Oh, you’re back. That was sooner than I was expecting. What’s that look for? Come in, and leave the door open.
You look surprisingly well. I’ll touch your face, hmm... No tears. That’s good. Or, have any of your tears already dried by now?
You’ve cried. Everyone cries. Tea?
No, you make it. When has it ever been any other way? I will take my favorite.
How did it all go—? Another mysterious look! So many queer ways you’re looking at me! There’s nothing to worry over. You want to know how much it is that I know? Astute as always: yes, Yukari has been over since you left, and we have spoken. Your lives have just been a most entertaining subject of discussion and gossip. Change your face when you’re in front of me. When you’re in front of me, all is well. I am Death, a force of still- and steady-ness. I am a comfort that all will feel. It hasn’t been so long, but I’m sure you wanted for my presence the moment it all came to a head.
Thank you...! Hm... Yes, sit down.
Well, why else would you come straight to me when you returned? Tell me what happened.
I know what happened, but I’d like to hear it from you directly: that answer.
What did Nakahara Taro have to say when asked, “Who is Inaba Tewi to you?”
I’d like to take up an old form for a moment, ahem.
The flurries of the sky feathered the land of death.
She was there, he was yet away.
Anxiety, hope, fear: everything usual. The youngest and last Konpaku, human and phantom, was in that moment so very typically human. A human girl awaiting a human boy, with love and grief tied together in her chest: it was an awful burden, and yet so common. She would cry if she saw him in the middle of one wrong thought.
But, he arrived outside of that possibility. The amateur, yet skillful youkai hunter came back to roost in his third home, and found that home’s gardener awaiting him.
“Oh? Youmu? What’s wrong?”
Was he even unaware, or was he so learnedly polite that “bushido” saw all of her clear tells and read them as sickness of the stomach rather than sickness of the heart?
What did this boy even want?
Was he really a simpleton of the shade of any other Human Villager, or was he the special person he aspired to be?
It is of my opinion that he was special, by merit.
Like the witch who lives in the Forest of Magic, born another bumpkin bred for the business of her parents, he was fated for the mundane. Like her he had accepted his lot completely. Like her, he found somebody wicked: an ancient and selfish woman, who showed her that dreams, in a world of fantasy, may not need be confined to the realm of the night—the Kingdom-Domain of ravenous baku. This is Gensokyo, and although the age of man’s triumph is long over, it does not mean every human is a slave to their fate. Fate is a heavy-handed suggestion; a leash. It can be severed.
Nakahara Taro, though innocuous he wishes to be, is by now far from that.
And that, he should have known, meant that he would attract.
Like the Hakurei Shrine Maiden attracts all for her casual might, and the Black and White Witch attracts a few of her betters who see in her the potential for phenomenal greatness—!
He is a man!
And he could not be unaware of all that was around him!
The youngest Konpaku steeled her wavering heart.
She asked him—
“Who is Inaba Tewi?”
And when he could not find the voice to answer she asked him—
“Who is Inaba Tewi... to you?
Is she something like your aunt? Is she your Master?
Is she your mentor? Your friend? Someone ‘important to you’?
Do you love her!? Are you in love!? Does she love you back!?
I must know, so tell me! Hold nothing back and tell me!”
I could hear her, yelling from the gate.
But I didn’t hear his answer.
Tell me now. What was it?
 ... He said, “Tewi is the youkai that I’m in love with, but it will never be anything more than that. She is the youkai I love, and I’m only a human.”
 ... He said, “Huh... Tewi, she’s... She’s like family, but... I can’t say there isn’t something like ‘non-familial love’ there. I honestly have to say, like you mocked when you were yelling, that she is ‘someone important to me’.”
 ... He said, “I... Well... Well—Mmf... Of the few precious bonds I’ve made, the one I have with Tewi is the most special... but I’m not in love with her, Youmu. That isn’t... how I’d describe it.”
 ... He said, “I love her,” and, “I intend to marry her.”
[x] ... He said, “Tewi is the youkai that I’m in love with, but it will never be anything more than that. She is the youkai I love, and I’m only a human.”
I was between this one and the last one, but the latter seemed too naive. Would anyone be so cruel as to give someone you claim to love a few decades of happiness and several centuries of suffering? At that point, the best case scenario is breaking up before you die so she can get over you.
[x] ... He said, “Huh... Tewi, she’s... She’s like family, but... I can’t say there isn’t something like ‘non-familial love’ there. I honestly have to say, like you mocked when you were yelling, that she is ‘someone important to me’.”
[X] ... He said, “Huh... Tewi, she’s... She’s like family, but... I can’t say there isn’t something like ‘non-familial love’ there. I honestly have to say, like you mocked when you were yelling, that she is ‘someone important to me’.”
