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Gensokyo Chronicles ~ Dream in Myriad Fantasies

Chapter Text

She’d done this many times before --

How many times?

Could she remember them all?

Far too many, perhaps, and not yet enough.

-- she’d done this many times before. It was rare for the shrine maiden of the Hakurei Shrine to have a relationship, being as isolated as she was; rarer still for that relationship to lead to a child.

But the shrine needed a shrine maiden, to maintain the balance of Gensokyo.

It was a simple thing, really; find the right boundary, the boundary of life and death, of something and nothing, and twist it,

ever so slightly.

The Shrine Maiden wasn’t surprised by her arrival. They’d been discussing it for months, after all.

She was already looking aged; brown hair fading to grey, sharp eyes hidden behind glasses, her toned, hard-earned muscles beginning to finally weaken. But the Shrine Maiden still looked at her with the same expression as ever -- part amusement, part concern.

They always did.

Every single time.

“You’re ready, then?” she asked. The Shrine Maiden nodded.

“I’m ready,” she replied. “I’m assuming that someone else will be taking care of things whilst I’m raising her?”

“Of course. There’s nothing more important than the Shrine. I’ll have Ran on constant alert.”

The Shrine Maiden nodded again. Then it was time, once again.

She placed her hand on the Shrine Maiden’s belly, and concentrated. She could feel everything within her in an instant; every boundary, every organ, every muscle, every sound. For a moment, she relaxed, and simply listened to the rhythmic beating of her heart.

Another lost moment. But it was time.

She reached within the Shrine Maiden with her mind, with her powers, and twisted.

New life, in an instant.

A new possibility, and a possibility that would never be.

A child -- less than a child, the idea of a child -- torn from a timeline she would never reach, all for the sake of the fantasy that was Gensokyo.

So be it.

She breathed out, half in relief and half in -- well, she wasn’t sure. It was an emotion she hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Not since last time, at least.

The Shrine Maiden was looking at her. “It’s done? I didn’t feel anything.”

“Of course. It’s so small that you wouldn’t even notice.” She turned to leave. “I’ll be visiting, but I’ve got other things to do, unfortunately.” She’d done this too many times to count,

or so she claims,

but she had never been good at taking care of humans, be they children or adults.

As she opens a gap, however,

“Do you have a name in mind?”

Her voice is caught in her throat,

as it always is,

and she hesitates.

She knows the name, of course.

It could never be any other name.

“Perhaps,” she murmurs,

Perhaps this time, she thinks,


But she can’t.

A child born with brown hair and brown eyes.

She can’t say her name.


Yukari rolled the name over her tongue again. It’d do.

“Her name is Hakurei Reimu.”

Chapter Text

Futatsuiwa Mamizou had been in Gensokyo for a few weeks now, and had pretty much worked out the rules regarding the Human Village.

Rule number one was that no youkai should ever enter the village not in disguise during the day. It was likely to scare people, and if people felt that they could be attacked by youkai in broad daylight, they would cease to go about their usual activities, which would lead to problems for their society.

Rule number two was an interesting corollary to rule number one -- during the night, youkai were welcome within the village to shop at selected stores and eat and drink at selected restaurants, mostly those near the edge of the village. There didn’t seem to be any stigma attached to the humans willing to serve youkai, but it was considered a genuine risk -- both because an argument with a youkai would end badly for the human, and also because it wasn’t uncommon for certain youkai to attempt to escape without paying. But those humans who did serve youkai clearly thought it was worth the risk, since those youkai who could pay would usually pay outlandish amounts, or in highly valuable trinkets that they themselves had no value for. More than one of Gensokyo’s finest restaurants hosted a regular clientele of discerning youkai.

These two factors meant that she simply had to investigate when she first saw the nine-tailed fox roaming around the village in the middle of the day.

The first person she’d asked had been her friend, Houjuu Nue. Her response was typically Nue-like; a shrug, and a vague “She works for some bigshot youkai.”

She’d already run into a few bigshot youkai, and heard rumours of a few more, but none of them were this blatant. Some of the more powerful youkai visited the village, certainly, but always in a human form, and never letting an instance of their true nature slip during the day.

She considered her next move. She could ask at the Myouren Temple, but they had arrived at around the same time as Nue, so that was an unlikely bet. Which meant she could either ask one of those other bigshot youkai, or she could ask the humans in the village.

“Excuse me, dearie,” asked Mamizou sweetly to the startled grocer, “who was that youkai who just visited?”

“You don’t know her?” he replied, surprised.

“I’m new around here,” explained Mamizou. “Haven’t had time to catch up on everything yet.”

“You’re handling it quite well, then,” he noted. “Anyway, that was Yakumo Ran. She works for the Gap Youkai.” Mamizou still looked blank, so he pulled her close and whispered, “She’s the biggest, nastiest youkai out there. They say she controls all the other youkai from the shadows, and that fox is one of her strongest disciples, so when she walks over, it’s best to be polite, right? You wouldn’t want to start something with a youkai, but especially not that one.”

Mamizou was quiet for a moment. A bigshot youkai who controlled all the other youkai seemed ridiculous, but she had gotten the impression that someone was keeping this place running behind the scenes. But she could hardly ask a human about that, so instead she asked, “So what did she buy, anyway?”

“Tofu and dried noodles.”

“Tofu and dried noodles?”

There was nothing for it, then.

She waited until the next time Ran entered the village and pursued her carefully -- not in the form of a human, but her true form as a bake-danuki, running around corners and easily evading the fox’s curious glances whenever she made too much noise.

She followed her out of the village into the woods, until the kitsune stopped in the middle of a clearing and said, calmly, “I know you’re there, you know.”

Mamizou leapt down from a tree, landed in front of her in her humanoid youkai form, and smirked. “Can’t fool the senses of a fox, huh?”

Ran studied her. “You’re the bake-danuki that just came from outside, right?” she asked. “What do you want?”

“Not much,” replied Mamizou. “I was just wondering who you were.”

“I’m Yakumo Ran. I am the shikigami of Lady Yakumo Yukari.”

“You’re a shikigami?” asked Mamizou, surprised. “You don’t seem like one.”

“I’d be of no use to Lady Yukari if I were as crude as a human’s shikigami, would I?”

“I suppose not…” mused Mamizou. Then she grinned, adjusting her glasses for maximum effect. “So who were you before you were a shikigami?”

Ran smiled back. “Before I was the shikigami known as Yakumo Ran, I was the nine-tailed fox who would one day become the shikigami known as Yakumo Ran.”

Mamizou frowned. “Surely you can tell me more than that?”

“I don’t think I owe you any more information than I’ve already given you, Miss Futatsuiwa.”

“Yeah, but,” started Mamizou, sighing, “a shikigami, though? Ain’t that a bit boring?”

“On the contrary, it was a huge honour to become Lady Yukari’s shikigami.” Ran’s smile became a grin, showing sharp teeth. “Perhaps you should try it? It’d help with your manners.”

“Oho~” Mamizou’s grin was back as well. “I had assumed that when your Lady Yukari declawed you, she would have defanged you too, but you’re as fierce as ever.”

“I assure you,” said Ran, “both my fangs and my claws are fully intact. Perhaps you’d like to test them, and make sure?”

“Tempting,” replied Mamizou, “but perhaps next time. I’ve only just gotten here, after all; it’d be an absolute shame to get beaten up by some two-bit youkai’s pet--”

The blow was as sudden as it was powerful, the fox’s fist rushing through the air and stopping an inch before it made contact. But even just the shockwave from the displaced air was enough to throw Mamizou backwards.

The fox’s smile was angelic. “My apologies, Miss Futatsuiwa. I must have slipped. Luckily I was able to stop myself before I hit you.”

Mamizou peeled herself off the tree, and leapt down. “No problem, Miss Yakumo. We all make mistakes.”

Mamizou dusted herself off. She’d gotten the measure of the kitsune-shikigami now, and she felt that, if it came down to a serious battle, she’d be absolutely outmatched. It made her wonder about what the bigshot Gap Youkai was like, if her shikigami was this powerful.

“Will that be all for today?” asked Ran, turning around. The plastic shopping bags hanging from her arms were still swinging from the backlash to her strike.

“One more thing,” said Mamizou. Ran paused, mid-turn.

There really was nothing for it, then.

“If you’re not busy later, wanna show me to a good place to drink?”

Chapter Text

Kijin Seija awoke at dawn, ready to cause mischief.

But who would she cause mischief for? She considered her mental list of targets, which was growing shorter. She’d been chased off the premises of the Scarlet Devil Mansion yesterday, so that was a no-go for a week or so; she couldn’t find Eientei, and the girl who wandered in the bamboo forests refused to guide her anymore; the Myouren Temple was an option, but the head monk was unflappable, and she reacted to every one of Seija’s schemes with seemingly sincere total benevolence.

She could always attack someone in the Village, but the humans were prey for other youkai, and besides, she was an amanojaku. She didn’t want to prey on someone weaker than her! She wanted to fight someone strong! She wanted to drag them down to her level!

It was a hard life, being an amanojaku in modern Gensokyo. Back in the day, an amanojaku could simply attack a popular human, and the chaos it caused would spark outrage for months! But there were so many youkai around, and anything that Seija caused would get cleaned up before the fun could even begin.

It was all that Shrine Maiden’s fault. She contemplated adding her to her list, but decided against it; she still had bad memories of getting thrown around her own castle by her. Besides, everyone knew the Shrine Maiden was protected by the Gap Youkai, and following the youkai-hunt a while back (known to other youkai as “the time that Seija, in a misguided attempt at revenge, stole some of Marisa’s potions, drank them, started fighting every tree in Youkai Forest, and bragged about beating up a whole bunch of powerful youkai for a month until she was sent a firm cease-and-desist letter by Yakumo Yukari herself in the form of one of those Impossible Spell Cards she’d claimed to have defeated”), she didn’t feel like angering that particular youkai again.

But then a thought occurred to her. Hadn’t the gods up on Youkai Mountain recently had a ropeway installed so that people could go up there? Her previous attempts to access Youkai Mountain had all been blocked by the tengu, but if she could simply skip the entire mountain, then they’d be prime new targets! A couple of smug goddesses, and a naive human from outside… they were the perfect first sacrifices for the overturning of Gensokyo’s order!

As she was escorted away from the base of the ropeway by a pair of kappa, Seija once more reflected upon how rough it was to be an amanojaku.

Everything these days was just so… peaceful. The kappa were happy to work with both the mountain gods, the tengu, and even the humans. In fact, everyone was happy to work with everyone else, and where was the fun in that? What did they all gain from getting along like that?

It baffled her, and it irritated her. She’d already decided a while back that the only thing for it was to try to overthrow Gensokyo’s order. Make it so that all those strong youkai and their stupid rules were kicked out or something, so that they could attack humans like they used to! Not these stupid play-fights or anything!

But no-one else seemed interested. Every time she brought her ideas up to the youkai grassroots network, they’d looked at her a bit funny, before going back to talking about stupid stuff like arranging stalls for the next event. Was that what a youkai was meant to be, these days? Some stupid idiot playing along with the rules, selling souvenirs to humans?!

The kappa unceremoniously dumped her at the edge of the village and wandered off. She was tempted to chase them, but it wouldn’t have been worth the effort, so she amused herself by flipping their hats upside-down and wandering back into the woods.

Youkai Mountain loomed ahead of her. She scowled at it and turned around, beginning to slowly circle the village. She had a few hours until the Sun set, and she hadn’t really planned this far.

“What to do, what to do…” she murmured. She noticed a figure walking slightly ahead of her, also sneaking past the walls, and ran slightly to catch up.

As she drew closer, she recognised the other youkai as Tatara Kogasa, an umbrella tsukumogami -- and luckily, not one of the tsukumogami that had been created from the Miracle Mallet. Even though everyone else was weirdly okay with her despite that incident, she’d had to run from those tsukumogami musicians more than once. They should be grateful to her!!

She climbed onto the wall above the youkai, and then jumped down upside-down, grinning. “What’re ya up to?”

The tsukumogami known for surprising people jumped in the air as she was surprised. “A-ah!” she cried, then blinked. “Ah… hi, Kijin… I was just gonna surprise a few humans near the back entrance. Do you wanna help?”

It was tempting, but merely surprising humans went against everything Seija theoretically believed in. But this was just a tsukumogami, so she couldn’t fault her for that. It was her nature to want revenge on humans, but nor did she want to kill them, and if Seija denied a tsukumogami’s nature, it’d be the same as denying her own nature as an amanojaku!

Then again, she didn’t have anything else to do today…

“Yeah, sure! With my powers, I bet we’ll give ‘em a really good scare!”

The two of them proceeded to hide around the entrance to the Human Village, scaring all the agricultural workers as they came home for the night. A few times, Seija caused their wheelbarrows of food to flip over, and no-one else -- even Kogasa -- thought that was funny, but she just found it even funnier because of that. But for the most part, she had a lot of fun watching the expressions on the humans’ faces.

She had an odd thought, which had been coming to her more and more lately. Somehow, she wondered if life would have been easier if she weren’t an amanojaku -- if she’d have been able to go along with everything else, and enjoy everything instead of this dissatisfaction she found with Gensokyo.

But she quashed that thought as soon as she’d had it, as usual. She was an amanojaku, and she liked being an amanojaku!

As the Sun began to set, and the last of the humans ran into the safety of the Village’s walls, Kogasa said, “Thank you for helping me today!”

“No problem!” replied Seija, grinning. “Now, you can go tell all your friends you spent the afternoon with Gensokyo’s Most Wanted! Anyway, I’ve got stuff to do tonight! Catch you later, Tatara!”

Kogasa stared back at her with the bemused expression people always gave her after she said things like that, but the amanojaku was already running off down the road.

She wouldn’t want to be late. There were a lot of things about Gensokyo that Seija disliked, but this wasn’t one of them.

They usually started late at night, but they generally started up as soon as Mystia had finished her sales for the night and Kyouko could get out of the Myouren Temple. Once, they’d managed to start only an hour after sunset, and Seija had regretted missing it ever since.

But luckily, only Mystia had arrived, and was beginning the process of setting up the stage in the middle of the road to the Hakurei Shrine, her food-cart tucked behind a nearby tree. She smiled as Seija approached, and waved at the amanojaku.

“We’ll probably still be a little while,” she said apologetically. “Kyouko’s been really busy lately.”

“You keep going,” replied Seija, “and I’ll keep an eye out for the Shrine Maiden!”

She jumped into the air and began floating in careful circles, looking for movement down below, but there was nothing but fairies. After a day like today, where she’d been blocked from attacking humans by a pair of shameless kappa, and spent the afternoon surprising a bunch of foolish humans with a tsukumogami, it was nice to have Choujuu Gigaku to fall back on, and remind her what being a youkai was about.

After another couple of hours, Kyouko showed up, and Seija floated back down, mingling with the crowd of other youkai (and a few humans). Here, at least, she was happy to be amongst the crowds.

“Alright, this is our first song!” yelled Kyouko, her voice echoing through the woods. All the nearby trees were already stripped bare from repeated performances, but a few branches still fell off for effect. “It’s called, ‘WHY AM I READING THESE ALL DAY! I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THE WORDS MEAN!’”

And as the screams began to echo around Gensokyo, it was pretty good to be an amanojaku.

Chapter Text

“That girl is here today again.”

“And why are you telling me ?”

A few days earlier, local nuisance Kirisame Marisa had attempted to gain access to Patchouli’s library through the unexpected method of ‘asking and offering to return some of the books she’d taken’. She’d gotten as far as the entrance to the library itself before Sakuya had managed to stop her.

More surprising was that Marisa had had a young girl from the village in tow. Patchouli hadn’t been able to overhear the discussion that Sakuya and Marisa had had, but she gathered that the girl was there because she’d wanted to see Patchouli’s library, and Marisa had offered to take her without so much as asking Patchouli’s permission first.

Not that she’d grant it, of course. Letting a human magician take her books was one thing. Letting an ordinary human, some random girl from the village, so much as look at her collection was another thing entirely.

But she’d been coming back, day after day, wandering around the walls of the Scarlet Devil Mansion as if she were attempting to break in. As if an ordinary human could just break into a vampire’s abode!

Which was what made it so strange for Sakuya to mention that she was still visiting. Of course she was still visiting; humans were notoriously stubborn, and any that would willingly associate with Marisa would have to be doubly so. She wouldn’t give up until she was certain there was no way into the Mansion except through the front entrance.

But it was none of Patchouli’s business.

Hong Meiling was halfway through her afternoon nap when she heard a cry of distress.

Part of her knew that she should ignore it, but she could hardly leave some innocent to be devoured by a youkai this close to the mansion! It’d offend her sense of justice!

One might think it was strange for the gatekeeper of a vampire’s manor to have a sense of justice, but of late Meiling had had much greater access to shounen manga thanks to Usami Sumireko and Kourindou, so she was at her most energetic when it came to these matters.

The yell was followed by a splash, and she ran around the walls in time to see an embarrassed-looking umbrella tsukumogami pulling an extremely sodden human from the edge of the Misty Lake.

She sighed, disappointed that the worst evildoer she could find was Tatara Kogasa, but helped pull the human out regardless.

She examined her critically. She was short, seeming fairly young for a human -- though Meiling had no idea how human aging worked -- and dressed in a coat and apron. She looked up at Meiling with alarmed eyes.

“I’m not gonna hurt you,” said Meiling, and grinned. “I might be a youkai, but I’m a youkai of justice!”

The girl’s expression changed from alarm to bewilderment.

“Anyway,” continued Meiling, “let’s get you inside. Somewhere nice and warm.” She thought for a moment. “Actually, Miss Patchy’s got some magic for this, I think? She mentioned it a while back. We’ll see if she can help you with that.”

“We’re… going in there…?” asked the girl, her expression shifting back to a mix of alarm and something else. Excitement, perhaps?

“I’m not supposed to let people in,” agreed Meiling, “but I can’t think it’d take long. And Miss Patchy’s always happy to show off.”

Which was how Motoori Kosuzu ended up in Patchouli’s library for the first time -- led into the den of a vampire by the youkai who was meant to be turning people away.

Patchouli had been annoyed to see Meiling dragging a dripping-wet human into her library, but the look on Kosuzu’s face had softened her enough that she’d been willing to accept Meiling’s request.

As she cast a spell to remove all the water on Kosuzu, the girl’s expression never changed -- a look of sheer, absolute wonder. She gazed around at the books as if they were the most incredible thing she’d ever seen, and when Patchouli was finally done, she asked, in a quiet voice, “Are all of these yours?”

“They are, yes,” confirmed Patchouli. “It’s been the work of my entire life, collecting them all here.”

It was surprisingly gratifying to Patchouli to have someone actually be impressed by her library. The other residents of the Mansion took it for granted, and the last person to be impressed by it was Marisa, so it was unlikely she’d be inviting anyone else to look at it anytime soon. But so long as it was only a temporary thing, she was perfectly happy for this young girl to be awed by her collection.

“Wow…” whispered Kosuzu. “I mean -- I’ve got a big collection, but I’ve never seen so many books…”

She wandered towards one of the shelves, and Patchouli frowned. Looking was one thing, but reading the books was far too close to what Marisa was doing. She reached out, intending to stop her, and then hesitated.

The girl was looking at her with such wide eyes. Patchouli stared back for a moment, and then said, “These are books of magic, and youma books, you know. They’re not for ordinary humans.”

“I have some youma books!” replied Kosuzu. “Not as many as this, but I’ve got a fair few!”

Patchouli blinked in surprise. “ You have youma books?” she asked. Then, against her own better judgement, “Any rare ones?”

“Aren’t all youma books rare?” asked Kosuzu. “I mean, they’re all unique.”

“Not at all,” began Patchouli. “There are quite a variety of youma books…”

Sakuya found them hours later deep within the library, digging through Patchouli’s collection of youma books. They’d quickly escalated from the brief histories into the outright books of magic, the kind of things that you needed a spell just to open. It was also the part of the library with the most missing spaces, thanks to Marisa.

Patchouli glanced up at her guiltily as Sakuya brought the Magician her dinner on a tray. “I was just sending this human home,” she said. Kosuzu was reading the book carefully, eyes drinking in the words. “She has quite a remarkable talent -- I’ve never seen anything like it--”

Sakuya placed the meal on a nearby desk and turned away wordlessly, but she was smiling to herself. Patchouli scowled at that, and then glanced down at Kosuzu.

What was it about this little human? She was a youkai -- no, she was a witch, a creature born of humanity’s greatest fears of magic, of darkness and evil. But this little human who was sitting here reading her books, and she was just -- letting her!

But it was the same for Marisa, wasn’t it? She could have stopped the ordinary magician from breaking in at any time; she could create wards around this Library that the girl wouldn’t have been able to crack if she practised for a thousand years. But she didn’t, because in spite of everything, she knew potential when she saw it.

And this girl had a lot of potential.

“Child,” she said, firmly, “it’s getting late. You should go home.”

Kosuzu blinked up at her, and then she seemed to look around, as if coming out a trance. “It’s late…?” she repeated.

“Almost sunset,” confirmed Patchouli. “Maybe even later, depending on if Sakuya was waylaid by Remi before she brought in my dinner.”

“A-aah!” cried Kosuzu, panicking. “I need to get home!! I just told my parents I was going for a walk-- If it’s this late, there’ll be youkai about--!”

“Don’t worry,” replied Patchouli. “I’ll send one of my assistants to help you.” She held out her hand, and a magical sigil appeared on her palm, casting a ray of purple light outwards. The shape of a humanoid figure appeared in front of her, coalescing into a tall demon in a black dress.

The demon bowed, and Patchouli ordered, “Decarabia, escort this human back to her home.”

