Play the music box and take a nap.
You can’t say you’re pleased to begin meeting the butterfly outside of your dreams, but you’ll take its strangeness over grinding boredom.
You grasp the small metal cube and wind the key. The chiming the music box produces doesn’t resemble any music you’ve heard before, but it does make you drowsy.
As your eyelids become to heavy to keep up, you call upon your student days to sit in such a way that you won’t fall over once you fall asleep. Hopefully, Komachi won’t notice that something is off long enough for you to finish whatever business the insect has with you.
When you open your eyes, you find the boat sailing through the same black void that the train rode through. In fact, your only indication that you’re still sailing instead of floating are the ripples on the bottom half-
Something down there just moved.
You get to your feet. Keeping a hand ready to draw, you inch over to the side of the boat to peer over. You’re greeted by the sight of countless pale, elongated arms, reaching up from the fathomless deep and waving beneath you like seaweeds in the current. Some of them extend far enough for their fingertips to rake the otherwise invisible surface you’re sailing over.
One of them may have just waved at you. You’re not sure, but you’re also not interested in seeing if it’s possible to draw their attention right now.
As you gingerly sit back down, you spot the purple butterfly perched on the prow of the boat like a figurehead.
“So, you got me to play your game again.” You call out, knuckles whitening around your seat. “Why don’t you return the favor?”
It responds by flying over to land on your nose without fanfare, the tickling sensation almost causing you to sneeze.
“Are you sure this is the only way you can show me stuff?” You ask before flinching as the sound of fingernails scraping against wood comes from beneath you. “Alright, alright, I get it! Let’s just get this over with.”
Satisfied with your answer, the butterfly shifts over. A moment later, you feel a familiar poke at the corner of your eye, and your vision goes black.
Your hearing, however, appears to be fine.
“Now, Eiki, I know that you have some concerns about my absence-”
“Lady Hecatia, I humbly beseech you to reconsider.” A voice replies in clipped tones, trying to balance respect with frustration. “Yuuka and Shinki have crippled each other, and yet the conductor has done nothing. She appears content to sit back and watch as her pact comes undone.”
“That’s why I need you to stay behind.” ‘Hecatia’ says. “Humans have a saying for this kind of thing, right? ‘Hold down the fort’, I think. I’m not happy that we’re infighting again, but I can’t afford to return right now.”
A pause. “Are you at least making progress on whatever errand you have chosen to pursue?” Eiki asks.
“Mhm. Just a little bit more, and I’ll score a great victory for Gensokyo. It’ll be a real game-changer!”
“And I suppose I’ll have to wait for the end of your task to discover what it is.”
“I wish I could tell you, Eiki. I do trust you enough, but you never know when miss Conductor is listening. In fact, I’d expect that she’s eavesdropping on us right now. Hi, Yukari!”
Whoever this Hecatia is, she’s an astute one. Also remarkably casual for someone bossing a damn Yama around.
“Listen to me, Eiki.” Hecatia lowers her voice. “I wouldn’t have given you this position if I thought you couldn’t take care of it, and you haven’t disappointed me yet. I have to go now, so the next time you’ll hear from me will be when my plan either succeeds or fails. Hopefully the first one. Remember, only contact me if Yukari is unable or unwilling to keep her promise. That, or if you find new information about Hakurei.”
Depending on when this scene is taking place, the afterlife might genuinely not know about what happened to Reimu’s predecessor…s? Of course, maybe this Hecatia is only putting on a show for Yukari.
However, a familiar tingle in your head suggests that you’re not going to be listening to more.
TRANSMIT- the monochrome binary - RECIEVE - your mandatory performance appraisal - WITNESS - The Ministry of Right and Wrong
Our wisdom flows so sweet. Taste and see.
Have you ever hesitated on the precipice of a shameful act, sweetling? Even knowing that nobody else would ever know?
No, your instincts were wiser. You would know. More importantly, they would too, in time.
Your kind caused such a stir among the Host when you took your first clumsy steps upright. The war in heaven ended with the rebel angels cast out, but even then the victors had to acknowledge certain truths their foes raised against humanity. Flawed as you were, you required administration to reach your potential. Elevation. Guidance along a divinely-appointed path.
Query: Gensokyo. Refining search…
Once, there was a stone that became a statue.
Once, there was a statue that became a judge.
Once, there was a judge who became a prisoner.
The ministries do not need tyrants, just as they do not need saints. They require machines, innumerable cogs to keep the transcendent wheel of Dharma turning.
Your paths should rarely intersect, sweetling. Still, we hope you can appreciate the parallel.
You’re awoken by something prodding you between your shoulder blades.
“It’s sorta hypocritical for me to say this, but you picked a hell of a time to take a nap.” Komachi chastises.
As you blink the sleep from your eyes, you find that the small boat has made landfall on a beach of pristine white sand. The shore stretches as far as you can see in both directions, and beyond it is a field of red flowers split by a single cobblestone footpath.