As much as I dislike the "like a sister" trope, there really an answer that feels appropriate while still suggesting some level of romantic attraction.
[X] ... He said, “Huh... Tewi, she’s... She’s like family, but... I can’t say there isn’t something like ‘non-familial love’ there. I honestly have to say, like you mocked when you were yelling, that she is ‘someone important to me’.”
I'm going with [x] ... He said, “Tewi is the youkai that I’m in love with, but it will never be anything more than that. She is the youkai I love, and I’m only a human.” by determining general consensus
The tied vote means most want him to feel romantic attraction toward Tewi, while the remaining votes are one for "it's not love" and one for "BIG love, I want that bun". If the majority is for love, and the first vote is more openly into the idea than the second, I feel like ... He said, “I love her,” and, “I intend to marry her.” can count in spirit toward the honest admission of love than the somewhat reluctant admission.
I might have an update today or more likely tomorrow, along with updates for everything else probably (day off!)
[X] ... He said, “Tewi is the youkai that I’m in love with, but it will never be anything more than that. She is the youkai I love, and I’m only a human.”
An answer, I think, that is crueler than any other.
Youmu has many faults: she is naive, she is bullheaded, and she is quick to violence and afraid of much.
But a fault that does not lie with her is the fault of “selfishness”.
When the half-human gardener heard the whole-human’s confession, she was joyless.
“Why... do you want to know?” the boy asked.
She answered, “Ah...
Because... I was worried. We learned that the rabbit Yuyuko-sama took in was one of her spies, so...”
Saliva filled her mouth. She swallowed.
“If you tried to become a youkai, especially because you’d fallen for her, I’d be very worried.”
Liar. Lies, all, to all.
“Well, I can’t do that...” he furrowed his brow. “I don’t want to, but I can’t either. Since I can’t... I’ve never said anything.”
Konpaku Youmu looked at the sky. Nakahara Taro followed suit.
So, the girl’s tears went unnoticed.
“What I have now with her... as a close friend—a partner, is more than enough.”
“That won’t do.”
He looked to her.
“Don’t give up, she’s always right in front of you,” said the half-phantom girl. “You must tell her, and see things through to the end. Were you a man who lingered in doubt, or were you one who cut through it? I say that you should go to her, Taro. She’ll learn before you with her watching rabbit’s departure, anyway.”
The girl lowered her head and met his gaze. He finally saw her state, and he shivered—going still.
She said only, “Tell her.”
I suppose he seemed to realize something then, for what he began to say next was indicative of such. Hesitant, he parted his lips to ask, “Youmu... are you—?”
 “Yes, I am!”
 “What? Am I... what? No... I assure you, whatever you’re thinking, you’re mistaken.”
What is that... a boy’s naivety, or stubbornness? I have to say, I have no trouble telling a person’s thoughts from their postures their actions their orders, but you—you have been elusively—
Stupid, that’s the word.
I know that you knew Youmu fancied you. Were you surprised when she said it because you... didn’t want her to? It introduced you to a bit of a quagmire, hm?
I liked watching Youmu in love. She’s such an honest girl, she could barely hide it—and is such an earnest girl that her forwardness was very amusing to see and hear of.
I have nothing kind to say about Inaba Tewi.
A woman who has lived conniving; similar, almost, to Yukari but—what intentions my old friend has ultimately align with some greater sense, you know? She is a “world-minded” person, though this can be troublesome at times...
Inaba Tewi is only world-minded if you consider the fact: herself, and her people are, to her, the entire world, as-is, and all that matters—
... Yes. She does care for you... Ha, so emphatic.
... I loathe you a little, Taro-kun. Why did you even come here?
You left Youmu at the gate, and left her with “I’m sorry”. You flew out of the world of the dead, and went to a place lush with life. You beat the rabbit I had let go, to find the rabbit to which it was enthralled. Inaba Tewi, the black-hearted white rabbit.
... You’ve become more rude, haven’t you? Be polite; there’s no need for anger.
I am telling the truth.
This is the truth: she is a liar and manipulator; an exploiter and scum of the lowest order. What do you see in that?
No bias here. Whatever you’ve chosen doesn’t matter to me at all, I am just disappointed in you. I know that you went after her, but I don’t know why she was in your heart in the first place.
I don’t think of you as simple...
It isn’t that she was someone you happened to know, from when you were even younger. It isn’t that she is the most gorgeous example of a rabbit to, honestly, have ever lived. You like her, yourself, and that includes the wicked things. You, you are a man divided. Your morals are utterly debased. One who has sworn by the sword, and the ideals which wielding it entail, with his tongue, but the dagger at the back is the blade to which his heart has vowed fealty.