“Sure thing, Miss Knowledge,” the demon replied, scooping up Kosuzu into her arms and flying out of the library.

The library was quiet once again. Patchouli looked at the books all over the floor and summoned another two demons -- Morax and Amy -- to tidy them up, then walked over to her dinner. She wondered idly if the girl would be back the next day, and to her surprise found herself looking forward to the idea.

But it rained the next day, and the day after that, and the humans of the village remained in the village. And as the third day seemed set to be just as gloomy, Patchouli came to a decision.

“Sakuya,” she said to the maid as she brought in her breakfast, “I’ll be going into the Human Village today.”

To her credit, Sakuya didn’t drop the plate, but she looked as though she might have. Patchouli leaving the Mansion for anything other than a special occasion or an incident was almost unheard of.

“It’s about that human who was in here a few days ago,” the witch continued. “She mentioned that she had a bookstore with a collection of youma books. I’d like to see if there’s anything of value there.”

Sakuya nodded. “Of course. Would you like me to escort you into the village?”

“I should be fine…” replied Patchouli. “I’ve been feeling much better lately, so I shouldn’t have any problems.”

Sakuya nodded again. “As you say. I’ll get your coat for you, then.”

The maid was gone and back in an instant with a large, waterproof purple coat. Despite being hidden in a cupboard for who knows how long -- the last time Patchouli had been outside in the rain was years ago -- it was still as good as new. Patchouli idly wondered if the maid had taken the time to dust it and clean it during the stopped time, and decided that it was more likely that she simply kept it in good condition at all times.

She pulled it over her dress, put on some heavy boots, stepped outside, and immediately regretted it. The only thing worse than bright sunlight was every other kind of weather. Even if she found some youma books, how would she get them back in this rain?

The drizzle continued all the way from the Mansion to the Village, with Patchouli muttering to herself the entire time. At a few points she’d had to stop and breathe for a moment, her frail body resenting the additional strain, but she’d kept on going.

She got to the village entrance. No-one was about, so she summoned one of her demons.

“Decarabia, you went to the home of that human from the other day, correct?”

“I did, Miss Knowledge.”

“Lead me there, then.”

Rainy days were always busy at Suzunaan, so when Patchouli first entered, Kosuzu didn’t notice because she was already in the process of serving a few others. To the witch’s surprise, she wasn’t the only youkai there, either -- amidst the few humans she noted at least two youkai, a kappa waiting patiently in line and another youkai browsing the shelves.

She’d expected the youma books to be hidden away, but instead they had their own small shelf behind Kosuzu’s desk -- a collection of histories, tales, and guides written by the mountain youkai. She’d also expected that they wouldn’t be of any interest other than to another youkai, but one of the humans asked for one and the girl happily handed it over, warning them to be careful with it in this weather.

She wondered if she should wait in line or not, and decided against it. She wasn’t here to buy; at the very least, none of the youma books on display behind Kosuzu were anything she didn’t already have a record of. She began examining the shelves, instead; a collection of books of the Outside World on every topic imaginable. The other browsing youkai was by now deep in a magazine about horticulture, reading it carefully.

Patchouli noticed a book on rockets and lifted it out carefully, skimming it, recalling her own experience with building a rocket. But that was far in the past, and it was unlikely she’d be called on to do that again, so she put it back. The Outside World held little of interest to her, with its strange, clunky science.

The store had gotten quieter, and the other youkai was still reading her magazine, so Patchouli approached the desk.

“I wanted to see your youma books,” she said, and before Kosuzu could say anything, she added, “your real youma books.”

Kosuzu looked conflicted. “You’re not going to take them, are you?” she asked. “It’s just… I worked really hard to get them, and I need them.”

“You need them?”

Kosuzu nodded. “I’m never going to be able to help Reimu or Marisa without learning everything I can from them.”

--What was it about young people with talent that made them waste that talent on fighting youkai?

This was none of her business, however. What this human chose to do was--

“A human shouldn’t be reading youma books for power,” Patchouli said, before she even realised she was saying it. “Learning about magic is one thing, but youkai magic is another thing entirely.”


“If you insist on this reckless course of action, I’ll lend you some of my books, if you’ll let me look at your youma books.”

Why had she gone and said that ?

The girl nodded eagerly, before running into the next room and coming back with a handful of books and scrolls.

The books exuded power, and Patchouli was surprised that the girl could bear to be around them, let alone carry them so easily. But she gave them an examination anyway -- a few magical texts, a few grimoires, some that were less books and more records of a youkai’s existence as it waited to re-emerge…

But really, what could she have expected from a human? She wasn’t going to have anything that Patchouli hadn’t seen before. But the girl was looking up at her with those huge, wide eyes, and somehow the misanthropic witch couldn’t bring herself to tell her that what she had wouldn’t match up to even a corner of her library.

She singled out a few of the more promising-looking magical texts. “I’d like to rent these, if that’s acceptable.” And then, “And if you’d like to help me translate, you’re welcome to help me bring them back to the Library.”

Kosuzu’s eyes became even wider, and she ran off into the next room again, leaving the pile of youma books unguarded. Patchouli once more muttered to herself about the foolishness of humans.

The other youkai was watching her from over her magazine, and Patchouli glared back. The youkai shrugged. “I’ve done nothing to earn that look,” she said, and then smiled. “After all, I understand the desire to nurture something, to see it grow as beautiful as it can as well as anyone.”

Patchouli turned away from her as Kosuzu ran back into the room with a large plastic crate. She ran over to slot a small ‘closed’ sign into a space on the door, and then looked at the other youkai apologetically. She smiled back, placing the magazine back on the shelves and walking out without so much as a word.

The girl was quickly packing the youma books carefully into the plastic crate as she spoke, her voice rushing, “I asked my parents and they said I can go with you even though we usually get a lot of business on a rainy day because this is important but I have to be back before the Sun goes down because it’s really dangerous at nights and I didn’t tell them you were a youkai and--”

“Decarabia will escort you back before dusk,” interrupted Patchouli calmly. She glanced over at the demon, who’d been idly reading a manga from one of Suzunaan’s shelves and looked up as her name was mentioned, nodding in agreement. “For now, she can carry this.”

Decarabia’s smile became a little bit more strained as she took the box from Kosuzu. The girl grabbed an umbrella near the door as they walked out, and held it over herself and Patchouli.

“Is she… a real demon?” she asked.

“Decarabia?” replied Patchouli. “She’s more of a familiar. A type of hell fairy with slightly more intelligence than usual.”

“A fairy…” said Kosuzu. “Am I going to learn how to summon those?”

“Eh…?” Patchouli glanced down at the girl to see that she was being completely serious. “Probably not… summoning is a particularly difficult magic. The most talented human magician I know has reached the level of summoning only the most rudimentary familiars. I doubt you’d have much talent in that regard.”

“I could use the Hyakki Yakou Scroll…” mused Kosuzu. “So I thought I could do some summoning magic…”

“A Hyakki Yakou Scroll…?” repeated Patchouli, confused.

Kosuzu suddenly looked like she’d said too much, and went quiet. Patchouli wondered to herself whether it was worth following up on that or not, and then realised she wouldn’t know who to ask if she did. Maybe she’d ask Marisa, the next time she came by to steal some books. But the idea that this human had already tried her hand at some kind of magic -- and summoning magic, even if was youkai-based -- only made her more intrigued by her still.

As they re-entered the Scarlet Devil Mansion, Patchouli noticed a figure waiting near the entrance, watching her with a smile on her face. Patchouli gestured for Decarabia to escort Kosuzu to the Library, and walked over to her friend.

“When Sakuya told me you’d gone out, I couldn’t believe it~!” teased Remilia. “And you’ve come back with a human! And not just any human, but the girl from Suzunaan!”

“She has a remarkable talent--” started Patchouli, but Remilia wasn’t as much a pushover as Sakuya was.

“Half the humans in the village have a remarkable talent,” the vampire replied. “Comes of living in the middle of a bunch of magical forests. What makes her so special?”

“I don’t know.” Patchouli had been wondering that, herself, and hadn’t arrived at an answer. “But she was happy to read my books, and she’s happy to learn about magic. I thought I could point her in the right direction, instead of reading from those useless youma books.”

“You, a mentor?” Remilia began giggling. “I never thought I’d see the day!”

“Well, why shouldn’t I be a mentor?” Why shouldn’t she be a mentor? “I know more about magic than anyone else in Gensokyo, bar maybe the most powerful youkai. There’s no-one better equipped to teach her about magic. She has the aptitude for it. She has the desire to do it.”

Remilia was still smirking. “If that’s what you say,” she said finally, “then that’s fine. Have fun teaching the human.” She paused for a moment. “I’m glad it means you’re going out more, though. It’s not healthy for you, spending all that time in that Library.”

She began to wander off aimlessly. Patchouli watched her go.

She still wasn’t certain why she wanted to train the girl; she usually despised overeager people, and with Marisa continually taking her books, she wasn’t sure about parting with them for this human. But she kept thinking about the expression Kosuzu had had when she first saw the Library. It was the expression of someone who’d realised what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

And perhaps, she thought, it’d be an interesting experience to guide her on her way.

Chapter Text

No-one really asked Hecatia Lapislazuli personal questions. The few that knew her well enough weren’t really the type, and none of her subordinates would have dared. Which meant that she had to ask herself all the tough questions, which was probably why she was wondering to herself, ‘Why am I in love with Junko?’

Because she wasn’t what you’d call a naturally loveable person. The sagacious spirit had spent an eternity refining herself into the distillation of her own grudge, until that desire for vengeance had become a subconscious impulse -- what the desire to breathe was to a human, the desire for revenge upon Chang’e was to Junko.

But it’s not like that’s all that she was. On top of her unusual nature was still the personality that Junko might once have had, before she had shaved away every piece of her identity. Or perhaps it was something that she’d picked up, over the centuries since she’d become who she was now?

They had initially met over their shared grudge of Chang’e -- or rather, Junko had sought her out, inviting her into her scheme to lay siege to the Lunar Capital. And somewhere, in the course of setting out that plan, and talking to each other, Hecatia had gone from talking to Junko as an ally to caring about her as a person.

But it was still a huge step from caring about someone to being in love with someone.

So she did what she always did when she had a question for herself like this. She held a meeting.

The three of them sat around the table, whilst fairies flitted around them, occasionally refilling their drinks. The siege of the Lunar Capital had ended a while ago, and she’d sent her envoy to Gensokyo. This seemed as good a time as any to resolve the big question.

“Because it is definitely love,” noted Hecatia of the Moon. “The question is, why?”

“Well, she’s more interesting than anything that’s going on down here,” said Hecatia of Hell. “But there’s not much competition in that…”

“There’s interesting people all over the place~” argued Hecatia of the Earth. “She’s charming, though, even if she doesn’t seem to realise it~”

“She was fun to scheme with…” mused Moon. “Bouncing ideas off each other, and all the fun of setting up a plan and seeing it happen… I haven’t been able to do that in centuries~”

“It can’t just be that we like scheming with her, though,” said Hell. “There’s gotta be something more.”

They were silent for a moment.

“I suppose, she’s always good to talk to, even when we’re not coming up with plans…” mused Moon. “I’ve never had a boring conversation with her… it’s funny, she doesn’t talk much, but she always seems to know what to say, y’know?”

The others nodded in unison.

“…I like her laugh,” said Earth, after a moment. “It’s hard to put into words, but when she’s happy, it’s like…”

“She’s like the Sun,” finished Hell. “Warm and bright.”

“She’s passionate…” murmured Moon. “Not just about her grudge, but in everything she does.”

“I want her to be happy,” whispered Earth. “Maybe that’s it?”

They were silent for another moment.

“None of those are specific to her, though…” sighed Moon. “They’re all just little bits and pieces of her.”

“Maybe that’s all it is?” asked Hell. “Every new bit of Junko we saw, we adored just as much?”

“When you put it like that, it sounds like we didn’t really have much of a choice in falling in love with her~” remarked Earth.

“There’s not much to not love about her, after all,” noted Moon. “Every little thing about Junko is just another thing to love~”

They nodded in unison, and Hecatia put her arms behind her head and gazed up at the ceiling, smiling to herself.

“And that’s why I love her~” she concluded.

Chapter Text

They were investigating a rumour.

Apparently, there was an abandoned train station -- one of many -- and if you climbed aboard a certain train at a certain time, a ghost would appear and offer you the true answer to a single question. It was the kind of thing that sounded dubious to begin with, but then it escalated further -- everyone who talked about it knew someone who had been on the train and then won the lottery or passed an exam with perfect marks or something like that. And, of course, there was the flipside -- if you were rude to the ghost, you would vanish, never to be seen again.

Which was how Merry had ended up sneaking into this empty train station at 2am, whilst Renko waited outside and kept watch. It wasn’t likely they’d get caught -- no-one bothered to patrol this area anymore, it being so far from the habitable regions of the city -- but Renko still felt safer watching for anyone coming.

Merry had agreed at the time; now, she wasn’t so sure. The dead husks of the trains loomed around her like metallic skeletons, and across them were the ripples of boundaries, tiny fractures in the world. There was definitely something here.

She was tempted to call back for Renko, and then chose not to. She was tempted to leave, but then she turned around a train, and there was the one she was looking for, out in the open, its doors open. Inside, a faint light shone.

She climbed in, and sat down. After a few moments, her watch buzzed -- 2:07am.

Nothing happened. She stood up, and saw that all the doors were closed, and the world outside had changed to an empty void.

She looked around in a panic, and saw a figure seated at the far end of the carriage. She didn’t seem to notice her, but Merry walked over to her carefully. If nothing else, it’d be nice to prove to Renko that the rumour was true.

As she walked, she felt the train moving below her, even as the outside stayed empty. She felt strangely calm.

She sat opposite the figure, who was carefully examining her nails. A woman in a purple coat over an ornate dress, with blonde hair and shining violet eyes. She glanced up, and smiled.

“Merribelle Hearn,” she said. “I’ve been expecting you.”

“Are you the ghost?”

“I’m the one from the rumours.”

“Will you answer my question?”

“I already have, haven’t I?” Then she laughed. “I know what you mean, of course. Everyone does that, though. They don’t even seem to consider that if you ask the ‘ghost’ a question, that might be their only question! But everyone likes to be certain of things. Humans cling to certainty, in an uncertain world.”

“Is that why you’re here?” asked Merry. “To bring people certainty?”

The woman smirked. “Absolutely not. My domain is the uncertain. My world is an illusory one. I have no interest in certainty.”

“But you’ll answer my question?”

“I will answer your question.”

Merry hesitated. There was something about this woman… the more she looked at her, there was something familiar about her…

“What’s happening to me?” she asked.

“Your powers are growing stronger,” the woman replied simply. “You have gone from being able to see boundaries, to being able to control them, and soon you will be able to rewrite them as you will. Not just the boundaries between worlds, but those between truth and fiction, between life and death, and between human…” And she smiled again. “…and youkai.”

“Why is this happening?”

“Because if it did not happen, then I would not be here to answer your questions.”

Merry examined her carefully. She almost had it, she felt--

“Can I ask one more question?”

The woman shrugged. “Ask away. I might not answer, though.”

“Who are you?”

The woman’s eyes stopped shining, revealing deep golden irises. 

She’d seen those eyes before. Every day of her life.

“Isn’t that obvious?”

There was a sudden rushing sound, and in the void behind the woman a billion crimson eyes opened, staring directly at her.

She awoke to Renko helping her off the ground.

“Merry, are you alright?” she asked. “I-- I heard you scream, and then I found you like this--”

“I…” Merry looked around. She was in a disused train yard. What was she doing here again? “I think I must have just tripped. Sorry to make you worry, Renko.”

“It doesn’t look like that train’s here…” murmured Renko, disappointed. “I brought you out here for nothing, Merry.”

The train was gone. Merry frowned. What train? Her memories seemed fuzzy… she remembered…

The only thing she remembered was looking into a window and seeing her own reflection.

Chapter Text

Toyosatomimi no Miko had been a master of diplomacy even before she’d had the ability to read desires. She had out-talked and out-thought political rivals a countless number of times, pulling the strings across Japan and even outside of it to fulfil her goals. Now that she could read the desires of others, she considered herself unmatched -- capable of bending anyone she spoke with to her own will.

So why was she so nervous ?

The Myouren Temple was technically an enemy of hers, but she and them had long since slipped into the comfortable territory of being friendly rivals rather than outright foes. Even Futo wasn't trying to burn it down more than once a month or so. And the thing she’d come to discuss would benefit them both -- a temporary alliance, to investigate the Perfect Possession Incident that was currently affecting Gensokyo.

And yet, she kept getting the words mixed up in her head. The master diplomat was barely able to put together a sentence that would clearly explain her intent without getting the matter confused. Worse, she was plagued with the fear that the head monk would reject her outright, which was laughable for two reasons -- first, she knew Hijiri Byakuren too well to think that she would do that; and second, why should she care even if she did? All that meant is that she’d have to find someone else to collaborate with.

But she wanted it to be Byakuren.

Those thoughts rattled through her mind as she walked up to the Temple. The nyuudou user, Ichirin, held out her hand, and asked her intent.

“I want to speak to Hijiri, if that’s acceptable,” said Miko. “I have a request of her that I can only make in person.”

Ichirin frowned. “I’ll go and get her,” she said after a moment. “Kyouko, guard the gate for a little while!”

The yamabiko walked over and grinned at Miko. “Wanna hear the sutras I’ve been practicing?” she asked.

“Maybe next time,” replied Miko. These youkai, at least, she could manage with no trouble at all.

After a few minutes, Ichirin returned, with Byakuren following. The monk smiled at her pleasantly.

“How unusual to see you coming here, Miko,” she said. “Ichirin says you have something to ask of me?”

Here she goes.

“Hijiri Byakuren,” started Miko, “I would like to propose--”

She hesitated. The second half of her sentence had slipped away from her, even as she was thinking it.

Byakuren and Ichirin both frowned at her.

She rallied herself desperately. “Hijiri Byakuren,” she repeated, “I would like to propose a union--”

She paused again. Ichirin glanced at her, and then glanced at the monk with something approaching disbelief.

“Ah--? Lady Hijiri, is there something between you and her--?!” she cried.

Miko blinked, and then realised, too late, what she’d said.

“It’s about Perfect Possession, correct?”

Byakuren was watching her carefully.

“I-- It is, yes. I came to propose a truce.” Miko paused again, and this time, thankfully, the sentences came to her. “I believe that if we collaborate, we can solve it and prevent it from causing too much harm.”

“You think people might be at risk?” asked Byakuren.

“I do, yes. Or at the very least, I think there’s something more dangerous running beneath all of this.”

Byakuren nodded. “I think so too,” she said. “I was actually going to request your help later.”

“You were?!” cried Ichirin, surprised.

“Miko is a reliable ally,” stated Byakuren, smiling. “I’m certain that with her help, we’ll be able to resolve this incident. And you can help too, Ichirin.”

“With the Taoists…?” replied Ichirin, weakly. “With that Taoist…?”

“It’ll be good for us to learn to cooperate,” said Byakuren calmly. “Now, Miko, shall we work out our strategy?”

“Of course,” replied Miko. Everything had gone perfectly. She was still the master diplomat she thought she was--

“And next time,” added Byakuren, with that same, tranquil smile, “you can invite me to dinner before you try being that brazen.”

--more or less.

Chapter Text

She moved like cherry blossoms in the wind, but it was clear that it wouldn’t be enough.

The two swords came together again and again with a soft ‘clack’ sound, and then -- a feint, dodged, and the blow rang true, Youmu’s wooden blade gently poking Yuyuko in the chest, directly above where her heart would be.

The two fighters moved apart, and Yuyuko walked to sit next to Yukari, and sighed. “I didn’t think it’d be this difficult…” she lamented.

On the other side of the garden, Youmu sat down next to her grandfather, and Youki handed her a small glass of water, which she splashed over her own head. Yukari watched them carefully.

“Youki’s picked an excellent protege,” she mused. “But that’s only to be expected from him. I haven’t noticed any openings, yet.”

Yuyuko pouted at her. “I was hoping you’d have some good advice for me.”

Yukari shrugged. “You’ve still got another two rounds. I’ll keep an eye out in the next one for you~”

Youki had proposed three rounds, after all. If Yuyuko could lay a single blow on Youmu, then he’d take her training to the next level. Otherwise, she’d have to redo the course he’d just spent a century teaching her. They didn’t know what condition he’d given Youmu, but it was easy to guess that it was something similar.

Yukari had been busy working on the Barrier lately, finalising the separation of Gensokyo from the Outside World, but she wasn’t going to miss something as important as this. Someone had to be there to reassure Yuyuko, after all.

Youmu and Yuyuko returned to the small ring that Youki had shaped in the stone garden, and took their stances. Then, they once more began their dance of blades.

Yuyuko moved with perfect elegance, not so much stepping as flowing from one location to the next, the point of her blade moving like a pinprick in a dream, impossible to follow by human eyes. But her rival was the finest of Youki’s grandchildren, and Youmu moved with absolute precision, every move calculated and unavoidable. She spun and weaved around blows that were barely there, and her own sword cut through the air as deftly as it cornered Yuyuko, restricting her movements until -- a feint, Yuyuko dodging an anticipated blow, spinning to strike, but that wooden blade found her heart once again.

Yukari smiled as Yuyuko approached. “I’ve found an opening for you.”

“Oh?” replied Yuyuko, and then frowned. “Wait, wouldn’t it be cheating if you told me?”

“If Youki didn’t want me giving you advice, then he wouldn’t let me be here,” remarked Yukari. “Anyway…” She glanced across to check that neither of the Konpaku duo were watching, but Youki was reassuring Youmu about something, and neither was looking. “…when she’s doing the attack like this,” and she gestured swinging a sword, “and then she does this,” another gesture, “she leaves herself open from the right. So you’ve just gotta do this,” another gesture, “and you should be able to get her.”

