Chapter 7: The Calm Before The Storm
The next time my eyes opened, I found myself welcomed once more to Gensokyo by the familiar sensation of something, or rather someone, pressing against my chest. Together with the slight weight, there was also a distinctly cool sensation...
Cirno's arm was drawn across my chest while she curled up beside me, a look of satisfaction and comfort spread across her lips as she slept peacefully. Her wings moved ever so slightly, small ice crystals drifting above her like a thick halo. You know, I was beginning to wonder if she was going to make a habit of sneaking into my room at night...not that I minded, of course.
I smiled at her sleeping form...only to frown as I looked up at the ceiling and draped an arm over my eyes while sighing. That dream again...why am I still having it? There has to be some special meaning behind it...is someone messing around in my head? Yeah, that's gotta be it...but if so, who? And why? For kicks? To send me a message? To find out the recipe to
my dear departed aunt's fudge brownies?
...I can assure you, whoever they were, it would be a cold day in Hell before I gave that last one up.
Well, at least things were starting to make more sense...sorta. All I could make out was that one feature. Whatever the emotion
was, it was attached to the color Green. Emotions are typically connected with colors after all. Red for Anger. Blue for Sadness...but
Green?...Green was connected to one important emotion...I'll sum it up for you folks at home.
Ever heard the term "Green with Envy"?
It wasn't much, sure, but it was something to work with. I glanced over to Cirno and managed a smile. Normally, I'm not one who likes to get all touchy-feely...but for some reason, having Cirno near me was...strangely comforting. Heh, maybe this was a sign that
Gensokyo was starting to grow on me?
I rubbed her head playfully, "Morning Cirno-san, sleep well?"
"Hmm?" Cirno murmured, slowly waking up in response to my rubbing. She yawned then blinked a few times, her eyes not focusing on anything in particular at first until they locked onto my face. She gave a friendly smile in return, "Good morning..." The ice fairy sat up and wiped the sleep from her eyes.
"I slept well, thanks for asking," Cirno yawned again and stretched her arms a bit before returning to cuddling up next to me, "I like sleeping with you, James." She rubbed her cheek against my chest affectionately. The tender moment was interrupted however when we heard the door slide open, "Huh?" Cirno glanced past me to see who it was so I turned my head to see...
Reisen, once again wearing rabbit-print pajamas, stood just inside the doorway, her face completely red, "Eh... EHHH?!" Apparently she had come by to wake me up herself when she stumbled upon the two of us together and quickly jumped to conclusions. She quickly stepped back out and shut the door, "I'm sorry! Please excuse me!" The rabbit fled down the hallway without waiting to hear an explanation.
I stared at where Reisen once stood, completely and utterly embarassed,"W-Wait, Reisen...it's not what you think it is! Really, it's not!" Of course, she was already so far out of reach that I might as well had been talking to thin air. "Umm...ok than.." I rubbed the sleep from my eyes,"That's gonna create some awkward moments later but...yeah, feel free to sleep in my bed anytime, Cirno."
"Alright," Cirno nodded, completely oblivious to whatever complications her actions may have resulted in. She sat up and fixed her hair a bit by running her fingers through her blue locks, "I was a bit worried about you so I figured I would slip in and give you some company...that, and you didn't seem to mind the last time I did it either." She giggled though I could've sworn I saw a hint of red in her cheeks.
I rose an eyebrow at her, "You were worried about me?"
"Yeah..." She sheepishly rubbed the back of her head before looking away, "Are you...sure you're feeling ok? I knows last night must've brought up some bad stuff for you..."
It took a moment for my mind to process that before it suddenly clicked,"Oh, right...that thing about me being an unwanted child and stuff?" She nodded, causing me to sigh, "I appreciate your concern, Cirno...but I'll be fine, see?" I smiled to show her there was nothing to worry about, "I mean, I got you, Reimu, Marisa, and everyone else. I'm also basically living every Touhou fan's dream right now...what's there to be upset about?"
"Mmm..." Cirno folded her arms and tilted her head, "I've heard lots of people say they were feeling fine when really they weren't...are you sure you've made peace with those bad things in your past?"
I stared into my friend's crystal blue eyes...and for some reason, I just couldn't bring myself to lie to her. I finally sighed as I sat up and grabbed some changes of clothes, "To be honest with you, I don't know. I like to think I have...but some days I wonder if I've just done a really good job at talking myself into believing I have."
"I see..." Cirno nodded after a moment in understanding, although she still frowned, "Are you sure you're ok with holding onto such sad memories? Doesn't it get difficult sometimes?"
I shrugged, "Some days are easier than others...besides, we all have our crosses to bear in life," I pointed to my head, "Holding onto these memories, and making sure history doesn't repeat itself, is mine."
Cirno was quiet for a moment before taking my hand, "Alright...but just remember, you don't have to bear that burden alone. We're your friends, James...you can trust we'll be there when you need us," She smiled warmly, "You're not alone anymore James, and if the strongest has anything to say about it...you never will be again."
"Cirno..." I squeezed her hand and smiled a little, "Thanks," I went to get up when I saw the package lying next to my bed, "Huh? What's this?" I scooped it up and blinked in surprise as I turned back to my friend, "Did you bring this in here, Cirno?" She shook her head, looking just as confused as me,"Weird...the only one I can think of who could drop off a package and leave without anyone seeing them is..."
Me and Cirno locked eyes and said together as one, "Yukari."