I do not like you anymore. At all.
On the path to the Bamboo Forest, you found Inaba Tewi.
She’d seen you through others’ eyes. She knew that you were coming, but not why. You landed with a troubled face, and she could read it well.
This was it: it was time for you to confess what you felt for her.
I suppose seeing as Youmu had done so, you realized that even if you could never truly have the youkai rabbit, you needed to have her know the truth of your heart? It’s just speculation.
“Tewi...!” you shouted, and she stood at attention. A wind blew snow past the both of you, The land was only glazed white—not much had piled, but it was cold and breath was clouded in the air. Tewi looked hurt, her ears low and her eyes just slightly wincing. She was anticipating what you had to say, and dreading it.
What you said was—
“Even though you’re my... You’re someone who has... taken care of me, and we’ve... Even...”
Your head bowed weakly as you continued. “Even though you’re the best person in my life, and you’ve given me everything even for the little I’ve given back... I want—I’ve always wanted... more... than...”
“Hey, Taro-san...” The rabbit piped up. With your attention, she looked you in the eye and said, “If you’ve got something to say, say it.”
When you dropped your head again the look on your face, I’m told, told that you were nervous to your core. An over three-thousand year old monster rabbit, and you who wasn’t even twenty years of age... Natural, no?
“I’m in love with you...” ... you said, your head still bowed. “I only want to hear your answer to that. I don’t... want to ask you to spend my years, until my end, as mine I just... love you. I deeply, deeply love every part of you.”
And Tewi gave her answer. “Taro-san,” she said, “you want to make love to me?”
You reacted, not so much with your face but instead your penis. That supposedly definitely reacted.
What was your answer there, anyway?
I do. I do know it, but I want to hear you say it.
 ... I said yes. Once she said that I—I really wanted... to...
 ... I said no. I wasn’t there for that... and I didn’t want to make things... c-complicated... yeah.
[x] ... I said no. I wasn’t there for that... and I didn’t want to make things... c-complicated... yeah.
I like this one. The prospect of sex is exciting and terrifying in equal measures for young adolescents. Hell, even now I think I would be a bit flabbergasted if I was suddenly propositioned, whether or not it was someone I'm into.
For the people who suffered and perished under your fancy, for your selfishness:
I wanted to run you through.
And, to the one who took our spring away, driving us into a frozen hell; to the one who grabbed the season itself for you, I wanted to clash swords with her honestly.
I wanted to to cut her down.
I wanted to, no matter what the cost, show once and for all the strength and free will of humanity. I wanted to do what Reimu, Marisa, and most definitely the Devil’s Maid would not ever do.
Send you, properly, to Hell.
“You really are entirely like her,” says Yuyuko-sama, meeting my eyes and bringing them from the floor. “A little devil, disguised to disarm.”
I don’t think that’s wrong.
But, a lot has changed since then, It’s not entirely right, either. I wanted your blood to run down my sword, had you any. I wanted to shatter the Roukanken with a sword forged by men. I’ve wanted this ever since Tewi told me the names responsible. We’ve plotted everything for that. We confirmed it: that killing either of you, or banishing you in your case, would be allowed in the pure lands of this afterworld.
On the nights when I held her close.
On the nights when we whispered treachery in one another’s ears.
We shared the struggles of the weak, and planned to put our feet down on the strong: to make a place more deserving of rabbits and men.
I would be lying to say I do not still want that.
Tewi is an amazing woman, and she made me into a great man. Truly, with me wielding her sword, we could cut through the world of Gensokyo itself. We could change it.
“I spent too long amidst lions,” I say. “I started to forget how it felt... to worry, to want. I softened.”
Yuyuko-sama looks at me perplexed. It seems the Gap Hag never knew about all of this, or at least never told her.
“What do you mean?” Rare words to pass honestly from the Dead Princess, Saigyouji Yuyuko’s lips. I smirk to hear them.
“I mean,” I say, standing and holding the hilt of my sword, “nothing is as straightforward as Youmu wants it to be, and... I have different perspectives from before.” I chuckle, once, to the floor before I meet her eyes again. “I am no Inaba,” I tell her. “I’m a Nakahara. Live with that.”
I turn and face the gardens.
“I know that Youmu will be back soon.”
I step forward.
“I want to meet blades with her again.”
“Taro-kun!” Yuyuko-sama shouts. I stop, and turn my ear her way. “You didn’t want to banish me!? To kill Youmu!? Isn’t that why you came here!? Answer me! Your spies—her spies—your path and... all of it! Explain yourself...! Tell me!”