Yuyuko blinked. “One more time…?”

Yukari stood up and danced around Yuyuko, saying, “So when she does this,” and she poked Yuyuko gently, “and this,” and she looped her arm around Yuyuko’s waist, “you just have to do this~”

And she dropped her into her other arm, and kissed her before she could respond.

“Yukari,” said Yuyuko, mock-sternly, “I don’t seem to remember Youmu doing any of that~”

Yukari winked. “Perhaps you should have been paying attention the first time, then~” She glanced over, and Youki nodded at her. “Anyway, consider that a good luck kiss~!”

They re-entered the circle. For a moment, Yuyuko and Youmu circled each other, and then the dance began anew, for the final time.

Clack -- clack -- clack -- clack --

Their blades met and passed, back and forth. A step here, a step there -- an artful dodge, a careful thrust, a gentle swing -- and then Youmu took a step back, put her weight onto her left leg, and--

Time slowed as Yukari’s brilliant mind worked.

Youmu had put slightly more weight onto her leg than before, preparing to twist off of it rather than simply strike. The opening that Yukari had mentioned was no longer there; instead, there was an inescapable trap.

She’d been sure that Youmu hadn’t been looking; and Youki wasn’t the type to give her advice. Had this been intentional? Had she intentionally set up those attacks? But Yuyuko hadn’t noticed them--

She began to laugh quietly to herself. Youki had found an excellent successor indeed; capable of matching wits not only with Yuyuko on the battlefield but Yukari off of it. And that move wasn’t one that Youki taught her; she knew all Youki’s techniques, and they were all copies, at that. This was meant to look like Youki’s technique, but it was something different -- only slightly, but that was enough.

The wooden blade continued to move through the air. Yuyuko’s eyes slowly spun to watch it as she ineffectively attempted to block a blow that wasn’t coming. Yukari’s laughter became richer; at this rate, it would take only a few centuries for the student to surpass her master.

Shame about Yuyuko, though; but she’d make sure to do something nice for her. That’s why she’d come here, after all~

The blow landed on Yuyuko’s heart for the third and final time.

Chapter Text

The sun was setting, and the winter winds were beginning to blow, and the other girl still hadn’t left.

“Marisa, you can’t stay here overnight, you know.”

“Why not?”

Reimu hesitated for a moment. Why couldn’t Marisa stay? She wouldn’t get in the way, and she helped with the chores, but…

“Don’t you have your own home to go back to? And don’t say you don’t, ‘cause it’s not like you sleep here every night.”

“It’s cold, though,” complained Marisa. “I don’t wanna go. It’s comfy here.”

“What if you don’t show up? Is someone gonna go looking for you?”

Marisa laughed, a surprisingly bitter laugh. “No-one’s gonna come looking for me. And I live all on my own, in a big house in the forest!”

“You’re only twelve though, you can’t live on your own.”

You live on your own a lot of the time, and you’re only a few months older than me!”

“That’s different,” replied Reimu. “I’ve got responsibilities. I’m a responsible person.”

“I can be ‘sponsible if I’ve gotta be,” insisted Marisa. “Anyway, I wanna stay here. It’s comfy here…”

“You said that before, but it’s not that comfy…” said Reimu. The Shrine was in a state of slight disrepair with only her to look after it lately, so right now it was probably about as cold inside as it was outside. “And it’s certainly not that warm.”

“It’s comfy ‘cause you’re here, Reimu~!” declared Marisa cheerfully. And then she grinned. “I always feel warm when you’re around, y’know?”

“Is that so…” replied Reimu, not sure what to say to that. “Well, you can stay here tonight, then. Just don’t make a regular thing of it!” She glanced at the small pile of food in the corner. “I suppose I should work out what to cook for dinner for two, then…”

The sun was setting, and the wind was blowing rust-coloured leaves through the air around the Shrine, and the other girl still hadn’t left.

“So what’s your excuse gonna be this time? Can’t be that you don’t wanna walk back, can’t be that it’s too cold, and it definitely can’t be that you’re afraid about running into youkai. Now that I know where your house is, you’re not pulling that one on me again.”

Marisa considered for a moment. “…You owe me a meal…?” she said after a moment.

Reimu sighed. “I’m pretty sure I don’t, but fine. You’re buying me groceries next time you’re down in the village then, you got it?”

The magician seemed to be here all the time now; sleeping over at least three nights a week, if not more. And she always had some excuse for not wanting to go home. Reimu had wondered why, so had followed her home a while back to find her house very much lived-in; a little cottage near the edge of the Forest of Magic in better shape than her own Shrine. And yet she kept staying over at this dilapidated old building.

Maybe she was just lonely. Reimu never really thought about people being lonely -- she’d spent most of her life on her own, after all -- but that’d probably be it? There’d have to be easier places to visit than here, though.

It’s not like Marisa didn’t have any other friends, though… she knew a few magicians in the Forest, and was on easy terms with some humans in the village, as well as the guy from Kourindou…

She seemed to be happy to come here, though, so she didn’t push it. Reimu would probably never admit it, but it was far nicer to have someone else to share the Shrine with than to sleep alone, listening to what was hopefully the wind scratching at its walls.

The sun was setting, and it was finally beginning to cool off after a day of intense summer heat, and the other girl still hadn’t left.

“If you wanna head back, this is your chance,” remarked Reimu. “It’s just cool enough for the trip back to not be unbearable.”

“I’ll pass,” replied Marisa. “The house’s been locked up all day anyway, so it’d just be like walking back and tryin’ to sleep inside an oven, y’know?”

Reimu nodded, and sighed. “If you insist, but you’ve gotta help me make dinner, then.”

“Yes, yes~”

The magician eagerly began to chop up vegetables. She was always a hard-worker, but she seemed doubly so whenever she came over to the Shrine, like she was somehow trying to pay Reimu back for letting her stay here all the time.

It was ridiculous, of course. Reimu would let her stay here even if all she did was sit in the corner and tell jokes. But she wouldn’t say no to the added help. With someone else around, she’d actually been able to start work on fixing up bits of the Shrine she’d been putting off for months.

After dinner, as they slept on two mattresses beside each other, Reimu remarked, “You can’t spend all summer here, you know.”

“Why not?” mumbled Marisa, already half-asleep.

Reimu considered that. “I mean… you’ve gotta go home eventually, right?”

“I am home…”

After a moment, Marisa began snoring gently, leaving Reimu to stare at the ceiling until she, too, fell asleep.

The sun was setting, and the last of the cherry blossoms were dancing through the air, and the other girl still hadn’t arrived.

It was unlike Marisa to be late. She’d probably been waylaid in the village, but Reimu hoped it wouldn’t take too long. She was meant to be grabbing dinner, after all.

Finally, as the last of the sun’s rays vanished behind the mountains, the magician emerged up the stairs and waved. She was carrying something huge wrapped in newspaper under her other arm, and Reimu raised an eyebrow.

“What’ve you got there?”

“A Sanzu River fish!” replied Marisa, grinning. “Got it for a real bargain, too!”

“A Sanzu River-- Well, whatever. Just so long as it tastes good.”

“The youkai I bought it from says it should taste pretty good, and it should keep for a while, too! So we can probably make it last at least a week!”

“One week of not having to wait for you to get back with something weird, huh…” mused Reimu, and smiled back. “I can probably live with that. Now come on, I’m starved.”

“Hold your horses, I’m coming, I’m coming!”

The magician ran towards the Shrine and jumped inside, handing Reimu the fish as she took off her boots.

“Oh, and Marisa?” said Reimu, as she placed the fish on the bench and began to unwrap it.


“Welcome home.”

Chapter Text

Komachi had never seen Kasen look tired, but she looked tired right now.

She’d wandered in the usual way and seen the hermit laying on the roof of her house, gazing up at the sky blankly. She barely turned as the shinigami approached and sat down next to her.

“Kasen, you doing alright?” she asked. Kasen glanced at her with an empty expression, and Komachi frowned. “What’s gotten into you…?”

She murmured under her breath. Komachi leant in closer. “All the animals… were getting sick…”

“All of them?” repeated Komachi. “It’s something that serious?”

Kasen shook her head weakly. “Managed… to get them all healthy… medicine from Eientei… took three days…”

Komachi sighed in relief. “So you’re just worn out, huh? I bet you haven’t even had time to eat during all that time!” When Kasen shook her head, she continued, “I’ll take care of you, then! I’ll make you something delicious to lift your spirits!”

Kasen blinked at her. “You can cook?” she asked.

“I live by myself, of course I can cook!” protested Komachi. “I can cook omurice!”


“Just omurice, yeah.”

Suddenly, Kasen had a foreboding sense of impending disaster.

Kasen managed to pull herself downstairs a while later to find Komachi digging through her cupboards.

“I’d been half-hoping that you would go and get your own food.”

“I did!” replied Komachi, and gestured to a pile on the counter. “But I need cutlery.”

Kasen’s eyes were drawn to the counter. There was a pack of eggs, a huge pile of rice, roughly thirty vegetables, and five different kinds of meat. She glanced back at Komachi. “…How much are you going to make?”

“I usually make about a week’s worth at a time,” remarked Komachi, emerged from Kasen’s cupboards with a collection of knives and spoons, “so I figured I’d do the same here!”

“Is that so…” Kasen glanced at all the food. “Would you like any help preparing it?”

“I’ve got this, don’t worry~!” said Komachi cheerfully. “You just relax! I’ll bring you something nice to drink in a bit, too~”

Kasen went into her living room and sat down, listening to the sounds of Komachi chopping the vegetables and meat, and later the sound of the sizzling rice. She idly wondered to herself why it was such a surprise that Komachi could cook -- even if the extent of that cooking was omurice -- and then came to the realisation that it was because she hadn’t realised Komachi needed to eat.

As a hermit, of course, Kasen only needed to eat reasonably intermittently; but that was unfortunately balanced out by her nature as an Oni, which meant that when she did eat, it tended to be in substantial portions. But Komachi was a shinigami, so it seemed strange to her that Komachi did actually need to eat.

She considered the ingredients that Komachi had gathered. A lot of different vegetables, but only one of each of the larger ones. Various different kinds of meat.

If Komachi didn’t need to eat, then maybe she was just doing this for her? She’d seen her buy food before, but only in a social setting; she seemed to eat more out of enjoyment than necessity. Which meant…

The sizzling changed to a much louder hissing sound, and Komachi began yelling. Kasen rushed in to see the shinigami using her abilities to split fire from the stove, and was in the process of dousing it when Kasen entered. She glanced back sheepishly.

“I messed up a little bit, but it’s fine now,” she said. She released her ability, and the pans -- multiple pans of rice -- collapsed back onto the stove, scattering semi-burned rice and vegetables as they did.

The kitchen was a mess; her stove was on fire; and Komachi seemed to have dumped every single ingredient that she’d gathered together with no care for the order. Indeed, she was now upending sauces into each pan without any consideration, switching bottles when she ran out without checking if it was the same sauce or not.

“You have made this before, right?”

“Once or twice, yeah!”


“And you’re certain you don’t want my help?”

“I’m just getting started on the omelettes now, so I’m fine~” The shinigami grinned again. Her grin had always fascinated Kasen; it was a mix of foolishness and confidence. The grin of someone who enjoyed life, even if her job was technically to end it.

Maybe that’s why she was always slacking off.

Instead, Kasen looked around. “In that case, I’ll get the drinks ready.”

“No, I’m--”

“I insist. You’ve got your hands full as it is.”

The two of them began to move around each other. Kasen watched for a moment in fascination as Komachi used her ability on each egg, removing the shell and then leaving it completely intact as its contents dropped into one of the bowls below. Then, she moved around again, gradually pouring the rice out of the four pans into one huge bowl and then dropping the eggs straight into the pans.

As Kasen began to argue again, Komachi insisted, “It’s nice, it adds some crunch to the omelette.”

So Kasen left her to it. She poured from a large bottle of sake into her Ibaraki Box, and then poured some out into a cup, and took both out into the living room. Then, she drank what was in the Box in a single go.

She was refilling the Box for the third time when Komachi walked in with two substantial omurices on Kasen’s nicest plates. She stared at them in bemusement.

Komachi placed them down, said “Itakadakimasu~” and then immediately dug into hers. After a moment, Kasen cut off the end of her own with her fork. What appeared to be barbeque sauce oozed out, and she noticed she’d cut a piece of fish in half. Her eyes gazed at the piece at the end of her fork, and then back to Komachi, who was watching her expectantly.

Kasen steeled herself, and bit down.

Against all expectations, it was incredible. The overwhelming array of tastes and textures one would expect to conflict instead contrasted, giving each bite its own distinctive, yet delicious, flavour; all held together by the slightly crunchy egg, which had its own flavouring to hold the meal together. The shinigami grinned at her, so Kasen realised she must have shown her reaction on her face.

She swallowed. “It’s… nice…” she said quietly.

“I told you I could cook!” said Komachi proudly.

Kasen continued to steadily eat what she had, occasionally taking a sip from the Ibaraki Box. Against all odds, the shinigami had put together an actual meal.

“It’s actually really delicious,” continued Kasen. “How come this is all you can make, though?”

“It’s the only thing I’ve tried,” replied Komachi. “I don’t really eat, so I only try when there’s people around, and uh… no-one ever really visits…” She went quiet for a moment. “But I thought I’d try cooking once, and this seemed easy, so I gave it a shot, and it went great!”

“And I’m guessing you didn’t use a recipe?”

Komachi was silent for a moment. “I probably could have done that, huh…” she mused.

Kasen smiled at her. “You’re hopeless,” she said. “But I’m glad. I don’t think I’d like the food as much if you weren’t.”

“Just the food?”

Komachi was grinning back at her, and Kasen laughed, and took another sip from the Ibaraki Box.

“Well,” she admitted, “maybe not just the food…”

Chapter Text

There is only one shrine in Gensokyo, and outside it, covered in moss and weeds, are a pair of small komainu statues.

The gods within them are weak; barely spirits. All they can do is watch. They watch the sun as it rises every morning. They watch the sun as it sets every evening. And they watch the Shrine Maidens as they run around, busying themselves.

They gradually learn a bit about the world. They learn that they live in a place called Gensokyo, and that it is plagued by youkai. They see more youkai than they do humans, though, and they learn that the Hakurei Shrine is neglected. That must be why there’s only ever one Shrine Maiden.

The sun rises. The sun sets. There is a new Shrine Maiden.

For the first few weeks she is busy; she rushes about, tidying everything. She clears away the moss and weeds from the komainu statues, and looks satisfied with her work. She patches holes in the walls and roof of the Shrine. Then one day she leaves, and when she returns a few days later, she does not do work anymore.

The sun rises. The sun sets. Youkai begin to approach the Shrine.

The spirits of the komainu wish that they could help the Shrine Maiden, but they cannot. But it seems as if they don’t need to; the Shrine Maiden leaves for a few days, and when she returns, the youkai do not return with her. The Shrine is silent once more.

Not for long, though. Strangers begin coming to the Shrine. Something beyond the komainu’s vision is happening. The Shrine Maiden only leaves for a few hours this time, and when she returns, she seems more exhausted than ever. No-one else comes to the Shrine for a while.

The sun rises. The sun sets. Youkai once more begin to approach the Shrine.

When the Shrine Maiden returns this time, there is another girl with her, a younger girl with blonde hair. The komainu are happy that she has made a friend, and wish that they were not trapped in the statues so that they could share in that friendship.

But they are komainu. Their role is to guard the Shrine.

The moss and weeds once more cover the statues. The Shrine Maiden has been so busy lately that she has barely been able to spare a thought for them; so it is the other girl who approaches them, and wipes off the weeds growing on their faces. She examines them for a moment, and then leaves. They wonder what she saw in them. They’d like to ask. But they can’t.

The sun rises. The sun sets. The Shrine Maiden leaves again.

This time she’s gone for more than a week. Youkai begin to infest the Shrine, and the komainu feel more powerless than ever. But she finally returns, and chases off the youkai. And then she wanders over to one of the komainu statues, and wipes off the weeds on its face.

“I got told that you two are here to look after the Shrine when I’m away,” she says. “I’d kinda like that to be the case…” She sighed, and sat down in front of the statue, gazing up at it.

All the spirit can do is watch, and listen, and learn, and wait.

“I bet you’d think I’m a pretty bad Shrine Maiden,” she continues. “I keep dealing with problems, and whenever I leave youkai show up, and when I’m done chasing them away, there’s always something else.” She glanced past them. “The Shrine’s still falling apart, and you’re still covered in weeds. There’s a hole in the roof right above where I’m sleeping. There’s ghosts living in the roof. I’m worried it’s all too much for me, but…”

The spirit wanted to reply to her, to encourage her not to give up, to tell her that she was doing well -- but it couldn’t. All it could do was watch.

“I believe in you.”

The Shrine Maiden blinked at the words. She looked around for a moment, and then back at the statue for a moment, and smiled. “If that was you, thanks.”

The spirit in the other komainu had funnelled everything it had into those words, and was already beginning to fade away. The remaining komainu could do nothing but watch, and listen to its final words, words that only it could hear--

“Take care of the Shrine. Take care of the Shrine Maiden. One day, you’ll be needed again.”

And it was gone.

The Shrine Maiden wanders back into the Shrine, with a bit more of a spring in her step.

The sun rises. The sun sets. The remaining komainu waits, patiently.

The sky begins to fill with crimson mist…

Chapter Text

Joutuguu Mayumi had been made to be a soldier, to protect the human spirits and defend the Primate Spirit Garden. Her hands were meant to hold swords and bows -- not that these weren’t delicate tasks, but they were very different to the one that she had just attempted.

She was unsatisfied with her result, but it was the best she could do right now. It was something, at least -- the end result of months of careful study and practise in what little time she could scrape together.

And now the little figure, just done cooling off from being baked, sat on her little desk and stared at her mockingly.

“It doesn’t look anything like her,” she said, and sighed. She took the cans of paint from the shelf and began to clumsily colour it. A little bit of pink here; some yellow here; some blue and green here and here…

And when she was done, she wrapped it up carefully in paper, and put it into a bag. She still had her patrols for the day to complete, and it’d do no-one any good for her subordinates to see her slacking off. And she certainly wasn’t going to try to get time off for something like this. She had her role, and she’d see it through, the same as she always did.

So it was hours later -- hours of her circling the Spirit Garden, and keeping the other haniwa in line -- when she finally got the chance to head to the keyhole-shaped complex at the heart of the Garden. Deep within that technological marvel was the base of the god that had created her form.

“L-lady Keiki!” she said as she arrived.

The god smiled at her. “Hello, Mayumi!” she replied. “Is something wrong?”

“I-I have something for you!” continued Mayumi. “A-a token of my appreciation!”

She reached into the bag, and felt it before she saw it. She unwrapped the paper, and sure enough, the little figure had snapped in half, and lost an arm to boot.

Mayumi looked at it despondently. “I had something, at least…” she whispered.

Keiki carefully took it from her, removing it from the paper and placing it on her workbench. The clumsy little figure looked out of place amongst the marvels that Keiki could create; a broken mockery of her own shape. But she gestured for Mayumi, and took a small tube from one of her pockets.

“Nothing needs to stay broken~!” she said cheerfully, and handed the tube to Mayumi. “That’s a really powerful adhesive. You just put a little bit onto your finger, and then dab it on each side of the break, and then gently put them together.”

“W-with all respect, Lady Keiki, perhaps you could--”

“Mayumi,” interrupted Keiki quietly, “you can do this as well as I can.”

And Mayumi didn’t really believe that, but she did it anyway. A careful drop on her finger, and then quickly touching it to each side of the broken body, and putting them together. The end result was slightly crooked, but joined once more.

She did the same to the broken arm, and then glanced at the adhesive left on her finger. Keiki smiled, and took a damp cloth from another pocket and wiped it off.

Her gaze turned back to the figure. “So what is it?”

Mayumi felt like she could cry, then. “It’s-- it’s supposed to be--”

Keiki was still examining it, and then glanced up at her creation apologetically. “I didn’t realise, Mayumi. It’s me, right?”

Mayumi nodded silently.

“Was this your first try?”

Mayumi shook her head. This must have been the tenth or eleventh model she’d made, the best of the bunch, and-- and--

“It’s probably too late to say that it’s good, right?” The god was examining the little figure carefully. “There’s a lot of attention to detail… and I suppose you must have done this from memory too, right?”

“It’s the best I could do,” mumbled Mayumi.

“Nonsense.” The haniwa glanced up at her creator in surprise. “It’s the best you can do right now, but it’s not the best you could ever do. The next time you try something like this, you’ll do better. And then better again, after that.”

Keiki finally stopped examining the figure, and placed it on the shelf above her workbench, tucked slightly away from the edge. She smiled at Mayumi.

“Thank you for the gift. I truly appreciate it.”

Chapter Text

Her name was Ellen right now. It had been other things in the past, and it would be other things in future, but right now it was Ellen.

She had an unusual problem -- she had lived so long that she had started to forget things, but not in any order; instead, the things she did remember seemed to be completely arbitrary. She remembered minor moments from many years ago with perfect clarity when she tried to recall them, but struggled to remember things from even the day before.

Also, she was immortal. She couldn’t remember why that was, either. Maybe she was a youkai? She didn’t know. Right now, she was living in a human village, and she looked human, so it’s possible that she was human, but she didn’t think that humans could live forever.

Well, none of that was important! If it was important, she’d remember it, probably.

