Gripping the sheath of my master’s sword, I turn to look at her. Her eyes are, of course, on the sky. She’s right. She was right, but...
“I won’t say I don’t admire you,” she says, lifting her tea cup from its top, drinking it with her eyes closed. “But I’ve told you. I’ve told you and told you: that age is over. What did you think would happen?”
“... I want to have a dream,” is how I answer. “Can’t I have a dream?”
“Hm,” is her reply.. until she calmly says, “no.”
She gazes on the sky again, and I follow her stare.
“You’re no Hakurei, you’re no Konpaku.”
“You’re a Nakahara. Live with that.”
The sky is covered in pale cherry blossoms, so thorough it’s as if snow was never there. They scatter eagerly, covering Gensokyo with the warmth we’d been missing, missing. The long winter is over, spring returned by the Shrine Maiden. The human who set off before me. She’s human, so what makes us different?
Why couldn’t I have gone?
Under the moon, every petal glows with ghostly light. Even though we’d had so much trouble, even though this had driven so many of us near to death... seeing it, seeing the end... it’s so beautiful, I almost think everything was worth it.
I turn back to walk by my master, back into the dojo.
I’ll practice my swings, and then go home to bed.
What’s your name?
Nannerwrammer, two days late, meaning a very short timer
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/03(Sun)05:00
When morning comes, I can hardly believe the feeling.
Birdsong and warmth; a pink hue is bleeding into my room through my window. I was starting to forget what spring was like.
After getting ready for the day, I speak with my parents at breakfast about the news of the Hakurei’s victory and the season’s return. News spread fast, of course. We’d been experiencing winter for months, and the return had been fast once the Hakurei had gone out.
“The Shrine Maiden is amazing, huh?” I say.
My mother looks at me from where she’s standing (at the sink), but doesn’t reply.
“She does her job,” says Father, chewing on the fish of his meal. He absently shifts the pile of bones on his plate and looks at me. “Speaking of, what are you planning to do today?” he asks.
“‘Planning’...? I have to go to school today and—”
“Just about everywhere is celebrating the return of spring. You can do whatever you want today, Taro-kun.” he says, still eating. I blink. Whatever I want? “Your mother and I will be walking around today. You can join us, but I know that’s the last thing on your mind. Look, you hurried and finished eating without even thinking of it.”
My chopsticks are already down behind my rice bowl. I utter, “Huh?”
I get up and run to the entrance, calling as I dash, “Thanks for the meal! I’m off!”
I grab my bokken from beside the door, and fly through.
The village is painted almost more beautifully than the sky from last night. People are loudly chatting about spring, about new harvests and flowers. Flowers are outside of several homes, providing bursts of blue and red to the cherry color still raining down and littering the streets. I stomp through petals, hurrying fast. I do get time to myself, but never is that during the week. I’ve got to go fast if I’m going to see her:
 I don’t ever get to see Kamishirasawa-sensei when she has time off.
 Akyuu has been so busy lately.
 The rabbit in the bamboo forest should be even lazier than usual now that Gensokyo is wrapped up in celebration.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/03(Sun)12:00
[X] The rabbit in the bamboo forest should be even lazier than usual now that Gensokyo is wrapped up in celebration.
I turn a corner, sliding past a courier and rushing to cross the bridge to the town center while he hollers at me. With the strap of my sword’s bag held tight in my fist, the bag itself jostles and the end of it, stiff from the wood blade inside, smacks against my shin over and over as I go. I’m pretty proud of my legs, though. It doesn’t hurt at all.
“Morning, Taro-kun!” Morning, Rana-san. “Taro-niichan! The sun is shining!” Yeah. “Taro! Are you heading into the forest again!? Get me some bamboo shoots!” Do I have to!?
I don’t want to!
“I won’t!” “Aw...”
After yelling that over my shoulder, I finally clear the market. The way to the bamboo forest is surprisingly clear. Maybe everyone’s going to the Lake instead, or the shrine.
I need to go there.
The bamboo forest is one of the few places we’re allowed to go, though everyone also says it’s dangerous. Leaping from the stone rise of a restaurant near the western wall (and the owner yells at me), I spot the emerald top of it just beyond. I land on the teeth of my right geta and dash ahead again.
When I’m approaching the wall, the guard there looks at me and calls me out. I keep moving for the wall, though.
“Don’t—” he says, and I jump at it, securing my hands and feet on bricks that they find without me even thinking. “Taro!” yells the guard. He starts marching toward me, but I’ve already cleared half-way. “You damn monkey!” he screams. “Get down from there!”
“At least learn how to fly!” he demands as I start pulling myself up onto the tiles of the wall’s rooftops.
“Maybe,” I reply, and I move to the other side to start my climb back down.
The bamboo forest is a place we’re allowed to go, but only if we’re harvesters or we go through some registration. Long registration. I get it, but...
I won’t get lost. She never lets me.
When I’m a few meters from the ground I drop, running toward the forest again. Once I’ve started getting closer, the sound of my home starts to fade, and once I’m close, I look briefly at the whole thing.
Taller than any building, greener than any grass, more numerous than a party of fairies and standing together closer than anyone from the village; once I’ve seen this, I run into the Bamboo Forest of the Lost with a smile on my face.
The Forest’s name is an obvious one, like all of the other’s in Gensokyo. The Human Village, Youkai Mountain, The Forest of Magic, Misty Lake... If you don’t know where you’re going, you get lost, and a youkai attacks you,
... When I start, this will be the first place where I’ll work.
The forest isn’t easy to swing a sword in, but once you’re practiced enough, and wielding a blade sharp enough, bamboo falls when you cut it through—not like other trees. My hands have finally started to show progress, and I’m proud of that.
I slow down now that I’ve gotten far enough from the entrance. There aren’t any cherry blossoms here, so I suppose that’s why no one’s come around. Walking the thin paths of the forest and looking at the sunlight filtering through my present, verdant surroundings, I feel like this is what they’re missing out on. We missed so much of spring that summer will be soon. It’ll be more agonizing walking through here, then, not to mention how even youkai will want to do flower viewings what with spring back.
This weather, this jade-colored view, this silence, this place...
I really like it here.
I turn off the beaten path, and head for where we usually meet. If you don’t know where you’re going in the Bamboo Forest of the Lost, you get lost, and eventually attacked. But, for a while know, I’ve known where to go in here,
A bit deep within the forest is a place where sunlight struggles to reach; only present as thin slivers somehow having made it through the canopy. It’s colder than elsewhere because of this, or rather—it tends to stay in contrast to the current season. Cool in the summer, and cozy in the winter. I’m glad she told me about this place.
It takes me a few minutes to find it. The floor was beaten down by our feet, and it looks like she hasn’t been here since yesterday. I walk over to the boulder I usually sit on and brush away a few fallen leaves from the top of it before leaning against it instead.
There, I close my eyes, and I sing (quietly).
“Kagome, kagome. The bird locked in the cage there— When, oh when will it come out? During the night, when dawn drew near A crane and a turtle slipped and fell. Now, who’s standing behind you?”
I feel hands over my face, covering my closed eyes, and I hear:
“Spring is here,” I say.
Her hands move down to my shoulders, and I feel her push against me. Then, her voice is next to my ear, asking: “Are you a fairy now?”
I open my eyes, and turn my head, meeting her hazel stare. With gusto and a smile, I declare: “Greetings, Tewi!”
“Hello, Taro-san,” she says, pleased.
“I set up everything for you, and for what?”
“‘Sorry’? I risked a lot more than a ‘sorry’ is worth.”
“... I’ll pet you?”
“I’ll let you pet me. My spring molting is already done.”
I slide down from the boulder and sit cross-legged opening my arms. Tewi stands up, walks to me in a few steps, turns, and sits in my lap. I try to ignore how much I like her hair’s scent; we’re about the same height and it’s right in front of my face. I get serious instead, putting my right hand on her head and securing my left arm around her stomach.
And, I pet her. She’s soft as ever. A little softer, actually.
You shouldn’t fraternize with youkai, it’s dangerous... is what they say. But, youkai rabbits? That’s a bit of an absurd notion. If Tewi was ever dangerous, my instincts would tell me that.
“Your hands are callused, huh...?” she mumbles.
“Oh—um... sorry,” I apologize.
“Don’t say sorry so much, own yourself and what you do, Taro-san,” Tewi instructs. I nod, my nose ticking the back of her hair.
All youkai rabbits are gentle and pretty. They’re rabbits who survived hunting or abandoning, and who groomed themselves into something special. Tewi is the prettiest of the rabbits I’ve seen, and she knows that. She’s small—a little smaller than me—and her eyes are arresting and red: this gorgeous, deep shade unlike any other rabbit’s I’ve seen. Her human-like hair is a lush and healthy dark brown. The hair of her lop-ears is spotless white, and the ears themselves are fun to pla—um, they feel nice to the touch. They’re warm, smooth, and very fluffy, and overall Tewi is one of the nicer animals I’ve pet. She always seems to enjoy it as much as I do.
“It’s too bad we can’t go back in time,” she says while I’m toying with her right ear. “I wanted to see your name in a Tengu’s paper.”
“It could’ve been in the death passa—uh, the obituaries,” I tell her.
“Yeah,” she replies, and I frown at that. “You need to do more than swing a sword around to survive in Gensokyo.” Tewi nestles into me further, her tush pushing into my waist. My expression grows severe, and I hold my left arm around her tighter. “You aren’t cute like me, and you’re too many thousand years too early to have my wiles and wisdom. You aren’t as fleet of foot as me, either.”
She slides down, until her head is in my lap (I see, her eyes are closed). This rescues me, thankfully. After I let her go, I put my hands on her face and start carefully massaging her squishy cheeks.
Her eyes open, I meet with them.
“What should we do?” she asks.
“To get me to not second guess when I’m right there and ready to go?”
“I don’t know, Tewi.”
And, she smiles with warmth, her lips curling up fantastically. “Lucky for you, I’m the most brilliant rabbit who’s ever lived.”
“Lucky for me, you’re you,” I say, smirking and twisting my eyebrows.
“You’re getting cleverer now,” Tewi compliments, reaching a hand up to touch my cheek in turn. Then, she pinches me, tugging that out. “I’ll repay your favor, guaranteed, and luck won’t have anything to do with it.”
She lets go, and slaps my face playfully once. “But you’re such a kid, Taro-san, that you need this Inaba to guide you still.”
She slaps at me again, saying “Hey,” and my smile grows.
Long ago, in The Land of Illusions, women and men of the Human Village were largely trained especially to subdue, exorcise, and exterminate youkai.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/04(Mon)09:00
It was a land of artisans, skilled in protection and death.
Over time, over the course of muddy history, this heritage was lost. Instead the youkai needed protection, and death became overall discouraged. Even the last surviving line of shamans and exterminators, the Hakurei, has lost much of its knowledge to this day. The current Shrine Maiden knows no better how to deal with an oni than a village man, for instance.
You can be a fisherman, a chef, an architect, a scribe, a historian, a guard; you can, really, be near anything you can imagine.
But in the present time of Gensokyo, you cannot be a warrior.
... Still, times of peace do not mean absolute tranquility.
That is why the Shrine Maiden exists.
But the Shrine Maiden’s duties, and the duties of a “protector”, are not one and the same.
The boy raises a dull blade because of that, and marches into a world of fantasy against all heed.
 “let’s get you some magic.”
 “let’s get you in the sky.”
 “let’s get you some knowledge.”
I hear that, and my smile vanishes.
There’s no doubt in my mind: we’re going to be stealing.
>>200624 >This is the aftermath of that thing with the sharks, ain't it? Nice to recall, but it is not. That she was burned is your hint for that.
Anyways, loose timer (feel free to vote even if it runs out) TWO CHOICES but one is less important
[X] He carried the rabbit on his back from the forest, past the village, and up the eastern hill, to find aid from the Shrine.
Yes. Then, that’s good: you have been paying attention. Even then, that was the sort of boy he was.
Of course, it would have been better to bring the rabbit to that Lunar doctor... but at the time, she would surely and mercilessly have taken his life, no? Not that one could have found it regardless. All the Shrine Maiden did was grow irritated, but only to the point of letting it show on her face. Inaba Tewi, after all, is no sweet and innocent rabbit. Not that the Shrine Maiden needed anything more than the fact that Inaba Tewi is a youkai rabbit, but the fact stands: she is a sinful person, full of wicked thoughts.
Nakahara Taro did not save her life, but his gesture left on her a surprising impression.
Not much of a story? Piecemeal is better, if we are only speaking of metaphorical feasts.
Every once in a while I wonder: was Miss Reimu right about Tewi? But, well, I don’t—it’s not as if I ask that in the usual way it is asked: where the answer suggested within the question is “they were right, and I’m only starting to realize it”.
For me, I’ve always asked that question with a carried answer of “no, of course not”.
Tewi takes a leaf from my hair and my head from the clouds. We’re standing in the clearing, after she decided that we should go the strange house by the lake: the Scarlet Devil Mansion.
“Show me your arms.”
I roll my sleeves as instructed, Tewi squeezes my right arm with both of her hands, pulling back her left thoughtfully to her lips after looking a while, only to look some more with her eyes narrowed.
“Flex!” she orders, and I do so. Her lips curl in the sly way they do when she feels like she’s won something. I allow myself a little bit of a smile, too, because of that. “Can I see your stomach?” she asks.
“Mm,” I answer, and I open the front of my robes, letting her examine my abdomen. Her small fingers move across my musculature purely practically, and I’d like not to blush, but that’s impossible. Eventually, she stops her ticklish movements and, with her hands still on my stomach, she announces her evaluation.
“This should be fine, right?” she asks, glowing with the delivery of her appraisal.
Tewi grins. “It’s fine!” she insists, pulling my robes back closed and un-bundling my sleeves. She grabs my face, shaking my head a bit. “We don’t need to do anything like fighting today. Trust me, Taro-san: I’m not a fighter at all!”
“I trust you, Tewi,” I say, speaking with vibrancy and putting on a fresh face to match.
“Aww!” Tewi moans, closing her eyes and smiling cheek to cheek. She brings her hands to my head and pushes down on my skull, rubbing at my aggressively. “You! You, you’re so—agh! Cute!”
Suddenly, she lets me go and moves to my left side, throwing her arm over my shoulders and pulling my close. Having shut my eyes from her rubbing at me, I open them to see her looking straight at me, smirking again, her forehead just touching mine by a side. I catch sight of her other hand on her hip, and feel excited.
“Let’s get this job done, alright?”
Excitement, despite the guilt. Oh, we’re definitely going to steal something: I know it. But I always end up feeling like this once she’s got her mind set, and has posed to show it. I nod, she joyfully rubs her cheek to mine, and she starts guiding me out of the forest.
Tewi was the one who got me lessons with my sword master.
She was the one who taught me how to climb walls.
She trained my running form, and she often teaches me ways around the bamboo forest.
She was the one who made it possible for me to take my master’s sword, so that I could march into the cold and cut down the culprit who had driven Gensokyo into endless winter.
I feel like I disappoint her too often. Every time we’re together, I can see in her eyes what she sees in me. I think, if she had been next to me when I had Master Rena’s sword in my hand, I would’ve gone wherever the snowdrifts took me, be that to frozen hells or other worlds, without any hesitation.
But I wish she wouldn’t get me to carry her on my shoulders so much.
“Go, Taro-san! To the Lake! The Lake!”
“I know where.”
Her thighs are on both sides of my face, the back of my neck is warm, and I can see her wiggling toes below. She isn’t heavy, but that isn’t the problem. Even if she was heavy, that wouldn’t be it.
If anyone from the village ever sees me ferrying her like this, I don’t want to imagine how fast the word would spread. I wouldn’t even want to think about going to school if that happened.
And, I can’t neglect to mention that she’s, well... she’s soft. And... How to say... I’m not the kid who picked her up in the forest anymore, you know? I... I’m not sure she... really understands that? Honestly...! This isn’t even the way I carried her back then!
It’s... not... bushido! Akyuu... Kamishirasawa-sensei... Father—they’ve all been talking about it—it, and I’m not going to be able to stay composed if she keeps doing this stuff!
“What’s up?” Tewi asks, bending forward so her ears flop down and she can see my face.
