Chapter 1: Close Encounters Of The Phantasm Kind
You know, if there's one thing I've learned about life it's that it can always find new ways to surprise you. What's more, said surprises have a tendency of happening at the most unexpected moments. Oh, you could have everything down pat, think you're on top of the world, the master of your own destiny...and that's when it gets you.
That kind of unpredictability means one needs to use some caution, you know, think things through, because none of us can be sure what tomorrow will bring. Why, you could get run over by a car, get invited out on a date by a girl you have the hots for, your house could catch fire...for some reason.
...Or you could find yourself in truly bizarre situations where you find yourself being stalked by a character from a video game series, getting drawn into a deal that sounds too good to be true and being whisked off on the kind of adventure that only someone who reads too many comic books and eats buckets of sugar can dream up.
Yeah, in case you haven't figured it out yet, that last example was what I currently found myself in. Now, you're probably sitting there, reading this, and thinking to yourself "What on earth is this guy yammering about? Am I listening to the raving words of a lunatic?" Don't worry, if I was in your situation right now, I'd probably be pondering the same thing.
I guess the best place to start explaining myself is the beginning...so let's get this show on the road, shall we?
It all started on a Friday. Classes were done and I was on my way home, and needless to say this latest week had been rather brutal with two papers due, an in-class test, and a presentation on top of all that. Needless to say, I was pretty pooped out and more than ready to kick back with some video games, a pile of snack food, and maybe browse the internet for some new fics to read.
Admit it, after a week like that you would wanna do the same thing.
Oh right, should probably give you a bit of background info on yours truly. Name's James White. Just turned 21 the previous year. Stand about 5 foot, 11 inches in height with short deep brown hair and brown eyes. My physique is...a bit more on the bulkier side than I might like with broad shoulders and a bit more of stockiness to me than someone who's completely thin. Not enough to be unattractive but enough that it's noticeable.
Canadian descent, and still unemployed while living with my parents till I finish my degree and has a small circle of people I'm close with or at least keep in contact with. My life followed a fairly simple routine:
Get up, get dressed, wash, eat breakfast, check to see if I have classes that day, go to said classes, eat lunch, finish classes, than either go to the public libary, or come home and study, have supper, do a bit more study than shower, grab a snack, play a few video games and than it's off to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat. Routine might alter slightly on certain days but that's the basic gist of it.
I know that may not sound like the most exciting way to spend one's days but that's kinda the point. I wasn't really that big a thrill-seeker, where's other people liked extreme sports I preferred gaming or kicking back with a good book. Yes, I dreamt of going on grand adventures here and there but, to be honest, who HASN'T thought of doing that at some point in their lives?
I does well enough when it comes to education, even moreso when I'm actually motivated..though I have a bit of a tendency to procrastinate and leave things till last minute. I'm not really much of a fighter either, preferring to talk problems out than use my fists. Yeah, not exactly your first choice to be a hero and go off to slay some great evil, eh?
Where was I? Oh yeah, getting off the bus in time to feel a droplet of water on my head. I glanced up to see the clouds becoming unusually dark and grey as I simply stood there while rain began to fall on me. I finally sighed and folded my arms,"Rain...great. Just how I wanted to start off my Mid-Term Break too..." Deciding I would rather NOT get a cold, I put my hood up and trekked along
to my house, grabbing the mail and opening the door before chucking the mail on the step and locking said door behind me.
With my parents out of town for the weekend, I had the whole place to myself so I dropped my bag off in my bedroom and headed out to the kitchen to stick a pizza in the oven and crack open a can of root beer. I took a large gulp and let out a loud burp with a content sigh,"Ahh...I feel better already..."
With the timer set on my food, I headed back to my room and fired up the computer as I got out a pen and paper to help me brainstorm ideas for stories I wanted to write. Of course, me having a slight Otaku in me, I also browsed the web for info on Touhou Project, preferably for more info on the next episode of Memories Of Phantasm. Nothing new so I settled down with my drink and
got to browsing the web.
Yep, quiet and peaceful, just the way I liked to spend my days.
It would've been a day like any other too, if a certain someone had not decided to step in for some reason. Maybe it was out of curiosity? Boredom? Who knows? There might've been a perfectly valid reason for this person's entry into my life but at the time, it was not made apparent.