Today she was buying food. She’d written down what the food she needed was, and made sure to pin it to her door to make sure she’d see it. The problem was, she couldn’t remember what she needed all the ingredients for. She should have remembered to write that down!

She laughed to herself, and grabbed the basket she kept next to the door. Her pet cat leapt up as she opened the door and landed gracefully on her shoulder, before relaxing and flopping over it. She laughed again.

The people at the little shop near her house (she’d left herself directions on her grocery list) were talking about something. A book? A story?

It turned out to be a book. Apparently there was a new mystery novel going around, and from what Ellen heard of it, it seemed to be really interesting. And there was something about it that seemed… familiar. So she got directions -- wrote them down -- and wandered off to Suzunaan, her groceries, naturally, completely forgotten.

“I heard you have a book!”

Kosuzu had had a lot of strange things said to her in her time -- she’d once been threatened by a tengu into selling her newspapers, after all -- but this probably beat all of them.

“I--” she started, and then reconsidered. “Were you after any book in particular…?”

“The one everyone’s talking about!”

Kosuzu grinned. “Oh, the new volume of ‘Was It All A Youkai’s Doing’?” She gestured to a small pile on her desk. “I’ve got a whole bunch here! Did you want to rent it, or…?”

The girl considered for a moment, and then dug into one of her pockets and dumped a small pile of loose change on Kosuzu’s desk, then took the topmost book, sat down nearby, and began reading rapidly.

Kosuzu stared for a moment, and then began counting out the change, still keeping an eye on her. Just as she was no stranger to unusual comments, she was no stranger to unusual guests, even one as strange as this. The stranger continued to read, and then suddenly frowned at something. Her brow furrowed as she thought. Then she began skipping pages.

“Ah, you’re not really meant to read ahead--” started Kosuzu, but was interrupted.

“I’m in this!” said Ellen, surprised. Somehow, the brief conversation from earlier had agitated one of her seemingly long-lost memories. “I remember this happening!”


Kosuzu had almost immediately closed the shop and gone to see Hieda no Akyuu. Upon having the situation explained to her, Akyuu had been momentarily surprised, but quickly relaxed. It was clear that Kosuzu’s visitor was a youkai, and likely not a particularly harmful one. Suzunaan had reached that unusual position where it was under the protection of enough powerful youkai that a lesser one would not dare to cause too much trouble for the humans running it.

After that, it was only a matter of considering who it could be. Of course, some of Akyuu’s stories were based on events that had really happened -- when she felt there was an event suitable for writing about, or (in at least one case) when she’d been stumped on a mystery and felt like writing about something similar to work out a fitting solution. But there’d been enough people -- humans and youkai -- involved in this one that it was difficult to narrow it down.

So she’d had to come along herself, walking behind the hurrying Kosuzu and trying to hide her building anticipation. It was rare for her to be visited by someone who remembered one of her past reincarnations, as most of them were youkai that never entered the Village; the idea that there was someone else who remembered the things she did was rather exciting.

She walked into Suzunaan and stopped dead so suddenly that Kosuzu stopped and stared at her in surprise.

Kosuzu’s unusual visitor looked at her with a curious expression. “Are you the author?”

“I-- I am Hieda no Akyuu. I am the author, yes.”

“That’s not the name on the cover, though!” She paused for a moment. “But you got my name wrong, too, so that’s okay! I guess you’re just not good with names!”

Akyuu made an odd choking sound. “I-- Agatha Chris-Q is my pen-name. A pseudonym. The--”

Kosuzu was watching her friend, concerned. Something about this visitor seemed to be upsetting her; she’d never seen her lose control like this.

“Might I ask--” started Akyuu, and then hesitated, and then continued, “Your name--”

“I’m Ellen! Nice to meet you, Akyuu!”

“We’ve met. We met as Hieda no Ayo, and as Hieda no Amu, and as Hiedo no Anana.”

“Have we…?” replied Ellen, confused. “But you’re Akyuu…?”

Akyuu made that same unpleasant sound. “I-- I am the Child of Miare-- you have to remember this--”

“Ah…” Ellen looked unhappy for the first time. “My memory’s been really bad for a while… I can barely remember what I had for breakfast. Or if I had any.”

“That’s-- unfortunate. But you could remember what happened in the book--”

“Only a little bit,” confessed Ellen. “I was just surprised! It’s not often you get to be in a book!”

“--I suppose not. I-- I hope you’re not unhappy with your depiction?”

“I loved it, thank you!” Ellen, placing the book in her basket, stood up, and walked over to Akyuu. “I’m sorry I can’t remember you though. Were we friends?”

“--As Ayo we were acquaintances. As Amu we were friends. As Anana--”

She hesitated. The girl already looked so forlorn, and she could hardly bear it.

“--As Anana, we were merely acquaintances again. It’s good to see you, A-- Ellen.”

“It’s nice to meet you too!” said Ellen. “I hope I can see you when I get the next volume, but I’ve got to go get groceries now! I forgot!”

She ran out of the store and was gone like a summer storm. Akyuu stared blankly into space for a while, then glanced at Kosuzu with a despondent expression.

“I once wondered,” she said quietly, “if I should form friendships with youkai rather than humans. If it was better to form bonds with immortals rather than those I would never see again.”

“Akyuu,” started Kosuzu quietly, “who--”

“But perhaps, if I only formed relationships with humans,” continued Akyuu, voice hoarse, “if I made sure that I would never see the people from each of my lives again… I wonder if that would be better than-- than--”

She slumped to the floor, and began to cry.

Chapter Text

Kyouko ran down the path to Mystia’s food-stand with a sheet of paper in her hand, yelling “Mystia, I wrote a new song!”

Mystia looked back at her in surprise. “You wrote a new song?” she repeated. Usually when Kyouko wanted a new song, she just said what she wanted to be in it and improvised when the time came.

Kyouko hesitated, and then nodded firmly. “I did. I got Ichirin and Shou to help me so that the words would be good, because it’s an important song. But I told them what to write!”

“Well, can I read it then?” Kyouko opened her mouth, and Mystia added, “If we’re going to debut it at our next concert, we wouldn’t wanna spoil anyone beforehand, right?”

Kyouko nodded even faster, and handed over the piece of paper. And Mystia began to whisper to herself, in her quiet, lyrical voice,

“In the silent valleys of distant mountains, no longer do yamabiko sing…”

Kasodani Kyouko had existed for a long time. She had been around since long before Gensokyo had been a thing, fulfilling a simple existence, creating echoes for those wandering in valleys, and occasionally misleading them with misdirected sound. She had lived with a number of other yamabiko upon a small mountain, and she wouldn’t have been able to say how long she’d lived there for.

But it was long ago, in her memory, when she awoke one night and there were less yamabiko than there had been before. She hadn’t understood, then -- indeed, she didn’t quite understand now -- that humans were beginning to not believe in yamabiko. They had turned to a scientific explanation; that sound would naturally reflect off of valley walls. There was no need for the yamabiko in that worldview any longer.

It was like that for many years, the decline of the yamabiko on that mountain, and when there were only a handful of them left, they had followed the tengu of their mountain to Gensokyo.

“In empty streets and quiet woods, no longer do youkai play…”

Mystia, too, had once been only part of a flock of night sparrows. They had lived far from Gensokyo, and although they had not attacked humans directly, they had had great joy in singing to them, confusing them and flocking around them. They had played with other youkai, too; often using their singing to herald the coming of another, more powerful youkai, and occasionally creating a game of luring humans towards or away from the other youkai. It had been a simple existence -- but one day Mystia had found that there were no other powerful youkai anymore.

So she, too, had come to Gensokyo. She’d heard some of the stronger youkai discussing it, and had assumed they had gone there; but when she arrived, she found very few of her old friends had made it. The others were already gone.

“And upon the busy mountain, there is no place for those from lonely mountains…

Where, then, shall we reside, when the world is no more and the youkai forgotten?”

And it had been a rude awakening for them both. Youkai Mountain, as it was called, had been claimed by the territorial tengu and kappa. If they could reside anywhere, they resided in the forests at its base; warned from directly attacking humans, and warned from climbing into the mountain, Kyouko had had a listless existence for many years that had amounted to trying to make what sound she could echo off the trees of Youkai Forest. Her few attempts to leave it, and to approach humans when she saw them usually ended in her being attacked; so she learnt to stay where she was, and to stay silent.

As for Mystia, she’d had slightly more luck. There were many other bird youkai, and she had never directly attacked humans to begin with, so she simply continued to do what she had always done -- but it didn’t feel the same, anymore. Somehow, in coming to Gensokyo, her joy had become an obligation; the truth of her nature was stripped bare, and she was exposed as a fragile creature that existed only to startle humans.

“In the woods! In the temple! And to change and learn and grow--”

Mystia had spent years wandering the forests of Gensokyo before coming to her decision. If she wanted to live as a modern youkai, then she couldn’t just do what she’d always done. She’d have to change; and once she’d made that decision, she had decided what she’d want to do, and what she’d want to be.

She found purpose in fishing, even if she was bad at it; she found purpose in using her powers to lure people to her lamprey stall, and more purpose in finding that she was pleasantly surprised that she was doing well. Despite being a youkai, she had become somewhat popular even with the humans, and it felt… good. It felt good to have chosen to do something, and to have done it. It was the first decision she had ever made -- not as a night sparrow, but as Mystia Lorelei.

Kyouko had seen the ship flying through the air and thought nothing of it, but when rumours emerged of a Temple for youkai, she’d gone almost immediately. She had still been striving for companionship, and she’d hoped she would find other yamabiko there, if nothing else.

She hadn’t, but she’d found other friends; all the youkai of the Temple were happy to welcome her, and even if sometimes the sermons were boring or confusing, and she didn’t really understand a lot of what the Head Priest was saying, she still felt happy in a way that she hadn’t since she’d left her mountain all those years ago.

“And next to you, singing with you, is the place that I belong.”

Mystia was blushing a little bit at that one. She’d definitely have to go to the Myouren Temple later and find out how much of this was added dramatic flourish on their part.

But she put the paper down, and was silent for a moment. She and the yamabiko had met only a few years ago, and although they’d quickly become friends, it wasn’t until Kyouko had suggested a band to ease her worries of some of the more stressful parts of her life in the Temple that they’d really begun hanging out. It simply wasn’t typical for individual youkai to interact; but Gensokyo was a place where those sorts of rules had fallen apart.

So they’d made a band, and it was surprisingly popular, in spite of the complaints. Mystia’s food-stall was popular, too; and Kyouko seemed happy at the Temple. Somehow, though, Mystia hadn’t realised how much all of that must have meant to her friend; or to herself, for that matter.

Her friend was watching her. “You wrote this?” repeated Mystia quietly.

“I… I said what I wanted to be in it,” confessed Kyouko. “But I mean everything in it. …You like it, don’t you?”

“Of course I like it,” said Mystia, and then smiled. “I think it’ll be interesting to add it to our lineup, but… I’m happy you wrote it, and showed it to me. And I’m happy you’re here, and that we can sing it together. Thanks, Kyouko.”

Chapter Text

It had been ten years to the day that Konpaku Youki had left a note on the door saying that he was leaving, and that Youmu would be taking over Yuyuko’s training until he returned.

The young half-phantom sat outside Hakugyokurou, staring across the empty garden at the lifeless Saigyou Ayakashi. She barely reacted when the mistress of the house sat down next to her.

“Youmu~!” she said cheerfully. “I was thinking, since it’s such a lovely day, we skip the training for today~”

Youmu didn’t reply, and Yuyuko frowned. She’d been sure that would snap her out of it -- usually, any attempt at avoiding the arduous training was met with an insistent rebuttal.


She tapped the girl on the shoulder, and she started. “Uh-- ehh, skipping training? Lady Yuyuko, you know--” Youmu hesitated, and then went quiet for a moment. “That’s fine,” she eventually mumbled.

“Is it?”

“I don’t think I can train you anymore, Lady Yuyuko.”

The ghost blinked at her young guardian in surprise. “And why’s that?”

“I’m not doing a good job.”

Yuyuko’s frown deepened. This seemed to be severe.

“Nonsense, Youmu~! I’ve learnt everything that you’ve taught me! And you’re easier to learn from than that stuffy old Youki, anyway. I’d much rather--”

She paused, because Youmu had begun crying.

“He’ll come back, you know. I’m sure of it.”

“I miss him…” murmured Youmu. “He’d know what to do… I don’t know what to do…”

“You’re doing fine, Youmu. And I’m not joking when I say that you’re better to learn from than he was.”

“But… I can’t teach you what he could. I don’t know everything that he did. I’ll never be as good as him, and I’ll never be able to teach you like he could.”

Yuyuko was quiet for a little while, thinking. Just as Youmu had been entrusted with her care, she’d been entrusted with Youmu’s care. And even if she hadn’t, she didn’t like seeing her like this. She wasn’t totally certain how Youmu felt about her, but she considered Youmu to be her friend as much as anything else.

Momentarily, she stood up and went back into the mansion, leaving Youmu to stare out into space. Then, after a few minutes, she called out, “Youmu, could you come and help me for a moment~?”

The half-phantom immediately jumped up and rushed inside to see Yuyuko making tea. “Lady Yuyuko, you called…?”

“Well,” said Yuyuko, “I thought if we’re not going to be training today, we should do something fun instead. Perhaps we could stroll through the gardens, and look at all your hard work there… Unless you have something else in mind?”

Youmu hesitated. “A walk in the gardens sounds lovely, Lady Yuyuko.”

Yuyuko poured the tea into two large, thick cups. “We can drink as we walk, too. It’s a bit unusual, but… it’s a bit cold outside, Youmu, and I think it’d be nice to have something warm to drink. Don’t you agree?”

“Absolutely, Lady Yuyuko.”

Yuyuko took a small cup from a shelf and added, “Yukari tells me that in distant countries, they put all sorts of things in their tea. Some of them put in sugar, or milk, or honey. Would you like to try any of those?” Youmu looked conflicted, so Yuyuko added, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, you know.”

“…Wouldn’t they end up being too sweet for tea, Lady Yuyuko?”

“Nothing wrong with that~” replied Yuyuko cheerfully, picking out a trio of sugarcubes from the cup and dropping them into her cup. “The most important thing is to enjoy oneself, I think.”

“…I’ll be fine, Lady Yuyuko.”

“If you say so, Youmu.”

And then they were wandering the gardens of Hakugyokurou. It was autumn, and the crimson leaves of the trees gave the Netherworld a more lively feeling than in the dead winter.

“Don’t you think it’s beautiful here, Youmu?”

“I… suppose it is, Lady Yuyuko.”

“It’s all thanks to you, you know.”

Youmu hesitated again. “That’s not truly the case, Lady Yuyuko. I’m only building on what Youki left. And--”

“The gardens were never so beautiful when he was around, though,” remarked Yuyuko. “In only ten years, you’ve made them more vibrant than ever. And the same is true of your swordsmanship. Your style is far more beautiful than his, and--”

“But I’m not as good as him!” yelled Youmu, and Yuyuko paused in surprise.

Then she smiled. “You’re not, no,” she agreed. “But you’ll be better than he was, in time.”

“That’s not true.”

“Disagreeing with your mistress?” teased Yuyuko, and the already pale Youmu went completely white. “Oh, don’t worry so much, Youmu. But I’m not lying. You’re already better than him in some respects, and you’ll definitely surpass him. And do you want to know how I know that?”

Youmu was quiet, but she nodded once, slowly.

“It’s because you care, Youmu. Youki was capable, and talented, but he only ever used what he learnt, and never improved upon it. And he knew that, just as I know it. That’s why he made you his protege, and why he knew you could look after Hakugyokurou -- not to mention its hopeless mistress.” She closed her eyes, and smiled, as much to herself as for Youmu’s sake. “It’s because you care that you’ll continue to grow, where he never could. And it’s because you care that you’ll surpass him.”

Youmu took a sip from her tea, and for a few minutes, they simply walked through the garden in silence. But at last, the half-phantom broke it.

“…Thank you, Lady Yuyuko,” she said quietly. “But we should finish this walk soon. After all, we still have the afternoon’s training to complete.”


Chapter Text

She was wandering through an empty city. The lights were gone; the buildings crumbling. It was bathed in moonlight. All she could hear were her own footsteps and the wind. But she could see -- oh, she could see everything. Tiny lines that crossed every surface, blinding her, overwhelming her, a nightmarish kaleidoscope of colour that was there one moment and gone the next.

She tripped over something and fell to the ground with a thud. The grass was soft. The concrete beneath it was not, and she bit her tongue.

Normally she would have woken from the dream at that point, but this was no ordinary dream, she was no ordinary dreamer. So she pulled herself up and kept wandering, no destination. She tried to remember how she got there and couldn’t. She tried to remember where she was going and couldn’t.

There was something in the distance, atop the tallest of the decaying skyscrapers. She narrowed her eyes, tried to focus--

She sat up on her bed. Something was wrong. She could still see those tiny fractures across the world, the joints holding reality together. She reached out to touch one and it splintered, a spiderweb across the fabric of the universe. The cracks spread and spread and spread until everything she saw was broken, and then suddenly the facade fell away, and she was left in an empty white space.

No. Not quite empty. What was that--

She drank slowly, carefully. She was worried about her powers. The dreams had rattled her.

Next to her, Renko whispered consoling things, but when she turned to look at her, her face was fractured--

She was running through a forest. Strange voices yelled behind her, and she tripped over a root and fell. Strange people in ancient clothing gathered around her, pointing crude weapons at her.

“I only wanted to help!” cried a voice, her own. “I didn’t know--”

They said something she couldn’t understand, that she could understand -- “You are a monster! You killed her!”

One of them pierced her heart with the spear, and she screamed, but rather than blood what came out was an endless gushing black liquid that washed over everything--

She sat upon the peak of a mountain, looking out into the distance. As far as she looked there was nothing but clouds. This could have been the dawn of existence, for all she knew; the world before life, before humanity, before the gods.

There was something behind her. She didn’t know how she knew that, but she knew it. The fractures across reality told her, their infinitesimal vibrations singing to her in voices only she could understand. It was more than she could bear, and she bore it effortlessly.

“Who are you?”

The other person didn’t reply. She examined the cracks in front of her, and one sang to her differently. She grabbed it, and tore it apart, and the world around her faded into a backdrop of emptiness. A hollow black space filled with stars.

“Who are you?”

Even now she struggled to look at the creature in front of her. It was a cluster of colours; a nebula of imagination; at one moment human, at another a tapir, and at another something else; and all those moments were one.

“My name is Doremy Sweet. I rule the world of dreams.”

“So this is a dream?”

“What else could it be?”

“So why am I here?”

“Is it not enough for you to be dreaming?”

“If I were simply dreaming, you wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be able to feel pain.” She pinched herself, and winced. “I would wake up. You wanted to talk to me.”

“I wanted to show you something.”

“And did you?”

“More or less.”

“So what now?”

The creature’s laugh echoed from every corner of existence, vibrating through every string in creation, vibrating through her body until it unravelled--

“I want to make an offer. The things I have shown you are the consequences of what will come. I can change that fate.”


“I will seal your dreams, and I will seal your mind, and I will seal your powers. If you let me in, I will save you. You can escape from the darkness you are destined for.”

“And if I refuse?”

The silence permeated everything; it felt like it lasted a second; it felt like it lasted an eternity.

“Why would you refuse? Don’t tell me you want this to happen?”

“I have been visited by the ruler of dreams,” and her voice sounded strange, even to herself, “and she has made an offer to me. So I must ask -- why? What does she want from me?”

“I want to save you.”


A crack appeared across the shape of the baku.

“What am I going to do that scares you so much?”

Another crack. In the fractures between them, a billion images could be seen, slowly fading.

“If you won’t tell me--”

A third crack. The creature was barely visible now, but it was muttering to itself.

“I was too late,” it whispered, “I was already too late--”

“--I’m going to find out.”

Her eyes shone violet as a fourth crack tore the creature’s image apart, and the fractures spread between the stars until there was nothing left to see but a trillion reflections.

“You’ll regret doing this.”

“I’ll regret it if I don’t, too.”

She reached outwards, and everything began to collapse like shattered glass--

And she woke up screaming, drenched in sweat.

Chapter Text

Mokou had brought the Outsider, Sumireko, deep into the Bamboo Forest against her own intuition. She’d asked for it the night before, saying that she wanted to “prepare for something” and that she needed to do it in the Forest. Mokou wasn’t the type to pry, but she couldn’t deny she was curious.

Which was why it was deflating when, after they’d set up a small campfire, Sumireko had asked if she knew any scary stories.

“It’s about the Ghost Story Festival, huh,” she said.

“It’s just… I don’t know any scary stories that’d be scary to youkai,” explained Sumireko. “All the ones I know are about video games or stuff.”

“So you wanted me to help you think some up?”


Mokou looked around at the looming forest. “And we had to do it here?”

“It’s not a scary story if you’re not telling it around a campfire in the woods!” declared Sumireko confidently, adding, “…Or so I’ve heard. And I figure better to come here with someone who knows this place than try my luck with Gensokyo’s other forests.”

Mokou couldn’t deny the reasoning in that. “So, do you have any ideas for any, or…?”

“I was, uh, kinda hoping you had some. I’ll just tweak them a little, and--”

“You’re gonna steal my stories?”

“Oh, uh--”

The girl looked so humiliated that Mokou immediately relented. “I’m only joking. I’m sure that something I’ve got to say will inspire you to come up with something. And I have got a lot of old stories…” She frowned to herself. “I never get invited to stuff like this, either. Only person I’ve told any of my stories to lately is Keine, and she’s not easily spooked, so I dunno what’s really scary or not.”

“Well, take your best crack at it!”

Mokou was silent for a long moment.