“Nothing,” I say, trying to sound serious.
“Alright,” she says, lifting up... It’s not alright!
I run off the road, having gotten out of the bamboo forest, and I give the village a wide berth.
“Hey Taro-san, what’s your favorite thing about spring?” Huh?
“Yeah, tell me,” she declares. “Tell you”, hm...?
 “The flowers!”
 “The weather!”
Will that do?
“Oh...? That’s—Oh, that’s the Lake! You’re real fast today!”
I want you off my shoulders before I start thinking about this too much—or worse, I stop thinking about it at all end—
Ahh... her underthings are so smooth... and they smell nice...
“Right,” Tewi says, and she tugs my hair in that direction. I stumble this way, confused. “Watch where you’re going.”
Looking left, I see I was on a course for water.
Right. Misty Lake.
Misty Lake is particularly beautiful in the spring.
A body of water sparkles the most in summer of course, but that is dazzling, not beautiful. Beauty, you see, is more than sight. It is scenery.
No, scenery is metaphorical here. The scene of a place, its present story, its atmosphere and surrounding occurrences: this “scenery”. The Lake, saved from the bitter clutches of winter, is greeted by the sun in spring, and a hundred flying leaves and blossoms carried over it by the wind. It’s honestly very lovely, and the boy thinks so as well of course.
The Lake is a more well-traveled place than the forest, but that tends to make it a bit worrying. I quite like coming to look at it, though.
See? Even this stuffy boy cannot help but pay it compliments. It is a thing of danger and beauty, at once.
So, it’s no wonder he became caught up with you.
It isn’t really the time to be admiring that, not far off now is the gatekeeper of the devil’s mansion, and I’m to take Tewi from my shoulders here before we proceed with this guard in mind.
 The plan is to confront her.
 The plan is to sneak to the side of her, and infiltrate.
 The plan is to talk with her.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/06(Wed)03:00
[X] The plan is to sneak to the side of her, and infiltrate.
I kneel and put Tewi down.
“By the way,” she suddenly speaks up while she’s dismounting, “‘sakura’? That was a boring answer.” She looks at me like she pities me.
It’s the obvious answer...
“‘Cause it’s obvious,” says Tewi. I scrunch up my face, annoyed. Well, it’s fine if it’s a boring answer: it’s the right one.
Of course, I like them too.
That doesn’t matter. We run to avoid the gatekeeper’s sight, find the part of the red walls that has the best footing, and we hurry over the ramparts.
It isn’t the first time we’ve burgled the library of Scarlet Devil Mansion.
Although it’s home to powerful youkai, it is actually mostly just a home to fairies. So long as you remain inconspicuous, you can get in and out of this place unscathed.
I can’t say that I enjoy thieving tomes, reference books, compendiums et al., but the benefits and my goals are worth a muddied conscience.
That is the best way to think.
Having said... or rather thought that, the Mansion is quite unnerving, and that’s something very difficult to reconcile. The fairies inside of it tend to not wander the halls, leaving them empty and dark. Sunlight never finds its way here because there are no windows outside. Often, you can hear a girl’s laughter, distant, but still echoing.
The library is hardly any better. Its silence is something intense, leaving you focused on every little sound that occurs. We’re never alone when we come here, either... a witch lives here, in this basement, and neither Tewi nor I can fight with a great magician.
... But, that is also the reason that we’re here at all, I guess.
I take a thin book from the shelf in front of me. It’s a catalogue or plants, nothing remarkable. Beside me, Tewi is carefully searching the witch’s collection and pulling down titles and subjects of interest, dropping them into a sack she’s brought. Looking at this book, though...
How do I say it? It’s a strange reminder, of everything; for this past Incident in particular.
Isn’t my life too controlled? All of our lives...
Not that I want to be free, or to overthrow the ways or...
I just want to feel... To feel like I have “a chance”.
It’s really hard for me to put this feeling into words.
But, it’s a feeling I know that Tewi shares.
Your lot in life is not what determines your life, everything you do is what determines it, or more importantly, everything that you can do.
I rather like to think of it this way: if the circumstances ever feel completely out of your control, and there is no way this vice can be broken, then life is not worth living. End it.
Dying is “a thing you can do”, a détermination ultime. With chosen death, you can define your life more clearly than fate. In fact, you crush fate completely.
This part of the story is pretty boring.
They don’t encounter anyone. It is Inaba Tewi he’s with, after all. You remember her, right? She isn’t someone easy to even find yourself in a fight with, and she isn’t foolish about her life and wellbeing. It has been a very long time since she suffered sincerely, and even the wound that the boy helped treat—it was no real matter, not considering that at the time she had long become a servant and partner of the Lunar Sage.
This is when he starts becoming an expert on how youkai, gods, and ghosts tick, however. Even before he can be a match for them, he has the theories for their defeat. Admirable.
But it’s so boring...
Inaba Tewi, for all her inimitable craftiness, is cursed to be careful. Even when she presented him the opportunity to steal the sword... You can’t think she thought he would be in any danger, can you? She believes in him...
Come, tell me, what would you rather hear? I’d rather have something else to tell.
 I’ve heard about it, but he hasn’t told me about his first youkai subjugation. Wasn’t it not work? He did it without having expected it.
 He mentioned Miss Akyuu, who I must admit I am very curious about.
 I wish to know more about his parents.
 Has he ever kissed anyone?
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/07(Thu)04:00
File 157313351549.jpg - (420.77KB, 750x1049, miss not appeared yet in this story.jpg)
Two choices again.
[X] Has he ever kissed anyone?
Now, why would you ask something like that? Hm...? So you—
What? What’s the matter? Well I could chastise you about that question, but I think that would be rather un-fun of me, and decidedly ignorant if we must be honest. It’s valid, and I can answer you—Hm?
Why, how else? You know exactly how. If you don’t think that you know how, think deeply on how, and you will come to find there is an obvious explanation.
Anyway, I can ans—Oh, what is it now, honestly? Goodness... Hey, how about I ask a question?
If I told you the answer was “yes”, would you be disappointed?
 Yes, I would.
 No, I wouldn’t.
Hmhm... I see.
Well I won’t tell the answer just yet in any case. I do think it’s interesting, a passionate story. Let’s talk about how he came to the precipice of a kiss, and I will tell you whether he did or did not... Why, it starts not even long after where we just were. He was assisting the Child of Miare with—
Now, don’t get ahead of yourself.
Is Hieda no Akyuu a special person?
I find myself asking absurd questions like that often, since the Spring Snow Incident was resolved.
“Use your eyes on your task, Taro. I don’t need them aimed at me and dividing my attention,” Akyuu chastises me. I drop my gaze at once to the mentioned task, stammering out a reply.
“Y... Yes!” It’s very pathetic.
I am here, arranging the Hieda Mansion gardens, because... It’s really just this... way of things, I suppose. There are a few big houses in the Human Village, and these houses aid everyone else in a great many ways. We rely on them for architecting, medicines, organization, records... and in return, they rely on us for tasks and favors. When I say us, I mean children. It’s us kids, specifically, who tend to help out when we aren’t at school or learning our parents’ work. I was asked here today. Yesterday it was Takayama Yuika.
“Well now that I’m looking at you,” says Akyuu, taking my attention away. She points at a potted tree three steps behind me. “I’d rather have that closer to the porch. Do that.”
Akyuu is special in that I enjoy her company but find her, at times... yeah, best to put it as “difficult”.
The sickly, short and violet-haired Hieda no Akyuu, the fabled Child of Miare who can remember anything she ever sees, is in actuality the latest incarnation of a line of humans gifted with this memory, who can remember parts of old memory of ages long gone. Because of this, she’s a child—
“No, not that close.”
—but she acts like an old woman.
“Yes, ojou-sama,” I answer.
And she stops writing whatever record she is keeping up there on her porch to give me a flat and bothered look. “Don’t get snippy,” she says. Snippy... I sigh, and pick up her rake, prepared to walk into the Zen garden.
Honestly, I think of Akyuu as a friend, but it’s hard to keep that in mind when I’m “working” for her.
“Hey Taro,” she suddenly speaks up, though her nose is back to her scroll when I raise my head to look at her. “I think I could have a job for you, on the lake as a guard. Might you be interested?”
My raking stops.
 “Of course I would!”
 “... How dangerous would that be?”
 “Would it pay?”
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/08(Fri)04:00
Pardon my lateness. I don't count updating other stories to nanowrimo, so I'll have to write two tomorrow.
[X] “Of course I would!”
“Even if you’d just be helping an elderly fisherman?” she asks.
“Then, you can get going an hour after noon. I’ll tell the requester to wait at the Northern gate for you.”
What a chance!
“What a chance!” he thinks. What do you think of that eagerness? Oh, don’t answer. I know that you understand it completely.
So the boy goes to the lake...
“Don’t worry, sir, I can protect you absolutely!” I swear.
“Oh, I’m glad. Such strong youths nowadays,” says the fisherman, not moving from where he’s already sat down. I know: I know he doesn’t really think much of me since I’m a kid, but the Lake, for all its dazzling beauty under the high sun, isn’t a safe place.
Sea creatures can pull a man in by their fishing line, beasts wander around the shores, fairies like to push you into the water once the mists set in (which is why the fisherman chose to get to work after noon)—it helps to have someone, anyone else to watch your back wherever you are outside of the walls. So that is me for him today. His back and front—all around him will not escape the justice of my red-oak blade.
The day is extremely uneventful.
After three hours of nothing but catching fish occurring, my sanity is beginning to wear.
I won’t falter! No! But... it’s really, really boring!
He’s caught so many though... I know it’s his job, but seriously. He’s caught twenty-five of the things. That’s absur—Whuh?
It was twenty-five, wasn’t it?
There... doesn’t look to be twenty-five on the racks he set up. How many is that...? One, two...
I whip my head around seeking the culprit and ‘lo, in the distance, floating toward the forest of magic, is a pile of freshly caught fish. No doubt about it: fairies.
I shout out a report of the situation. “Sir! There are fairies making off with your catch!”
“Ngh... Well then... get ‘em!” he says, and I notice that this old man is struggling with his fishing rod.
“... Do you need help, Sir?”
“Oh, naw! Get goin’!” he dismisses me.
“What... What if that’s a sea monster...?”
“You think I’ve been fishing this lake so long without knowing a monster from a mermaid and a catch from a killer? Don’t underestimate me, boy! Go! That catch’s more important that my might be losin’ my rod!”
What am I here for if not protecting you!? Aaaaggh!!
I turn on my heel and fall into a stance, ready to dash and cut if I need to.
The fae are many meters away now, but I can still see them.
 rush forward quickly and quietly. I have to stop them!
 kick a stone their way. They may be invisible, but they shouldn’t be incorporeal.
 breathe in deeply, readying a frightening and powerful yell. Fairies, after all, are notorious cowards.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/10(Sun)02:00
[X] rush forward quickly and quietly. I have to stop them!
My running form is more similar to falling and leaping than an ordinary sprint. Whether it’s efficient or not, I can’t say, but this rabbit’s way of flying forth is certainly fast, provided you’ve practiced.
With air rushing past my ears, I make it to the fairies in less than twenty bounds, readying a swing of my sword without waiting.
“WaaAAAHHhhAH! Star!!” I hear, and I feel a rush of air before my face as some of the fish start to fall. Striking toward the air itself, I suddenly feel something under my foot. I can’t see what it is, but it destroys my balance and I start to fall over—on top of the squealing obstruction.
“Ugah!! Sunny! I tripped!”
More fish fall over. As I’m dropping, I see that only one, large catch is left in the fae’s possession: floating fast as if it’s fleeing. The little thief is getting away!
I reach out for the space beneath the fisherman’s quarry, and... there! Cloth! I grasp it, and pull back, and from a sheet of yellow sparks I tug out a ginger-haired, white- and red-wearing fairy, dragging her to the grass as I finally and awkwardly collapse. Underneath my calves is another fairy in white: this one is a blond who’s done up her hair in drills. I look overhead and see a third fairy flying over the forest of magic, her black hair and blue dress swaying gently in the breeze.
Well. That was inglorious.
A voice sounds overhead with the words: “Nice: meat!” and an impenetrable darkness falls over me.
This is...!? A youkai! It has to be!
I manage to get onto my feet and ready my sword and then sunlight returns. I blink. All of the fish is gone, and one of the two fairies (the blond). The red-head sits up from where I dropped her and starts looking left and right. “Luna!? Where’d you go!?” she cries. Then she sees me while she’s searching and falls onto her front side in a scramble to get away. “Oh no!” she yells. “The human can see me!? A-And he can hear me! Lunaaaa!!”
Where is the fish!?
I look up toward the Forest of Magic again and—What! A ball of shadow flying through the sky!? A new thief!!
I look down at the panicking fairy...
 She manipulated my sight. She must be a light fairy. I toss the fairy of light at the darkness.
 “Hey,” I say, “help me. That ball stole your friend.”
 I wish she would shut up... Looking back at the forest, I run forward again. Time to climb the trees.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/11(Mon)03:00
[X] She manipulated my sight. She must be a light fairy. I toss the fairy of light at the darkness.
“Huh!? What!? AAAAAHH!!??”
She weighed enough that tossing her still felt like it would have momentum, and indeed, she flies well without her wings. I send the fairy with speed to the dark orb. It enters the darkness, explodes with light, and – apparently – slams its head into the skull of the youkai that had summoned the shade.
I hear their yelps of agony from a distance, and things start to fall: two fairies, a red-eyed and yellow-haired, female “child” youkai... and fish.
My eyes widen.
Why... In my haste, it seems that I’ve neglected the question of “How will you retrieve the stolen goods?”
I start moving without thinking, pushing my legs to their limit and feeling my heart resist. It seems that I’m overexerting myself... even though these are all non-aggressive small-fry. That doesn’t really bode well.
I keep my eyes on the fish, trying to guess where in the forest they’ll land. If they spread out too much th—WHAT!?
“WHAT’S... THIS!?” I yell, slamming my heel down to stop myself.
The fish... The fish has all been trapped in blocks of ice and suspended in the air!
“I did it!” shouts a voice from behind me. I turn my head fast.
Halfway from here to the shore is a... fairy, surely, fluttering several meters from the ground, dressed in blue, and with light-colored hair and irises to match. Her hands are out as if grasping, and her wings are icicles. Icicles! Ice fairy!
“I’ll take these home!” she declares, and with a flinch I look to the sky to see fish-blocks flying in front of it: from the Forest, to her.
I scream inside my head.
 Recall the form of the Lepus and jump at that fairy!
 Shout for the fairy to stop at once, and declare combat!
 Throw your wooden sword at the fairy’s face!
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/11(Mon)12:00
[X] Recall the form of the Lepus and jump at that fairy!
I step forward and fall low, bending my knees and building my strength.
“Fairy!” I bellow (um, well, I try to bellow but my voice is... not entirely manly), “Release your plunder!”
“Panda?” the fairy says, looking down at me. “Oh? You’re approaching me?” she asks particularly quizzically. Her eyes sparkle, and she grins. “Instead of running away, you’re coming right to me, the strongest fairy, Cirno!?”
“Fairy of Ice, Fairy of Fire, Fairy of Light,” I begin, “no matter which, a fairy will fall to the blow of a bokken very well, you will soon learn.”
I take my jump.
“So yes I am approaching, and apprehending you! Fairy, Cirno!”
I rush through the air almost impossibly.
Impossible for any ordinary human. But my legs have been trained by the White Hare of Inaba! I will not fall from the sky so fast.
Fifteen feet. I push my body fifteen feet into the air, kicking up a spray of earth with the launch. The air screams around me. I begin to cut my blade forward.
“Ice Sign!” she calls, a card slipping out of her sleeve and shining in front of her chest. “‘Icicle Fall’!”
A spell card...!?
An explosive sounds booms out, and ice flies out from her in four, turning lines, rotating all past me...!
Literally... past me!
Nothing hits, even if I make no attempt to dodge!
... What sort of danmaku is this!?
I hit the fairy from the side of her stomach.
“OOF!” she groans, spitting with the blow. Her entire body moves with it... no durability whatsoever! I strike her down, and the effect of her card ends. Behind me, the fish falls too. I carefully fall back down, distributing my wait and turning over to reduce the impact. With this, it’s done...
