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She can smell fear. Probably.
After a steadying half-breath, I turn around with a smile and greet...no one. "Good to see you too," Marisa says to the air. "It's been too long."
"Well, you know I keep busy," replies the slow, sultry voice, practically purring at her. Turning toward it reveals nothing, again. Southpaw's agitation shows only in his ears, but the fact that it shows at all confirms that I'm at least not hearing things.
"Yeah, ever since that spanking you got." Or maybe I am.
"Hey." The voice takes on an angry edge, though the air is no thicker with curses than before Marisa taunted death. Hopefully it stays that way. "What happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom."
She closes her eyes and wags her finger with a knowing smile, coming back so quickly it could have been scripted. "Ah-ah-ah, but it happened in the court room, you kinky bitch."
"And it'll happen in public if you don't shut your face." Finally, the reaper materializes in the blink of an eye. It's not like Kanako's mist, slow and seeping like fog on glass, nor is it accompanied by the sudden breeze that signifies a tengu's landing. She simply steps into existence. The first thing I glimpse is the wispy, curving tip of a scythe that seems to grow from the air like a flame going out in reverse, each second producing another arm's length of otherworldly steel. Finally a drooping black sleeve emerges behind the handle, gripping a scythe taller than the woman behind it. Despite her soft features and gentle smile, looking upon her is terribly intimidating. Maybe it's only because I know what she is. Maybe it's the loose black robe (though not loose enough to conceal her...assets. How does she stand up with those things?) or the red of her hair and eyes, as deep and striking as the flowers around her, or the simple fact that she's taller than anyone present. "Can't even let a girl make an entrance. How am I supposed to preserve my mystique like this?" This wasn't an entrance?
"You could try getting some in the first place." The sight of such a small girl berating a towering death goddess is almost as amusing as the yelp she lets out when the blunt side of that scythe meets her bottom. The motion is fast as lightning, her weapon spinning in ways that take me a moment to puzzle out.
"Quiet, you," she spits before turning to address Southpaw and me. "Howdy. Welcome to Shigan."
The absurdity of the exchange thus far has completely stunned me, I realize only as I reach for words. "Uh, hello." I reply weakly.
She raises an eyebrow, her smile quickly returning to her face. "You got a name, or did you expect me to know it?" To be honest, I kind of did.
"Hina Kagiyama. Sorry." Come on, come on. Relax. Marisa can do this, so can you.
"Don't be. I get it all the time. What about this kid?" She sticks a thumb at Southpaw, who has been trying and failing to put on a tough air.
"Takashi Kashiwada." He refuses to let me answer for him, or perhaps refuses to let his fear get the best of him. "It's an honor to meet you."
"Who-hoa!" Her entire body recoils, eyes blinking in disbelief. "Look at that! Some respect. You could learn a lot from this guy, Marisa."
"Although," Southpaw continues, "I haven't really met you, have I?" To his credit, he doesn't break eye contact for a second, although he has to crane his neck back a ways to do it.
"Oh, where are my manners. I figured Marisa would have told you all about me by now." She bows low with a flourish of her scythe, spinning it around her body in practiced arcs that almost seem to cut trails in the air behind it. "Komachi Onozuka," she begins with an official tone, "Holder of many titles that I don't particularly care about." Looking up from her low position, she grins at Southpaw's deepening blush and concludes, "At your service." Punctuating the motion with a quick shake of her chest (which disturbs a few flowers) she rises back up to her full height. Even I blush a bit at that.
"You fucking ham." And there goes the mystique.
She waves away the insult(?) nonchalantly. "Yeah, yeah. I've gotta entertain myself somehow, all right?"
"Actually, shouldn't you be working right now? Your boss is gonna have your tits if there's another incident."
"Nope." Her already-wide smile spreads to an almost frightening one. "I got me an intern."
"An...Intern?" Southpaw cocks his head, unsure of the term. Whether it's the meaning or the fact that one can intern for this position which confuses him, I'm not sure of myself.
The query is lost on her, either way. "Sweet, isn't it? Boss-man told me to wear my uniform today, and this kid showed up all doe-eyed and ready to work. I only have one boat, though, so I took him across a couple times, had him take me to make sure he doesn't crash the Titanic, and now he's doing all the work for none of the pay." She laughs softly to herself before adding, "Not that there's any money in this."
"Why do you do it, then?" Southpaw asks. It's odd that he would need to, being a youkai himself.
"Hm," she starts, either unfazed by his ignorance or not showing her surprise. Leaning on her scythe and stroking an imaginary beard, she takes a moment to think silently. "That's a hard one to explain. I guess you could say it's my calling?" The answer doesn't seem to satisfy her, though. After a short pause she continues, "I mean. It's just what I do. Hell, you're a youkai," she finally mentions, "You oughtta know how it is. Why do you do anything you do?"
The vague question gets some pause out of him. "Anything like what?"
She waves a hand in the air, feigning exasperation. "Like anything. I don't know you, man. With those ears, you could be a youkai of especially stinky farts for all I know." The line gets a snicker out of Marisa, and despite myself I do have to hold back a bit. Southpaw is less amused. "Point is, there's some things you just...do. Then again, it's kind of the same for humans, isn't it?" She turns with a smirk to Marisa.
"It's a little less clear-cut, but yeah, I guess you're right. Most of the time, you gotta do you. I dunno about you, but I can only do other people once or twice a day." If I hear the word 'you' one more time... "How about you," Gah! "Hina? Any of this ringing home?"