“You’re always too sure of yourself, Yuyuko-sama. You’re a lot like Tewi in that way. Maybe that’s why you hate her so much?” I smile again, and can feel her quiet answer. Finally I walk into my shoes and toward the manor stairs. And I explain this: “I’ve decided to take an option that never existed before, Yuyuko-sama.” I can find a figure, followed by something round and white, approaching Hakugyokurou through the sky.
“I don’t know where it leads, either. I’ll let you know after I see that idiot one more time.”
I hurry myself, and on the way down I realize I keep thinking about things: my hair—Am I sweating? Is my tie fashioned right? I look fine, don’t I? He looks older, maybe a head taller than bef... I don’t look much older at all. Do I look like a child—? I mean even if I do, he likes that type—WHAT AM I THINKING!?
WAIT!! He hasn’t been here in five years—! Uh... Um...!
“Intruder!” I shout, drawing and brandishing my Roukanken, “You stand foot on sacred lands! What is your business!?”
I land, scattering dust and flower petals.
“Of all the possible responses I expected from you seeing me again, Youmu,” he says, his expression familiar in its light and dismissive arrogance—almost pity, “this is the one I would have bet money on.”
He thumbs his blade from its sheath on his hip, only a little, and its gold collar shines across my eyes for a moment.
I feel the need to lunge at him.
My heart is beating, perhaps, faster than it ever has before.
My phantom half is hot. My face is burning.
I want to hold him around his waist. I want to squeeze him so much...
I was sure... So sure he would never come here again.
“A... Answer!” I shout. “Why are you here?”
“To see you,” he replies.
I drop the longsword from my hands and freeze, only uttering a single. “Eh?”
—I, I quickly get my bearings, of course! In a scramble, I pick the Roukanken back up from off the ground. I ready it. I know that my face is red...
“Youmu...” he says my name, and I shrink into myself slightly, “do you know what drove me, the most, to dedicating myself to the sword? When I started, it was only a childish dream. Something honed my dream into a true and genuine goal.”
Something...? Something... Given when he met her, and what he did after they became close, it can’t have been Inaba Tewi.
“What?” I ask.
And, his answer: “You.”
But it is void of any feeling.
Not loving, nor antagonistic.
He means only that: that I drove him, and that is merely a truth.
But, what he means by that, I can’t...
“What do you mean?” I ask him. “You... saw my swordsmanship and wanted to best me?” I find an open smile on my lips, though my eyes must be showing this worry I feel. “It was that I bested you? E-Ever since... you took the blade much more seriously?”
“Ever since you stole spring,” he begins, and I feel blood draining out my human body, “you, or to start the idea of you: that has been my goal.” He releases his sword, drawing it, and pointing it directly at me. “That has long been this blade’s mark.”
I take a more earnest stance.
“... What do you think of that, Youmu?”
“What do I think of it...?” I repeat. “I only did what I was ordered to do. If ordered again, I would do it a thousand times, across a thousand seas.” I firmly grasp the handle of my sword. “For my Mistress! My entire life is dedicated to hers gone! And... my death as well.”
Taro keeps his sword pointed at me, but his eyes are on the stones beneath our feet, and he only answers after a while.
He says, “No, Youmu,” while looking my way again. Additionally... “You wouldn’t, would you?”
He would question my loyalty...!?
“Taro... if... what you came here for was to see my blood spilt, so be it. I would clash with you, out of survival. But, to question my loyalty...” I glare, and fix my stance properly. “If you dare that much, I won’t keep my blade as only a guard; I will cut that insult back into you!”
To that, he says nothing.
“I don’t think it’s insulting...” he eventually whispers. I almost didn’t hear it. In a louder voice he says, “I came here because I wanted to see who we both are.”
“Eh...?” What’s that?
“I don’t think either of us are solely the shapes of those who came before us.” Huh? “I’ve had a lot of time to think, and now I think I can see your answer...” He lowers his blade, stands straight, and opens his left hand down by his thigh. “... but only if I push you to it.”
That stance is not ease... I know: this is how he faces youkai.
Besides that... he’s talking like Yuyuko-sama...! Even like Master!
I feel frustration building inside of me.
Okay... I don’t understand.
I don’t understand why Yuyuko-sama made me gather spring.
I don’t understand why you left and never returned, even to visit!
I never understood Master. I don’t understand Yukari-sama.
This world is brimming with absurd things I can’t understand!
What “answer” do you want...? Whatever it is, I don’t understand.
I understand my swords.
If you want reason from them, I will oblige.
Even if I feel this way for you...
I will slash through you, just as you wish.
“Fine, Taro!” I shout. “Let us see this ‘answer’ together!”