A bit away, standing up is the strongest fairy, wobbling and holding her stomach.
I march over and hit her once on her head with my sword,
“Gah!” she cries, and when she falls this time she does not get back up.
“It’s fine...” I say coolly, spinning my blade once in front of me before easing it into a loop on the side of my belt, “even if you die, a fairy never dies forever.”
I turn on my heel and collect the fish.
Nearing the evening, the fisherman was finally done. He was especially happy that his fish had been frozen, and gave me a few coins for that... though it wasn’t me. He left for the village after, and I was left at the shore, tired.
Indeed, I’m very... very tired.
“Haaahhh...” I sigh, my whole body shaking.
 There’s still daylight. I’ll take a short rest before a tree.
 I want to see Tewi... It would be nice to brag.
 I had better go see Akyuu about the job being done. That old man seemed so flippant, he may not have reported the fact.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/15(Fri)12:00
The sun is beginning to set by the time I reach the Hieda Manor. The manor itself is fairly empty... the servants are busy preparing dinner and readying the baths. It was similar in the village as I was walking here. I’ve heard that in the outside world, this is a time that’s very busy actually, and that when night falls people don’t go straight to bed. It sounds horrible.
In the slippers I was given at the gate, I step lightly over the mansion’s surrounding porch, making my way to the garden where I left Akyuu. I look at the sky absently and don’t think about much of anything. Am I pleased with myself for doing a job well done? I’m not really sure. I think that my backing down on try to resolve the Spring Snow Incident is still gnawing at me. It was a month ago now... Is this “that”? The ennui of adolescence?
“Watch your step, Taro.”
I look down at my foot, about to step off the rise to collapse me onto rocks below. I flinch, and bring it back, returning to balance in an instant. That voice...
... was Akyuu, of course.
“I should thank you,” I say, “I was about to shame myself!” I grin at her.
“That would be fine. Ruining the Zen here would give me a headache,” she says. Her hand is already on her forehead, though, and she’s slouching quite deeply.
“You’ve been hard at work,” I compliment her.
“I’ve been working,” she replies, almost with a musical quality to her words—she seems bitter.
“When will you complete the next manuscript of the Gensokyo Chronicle?” I ask her, stepping toward her so that I might look over her shoulder at her writings. “I mean no rush. I’m very curious!”
“At this rate...” she mutters, straightening up and looking over the scroll before her, “two... three years? Two. It’ll be two... three. Hm.”
She reaches into her collar, grabbing the muscle between her neck and shoulder—her trapezius. The press of her fingers tells me she’s squeezing it, and she rotates her arm gently. I sit on my knees behind her and put both my hands into her robes from her collar, holding on to that muscle and its double on the other side of her neck.
So, I massage her.
“Mm... Why, this is sudden,” she mumbles, her body swaying with my pushing and kneading.
“Ah. Ahh...” I give a voice to my realization. This is a little sudden, but... “I’m used to massaging old ladies when they’re looking tired,” I tell her.
Now she grumbles, “‘Old ladies’... Taro?”
She lifts the hand she’d been using to pinch herself and checks the knuckles against my skull.
“I’m as old as you, Taro,” she complains.
What! “You’re almost two-thousand years old!”
I’m right! She is!
“My soul’s... ugh, forget it,” she relents. But...
“What about your soul?” I don’t really understand. Honestly, my thoughts are feeling a bit spotty right now.
“You know what,” she says. Then, she sighs. “Maybe I do act as old as old as two-thousand, though...”
“Well, it’s alright! Mature women are charming!” I compliment her.
“Shut your mouth, Taro.”
I shut my mouth, and keep massaging. She’s stiff. I should probably massage her right hand, wrist, and arm as well, since she’s been writing all day.
“How was your first job, anyway?” she asks me.
“... Speak!” she commands. Oh!
“It went mostly fine, until some fairies came around.”
“Fairies...” she repeats, just a little angrily.
“I dealt with them swiftly. They’re just fairies. I think there was a youkai, too, but it didn’t turn into a fight.”
“Aren’t you lucky?” After saying this, I see her start to mass the lower half of her right palm. Yeah, I’ll definitely have to do that. Tewi does that after she’s penned too many writings for her rabbits and enterprises. Tewi isn’t strong, but Akyuu is very weak. Even massaging her, I feel like I have to be more careful. “Did the old man give you your reward?” Oh, she’s still talking.
Answer her! “Three mon.”
Then, she grabs my left hand, turning her head that way and squinting one eye toward me (not that she could really see me without being a rokurokubi).
“Three?” she repeats.
“Yes! I’m very happy with that!” I tell her, smiling brightly.
“You were owed twenty,” she says. I... What?
Akyuu heaves a rattling sigh while I fret at her back.
“That—... I keep records, you know? What record am I to keep here? If I say that Zouman short-changed you, I’ll be asked about it. If you ever let it slip that he gave you three mon, I’ll have to answer as to why the reward wasn’t properly conferred. Did he think I had to give you the reward? If I take money from the Hieda coffers, what am I supposed to say about that!? How do I explain that!?”
With her growing heated, I simply continue to fret. I haven’t really dealt with someone angry before.
“Uh,” I begin, “it’s fine if it’s three. I don’t need any money.”
“You are owed money, and three is not fine.” Is she scolding me!? “This... I don’t want you to look into it, ugh. Ugh! This... it should be so simple but this ruins everything!”
“I’ll make twenty... seventeen mon!” I tell her. “Then it won’t matter! You can just write the record and it’ll be done!”
“That’s nice of you, but regardless I’m going to need to send someone to ask about this. To see if it was a misunderstanding or... haaaahhh...” She heaves a sigh, her shoulders drooping. “I’m tired, Taro.”
“Can I help? I’ll ask Zouman about it and...” She shakes her head.
“You aren’t supposed to deal with money matters, you’re only labor.”
Akyuu begins to stand up. I watch her rise and turn, her right hand to me. “Get up,” she says.
I take her hand and stand in front of her.
She looks to the garden, and I look too. Silently, we just look at it.
“What really frustrates me,” Akyuu speaks all of a sudden, “is that I had a laborer do a job almost pro bono.”
“At... At least this is the first time,” I reassure her.
“It’s not the first time,” she replies.
Ahh... I can feel my face involuntarily shifting to show my dismay.
“I’ve actually made quite a few mistakes, or rather... I don’t really make mistakes. I remember too well for mistakes to take hold of me, but I guess... I’m... Hahh, I’m inexperienced and unclear-slash-naive.”
She says this with her hands on her hips, and I notice her thin arms from the fact that her sleeves are rolled up—probably to avoid being stained with ink. The way she said that last part... she was definitely repeating someone else’s words.
I fiddle with my fingers.
“It’s tiring,” she admits, with a dark and withering look in her eyes, “and aggravating. I remember especially... how to put it? Vexation, from the weight of responsibilities and expectations.” She looks at me, cocking an eyebrow. “You know, they wait on me hand and foot here in the mansion. I think it’s less because I’m weak and will die young and more because I have the most managerial work to do in this entire village. The gumonji is a deeply valued ability, Taro-kun.” She shows me an empty and open grin. My frown deepens.
“...” I look at my feet.
Then, I look at her, and put my hand on her head, petting her. She glares.
“... Don’t pet me,” she orders.
“I appreciate you, Akyuu,” I say. I smile, though my smile is getting dull as night comes nearer and nearer. “Everyone does. You are invaluable and tragic. I think you’re amazing, and I think I’m not alone in that opinion.” I put my free hand on my hip. “I will sort out the matter of the twenty mon,” I say, closing my eyes and putting more strength in my smile. “If the matter looks like it might come to you regardless, then I will earn forty... eighty mon, and deliver it to you. I don’t want you to be frayed from others’ failings. That is not fair.” I open my eyes, looking warmly at her impeccably straight hair as I palm my hand over it. “You should take rest,” I say. “If you need rest, I’ll take you somewhere! We... Haven’t you not been with the other village kids in a while? You don’t go to the temple school, so we only ever get to see you on errand days...” I stop petting her, and realize, “I’m babbling.”
“Yes, you’re babbling,” she confirms. “But... I appreciate the babbling. I only needed to vent. Don’t worry, I do take breaks, even if it’s only to sleep...”
Once more, we both look at the gardens. I feel myself nodding off a bit.
Akyuu has her arms folded, and she’s looking at me with a smirk. “I would really rather you not go on empty handed, but I can’t give you anything monetary without raising a fuss. Not even a single mon. Here—”
She puts a hand to my left cheek; a small, but dusted-black thing that she uses to pull my other cheek toward her. She then slightly raises onto her toes, and carefully plants her lips against my face, leaving a blush behind.
“For now, I hope my appreciation for your work and words is conveyed with this,” she says, closing her eyes and looking proud.
I touch where she kissed. It feels intensely warm... In my drowsy state, I’m almost unsure of what happened.
“Not... to say a kiss from the Child of Miare is worth only seventeen mon,” she assures me a sly glance and smile. I grip the hand against my cheek closed. Suddenly, I feel invigorated by a feeling of conviction, rising up within me.
I take Akyuu’s right hand into both of mine, squinting at it. I kneel, and kiss the back of it, holding the hand tight, especially where I had seen her hold it before.
Her back straightens, but she doesn’t say anything.
“Um...” I say my eyes unable to hold in one place for longer than a second, “you don’t owe me anything, but for that kiss I felt you were owed one in returned. So uh... it is given... Akyuu... -sam... A... A... kyuu...”
I look up at her face. It’s a deeper red than the twilight sky.
“Uh... haha! Yes! That’s... gentlemanly!” she stammers.
“It’s, uh.... tradition! Or-Order and business!” I insist.
“Wha—!? Sure!?” she agrees, looking away, but not pulling away.
I close my eyes and let go of her, holding both of my hands up and wide open, my face beaming. “I’ll go home now! See you later, Akyuu!”
When I open my eyes a squint, I see her mirroring my gesture as she says, “Yes! See you tomorrow!”
“Tomorrow”... I wasn’t supposed to be here tomorrow!
“See you!” she repeats, waving rather quickly.
“Yes, goodbye!” I answer, and I back away, waving as I go.
When I am passing the corner to leave her presence, I grab hold of the cloth over the left side of my chest. Before I lose sight of her, I see Akyuu doing the very same thing.
You said you wouldn’t be disappointed. Is the problem that the kiss was not romantic? Come now, you’re a child as well—you know. The Hieda girl is still young. Her old-life memories only relate to the Chronicle of youkai that the Children of Miare are tasked to maintain. Children, doing childish things... though they are getting past the age of simple “child” at this point, yes.
I honestly think it’s very cute. I doubt they had any real tension... they were just a pair of embarrassed kids, hmhm.
Indeed, this was a more entertaining portion of his life. Now then—
 You lied!
 Did he kiss somebody on... their lips!! Did he have a romantic kiss or not!?
 (Say nothing. Silently fume.)
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/16(Sat)12:00
[X] Did he kiss somebody on... their lips!! Did he have a romantic kiss or not!?
Quiet. Do not demean yourself.
What? Don’t give me such a look; I never allow myself to be demeaned.
You are escaping the point—
He has. Now you’ve heard it, would you like to tell me who?
I am telling this story, you think I do not know its events?
Lift your head.
You know who it was that first took Nakahara Taro’s lips.
Yes, that’s right.
It was you.
Stop your fretting, from hereon I will tell the story a bit differently, as it will suit things better. I enjoy how it has been but, if I don’t change how the story is told... Oh my, so you do understand.
Keep understanding. We will move on now, to the first true winter after the too-long last. You remember it, don’t you? I hope that you did not forget. I know that you forgot that, so...
Good, you remember.
It was the first true winter after the too long last. Mother nature and the fae she bore gave no particular mercy, given spring had been so cruelly shortened. So, I thought that it would be best if I gave Gensokyo some out of season spring for its next winter.
After all it was I who had it taken away only months before.
The winter was in fact very bad that year if I recall. Rather, I know that you thought it cold. It was one of those things you wouldn’t give me any peace over, even though it was your mistake that had you sent into the living world.
You remember the time; tell me what you did wrong.
 I misplaced the leftover spring after you’d told me to go disperse it. You were throwing it around and I didn’t trust you when you said it would make sakura trees bloom.
 I neglected my duties to gather the lost spirits that had escaped after the barrier was damaged. I... was too relaxed and spent time warming up in the manor
 While I was in Gensokyo, I dropped the lantern that draws spirits to it, losing track of it completely. I also hid this truth from you.
[X] I neglected my duties to gather the lost spirits that had escaped after the barrier was damaged. I... was too relaxed and spent time warming up in the manor.
That’s close. I recall you doing that, but... this isn’t the same matter. It was certainly a result of your being neglectful, but no. You really can’t remember? Are there more mistakes you’ve made that I’m simply unaware of? Why, I’ll keep that in mind.
The stage is set, so let’s continue.
In order to gather spring, indeed I’d had the barrier rent. When you weren’t at home, heating yourselves, I’d sent you to use the Soul Torch as it’s meant to be used: as a beacon for lost souls who had indeed escaped. Snow fell, ordinarily, and pretty absolutely but not gorgeous at all. If it were a summer snow, now, that would be something to behold. The winter was winter, same as each and every year coated in crystals white and frigid. Same, save for of course the phantoms. We have little to do in our place. Managing, at least, should have been something we were capable of. I sent you out into the frozen lands of the living, and you thoughtlessly dropped the lantern.
At the time you were trudging through snow and worrying about it, supposedly. You had your hands before your chest, held together and fingers fidgeting. If I were to know what you’d done, who could imagine the punishment? You know it now, and I suppose you can say that, then, you were right to know concern. The Soul Torch is one of a kind... we can’t lose it so whimsically.
How to find such an item once lost? Where could you have dropped it? Unfortunately, you couldn’t feel its presence as strongly as the other spirits, so sensing it was out of the question. You would have to find a gathering of ghosts, of course. You were in the Forest of Magic, halfly searching for just that. Your other half was gripped in worry.
You didn’t even notice that you weren’t alone, even though the scene was almost silent from the deafening trait of snow and snowfall. You should have heard the running steps, but alas. The appearance of a phantom being shoved through snowdrift by some violent person, there, some meters out ahead of you, took you completely by surprise. You gasped, didn’t you?
A young boy, seemingly a little younger than you, and fully human, was suppressing this phantom. His hand was not bare: it was gloved with a shining and white thing, and small wisps of pale energy bled from it gently. You recognized it as an item from the Netherworld—or rather, an imitation? It allowed the corporeal to force the spectral into somewhat physical form. The boy – in fact all dressed in white, with thick clothing: robes, trousers, a scarf and a hood which had fallen down in his lunge – had a crowd of bottles on his belt, clanking loudly throughout the quiet, evening woods. Almost each bottle held fast a cold and caught phantom soul.
This person was an exterminator of youkai.
He wrangled the ghost in his grasp, loosing a new bottle from his belt. It was a small but active phantom, likely excited from the rush the boy himself was feeling—reciprocating, you know? He wrestled it up, and stuffed it into the container, taking a tin cap from a separate line of caps hanging off his waist and quickly topping, twisting the bottle shut to trap it. After putting the now-filled bottle to his belt again, you saw him turn and there saw the recognizable case for a bokken on his back. A young exterminator, braving Gensokyo’s wilds with a wooden sword... You narrowed your eyes, and chose to stop him.
“Hail!” you said, so loudly. The boy looked at you, perplexed, and then his eyes became transfixed on your ghostly half. Something seemed to align in his head, from what you could tell of the movement in his eyes, and his ghost-gloved hand flew to the case on his back.
“So you are responsible...” he said darkly. He fished inside the case, and withdrew his practice blade. “This land is cold enough as it is!” he boomed! “Phantom enchantress, you will return what little warmth the winter has!”
And, you drew your youkai blade, then...!
... Mmh, pardon. I find that I’m, presently, feeling somewhat foggy on the details. What exactly was it that you did next?
 I, recognizing him as a warrior, struck back without mercy.
 I found reason for a moment, and sheathed my sword at once. When he came, I pulled the sheath off my waist and defended against his first attack.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/17(Sun)13:00
[X] I, recognizing him as a warrior, struck back without mercy.