Everyone else had already gathered around the breakfast table by the time me and my ice fairy friend arrived to take our seats. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Eirin giving me a knowing glance, as if hinting that she too had picked up on our little exchange from earlier. Reisen was nearby too, trying to eat but looking a little fidgety at the same time.
Oh yeah, Reimu and Marisa were stuffing their faces, like usual.
"So, will you all be traveling to the Netherworld today?" Kaguya struck up the conversation once me and Cirno took our seats.
Reimu swallowed her food and nodded,"That's the plan. Did we have anywhere else planned for today?"
I piped up, "Well, one thing we have to make sure we do is track down Suika. If Youmu can collaborate what we got so far, we'll know without a shadow of a doubt that she's got a bigger role to play in all this than we first thought."
"Right... Knowing her, she's probably still hanging around the shrine," Reimu nodded, "Either that, or she's wandering about Youkai Mountain. She could also be enjoying her allotted space in heaven, but I doubt she'd be there if she's playing a part in this incident."
"The fun part is getting her to talk, da ze," Marisa grinned.
"You really haven't fought Suika recently, have you, Marisa?" Reimu looked over at the witch sceptically.
I... I learned a bit more about those strange waves while you were away," Reisen managed to speak up, but she didn't look directly at me or Cirno as she did so, "The waves appear to have several centers spread across the underworld, which would imply that more than one youkai or some sort of broadcasting device is being coordinated to send out the waves simultaneously from multiple locations."
"They appear to be aimed at increasing aggression in youkai and possibly humans as well, but I believe that there is more at work here than just that," Reisen continued, "How would an ordinary youkai get their hands on broadcasting devices strong enough to reach Gensokyo from the Underworld?"
"No idea, but it doesn't sound good at all," Reimu shook her head, "It would need to be pretty advanced tech to create a signal that strong. The only folks I can think of that could build such powerful transmitters are the Kappa...but..." At this, she frowned, "No...the Kappa are arrogant and self-absorbed, but they aren't stupid enough to aid just anybody."
"Perhaps it isn't just anybody?" Kaguya spoke up, getting our attention, "My apologies for cutting in but I have a theory. Maybe the person you're looking for got the transmitters they needed through someone else? Likely someone in a position of authority and had the right connections?"
The whole room went quiet at hearing her theory. We all promptly facepalmed at the same time as it hit us, "Goddamnit!"
"I should've known the Moriya Shrine would have a hand in this," Reimu groaned as she slurped her tea.
"Not to mention Suwako's attitude has been WAY too suspicious for my liking," I chimed in, now feeling a bit irritated, "I'm a terrible liar, but I also know when other people are lying to me or at least not telling the whole truth...and no offense but Miss Frog Goddess pretty much had a giant sign over her head saying "I'm totally deceiving you!"" I massaged my temples, "I swear I'm starting to get a migraine from how messed up this situation is getting."
"Welcome to my world," The shrine maiden remarked sarcastically as she sighed, "Now, as much as I would LOVE to go and wrangle some answers out of Suwako, unless we got some concrete evidence against her and the Moriya Shrine, I highly doubt we'll get anywhere," She took a bite of fish,"No, it's best we head to the Netherworld first and see what we can dig up there...no pun intended."
"You're the boss, Reimu, we'll follow your lead," I gave her a two finger salute and a wink, causing her to actually smile back. I turned to Reisen and Kaguya, "Thanks, you two. Also, Reisen, for the record, whatever you think me and Cirno were doing in the same bed, don't worry...it was friendly cuddling. I'm sure Kaguya does the same for you sometimes, right?" I'll admit, I did not really mean anything serious by that last part.
"Y-yeah..." Reisen looked a bit relieved, but also a bit uncomfortable for a different reason entirely, "I'm surprised you know about that, though..."
"Cirno sneaked into your bed again?" Reimu looked a bit annoyed, "Well, as long as you're alright with it, I don't see any harm in it."
"Beat you to the punch, eh, Reimu?" Marisa teased her.
"Shut up, that's not what I'm getting at," Reimu fumed but instead focused on her food rather than trying to clout her friend.
"Why don't you go along with them, Reisen?" Kaguya suggested, "You can be a lot more help with them than here during their investigation, after all, and you can get much clearer readings of what is going on as well."
"I... I suppose I'm alright with it," Reisen hesitantly replied. Always the shy one.
"It'll be good to have you on board, Reisen," I replied, in the hopes of cheering her up, "Something tells me we're gonna need all the help we can get." I genuinely meant that last part, especially now that the possibility the Moriya Shrine was involved had revealed itself to us.
"Thank you," Reisen smiled, looking a bit more relieved now, "I hope I will be of help."
As we went about our breakfast, I felt now was as good a time to tell the group of my latest dream. Despite the fact that before they didn't take it too seriously, this time the girls actually listened intently. I figured they would take any chance they could to shed light on this ever-growing mystery.
"And the latest detail is green, huh?" Marisa leaned back slightly, "Sounds like some sort of premonition... An ominous feeling and the color green isn't a whole lot of help in telling us what its about, though...unless.." She tapped her chin before her eyes suddenly widened, "Wait! Didn't that Parsee girl have green eyes when we met her?"
"And green is usually associated with the color envy," Reimu acknowledged with a nod, "Not to mention that Yuugi told us Parsee disappeared not long before the
earth quakes started. There was something odd about the way Mokou was acting last night too..." She knitted her eyebrows together and scowled, "It didn't seem like she was driven by hatred...but something else like..."
"Envy," I finished for her as I folded my arms, "She was in the grasp of a cloud of jealousy. Jealous over Kaguya and the fact that she had everything she never had. But that only raises more questions...how did Parsee get so powerful? And if she is responsible, why is she doing this?"