The sound of a zipper being undone made me stop and tilt my head over to see what looked like a thin line drawn across the air. Normally, I would've chalked this up to my eye playing tricks on me...except for the fact this line had actual width and even cast a shadow on the floor beneath it.
It's a good thing I was seated down in my swivel chair because at that moment, my legs felt like they were turning to jelly, especially when the line lengthened out and tilted down slightly to become a giant eyelid.
The "eyelid" then proceeded to open up like an actual eye, exposing what looked like pure darkness within. Amid the darkness were eyes...so many eyes...staring right into your soul...yeah, I was gonna be paranoid as heck for a while just from seeing this. Believe it
or not, the gap and the eyes were not the strangest thing I would see today..
Leaning her elbows against the edges of the gap was a young woman with long blonde hair and a careless smile spread across her lips. She wore a long purple dress and had on long white gloves. In her hands, she carried a parasol and a fan. I won't lie, the effect that the contrast created between her and the gap was more than a little surreal.
She then chose to speak,"Hello there," She waved her fan, "I couldn't help but notice that you were looking for something..." She rested her head against her left hand, "Would you like me to help you find it?"
I stopped myself at the sight of who was before me. Yes people...standing before me...was the Border Youkai, Yukari Yakumo herself.
I did the only reasonable thing I could think of at the time and proceeded to slap myself quite hard,"Owww..." It stung like heck, but when I looked up...she was still there. Still smiling at me like she didn't have a care in the world. I then did the only other option available to me...I
cautiously used my feet to shove my swivel chair backwards until I was out in the hallway, reached in, and closed my bedroom door before laying my head against it.
Oh my gosh, I've gone flipping insane. I've gotten too far into Touhou and now it's affecting my perceptions of reality!...Or maybe it's a side effect of eating chocolate cake before bed. That might work too. I lifted my head and took a deep breath to try and compose myself. Calm
down, James. You don't do anyone any good by freaking out.
If you-know-who is in there, the least you can do is find out what she wants...and then shoot her down gently if it's what you think it is. Suddenly, I heard what seemed like the sounds of one of my Touhou games being played behind the door,"What on earth..?".
Cautiously, I opened the door, only to be shocked by the sight of Yukari Yakumo, one of, if not THE, most powerful and feared youkai in the entire Touhou franchise...was using one of her gaps as a seat and was before my computer playing Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil. I swear, I am not making that up. Judging by the look in her eyes, she was intently focused on the screen. I won't lie, it was quite a contrast with her typical portrayal in the fandom as a scheming, cunning manipulator who used people in her plans without them noticing.
Summoning what courage I held, I cleared my throat,"Ah hm? Erm...Yukari Yakumo?"
"Hm?" She paused the game and looked over in my direction,"Oh, hello there! Sorry, I just didn't know how long you were gonna take so I figured I would amuse myself for a bit with one of your games here. I must say, I can see why your kind gets so addicted to them..."
I did my best not to roll my eyes,"Yeah, that's Touhou for ya...so...you really ARE Yukari Yakumo and I haven't hit my head and am simply hallucinating all this?"
"Bing-bo!" Yukari laughed, "That's correct, my dear boy!" She waved the fan in the air as if to celebrate the fact she had invited herself into my home unannounced and with no clear purpose. She leaned forward slightly, "No need to look so on edge. I came all this way to meet you and make
your dreams come true. What more could a bored, lonely young man like you possibly ask for?"
I won't lie, her smile seemed remarkably harmless and easy to fall for, and she was easy on the eyes herself to begin with...but then I reminded myself that she was one of the most dangerous Youkai for some darn good reasons. Besides, make my dreams come true? I swear, if I wasn't
so intimidated right now, I would probably laugh. I wasn't stupid. I'd lived long enough and been through enough crap to learn that VERY few people ever do something and not ask something in return. Going as far as to hold a debt over someone's head.
I did my best to once more compose myself, which wasn't easy when you're staring down the Border Youkai herself, "Well...since I know who you are..it's only fair you know my name. James White. I would say it's nice to meet you but you DID just break into my house..."
I folded my arms,"Now, what did you mean exactly by making my dreams come true? Because I'll let you know I have a decent life right here. I mean...what are you even doing here?"
"Oh James, surely you jest!" Yukari giggled, waving her fan and dismissing the tension,"I'm just paying you a friendly visit, that's all. Don't your friends do the same from time to time?" She wiggled her legs about while somehow remaining seated on the gap. How she did it would forever
remain a mystery to me.