Yes, as you should. Perhaps the only proper act of yours that day.
Now, now; smile!
You struck back with the speed of your Master’s hand.
He actually had expected as much. After all he had identified you by your phantom-self, and was ready for the strength of one who was greater than merely human. He ducked your blade; your slice extended past the edge of its steel and swiftly cut through the trunk of a tree faraway. He dragged his sword up through snow, aiming for your torso, and so you drew the ancestral blade. The short sword on your waist. As if he hadn’t seen it.
Youmu... Of course he had.
You had your wrist struck for your foolishness, and less than pain; shame and surprise ran through you. It was enough for him to show that his phantasmal glove came paired. His left hand found your phantom half, and tore it away from you, while he thrust the tip of his bokken into your soft stomach. They are rather big: you half-phantoms’ phantom halves.
He pulled it from you, and it manifested in your human shape, taking up its copied blade. This he had not expected.
“Unfair!” he shouted! “Half-phantoms could do this!?”
You were on the ground, your sword stabbed into the earth to keep you up. A blow there, it would cripple anyone. Your other half was at the ready, yes, but she felt the pain too. He didn’t have enough experience to tell.
“Human, I recognize your ability...” you said, standing on shaky feet. You pointed your longsword at him and cried! “But know this!” Pfhmhm... Ahem. “But know this! I will not show you any mercy! You will be put down here.”
You know what he did? He kicked snow into your face and with speed cut the drift below to cast more snow into the face of your phantom.
“Ahh!?” you yelled.
He took advantage and shoved against your phantom half. It dropped the phantom sword, which faded to nothing. He grabbed you and dragged you along, to yourself, where he struck your flesh body’s wrist again so that you would drop your wakizashi. He was growing quite phenomenally skilled at the time. Perhaps, that alone was something you couldn’t contend with? Regardless he threw your phantom into the snow and stomped her chest with his boot. He rammed his sword into the underside of your longsword’s hilt, and like that he had you disarmed. After, he abandoned his own sword, had yours, and knocked away your wakizashi with the toe of his available boot. With your own blade now aimed at your throat, the battle was over.
 No! My phantom half still had her Hakurouken!
 I regret to admit it... but that is the case.
 I... I disarmed him right back! I am human, but he is only human! It... It was simple!
[X] I... I disarmed him right back! I am human, but he is only human! It... It was simple!
Oh? Was that how it went? Oh, right, it was. Silly me.
Having the tip of a blade to your throat—your own blade in fact—was no easy thing to swallow. Had you swallowed without any pause, thoughtlessly, that esophageal movement... it would have brought the blade through skin, cut, and bled. You stayed your soul, and did not act impulsively. Yes, I know. You may want to tell me that you turned this situation on its head just as quick your situation prior had had its head turned by him, but; say you moved right.
He would redirect the blade, and have your head.
Say you made to grab his hands...
He would run your neck through the moment you tried.
You waited. He was waiting, so words were surely coming very soon. And they did.
“Your sword hand is fast,” he gave you, “but, it feels as if you haven’t fought much.”
What were you thinking, then?
It felt familiar... Yes, I suppose it would.
“I will let you speak, half-phantom,” he said to you, his voice dark, like this, “Oohh—OOOHH! I will—” Fine. Fine! I will not exaggerate!
“There are phantoms rampant throughout the Forest of Magic,” he told you, “do you know why this is?”
“Yes! I—... No! I do not!”
“You do know?”
“I just said I do not!”
“... You’re too suspicious. I will take you to the Hakurei and—”
You ducked suddenly, away from the sword’s tip, threw back your foot through the snow, and in a flash brought it forth down the now-cleared path, up, and the toe of your shoe fiercely met with his jewels.
“Gwuhgh!” Pfhaha! “Gah—!” He—!... Ohh... ha! Supposedly, the look on his face...! Ohh... Haaa... Oh.
He... He dropped there and then. His clothes were very thick, yes, but a half-phantom is indeed very strong. It was as if this padding—this armor, it simply wasn’t there. Well, for a lad, even an inappropriate tap is enough to render the leg beside numb, you know. He tried to hold on to your sword, and you could see that, so rather than immediately disarm him you used martial arts. You crashed the heels of your hands against his chest, such that his boot released your phantom as he fell back. There you took his sword arm, and knocked away his other which had the hilt firm in its grasp, and you brought your elbow to his face.
He was in pain, and you dragged him over your head, threw him down into the snow, and your other half wrested the Roukanken from the boys hand. You stood, one foot on his throat, and his arm locked into yours, not caring that he could see everything underneath your skirt.
Always keep that in mind, Youmu. Yes, you should be ashamed.
His pushing you was undoubtedly impressive, but as you’d showed it was full of openings, especially against the superior strength of a being fused with the power of the dead. “Those phantoms belong to me, but I did not send them here,” you told him. “I will take this arm if you do not tell me where the ghosts are congregating!” Your phantom self held your physical katana to the boy’s elbow. You would not hesitate. You had some nerve, given this was all your fault.
“Hah...! Hah...!” he breathed. “I... hah...” was all he could say. His eyes were on your sword.
He looked around himself. He could, you knew; he could do something. He wasn’t utterly defeated, but... Unlike you, indeed he was only human. He cursed, and acknowledged that he had been defeated.
“I... am unsure...” he told you.
“Release those you have captured,” you ordered. “Use your other hand. If you do a single thing outside of this command, the arm goes!”
“Yes...” he muttered, and he began to release the phantoms, twisting his bottles open so they could depart. As you thought, all of them were coaxed toward one place.
“Hmph,” you grunted, boyishly. What? You went, “Hmph, so there.”
You let go his arm. You snatched your youkai blade from your dead-self, which became its usual, bubble-shape and flew to your ancestral blade, taking it up and giving it to you. When you took your boot from his throat, you planted it beside his stomach. You kicked him, heavily, into a tree away where he crashed, and snow fell over his body. You sheathed your swords, and kicked up his bokken into your freed palm. You spun it, and looked it over, two fingers to the reversed edge and felt down in examination. It was a fair blade for a young warrior. You turned it in your hand again, and, feeling stylish, you closed your eyes and stabbed it through the earth before you. “Yes, I have fought little,” you admitted to him, “but I am not merely human. Know your limitations, and surpass them with a different warrior!” You didn’t know, but he began to rise. “I am not a foe that you can face—”
He threw a snowball in your face.
Again, void of hesitation, you began to draw your sword at once, or... once the disorientation from being blindsided had begun to ebb, but there you felt the slam of a blade down on the guard, denying you. You went for your wakizashi, and felt a boot rough and furious against your chest.
He kicked you down! And you pulled your long sword up together with sheath still on, your eyes still blinded but you anticipated the—STRIKE! Against you! It clattered with jittering metal and whole wooden, beautiful sound. Still blind, there you gracefully fought against him.
Enough blindfolded training will give you that skill, of course. Youki spared you little in physical training, even if philosophy still escapes your head. Calmly, practiced, you swung your sheath as he swung his sword, matching him by ear instead of eye. The air moved with him, and you felt that too. You could not detect his body, but defending was enough. Your phantom half... without you, it is a bit useless.
Eventually the two of you had each other’s blades stuck in the ground below, brought together and holding you apart. You thought to reach for your Hakurouken, and he grabbed your wrist. With the rattle of your Roukanken against his wood weapon, you could feel how all his power was there, and around your wrist, with all desperation and a just, fiery conviction. He was, firmly, against you.
You opened one eye despite the cold.
And...? You said?
 “We are at a misunderstanding. Let me go, and I will show you the source of the phantoms.”
 I have a duty here in Gensokyo, but this fight...! I feel duty-bound to finish it. Human warrior... Show me all of your efforts!
 “How did you train...? Your movements are unlike the way of the sword and hand that I know, You brute... You fight like a beast!”
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/18(Mon)15:00
[X] “How did you train...? Your movements are unlike the way of the sword and hand that I know, You brute... You fight like a beast!”
“You fight like a student,” was his answer, and from your expression—from your teeth grit and your brow furrowed, I take it you resented his remark, but his remarks were still on. “Beasts,” he followed, “are not fools, and beasts especially not-fool are exceptional kinds. They are good to know.”
“You... learned from youkai!?”
You found your strength here, and you knocked up his sword, falling into a stance to thrust. You said, “That is incredible...! Vile... incredible!” And finally, with a crack of snow, you fully opened both your eyes. “When I defeat you... I’ll have you tell me which beast this was!” And you stabbed forward, impacting the bark of a different tree with the force. He jumped, onto your sheath. Your face showed this very much baffled you, but here you held the sheath with your right hand and took out the sword with your left, just as he leapt over your head, turning—flipping to your back side. The Roukanken shined brightly as it left its scabbard, and you brought it to him—this kind of moment is so very fast, it sounds better to say “it was as if time slowed”, doesn’t it?
It was as if time slowed. He saw your strike and brought out his blade to defend, but your Roukanken, forged by youkai...
It could cut his sword.
He landed behind you, the severed top of his blade stuck in soft soil—softened from the heat of your movements. You switched the blade over your palm to grab it reverse, and you made to stab backward. He leapt underneath your arm and snatched your sheath from your other hand.
His defiance must have been intriguing to you. The flower on your scabbard shivered in the hands of another, and you looked at the seals along the sheath, surely wondering what purpose it was they were meant to serve. He put both hands on your family’s second weapon, and he raised the sheath, his feet planted and his eyes fixed fast on you. Snow crunched under four feet as you both engaged again. Your sword, after all, cannot cut its sheath.
But you had your eyes now, there was nothing disabling you. His legs were strong, and he sometimes would jump unpredictably in an attempt to move past your offense and guard, but with all your senses availed he was more akin to a fly to you. You could strike him down, provided he stood still, but otherwise he only bothered.
Eventually, in the midst of this bought, you turned your blade again and checked his throat with its pommel. He expelled into your face and you checked his body next with your shoulder. When he was knocked into the snow again you stomped on his chest as he had stomped on the chest of your phantom. You aimed your sword-tip down at the tip of his nose, realizing then that you had kicked up a sweat. It was unusual for you, outside of training. He made no effort to fight back. He was coughing still, and had let go of the Roukanken’s scabbard. He had nothing.
“Now!” you announced, to order:
 “Stand down.”
 “Your name.”
 “Come with me.”
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/19(Tue)04:00
And now I'm caught up. The timer is, as always, floating. Vote past it if you want and I haven't yet updated.
“Koff! Koff...!” he coughed, and spat. Then, “Eh?”
“Answer!” you bellowed!
“I am Nakahara Taro...” he said. “Who are you?”
“I am the half-phantom, Konpaku Youmu, and today I have defeated you... Nakahara... Taro-dono!”
“Yes, that appears to be the case...” after saying this, he coughed again, and his expression turned with a short wave of confusion. “‘Konpaku’...?” he said.
“You have heard of us,” you said rather loudly.
“Just... the name. So, a sword-bearing clan... now that makes sense...” He was muttering.
“Know this...” you said, quite ominously, as you took up your scabbard and sheathed your sword with flair, “had it not been for the laws of this land I would have slaughtered you.”
“You did not even abide by the laws... ugh.”
You had taken your foot from his chest, you see.
You chastised him. “Neither did you!” you said. “Where were your spell cards? Danmaku? I saw none of it! You found me with a blade, so I gave a blade in kind.”
“It wasn’t ‘in kind’...” he grumbled, turning over and starting to push himself up. “Who comes at a bokken with a katana and a wakizashi?”
“Who comes at a katana and a wakizashi... with a bokken?” you replied. Yes, I’ll give you that Youmu. That was a smart moment for you. My, you’re cute.
He looked embarrassed at that reversal; there was red amidst all the while now. You finally felt the thrill of battle sitting down, your blood was cooled.
... It was certainly cold: winter in Gensokyo. You shivered.
“... You thought a scarf was all that you needed in this weather?” he asked you.
“I... I-I-I d-did,” you admitted. Sweat and winter air was a merciless combination... You held crossed your arms and held their fore-s.
He smugged at you. Grin, grin. “Freeze like you’ve frozen my lands, half-ghost,” he said. You glared at him, your teeth chattering. “You finished my sword...” he continued, now stood up, though slouching a bit, his eyes on his feet. He looked at you again. “But I don’t need a sword to catch phantoms,” he said. He walked over, and picked up the bottom part of his severed sword. “You’ve set me back,” he told you, “but there’s still daylight. I will go finish my work. Good bye, Konpaku Youmu-dono.”
He walked away. He made it quite a way, too before you were at his back and shoving into his side for warmth. “Go away!” he snapped.
“I must find the phantoms!” you insisted. “I will follow you until you show them to me! And d-don’t t-t-t... t-t-t-t—... TRY anything strange, or I will cut you down again!”
“You’re ridiculous!” he shouted, but he was too weak now to even shove you.
“Needs must be met. Show me the ph... phantoms!”
Now when Yukari explained all of this to me, she neglected to mention how you clung to Nakahara Taro. Youmu, explain.
 ... I pushed into his side and had his right arm in both of mine.
 ... I stayed at his back and pushed my arms under his, holding him around his torso.
 ... I had him carry me, keeping my arms around his neck.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/20(Wed)03:00
[X] ... I pushed into his side and had his right arm in both of mine.
That’s fairly close.
So you walked with him, hand in han—... arm in arms. Are you satisfied? You walked, and were surprised that he spoke first.
“... Why are you here?” he asked, his breath turning crystal as it left his tongue.
“You’re asking now!?” ...
“I’ve been taught to use what I have when I feel it will work,” he said, very plainly. “Thus I forewent interrogation.”
“That didn’t work, though,” you reminded.
“Quiet.” He went silent for a little, and said... “Answer.”
So you did. “I was here to find those phantoms, or rather, to find... what’s brought them here.”
“You mean, you can stop them gathering?” he asked. You nodded. “Well I have little choice apart from believing you...” he admitted, closing his eyes and puffing a new cloud from his noise. “I hope that you can.”
“I must!” Sigh... Again, who was to blame for all this? Must, and yet the situation only arose because you... Hmmm... Thinking back on this part of the story, I really ought to reprimand you more.
Stop complaining, we are moving on.
The forest stayed very quiet; he led you where he had already been heading and in time the dark wood cleared to find the abode of another Halfling. Morichika Rinnosuke-san is a charming young man on the outskirts of both the Forest of Magic and the Human Village. As you approached his home and store, Kourindou, finally your phantom blood began to stir. The Soul Torch was most certainly there.
Well that was one reason you believed so; also, the old, aged, aching wooden building was swarmed with the less-alive half of your kind. They tried to get through the windows, they phased through the walls, the chimney was not safe and they generally seemed to very much enjoy being around the shack, and freezing it. Without a doubt: they were being coaxed by the Soul Torch. You squeezed his arm.
“Bring me to the door!” you ordered. Nakahara Taro’s face twisted with irritation as he leaned away from you. You... are very pushy at times.
“The source is in there? In Kourindou?” he asked you after lowering his hackles.
“I-Is something the matter?” though your blood was stirring, it was your colder blood. Your teeth were chattering again.
“Morichika-san is a finder and seller of lost things, but he will sell lost things back even to those who lost them. He is a shrewd and possessive half-youkai,” Taro explained.
“...” You stared at him quietly.
“Do you understand?” he asked you.
... You shook your head.
“You... if there’s something in that shop that you need to stop the phantoms... something like an artifact or object, as it would likely be in Kourindou, then then he will want to sell it back to you! Do you have any money?”
You shook your head.
“I can’t trust you to fix this. I won’t let you attack Morichika-san for whatever you’re looking for either,” He was accusing you!
“I wouldn’t attack him!” you insisted!
“A youkai that I honor taught me to never trust any youkai at all. I do not trust Morichika-san, either... halfway,” he revealed, looking at the ghosty home-slash-store.
“Then you should trust me too! Halfway!” you yelled!
“Shhhh!” he shushed you, with his free hand up in a silencing gesture. “He can’t know we’re talking about getting something from him!”
“I know something of deals.” He said, setting his shoulders and gazing upon Kourindou again. “Let me handle this,” he asked.
 And you agreed.