"All very good questions," Marisa downed the last of her drink and burped before pushing herself away from the table, "But sitting around here ain't gonna get us closer to the truth, so how about we-" She stopped as she spotted the package lying next to me, "Whoa, hang on," The magician scooped it up before I could grab it and started inspecting from every angle, "Hmm...no return address...you got a secret admirer we don't know about or something, James?"
"No!" I exclaimed a bit louder than I intended, now feeling awfully embarassed, "I..I just...I woke up and it was lying next to my pillow, ok?"
"We think the Gap Lady snuck in last night and left it for him," Cirno added, her eyes narrowing at the box like it was a ticking time
bomb, "Is there a way to make sure it's not a trap?"
"Yukari is many things, but I'll be the first to admit that whenever she does something there's usually a reason behind it," Reimu shrugged, "Now, whether it's a good reason or not is a matter of debate..." She snatched the parcel away from Marisa, ignoring the girl's protests and handing it to me, "You feel like opening it up?" Judging by the look
in her eyes she was just as curious as I was to what the Gap Youkai had sent me.
"Mmm...might as well," I shrugged and undid the rope, opening it up...only for the biggest grin possible to appear on my lips, "Oh yeah!" I pulled out what lied inside and held it up as I imagined the "Item Get" music from the Zelda
series playing, "I never thought I'd say this but thank you, Yukari!" What I had in my hands...
I saw all the blank faces staring at me like I had grown a second head or something. Reimu was the first to speak up as she cleared her throat,"Ahem...right, that's all well and good but why you making a big deal of this? It's a pair of pants."
"I know!" I showed them to her, "It's great, isn't it? Sakuya destroyed my old pair, so I was wondering when I'd get the chance to grab some more."
"What, you saying you don't like wearing short shorts?" Marisa quipped with a playful wink. At seeing Reimu narrowing her eyes at her, she put up her hands, "I'm kidding! Geez, learn to lighten up already, Reimu."
"I'll learn to lighten up when your jokes stop being so dirty," The shrine maiden glanced back to the unwrapped parcel, "Wait, there's something else in here," She reached in and her eyes lit up like stars, "Whaaaa! Oh my gosh, Yukari actually did something right for once!" Reimu pulled out several full-sized chocolate bars and held them to her chest, looking as giddy as a school girl.
"Chocolate? Oy Reimu.." Marisa slid over beside her friend and put an arm around her, "Say,um, listen...you're not gonna be able to eat all those on your own, right? Why don't I just-"
Before she could do anything though, Reimu elbowed her in the ribs and shot up, "No way! These are mine, you hear me? Mine!" She took off like a lightning bolt with Marisa and Cirno in close pursuit with me and Kaguya doing our best not to laugh.
The princess laughter stopped when she noticed something, "Wait...there's something else in here," She reached in and pulled out what looked to be a long-sleeved white dress shirt and a dark-colored waistcoat too along with
a pair of black fingerless gloves, "Oh my..."
"What the..." I set my pants aside as I inspected the other articles of clothing, "It's a whole set of clothes...why would
Yukari give me this though?"
"Perhaps she wants you to feel more at home here?" Kaguya offered, causing me to glance over to her with a
raised eyebrow, "This is only a shot in the dark but I'm guessing she wished to give you something that would
allow you to blend in with the locals better...that, or she simply felt you could use some new attire...or this is her
idea of being funny. I never could understand how that woman thinks."
"...Well, I'll give credit where it's due. At least it's not one of those bloody long coats," I shrugged, "Or as a friend
back where I come from might say, "pregnant woman's coat"," We both collapsed into hysterics at that one.
"Ahh..." She wiped a tear from her face with a slender finger, "That's a good one...on another note, I'm curious about that
power you used last night against Mokou."
"Hmm? The Spell Capture Cards?" I pulled out said cards and showed them to her, "Well, I'm sure you can tell what they do
just by the name. You seem pretty smart."
"Why thank you," She giggled with a bit of red forming in her cheeks at my compliment as she inspected the cards more
carefully, "The ability to capture spells and use them as your own...there is great potential in such cards, for both good and
ill..." She glanced up at me, "If I were you, I would use caution in deciding which individuals you choose to show this power
Kaguya sighed as she picked up the card formed from her and Mokou's powers, "As you probably learned by now, there are
those in Gensokyo who are not happy with the way things are, and will use whatever means they must to tip the already fragile
balance in their favor." It was obvious the possibility of her new home being caught in a crisis upset her greatly.
It took me a moment, but when I spoke it was with more conviction than I'm use to showing, "...We're going to figure this mess
out, no matter what it takes, you have my word on that," She looked up to me, eyes widening a little, "I don't care who this person
is. Human, Youkai, God, whatever...if their actions are causing trouble for the people, we're going to make them answer for it. For
you, for Mokou, for Reisen...for everyone who's leading an honest life,"
I felt my hand clench into a fist, "If any one person thinks they have the right to dictate what happens here in Gensokyo...they're
in for a rude awakening, you can be sure of that."
"I'd be careful of whom you use that kind of language around, Mr White," Eirin stirred her tea, "There are some folks who might take
offense to someone challenging their supposed divine rights."
I shrugged,"With all due respect, Miss Eirin, I've never been a religious person or a man of the faith, so I couldn't care less what
Gods and their "divine rights" have to say," I downed the last of my drink, "Most gods I know of can use a lesson or two in humility
anyways. That, and I'd question the will of any deity that let their own subjects get caught up in their petty squabbles, manipulated them, and then let them die for no reason."