“Well,” she said finally, “so a long time ago, a bunch of soldiers came into the forest where I was living, and they were being kind of loud, so I killed ‘em.”

Sumireko was silent for a long moment.

“Did that… happen often…?”

“Pretty often, yeah.” The other girl looked kind of alarmed, and Mokou sighed. “I’ve been alive for a long time. If it’s any consolation, back then, pretty much everyone had done something awful.”

“Had they?”

Mokou shrugged. “Like I said, probably. I’m sure we could come up with something. Like, if this were a ghost story, what’d they have done?”

“Uh…” Sumireko considered for a moment, but she’d been distracted, and that was good enough for now. “Maybe… they’d disrespected the forest, and you k-- you attacked them out of revenge, or something…?”

Mokou shrugged. “Pretty sure I was just hungry, but that works.”

“You still get hungry?” asked Sumireko, surprised.

“I still get hungry, yeah,” replied Mokou. “I still feel pain, I still get hungry. I still forget things. I’m human in every way that matters except the important ones.”

“The important ones?”

“Never mind. Anyway, you mentioned them refusing food, or something…”

They whiled away an hour or so at that story, until they finally had something they liked.

“So, running it over one last time…” started Sumireko.

“There were a bunch of asshole soldiers who refused a couple of people food after taking all their stuff,” replied Mokou, “so I told ‘em to trade everything had in exchange for food and water, and when they gave me all their stuff I said ‘You still have one last thing to give.’ and burnt ‘em up, right?”

“Right!” said Sumireko. “Though, it’d have to be longer than that, but I’ll work it out… the festival’s still a few days away, after all.”

“Y’know, since it’s my story, I should really be the one telling it.”

Sumireko considered for a moment. “If we practice beforehand, maybe I could be the narrator and you could do the voices or something?”

“Oh, that’s good, I could do that…” Mokou sighed. “We should’ve invited Keine, she’s got some great stories. We coulda come up with a whole bunch of ‘em to tell.”

“Maybe next time…” sighed Sumireko with her. “Though, she’s a youkai, and going into this Forest with a youkai is…”

Mokou stared at her for a moment, and then began laughing, the sounds echoing far throughout the trees.

“What’s so funny?” asked Sumireko.

“It’s just,” replied Mokou, “that it’s weird to think of Keine as a youkai, and myself a human. To most people it’s the other way around.”

“But everyone I’ve seen treats you normally…?”

“Reimu treats everyone pretty much the same, and most of the others follow her lead,” mused Mokou. “But that’s only been happening since she’s been around. It’s been a long time since I’ve been considered human, and longer still since I was one.”

Sumireko was silent.

“I’ve done some horrid things, y’know. I was more of a monster than the youkai were. And we can twist that story to be about some kinda comeuppance, but when it came down to it, I killed those people, and a lot of others, just to satisfy a hunger that didn’t need satisfaction. But you got used to that, being immortal.”

Mokou gazed into the flickering campfire.

“You start thinking of everyone around you as only being around for a short time, so it stops mattering if they die. It stops mattering if you kill them. It’s like everyone else around you is just a tiny little flame, waiting to be snuffed out.”

“And you’re a fire?” Her voice was quiet.

Mokou glanced up into Sumireko’s pale face. “I’m not a fire. A fire lasts for a few moments, burns brilliantly, and then it’s gone. Being immortal’s more like smoke… you linger around, getting thinner and thinner, until finally there’s nothing left of what you once were, and you don’t know what you are anymore.” She glanced upwards again, reaching out as if to grab the trail of the campfire’s smoke as it vanished into the sky. “But that’s fine. I lost the right to call myself human on Fujisan. And I don’t really mind being what I am now. Ever since Kaguya showed up again, I’ve been having more fun than I have in centuries.”

She grinned, and looked back down at Sumireko, who was still silent.

“Sorry, guess that was a bit much?”

“Oh, no, it’s just… I hadn’t really thought about it…”

“Don’t worry about it,” insisted Mokou. “I don’t normally talk about myself that much anyway… Though, I don’t really talk to people who know I’m immortal, either. Maybe it’s just ‘cause I was thinking about my past…” She shook her head to clear it. “Doesn’t matter. Anyway, how about you?”

Sumireko blinked in surprise. “What about me?” she repeated.

“Yeah, what about you? Don’t you know any Outside World scary stories? I know you said they’d be too difficult to understand, but we can probably try and make one into something they’d get at the festival, right?”

“Well,” replied Sumireko, the tension vanishing like drifting smoke, as she pulled her phone from her pocket, “I’ve got a few good ones written down in here…”

Chapter Text

There was something moving in the field of lilies-of-the-valley.

It shuffled around, crawling under the flowers, moving aimlessly back and forth. The doll youkai, Medicine Melancholy, considered going over to it, but she relented. She didn’t know who it was, after all. She’d only left the Nameless Hill a few times, but that had been enough to realise that there were some really strong people outside of it; and although she’d fight them if they tried to take her flowers without permission, she didn’t want to start anything.

It was all part of what that weird woman had told her, years ago. She needed to open her heart, and consider others… or something. Otherwise, she’d never be able to liberate her fellow dolls! But despite leaving her field every so often, it seemed like nothing had really changed. She was still seen as a dangerous, poisonous doll; how was she meant to open herself up to others if they wouldn’t let her in?

Whatever it was shuffled around a little more, and she began to frown. Surely it was being affected by the poison? But it seemed totally unharmed. Was it possible that it was like her?

She gasped slightly, and whatever it was paused, and then began shuffling steadily towards her. Had it been looking for her? Was it going to attack her?

It stopped a few feet away. She could just about make a shape underneath the dense flowers…

A girl in blue suddenly jumped out of the flowers, yelling “SURPRISE!”

Startled, Medicine fell backwards, and knocked her head against the ground.

When she came to a few moments later, the girl was leaning over her. She looked human, other than her mismatched eyes, so Medicine was immediately suspicious. It was rare for powerful youkai to approach the Nameless Hill these days.

“Are you out to get me?” she asked.

The other youkai blinked. “I’m here to get you!” she confirmed. “I’m trying to find all of Gensokyo’s tsukumogami, and I was told there was a doll youkai here, so here I am!”

“You won’t take me without a fight!” declared Medicine. “Poison Sign--”

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!” yelled the other youkai. “I think there’s been a mistake! Also, uh, I don’t think you’re meant to open with a Spell Card…” She hesitated for a moment, and Medicine calmed slightly, watching her. Then she stuck out her hand. “I’m a fellow tsukumogami! Tatara Kogasa!”

“Tsuku… mogami…?”

“It’s what we are! When something’s abandoned, after a long time it becomes a tsukumogami!”

Medicine had never realised that there was a name for what she was. She’d only ever been referred to as a doll youkai. She blinked at this other youkai who claimed to be like she was.

“You were abandoned? Like I was?”

Kogasa hesitated again. “I was,” she said, after a while. “A long time ago, though. That’s what it means to be a tsukumogami, after all. It means you’re a spirit that bears a grudge against humans.”

Medicine’s eyes shone. “A grudge against humans!” she repeated. “I’ve got a grudge against humans! I want to save all dolls from human ownership so they’re not mistreated!”

Kogasa stared at her for a long moment, and Medicine suddenly felt like she’d done something wrong. “We shouldn’t bear a grudge,” she said quietly. She sat down next to Medicine and gazed out over the flowers.


“But you can’t help it,” continued Kogasa. “I mean, it’s why we exist, after all. It’s why I scare people. But all that scaring people… I hoped it’d make people treat umbrellas better, but I don’t think it really did.”

Medicine was silent.

Kogasa suddenly grinned. “But that’s why I came up here, I almost forgot! We’ve got a group for tsukumogami, and I want to invite you to join!”

“A group for tsukumogami?”

“Yeah! It was set up by a drum tsukumogami named Raiko! She’s really smart. She told me, ‘There’s no point in holding a grudge against humans. Being a tsukumogami means working out who you are, and what you wanna do, and everything else’ll flow naturally from there.’”

“But I want to save the other dolls!” insisted Medicine.

“And I wanna save all the umbrellas, and all the other tools that humans throw away without thinking,” agreed Kogasa. “And I don’t think Raiko really gets the grudge that us older tsukumogami have. But… I think she’s right. If we wanna save the other tools, we gotta save ourselves, first.”

Medicine stared at her blankly, and Kogasa blushed.

“Ah, I tried to say something kinda mentor-y, but it didn’t really work…”

“I want to go.”


“I want to go and meet the other tsukumogami!” repeated Medicine loudly. “They didn’t let me into the village, and none of the other youkai like me, but-- but if it’s other youkai like me, then maybe--”

Then maybe they’d let her in. Maybe she’d finally be able to open her heart, and understand what she’d been told, long ago.

Kogasa grinned cheerfully. “You got it, then! Follow me~!”

And the abandoned umbrella began to walk back down the hill, and after a final moment’s hesitation, the abandoned doll followed her.

Chapter Text

Something was watching from the shadows of the village. Things that had long since fallen into fantasy, that felt without feeling, that thought without thinking. But they watched, silently, observing the humans as their stray spirits wandered aimlessly.

None of the humans saw them. They were simply objects to them; something left and forgotten, hidden in a small wooden case in an empty house. They had slipped into this world centuries before; and the sixty-six gods within them had been dormant much longer, but they were awakening, ever-so-slightly, every year.

Sixty-six identities became one, and were still sixty-six. Something was watching the humans of the village with two eyes and sixty-six faces, and it was never seen.

Humans grinning. Humans laughing. Humans frowning. Humans crying. Humans yelling. Humans screaming.

These are recorded. These are remembered. There are no names for each of these, and they do not understand what lies behind the changing faces. But their faces can change, too. There is a face that matches each of these faces.

A face that grins. A face that laughs. A face that frowns. A face that cries. A face that yells. A face that screams.

There were so many faces for them to learn!

Many years passed. The box lay empty, its masks gone. They moved around as one, a strange shape, half-glimpsed in the shadows. It watched people grin, and laugh, and frown, and cry, and yell, and scream. It began to understand, gradually, why they did this. The emotions possessed by humans compelled them to make faces.

It experimented, to no success. It didn’t understand.

But in that moment, perhaps it had its first emotion. What was it? Was it jealousy? Envy? No; those were too harsh for a pure desire. It was admiration; the sheer joy of beholding someone who could do what you could not, and wishing that you could.

It continued to watch people. It saw people when they were young, and it saw people when they were old. It began to emerge more and more, unseen; a creature so natural to see as a friend’s smile when you gave them good news, or a child’s frown when you told them that the rain would keep them inside that day.

One day it saw masks like hers, worn on the faces of humans. They performed strange movements on a raised platform, and the people watching them made many different faces -- sometimes smiling, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. It wondered what this was; something so like itself. It followed the masked people, following them to their homes, but they were simply ordinary people, and without the masks, they made the same expressions as others.

But something was placed onto the box that had once contained its masks. A scroll depicting movements similar to the ones that the masked people had been doing.

Sixty-six gods came together as one. There was a shape on the scroll. A human with long hair. A wide dress. Holding fans. An empty expression on her face.

It copied one of the movements. And another. And another. Expressionlessly, it experienced another emotion. Elation.

Something watches it from through the keyhole of the abandoned building’s door, and smiles. The unseen spirits were seen, and encouraged, and she who was unseen by the unseen is pleased.

The figure continues to dance, sixty-six masks in fluid motion. The shapeless takes shape. A transparent form is filled with colour.

Every night, she dances in that forgotten building. Every day, she watches the people of the village.

She still cannot control her emotions. She still only has the vaguest idea of what they are; but she sees the smiles and the laughter; the frowns and the tears; the yells and the screams. She knows that they are important. She begins to understand why they occur. She begins to understand which mask reflects which emotion.

She begins to imitate them. Sixty-six masks form sixty-six experiences.

A mask for smiling, for happiness. A mask for laughing, for elation. A mask for frowning, for sadness. A mask for crying, for loss. A mask for yelling, for anger. A mask for screaming, for fear.

She learns a little bit more from the scroll. She begins to read what it says; she begins to understand what it means. She begins to speak; sounds emerging from a mouth that can move. Eyes that can blink. Fingers that can flex. Legs that can run.

And then…

The unseen is seen. Sixty-six masks become sixty-five, before she even realises. Suddenly, she feels everything, everything that had been contained in her masks. She understands, instinctively, what she must do.

For the sake of the humans that she cherishes, and their emotions that she admires…!

Chapter Text

“Suwako, do you think I’m old-fashioned?”

Kanako had seemed to be in an odd mood all day; untalkative and distracted. She hadn’t even gone out to make much of a presence for the people who were taking the trip up to the Moriya Shrine, instead wandering listlessly in the rooms they used behind it. It had taken until the Sun had set, and for the two of them to be eating dinner, for Suwako to finally ask her what had happened -- but she hadn’t expected something like this.

“Old-fashioned?” repeated Suwako. “In what way?”

Kanako hesitated, and then gestured vaguely. “In my… in my methods, I suppose.”

Suwako narrowed her eyes. “Someone told you that you were old-fashioned, huh.”

“I’m trying to modernise!” replied Kanako, irritated. “I’m trying to become a god of innovation, but how am I supposed to do that when some random human has the audacity to call me old-fashioned?! Hell, how am I meant to modernise, then?”

“Did you ask her that?” asked Suwako, smirking. Kanako had come back from a drinking party at the Hakurei Shrine a few days ago in a sour mood, and it seemed that here was the reason why. She’d been out-talked by a sixteen-year-old.

“She said I should try social media.”

Suwako began laughing. “Gods on social media?” Then she paused. “Actually, would that work?”

“I doubt we’d be able to get enough followers for it to really do much of anything,” replied Kanako distractedly. “But the fact of the matter is…” She sighed. “I’d been considering it for a while, really. I can make myself a god of technological innovation, but a lot of the ‘innovations’ that we’re using are things that the humans have invented first. It’s a source of faith that only works so long as we remain in Gensokyo.”

Suwako began to see the problem. “Ah… so that’s it. Even if we can tie ourselves to the technology of the Outside World, we still won’t have a consistent source of faith from them.”

“It’s not even truly consistent here,” added Kanako. “The youkai have faith in us, but our innovations haven’t brought much to the villagers. Nor can they, because it would cause a reorganisation of their society that would cause trouble for the youkai that depend upon them. And faith from humans is always going to be more valuable than from youkai dependent on that faith themselves.” She sighed. “They believe in us, but they only believe in us because we’re already here.”

“Having faith in a god because you know they exist, huh…” murmured Suwako. “I suppose that is somewhat old-fashioned.”

“And I don’t see a way out of it, either. We can remain in Gensokyo, get what faith we can simply for being here, and maybe scrape together a bit extra on the side by selling technology to the kappa, but…”

“Then we’ll just have to come up with something else. Cold fusion didn’t work, but there’s a hundred other options for things that can only be done here. Like Hisou Tensoku. We just need to innovate in the ways that humans can’t.” She jumped up, her food half-eaten, and wandered over to the door. Outside, the stars were shining, brighter than they ever had in the polluted Outside World.

“It’s not like you to be worried about something like this,” continued Suwako, glancing back at her. “You’ve always been more ready to act than I have. It’s one of the things I can’t stand about you, really. But you’re getting yourself all tangled up in the way that gods work in the Outside World.”

Kanako walked over and sat down on the steps next to her. “So I should just accept that this is how it is?”

“Huh? Absolutely not!” Suwako stretched out her arms wide, gesturing at the sky above them. “It means that if we want to get more faith, then we’ll just have to do things that haven’t been done before! All your ideas -- giving that Hell raven the power of Yatagarasu, building a ropeway from the ground to our Shrine -- it’s all stuff that no-one else would have thought up! And even if it’s not having the results we wanted… that’s no reason to stop trying.”

Kanako began quietly laughing to herself, and Suwako glanced down at her.

“Hey, I’m being sincere here. ‘Sides, it was your idea to bring us here in the first place.”

“I did it for you as well, you realise.”

“I didn’t ask for you to do it, though, so it’s still your responsibility.”

“I suppose so…” replied Kanako, half-jokingly. Then, she stood up again. “I almost forgot why we came here in the first place. Gensokyo’s an old-fashioned place, but that’s what we needed.”

“Exactly. So why should you care if some faithless human says you’re old-fashioned? That just means we fit right in.”

“Better than that. It means that our so-called old-fashioned thinking is going to be able to modernise this place. And it might not be in the same way as the Outside World, but that’s better.” Kanako grinned. “It’ll be on our terms, this time. The way that we want it, so that we don’t get left behind again. Even if that turns out to be old-fashioned.”

Suwako grinned back at her. “Some old-fashioned innovation, then?”

“Old-fashioned gods of innovation…” murmured Kanako, still smiling to herself. “I think we could manage that.”

Chapter Text

Youmu had only been to Eientei a few times, so she was surprised when a youkai rabbit came into the depths of the Netherworld to invite her to visit. But whether due to curiosity or politeness, she wasn’t the type to refuse, so she followed the rabbit back into the world of the living, through the Bamboo Forest, until she came upon the house hidden away in its depths.

Two of its residents were waiting for her -- Yagokoro Eirin, a tall woman with a deceptively youthful face, dressed in her usual red and black; and Reisen Udongein Inaba, a much shorter woman with long violet hair, currently dressed in a long, dull brown dress with specks of dirt across its surface.

Eirin smiled at her as she approached, then nodded at Reisen. “Udonge here was wondering if you could assist her with a project of hers.”

“A project…?” repeated Youmu.

“We’ve been trying to grow trees from the Lunar Capital,” explained Reisen. “But… not very successfully. Lady Eirin, are you sure--”

“The Netherworld and the Capital are both Pure Lands, even if the Capital is merely an artificial one,” interrupted Eirin calmly. “In lieu of taking the seeds to the Netherworld and attempting to grow them there, the more reasonable course of action is to bring its gardener here and see if she has any advice. Now, I’ll leave you to it, Udonge. It’s your project, after all.” She nodded at Youmu once again, and then walked back inside, leaving the two of them staring at each other awkwardly.

The most words that Youmu had ever exchanged with Reisen was probably during their first meeting, in which she and her Lady Yuyuko had come to restore the full moon that Eientei had stolen. It was a simple matter of necessity -- outside of parties, which the residents of Eientei rarely attended anyway, they only really entered the village to sell medicine; and the residents of the Netherworld naturally had no need for medicine.

After a moment, Reisen said, “Well, if you’ll follow me,” and began to walk around Eientei, Youmu following. She led her around to a small clearing behind the mansion, where a pair of plots had been dug into the ground. Small signs in a language Youmu couldn’t read stuck out of the dirt, but nothing else was growing.

Reisen sighed. “We got a bunch of seeds from the Capital a few years back, but they haven’t been growing…” she said. “We even tried using soil from the-- Hey!”

Youmu had walked over to one of the plots and, before Reisen realised what she was doing, stuck her arm straight into the dirt next to one of the signs, and pulled out a perfectly intact seed. It was almost completely round, and a dull silvery colour that sparkled in what little sunlight penetrated this far into the Forest.

“Seeds from the Moon…” murmured Youmu, and then placed it gently back on top of the dirt. “How many are there…?”

Reisen blinked at her in disbelief. “Uh… ten. Five on each side.”

Youmu sat down on the rough ground looking at the two bare rectangles of dirt. “We need better soil…” she said quietly. “There’s not enough life in the soil.”

“Enough life…?” repeated Reisen.

Youmu nodded. “I don’t think these are going to grow without a lot of life energy, and there isn’t much of that around Eientei… But if we could get some soil from the Garden of the Sun, and bring along some fairies, that should help a lot…” She blinked, and stared up at Reisen. “We need to take the seeds out before we can dig up the soil.”

Reisen blinked back at her, and then nodded. “Do you want me to go get a shovel, or…?”

“I don’t know where the other seeds are,” said Youmu. “So, um, I was hoping you could do that, and I’ll ask… if you told me you wanted me to help with this, I’d have brought my own tools…”

“We did tell the rabbit we sent to get you,” remarked Reisen, “but it seems like she forgot.”


It took a few minutes for Youmu to gather all of Eientei’s gardening tools together and carry them, but by the time she was done Reisen was carefully extracting the last of the Moon seeds. They sat in a small heap on top of the dirt where Youmu had placed the first of them; and from a distance the pale silver seeds seemed more like tiny moons than anything else.

Youmu gently moved them off the dirt and onto the ground next to them, then handed Reisen one of the larger shovels she had been able to find, and they began digging, each to their own plot.

“So when did you get these…?” asked Youmu, as they dug.

“Oh, uh, Lady Sagume gave them to me,” replied Reisen. “During the aftermath of the Urban Legend incident, I went back up to the Capital for… reasons… and I was given these as a reward. A reminder of home, I suppose.”

Youmu frowned. “Why didn’t you stay there, then?”

“It’s not really my home anymore,” said Reisen quietly. “Eientei is. Gensokyo is. The Lunar Capital… isn’t where I belong anymore.”

Youmu was quiet.

“Have you lived in the Netherworld your entire life?” asked Reisen after a while.

“Huh? Uh, yes!” The question took Youmu by surprise, and she swung her shovel out too early, throwing the dirt behind her into the excavated section of her plot. As she resumed her rhythm, tidying up the pile she’d created, she continued, “I’ve been there my entire life… I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, though. I don’t know how you did it.”

Reisen frowned, more to herself than to Youmu. “I only came down to Earth because I was a coward. I heard the Wakatsukis talking about an invasion, and thought I was going to have to fight. It’s what we were trained for, but when it came down to it…”

Youmu was silent again for a long while, but just as Reisen was about to start another conversation, the half-phantom spoke.

“If you like it more here then it must have been worth it, though.”