 But you disagreed.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/21(Thu)05:00
“I cannot allow that!” you boomed! He shushed you again, and once more you gave a shout: “This is my responsibility! Take me to the door!”
He shut his eyes and ground his teeth together. He was in no position to insist, and so without another word he did as you told.
You had him knock on the door. A sign in the front window informed the two of you that Kourindou was closed for business another hour and change. That didn’t mean the store was empty... Kourindou’s proprietor doesn’t leave his self-made cave. After a few more knocks, and your cries of, “Excuse me!” and “Could you open up please!?” ...
... well, he did.
“We’re closed,” said the white-haired man, and he shut the door.
Taro frowned, and you were aghast.
“Knock again!” you yelled, so he knocked.
“Pardon, children, but maybe you don’t understand the needs of business,” said Morichika Rinnosuke as he opened his door once more, the sound of a bell more obvious now with how strongly he’d done so. “There are rules to them. They open when they open, and when they are closed business does not operate. If you can understand that, please come later.”
“I insist, I can improve your situation!” you said. Taro, he looked at you as if you were mad. “I need something inside your store!” you cried, giving a most desperate plea. Taro, he shot a stare as sharp as a sword at you.
“You—!” he started, but he held his tongue... and face—held with his actual hand. You continued on.
“Please, I beg you!” you shouted. Morichika Rinnosuke looked upon you, his coin-color eyes shining with opportunity.
“It’s very early,” he said, “but if your situation is so desperate, then I will make an exception.” And he let the two of you in.
A filthy, awful place; Kourindou is. When I lit the Torch after he had found it in Muenzuka, I could sense how trapped the lantern felt in that awful storeroom: full of odds, ends, knicks, knacks, and scores of sundry trash marked goods””, many from the Outside World, few that he even wanted to sell despite the premise of his entire store. You cannot see in Kourindou further than a leg’s length, and the air is suffocated by a hell’s amount of dust. It is terrible, and Yukari always smells faintly of old things when she pays that half-human a visit.
In this place, the Soul Torch burned for you powerfully. You knew where it was almost the moment you stepped foot, even if you could not actually see the needed thing.
“What are you looking for?” Rinnosuke asked you, standing at his front counter with a hand on its top. He looked rather tired, but there was a glint within his spectacles: a quietly exciting spark.
“Could you have, perchance, realized that you are being plagued by phantoms?” you asked him after having Nakahara Taro close the door behind the two of you (you still held on to him).
“Oh, was I?” said Rinnosuke.
“Yes,” you answered seriously... only realizing then that the inside of his store, despite having phantoms coming and going through the main and back rooms, was rather warm. A look around told you he was heating the place. You... Sigh, you were tempted to stay, weren’t you?
... At any rate, the store owner played plain and dumb, something one of you children noticed. It wasn’t you.
“Could you have, perchance, stumbled across and taken a small, paper lantern?” you asked.
“I have many lanterns, so you will need to be more specific,” said the man.
“It should be small enough to fit in your palm,” you said, and here you let go of the human boy to demonstrate your meaning through gesture. “And it should be glowing, even without a flame.”
“Give me a name,” said Rinnosuke. “If I’ve seen the object, I will know. I have a small special ability in these eyes that affords that,” he told you, tapping the side of his glasses’ frame.
And, “Oh!” you naively uttered! “The Soul Torch!” you said. Had I been there, I would not have said anything, but you’d have certainly known my irritation once we’d returned home. Taro, who was there, slapped his forehead.
“What is this Soul Torch?” asked Rinnosuke.
You said, “The Soul Torch is an item used for guiding a countless number of souls, and it is something that came from the Netherworld. Its light can be seen by spirits no matter how far away they are or how many obstacles are in the way. And, once they see it, they flock to it.”
“Is that so?” Rinnosuke pondered rather obviously. “Well, I think I found something like that before winter began.”
He said that and walked to the back of the store, leaving you to shout, “You have it!? Yes!”
Nakahara Taro was steadying his breathing. His eyes only left Rinnosuke’s back once he had turned through a doorway.
In a minute, Rinnosuke returned with the Soul Torch on his palm, and he asked you, “Is this the Soul Torch?”
“Ah, yes, yes, that’s it. Could you return it to me, then?” you asked. You forgot.
“This is a store,” said Rinnosuke. “Can you afford this?”
“How... How much does it cost?” you asked. Taro made to look at a figurine on a low shelf next to the store’s entrance. He was actually putting something in place, secretly.
“‘How much’...” Rinnosuke repeated, “have you ever heard, Miss Customer, of the phrase ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it’?”
And, your pale cheeks went even paler.
“Wh... What?” you stammered. You needed that lantern. “I need that... can’t you give it to me? It’s very important and you won’t have to worry about phantoms any more...”
“Didn’t I tell you, Miss Customer?” Rinnosuke started to remind. “There are rules to business. One of them is that goods and services come with a price, not fr—hm!? W—... What!?”
Taro had jumped past the store owner, thrown his scarf over the older man’s eyes, and swiped the Soul Lantern. He landed behind Rinnosuke, crouched, and then leapt backward powerfully, slamming the door open which—! had been propped open moments ago by the old hilt of his gone practice sword. He escaped with all haste, not saying a single word to the befuddled half-youkai.
 You gave chase.
 You joined him.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/22(Fri)04:00
When Rinnosuke finally took the scarf off his face and readjusted his glasses, he saw your phantom half leaving his store and your shoe leaving his sight. He marched forward quickly, shouting “Hey!” out the door, but... you and the boy were already well within the trees.
So, let’s move ahead to there: well within the trees, the fleet of foot boy, trained by a rabbit, rushing straight through. You made it to his side very quickly, flying as he ran.
“Y-You stole it!” you said. He was surprised at your catching up so quick. “I can’t believe you did that!”
“Is this not yours!?” he asked, holding up our Soul Torch. The spirit inside it flickered as if to answer. “He stole it first! That’s the sort of man Morichika-san is! A man without repute! You don’t deal with him, you trick him!”
“You said you wanted to deal with him!”
“I would have worked the price down to as little as possible...” Taro told you, leaping over a log and, it seemed, his ultimate direction was towards the lake. “I would rather not have stolen, but you’re too naive! He was about to take advantage of you!”
“Maybe he wasn’t!”
“Was he...!?” Said as if the thought had not occurred to you...
“I don’t want this dreadful device—you take it back.” He then passed you the lantern. He stopped after it had changed hands. Misty Lake, presently frozen, was before you both. “My job is done,” he said, and he looked like he would collapse.
“You were working, so... do you need my word to prove your work is com—oh. Oh...”
The boy was, after all, only a boy. He hadn’t ever run so fast after taking a beating. He was tired, he collapsed in the snow.
Of course, you did not leave him there, with snow falling on his head.
 You brought him back home.
 You brought him to the village.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/23(Sat)04:00
Beauty and grace cannot be found much in the land of the dead. The Nether-world is a barren, colorless place, with old and untended monuments to past names. Gray, and shiftless, save one place. High above, reached by a staircase ascending further than any other in the living world, a manor—the only home in that realm... “Hakugyokurou” exists. Its gardens are vast, its build is immaculate. It is the peak of intelligent and noble invention, and its head of house, the so-called Ghost Princess, is that entire world’s center-piece: her grace, and beauty, about which every soul in the afterlife revolves around and bends to. Saigyouji Yuyuko lives there, after dying, and her primary for help and instruction is... the family “Konpaku”.
You came to this specter with a living body, and you came during lunch. The princess—I—was famished.
I felt your arrival before I saw it. I think... you did not know that I could light the Soul Torch at a distance. After all, when you left you had done so without telling me, and when you returned, you made sure to do so where I wasn’t. You flew down by our oldest youkai tree, realizing after that my wisdom would be necessary to help a fully-living boy. I was, after all, alive once.
Still, you snuck to the front of our manner, carrying that human with you as if you were carrying a package. I saw you then, when one of the spirits attending me floated off to rest above the roof. I looked upon you, and said “...”
“Yuyuko-sama, may I bother you for a minute or more?” you asked, feebly.
I asked, “What’s that in your hand?”
“It is Nakahara Taro, a hu—”
“Not that,” I said, leaning back and crossing my ankles. I stroked the little creature resting in my lap and said, “That, in your left hand.”
“Yuyuko-sama... is that a rabbit?”
“Won’t you answer the question?”
“Y-Yes!” you shouted, and saw what I was referring to.
You hid it behind your back.
“Th-There is nothing—Oh! Yuyuko-sama! Shall I start preparing lunch? G-Given the time!” You hopped on your heels in asking that. You wore an obviously made-face.
“But what about that in your right hand?” I asked you, scratching beneath my new little pet’s chin.
“This—!? It’s, uh—”
“Oh?” So, my new pet would be dinner. I looked down into its red eyes and rubbed one of its white ears, pleased.
“At any rate, um, oh, ohhh...” You seemed to have a lot on your mind. Your eyebrows were smooshed together.
“Hey look, Youmu:” I said, picking up the white rabbit I’d found, “a rabbit. Doesn’t it look delicious?”
“‘Doesn’t it look cute?’ I said,” said I. You were confused.
“Do you want rabbit for dinner, Yuyuko-sama?”
“Weren’t we talking about having lunch?”
“Eh—oh! N—Yes? Yes, lunch, I will be right on it!” you said with and a nod.
“By the way, what’s that in your left hand?” I asked.
“The Soul Torch—?”
“Did you need it for something?” asked I, bringing the rabbit back down into my lap. You never managed to find the time to ask me, but it showed up on our grounds a little before you came back from the world of the living. It was friendly, so I decided to play nicely with it.
“I—... I... um...” Sweat rolled down your cheek.
“Perhaps you should put it back,” I suggested while softly squishing the rabbit’s cheeks. “It would be a shame if you dropped it somewhere while using it.”
“... Yes. That would,” you spoke without spirit, in your voice or your eyes.
“By the way, what’s that in your right hand?” I asked.
“Yuyuko-sama!” There was your spirit. “Yuyuko-sama!” you said, loudly; with your eyes shut and your arms down. “Please stay within one subject of conversation!”
“That boy: you’re leaving his face in the ground,” I mentioned, pointing. You looked down and saw that, indeed, you were: his mouth, cheek, and just—really, the entire left side of his face was left on the pebbles below. You may as well have let him down.
“Ahh!!” you screamed, rather theatrically. After lifting him you seemed to think over everything yourself, as you evidently shut down like a malfunctioning shikigami. In half a minute, tears welled in your eyes and I decided to speak.
 “Go take care of him,” I said.
 “Give him here, and I will take care of him,” I said.
“We will talk after.”
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/25(Mon)02:00
Snow stopped falling across the two worlds, and my rabbit went to watch you work on young Taro. I spent the while you were doing so taking a nap after having had my fill of the gray skies.
You weren’t familiar with the healing process... You’ve been sick before, but never I of course. You’ve been tired, but recovery has always been quick. Why didn’t I help you? Why should I have? He was fine, and I wanted you to think.
You first put him in your bed—or, you were about to and reconsidered. He was rather dirty, after all... You laid him on your bed, considering the need for cleaned sheets to be a part of punishment. He was still breathing... He was cold, however. You drew hot water, and wiped off his face; dried it, and after removing his gloves wiped his calloused hands—realizing there that his fingers were quite cold.
You weren’t sure what to do. While brewing tea and looking over and over at his unconscious body, you finally decided to disrobe him. You wanted to be sure his blood was circulating properly. You had blood... you knew it mattered.
You took off his robe and shirt and admired his musculature. He wasn’t “burly”, but his stomach was especially well-defined. You touched it. “Toned”, is what they call a body like his. He had muscles that told of arm and cardiovascular training. His forearms were very cold, too... You massaged his right arm and took warm water to a new cloth, laying it on his left. Was this what you were supposed to do? You could see his heart beating. His flesh grew more colored. You untied his belt and put your hands on the waistband of his trousers, tugging.
When you pulled down the boy’s pants, you became at once distracted by his hair: the black and coarse hair that showed he was slowly maturing. It was there, getting past his underthings. You and I had spoken... a little about this ha—
My. It’s part of the story, Youmu.
No, I will not.
You were fascinated by what you saw. Is that wrong?
It wasn’t that this boy, Taro, had any... appeal to you, at the time... it was that he was a boy at all.
Youmu, you were only curious. Red-faced, but curious. You are human, in part, and you had hardly interacted with anyone outside of Hakugyokurou, let alone a male. No people were there, he was not conscious, and I was not either... Now now; calm down. I will not judge you, Youmu. Now tell me at once:
Did you peek?
 ... I peeked.
 I didn’t peek!
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/25(Mon)04:00
Right. You looked around, just once more. And again. And you peeked.
Really, I must say that you didn’t do anything bad. I will... wholeheartedly reassure you, Youmu.
You pulled up a sleeping boy’s waistband—specifically that of his boxers—and you didn’t peek so much as... gaze; you gazed into his underclothes and got a fair look at his boy-parts. To assess.
Supposedly what you saw was about what one could expect from a boy his age, according to diagrams... word. It didn’t strike you in one particular way or another: it was something you had not seen before, and you weren’t certain what to think of it. Small? You’d heard they... changed, within certain conditions. You weren’t going to touch it. He had, what you felt, given what you were aware of, a perfectly ordinary amount of hair within his boxers. You... did pinch one of the hairs. You wanted to know if it was just you. It isn’t...
I’d like to move on, but you did not. Not immediately. You were arrested by, I imagine, one more guilt atop the pile you were creating for yourself since the morning, and it was a particularly heavy guilt. You feel that guilt now, Youmu. I will not judge, but you can judge your own soul. This is a memory you will recall even after sixty years, won’t you? Not for the sight, but that you willfully chose to bear witness to that sight. The sight of a boy, hm... From your expression and burning countenance at the time, I feel it’s safe to say you were also curious how it looked when—
We all grow up curious.
His penis and your vagina were different. You learned something that day.
Finally, you reset his waistband and pulled off his trousers. You made sure he was warm, and covered him with your blankets.
And you waited, thinking about what you’d done. You had done so much.
We’ll pause for a moment, and take the story out of time. Much of what you’d done I discussed with you after all of this; our shared memories don’t bear much repeating, at least for lessons and learnings. I think you became notably more competent that winter’s day, Youmu. You were... “sharpened”. It was not because of him. He—
He had your interest. Your mind, I would say, though not the whole thing. He was not like Marisa who had abandoned almost everything in the pursuit of dark arts. He was not like Sakuya, born with strange powers and ostracized for it. Reimu? He did not have the Shrine Maiden’s pure and simple, natural blessings and gifts. He seemed, as far as you could tell, an ordinary, full-blooded human that was trying to do things no other humans in the Village were. Not that you knew for certain. That’s why I mentioned it: that this sort of human... this warrior soul was absent from present day Gensokyo. You did not know that just yet, but you could detect it. I know it’s difficult for you to visualize and connect the abstract, but I will say the lingering doubt alone was something a little bizarre for someone as straightforward as you. This boy was a special, non-special.
You wanted to ask about him.
In an hour, he woke up. You were at his bedside.
His eyes cracked open, and he laid a squinted stare on you.
“You’re... the half-phantom,” he said. Very, very impressive. He was concussed! Or at least very exhausted.
Yes yes, exhausted—no. Yes. He was exhausted. Agreed?
He shook his foggy head.
“I... Did I collapse?” he asked you.
“Yes. I’ve taken you to Hakugyokurou, to heal,” you explained.
“‘Haku’...?” This confused him. He sat up, holding his head in his hand. “Where?”
“The Netherworld, Taro-dono,” you told him.
He seemed rather unable to think that fact over. He looked around the room and muttered, “Thank you.”
You accepted his thanks, and told him he was welcome.
“I’ll lea—” He seemed to want to leave, but suddenly he spotted the rabbit in the room. He stared at it a moment, and then held out his hand. The rabbit did not hesitate; it hopped toward his palm not eagerly, but truly without delay. Petting it, he asked the animal, “How’d you get in the Underworld?”
That was it! You’d had a question about that rabbit since you’d seen it! There were no living animals in the land of the dead. Why was a rabbit here?
“I haven’t become a spirit,” said Taro, completely ignoring your face full of realization (though realization of what, unsure). “Will I die if I stay here?” he asked you. You came back to your senses long enough to reply.