"Mmm...sounds like you have your reasons for thinking the way you do," The silver-haired woman stood up while gathering plates,
"I will not force the matter, but I would still advise using caution. There are quite a few powerful beings in this world that would not
hesitate to put you in your place if they feel you showed disrespect," Her eyes hardened a little, "And they will not hesitate to use force if they have to."
"They show me respect, I'll show respect in turn, simple as that," I got up and started gathering my stuff, "So, you guys think I should try out this new get-up?" I did have to admit it did seem a bit more like what an actual incident resolver might wear...that, and I didn't wish to destroy more clothes than I already had. My mom was going to kill me enough, no need to add fuel to the fire.
"That would be a wise idea, yes," Kaguya covered her mouth with her sleeve as a mischevious twinkle formed in her eyes, "Unless you actually enjoy wearing short shorts?" At seeing my blank expression, she giggled in amusement.
"Right..." I shook my head as a thought occurred to me, "Say um, you don't think Mokou's gonna be too upset about
last night, do ya?"
"Probably not... But if you want to make sure, just go visit her alone. Even if she does not want to speak with you just yet, she will not hurt you if you are by yourself," Kaguya replied, "She is not a bad person... She has just been through a great many hardships
in her life. I am sure you understand, right?" I nodded "Just follow the path leading south into the forest, and you'll find a river. Follow it a few hundred feet upstream and you'll find Mokou's house. You cannot miss it,"
"Thanks," Somewhere in the distance, we heard an explosion, "...And that's my cue to get a move on. Thanks again for
everything...I'll see you guys again soon."
I headed for the nearest washroom and laid out my new attire. For a moment, I was reminded of all the times my mom
would bring home new clothes to me and I would get annoyed with her since I already HAD a closet overflowing with
new duds. Her response?
"Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it"
Shaking thoughts of home away for the time being, I quickly got changed, peeling off the bandages and getting freshened up before suiting my new attire on. "And the finishing touch..." I slipped on my fedora and scarf and looked in the mirror, "Huh...I don't look half bad actually..."
Taking my knapsack, which was now filled to the brim with food, I headed on out and followed the road leading to Mokou's place, hoping when I got back the girls would be over their chocolate craze...and there would be some part of Eientei still standing.
Reimu sighed in relief as she sat on the front step and took a bite of her bar, letting the chocolatey goodness melt
over her tongue, "Mmm..so good..." She glanced over at Marisa and Cirno who lied on the ground with swirly marks
in their eyes, "I hope you two learned your lesson...don't come between me and my chocolate!"
Cirno snapped out of her dazed state and shot to her feet, "T-The Strongest ain't gonna be beaten
that easily! B-Best two out of three!"
The shrine maiden was about to chomp down on her candy again when she stopped and raised an eyebrow at
the fairy in surprise, "...Geez, you're a real glutton for punishment, you know that, right?" She lowered her bar
as her voice turned a bit more solemn, "Than again...that's something about you which has never changed.."
"Well, of course it hasn't! I'd lose my title as the strongest if I ran away at the first sign of trouble! Now let's-" Cirno stopped
at hearing Reimu's words,"...Huh? What do you mean?"
Reimu didn't bother to look at the ice fairy at first, only remaining staring at her bar, "...What I mean is...we've
known each other a while now and no matter how times me or anyone else beat you down in the past, you always
came back for more, just as determined as ever..." She looked up to the blue-haired girl, "I guess what I'm trying to
ask is...why you so obsessed with becoming the strongest really?"
Cirno folded her arms and tilted her head, "Hm...so you're actually curious about me for once, huh? Well..." She
turned and walked off a little way's, "For as long as I can remember, I've always been looked down upon by everyone
who's not a fairy as weak and helpless...like I'll never amount to anything, and seeing myself and my friends be used
as target practice or drafted into doing menial labour...it was too much to bear. As if that weren't bad enough whenever
I tried to complain, folks simply told me this was just "the way things are suppose to be" and I should learn to accept it.."
She looked over to Reimu with a remarkably serious expression on her face, "Now imagine having to endure
something like that...every day of your life..."
The shrine maiden opened her mouth to speak...only to not have the right words to say so she kept her
mouth shut and let the fairy go on, "So one day I made a vow to myself...that I would become the Strongest
in all of Gensokyo!" She slammed her fist against a boulder...and the whole thing instantly froze before splintering
into chunks! The scene of this made even Marisa tumble over in shock.
"...Power's everything in this world right? And if you don't have it, you're nobody...so I pushed myself to my limits.."
She looked down at her hand which had an icy mist swirling around it, "...I didn't care what it took, or how much pain
I had to endure..I'd keep challenging those with power and prove to them that we fairies aren't to be looked down upon..and
one day, I would surpass them."
Reimu finally found her voice, "You do realize that this kind of pursuit could endanger the status quo of Gensokyo
one day.." She didn't mean anything rude by it. She just wanted the little one to know what exactly she was getting
"I'm not an idiot, Reimu," Cirno glanced back up at the girl in question, "I know the consequences...and I'm beyond
caring at this point. This is my dream..my wish...and I'm not stopping until it comes true," She shrugged, "Besides, people like you have it way too easy in my eyes."
This caught the shrine maiden's attention, "I beg your pardon?"