"Don't pretend like you're happy with your life as it is...would someone who is content with their life spend so much time by themselves, learning about a world that he believes to be fake yet wishing at the same time it was as real as the world you see around you?"Yukari turned her head to
the side slightly, eyes still remaining fixed, "You want something more out of life...excitement..mystery...perhaps something to stave off the loneliness even?"
"I know this because I want the very same things for my own life," Yukari smiled once again, "But the world continues to turn and the universe simply minds its own business. It doesn't care about what you and I might want, it just does whatever it wishes. You can't simply expect life to
drop into your lap gift-wrapped. You have to do something about it if you want things to change. Perhaps we should...take action. Don't you agree?"
Gosh darn it. That lady could read me like an open book...well, sorta. I winced and averted my gaze, especially at the implication we were alike, "That's easy for you to say, Miss Yakumo. You're the one who's immortal. You're the one who can snap her fingers and do just about anything. Me? I wasn't handed life on a silver platter...I worked hard to get where I am. What I got isn't much...but at least I can say I earned my keep in this world,"
I took a sip of my root beer,"...I need to know something too. Why me specifically? There must be thousands of other folks who are far more desperate than I am to escape the supposed "monotony" of everyday life...so what sets me apart from them?"
Yukari was quiet for a second, as if contemplating how to respond, before doing so, "Hmm...I just felt you would be the one best suited to the job," She shrugged, "While it's true that you aren't a whole lot different from someone you could find anywhere else in the world, you have
something the others don't have."
"Humans are born everyday, but each of them lead very different lives. Some of them rise to greatness while others don't get anywhere in life. It's a roll of the dice so to speak, and that's exactly what you have," She pointed her arm in my direction with a smile, "You have the
opportunity and they don't."
Man, this woman could string together some pretty impressive speeches when she wants to, "I see...another question than...don't take this the wrong way but what are you hoping to get out of this? You must benefit somehow from this..."
Yukari rose an eyebrow at this latest question,"My, my...aren't you just a living questionnaire...still, an inquisitive mind is something I can definitely respect,"
She leaned backwards slightly, "What do I get out of this? Oh...it's nothing you'd be interested in, really. I suppose you can say it's a matter of personal importance. Why do you choose the strawberry-flavored crepe instead of the blueberry? You might be in the
mood for strawberry at the time, or you just don't care much for blueberry. Do you ever stop and ask the people who order crepes why they order that particular flavor? It's much the same sort of thing in this case...only you're not a strawberry crepe."
Ah geez, you can never get a straight answer out of this girl. Always gotta beat around the bush instead of just answering the bloody question. I resisted the urge to facepalm, even though said desire was strong indeed.
I let out a sigh, but thankfully, I was saved by the buzzer in the kitchen,"Oh! That must be my pizza," I turned back toward her and scratched the back of my neck, "I, uh...don't get many visitors often and I'm not sure what your feelings are on Western Cuisine...but how about I treat you before you need to leave? I think I have some green tea in the cupboard you might like."
Sure, this woman had busted into my house and given me a totally Faustian deal that sounded way too good to be true...but she wasn't trying to kill me yet and I hadn't detected the hint of a lie, so that was a good sign, right? Besides, it was rude to not provide hospitality to a guest.
"That would be lovely, thank you," Yukari finally set her feet down on the floor and stood up, folding her parasol before looking around my room, "Pardon the intrusion.." Despite her lazy demeanor, she moved with surprising grace as she exited the room with me and the gap closed
up on itself.
Once we were in the kitchen, she jumped up on the counter, apparently taking the offer as a free pass to do what she wanted, and I wasn't in the mood to argue with the woman who can tie the fabric of reality in knots, "Hmm...how about this than? I'll give you a free trial period, just
like those ads on the TV," I glanced in her direction, my interest piqued, as she rested her head against the back of her right hand.
"I will provide you a new outlook on life for three weeks time," She held up her pointer, middle, and ring fingers on her left hand, "If you want your old life back, all you have to do is let me know and I'll drop you right here, no questions asked and absolutely no obligations. I'll even throw in a free cupcake for your trouble,"
"However, if you come to realize that you prefer your new life, than all I have to ask you in return is just one little favor," Yukari smiled and flicked open the fan, holding it before her face, "It's nothing big, really. I just want you to meet a certain someone...I'm sure she wants to meet you as well, even if she doesn't know it yet".