“Only if you act very inappropriately,” said you, who had closely examined his sleeping privates. He had nothing to say to that, not at first.
Or, well, he did speak again, but not to that warning. “I will leave, then,” he said. He looked at his clothes, absently fiddling with his rather-messy hair. His clothes had been folded and separated, by you. He looked at you again. “You made sure I didn’t freeze in the snow by checking my circulation? Thank you. Half-phantoms aren’t far different from humans indeed, then.”
You nodded, as if you understood.
He stood up, the covers falling off of him. His boxers were on display, but you remained composed. The matter wasn’t a thing of embarrassment or... quite shame but, more along the lines of... worry. You had nothing to worry about, so you didn’t. I think if you’d had a moment of retrospection then, you’d have been glad that you’d spent a little extra time ruminating on what you’d done while gazing at Nakahara Taro’s p—
... Ruminating had made you come to the conclusion that nobody had seen what you’d done. This may plague you for years, but only for your own head and what it knows.
Though, I suppose we know. We are very nice, the two of us, so you have not a thing to be concerned with, yes.
Taro took a step forward and fell.
You “caught” him, putting your hand to his chest with your fingers spread, pushing out to create a steeple—a tent. His expression: eyes forcefully shut, teeth pressed together, the beads of sweat on his forehead... This wasn’t fainting; Nakahara Taro was injured.
“A-Are you alright!?” you shouted, and he winced. Of course he wasn’t.
“If you don’t mind... Youmu-dono... would you dress me and bring me back home?” he asked.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/26(Tue)03:00
You pushed him (gently) back into your bed. You even held him down.
“I’m afraid I must insist on your staying,” you insisted, eyes closed and face stern. Like this! “You are... injured, Taro-dono.”
“I know that, but I’d rather not heal in a place for the dead...” he complained, lightly. He resisted little.
“Worry not! I am human, too!” you reassured him, holding one thumb up. “Partially! Half, in fact!”
“Yeah, but...” he protested a little.
“Fine... Please, let the village know, though...” and after saying this, he grinned a bit slyly, saying, “... you wouldn’t want the Shrine Maiden knocking on your door.”
That wasn’t a problem to you. You’d dealt with her before. Knowing this, you smirked right back, and said, “Hmph! I dare her to try!”
... She did defeat you twice when we were gathering Spring, Youmu.
Nevertheless, you heard his request, moving back to sit in seiza so that you could him again. “We will inform the village,” you said. When you were done with your task, you sat up and raised your thumb again, saying “Do not worry! I will take care of you!” with a fresh smile.
He reminded you, “You’re the one who injured me!”
Oh? No! Nonsense! “You attacked without warning!” Yes!
“Ng...” He frowned, but you were in the right.
“Suffer, and heal,” you said, and you stood, and like that...
... we had a human with us for a while.
Every jab between you two would raise my eyebrow.
How to say, it was as if a monkey and dog had taken up residence in Hakugyokurou. They say, you know, cat and dog in the West. You were out of sync.
Nakahara Taro had something akin to your pillar-like center. That attitude and look that makes you so easy to tease. But he had, hidden within him, something else. Esprit.
Not to say you cannot have fun, Youmu... but this fundamental difference—
Do you remember? After two weeks he was with us...
The rabbit was looking a little tastie—... fatter, and I had mentioned it. You immediately suspected him, and so immediately confronted him.
“Taro-dono!” I recall you yelling, like that, at he who was sitting cross-legged against a wall and slouching (taking care with his calf). I was at the table, lying on it. You had the tray of tea in your hand... “Taro-dono!” you yelled. “This is your doing, isn’t it!?”
“What is?” he asked you, dully.
“The rabbit getting fatter!”
“Is it a problem that the rabbit is fatter?” he asked. “I am not responsible for whether it’s fat or lean,” he said.
“I’ve noticed! You’ve gotten somewhat thinner!” you said. I looked at him. Well, I suppose he had... “You... You’ve been feeding the rabbit with your meals!”
“That’s quite the accusation,” he said. With a hand in his cheek, he looked out at the gardens and told you, “No, I took what was from the larder and fed her with that.”
“That is... falsehood!” you shouted. I sat up. “I don’t feed you to feed that creature!”
“I haven’t lied,” he said. In a way, he hadn’t. “If the rabbit is a problem, feed her to Yuyuko-sama. The rabbit is supposedly fatter, after all.” I supported this idea.
You glared at him, and frowned, leaving the matter there and ignoring me.
It returned in under a day.
In the sitting room— “Youmu-dono, this is too much,” he said. He referred to his breakfast.
You went red-faced and shouted, “Eat, Taro!”
“I don’t have any other rabbits to feed, though,” he said, and he even smiled.
It wasn’t that the boy wanted to stay longer, it was just his stubbornness twisting along with that thing. Esprit. Call it monkey, cat, or dog; call it oil and water... However you’d like to refer to it: that was the state of thing.
I liked it, I will say. It made you energetic, Youmu. When he began exercising again after almost a month had passed and his calf was beginning to mend, I recall you and him arguing over stupid things.
“The bokken’s weight should be even! The point is to strengthen muscle!”
“It is a mock sword! It should be distributed accurately!”
I chimed in, saying, “What of stone swords? Sekken.”
“There are no such things, Yuyuko-sama!”
“Actually, there were sekken in the Joumon period.”
“The Joumon period. It’s prehistoric.”
“How were the swords weighed?”
“I don’t know. Weren’t they ceremonial?” He turned to me.
“Joumon...” I said. “Doguu!”
“Have you seen doguu, Youmu-san?”
“There are a few in the village, and I believe Morichika-san has one or two... not that we can return there for a while.”
I chimed in, asking, “How were the swords weighed?”
“I asked you that, Yuyuko-sama.”
“However it was, it should have been even.”
“You fool! Your beast-addled brain has made you forget sense!”
This lasted two hours.
His calf had eventually healed enough that you could lightly spar with him...
“Why do you fight those stronger than you?” you asked him.
“Strength is one of your tools in battle, the rest are in here,” he tapped his skull, “and here,” his heart. “And, all around, it’s more than just whoever can overwhelm.“
“But some opponents you just can’t face. What do you do about that?” With your first question answered, you returned to your fight, striking against his wooden sword with your own training swords.
“You leg it,” he said.
“‘Leg it’?” you repeated.
“Run away,” he clarified.
Your practice bought continued for a while.
“Ha! So you do have a coward’s heart!” you mocked him.
“I just think it’s sensible... Survival,” he explained.
“Hone your blade and the arm that holds it until nothing can’t be cut!” you said. I decided to chime in.
“Are there things the Roukanken cannot cut?”
You both replied, “Next to none!”
Taro healed at our mansion for two months.
 Then, the rabbit changed color.
 Was it two? Oh, that’s right... After his leg was better he stayed, didn’t he?
 I know. I saw him off when it was done.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/27(Wed)14:59
[X] Was it two? Oh, that’s right... After his leg was better he stayed, didn’t he?
Indeed. He did.
Perhaps I was too charming. Even once he’d completely recovered, the matter of returning home was never brought to the table. I must say, it seemed like bringing it there was never even thought of or considered. We spoke often. He had quite a lot of questions for me, and I had no problem entertaining him. He knew the appropriate conduct and respect to have when in the presence of a Lady. He always sat properly... like this. It was very cute, very like you, but he would ease his shoulders and backs at times when I was talking for a while. Not out of boredom—he looked engaged, like leaning in would let him hear the dulcet words I was speaking better. He helped at the mansion, and worked well with you, though always sparks would inevitably fly off between you two, were you together long enough.
Once we’d taught him how to fly, and he went out into Gensokyo that first time, I remember that, sometime after he’d returned, you told me how you hadn’t really considered the thought: that he might not do so.
I hadn’t asked, though.
Oh, right, but speaking of speaking with him, I was having a chat with Taro about sake-brewing, while you were out. Let us speak of that: how you weren’t with us, and where you were instead.
Spring had come, and you were gone to the Bamboo Forest to collect shoots. You were lost.
“I saw this bamboo stalk before...” You hadn’t. “Is the name of this Forest true?”
You readjusted the basket on your back, now a third-full with shoots.
Even if you didn’t know what happened next, assuming you were somebody else and not the focus of this little side story, you could guess what happened easily right? Even you.
You were in her domain. You were found by the White Hare of Inaba.
 She treated me rather well.
 I was surprised... by her attitude. I’d heard she was... pleasant, if not only pleasant by virtue of farce. She was not pleasant with me at all.
Indeed. She watched you, but did not introduce herself. She got used to how you carried yourself, through her own eyes, as you walked lost through the bamboo forest. Once she’d observed enough... she simply coaxed you toward an exit by rustling leaves and directing rabbits. She saw who you were, and simply sent you off.
As it should.
Yes, whenever he left, I’m told.
Yes... Well, that was all there was to it. The fact was, this game you had unintentionally found yourself in only ever had one way it would end.
... Is that what you think? ... I can understand.
When summer was coming, I sent you to the Bamboo Forest of the Lost again. Taro came along.
In hotter weather he wore a lighter yukata, one that showed his arms. His neck and the collar below it were also rather visible. While you were looking there, he turned to you, spinning the bokken we’d given him before himself casually. He asked, “How do you think of it, Youmu? Eating so... traditionally.”
“Yuyuko-sama said she wanted one last taste of spring, so...” It’s true. I did.
“Not Yuyuko-sama, you,” he said, flatly. His brow was flat too.
“I-I don’t know... how I feel about it.” Hm. “I suppose, it’s fine?”
“I also think so, but maybe I’ve just gotten some strange ideas,” he said, craning his neck to look at the tops of the green stalks surrounding you. The sky was going gray about then, it seemed. “I read an import book. On cuisine.”
“Share it!” you demanded. Taro dropped his head and slouched.
“Fine,” he said.
“Yes!” you shouted, raising a fist in the air quite adorably. Then, “Oh!” You’d found a few more shoots.
“What will you even do with it? We can’t cook half the recipes without Outside World connections...” he muttered, watching you dig out the young plants.
“We have those connections, Taro. Though, I guess you wouldn’t know about them.” Indeed, he wouldn’t.
While scanning the forest for youkai or shoots, a drop of water hit his nose. “It’s raining,” he said.
“Oh! We’d better hurr—!”
You were cut off as the skies opened awfully. A deluge fell from the sky, soaking the both of you through at once. It fell loudly and mercilessly: an outright cacophony of Mother Nature’s bawling.
“Hey! Grab my hand!” Taro shouted. You could barely see, but you did find it and grab hold. “We’ll get some shelter, come on!”
You ran through the forest, tugged along by the boy and squeezing your eyes shut. If you knew the rains would last two days... Would you have made him turn around?
Splash! Splash! Even your socks became wet. You couldn’t tell even vaguely where you were. But, Taro, he moved true.
To that little haven he and Inaba Tewi knew.
The enclosure was almost void of moisture, the canopy of bamboo was too thick—to pervasive to allow very much of it. It was dry, you and he were not.
“Puh! Puh!” you spat, water falling from your hair and running through your clothing. “This is terrible! What do we do!?”
“I should be able to make a fire. I don’t want to die,” he said. The rain was very cold, and even were it not if he had gotten sick, well, he knew that sicknesses born of rain could at times be quite terrible.
He was taking off his robe, waving it powerfully in front of himself and casting out the water inside of it. You, you flinched at part one.
 Then, you took off your skirt.
 Then, you took off your shirt.
 You, bright red and speaking with forced naivety, then asked him, “Wh-What are you doing...?”
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/29(Fri)01:20
Taro noticed this act, and flinched himself. He asked you, “... Why did you start with that?”
Why indeed. To heat him up, Youmu? His face certainly looked warmed after you did that.
You were wearing panties that day. Taro averted his eyes and took them to the task of finding kindling. It’s a shame. The way the rain had made your underclothes stick to your butt, and how they clung at the front side as well: these were surefire techniques to cut through the heart of a young man.
What? Moving on.
Taro quite deliberately tried to not see you as a woman, this was clear. He treated you similarly to a boy, not because you are or look boyish, but for the opposite. He was particularly keen on your jawline, your hands, and your bottom. When he wasn’t looking, you would stare at his neck, shoulders, and hands. When you weren’t looking, he would stare at those things which caught his interest. He never dwelled on this, as far as I’m aware. He may not have shown you much respect, but given the familiar sword techniques he practiced when he thought he was alone, or how he spoke of the rival he’d met to Inaba Tewi, or how he made sure to, every day, be certain that your work schedule was never overbearing by marking off to-dos in silence while you were preparing for the day or on another task—doing them himself when I was napping and you weren’t around; these things told me much of how he recognized you.
He’d learned to be secretive, but your own recognition of him was very plain.
When your skirt was off and a fire had been started, while Taro encouraged the flame you fumbled nervously with the buttons of your vest. Your cheeks were as pink as sakura, and your heart was making the thunder for the ongoing storm. After your sixth failed attempt to do away with the first and topmost button, you realized Taro was before you, knelt, and lifting his hand.
“Just let me do it,” he said, exasperated.
So he unclothed you, as, I must say, unsexily as he could manage. You can attest, he did not manage very well.
Taking off a young lady’s clothes is not something a young man can do without intimacy. No matter how stonily he removes a vest, as soon as his hand is over a juvenile and young breast, realizing that he can’t find the button, realizing next that he’s trying to find the button, and he is attempting to thwart any confused passion rising from the scenario he’s found himself in: that’s it. The scenario is evident, and his pulse quickens.
He quietly unbuttoned your shirt, staring, perhaps, two seconds too long at your navel before turning back and moving to the fire with his eyes shut.
There were spare clothes under a hidden mat, hidden under a pile of leaves. You both privately removed all your wet clothes and set them and yourselves by the fire, each of you wearing a dry yukata with not a thing underneath.
You heard the rain drone, but otherwise it was silent in your space. Uncomfort had taken the hold of both of you, perhaps.
When lighting flashed and a roar of true thunder came, your yelp broke that.
Taro looked at you. “You’re afraid of thunder, too?” he asked. We skipped when he learned you were afraid of ghosts, but, naturally it hadn’t been long into his stay before he found out.
“I—I’m not scared?” Odd inflection, Youmu.
He didn’t buy it. If your yelp and strange inflection hadn’t done the trick to engender doubt, your shivering despite being in front of a crackling fire would have.
Taro looked into that fire, and decided to quietly sing.
“On top of the staircase,” he began. “, look at the clouds below. There is no higher point than here. The thunder rolls far away from my feet...”
He turned his eyes on you, you met them, and he grinned slightly.
He sang, “Hakugyokurou is...”
And you sputtered with laughter.
“Hakugyokurou isn’t a mountain!” you cried!
“I changed the lyrics a little, in case you noticed that,” he said, pleased with himself.
“Fuji, you know...” you said, trying to ignore the flashes and thunder, “it’s only the tallest mountain in Japan because of a jealous god.”
“Huh? Really?” He knew that.
“Yes,” you said, smiling now. “It used to be Yatsugatake—Youkai Mountain.”
“No way,” he dismissed this notion.
“Yes! Yuyuko-sama and Yukari-sama both have said so.” He still did not know of Yukari.
“Then, Yatsugatake is...”
“Stop that!” you shouted playfully.
He slouched and when he sang again, emphasized, “Was the highest peak in Japan.”
You laughed again, and a peal of thunder made you flinch, but did not stop your chuckling.
He chose another song,
“The bubble of soap flew up To the roof, it flew up But where on the roof it flew up It went and blew up.
The bubble of soap blew up. Before it could fly, it blew up, And it had just been born, too But it went and blew up.
Wind, wind, don’t you cry! Let this bubble of soap fly.”
“What a strange song,” you said.
“I heard that one on an imported record.”
“Do you know others?” you asked. He did.
He sang until you were fallen asleep. A midday nap, in the middle of a storm.
The smile on your face as you went... I will mention it, but I won’t comment on it.
You woke, in the middle of the night. Good thing. An untended fire? Indeed, he had fallen asleep himself in that time.
You could still hear the rain, though the thunder and lightning had stopped. You sat, feeling warm, and evidently thinking. What about, Youmu?