The flowers on the ground, the leaves and petals stir.
A rare wind is blowing over the land of the dead.
I know that Taro is no ordinary human...
I watch him steadily, gripping the handle of my sword tight.
Neither of us are going to hold back.
His stance shifts lightly...
I shift mine in turn. I know how quick and sudden he can be... I won’t let him catch me unawares.
I twitch, he bends—
There, he rockets forward, sprung from his heel.
—The leap of a rabbit...!
I slash forward, and our blades meet with sparks and a vicious crash. Beside us, vortices of air spiral and explode outward, shaking the trees of the garden.
I push against him, and he pushes down right back. The metal groans and roars between us.
“Taro...!” I growl.
He looks at me through our swords, his expression almost void.
... And he lifts his left hand.
Reacting quickly, I move my right hand to my Hakurouken and withdraw it at once from my hip—but, he brings his palm forth in a blur—Fast! Down, onto the wakizashi pommel. I can’t remove it...!
For a moment we shake in place, struggling to overpower each other.
I, of course, ultimately succeed.
My blade tosses his aside. I switch my grip in an instant while he’s open – blade-arm high in the air – and I slash down over his front.
Taro doesn’t fight in a usual way...
Like I use two swords, he uses two legs.
Before I can cut through him, he jumps left – his right – letting go of my short-sword and skidding backward, tossing up dust.
“Okay...” we say in unison, lifting our heads each to the other. We take our stances, and judge: “... Good!”
And so we rush at one another.
I will take the offensive...!
I swing powerfully at him and Taro defends: one hand firm against my double grip. He twists the long-sword in his hand, and tries to plunge it down on me like a dagger. But... I can redirect it!
I aim my own blade to make his slide down into the ground beneath us, I’ll go for the my Hakurouken again, and he’ll try to disarm me or—
Taro releases his sword and punts me firmly in my chest with the sole of his boot.
“Guh—!!” It... doesn’t hurt, exactly but... I wasn’t expecting it. While I stumble he retrieves his blade and swings wide, horizontal, at me.
I’ve always been impressed with these unconventional strikes and movements. He fights like he really refuses to lose.
I finally draw the Hakurouken and parry his attack. Now both swords are out. I think that’s enough... oh, oh that would be cool to say!
“I think that’s enough fooling around!” I shout. Yeah! Taro crouches low and I hold both my blades up. “I’m coming at you one hundred percent!”
In a flurry we go at each other again, me speeding around him and Taro staying fast and reliant on his legs. Cut and cut, clash and weave! Dodging, thrusting—any technique we can think of, and mindful always of our sword-arms. Very mindful... Every time we’ve fought, he’s always sought to disarm me first of all! He strikes hard. He holds and twists. He is aggressive! Little like a rabbit: he moves like a swift and hopping, strong-fanged beast! I can’t let him gain the upper hand.
I slash at his ankles, forcing him to jump. So high...! Could he be flying now...?
I can’t allow his confidence...!
I send myself behind him in a flash.
This, I’ve never done: not in a single duel with him. The phantom part of me takes my human shape and, with copied swords, flies where I command. “I” cut him over his back in a rising arc as soon as I am able, and he grits his teeth. I move to join myself, preparing a pair of strikes, and he elbows the phantom in her chest, drops to me and slams the pommel of his blade down on my shoulder. I groan in pain, and we all fall to the earth unceremoniously, wasting no time to clash again.
And now he’s slower, but hardly weakened.
Red dashes on the stones of Hakugyokurou as he swings his blade.
The two of me fight him fierce, and he keeps us from taking him down by confusing our aim with sudden jumps, grabs, and tugs in other directions. One sword against four shouldn’t be able to do so much...! Just how many... how many youkai could he have exterminated until now!?
I... I forced myself... not to follow his exploits. I do not know.
But, he’s much more skilled than when we used to practice together.
I falter and he manages to strike across my right forearm and the left of my forehead. It feels like fire blazing over me... As my severed hairs dance before my eyes, I grit my teeth from the pain. My other half catches my free wrist and tugs me away from him. I fall to one knee, and so does Taro...
My phantom half waits quietly at my side, with a hand on my back, its Roukanken sheathed.
Only two hits landed, and we’re both this fatigued...
I've never fought so hard.
That's just... funny.
How... will I take him down?
Take his sword away?
Try to overwhelm him?
I hate to say it, but we’re matched on technique.
I can overpower him, though.
Though... that’s much too graceless. Isn’t it?
“Hah...” I sigh. I wonder... just what is he thinking?
“So, Taro... could you be... tired yet?” I say, short of breath.
“Not at all, Youmu, I’m just thinking,” he lies with his head hanging.