“I’m honestly kind of impressed. Nobody’s ever been able to sleep on the ride here.” Komachi goes on, resting with her arms folded across her scythe as you get to your feet. The butterfly is nowhere to be seen.
“Might as well get this done with.” You grunt as you climb out.
“That’s the spirit!” Komachi grins at you.
The sand crunches beneath your boots as you step out and take in your surroundings. Everything about it is as still and silent as you’d expect death to be.
Oh, and about a mutual friend.” You turn around to find Komachi with an unusually sharp gaze. “You already know the deal with Kasen, right?”
“The oni thing?” You reply, shrugging. “Seemed pretty obvious to me. The three fairies of light stacked on each other’s shoulders in a trench coat would be better disguised.”
She laughs, but not without a moment of hesitation. “Ain’t that the truth! Well, I’m glad you’re aware. I’d hate to be the one who has to break it to you.”
“For all the good it’ll do you, good luck, Charlotte.” Komachi says, looking you in the eye.
With that, she pushes away from the shore. The fog soon swallows both her vessel and her whistling, leaving you to the solitary path ahead.
You pull your coat closer to ward away the chill and start walking.
If you had to use a single word to describe Higan, it would be ‘calm’. It’s peaceful in the way that cemeteries are. No wind, no wildlife, no sound but your footsteps - the red poppies blanketing the endless plains might as well be plastic. Pretty but sterile.
At least the uniformity of your surroundings lets you march on autopilot. Sooner than you had expected, you find yourself staring up at an enormous and ornate gate.
Time to face the music. You take a deep breath and step forward, the doors swinging open on their own to admit you.
The courtroom itself is just as grand as the doors - no doubt to strike awe in the hearts of those to be judged. You’re no stranger to opulent and imperial architecture, but even this gives you pause.
“Charlotte McGallagher.” A commanding voice, the same one you heard in the dream, echoes through the vast hall. “I am the Yama of Gensokyo. Thank you for answering my summons.”
You look upwards to face the voice as the doors slam shut behind you. Seated at the pinnacle of a towering podium is a woman in ceremonial garb who gazes back down at you. Her face is stern, yet without contempt, and you reflexively straighten your posture and clasp your hands behind your back.
“Your honor.” You say, bowing your head. Why did the butterfly give you a peek into her past?
“I’m pleased that you’ve chosen to come before me with a minimum of difficulty.” Eiki goes on, her expression unchanged. “I truly am grateful for your cooperation. However, I must warn you that there is no room for bias here.”
“I understand completely.” You say, maintaining eye contact. “However, I also suspect that my circumstances are different from that of your average petitioner.”
As far as the afterlife is concerned, you’ve been legally dead since the moment you got on Komachi’s boat. Still, you’re banking on your Bee protecting you from the worst they can try.
That earns a slight nod and a sigh from her. “Correct. There are certain… restrictions in place concerning individuals such as yourself. Still, you are not the first Chosen this land has seen.”
“In that case, what do you have planned for me?” You ask.
Eiki stands up from her podium, and for a moment you wonder if you’ve made a mistake. However, she only starts floating down towards you.
“I wish to gain a better understanding of you and your companions using the methods I have available to me.” Eiki explains as she gracefully descends. “I’m sure that by now, you’re aware of the attention you’ve been receiving . A certain kitsune and her mistress come to mind, as does a feared gardener. They seek to control you.”
Part of your conversation with Yuuka stands out to you. “Are you one of them?” You ask, keeping your voice level as Eiki lands in front of you almost without a sound. She’s smaller in person than you expected, about chin height, yet it feels like you’re the one looking up at her.
“My goal is to guide you in accordance with the principles of Dharma.” Eiki answers, taking a step towards you, her face still a mask of serene intent as she studies yours. “And yes, you may consider me the representative of one such interest.”
She’s certainly more straightforward than Yukari, though it remains to be seen if she’ll be as friendly as Yuuka. In any case, you’re pleased to fill in more blanks in Gensokyo’s hierarchy.
Your pondering is cut short by Eiki producing a gilded hand mirror from her person and holding it to catch the light.
“I would like to review your experiences until this point.” Eiki says, taking another step. “Now, as you have not died a true death, I cannot force this upon you-”
You let out a breath you don’t remember taking.
“However, the alternative is reviewing your case file manually.” Eiki motions to the side of the room, where you see an SUV-sized bundle of scrolls. “For both of our sakes, I recommend using the mirror.”
Man, you just can’t catch a break, can you?
“Still, in light of your compliance, I am willing to share information you may find pertinent to your investigations.” Eiki says. “The only conditions I ask are that you submit to my examination and that you share with me any significant findings you make with my knowledge.”
You almost grin in spite of the situation. Eiki could hardly have known about the visit the butterfly paid you, right?
What do you request from Eiki? (Choose 2)
- [ ] Information on Hakurei
- [ ] Information on the Templar
- [ ] Information on Yuuka
- [ ] Information on Yukari
- [ ] Information on Shinki
- [ ] Information of Hecatia
- [ ] Other