That’s what I’d wagered.
It wasn’t the first time you’d noticed something he’d done for you.
You looked at his sleeping face. It wasn’t a pleasant one... He was sitting, after all: hands in his lap and back bending forward. His brow and frown showed that he was not very comfortable, but still he managed to rest. The firelight made shadows from his nose, but mainly he looked to you... like Taro: that freeloading human from the Village. You chewed your bottom lips, and breathed into the crook of your arm, eyes half-lid.
Well? Do you want me to explain this?
By my judgement I would say there was no particular moment, You just got familiar with him.
No, Youmu, I wouldn’t say that.
It wasn’t for a lack of knowing others, that’s why I mentioned familiarity.
I can’t say if he felt the same, but for a while, certainly, you had come to favor Taro. The wealth of energy you displayed whenever he came near, and your animated expressions, well...
Obviously, with his actions in mind and his sleeping person in front of you, before you knew it you had your lips on his face—his cheek, right... here.
He stayed asleep, but his brow did relax. Warm before the fire, warmth on his face... You gingerly... lifted your hand and placed it down right... here, on his shoulder.
And you put your hand on his thigh, though I don’t believe you were consciously thinking on that.
When you pulled away, the next thing was also obvious.
You stayed there – you did – for nothing less than ten seconds.
An innocent sort of kiss. An immature kiss. That long exhalation, and the sensation both in and outside of you. Tingling happiness. Love? You kissed him, and your heart ached.
One could see it on your brow, here. A bend that told of peace, but against this... here, the corner of your eye—squeezing tighter... that betrayed a want for tears.
I know. You cried a little, Youmu. Because this is how you felt, wasn’t it?
This is the only way I can do this. This is the only way I’ll ever be able to do this.
Whether or not that was true, I’m sure: you felt it.
... The fire began to die, Silently you turned to it, and tended to it. Your tears were on his hand. You needed them to dry, and were worried that wiping them away would wake him. You sat next to him after, still silent. A pair of red eyes stared at you from beyond the stalks: deep, crimson gems like small break lights in the dark... is how she described it.
A shiver ran through you. It didn’t matter that you’d met before... As if you knew. And besides...
The stage was now very different. An infinite hallway and an imaginary moon were not current and pressing matters. In fact you couldn’t see the moon at all, and this place was very still—even under the pounding rain. The only light from beyond the hideaway was that of her eyes, peering in, at you. Now, you know exactly why she was there, allowing herself to be seen—even just this much. Then, you were only frightened.
Do I need to say...? How this was said, so unlike the statement that it was? Rather, a promise.
Your lips quivering, spit coating your tongue, breath: fleeting. You asked “Who are you?” but your voice was barely there. Nonetheless she heard you. You know why.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I—...” your voice lost the little strength it had. You couldn’t hear your own voice when you said, “I asked first...” She heard fine, of course.
“Not dead, no? You’re a half-phantom, from one of the afterlife worlds.” She paused. “Stealing bamboo.”
“Nobody owns the forest.” You said that, not this loudly. No, you still barely had a voice at all. It was all crackling fire, his measured breathing, and the endless percussion of the skies.
“Yeah,” she said, and her voice was approving, “you have backbone.”
Approving, but... intentional? Even you could detect this peculiarity. Her approval didn’t settle you down, quite the opposite. That is what she wanted...
“So,” she spoke again while you were contending with your fear, “what do you know about him?”
“What do you know about him?” she repeated. You finally noticed that the eyes hadn’t blinked once, and though there was only one “him” present she could be referring to... that gaze was not fixed on a “him” but a “her”. You.
You didn’t understand the question. You dropped the answer, not with obstinacy; it slipped away from you and tumbled from out your mouth, surrounded by faint breaths. Unheard by you, but—
“That figures,” she said. “He has that way.”
‘Way’? you thought.
“It’s why I took him.” She did not say “in”. That was so deliberate that, again, you caught it. Your fear of things beyond the “real” was shaken off by that claim, but another “fear” took its place instantaneously.
That was, of course, anxiety, worry. Things locked away that began to claw at the door when you took his first kiss.
“Do you like him?” She wasn’t asking about romantic interest... She spoke in a selling tone. “I’ve taken care of him for a long time. I’m very proud of my Taro, but—”
The eyes shined, just for a second
“—who the hell are you?” she asked. It was the most forceful and terrifying question you’d ever heard. It was cannon-fire, so heavy and targeted it was to crash through a rampart: you. It was aimed at the last bit of your composure, keeping your voice audible enough for her rabbit ears.
So, we’ve arrived. There is a question you never wanted to ask. Or, is it a question you don’t want to have answered?
We must ask it, and answer it.
“Who is she?”
Who is she, to Nakahara Taro?
Have you concluded it already, after everything? After the things I’ve told you? Do you think you know? Maybe you do, at that. But still, we should answer it, Yes, Youmu... we should.
This is a story from not so long ago.
The boy, at an age where he was starting to form the shape of who he was, found a wounded, barefoot rabbit, dressed in a pale and sakura nightgown. Her chest, and left arm, had been burned.
He acted at once, but what is it you think he did exactly?
He carried the rabbit on his back from the forest, past the village, and up the eastern hill, to find aid from the Shrine.
Even then, that was the sort of boy he was.
Of course, it would have been better to bring the rabbit to that Lunar doctor... but at the time, she would surely and mercilessly have taken his life, no? Not that one could have found it regardless. All the Shrine Maiden did was grow irritated, but only to the point of letting it show on her face. Inaba Tewi, after all, is no sweet and innocent rabbit. Not that the Shrine Maiden needed anything more than the fact that Inaba Tewi is a youkai rabbit, but the fact stands: she is a sinful person, full of wicked thoughts.
Nakahara Taro did not save her life, but his gesture left on her a surprising impression.
In the evening, when she was waking, he was there.
The Shrine Maiden had insisted, she would give Inaba Tewi a place to recover, and the things the youkai rabbit would need to heal, but he would have to apply it all by himself. He would have to take care of Inaba Tewi, unassisted.
She found him over her body, his hand cool on her shoulder... good. But, what was he doing? Who was he? He smelled familiar, but...
She did not know that face.
He pulled his hand away and the sheet bunched above her stomach up over her bare chest. He sat and said, “You were hurt, so... This is the Shrine.” He said it with conviction, but he looked like he was making an excuse. He could barely keep his eyes on hers.
She sat up, ignoring the feeling of pain stretching over her skin, her upper body; the sheets slid off of her chest. Taro squinted, and no longer looked at her.
“Who are you?” she asked him, with none of her usual bravado. She was obviously weak.
“I’m... Nakahara Taro,” he said, “a villager... son of a tanner and a clothier.”
“I’m Inaba Tewi,” said the rabbit. “Did you rescue me? Was it you who carried me on your back?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Why’d you... What for? Did you have a reason?” she asked, squinting; from pain, from confusion.
And so he was confused. “No, I... Was I supposed to?”
“This is the second time a human has helped me, but the first... the first time, I was still just some rabbit,” she said, speaking equally to herself as she spoke to him. “Did you do it because you’re stupid?” she directed that largely at him. She even looked at him.
He looked back, trying to get used to her half-nakedness. He replied, “I... was in the forest, and you were unconscious and in pain. I know I shouldn’t deal with youkai outside of the village, but I...” He steeled himself. The boy told her, “I would have held that regret forever if you’d become infected and died, that’s all. It would’ve weighed badly on my conscience.”
“What words,” she grunted, wincing. “How old are you, kid?”
At the time, he was nine.
“Even if your heart’s stupid, it seems like your head isn’t. It’s good... good rhetoric. You know what that means, ‘rhetoric’?”
He flinched, leaning forward and insisting, “I’m not trying to convince you. That’s how I felt. I would’ve saved any youkai that I found like I found you.”
“Then, your head is getting poisoned by your heart...” Her eyes flashed while she looked to the floor, grinning wryly. “Pardon... I’m a little out of it myself, I’m usually much more charming!”
“Like, beautiful? You’re beautiful,” he said...
“No, no, shut up. Not like that, I’m graceful, dignified, adorable, and endlessly lovable. That kind of charming.” She mostly ignored his comment on her looks. She knew herself to be beautiful.
“So... you’re someone who likes to use ‘rhetoric’ yourself?” he ventured.
“For a soft-heart, your wit seems pretty sharp, kid,” she complimented. “Anyway, I’m lucky. Lucky! Did you know that? You ever heard of me? Don’t bother lying.”
“I have,” he said. “You think I saved you to catch you, or for luck?”
“You have a very powerful, very dangerous youkai in your midst,” she said. “So try it, you won’t last three days.”
“I’m not trying it; I’m waiting for you to get better.”
“Listen,” she said, meeting his eyes again, rather seriously, “there’s two ways this must’ve went down. You either saved me because of foolishness, or you saved me out of self-interest. Either answer pisses me off.”
“Why is saving you without any reward in mind bad?” he asked, honestly.
“It’s naive, and dangerous. You said that you’d have done that with any youkai? Really? Any one? Then you’re asking to get killed and eaten.”
“You aren’t my mom...” he complained.
“Yeah, but I am older than you.”
The doors rattled with a passing breeze. The old house of the Hakurei creaked and groaned. This was in summer. The draft was welcome as it brushed over the two.
“Well then, O venerable Inaba Tewi, lecture away,” he spoke with annoyance and defiance.
“Listen!” she commanded! She raised her finger and closed her eyes. “Grow a tougher heart if you don’t wanna wind up food! I’m giving you advice, here, take it! It’s a bonus on top of the luck you’ll be getting!”
Her left eyebrow twitched. This one, like so.
“Lie down, you should be resting,” he said.
And she snapped, back, her eyes opening and her hand becoming a fist. She said, “I’m talking, shut it!”
And he pushed her down with his hand, still covered in ointment.
There, he mustered up his masculinity and bellowed, much as he could: “Lay down, rabbit!”
“What the hell!? Get off me!” she resisted, and her free shoulder began to rise.
He pushed that down too.
“You’re hurt!” he loudly reminded. He then ordered her to: “Stay!”
“I’m not a dog!”
“I just called you a rabbit!”
“I ain’t your pet either! If you want me, I ain’t cheap!”
“I didn’t sa—! If you’re really charming usually, man you’re off! You’re so annoying!”
He struggled against her. Youkai or no, she wasn’t physically powerful. He wasn’t yet, either, but a rabbit isn’t really a match for a human of any age.
Tewi felt pain again. Less, with his hand to her wounds, but it was enough to relent. The boy sighed.
“Come on...” he moaned, growing exhausted. “What are you getting at? What are you thinking, you stupid old bunny?”
“H-Hmph, there’s some fight...” she noted. She let him keep her down, breathing through her nose and looking at the Hakurei’s dark, patched ceiling.
They stayed that way for a while. He braved her femininity to watch her thin chest rise and fall, and the beating heart beneath slow... even and ease its pace...
“Rub my chest,” Tewi commanded. “I was burned there, too.”
He did. His hand moved over her body clinically, and he kept his mind staid. Even when he went across the tip of her breast, he forced himself to not fret over it. When he was done, he scrutinized her form, and seemed satisfied with his application.
“Thanks...” she whispered. He barely heard it... but he did hear it. Enough that he was sure of it, no second guesses.
He replied, “Oh, so you finally thank me.”
“Oh, so that’s what you wanted? My thanks?” she returned with these words, and looked up at him with a smug and belittling gaze and smile. “Well, they were given, so let me go now.”
He was still holding her down.
“Shut up,” he said, now entirely exasperated. He looked into her face with an expression of “done”-ness. Done with this topic, done with her—though he wasn’t. “I saved you because I’m a good man. Is that what you wanted to hear?” His stare drifted away from her, to the trees rustling with evening life outside the shrine doors.
“Good men don’t think of things the way you do, Taro,” Tewi replied, looking into his face now.
“The hell do you mean, youkai?” he fired back.
“You helped me because not helping me would’ve made you feel worse. You helped me just to feel good about yourself. That’s what you wanted.”
“So what?” He met her eyes. “I saved you. I did it mostly because I would’ve felt bad, but the end result is the same: you’re getting better, and I’m getting nothing. Nothing material.”
“That’s why you’re foolish...” she said, speaking deeply. “In this stupid thing.”
She reached out then, and clawed at the place on his clothes that was stretched over his heart—pushing, until she could feel the mentioned stupid “thing”.
“Then, I won’t save youkai anymore,” he said, in a tone that suggested two more words: “happy now?”
She studied his expression. Inaba Tewi had lectured many a rabbit in the past, and she recognized what Taro had that was keeping her in this argument. It was something that she’d seen in the worst rabbit of all. The most fool rabbit to have ever lived.
She’d seen this in Inaba Tewi herself.
“You think nothing bad will ever happen, kid... it will. Always will, if you think like it won’t.”
“I’ve given you enough advice, right?” she said, grinning again but now entirely absent of humor. “Let me go, be naive, and suffer. Maybe you’ll die, maybe your parents will die, maybe you’ll be skinned alive—” She stopped, and looked at him again, finding that her gaze had become stuck on his chest. “Go ahead. Live with a light heart.”
And her tone, tinged with something... something Taro hadn’t heard once before in his life, caught his attention.
In three moments, quiet all...
“I won’t save youkai anymore,” he repeated, without further suggestion. “I was lucky,” he said, “to have saved a good one this first and only time. But, I won’t let her go...”
He finally removed himself from her, reaching down to beside his right knee where a circle-container of more salve sat. He twisted off the top, and took some, his face staid. He said:
“She’s still hurt.”
There were words that stood out in his final declarations. With each of these specific words, her ears budged just a bit. She looked up and knew: he was no Daikoku. He wasn’t.
But that didn’t mean he hadn’t done something for her she could never forget.
Tewi went silent. She let him coat her burns one last time. She let him lay his other hand on her head, and pet, once.
Her hair, he thought, was very soft. The softest he’d ever felt.
But through his fingers, he could still feel the rabbit’s defiance. Likely enough, once he removed his hand... the first time he turned away, even for one second, then she would stand, find her clothes, and run into the night. He couldn’t have that. She was his charge.
So, do you know what he did?
 He slept beside her, to keep her from going.
 He sat beside her and stayed watch the entire night.
[X] He sat beside her and stayed watch the entire night.
But of course, the White Hare of Inaba is not someone you want to give an inch; do, and she’ll take three miles.
He diligently kept his eyes on her, despite steadily approaching drowsiness, until the Sun rose and the Shrine Maiden came back. He may not have slept, but the rabbit did eventually give in and rest. The medicine, along with the healing afforded to her by being youkai, had her healed by daybreak.
Reimu came to him in her nightclothes, her hair unkempt and the clothes themselves not much better. Although they were close in age, he tended to think of her as older. Perhaps it was that her family’s name had that much weight, but more likely it was since Reimu is a very bizarre child.
She looked into his eyes, and a down at the bags beneath them. “... Did you stay awake for this thing?” she asked. He nodded, and she grimaced, as if she had a headache. “Wake her,” she said, “and get out. Stay safe, don’t be stupid, I’m gonna get ready for the day.”
“Thanks, Miss Shrine Maiden,” he replied, his voice hardly there.
“Yeah, yeah...” she answered lazily, and she left the guestroom.
He reached toward Inaba Tewi’s face...
... and he flicked her across her nose.
With a great start, she returned to the waking world, frenzied and panicked. She near ran out of the room then and there, but he kept her by her shoulder.
“You!” she yelled, turning to glare at him! “You watched over me all night!?”
“Mhm,” he confirmed, like this.
And she growled, turning her face from his. She was red-faced, and aggravated.
“I held your dress here,” he said, looking down to his right—where there was a dress. “I took it when I was sure you weren’t awake, so I could give it to you now. I’d feel like dirt if I let a lady run around half-naked outside, even if she’s a beast and used to that.”
“I’m not used to—Gimme! Gimme the dress!” she snapped, clawing under her right arm with her left hand for the article. He let her go, and threw the dress over her head. “Wha—!”
He tugged the thing down and her ears popped out the neck, just before her head. He helped her arms through the sleeves and produced a brush, whereupon he began to groom the rabbit with a firm hand on her left shoulder now.