Reisen laughed quietly. “It was, I suppose. It’s just a bit embarrassing. At least the Moon rabbits that came after me have an excuse. All I can really say is that I got here first.”

Youmu didn’t reply to that either, but Reisen was beginning to understand that when she went quiet, it wasn’t because she didn’t have anything to say -- rather, she was quietly thinking to herself about the best way to say things. If she was half-baked, it was only because people didn’t give her enough time.

They continued to dig, until they’d dug rectangular holes roughly a foot deep.

“Aren’t these too deep…?” asked Reisen, climbing out. “I thought you should only plant seeds a little bit so that they can catch the Sun…”

Youmu shook her head. “We don’t have any trays, so we’re planting them directly. But we’ll be using soil from the Garden of the Sun, and that should infuse it with enough life energy to get them sprouting. We just need to make sure that the roots can get a lot of that soil before they get into Eientei’s.”

“Is it really that bad?”

Youmu nodded without looking up at her. Then, she pulled herself out of her own hole, dusted herself off, and looked up at the sky. The Sun was hanging high above them, its rays barely piercing the thick bamboo that clustered around Eientei.

“We should get going…” she said. “It’ll take some time to get to the Garden and get what we need…” She suddenly looked around. “Do you have a wheelbarrow?”

“We’re doing that today?” asked Reisen. It’s not that she was tired, but she’d been expecting Youmu to get the soil the next day, or something like that.

Youmu frowned at her. “I can’t leave Lady Yuyuko for too long,” she said. “And I have my own responsibilities, too.”

Reisen nodded. “I’ll see what I can do, then.”

In the end, she managed to find a large empty bathtub, and, with the help of a few of the other youkai rabbits, placed it on top of one of Kaguya’s Moon Exploration Vehicles and dragged it with Youmu to the Garden.

When they returned to Eientei, with a bathtub full of top-quality soil, and trailed by a handful of curious fairies, the Sun was already beginning to vanish behind the mountains that surrounded Gensokyo.

And they began to shovel again.

“What makes this dirt so much better than the dirt here, anyway?” asked Reisen.

“It’s full of blood,” stated Youmu matter-of-factly. “According to Lady Yuyuko, it’s been a popular place for youkai to battle for a very long time, so there’s been a lot of blood spilt over it. Makes the youkai plants grow faster, and those types of plants make other plants grow, too. I always go there when I need to replant a tree.”

Reisen frowned at the soil that she was shovelling. It looked like regular dirt to her. “This isn’t going to turn our seeds into youkai trees, is it?”

“Not if you don’t feed them any more blood,” replied Youmu.

When they had filled the holes about two-thirds of the way, Youmu and Reisen carefully placed the seeds in. And as they resumed piling on the dirt, Youmu asked, “So why are you planting these?”

Reisen blinked at her. “Because-- because Lady Sagume gave them to me.”

“Is that all?”

And it could have been left there. If Reisen had confirmed herself, Youmu would have believed it.


Youmu continued to dig.

“When I was back at the Capital, I realised -- a few things. It’s not where I belong anymore, but I couldn’t stay there if I wanted to. They reject beings of impurity, and by exposing myself to Earth, I’ve become impure. Which is… fine. But then, why did Lady Sagume give me these seeds? Seeds that could only grow on the Moon?”

She frowned to herself.

“It was either a gift or a challenge,” she continued. “But… Lady Sagume accepted that I’d become an Earth rabbit. I don’t want to let her down.”

Youmu paused in her digging. “You don’t want to let her down?”

“I think so. They’re my reward.”

Youmu nodded. “That makes sense,” she said, and continued digging.

By the time they were done, and Youmu was drawing careful grooves in the surface of the soil with a small trowel, the moonlight was already shining through the bamboo.

The two of them looked down at the two patches with satisfaction.

“Hey, Youmu,” started Reisen, “thank you.”

“We don’t know if it’ll grow yet…” replied Youmu quietly. “I’ve never grown something from the Moon… um, just make sure they get watered regularly. Or, um, does it rain on the Moon…?”

“I’ll water them as much as they’d get watered on the Moon,” replied Reisen. “I used to do a bit of the Wakatsukis’ gardening, just… never the planting. Things on the Moon didn’t really grow or die, after all. They just… continued.”

“But these are going to grow,” said Youmu thoughtfully. “They’re going to be something different to what would grow on the Moon.”

Reisen glanced up at the moonlight, and then turned away from it, back towards the front of Eientei. “I think that’s fine. Hopefully, they’ll end up alright. I did, after all.” She paused. “--Anyway, you’d better be heading back. And I should go wash up…”

They gathered the tools together into the now-empty bathtub, and, dragging it back into Eientei, left the small patch, and its ten seeds, to steadily grow under the impure moonlight that only Earth could see.

Chapter Text

Gensokyo was too small.

Houjuu Nue had explored every inch of it in the years since she had emerged from underground; the peaks of the mountains, the depths of the forests, the settlements of both youkai and humans, going back and forth as an unidentifiable object until she’d seen everything she could.

And now she was bored, and wanted to go somewhere new -- but unfortunately for her, one of the few people she’d consider her friend didn’t seem to agree.

“You want to leave Gensokyo, already?” asked Mamizou, surprised.

“I’ve run out of stuff to do,” replied Nue, shrugging. “I want to go see something new… and I wanna see how the world’s changed since I was asleep.”

Mamizou frowned, and glanced away. “If you go outside, I’m not going with ya, y’know.”

Nue sighed, and flicked herself over her trident so that she floated upside-down in front of the other youkai. “It can’t be that bad. You only came here ‘cause I asked, after all.”

“It’s much nicer in here, though,” replied Mamizou. “Out there, I had to keep running and hiding. I haven’t had so much fun as I’ve been having lately in decades~!”

“Hmm, hmm~” hummed Nue thoughtfully, pulling herself up again. “It’s just rough, y’know? I wake up, after all that time stuck in Former Hell, only to find that I can’t really go and do anything.”

Mamizou was silent for a moment, leaning back and gazing into the sky. Then she smiled her mischievous smile. “Alright, you got me. I’ll take you on a trip up to Suwa, and you can see for yourself how the world outside’s changed.”

The two of them emerged from the Barrier.

--Well, sort of. They remained exactly where they had been, merely substituting the fantasy of Gensokyo for the reality of the Outside World. The landscape below them twisted and distorted as they slipped through the tiniest of crevices in the impermeable Barrier, as Youkai Mountain once more crumbled into the modern, shattered remnants of the Yatsugatake Mountains.

The other immediate impact was the pressure that was suddenly applied to both of them; an unbearably hot, crushing pressure that surrounded them completely, as if they were moving through the molten heart of Youkai Mountain itself.

“This still feels kinda weird,” remarked Nue. “Like, I was only out here for a little while when I was getting you, so maybe I just didn’t get used to it, but…”

“It’s gotten worse, actually,” mused Mamizou, moving her hand through the air and frowning slightly at the reaction. “Just goes to show ya, I got in at the right time~! Anyway, let’s get moving, dear.”

Nue nodded, and in an instant the two had become unidentifiable.

As the nue flies, it was a short trip to Lake Suwa, but it was a boring one. They’d been going for almost an hour before the mountainous landscape below them began to change to farmland, and from there the view remained as either farmland or small clusters of houses. Vehicles moved below them, but Nue barely spared them a thought.

“I thought you were gonna show me, like, skyscrapers or something,” complained Nue. “All of this is just, regular boring human stuff.”

“Oh, we wouldn’t get skyscrapers this far out,” said Mamizou. “Just a lot of houses.”

Houses as far as the eye could see, now; they’d come up to a river, and were following its winding path through masses of houses, broken up by the occasional stores or parks. The greenery around the river seemed to be walled in by the world around it.

And then suddenly one side gave way to scattered farmland, even as the other remained an endless mass of concrete. Based on the development that she could see, though, Nue doubted that either side would remain farmland for much longer.

And then they emerged from those final fragments of the altered land and hung above Lake Suwa, a pair of ancient youkai in a modern world.

“So, that was modern Suwa,” remarked Mamizou, reclining in mid-air. “What’d ya think?”

“Could’ve used more skyscrapers,” insisted Nue. “As it is, it’s just… kinda dull.”

“As dull as Gensokyo?”

“Never said Gensokyo was dull, just that there’s not a lot to do in there. But…” She frowned, and once more, with nothing to distract her, felt that overwhelming, endless, unbearable pressure crushing down on her -- an insistent belief that she did not belong here, that she was a relic of an ancient time that didn’t need her anymore.

Mamizou closed one of her eyes, and watched her friend closely with the other. Even she wasn’t really sure what Nue was thinking right now.

Her gaze passed over the lake, and the houses surrounding it, the buildings that encompassed the shoreline, until finally passing back to Mamizou.

“Stinks out here these days,” she said. “Used to smell way better. Y’know… maybe it’s just no fun anymore, Mamizou. I can’t have fun out here if it’s gonna be like this.”

“Aw, don’t say that,” replied Mamizou. “There’s still plenty to do, you just gotta look for it. Like, even coming out here was fun, right?”

Nue was silent for another moment, and then, slowly smiling, “Hey, if we’re in Suwa, the Shrine of those two Mountain gods is around here somewhere, right?”

Mamizou grinned. “What, were you thinking of giving ‘em an offering before heading back home for the day?”

Nue grinned back. “Grabbing a souvenir or two, maybe. Something to say that we were here. Then, I suppose I’ll just have to work out what to do tomorrow.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll come up with something.”

Chapter Text

“In Gensokyo,” she wrote, “there are Small Fairies, Medium Fairies, and Big Fairies.

“Small Fairies are akin to insects; of low intelligence, usually drawn from the energy of a small patch of flowers. They tend to gather in groups, and are minor nuisances.

“Medium Fairies are akin to animals; of moderate intelligence, drawn from the energy of larger life-forms such as trees, or occasionally small animals. They tend to be the leaders of groups of Small Fairies. They’re best avoided when possible, as they enjoy playing pranks on humans, and as they don’t have much understanding of the concept of danger, if they appear with a number of their followers they can cause problems.

“Big Fairies are the closest to humans. Often they take the appearance of children, and have a similar degree of intelligence; however, do not make the mistake of subsequently assuming that they can be regarded as children. They are the ‘adults’ of the fairies, and behave as such.

“Big Fairies tend to be solitary compared to other fairies, but are also far more likely to move outside of their usual regions. It is not uncommon to see Big Fairies at popular events, drawn by the crowds. Like Medium Fairies, Big Fairies enjoy pranks and causing mischief, but they are less likely to cause direct harm -- however, they are also more capable of doing so if necessary. Whereas a Medium Fairy may be repelled with a small amount of danmaku, often Big Fairies may be equivalent in power to a lesser youkai.”

She paused for a moment, tapping the end of her brush against the table.

“Although there are several examples of Big Fairies, some are more well-known than others. The trio known as ‘The Three Fairies of Light’ that dwell near the Hakurei Shrine are well-known to any who regularly attend events there, so I will not go into further detail here. Another well-known fairy is the uncommon ice fairy known as Cirno. Cirno regards herself as ‘the strongest fairy’, and it is difficult to find arguments against this, at least with regards to the native fairies of Gensokyo.

“Whereas other fairies draw power from their environment in only small amounts, Cirno is one of Gensokyo’s few ice fairies, and its only Big Ice Fairy. She exudes cold at all hours, and is capable of directing that power towards the environment around her, towards other living organisms, and even towards danmaku. It is, for all intents and purposes, an instant ability, and liable to do lasting harm.

“Luckily, in spite of her boasting, she is good-natured, and although she may engage in danmaku battles, it is rare for her to use her powers against anything other than frogs, which she has an unusual passion for freezing and unfreezing. She has also shown a surprising degree of intelligence for a fairy, being both literate and capable of simple mathematics. If the average Big Fairy is as intelligent as a six-year-old, then Cirno could be as intelligent as a nine-year-old.

“Cirno dwells in the region beyond the Misty Lake, and is one of two Big Fairies known to do so. The other--”

She had been sitting across the Lake the other day, watching the fairies fly past, when the other Big Fairy had flown over to her and asked what she was doing. It was that brief discussion that had made her consider writing about fairies again. They were often overlooked, after all -- within Gensokyo they were considered simply another part of nature.

“--is a wind fairy. She is somewhat more shy, so I have as yet been unable to learn her name. However, although she isn’t as powerful as Cirno, she shows a similar level of intelligence, capable of holding an extended conversation without being distracted. Although untested, it is likely that she is also both literate and numerically capable. In fact, it is my personal belief that she and Cirno may have assisted one another in attaining and subsequently maintaining these skills.

“Do not confuse intelligence and common sense, however. Both these Big Fairies still have the personalities of fairies, and are prone to reckless behaviour.”

After asking what she was doing, and being told that she was simply watching the water and collecting her thoughts, the wind fairy had asked a few questions about the village, before suddenly telling her to ‘watch this’. Then, swooping into the air, she shot like a bullet through the air towards one of the other fairies flying aimlessly over the surface of the lake.

The unsuspecting ice fairy had never stood a chance. Her friend had collided with her at high speed, tackling her in a hug and sending both of them into the water. The unfortunate author wasn’t spared, either; despite the distance, the direction of the impact caused a large wave to splash outwards and over her, drenching her.

The two of them had flown back over to her to see her totally drenched; and the wind fairy, in an effort to be helpful, had created a small wind funnel around her, which dried her clothes, but didn’t do much about the chill from the water. The presence of the ice fairy probably didn’t help either, but she wasn’t the type to challenge them. She was essentially human, after all, and knew only a handful of danmaku techniques. If she provoked them, she would unquestionably lose.

“As with many fairy pranks, such reckless behaviour may have unintended consequences, and it is best advised to be careful around such Big Fairies, especially ones with heightened intelligence such as these. For a fairy, being more intelligent only makes them more capable of thinking up pranks. In my short interaction with these two, I also got a firm impression that they enjoy showing off for one another -- possibly either the cause of or a side-effect of Cirno’s own egotism -- which may result in more dangerous activities that, although they may not endanger those around the pair, will almost certainly inconvenience them.”

And yet, after all that, the two of them had helped pick up the papers scattered by the wind, excitedly asked about what she was writing, and even followed her back around the shore to make sure that she was alright. The two of them were fully capable of empathy, in their own way. Deep in her memory, she thought how unusual it was that there should be fairies this intelligent, that the creatures born from nature had developed wills of their own.

And she wondered if this was as far as they would go, or if, in this era of peace, they would continue to grow and develop, until they were no different from the humans or the youkai.

Probably not. A fairy will always be a fairy, no matter how intelligent.

“Therefore, Big Fairies are also best avoided.”

Chapter Text

The girl stood at the entrance to the village, sword gripped firmly in her hands, expression steady, and hard as a rock.

The first thing Youmu noticed about her was her stance -- the somewhat clumsy stance of someone who had had a reasonable degree of training, but had never had to use it. The girl’s glare turned towards her as she approached.

And as Youmu tried to walk past her, she swung out her sword, blocking the path with it. Youmu stared at it, and then at her.

“Um… excuse me, but your sword is in my way…?” started Youmu.

“I’m not letting you in,” the girl replied. “You’re clearly a youkai, and I won’t allow any youkai into the village!”

Youmu blinked at her. “I’m not a youkai?” she said, confused. “I’m a half-phantom.”

“Then what’s-- what’s that thing?!” The girl began pointing at the spirit floating around Youmu with her other hand.

“That’s my other half!” said Youmu cheerfully.

“Like, your boyfriend?”

“Ehh…? No, it’s like…” She paused for a moment. “I’m half-human, and half-phantom, so this is my human half, and that’s my phantom half.”

The girl frowned at her. “That… doesn’t make any sense.”

“Doesn’t it?” asked Youmu, distressed.

“I don’t… think so…?” Clearly realising her control over the situation was loosening, the girl wiggled her sword, gesturing for Youmu to move back. “Anyway, I still can’t let you in!”

“But I need to do the shopping for Yuyuko…” said Youmu. “Can you not make an exception…?”

“Absolutely not!” insisted the girl. “I’m going to protect the village from youkai!”

“Oh, like Reimu!” said Youmu, but that got another scowl from the girl.

“Not like the Shrine Maiden, who serves the youkai!” declared the girl. “I’ll protect the village as a human! I’m the scion of the Kutsuna clan, the last of Gensokyo’s youkai hunters, Kutsuna Meira!”

Kutsuna Meira’s grip on her sword had almost totally loosened from her trembling fingers. At Youmu’s guess, she was young for a human, somewhere between her late teens and her mid-twenties.

“How… can I prove that I’m not a youkai…?” asked Youmu.

Meira frowned. “You can, uh…” She hesitated. “If you… if you can defeat me in a swordfight, then you’re not a youkai!”

Youmu frowned. “But aren’t youkai stronger than humans…? Like, if I were a youkai, I’d beat you, right…?”

“Eh?” Meira’s frown deepened. “No, you’re right… then… if I can beat you in a swordfight, you’re not a youkai… no, but then you might lose intentionally…”

“Ah, wait! I’m not a youkai, but I’d still win in a fight!” said Youmu, suddenly realising.

“Then you must be a youkai!”

“But I’m a half-phantom, not a youkai!”

“But… wait, if you beat me, but you’re not a youkai, but if I beat you, and you are a youkai…”

The two of them sat down opposite each other, and began to think.

It was several hours later, when the Sun was beginning to set behind the mountains and Reimu was doing a sweep around the village, that she saw the two of them still sitting, deep in thought.

At least, one of them was. Youmu was asleep, but the other girl didn’t seem to have noticed, muttering to herself under her breath.

The Shrine Maiden alighted next to the two, and cleared her throat.

Youmu glanced up at her, startled, and then at the setting Sun. “A-ah, I forgot to get the groceries for Yuyuko--!”

The other girl snapped out of her thoughts at that, looked up at Youmu, and then up at Reimu. “Shrine Maiden! I protected the village in your absence! You don’t--”

“You need to get back into the village yourself now,” said Reimu authoritatively. “It’s dangerous to be out late at night, remember.”

“But-- but--” protested Meira. “But I can handle it! I kept this youkai out!”

Reimu followed her pointing finger to Youmu, and laughed softly. “Youmu’s not a youkai. C’mon, Youmu, get up. I’ll give you some stuff from my storehouse if you’re that desperate.”

“She’s… she’s not a youkai…?” said Meira quietly. Then she shook her head. “No, that’s just what a youkai Shrine Maiden would say! You just want--”

“I don’t know what your relatives are saying,” interrupted Reimu, looking stressed, “but it really is dangerous to be out doing this. Just… don’t worry about it, please? I don’t need people risking themselves over this.”

“You just--”

“And please let Youmu in next time. She’s not going to cause any harm, right, Youmu?”

The half-phantom snapped to attention. “I just want to buy groceries,” she confirmed vaguely, still half-dazed from her nap.

Reimu grabbed Youmu by the arm and lifted off again, beginning to float into the air and dragging her with her. The would-be youkai hunter glared up at her, before turning and walking back into the village.

Youmu glanced back at her as she vanished from sight. “Her sword skills could use some work,” she mumbled.

Reimu glanced back at her, and sighed. “Please don’t teach her anything.”

Chapter Text

The small group of rabbits, and the probes intended for purification, had been sent down to Earth, and with that, the last of the other Lunarians departed for the Dream World.

Within sight of the outskirts of the Capital, fairies danced over the empty landscape.

She sat and watched them for a while.

She didn’t know how long she would be alone for. The relocation of the Capital… the purification of their target, Gensokyo, could take several months, assuming they deployed within the next few months, and there was no guarantee of that, either. The purification machines were antiquated, and prone to breakdowns. There was never any need to use them, nor to maintain them, up here, after all.

She could be here for years, with only the fairies for company, whilst the residents of the Lunar Capital slowly drove themselves mad within the Dream World.

There was nothing she could do about that, however--

--What a lie. There was nothing she could do to alter a situation? She, who could alter fate with a single word? No, it was merely that she didn’t want to alter it. The situation was desperate, after all.

She still couldn’t believe that they had been driven this close to the brink of destruction, nor that they were so desperate that they would consider relocating to the Earth.

It hung in the sky over the fairies, a tiny blue orb that she saw every day without consideration. It was her homeworld, but that was centuries ago. Her home was here.

But she was alone now, and the Capital was frozen. For a long time, her home would be this empty city.

No matter. She could keep herself busy. She was used to being alone, after all; she was used to no-one talking to her.

The power to compel the very world based upon her words. A terrible, unsurpassed power, and one that required the utmost delicacy, for its conditions were truly simple -- if she spoke to someone, said something regarding their fate, that fate would reverse itself. Good fortune would become misfortune; sickness would become health; victory would become defeat.

There were limits, of course -- otherwise she could simply have said ‘The assault upon the Moon will continue’ and it would have immediately ceased -- but what those limits were, even she didn’t know. It was a part of her nature that the world reversed itself around her; she had no real control over it. Every word that she said was cautious; a single misspoken sentence could cause a disaster.

She was held in high regard as a Lunarian, but she sometimes wondered if she was kept around simply out of convenience, or worse, fear; that she could turn her power against them, and unravel the lunacy that kept the Lunar Capital running. With a misplaced word, she could destroy a civilisation -- in theory. She would never test it.

She hummed a song to herself, and then, hesitantly, murmured the words. It had occurred to her that when there was no-one around -- no-one to overhear what she said, have her words override their fate -- she could speak freely; but she was unused to it. She stopped speaking for a moment.

The fairies outside continued to dance, and she turned away.

She was patient, because she had to be. She hadn’t expected her opponent to be the same, however.