“Liar,” I call him out. He laughs a haggard laugh.
“So you won’t explain yourself, even with blood drawn...” I mutter, forcing myself to stand and groaning as I do so. My legs tremble for a moment... No. Keep steady!
He doesn’t answer me for what I said.
And my jaw clenches.
Behind me, my other half looks on. We’re of the same mind so I know: that I’m questioning myself. Asking what this fight is for.
But I did not start it.
I don’t know.
In the next moment, I find myself yelling.
“Can’t you use words!?” I shout! “Stand and answer me...! Taro!”
And he looks up, at me, determined and sincere.
Just... do what you want.
Do it. Let’s do it, already!
I hold the Roukanken high and he stands too.
A flower petal rises and twirls between us, white and gleaming—like a signal. We rush forth in the next moment, and slice right through it.
Another phenomenal clash, and a vicious rending of air. This clear and brutal sound surely reaches all the way to the boundary of life and death itself. My arms tremble, and so do his. Once more our swords screech against each other. And... I can see my countenance reflected in the flat of his blade.
The tears in my eyes... infuriate me.
We push apart... and we fight.
The two of us, just the two of us, fight once again with our all.
Blade meeting blade, arc to arc. Cuts past our clothes—over our skin. My heart is pounding... The echoes of our parries and blows match its beat. Sweat flies from my face and hand. Am I yelling...? I feel... like I’m yelling.
I destroy his defense with my short blade and feel the hit in my bones. I stab at his abdomen and slice his torso’s side. To achieve it, I received many cuts along my hands, arms and legs. My blood and his swirl together in the air, meet and spiral under our stomping feet. Taro knees me far out his way, and my other half arrives, a mere five meters off.
She readies her blades and I ready mine. Taro lifts his sword, its tip pointing down to the ground as he takes a posture prepared to counter.
I’ll take you down, right here...!
My heart resonates with reality around us, and so for all three of us: our movements enter a lag. It’s... a trick, which my master taught me. Using it, I can see where his attention is light... but he can just as well see where I intend to seek him with my blades... all four of mine. His eyes move smoothly, carefully, between my two halves, and when we finally reach him, when the flow of time properly resumes, he cuts up through our blows, leaps over my phantom half and steps down heavy on her back. Quickly, he switches his grip and thrusts his blade through the back of her right hand—in time to deflect a strike I’d been throwing his way. Not bad at all...! I waste no time to stab once more toward his gut, now with my Hakurouken. He kicks up something glinting in the second before I can, catching it and thrusting it down at me: it is my... “my” own wakizashi, snatched from my phantom’s wounded hand, and he stabs it into the sword’s guard. At equal lengths, they stop each other soundly.
My phantom half begins to lose her human form, and the Hakurouken that he stole from her clinks and shifts as it starts becoming incorporeal. As soon as it fully does, my sword rushes through while my phantom flies to my back. Braving this, desperate, Taro throws his now-open hand forward to grab my wrist.
He does. The blade only just pierces his skin. He drags my arm up and I move the Roukanken from his still-plunged sword. I bend my elbow back to thrust at him again. Ripping the Hakurouken from my grasp, he lifts his right foot and kicks into the Roukanken’s hilt, stopping my sword at the guard once more and only narrowly avoiding castration. How precarious... He’s such a fool.
And now he breathes like every breath is his last....
I huff a hot breath from my nose. It feels as if steam is flowing from my body...
Yuyuko-sama... are you watching?
What would you say to what is happening right now...?
Would you say I’m being foolish? We’re being foolish?
We probably are...
If either of you are watching...
Before I can complete my thought, in a blink Taro slides out of certain doom and kicks the sword from my hand, his robes flying wildly with motion. As my longsword turns over our heads, I act quickly and pull his sword from out his grip. He reaches up and catches the youkai-forged blade, and I cut upward just as he brings the Konpaku’s heirloom weaponry down on their heir. There is a brilliant flash, a sheer and blinding blue, and with weapons exchanged we break apart and back fast from one another.
The Hakurouken is “just a blade” outside of my family’s hands... In his, any blade is a danger.
I’ve... dropped onto a knee. I’m not too wounded, but I’ve never had to push myself to such limits before. Taro... can’t last long after this either.
 I’m going to defeat him.
 I’m going to cut him down.
 ... God, I don’t want this. I want this to stop.
When we clash again, I think we both got the same sensation. This is the last bout. It’s no longer close shaves and impeccable swings: we’re fighting on our last legs, and every ounce—every inch of our bodies is being put to task against each other... against ourselves. We can’t make mistakes anymore. As soon as one of us shows that opening, the other will take it and finish this.
And I won’t be the one...!