"Oh, of course." It's true that I love what I do, but it's also literally what I exist to do. If I didn't, I simply wouldn't be.
Southpaw, on the other hand, seems to lack such a purpose. "I...don't really get it."
As I make to explain more thoroughly, Marisa slaps a hand on his back consolingly. "Well, maybe some day. So!" Almost in the same motion, she moves to a contemplative stance and points casually toward the river. "While we're on this subject, I was kind of wondering on the way over. What happens to youkai when they die? Do they get ferried over, too?"
"I was actually wondering that, too. I mean, there's clearly something different about the way we're made." Southpaw immediately gets more attentive at that question. It does seem like a good opportunity...
Komachi, too, perks up a bit. "Ooh, interesting question, though I don't have a great answer for you. Yeah, they get ferried just the same as anyone else, but there's something about the judging process that's different. I'm not really involved in all of that, so you'll just have to talk to Shiki when you see her." The skies around her seem to darken with her expression as she says, "I could take you right now, if you're eager to know."
The three of us reply in unison, "No thanks." I, however, continue. "But could you perhaps tell me whether you've ferried any tengu recently?" The opening is there, it just needs some careful probing.
Her expression goes dead, and my heart skips a beat as her eyes darken – a real dark, not like the joking look she just shot. This one turns my spine to ice and grips my throat shut. "Now why would you want to know that." Suddenly she truly looks the part of a reaper, a cautious hand idly feeling the grain of the wooden shaft.
Southpaw stands his ground and answers calmly, "Hina is helping me look for someone that I used to know." What a surprise that he would offer up such information.
In an only slightly annoyed tone, she replies almost instantly, "Well, you're not going to get them back. I can tell you that right now."
"I don't need to get him back." At least he isn't completely delusional. "I just want to know whether he's actually dead."
Her expression lightens somewhat as she realizes that we aren't going to make her job that much more difficult. "Well, that's tough. For one, I don't just ferry souls from Gensokyo. People from the outside come through here constantly. The number of people who actually lived here is maybe one percent of one percent of the people I ferry across." That would explain the breadth of the field. Though, if she's the only ferryman, how can she possibly keep up? "Second, just because I haven't gotten around to someone doesn't mean they aren't dead." She waves an arm slowly across the landscape, from upstream to down. "Every one of these flowers is a resting place for a soul until they get in the boat. And," she continues with a tired sadness in her voice that almost breaks my heart, "Even despite all of that, I have ferried a lot of tengu recently. I wanna help you, kid, but I'm gonna need a little more to go on. Even then, I'm not making any promises."
Tension was on Southpaw's face the moment we came here, but now his skin glistens with sweat, a mixture of fear and devotion clashing behind his eyes. Surely being forced to divulge information about his mission is painful for him, but now is the time to do it. Still, it isn't my choice to make, and besides that, I don't really know anything about Tenma to give her. "Would a name do?" he asks hesitantly.
"It's a start," Komachi replies with a sigh.
He braces himself for one more moment before quietly saying, "I'm looking for Tenma--"
Marisa and Southpaw both seem to share the sentiment, though no one dares ask why she's laughing so boisterously. It takes a long moment for it to subside, and even then she speaks through chuckles. "You really had me going there for a second! Fuckin' Tenma. Jesus Chrahahaist..." She takes a few steadying breaths, wiping a tear from her eye. "No, Tenma isn't dead, you stupid son of a bitch. Do you really know him? Are you fuckin' with me?"
Southpaw, curt as ever, turns tail. "Thank you for your time. Let's go."
Sobering herself, Komachi runs to stop him. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Sorry, I didn't mean to...I just. We go way back. Trust me, whatever Tenma's doing, he isn't dead."
"Thank you for your time." He pulls at her again, almost stomping down a poor little flower but jumping off to fly away in the last moment.
"I didn't say he wasn't here." That gets his attention.
It does not, however, get him to land. "Is he here or not." He's quite done with diplomacy, it seems. Maybe he really isn't as intimidated as I.
"It's still hard to say." Her demeanor actually looks timid as Southpaw looks down at her, his voice hard and demanding. "He can make it across himself, and he's known my boss a lot longer than he's known me." What kind of...
Marisa's jaw drops. "You're shitting me." The reverent smile on Komachi's face says, 'No shit at all' without her speaking a word. Suddenly, she has Marisa's attention as well. "I don't know who this Tenma guy is, but I'm helping you find him. I don't give a fuck." Was she always so vulgar?
Southpaw doesn't bother arguing against it. Other things are more important. "So why are you telling us all this? We can't get across unless we die, anyways."
"Weeeeell." Stretching her back and rolling her eyes so wide that her head has to chase them, she teases, "There is one way. You're not gonna like it, though."
"What is it?" He inches toward her in the air, perhaps a bit too excited.
"Now, I'm not saying my boss is gonna be happy about it. Nor am I saying you're definitely gonna find anything. You're throwing around a pretty big name, though, so you might be able to get away with it. If," My heart stops as a breeze rustles my ribbons and a scythe appears inches from my face. "She goes. Alone. You don't have to or anything, though." Oh.
[ ] Nope. Nope nope nope. Nooooooope.
[ ] Noooooooproblem. I was ready for this when I first suggested it.
[ ] I'm not doing this by myself. Haggle, pester, and pray.