For a moment, Cirno hesitated, knowing what she was about to say couldn't be taken back, but at the same time
knew it was now or never. She let out a long sigh, "...You always have it so easy, Reimu. You got all that power inside
you, and just about everyone who's important respects you, and you can do pretty much whatever you want,"
She could feel her body trembling a little, "You always seem to excel at everything you do, and nothing ever appears
to give you trouble. You don't struggle with anything or know what it's like to have to work and work and work until your
bones feel like they are gonna crack..." Before it could look like she would have a break down though, she took in a deep
breath and did her best to compose herself, "I know it's selfish to say but...that's the reason...I want to surpass you someday,
Reimu...and until that day comes...I'm never gonna stop pushing my limits, and I'll never give up!"
She smiled victoriously, "Because I'm Cirno, and I am the strongest!" With that, she turned and puffed out her chest proudly,
feeling relieved to have finally gotten all that off her chest.
There was silence for the longest time as Marisa only lied there, wondering how her friend/rival might react to such bold proclamations. As it turns out, she didn't have to wait long.
Reimu leered down at her candy bar and, not feeling so hungry anymore, set it aside and sighed, "I swear, does everybody around here got a speech shoved up their butts or something?" She got up and walked over to where Cirno was standing...and calmly put a hand on her shoulder, getting her attention, "I'm...guessing you've had all this bottled up for a while, haven't you?"
The ice fairy still avoided her gaze but did give a small nod, "I been trying to think of how best to say it...but every other attempt just came out as really silly..heh, guess even this one came out as kinda overblown too?"
"Sort of, yeah," Reimu nodded, ever the blunt one, before looking away, "You know...as hard as this is to believe...I know how you feel, at least to some degree," Cirno looked up to the shrine maiden whom looked up at the clouds hovering overhead, "Being the Hakurei Shrine Maiden may make me one of the most powerful and important individuals in Gensokyo...but it's not all roses and butterflies,"
Her gaze tilted back downwards, "When you have power, it's true you'll be respected...but you'll also be feared too, even by those you're sworn to protect. Have you ever wondered why my shrine always looks so empty?"
Cirno scratched her noodle, "Huh...is it because everybody went home to make sandwiches for you?"
Reimu chuckled in an empty manner, "I wish! No...the Hakurei Shrine Maiden is meant to keep the balance in Gensokyo between humans and youkai. It's a...rather lonely life too..." She held up her hand before the fairy could speak, "And before you ask, no. I can't just up and quit. This life was decided for me from the moment I was born...besides, without the role I play, this world would fall back into chaos...In that regard, I envy the freedom you have,"
Reimu wasn't sure where all this was coming from, but somehow it felt...good to be able to do this, "It's a pretty thankless job of course. Aside from you, Marisa, and the other Youkai, I don't get many visitors, and most times people only come to me when they need their problems fixed...," She shrugged half-heartedly, "And of course, I do it because that's my obligation. The ones who came before me fulfilled this exact same role...and so will those who come after me."
"But that's not right!" Cirno exclaimed, causing Reimu to snap to attention at the fairy's outburst, "Don't you have things you want to do with your life too? I know I'm the wrong person to be saying this but Reimu...you're not just the Hakurei Shrine Maiden! Reimu is Reimu! It's up to her to define herself and make her own choices, not let other people decide for her!"
She took the shrine maiden's hand, "You...if everyone else is happy here in Gensokyo...don't you think you deserve to be happy too?"
The dark-haired girl's eyes widened out at hearing the fairy's question. Of course she'd wanted to be happy too! Didn't everyone? But she had resigned herself to this life, for the sake of the people of Gensokyo and her ancestors, and although she couldn't admit this aloud...she did it for her friends too. She had her eyes closed for a while...before opening them and putting on a small smile, "...I do...but I'm gonna earn it on my own terms just like you..." She rubbed the fairy's head, "Thanks...say, um.."
She rubbed the back of her neck nervously while looking off in the distance, "If you...wanted to come over for some tea some time...I suppose I wouldn't object...just as long as you don't cause trouble." Cirno managed a rather sweet smile at this. Even if these two had their differences, at least they knew they had some common ground too.
Marisa suddenly barged in, "Awww! That's so cute, you two are getting along! I'll just be borrowing this!" She snatched up the
remaining bars and ran off laughing.
"Marisa!" Reimu waved her purification staff about before turning to Cirno, "Tell you what. Freeze her, and I'll consider splitting one of my bars with you."
With that, the chase resumed...
Following Kaguya's instructions, I eventually reached a small bamboo hut nestled beside the river running through the forest. There was a large woodpile stacked up beside it, but other than a small planter just outside the door the house itself was almost completely unadorned. It looked like a place a monk would feel at home. The interior of the house seemed vacant. Had Mokou gone out for the day?
Deciding to find out "Um...hello?" I called out,"Lady Mokou? It's me, the guy you nearly roasted last night? I just came by to check in on you and make sure you're alright. Maybe ask you some questions? Nothing personal, I promise." I looked around the grounds to see any sign of the white-haired girl.
Suddenly, I saw her step out from behind the house. She looked me over rather calmly, At first she didn't say anything at all, the morning breeze blowing across her face as she stared at me wordlessly, her hands pocketed in a casual manner. "Umm...hi there," I waved to her.
"Hey...sorry about almost killing you," Mokou said simply, turning her head slightly, "What did you want to talk about, James?" She seemed reasonably friendly, especially considering what had transpired between us the day before.
"Eh, don't worry about it," I waved it off,"To be honest, I'm use to people trying to barbecue me by now. Just wanted to come by and check in on you...how you been holding up? I knows I might've said some pretty harsh things to you last night.." I turned my own head slightly, feeling a tad guilty at the way I'd blown up at her, even if I had my reasons to do so.