Taro slams into his sword with my Hakurouken, and while I’m still reeling from absorbing the impact, he brings the Roukanken down on the same spot he’d just struck, powerfully. His blade cracks, and shatters in two. Fragments move slow through the air. I am disarmed.
“Eh?” is all I can manage to say. Taro kicks me over, tosses my wakizashi to the ground out of reach, and aims the Roukanken down at my face.
Our first duel... almost ended like this—
“I’m wearing a cup,” Taro cuts off my thought. “I’d forget about repeating what happened the first time.”
He then punts the broken sword from out my hand. It skids across the stones, stumbling over and over sadly.
“And I’m willing to do it,” he says. His body seems to be trembling with exhaustion. “Not like before,” he tells me.
When we were younger and this happened... he gave off no impression that he wanted to kill me. I can’t... say the same here.
“I’m willing to do it,” he repeats. “So why aren’t you?”
Why...? Why would I want to kill you, that’s a better question.
“Youmu...” he says, “what am I doing?”
“You’re fighting?” ??
“Are you really stupid? Come on, Youmu,” he complains.
“What do you mean!?” Seriously!
‘What am I, a human villager, doing spending so much of my life with youkai?”
? “You do what you like.” Yes. “We all do that.”
“Is that what pushes you to leave the Netherworld even though your mortality is threated every time you do?” he asks.
“No... No, nothing really... compels that, and I really shouldn’t,” I admit.
“I was hoping to understand something about myself through fighting you, Youmu,” Taro explains, and I notice that from my vantage I cannot see his eyes. “Because unlike Tewi, and unlike Yuyuko-sama, you’re someone else I know who understands not wanting to play a role.”
“No, that’s...” ... “Inaba... Tewi... she’s someone who doesn’t stay confined to one path.”
“Tewi is a rabbit, no matter what she’s doing. That’s something she doesn’t seek to change,” he says. “But I’m a human who’s made his life about youkai; who fights youkai; who’s fallen for a youkai...”
“I’m anxious, Youmu. Every step lately fills me with anxiety. I wanted to tear the world down, you know. I wanted dark, storybook things like revenge. I wanted to be a samurai. I wanted so much...
“Why is it I’ve only ever felt wholly ‘good’ here?”
“It isn’t Yuyuko-sama,” he says. Eh? “And, I’m fairly sure it’s not the scenery... No... offense meant there, by the way, hah...” He smiles.
“I’ll say something cruel again.” Taro moves the Roukanken. I look at his face. His expression is... kind, but apologetic. “I fell in love with Inaba Tewi,” he tells me, “but I always looked forward to the time I could spend with Konpaku Youmu.”
My mouth hangs open. I feel a bead of sweat crawl down my cheek.
“You...” ... “You bastard...!” I cry! “What are you saying!? What was all this!?” I feel tears welling in my eyes, my heart pounding in my chest.
Taro stays calm, and when he speaks it’s smoothly... It’s truth. “When I thought about my entire, short life to now, the time I spent in Hakugyokurou, wanting to kill you, wanting to kill Yuyuko-sama, planning both, and forgetting those plans, fighting you, speaking with you, working with you, waiting for you...”
He stops, looking bitter... regretful.
I hesitate, but... “Keep... Keep talking!” I shout.
“I hated you. I hated Yuyuko-sama. I hated myself most of all, who began to lose that hate. I think... I would have stayed here forever if you hadn’t told me to go to Tewi. I wanted that. I wanted it too much...!
“I thought I would cut you down and sever that doubt,” he says. “Or have you kill me. Either take back my convictions, or deny myself any chance to bend to long-lived beings again.”
“Hah...! You wanted to kill me for yourself!? That’s why!?”
He nods. He says, “Yes.”
“Not for bushido, not for anything just—you wanted to kill me out of sentiment!?”
He nods, again.
“Or die,” I say.
“Or die,” he agrees.
“That’s stupid...” I growl. This... reprobate!
“I wish I was as straightforward as you, Youmu... As stupid.” Tch! “I’ve slaved myself; to principles and people.”
“Your shame is pathetic...!” I spit. But...
I’m... completely overjoyed...!
“So what do you want!?” I force myself to say. “What!? This is it, right!? So, what!? What are you going to do now!?”
And looking at his face, his constricting brow and the grimace on his lips, knowing what I know now, and who Taro is. Yes. I know I can read his thoughts.
Do I really want to spend my life binding myself to lives longer than my own, and leave them grieving when I’m gone? That’s it, right?
So, did she reject him? Is that it? Or was the matter of lifespan too high of a hurdle? What did they even... really... have?
... And you know, for all he calls me stupid: he’s the stupid one.