She considered the invader, not for the first time, not for the last time. The Moon had many enemies. The residents of Earth were its enemies. But neither the humans nor the youkai could manage an assault of this degree. This woman, Junko…

She came toward the Capital sometimes, but never entered. The two had never exchanged a single word; indeed, Sagume had only seen her a handful of times. She knew her name from the discussions held when the attack had first begun. If nothing else, she had gathered that she held a grudge towards Chang’e.

That was what really annoyed her, every time she considered it. Surely the sacrifice of Chang’e was worth the salvation of the Capital -- but no-one had even mentioned it, and she wouldn’t, either. Aside from being used to watching her words, if the very few who knew Chang’e personally wouldn’t consider it, then they would have their reasons.

But that didn’t explain how a single divine spirit was able to accomplish this. Her power, and her power alone, had brought about this situation. And even if they were able to move to Earth, could she not follow them? In fact, would that not be the worse situation, because they would have nowhere left to run?

Surely, they couldn’t be so short-sighted?

She gazed up at the Earth again. Somewhere on the surface of that tiny world was Lady Yagokoro. She wondered if she would have had a better idea; perhaps she was scheming something, even now. But was she an ally, or an enemy? None of the residents of Earth had reason to love the Lunar Capital, but her least of all.

If the Brain of the Moon made a move, would it be in her favour or not? Would she be able to speak against her? Could she, without playing into her hands?

The Lunar Day was coming to an end; in another few of Earth’s rotations, the Sun would set, and the Capital would be bathed in darkness, illuminated only by the few lanterns that she chose to light -- and the fairies that still danced on its outskirts.

She wondered if the purification of the surface had begun. Perhaps things were going better than expected, and the Lunar Capital could relocate within the next few months; perhaps they had had no success. Perhaps the purification machines had broken, and they couldn’t be repaired before the Dream World would drive the Capital’s residents to madness. Perhaps Lord Tsukuyomi had already been informed; perhaps he and the others were trying to think of a new solution even now.

There was no reason for her to be notified if that were the case, after all; her role, right now, was to protect the Capital. But if the relocation failed -- what then?

--When all hope was lost, she would finally be able to speak. For better or for worse, fate would reverse itself around her words.

But for now, she would wait. She would hope that everything was going well.

So she sat and watched the fairies dance over the dead landscape, as their shadows were stretched by the long-setting Sun across the towers of the Capital.

Chapter Text

She heard muttering from outside, and when Reisen wandered out of Eientei to investigate, she saw a group of rabbits. Most of them were the youkai rabbits of Earth, but they were clustered around a pair of taller Moon rabbits. Reisen was surprised when she recognised them for a moment -- despite having only seen them recently on Earth, she was surprised to see that they were still here.

They glanced up at her with relief as she approached, but the rabbit in front of them followed their gaze and smirked.

“Nice of you to join us, Reisen,” said Tewi. “We’ve got a couple of uninvited guests who want to join our little community, and I was wondering what to do with them.”

The pair of Moon rabbits glanced back down at her, their expressions returning to those of dismay. Reisen frowned at them.

“What are you two still doing here?” she asked. “I thought that with the Capital safe, they were withdrawing. That was the agreement we made with Lady Sagume.”

“Seems they got left behind,” remarked Tewi.

“We didn’t get ‘left behind’,” said Ringo. “We chose to stay here.”

“Sure, sure,” replied Tewi skeptically. “Just a pair of Moon rabbits who decided to stay on Earth. And who’ve happened to come asking after Eientei, too. Y’know it’s Reisen’s job to make sure no-one finds this place, right?”

“But you guided us here…” said Seiran, confused.

“That’s irrelevant,” stated Tewi.

Reisen had managed to get a grasp on the situation now. For whatever reason -- by their own choice, or the machinations of the Capital -- these two had been left here with no instructions, so they’d come to the only place they knew other residents of the Moon were.

Tewi glanced up at her. “So what do you think, Reisen? You’re the boss, after all.”

Reisen began tapping her chin thoughtfully. Ringo and Seiran’s expressions became even more dismayed, and she was barely able to withhold a grin. She didn’t bear any particular ill will towards them -- she generally saved that for the Lunarians -- but at the same time, they had both tried to kill her pretty recently.

“We could always do that,” she said finally.

Tewi raised an eyebrow. “Oh, that? You mean, the thing we did when you first came here?”

“Of course,” said Reisen. “I think that would be the best way of being sure.” She walked through the crowd of youkai rabbits and stood in front of her former comrades.

“Reisen…?” asked Seiran hesitantly.

“Before we do this, you need to be certain,” stated Reisen calmly. “You need to throw away your ties to the Moon, and promise not to contact the other rabbits, unless in dire need. You need to accept that you will become impure here, and that you might never be able to return. You have to promise to protect Eientei, and become an Earth rabbit, like me.”

After a moment’s hesitation, they both nodded.

“I’ll do what it takes,” said Seiran.

“We’re here of our own will, after all,” added Ringo. “I never intend to go back, either. So, whatever test you have for us, we’re willing to do it.”

“That was the test,” replied Reisen, smiling.

Tewi stuck out a hand to the much taller Seiran. “Welcome to Eientei!” she said cheerfully.

Seiran glanced at the proffered hand doubtfully, then back up at Reisen. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” said Reisen, sticking out her own hand to Ringo. “I trust you guys not to go back on your word. You are here of your own choice, after all. And you’re gonna like it here much more than the Capital.”

And after another moment’s hesitation, the two Moon rabbits took the hands of the Earth rabbits.

Chapter Text

“Aunt Sumireko, Renko says that you used to have dreams like mine.”

She wasn’t her aunt. She wasn’t even really Renko’s, either -- she’d forgotten the exact relationship, but it was one of those confusing ‘once-removed’ arrangements. A distant relative who happened to still live in Tokyo and visited semi-frequently.

And she hadn’t really wanted to ask, either; wouldn’t even have thought to, but Renko insisted. On top of that, she was visiting each night to see Renko, so she didn’t even have the excuse that she wouldn’t get a chance to speak to her.

But she also knew that she probably should talk to someone about it; being able to take things out of your dreams wasn’t exactly normal, after all. And Usami Sumireko knew a lot about the paranormal; in fact, the first thing she’d heard about Renko’s Aunt Sumireko was that she’d been lecturing Modern Occultism for twenty-five years.

But would she actually be able to help? Even after bringing it up, Merry was already beginning to regret it. How would she even follow up on it? ‘Yes, I’ve been taking things out of my dreams! I’ve even got a pile of random objects at home to prove it!’

“Renko told me, yes.” Sumireko seemed somewhat amused.

She didn’t look like an aunt. She barely looked her age; even pushing seventy, her hair was still dark, and her eyes were still sharp behind her glasses. She was active, too; Renko had told Merry that her aunt still wandered off to remote parts of Japan investigating odd rumours in person. Once when Renko was young, she’d disappeared for two months, and it turned out she’d been climbing mountains looking for hermits.

“She told you?” replied Merry. “How much… did she tell you…?”

Sumireko looked thoughtful for a moment, and then smiled. “Your dreams are real. You go to a real place when you dream. And she told me that you can bring things back, too.”

Somehow, confirming it felt worse than simply explaining it; after all, her explanation could have been played as a joke. She couldn’t play off something that Renko had already explained; instead, her only choice was to seem like she was going mad to someone who definitely knew better.

“Very similar to mine, in fact,” continued Sumireko, before Merry had a chance to make that dreaded confirmation. “Though I generally brought things in, rather than taking things out.”



Sumireko smiled. “I used to have dreams like yours. I would go to sleep, and visit a place called Gensokyo, inhabited by youkai and gods and magicians. In fact, at certain times in my life I spent more time there than I did here.”

“Gen… sokyo…?”

“I think it’s the same place that you visit. Dearest Renko was kind of sloppy when it came to her explanations, but I recognised enough to think it’s probably the same. So you’re having the same kinds of dreams that I used to.”

“Why do you not have them anymore?”

Sumireko blinked in surprise, and then sighed. “At a certain point, I began to dream less and less over there. I had a choice to make, I think, that I didn’t even realise; which world I belonged to. Or perhaps it was something else -- the Sumireko here and the Sumireko there became such different people, we had no choice but to separate.” She laughed to herself, amused by a private joke. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something like that, after everything I went through. But… one day I simply stopped dreaming of Gensokyo.”

“Is that why you do all the occult exploration?”

“Hmm? No, I do that because it’s fun.” Sumireko grinned again. “And because I like to learn about the paranormal. Don’t be fooled, Merribelle. The occult doesn’t just exist in Gensokyo; the occult is all around us. Isn’t that what your club’s about, after all? Finding the occult in reality, not just in your dreams?”

Merry was silent for a moment.

“What is the Sealing Club to you, Merry?”

Merry had met Renko at University. She’d been the first person in a long time to believe Merry when she said that she was spiritually sensitive, that she could see the boundaries that held the world together; and Renko had enthusiastically suggested starting a club to use those powers to investigate mysteries using those abilities. It’s not that she didn’t also enjoy exploring, and making exciting discoveries, but--

“I suppose it started out as a way to hang out with Renko.”

“Maybe that’s why.”


Sumireko’s expression was inscrutable. “When I went over there, it was roughly at the same time. I would fall asleep here, and wake up there. But it sounds like that isn’t the case for you. Instead, you’re appearing and disappearing at random, and not always within Gensokyo; a couple of the places that Renko mentioned don’t seem to fit with my memories of the place. Rather…” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “When I went over there, I essentially manifested as a second Sumireko. But I don’t think that’s the same case for you, because you’re not staying in any one place long enough to create a second Merribelle.”

Ah, so this was where Renko got it from.

Sumireko must have noticed the confusion on Merry’s face. “My point is to be careful,” she said, in a somewhat different tone -- harsher, but kinder. “It’s only because you have something here that you’re able to come back so easily. But when it happened to me, I almost lost control of my own dreams. I’d hate for that to happen to you.”

Losing control of her own dreams… that sounded like a nightmare. But at the same time…

“Do you… have any advice…?”

“You still want to keep dreaming, then?”

Merry nodded. “I can be careful. But… even if there’s stuff to explore here…”

“It’s just not the same,” agreed Sumireko. “Alright then, I’ve got one piece of advice for you, if you insist on continuing to go on these dream expeditions.”

“Just one?” asked Merry.

“Just one,” confirmed Sumireko, and grinned. “If you’re going to dream, just make sure you’re sleeping next to someone.”

Merry, her face now bright red, fled the room.

--Thus ended Usami Sumireko’s first discussion with Meribelle Hearn.

Chapter Text

The maid had followed every instruction that she had been given, and then some. She’d heated the water and boiled their small supply of leaves over and over until she found the optimal aroma. That the small leaves should be so costly still amazed her, but luckily, the Scarlet household had money to burn.

Finally, she felt she had the balance right. She had a small taste from a separate cup, then brought it upstairs to the room where her mistress resided.

Remilia Scarlet, who had been head of the household for a hundred years now. Who had inherited the obligation of looking after this empty house after the vampire who had turned her and her sister had been slain by a nameless human.

She glanced up suspiciously as the maid approached. She was lying in the oversized bed in the master bedroom, as she often did whilst she waited for the household’s only servant to bring her the day’s entertainment.

“What do you have there?” she asked.

She said it as an accusation, as if she expected her servant to take her life with some poison, even after all these years. But she wouldn’t -- she couldn’t, even if she wanted to. She was bound by the vampire’s oath to serve her for all eternity, and a vampire’s oath cannot be broken.

“It’s a new drink,” the maid replied calmly. “I believe it’s called something like ‘thay’. It’s supposed to be pleasant to drink, as well as relaxing.”

The vampire stared at her as she placed the cup down on the table next to her bed, then stood to attention patiently. The vampire’s suspicious gaze turned back to the cup.

“You try it first.”

The maid didn’t argue; she lifted the cup, took a small sip, and then placed it back down. Even despite this being the best of the brews she had concocted, it was still quite bitter, and it crossed her mind again that Remilia might not like it. It was a shame, too, because she liked it, and she probably wouldn’t have an excuse to buy it if Remilia didn’t.

Remilia picked up the cup and drank from it carefully. She moved the liquid around in her mouth thoughtfully, and then swallowed it. She was silent for another moment, then finally concluded, “It’s bitter.”

“It is. I apologise, as I should have warned you in advance.”

“It could be a bit warmer, too.”

“Of course, Lady Scarlet. That would certainly bring out the flavours better.”

Remilia was thoughtful for another moment. “Put some honey in it next time. That’ll make it taste better.”

Wouldn’t that drown out all the flavour of the tea?

Then, she had a more important realisation.

“I’ll do my best to prepare it to your tastes, Lady Scarlet. However, it could be a while until we see the next supplies of it. I had to get rather… competitive… even in order to get this much.”

“Competitive?” replied Remilia.

“Yes, Lady Scarlet,” the maid replied coolly. Perhaps too competitive, but she supposed that she ought to use her hard-earned talents somehow . “However, as a result, I won’t have to go out again this week.”

The vampire smirked. “Oh, that’s excellent to hear. I’ve had a little idea in the back of my mind for a while, and if you’re around to help, we might be able to get it going this week…”

Tea leaves -- more accessible these days, but being of the highest available quality, still expensive -- placed into a small pot. Boiling water poured into it. Poured from the pot into two cups after infusion was complete; the remainder was strained. Milk added to both in varying quantities. Copious amounts of honey, and five drops of blood, added to one.

“Lady Remilia, your tea is ready.”

As she drank it, the vampire mused, “You know, there’s supposedly a lot of different flavours of tea these days.”

And she’d only just gotten the recipe right a few years ago.

“Yes, there are.”

Remilia glanced at her with a cheeky expression, and the maid sighed. “I’ll investigate other teas, Lady Remilia. It is possible, after all, that you might prefer one of those more.”

“Thank you. That said, I’m sure whatever tea you produce will be of exceptional quality.”

“I would never be satisfied providing you with anything less, Lady Remilia.”

The vampire gave her a different glance at that moment, one that the maid wasn’t entirely sure what to make of. Not that she had time to puzzle it out right now; chances were that the errand of investigating the other available teas would have her running around for a month cataloguing everything she could about every local variety within the area just to be sure that she had been thorough. That was how her mistress tended to make her requests, so it was best simply to pre-emptively assume it would be the case.

As she took the two drained cups back downstairs, Remilia grinned to herself, staring up at the ceiling.

“I’ve tried something new today, my Lady.”

The concoction was bright pink, and boiling. Remilia reached for it eagerly, hesitated, and then took a sip.

She paused for a moment. “It’s more bitter than I was expecting,” she remarked, and took another sip.

“I used a more bitter tea in this, to accentuate the different flavours. I thought it would be interesting.”

Remilia nodded, quickly draining the rest of the cup. “Do you have more?”

“Of course, my Lady.” The maid poured her a second cup of tea from her teacup. “If you like it that much, I’ll make sure to remember it for next time.”

Remilia smiled. “Now, I’m certain that you remember every tea you’ve ever made.”

“Only the acceptable ones. There’s no sense in remembering something that didn’t work, after all.”

“Mhmm.” Remilia finished her second cup, and looked thoughtful. The maid stood to attention, watching her carefully. “You know… if you weren’t my servant, I’d never have had tea like this.”

The room was suddenly filled with an unspoken tension. The memory of the events that had led to the maid becoming the vampire’s most trusted servant.

“I… suppose you’re correct. But… if I hadn’t arrived to your Mansion--”

“The fact that I have not forgotten that is why you remain in my service,” interrupted Remilia, almost dismissively. “But if you had never arrived, then I would never have been able to enjoy such delicious tea. There’s a lot of things I would never have been able to do, for the simple matter that I was not the head of the household. We both lost something to come here, but… I think it was worth it for the tea.” She glanced at her ever-loyal maid. “And you? Do you think it was worth it?”

Was almost four hundred years of loyal servitude worth it, to bring her to this moment, where she had been told by the vampire she couldn’t kill that the life of the one she could was worth a cup of pink tea?

“Of course I do, my Lady,” she replied, without hesitation. “I knew what I was agreeing to, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

The vampire smiled again. “Naturally.” There was silence for a moment, and then she continued, “You know, I’ve been hearing about ‘iced teas’ lately…”

Chapter Text

In Gensokyo’s tengu society, there were probably more bars than there were houses. Perhaps that was why it was rare for tengu to visit the same bar twice in a row; whether because of the different varieties of available drinks, the different gossip overheard, or simply the different atmospheres, it was an unspoken tradition that a tengu wouldn’t visit the same place twice in at least a month.

Himekaidou Hatate only left her small house once every few days, but she was no exception. Tonight, she was headed for a somewhat smaller place lower on the mountain; however, as she entered, she knew immediately that she’d made the wrong decision.

It was quiet, and almost empty, with the exception of a few scattered groups near the bar and a single occupied table, whose occupants were in the middle of a heated debate. Hatate recognised them immediately.

Aya noticed her first, and smiled. “Now, if you want a real slacker, that’s who you’d be looking out for. The stay-at-home who only goes out and follows me for her work.”

Even worse, it seemed like she’d been drawn into the argument now. That was the only explanation for Aya’s remark -- not that Aya was polite, but nor was it typical for her to be that rude.

“I didn’t say that you were slacking off,” replied Momiji, sparing her a glance. “It’s the entire information corps that’s slacking off.”

“I’m busier than you are, you shoji-playing slacker!” argued Aya. “Now that all the humans are down in the village, what do you so-called guardians of the Mountain do all day? Sit down and play board games! Whereas I’m going and investigating the truth, day in, day out!”

“Don’t talk yourself up so much,” said Momiji. “You’re just a gossip-monger, and none of the information that you gather is any good. That’s why you crow tengu just spend all your time having your newspaper competitions, because there’s no other reason to be gathering that information, hmm? Whereas even if we happen to be passing the time with shoji, we wolf tengu are still carefully observing all paths into the Mountain. I assure you, if there ever was an intruder, they wouldn’t slip through our grasp.”

Both of them stared at each other for a moment, knocked back their drinks, and then turned to face Hatate, who was frozen in place, hypnotised by the discussion taking place in front of her.

“I was just getting a drink,” started Hatate, but Aya, swift as ever, spun around her and steered her to the empty seat of their table.

“They’ll bring you the drinks, don’t worry,” said Aya. “More to the point, don’t you have something to say? Are you going to let her talk us down like this?”

“‘Us’?” repeated Hatate weakly.

“Yes, yes, us,” confirmed Aya. “We might be rivals, and your paper might be full of overwritten articles that no-one reads, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t also part of the information corps. So, are you going to allow her to just say that all we do is-- what was it again, Inubashiri?”

“Have you no shame, Shameimaru?” asked Momiji. “You can’t win this argument on your own, so you’re dragging Himekaidou into this, too?”

“It’s because I’m right that I’m dragging her into this, Inubashiri,” replied Aya. “After all, you can’t dismiss both of us.”

“I think--” started Hatate.

“If you misunderstand the truth that badly, Shameimaru, then perhaps you shouldn’t even be in the information corps,” interrupted Momiji. “The truth is the truth, it’s not the opinion of whoever has the most votes.”

“I think you’ll find it’s a reporter’s job to bring the truth to people,” retorted Aya. “And if they’re doing their job right, like I am , then what most people think will, in fact, be the truth.”

“You think you’re doing your job right, flying down to the Shrine for parties every weekend?”

“I’m doing a better job than you are. Honestly, with the amount of threats you have to deal with these days, I’m sure I’ve had more practise than you. You weren’t much good against the Shrine Maiden, after all.”

“Nor were you. As we both know, my job was merely to investigate what she was doing. There’s no question of being out of practise.” Momiji’s scowl suddenly turned into a fierce smile, revealing sharp teeth. “Unless you’d like to give me a bit of practise right now?”

“Do you really think you could keep up with me, Inubashiri?” asked Aya, rising. “Still, I’m sure I can spare a couple of minutes to show you just how outdated--”


Aya and Momiji immediately went quiet at Hatate’s outburst, with Aya carefully returning back to her seat.

“I haven’t even gotten my drink yet because of this stupid argument,” continued Hatate. “All you’re doing is saying that you both have way too much free time on your hands!”

“She--” started Aya.

“Of course we’ve got too much free time on our hands!” interrupted Hatate. “Both of you are older than me, so you should both remember better than I do that it hasn’t always been like this! And instead of being grateful, you’re getting into stupid, pointless arguments! If any of us are slacking off, then we all are! So what’s the sense in arguing about who’s using their time better, when we should be happy we have that time at all!”

She began panting, out of breath. Aya and Momiji glanced at each other for a moment, and then Aya gestured towards the bar.

The three of them remained silent until the crow tengu serving brought over their drinks. Hatate drank hers in a single gulp and handed it back to the server wordlessly.

“Thank you,” the server whispered to Hatate, and around them, the other tengu in the bar began quietly talking again now that they were certain the argument wasn’t about to pick up again.

“Is that why you spend all your time looking over your articles?” asked Aya, after a moment.

“I do that because I want them to be accurate,” muttered Hatate, who was now deflating, laying her chin on the table. “You know that.”

“You know, if you two worked together, you’d almost have a complete article,” remarked Momiji.

“Maybe we should write it about you, then? ‘Wolf tengu loses argument to thoughtographer!’” declared Aya, spreading her hands in the air as if visualising the article. “My popularity would go through the roof!”

“You’re leaving out some of the truth, aren’t you?” replied Momiji. “It’d be something more like ‘Bunbunmaru News reporter disgraced in argument!’”

“You both suck at titles,” murmured Hatate, drinking from another cup the grateful server had brought over. “Especially you, Aya. I thought you’d be better at it.”

“Well, the titles aren’t that important,” replied Aya confidently. “It’s all about visual language! Getting good, eye-catching pictures!”