"You're worried about me even though I tried to kill you?" Mokou's amusement showed through her usual facial expression, "That's new... The only other person who really worries about me is Keine. I'm doing alright, I suppose... Just feeling a bit lost."
She held her right hand out at waist height, a small flame kindling on her palm, "What are you supposed to do when the one meaning your life had is taken away, and you realize that perhaps it was all just a misunderstanding from the start?"
I took a seat on a log and pondered over how best to answer that, "...That's a difficult question to answer. I would say that you gotta go on living, find new meaning to your life...but for someone like you, that's not gonna be easy, is it?" She slowly shook her head, "Figured as much..." I crossed one leg over on top of my knee and sighed, "...As crazy as this is gonna sound...there was once a time I got put into a similar situation to the one you're in right now."
"Hmm?" Mokou lifted her head and closed her hand over the small flame, extinguishing it without leaving a scratch. Dang, I needed to learn how to do a cool trick like that.
I felt myself shift uncomfortably, "I...I know how it feels...to have the one meaning your life had taken away, and to realize it was nothing more than some misunderstanding," I needed to get this off my chest right now, "When I was very young, I had someone I loved with all my heart and soul. I loved them so much that I was willing to do anything to bring a smile to their face and to see them happy," I glanced up at her with a solemn expression, "And I do mean anything."
"That does not sound like it was a healthy relationship one bit," Mokou came over and sat beside me.
I shook my head in response, "It wasn't...but I didn't care. For me everything revolved around this one person. I craved their attention, their respect...their love. No amount of work was too back-breaking, and if this person felt like punishing me for something trivial...I sat there and took it with a smile on my face, feeling they were in the right, and when my best wasn't good enough.." I took off my hat, "I worked even harder, pushed myself to my limits, endured everything thrown my way...I would devote myself body and soul just for that one smile...that one pat on my head, and just hearing "you did good" made it all worth it."
Mokou seemed to squirm a little in her seat, "That person...was the mother who brought you into the world?"
I let out an empty chuckle at this, "For a given value of "mother", yeah, she was. I idolized her, and she convinced me she was the greatest thing to ever walk the earth. An angel that could do no wrong...and I fell for it like the fool I was!" I smashed my fist against the stump, clenching my teeth to hold in the pain, "...I was so blinded by devotion and loyalty I neglected everything and everyone else...and I didn't discover the ugliness in that woman's heart...until she had destroyed my life and my family..."
I rubbed my now sore hand, "I should've seen the signs sooner...that she was a monster wearing the skin of a human being...but I loved her too much to realize her true nature...and I paid the price by being robbed of all I had and took for granted..." With a sigh, I looked up to Mokou, "So yeah...as you can imagine, I was left an empty shell for the longest time. No motivation for anything, didn't want to trust anyone, became a shut-in...some days, I felt I was little more than a zombie."
"Sounds eerily similar to how I myself felt in the years before coming here to Gensokyo," Mokou nodded in understanding, "But you seem to be in a much better state of mind now than you were back then."
At this, I managed a smile, "Only because I eventually ended up with a new family who treated me like a person and not a tool. They showed me real love and respect, taught me a lot of valuable lessons too. I guess you can even say they were the reason my faith in humanity was reignited, and I was reminded of their potential for good," Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the card created from Mokou and Kaguya's powers, "Now, I want to do the same for others. To save them from their own personal hell."
Mokou's smile seemed to brighten up a bit more. As if the sun itself were starting to shine again, "I see...that's quite the story you got there...and those folks you ended up with sound like wonderful people. I wouldn't mind meeting them myself someday."
"Yeah, you'd love them. Especially when Mom makes her home-made chocolate chip cookies," I chuckled to myself before putting an elbow on my knee, "Actually, I got some time, so how about you tell me your own story?" Hey, if it worked for Satori, it would work for Mokou.
"You already know some of it by now," Mokou shrugged, "But I don't see what harm it would do to tell you it from the beginning..." Mokou readjusted her position on the stump so she was more comfortable before starting, "I was born sometime long ago, around one thousand three hundred years from the present day... The exact time difference between your world and Gensokyo is a bit fuzzy, so I could be off any number of years,"
She shrugged at this, as if it weren't a big deal, ""I was an unwanted child, as I was frail and female, when my father wished for potential heirs to carry the family legacy. As you may already know, girls at the time were most useful as bargaining chips than anything else, and as I was frail of body I was ill-suited as a potential wife for a young noble or prince."
"Yyeahhh..." I scratched my head at this, "I can remember reading about that kind of thing in history books...people back then had REALLY bizarre senses of morality, even by Youkai standards...although I try to chock it up to most folks just having smaller brains in general back then...but go on."
Mokou nodded, although I noticed now as she talked her voice became increasingly sombre, "After Kaguya, for whatever reason, disgraced my father and the entire family by subjecting him to an impossible task, I sought to exact revenge upon her in retaliation of the perceived slight... Some time afterwards, I got the chance I longed for,"
"I hid myself within a regiment of soldiers under the command of a man named Iwakasa... Due to the rigorous pace the soldiers set, it didn't take long for Iwakasa to discover my presence, but much to my surprise he took me in and helped me along rather than send me away." Huh, apparently some people's way of thinking was a little more ahead of their time even in the Feudal Era.