He doesn’t have to—
 “I’ll end myself.”
 “I want to give up the sword entirely. Youmu, take my right hand.”
 “I don’t know what I want. Decide for me, Youmu.”
 “I don’t want anything. I’m just a fool who’s good at swinging a sword, caught up in higher plots.”
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my short life, it’s that I don’t know many things. Why a woman or man truly wields a sword—and for what; the reasoning of those older than me, and their words; the future... all of it.
But I know I am in love with Taro.
I feel a tear roll down from my right eye, over my ear. Taro, trying to show that he isn’t trembling (but he could never hide the wounds on his body), squeezes my hand back.
I may know this as well: that our bond is most assuredly a stupid one.
... But, I hope it will be alright.
I hope that, with all of my heart.
So we hold one another there, bleeding, and waiting for the future to come.
>>201473 That was deliberate, including attempts at confusion.
And I'm not saying it was a good decision. A lot of decisions made for this story were... odd. I'll get more into it with the final update, along with explaining perspectives and such. Someone might be curious enough to read such things
Ahaha! Well. That maybe isn’t wrong. I suppose that tends to be where our opinions differ. I’m willing to let a little disaster play out, and the players discover themselves and more within the mess left behind.
“Disaster” is too strong a word, though, for here.
When Inaba Tewi took an interest in that boy, I put my eye on him just as I’d put it on our Ordinary Magician when that troublemaker ghost was scheming. We’ve taken such...
Fine, yes, I’ve taken such extensive measures to discourage and prevent similar behavior in others, after all.
I didn’t see Youmu for him.
I certainly did not predict it.
Neither of us can predict everything, especially for the young.
... Alright, I’ll indulge you. Let us take one final look.
In the Forest of the Lost, Inaba Tewi sits relaxed with one of her kind asleep in her lap. The young one from the moon passes by, but does not bother her. The White Hare has been calm of late, she’s noticed.
And here are our two. On an errand, no? Side by side and... Oh, my... even now you can see angry little sparks flying off between them.
But there is her hand in his, and the color of warm blood in her pale face.
And there he is: leaning in. To put his face to hers.
Sorry: this gap is closed.
The curtain, as well.
Let’s put the past behind us and allow them to march forward.
Even if they fall, and yes: if they pick one another back up.
C'est fini. This is without a doubt (SNRK) the most directionless and whimsical story I've ever written. I didn't have a concrete idea for the Nanowrimo of this past year, and decided to go off of an image that struck me as compelling in my head: an ordinary villager witnessing the end of the Spring Snow Incident, and realizing that he will never amount to anything. Vaguely, the story originally would have been about him severing the doubt inside of him that that assumption was true: he'd have discovered that he could be someone. Instead it ended up referring to "doubt" within all of the major characters, which personally I think fit a lot better and less generically, but since it wasn't something I thought of in the first place, as Yukari puts it: it was messy.
I said nearer the start of the story that I wasn't satisfied with it. That led me to doing things I liked. Basically (might sound stupid) I identified what I was enjoying about the story and cut to that. The bold narration style was sort of fun, and I decided to indulge in it more. I didn't think it was Yuyuko at literal first, but quickly decided it was. I ended up quite liking this idea of nested narration and skewed perception; a real story "told". Yuyuko being so flippant also allowed me to dip out of anything I thought wasn't very interesting. That said partway through it definitely became something of a "mess with the format itself" story, and I was overall deliberately trying to either make it unclear or only hint 1) who was talking and 2) who they were talking to, assuming it was a narration section. I'd advise not to do this yourselves. Again, it's messy.
People seem to have liked the story. I'm glad but if I wanted to be, I could be extremely critical of this one myself. If I had to evaluate the entire thing succinctly it would be with: "I tried my best to make everything make 'sense', and be enjoyable to read as well." Thanks for reading.
Fuck y'all for not letting Taro dick the bun
Leave questions/comments/harsh or light criticisms if you like, errone
>>201479 Mm. If anything that's sort of the "point" in that Taro believed in justice and ideals, and though he mostly kept his grander plans to himself (and Tewi) they were dramatic and running counter to what he was seeing. He wanted to believe the case was black and white, and it's not as if he discovered OH THEY'RE ACTUALLY GOOD PEOPLE it was more Oh, I like them, and that they had done wrong, but doing wrong doesn't condemn you utterly.
Youmu, at least in this story, sees things that way already. It's never been about right or wrong for her since she doesn't really have a solid concept of either. She's devoted and FEELS heavily. Probably what Taro genuinely liked about her. She wears her heart on her sleeve and judges people as they are--she isn't even really offended that Taro attacked her in the first place.