It was safe to say that the powerful youkai was still speaking in vague generalities, but at least she was being a bit more specific about what she was offering. I put the kettle on to boil as I pondered her offer over in my mind. Three weeks in Gensokyo...a world that I'd mostly only
read about. I'd get to meet Reimu, Marisa, Cirno, Suika, Kaguya, and everyone else. Plus, assuming I survived, it would make an awesome inspiration for any novels I planned to write.
Also, despite still being vague as heck, at least Yukari was being a bit more forthcoming with info on her offer. Even so, there were still certain matters that needed ironing out before I made a final decision.
The kettle clicked off and I started pouring up her tea, "I won't lie, Yukari. That's a...very tempting offer you've put on the table..though I hope you'll excuse the need for me to get a few more things clear..."
I cut up the pizza while it was still warm, "For one thing, how does the flow of time work in Gensokyo? I mean, if I leave for three whole weeks, my family's gonna be worried sick, as will the friends I have out here. I can't just drop everything and go off to a fantasy world with no plans..."
I brought over her food and drink,"And I don't think I'd forgive myself if I cause my loved ones unnecessary grief."
Yukari nodded in thanks before bringing the mug to her lips,"Time in your world is much like streaming an online video. You can stop it at any time you like to pick up where you left off last, but there might be complications if you try to go back to a previous point," She drew two lines in the air with her finger, "Time is separate between the two worlds to such an extent that the two never cross at any point. I suppose you can say they are parallel lines reaching into eternity,"
"So, you don't have to worry about missing your parents and friends while you're away. They will literally never even know you left at all," Yukari took a bite out of the pizza, chewing carefully before taking a sip of her tea,"It's the separation between the worlds that allows both this world and Gensokyo to exist side-by-side, the one dependent on the other much like master and slave disk drives."
"So, it'll be like I never left basically..." I summed up for her as I seated myself and took a mouthful of pizza, sipping root beer in between bites,"That's some measure of comfort, I suppose,"
"So, as you mentioned, three weeks is the trial period, right?" It was my turn to hold up three fingers just to make sure we were on the same page, "And if I'm not satisfied, all I have to do is say the word and you'll take me home without a fight." I know it sounded like I was just rehashing what she'd already said but it didn't hurt to be absolutely sure she was being sincere.
"Yes, three weeks," Yukari nodded,"All you need to do is come find me and I'll drop you back here, no questions asked, up until the third week of your stay. It will be like none of this ever happened...just make sure you keep track of the number of days you been there, and you shouldn't have a problem. I won't even charge you for shipping and handling."
I needed to ask though, "You...do realize I'll be an ordinary human stuck in a world full of super-powered girls who can destroy mountains with their fists, fire off wave motion guns whenever, vampires that control probability itself, Gods, and so on...right? Do you have some way I'll be able to defend myself? Because I know even with your fancy smancy Spell Card system, that won't stop a rogue Youkai from gutting me like a fish and eating me for dinner..."
Yukari rose a delicate eyebrow at me,"Hmm...I suppose that's true," She then smiled, "But isn't that part of the adventure? It would be pretty dull if there was no danger involved...than again, you won't be able to meet Her if you get eaten before the end of the three weeks, now would you?"
She reached into her dress pocket and pulled out three cards, each with a large blue emblem drawn on the front. My eyes widened in realization of what they were as Yukari simply grinned at my reaction, "Ah, so you are familiar with Spell Bomb Cards. Well, I'll throw these in to sweeten the deal. Just use one when you feel you're in danger and it'll protect you from whatever comes your way,"
"I'm only giving you three though, because they don't come cheap these days," Yukari sighed, "Ideally, you should find someone to fight for you instead so you won't need to use them too often. You're cute and resourceful, so I'm sure you can think of something," She placed the cards into
my hand, "So...what do you say, Mr White?"
I glanced at the cards and then up at her beaming face. Boy, she was really buttering up to me, wasn't she? "Thanks.." I pocketed the cards and finished my slice while Yukari indulged with the rest of the pizza. After finishing, I took a moment to ponder my options. I knew she still wasn't
telling me the whole story, but she still wasn't out and out lying to me either.