"I had heard that they were carrying a gift from Kaguya to the Emperor of Japan, but I learned while in Iwakasa's company that it was no mere gift... It was the Hourai Elixir," Mokou explained, "I sought to have it for myself, against my better judgement... I gravely wounded Iwakasa and left him for dead, escaping with the Hourai Elixir upon the first opportunity that presented itself."
By this point, the words just seemed to flow out on their own like a broken dam, ""However, those who take the Elixir no longer age as normal humans do.. For three hundred years, I shunned the company of humans who would despise me upon discovery of my ageless, immortal body, wandering the countryside while performing odd jobs as necessary during my travels. During that time I trained myself in the arts of magic and unarmed combat, and over the three hundred years that followed I mastered them both to such a degree that neither human nor youkai posed any threat to me,"
Mokou looked down at her hand once again, "But after all that, my power offered me nothing but boredom and despair. For three hundred more years, I could find nothing that would satisfy me or give my life any purpose... Until I met Kaguya once again in Gensokyo."
"I suppose you know the rest of the story from that point on," Mokou shrugged, "My life is a story of a girl's search for meaning in a meaningless life. I suppose my mistake is expecting the world to give me a meaning, when it's really up to me to find it for myself, within myself..." Amen to that one.
"I've made more mistakes in my life than I can count, but I'm glad that I did not make the mistake of killing you or the others... I suppose I have Kaguya to thank for that." She sighed in relief, as if some kind of burden had been taken off of her,"I'm not asking for your pity, but it's good to have someone to talk to about my life... Sometimes its hard for me to remember what it was like before I became as I am now," Mokou looked up at me.
Ok, I won't lie, I'm a sucker for good stories and that there was definitely a good one, "Well, that's a heck of a tale you got there, Mokou," I admitted as I folded my hands in my lap, "...It's amazing where our choices have led us, haven't they? If either of us had made even one decision differently we likely wouldn't be sitting here right now.." I scuffled my shoes on the grass, "We've both been through a lot, you far moreso, but I...I really gotta admire the fact that you kept going no matter what. That kind of resilence and determination...makes you pretty amazing."
I grinned at her, "It also makes me proud to call myself human."
She looked over to me and smiled in a rather amused yet grateful manner, "Thanks... Even though I lacked many important qualities before, I have always been rather resilient and determined. I suppose that might help explain some of it,"
Mokou studied me a bit more closely than before, "You're rather amazing yourself... Not just anyone can fall into Gensokyo and already be as comfortable with it as you are. Mokou replaced her hands into her pockets, "Are you sure this is the first time you have been to Gensokyo?"
I put my hands in my pockets too and stared up at the morning sky,"...If you want me to be brutally honest with you, I've actually had knowledge about this world before even coming here...you see, where I come from, the Outside, there are these...interactive stories that catalogue some of the most important events in this world's history. You play through these stories and the further you get, the more you learn about the story, the people and so on,"
"Interesting," She nodded along to what I was saying, "So, I'm guessing these works are popular?"
I snickered in a rather devilish manner, "Like you wouldn't believe! The sensation started in Japan and it's spread all over the world. We refer to the collection as the Touhou Project," At seeing her raise an eyebrow, I put up my hands, "Don't ask about the name. I'm not the one who owns the license to the franchise."
I went on, "To make a long story short, "I was always intrigued by the lore behind Gensokyo so I took to doing some research...some very in-depth research I may add," I rose an amused eyebrow,"Oh, and let me clarify, no, despite what you may think I'm just an ordinary human, nothing that special about me. I can't fly on my own, I'm not the descendent of any gods, nor am I the reincarnation of some ancient legendary warrior, nor am I half-youkai, and I'm not a deity who's taken physical form,"
"I am exactly as you see me right now. Just an ordinary guy who through some luck and intelligence got my hands on some nifty magical artifacts which have managed to keep me alive up till now," I shrugged, "Honestly, if it weren't for said artifacts and my new friends I would likely be dead right now." Hey, Reimu's not the only one who can be blunt as hell.
"Well, I must give you credit where it's due. For a normal human, you've done well for yourself so far," Mokou took the combo card and looked it over carefully before nodding in approval, "There are many types of people who are great. There are those who are born great, there are those who achieve greatness, and there are there who have greatness thrust upon them,"
She handed the card back to me, "Neither of us were born with it, but that does not mean the potential isn't there. If I can achieve it under my own merits than so can you, and these cards of yours are proof of your own potential."
I pocketed the card as I pondered her words over in my mind. You had to hand it to her, she did have a good point. When both of us were down on our luck, we refused to crumble, got back up, and made something of ourselves. We made our mistakes but we were still here, still living...and following the paths we believed in, "Yeah...so you do think there's a reason specific people get called here?"
"I'm almost certain of it, yes," She nodded in agreement, "Many different types of people have come to Gensokyo over the years, some by their own means and some by chance, but for whatever the reason we all find ourselves in the same place. How we choose to make use of that opportunity is up to ourselves to figure out."
We took the next little while to just sit and let the clouds float by. Finally, I broke the silence while adjusting my fedora, "You know...Kaguya thinks a lot of you, and I can tell she wants to someday mend the bridges with you. And I...I knows she wants to be your friend. I can tell by the way she talks about you.I'm quite good at telling when people are being dishonest or lying...and I can tell you, I don't detect a trace of either in her...and...there's more to her story you need to know.."
Mokou leered at me but didn't say anything. I took it as a sign to go on, ""You see...in some ways, you and her are alike. You both grew up in a time when women were little more than bargaining chips...your father wasn't the first man she turned down...she turned down many, because she knew in the end all those men wanted was to use her as a playtoy and have her wealth. She didn't want any part of it, that's why she set up the Five Impossible Requests...because nobody in their right mind would ever be able to complete them."
