Something small strikes you on the head, and you look up to see pebbles and dust falling from the cave ceiling. You look back at Hakurei to see her fist clenched hard enough that blood drips from her knuckles.
“I must thank you.” She says, standing up. Her body is fully regenerated, though her clothing remains tattered. “I have an objective. Tell me, what title does Yukari go by in this era? The lady in purple? The conductor? The stationmaster? Abbadon?”
“I’ve heard all but the last one.” Caleb says. “Most people are afraid of calling her by name.”
“As they should be, though I doubt that such a precaution is effective at evading her notice.” Hakurei says as she walks towards the makeshift shrine gate.
She claps her hands, and the frame glows with golden light.
“This, I suppose, must be the fruits of heroism.” She muses. “An early, violent death. A forsaken and desecrated tomb. And now it seems my descendant has been betrayed by my erstwhile partner while that ruinous infection seeps through.”
You clear your throat. “What are you going to do about Yukari? Could you not just talk to her?”
“Were it so simple. I have not split my soul to escape her grasp just to become entangled again. I will remain Gensokyo’s guardian, but forevermore on my own terms.”
Was waking her up really something you should have done?
“It’s good that you’ve got a plan, but what are WE going to do about Yukari?” Caleb asks. “There’s no way she’s just going to let us walk free, especially when she figures out that she can’t enter your hiding places but we can.”
“She could imprison you all and uncage you only for Filth outbreaks, but I doubt you have warranted such a drastic punishment, even now. Yukari needs Gensokyo to be interesting, and removing such promising talent from the stage would diminish the show.”
Izumo’s smile turns sharp. “Besides, what other way does she have to find me again? Send her servile mongrel fox or her grovelling Oni to be thrashed again? Yuyuko would be the only one to stand a chance against me, and Yukari would never gamble her life.”
She pokes your chest. “Not when she can just bank on her new Chosen to look for her.”
The golden light within the gate’s frame flares and resolves into what looks like an endless hallway of floating doors.
“Where are you going now?” Junko asks.
“I’m going to wake up my other selves.” Izumo states, experimentally flexing her arm. She’s as matter of fact as any one of you on having died repeatedly. “My memories and power are incomplete, but I have enough to begin. If memory serves, Sanae and Shizune should be eager to settle the score.”
“Wait, that’s it?” You ask. “You’re just going to bail on us after saying all that? We’ve got some questions now, because of you!”
“And I have my own questions.” Hakurei sighs. For the first time you’ve seen, her eyes look distant and tired. “Gensokyo must have changed so much. What has transpired while I was entombed?”
“Nanako had a daughter.” She whispers to herself. “I had a daughter.”
Izumo shifts her focus back on you all. “Futaba might be willing to talk. She might also go on a bloodthirsty rampage, but she’s still your best option at this time so long as Vampires never become a topic of conversation. If you know any merfolk - if there are still any merfolk, ask them. They will know where to point you.”
“That being said, I can share some of my wisdom with you to tip the balance in your favor.”
[ ] Yukari’s subordinates (The fox, the oni, Yuyuko)
[ ] Yukari’s partners (Cultivator, Auditor, the Angels)
[ ] Yukari's goals, behavior, trustworthiness, etc.
[ ] Other