She growled again, but didn’t much resist his actions. He was like a quiet barber using a professional, but warm hand. If anything, his complete lack of reaction compelled her to struggle. She was beautiful, after all, and he hardly seemed to care. Does that sound familiar?
He finished and said, “Alright,” and then, “go.”
Tewi, now dressed, brushed, and entirely healed, was completely incensed.
“Yeah, I’ll go,” she said, with clear irritation. She turned to him then and shouted! “I’ll go! Will that make you happy!?”
“Are you alright? You’re not hurting anymore?” he asked.
She said, “I’m not!”
“Then, sure: it will.” He stood then, trying his best to remain stable. “Though if you’ll allow me to be honest—” he said and—and, he was slouching here... “I would rather walk you to the forest where I found you. That’s... proper,” he said.
Tewi put on a look like this. She was completely appalled. “Well well, Mister Samurai, you know the class died out an age ago right?”
He blinked. Then, slowly, he answered, “... Bushido is a set of ideas which are entirely noble, no matter the times.”
But, she accepted his offer.
“Sure, escort me,” she said, and she presented her hand—which he took.
He could not carry her any more—he was too tired. He simply held her hand and guided her down the hill, the stairs, which led to the wooded area between the Shrine and the Village. He took the path around the village, which led to the Lake if one wished, but also it led to the Bamboo Forest. He collapsed, of course, from exhaustion before long.
So Inaba Tewi was left with an unconscious human, while they were still in unmarked woods.
 And she took him to Eientei.
 And she took a risk, and brought him into the village.
 And she called her rabbits and hunkered down right there, in the woods.
[X] And she called her rabbits and hunkered down right there, in the woods.
If I must be honest, I was surprised to hear that myself. Inaba Tewi... The White Hare of Inaba has demonstrated too many times her selfishness, her disinterest in others—even with her own kind, she can be extraordinarily flippant. Maybe she has a sense of fairness? What do you think, Youmu?
I’ll tell you: I believe that was a proper evaluation, mysterious though it may seem. I suppose, in history, there is a similar example in the rabbit’s past. Was he exploiting that, Youmu?
He didn’t sleep very long. He woke up surrounded by Leporidae, all white as snow, soft and warm as blankets in winter. They were, in fact, using him as bedding, although they had been ordered to make him comfortable. More than half of them were sleeping. The youkai among them – their leader Hare – had one of her own in her lap and was caring for it... singing:
Kagome, kagome. The bird locked in the cage there— When, oh when will it come out?
Yes, I suppose she just very much liked that one.
As he woke, he asked her why she hadn’t left him behind, interrupting her play and song.
“I make it a point to do a lot of things,” she said, looking back at him while fiddling with the ears of the rabbit in her lap, “one of those is to repay my debts. Can you walk?”
“These rabbits are heavy...” he admitted; four were lying down on top of him. Tewi grinned.
“They’re healthy. They’d better be fast too, though, heh. Okay...” She lightly waved the rabbit in her lap out of it, and began to stand. “I owe you more than watching over you as you sleep. Listen, Taro-san, I’m a very important rabbit. There aren’t many things outside of my reach.” She crossed her arms, now standing with confidence. Allow me to demonstrate... yes, this was it. “I’d prefer to help you out behind the scenes,” she continued, “outta nowhere, like you helped me, but I’m also realistic...” and here she pointed one finger, turned over like so, at the boy. “I’ll give you something you want,” she declared. “I’ll give you whatever you want until there’s no longer a debt between us,” she clarified.
“I don’t want anything,” was his immediate answer, and she immediately frowned. He sat up, and the rabbits surrounding him began frolicking and lazing about—the ones which had woken up attempted to get between his legs and up to his stomach. They were rabbits, after all. “We’re not in the bamboo forest... I would like to escort you the rest of the way. I apologize for falling asleep.”
“Where’s your drive, kid!?” yelled Inaba Tewi! She uncrossed her arms to hold up her hands, trying to grasp at his apparently nonsensical sentiments. “You’re not a toddler! Don’t you have any dreams!? Do you want to be, like, some kinda legendary fisherman!? A chemist!? A man of great fortune!? Do you want a pet rabbit!?” She grabbed up a rabbit here. “I have thousands of these! Give me a wish.”
“Let me be virtuous,” he said with a self-satisfied smile. To be clear, he knew that he was bothering her. She dropped the rabbit in her hands, stomped over to him, and swiftly grabbed the front of his robes whereupon she began shaking him back and forth.
“Give me a wish, you little punk!” she demanded, now nearly enraged. “You’re practically keeping me as a slave here!”
Taro let her bunnyhandle him and said, “I’m not doing anything.” He looked over her shoulder. Perhaps he could run away...
“You wanna run away now!? Fine! Run! I don’t need you walking me home!” yelled Tewi, This... clearly hurt him.
“I just wanted to help...” said the little boy.
And Tewi stopped shaking him, though she still held fast to his robes.
“You don’t just give people help for free. Weren’t you listening to what I said?” Tewi reminded, the strength in her grip receding. He noticed this...
... and he swept her off her feet.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW!?” she screamed. Taro, with his still-tired eyes, glared ahead, holding the elder bunny in the cradle of his arms and determining exactly where he was in the forests around the Village. “Stop him, morons!” She was ordering her rabbits with this.
They snuggled his ankles.
“Watch, Inaba Tewi...!” he shouted, with half the energy he could usually muster. “This is nobility! This is the way a proper man acts!”
“Get your HAND off my TAIL!” she roared.
“Ahh... that’s what this is...” He squeezed it, like a ball. She slapped him across his cheek. “OUCH! Hey! You said you weren’t a dog so, what, are you actually a cat!?”
“THAT ISN’T FOR YOU, KID!” she asserted.
“Hold tight,” he commanded, ignoring her protests. Another rabbit jumped onto his head then, but... it’s unclear whether it was trying to hold him back, or just getting a free ride.
Either way, he was off, followed and flanked by a contingent of about twenty little bun-buns. Inaba Tewi hugged him around his neck, and tried to hide her face in his chest. He wasn’t the first human to help her, but he was the first to be so insistent. And without any need of recompense? She hated how it made her feel, you know. “Divided”. Her previous lord was exceptional: beyond man. He – Taro – was very plainly just a boy, albeit a bizarrely obstinate one. That sense of division did leave her...
... but I should say: that took a few years.
That uncomfortable sense of division was with her when he dropped her off at the Forest of the Lost, where she slapped him a second time with teeth grit. He allowed it, and just pat her head with a smile. The other rabbits, I’m told they found the whole ordeal amusing. They laughed, it seems, when Tewi finally turned from him to walk grumpily into her home territory. This was since, before she could take a second step, the boy poked her tail once more before running off. She gave brief chase but really just stayed behind, fist shaking.
A week after, the sense was still there while she had him watched, and watched him herself. Over the next many months, at his house’s doorstep she secretly gifted him fruits, the freshest shoots of bamboo, an exotic beetle that he freed, and on one occasion a potent medicine stolen from her Master which he kept... only to ask after it with his teacher. He had caught on that someone, like the rabbit, was giving him things and found it before his parents. The temple school teacher of course didn’t recognize the medicine from the moon, and neither did the immortal soul of the Child of Miare. He gave them the drugs. She almost tore her hair out.
When she went to leave him firewood one day a few before winter, she found two bundles of rice waiting for her. She took them, absolutely seething all the way to her estate.
A few weeks into winter, she went to leave him a pair of mittens. She found a scarf, and a note.
Take care in winter, it said, this is the first article of clothing I’ve made, with my mother’s help. I thought about giving it to you in person, but you’re too good at hiding. I’m never sure when to find you. Yes, yep, that’s just what you should expect from the legendary lucky hare. Congratulations, you stupid rabbit.
I’d like to meet you again in spring. –Nakahara Taro
... So they did.
 Can we skip this part of the story, Yuyuko-sama?
Oh my. Aren’t you being strong, Youmu? Is that courage or hopeful ignorance? Well, I suppose by now you already know: they have been close and caring for far longer than they have been apart and, between each other, aggressive. When they met in spring, she finally laid down her metaphorical arms. He met her at some unmarked spot just outside the Bamboo Forest, against the towering stalks themselves. Cherry blossoms? No. Spring comes just after winter, Youmu. It was still cold, and she was wearing a charming little pink, rabbit-marked and hand knit scarf.
“Taro-san...” said Inaba Tewi as he approached. An endless wind was unkindly billowing over the two of them... her ears flapped like so, and he kept his hand on his robes, to stop the weather’s pull that he was worried his obi could not prevent.
“Inaba,” he said in return.
And she informed him: “I don’t owe you anything.”
Little Taro nodded.
Tewi brought up her scarf over her mouth and nose, squinting loftily at the human several paces off from her.
“Can I ask you something, though?” she ventured.
“What?” he allowed.
“If I want to help you, just because I’m fond of you, will you let me?”
Taro, with his shoulders hunched against the buffeting wind, was made quiet not by nature, but by her instead. His eyes were a bit wide. Had she really abandoned their childish feuding just like that? Right here? So promptly?
“Even if you say no,” said Tewi, “I’m gonna help you. Not because you helped me, or saved my life—and, listen up: you didn’t save my life back then,” she clarified, lifting a gloved hand, finger raised to a point aimed distant at his face. “I’m gonna help you because I like you, and that’s it. Not outta dead chivalric codes or samurai airs. I like you, and I take care of the things that I like. That’s the end of it, so deal with it.”
“You...” he found his voice here, and he asked, “You like me because I started giving you stuff back?”
“No,” she answered honestly. Her dark, blood-color eyes stayed on his ordinary pair without hesitation or wavering. She told him, “I’ve been watching you for a while now, to try to figure you out, and you don’t seem like much of a man.”
He grimaced. He was a boy.
“You’re a pretty dull kid,” she said. He frowned, and straightened his back. Tewi began to count off his points, starting with two fingers raised from what she’d already mentioned. “You’re weak, you’re unassuming, and you’re ordinary.” She raised her other hand. “You’re careful, you’re secretive, and you’re impulsive... You’re a human who knows what he wants, and usually thinks he can never have it so you don’t bother. Right?” She pointed at him now with her small finger. He didn’t answer.
She continued. “What I like about you is that you do have dreams, even if you told me you didn’t. But, Taro-san, you can’t learn how to master a sword by swinging around a broom behind old, abandoned buildings.”
“You were even watching there...!? But I always made sure I was alone!” he fired back.
“Ah, no, I never could catch you off guard myself or using the rabbits when you went practicing,” said Tewi, looking away from him and instead to the village, donning now an amused, though a touch tired smile. “I figured that must be what you were doing ‘cause of where you went, how the dirt looked around the houses there – like marked with footwork – and how you never ever seemed to open or even try to open the doors. And there’s where you like to put your eyes when wandering through town, especially whenever there’s a swordsman, and there’s the books you rent though you hide them under one’s more popular with other village boys and, of course, there’s your bushido...” She met his eyes again. “I figured it out,” she said, “and just now you confirmed it.”
“... Ah, well.” He didn’t seem to have anything to say, but the bright color of his face did say he was ashamed. “I’m just playing around...” he offered his excuse in a fledgling whisper. “I’m not gonna... actually—”
And he flinched as a pair of hands suddenly clasped him about his upper arms. He lifted his head: Inaba Tewi was there, keeping his eyes with hers and smiling with steady, immutable confidence.
“I’ve got a history of just playing around myself, Taro-san. I was born a plain and usual, careless rabbit. Now, I sometimes look at the night sky and really think: ‘maybe there next’. I may be a lot older than you, and so I’ve got dreams way bigger than yours, but...” the youkai brought her forehead to his, and the enthusiasm humming through her began to give him shivers, “that’s why if anyone can make a dream come true for a human, it’s me.”
She then let him go, then took his hands in hers, looking down at them.
“Not that I just want to help you with a dream, or just want to help you at all.” She looked at him once more, and made a considerable request. “Be my friend, Taro-san. I want to befriend you, formally. And if I do, I can solemnly swear that I’ll be your friend for a lifetime.”
Taro met her gaze, and without much thought answered, “Okay...”
She smiled, then, marking the fourth time she had ever done so in absolute earnest.
Because she does not just like our Nakahara Taro, she loves him: more than you do.
Is it more than you ever could?
You already know this. Regaling you with more stories that prove it won’t change it.
Their rescuing one another. Their helping one another. Their mutual gifts, their shared affection. Their hugs, their tears, their respites and rests. Their bathing, their grooming, their waking in the same bed. Their close touches, their quiet moments, their—
Animosity was a mark of both of your bonds with him, at first.
But, she has openly cared for him, and vice-versa, since before yours was even a name in his thoughts.
... We must ask: is it romance? What they have?
Although I know all of what Yukari told me...
... Youmu, we haven’t got that answer.
And asking him, I can understand why that would scare you.
During a storm, after you’d taken his first kiss, you met Inaba Tewi, who asked you who you were...
And you could feel the hate in her stare, as you somehow knew
that she knew
that whether this was the truth or not, a “friend” was not all that you wanted to be to him.
She had not seen your kiss.
But she knew, at a glance, that you had done it.
“What are you so afraid of?” she asked from the shadows. And then she left them, walking into her and our boy’s hideaway on measured, planned steps. You could see mud caking the soles of her feet. Her dress was run through with the sky’s worth of water. Arms hanging at her side, hairs and nose dripping, this little rabbit girl never stopped looking at you. Well, she wanted an answer. You were too scared to give it? Perhaps to reassure you, perhaps to mock you, or perhaps to condemn herself she said, “I’m just a rabbit.”
Inaba Tewi, who you’d contacted so briefly before.
At the time you didn’t know about Taro’s ties to the Bamboo Forest. You knew he liked our pet, but...
“You said ‘my’... Do you own Taro?” you asked.
“He’s mine,” she said, with no elaboration.
“A human, a slave to a youkai?” You stood up, and found that you were a little taller than her. “Unforgivable,” you said, looking to the resting scabbard of your Roukanken, seven paces away. You declared, “If that’s the case, I will sever that bond myself!”
She was unmoved, and you saw that she was looking now at the sleeping Taro.
“... Listen, kid,” she said, and she looked at you again, “all I want,” she followed, “is for him to live well.”
“I... I want that too...” you said with a bit of conviction. You hadn’t yet gone to your sword.
“Maybe,” she said, glancing at his sleeping body again. “Maybe.”
For the next few seconds, all that was heard was the rain.
She added her voice, “If you want to take his heart, I can’t stop you.” She began to watch you again. “Not out of respect... Honestly, if I thought I could get away with it, I would spit on you,” she said, in her most hateful voice, her chin quaking. She crossed her arms, as if cold, and clutching herself she repeated, “If that’s what you want, I don’t think I can stop you.”
A familiar sentiment, you thought.
She muttered something, but then turned and hopped away. It was an unfinished thought you did not hear. It was only, “I just want...”
The storms eventually passed, and so much time went by.
You kept your feelings quiet for nearly a year, and then suddenly you came to me, asking what you should do.
And so, now you know about anything that you could... save for the very boy in question’s feelings, and the rabbit’s.
Oh, this child? Yes, this rabbit is one of Eientei’s—or rather Inaba Tewi’s—spies. This little one reported everything to the leader of the rabbits, who knows all of what you’ve done. After this, she will know that we spoke at length.
But, Tewi has never told our Taro what you’ve done, or how you’ve felt.
She never asks about you; never pries into his life outside of her despite how much interest she has in intimate gossip.
It’s respect, born from reverence. She thinks that Taro is a fine boy who will grow into a great man. She guides him like that, and in her guiding him they have never become sexually intimate.
... Youmu, clean that up. Spitting on the tatami... How could you?
Yes, they have not had sexual relations nor have they kissed. And Taro, well, that boy’s head is almost a mystery. He used to be much easier to read. If I had to speculate, I would say... that I will not speculate for you. Youmu, narrating the future is outside of my scope. I could make things up, but I don’t believe that you need fantasies and lies anymore.
He’ll come back soon, from that assigned subjugation
The ball is in your court, as they say in the west.
Tell me what you’ll do.
 I’m going to fight for him.
 I’m going to ask him about Inaba Tewi, and then... and then I’ll decide!