"I suppose Kaguya and I are alike in that respect... Only she was fit for use as a bargaining chip whereas I was not." Mokou shrugged, "I'm not sure what use words would have in order to make amends for the hundreds of years of hate and spite I have piled up on top of her," She leaned back and closed her eyes, "To be honest, I'm wondering now if I actually DID hate her...or if I was just looking for a scapegoat to take all my rage and frustrations out on..but looking back does
neither of us any good. "
"All we can do now is move forward...and maybe in time me and her can come to see each other as friends," Mokou opened her eyes and looked to the sky once more, "Huh, when I say that aloud it actually doesn't sound too bad."
"Tell me," Mokou turned toward me, "Do you like Kaguya? I mean... I don't really care if you do or do not, I'm just curious as to what makes you feel attracted to her if you are." Wow, just right out of the blue, eh?
I did my best not to blush,"W-Well...I guess...it's not just her beauty..it's what's in her heart I like. She seems like the kind of person who just wants to be accepted for who she is. She's...well...kind, caring, likes to have fun, doesn't turn away someone who is in genuine need of help, even if they're strangers...and she seems very wise and knowledgeable. She understands a lot more about the human heart than one may think.."
"She's waiting for the day when someone who will come that truly loves and respects her, treats her as an equal and not just an idol to be coddled...I don't know if I'll be that one...but no matter what happens...I want to protect that smile of hers, simply because I think it's something worth protecting."
Mokou looked me over, saying nothing for some time before a small smile spread across her lips, almost as if she were relieved in some way. She closed her eyes and let out a sigh. "If that's truly how you feel, then I envy Kaguya. I envy those genuine words and feelings you have toward her. Perhaps its selfish of me to say this, but I would very much like someone to convey such words and feelings to me as well."
"Who knows? Maybe I'll steal you away from Kaguya, even," Mokou opened one of her eyes while leaning back slightly. It was difficult to say if she was joking when she said this or not.
Ignoring that for the time being, I patted her on the shoulder, "Hey, give it time. I'm sure we can be good friends too if you want to be. Besides, I know you are a good person deep down Mokou. You have a kind heart too, if you didn't, I doubt you would volunteer to always lead people through the Bamboo Forest. "Once things in this world settle down again, I'd like the chance to get to know both you and Kaguya better." Oh, poor clueless me, if only I knew the true implications of what I'd just said.
I didn't know whether I was just speaking my mind or being crafty because my mind is a strange place sometimes.
"Both Kaguya and myself, hm?" Mokou repeated, "You're a rather ambitious young man..." Mokou stood up from the stump and nodded, "Very well, I accept your challenge. By the time you come to meet me again, I will be ready to prove to you that I am just as worthy as Kaguya of your attention. I won't lose to her, I can promise you that."
Then, from out of the blue, Mokou grabbed me by the collar in both hands and bent over, placing her lips on my cheek briefly before releasing me. She then backed up and replaced her hands into her pockets as if nothing at all were amiss despite the fact I must've been wearing the most stupified look in the universe,"Now than...do you have anything else you'd like to talk about?
"Huh? O-Oh sure," Oh my gosh, I just got kissed by Mokou of all people! If the Touhou fanboys could see me right now, they'd saw my flipping head off! "Just out of curiosity...would you like to come along with us to the Netherworld? We can use all the firepower we can get on our side."
"You want the one who nearly incinerated you to help you in your investigation," Mokou stated matter-of-factly before smirking, "You really are an odd one...unfortunately, I got things to do today. Keine wants me to help her run some errands...and no offense, but the realm of the dead is not a place I'm comfortable being in."
"Mokou!" We stopped and turned to see a girl standing there with brown eyes, long silver hair with blue highlights and wearing a blue and white dress with brown dress shoes and a blue cap shaped like a building, "There you are! I been looking all over for-oh, who's this?"
"Oh, him?" Mokou jabbed a thumb in my direction, "This here is James. James, meet Keine, she's the school teacher in the Human Village."
"Ah, so you're the young man I been hearing me about," Keine nodded her head in greeting. At seeing me raise an eyebrow, she giggled, "Don't look so surprised. Word travels fast, especially when a certain tengu is involved. Thank you for coming to talk to Mokou-san...to be honest, she could use more friends."
The white-haired girl cleared her throat, "Ehem, uh, James? Don't you have somewhere to be?" It was obvious the topic of her having friends was more than a little embarassing for her.
"Oh right!" I scooped up my bag while shaking her hand, "Say,um, if you need anything at all, don't hesitate to ask, ok? And...take your time thinking over what you wanna do next...you got your whole life ahead of you, and I know you'll make something great of it. If you truly do want to make amends for what's happened in the past...the least either of us can do is go on living. That's just me, of course."
"It would probably be more accurate to say that I have all of eternity ahead of me," Mokou smirked, "But thank you for the thought... I'm sure we will see more of each other soon."
Keine giggled, "My, my, you two are certainly quite friendly with each other, aren't you? Well, how abo-" She stopped at hearing a loud gurgling sound from her friend's belly, causing her to scowl and fold her arms, "...Really, Mokou? Didn't I tell you you need better food in your system besides bamboo shoots all the time?" Before Mokou could answer, she took her hand, "Nevermind. Let's go. See you later, Mr James." With that, they disappeared into the forest.
With that taken care of, I turned and headed on my way to wherever the girls were waiting...