I downed another gulp of my drink, swirling the can and swishing what was left,"Alright...I got one last question and than you get your answer. On the extremely off chance I decide I prefer my new life...can you give me some more details on this "favor" please?" I rose an eyebrow
in her direction, "Or is that meant as a surprise?"
For some time, and to my irritation, Yukari simply didn't reply, as if she'd somehow missed the words spoken to her. She ate quietly, and after finishing her tea, looked up once again, eyes twinkling with confidence, "But that would be telling, wouldn't it?" Yukari giggled while fanning herself, "It's like asking a lady what her age is...it's something you simply shouldn't do. However, since you asked nicely, I'll give you a hint instead,"
She flashed a surprisingly warm smile in my direction as she began, ""Its something that can be found without looking for, felt without being seen, known without being told, shown without needing sight, conveyed without words, and given without being received," Yukari spoke in riddles instead of speaking plainly, "There are many imitations of it, but if you possess it, you have found something of the utmost value... Its something that Gensokyo lacks, that I believe you can help provide."
I sat there as her words sunk in. Seriously? A riddle? That's what I get?...well, it's better than going in blind I suppose. Besides, that was probably enough
free information out of her for the time being. Now there was only one thing left to do...make a choice.
Let's see, I stayed here and life would go on as normal. I'd finish college, probably get some middle-class job, work for about ten or so years, get a girl, settle down with her, have kids, probably spend the rest of my life working and never realizing greater things. Pass away peacefully in my sleep when in my 80s or something.
...Or...I could take this lady's offer. Step beyond the border of reality and fantasy and take this once in a lifetime opportunity, because I got the feeling if I turned this down I wouldn't be getting another one like it.
Besides, something she had said rung true with me. Sometimes in life you need to take a risk or two to get anywhere. If I could come back the moment the left...nobody would ever be the wiser. Also, I guess in some ways, I wanted...to challenge myself. I mean, you never know what you're truly capable of until you actually try it, right?
Three weeks...I knew I could do it, or I believed I did anyway.
I finished my food and let out a sigh as I finally spoke my decision,"...You drive quite a bargain, Miss Yakumo...but as long as you give me your word that you'll abide by our deal...I'll accept it."
...I sincerely hoped I wouldn't come to regret this.
"Yes, of course," Yukari nodded and opened her parasol after standing up, "You have my solemn word that I will abide by every word spoken in our agreement." There was an almost judicial manner in which she pronounced those words, but considering that this was Yukari who was speaking them, there was still an opportunity for deception hidden in there somewhere.
Yukari walked back into the adjacent room, and with a wave of her hand the gap reappeared, spreading open just before she stepped back into it. She turned and rested her arms on the edge like she had done before, almost as if the entire conversation before had not taken place at all. She held her hand out, "Let's shake on it, shall we?"
I stared at her outstretched hand, knowing that the moment I took it, the deal was done, and I would be in it for the long run. There would be no turning back. I then asked a question that made even the Border Youkai tilt her head,"Say um...can you give me a few minutes to throw together
a travel pack of some sort? You know, changes of clothes and what not...I don't want to run into a Youkai while wearing smelly underwear, you know."
"Oh...alright, but don't keep a lady waiting," Yukari looked a little peeved at the interruption but relented and rested her head on the gap in a slightly annoyed manner. It was honestly kinda cute but I also knew that I shouldn't try to test her patience anymore than I already had.
I rushed to my room and emptied a knapsack to fill with essentials like a couple changes of clothes, shoes, some of the other things you needed when camping, books, a Touhou plushy, some games, my laptop, chargers and so on. I then ran out into the kitchen to grab some canned food and packaged goods to eat while traveling along with a water bottle. I was in Scouts when I was a kid so I know this kind of stuff. I also threw on a hoodie since you never know how the weather can change in another world.
Satisfied I had all I needed, I ran back to the gap and took a deep breath. I glanced around my apartment one last time, knowing I wouldn't be seeing it again for a nice long while, assuming everything went well.
No...I would come back..Gensokyo may become my home for a while...but I would be back, someday.
Gathering myself, I turned and grasped Yukari's hand, shaking on our agreement...only for her to flash a smile and haul me through the gap, and off into complete darkness...somehow, I should've known that first step into Gensokyo would be a large one indeed.
I only had one thought on my mind now: What on earth have I gotten myself into?