“You already missed a chance at getting a picture of your face after Hatate was done with you,” teased Momiji.

“Oh, and I missed the chance of getting one of yours, too…” sighed Aya. “That’s a shame, I’d have liked to frame that…”

The two began bickering again, and Hatate sighed. Whatever it was, Aya and Momiji seemed they’d never get along, but…

Well, perhaps they should be grateful that they have the free time to have these kinds of arguments, too.

Chapter Text

Komachi’s eyes snapped open.

Empty black sky. No air movement.

She was in Hell.

She moved before she even knew she was being attacked, using her ability to throw herself a dozen metres ahead, the only direction she knew for sure she was in the clear. Without missing a beat, she threw herself another few metres to the left, and then jumped into the air so that she hung six metres above the ground.

Now that she was secure, she could take stock of her surroundings. The lack of anything within sight suggested that she was in Avici. There were worse Hells to wake up in.

Standing below her, having disrupted the featureless plain with a large crater, emerging from a cloud of dust, was a familiar figure.

She looked like her, but there were a few distinguishing features. Some people would have noticed the arm first, or the horns, but it was the eyes for Komachi. Sharp, ruthless eyes.

“Miss Arm!” she called.

The figure glared up at her, and replied, “Don’t call me that,” but because she was, at this point, several metres away, it was somewhat less menacing than she’d intended. Possibly realising that, she began to slowly walk towards the hovering shinigami.

“What should I call you, then?” asked Komachi. “‘Cause I’m not calling you Kasen.”

“Good. I’m Ibaraki-Douji, not Kasen. ‘Kasen’ is the name that the weaker side of me took.”

Komachi considered that for a moment. “Nah, not calling you that. You’re not Kasen, but you’re not Ibaraki-Douji, either.”

The arm paused a few metres away. “What do you mean, I’m not Ibaraki-Douji?”

“You’re just not?” replied Komachi. “Like, you’re just her arm.”

“I’m more than just her arm,” said the arm, scowling. “She sealed all her power with me, after all! All the strength and terror she had as an Oni is in here! I’m Ibaraki-Douji, not her!”

Komachi was silent for another moment, and then murmured, “The sky clears, and the wind dries the old willow’s hair.”

The arm’s scowl became a frown. “What was that?”

“That’s the reason you’re not Ibaraki-Douji,” replied Komachi. “Ibaraki-Douji was violent, but she was an Oni. They experienced love and hate as the same emotion, finding joy in beauty and destruction. You’re just her arm. You’re just a bunch of pointless rage and meaningless strength, trapped in a box.”

“You-- I’ll show you meaningless--!!”

The would-be Oni leapt at her, and almost reached her, coming less than a foot short. Komachi rose slightly higher into the air and glanced below her.

“Hey, Miss Arm, was that all you wanted?”

“I want my revenge, you damnable shinigami!” She was almost petulant, glaring up at her. “Look at what I’ve been reduced to! Do you know how many centuries it took me to draw people in, how many lives I had to consume until I was almost strong enough to manifest?! And then she betrayed me! So I’m going to--” Her voice trailed off as she continued to stare up at Komachi, out of her reach. “I’m going to…”

“You were going to eat me, huh?” Komachi concluded.

The arm muttered something under her breath.

“I’m no good to eat though, y’know?” continued Komachi, gesturing vaguely. “Not a lot of spiritual energy in a shinigami.”

“You’re the only thing that’s come in here in months,” replied the arm. “I’ll take what I can get.”

“Unfortunately, my boss would be really mad with me if I got eaten,” said Komachi, “so I’m gonna have to decline. Still, though, you want some advice?”


Komachi grinned. “I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. No matter how many people you eat, it’s never gonna fill you up.”

The arm was silent. Her gaze turned from Komachi to stare across the emptiness of Avici.

“Even if you manifest, even if you fuse with Kasen again and take her over, it’ll never be enough. That’s why you’re stuck here in Avici, because it’s the place that truly reflects your soul. Unlike Kasen, you’re going to be starving forever.”

The arm’s gaze turned back to her. “What do you mean, unlike--”

“I reckon…” started Komachi, and then paused. She hadn’t really had the time to run this idea of hers by anyone, but who would she run it by? But it’s what she would do, and more than that, it’s what she thought Kasen would do, too. The Oni was too compassionate, and too selfish, to do otherwise.

“I reckon,” she repeated, “that she’s trying to fill herself up. Not with food, but with life. With her poetry, and her animal training, and her going down to the Shrine, and all of it. She’s gonna fill herself up until she’s overflowing.”

The arm’s expression had changed. It was still hostile, but it was more of a careful examination than an outright dismissal.

“And what’s that got to do with me? If she can-- if she can do that, then she won’t need me.”

Komachi laughed quietly, and the arm’s glare returned. “Once she’s overflowing, what do you think she’s gonna do? She’s gonna try and fill you up, too. You kinda forced her hand, and you can see how that turned out. Have a little patience this time, you’ll see.”

“I’ll starve to death before she ever gets the chance at this rate,” the arm muttered.

Komachi dug into a pocket in her dress, took out a somewhat squashed white object, and dropped it in front of the arm. She picked it up and examined it sceptically.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a riceball,” said Komachi. “Something to tide you over whilst you wait.” She drew out her scythe in front of her, and slashed it in the air. There was a rushing sound as two vast distances were spliced together, and a gap in the world revealed a path out of Hell.

The arm stared at her for a moment. She seemed to be conflicted, hesitating over what to say. Finally, just as Komachi was about to leave, she muttered, “You won’t get it this easy next time.”

The gap closed, and the shinigami snapped awake, draped over Kasen’s couch. The sealed arm, taking pride of place on Kasen’s dinner table, was silent and immobile, as it ever was. But she reached into her pocket, and where once there was a riceball, now there was nothing.

She sighed to herself. “You’re both hopeless, huh,” she murmured, then grinned to herself. “Guess I’ll see ya around, Miss Arm.”

Chapter Text

There was a short path into the woods behind the Hakurei Shrine. It led to a small, yet deep, lake, hidden amongst the woods. The path was somewhat overgrown, but never totally neglected. It was simply that only one person ever took this journey, and it wasn’t a regular occurrence for them to do so.

This meant that, when the sound of footsteps on leaves was heard on that path, there was only one person it could be.

A wizened head on a long neck emerged from the lake, and the body of an immense turtle youkai followed as it swam into the shallows. “Good morning, Lady Reimu,” said Genjii politely. “What brings you here today?”

In ages past, the Shrine Maidens had visited him regularly, whether asking for advice or simply wanting the company. This one did not. She visited him with no warning, and usually because she had something to complain about. It seemed that today would be no exception.

Reimu sighed. “There’s more weird people staying over at the Shrine again, old man,” she said. “That hidden god showed up saying something ‘I want to look around Gensokyo, so I’ll use this as a base’, and her two followers are there too, and then Yukari--” She hesitated.

“Fear not, Lady Reimu,” said Genjii, winking. “As per usual, your secrets are safe with me.”

Reimu smiled weakly. “Yukari says she’s going to be staying over so that she can catch up with Okina, and she’s going to be throwing a bunch of parties over the next few weeks. And they’re awful, old man. It’s like there’s two Yukaris.”

“That does sound quite dreadful.”

“Being her shikigami, are you really allowed to badmouth her like that?”

“She’s never told me that I cannot, Lady Reimu.” Genjii winked again.

Reimu sighed again. “Yeah, so I might be coming out here more often for a little while.”

This was also a common occurrence for this Shrine Maiden; whenever her Shrine was being occupied by an unwanted guest, and when all attempts at getting them to leave had failed, she would come out here, into the silence of the lake, and listen to him tell stories of her ancestors.

He had been around for a long time, after all; he had been training the Hakurei Shrine Maidens for more than six hundred years, ever since Yakumo Yukari had decided upon Gensokyo as the location for her youkai refuge. He had a lot of stories.

Most of them were second-hand, though. He was not a powerful youkai; his role in the lives of the Shrine Maidens was to help them awaken themselves to their own abilities. Once that task was complete, he retired, for however long it took for the next Shrine Maiden to be born, and waited here, listening to the stories that the Shrine Maidens told him and telling them the stories their predecessors had told him.

“I will be glad to have you around, if nothing else, Lady Reimu.” Then, after a moment, he added, “Now, I don’t suppose you’d like to share your dealings with Lord Matara?”

Reimu glanced down at him. “You’ve already met her?”

“She’s one of the Sages of Gensokyo. Of course I’ve met her.”

“Well, that means I don’t have to explain who she is…” considered Reimu, staring back over him into the distance. Then, “Alright, so, a couple of months ago, the weather started getting all weird…”

Reimu had some of the most interesting stories of the Shrine Maidens that he had served. She lived during a time where there was no need to slay her opponents, so her stories didn’t end with her defeating the youkai that had caused the incidents she went out to solve; instead, they continued on, talking about everything they’d done afterwards.

She was the first Shrine Maiden in centuries to talk about having friends. Genjii was glad that someone who would normally be trapped in such a lonesome role had managed to escape it with the advent of the Spell Card rules.

He was lonelier than he had been in the past, certainly, with Reimu spending less of her time at the lake than her predecessors; but he didn’t mind having more time to himself. If anything, he hoped that it would continue this way for a very long time.

Finally, the Sun began to set over the trees, and Reimu ran off down the path back to the Shrine, breaking off mid-story as she did. She’d be back tomorrow, though. Reimu was a lot of things, but she did her best to be reliable, and she always made certain to finish what she’d started, at least once she’d started it.

All in all, he’d felt he’d done a pretty good job.

He turned and began to return to the depths of the lake to rest. Tomorrow there’d be another chapter to the life of the Shrine Maiden, and he needed -- no, he wanted to be ready for it.

Chapter Text

Usami Sumireko was in a good mood, and why shouldn’t she be? After several weeks of her dreams suddenly vanishing, she’d finally been able to return to Gensokyo the previous day. Plus, apparently she’d gotten some good attention online with some photos she didn’t remember taking.

As part of a celebration for her return to Gensokyo, she’d gathered a box of sweets and the like together, and she planned to have a picnic with Reimu and company during her first lecture of the day.

It was only as she began nodding off at the start of the lecture that it occurred to her, in the most idle of thoughts, the box she held in her arms was about to disappear. Even then, the most significant outcome her mind came up with was that she’d make up with her head on her textbooks.

TranquilShadows posted at 4:38pm, Tuesday 14 August 2018

So you guys remember the girl in my Human Curiosity class? I mentioned her as #14 in my blog post about weird phenomena at university a few months back. She goes around wearing a hat and a cool cape and spends half her lectures asleep.

But today she brought in this cake box and fell asleep on it, but when she did, the box vanished!! And don’t tell me I was just seeing things. She put her head on it, put her arms around it really deliberately, and the box faded away and her head landed on the table! Then, she just woke up at the end of the lecture as if nothing had happened!! I don’t know if anyone else saw it, but I’m definitely not seeing things.

I’m going to keep an eye out for more stuff like that. I wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t so huge, but maybe she’s been doing that with other things? If so, where are they going? Is she a sleep wizard? I’ll find out! Will keep you all posted!!!

When she’d first started at the university, Sumireko had tended to take her “lunch” in the library -- which is to say, she’d fall asleep and bring it with her to Gensokyo whilst hidden away in a corner underneath the stairs. After her investigations earlier that year, though, she’d switched to a small corner of one of the staff floors, almost completely out of sight thanks to a quirk of the architecture. As a result, she was able to sleep almost uninterrupted until her alarm in Gensokyo reminded her that she needed to wake up again.

As an unintended side-effect, it was almost impossible to work out where she actually went on her lunches without very obviously following her. That meant that the experimentation with her abilities would have to occur during class -- and more than that, that she would need to be sitting next to the mysterious girl in order to do those experiments.

Her name was Sagami Maki. Compared to Sumireko, she was an amateur, but like many of those who had enrolled into that particular university, she had an interest in the occult. She was a popular -- that is to say, a regular -- poster on a minor occult forum, where she would talk about visiting mysterious places on her weekends or holidays.

And now that she had a legitimate phenomenon before her, she couldn’t help but succumb to the natural human desire to investigate.

Sumireko was in Gensokyo, talking with Reimu and Marisa outside the Hakurei Shrine, when a small red ball suddenly appeared in her hand.

The three of them stared at it. Sumireko carefully dropped it on the ground, and it bounced gently, before rolling off into the untrimmed weeds on the side of the stone path. The three of them watched it go.

“How’d that happen?” asked Marisa.

Sumireko thought for a moment. “Maybe someone put it in my hand…? I didn’t realise I could still bring stuff over whilst I was already asleep, though.”

“Who’d be putting stuff into your hand, though?”

TranquilShadows posted at 5:22pm, Wednesday 22 August 2018; edited at 8:46am, Thursday 23 August 2018

Operation successful!!! I put a ball in her hand, and it vanished! I even got a recording of it ! She’s definitely a psychic! A genuine somnopath! I’m gonna confront her next time I see her!

EDIT: So a lot of you are saying you’re having trouble with the video?? It’s working fine for me, but just in case I’ve uploaded it here and here as well. Hopefully one of those will work! I promise it’s not just special effects, too!!

“Hey, I’m not sure how exactly to ask you this, but did you put a bouncy ball into my hand yesterday?”


She’d been beaten to it! She’d intended to confront Sumireko with the evidence, but before they even got to the tutorial class, the girl herself had confronted her!

There was only one thing for it, then. She’d lost the initiative, but she could still go on the offensive and retake control of the situation!

“I-- Well, maybe I did, but it disappeared when I put it into your hand! Explain that!”

“Huh? It did that because of my ESP.”


“EH?! You’re admitting it!”

“Of course I’m admitting it, but that’s no reason for you to be putting weird stuff into my hands.”

--Sumireko had made a miscalculation. Whilst she was in high school, she had managed to repel people who wanted her attention through intentionally behaving strangely. But she wasn’t in high school anymore, and this was a place that already attracted people interested in the unusual.

“You’re really, truly a psychic?”

The note of awe in the girl’s voice surprised Sumireko, who hesitated. Then, she levitated a nearby chair.

TranquilShadows posted at 11:24am, Thursday 23 August 2018

Guys, you’re not gonna fucking believe this.

Chapter Text

She thought she was done for when she’d been spotted by her, but she’d once more failed to grasp the nature of her opponent.

Kicchou Yachie had come to the surface to “explain her situation” -- that is, lie between her teeth -- and to give her thanks to the Hakurei Shrine Maiden for her assistance in resolving the situation in the Animal Realm. And whilst she was there, she had decided to take the time to investigate the human village. It had been many, many centuries since she had seen living humans, after all.

Reimu had been skeptical when she had mentioned her intention to enter the village, and had suggested that she disguise herself. So, she had returned to Hell, and returned with her proud horns hidden under a hat and her tail hidden behind a long dress. She looked so unlike herself to begin with that she doubted even her followers would have recognised her.

And yet, when she entered the village, she was almost immediately spotted and identified by the god of idols herself, Haniyasushin Keiki. The god had smiled excitedly at seeing her, waved at her, and then gestured for her to follow. With the threat of being unmasked at the god’s disposal, Yacchie didn’t have much choice but to follow.

She thought of Keiki in different terms to the bosses of the others in the Animal Realm. Their standards were the same -- they attempted to control as many spirits as possible, through whatever means were possible. There weren’t “rules”, per se, but there was a similar line of thinking. The same could not be said for this god, whose values were entirely different; as she relied upon faith for her power, but could create her own minions, her goals relied upon maintaining the happiness of the human spirits that followed her. Or, so it seemed to Yacchie, at least.

Humans never understood the reasoning of a god. What chance did a beast spirit have?

Keiki led Yacchie into a small restaurant near the heart of Gensokyo, and sat down at a table, gesturing cheerfully for the beast spirit to join her.

But it was Yacchie, still trying to understand the situation, who spoke first.

“You haven’t got any guards with you today.”

“Oh, Mayumi? She’s exploring too. I love coming up here, there’s so much to see! People make such wonderful things, don’t you agree?”

One might think that was an innocent enough question, but that would be underestimating Keiki’s intelligence. She wasn’t a fool. Even if she was acting politely, she would have to recognise that Yacchie was a threat to the people around her, and be wondering what she was doing here.

“The humans are very creative, certainly. You’d fit right in here, with all the things they make.”

Keiki smiled. “I have an obligation to the humans of the Spirit Garden, and I won’t abandon them so easily. They’re relying on me, after all.”

“To keep them safe from people like me.”

Keiki’s smile didn’t waver. “To keep them safe, yes.” She glanced over at the counter. “I’m trying to remember… is this the one where they came to the table, or…”

“You’re been here before?” asked Yacchie, surprised. It had been less than two weeks since the human invasion of the Animal Realm.

“Oh, a few times,” replied Keiki. “At first, I was simply curious, but then I liked it up here so much… ah, I wanted to bring up the spirits from the Animal Realm, but I got told I couldn’t…” She sighed, and then glanced over at Yacchie. “I assume that was your reason for coming here, too? Simple curiosity.”

“Of course. Don’t worry, I’ve no interest in taking over the surface.”

“After the beating Miss Kurokuma received, I wouldn’t expect you to want to leave the Animal Realm, honestly.”

Yacchie scowled. The reminder of how easily their invasion of Hell had been deflected by the very people they’d brought to aid them was irritating, to say the least.

“The only reason we wanted to leave in the first place was due to your actions, don’t forget. You might claim to bring salvation to the humans, but that came at the expense of the rest of us. Your wonderful idols showed no mercy towards the beast spirits, after all. I wonder, after you took over the Animal Realm, what was your plan for our salvation?”

Keiki laughed softly. “You know your ability doesn’t work on me.”

“I know. Answer the question.”

Keiki’s smile didn’t waver, even now. “I would have done the same to you as you did to the humans. Kept you safe, and made sure you could never leave.”

“They call that a zoo up here.”

Keiki was silent for a moment. “You know, if I wanted to restart my invasion, I could. The humans won’t fall for your tricks a second time.”

“And is that what you’re going to do?”

Keiki glanced over at the counter again. “I think this is one of the ones where we have to order ourselves, actually. It’s been a little while…” She got up, and then glanced back down at Yacchie. “I’ll make a deal, just between us, alright?”

“A deal?” repeatedly Yacchie skeptically.

“A deal, yes,” confirmed Keiki. “I don’t want to fight. If you leave the Primate Garden alone, and don’t attempt to cause harm to the human spirits, I’ll leave the rest of the Animal Realm alone. In exchange… don’t tell anyone I’m a god, alright?”

Yacchie stared at her for a moment. The divine aura that radiated off of her was practically tangible. There was no way she was that oblivious, so maybe… maybe it was the other way around? If they committed any act of aggression, no matter how slight, she would have an excuse to dominate them all? Would they have to live on the edge of a sculptor’s knife for eternity?

Keiki’s friendly expression didn’t waver.

“I can’t agree to that,” said Yacchie, and Keiki blinked in surprise. “But if you buy me lunch, I won’t tell anyone you were here -- assuming you do the same for me.”

Keiki grinned. “It’s a deal, then. I knew we could cooperate, Miss Kicchou!”

The god wandered towards the counter, and Yacchie was silent. Was that what this was all about? Some attempt at cooperation? But she’d threatened her before she’d made that offer, so…

Well, perhaps she never would understand the mentality of a god. Perhaps she would have to tread carefully around her -- but that was nothing new. She’d clawed her way to the top of the Kiketsu Family through an ability to survive, if nothing else. This was just another threat, another enemy to compete with, another spirit to manipulate. A challenge, but if it wasn’t one she was capable of dealing with, then--

A bowl of still-steaming noodles was placed in front her, interrupting her train of thought.

“They’re really fast here,” remarked Keiki. “Sorry for making you wait so long because I forgot we had to go up.”

--Well, at least she was getting a free meal out of it.

Chapter Text

The Moon rabbit was sitting outside the gate to Eientei, staring up at the waxing moon, when the Earth rabbit wandered out of the forest as usual.

“Hey, newbie,” she said, “what’re you doing?”

Reisen glanced at her and frowned. “I’m watching the gate, as instructed,” she replied. “Lady Yagokoro told me to protect Eientei, so I will.”

“Hmm…” Tewi smirked. “Sounds lame. You should come hang out with us, instead.”

“I’m not going against Lady Yagokoro’s orders, Inaba,” said Reisen firmly. “She was kind enough to permit me to stay here, despite everything. I’m not going to let her down.”

“Yeah, but guarding this place? No-one ever comes here anyway, and there’s enough of us on watch already. You realise she’s just giving you something to do, right?”

“Lady Yagokoro--”

“It’s fine ,” insisted Tewi. “C’mon, I’ll show you something cool.”

“Lady Yagokoro,” repeated Reisen, “instructed me to guard Eientei. And she told me that you’re to do everything that I say, as well, so leave me alone.”

Tewi raised an eyebrow. “She told you that you’re my boss?”

“Your superior.”

Tewi was silent for a moment, and then began laughing. Reisen glared down at her, but that only made her laugh harder, until she fell backwards onto the floor, still cackling.

She picked herself up, wiping tears from her eyes, and glanced up at the other rabbit. “Oh, that’s really good… Alright, newbie, listen up. I was living in this forest long before Eirin or Kaguya, so as far as I’m concerned, they don’t get to tell me what to do. And you only just got here, so you sure don’t, either. Anyway, c’mon.”

Reisen glanced at the gate one final time, but Tewi grabbed her hand and began dragging her off into the trees.

Tewi knew every inch of the Bamboo Forest of the Lost. Every slight incline, every cluster of trees, every stray rock; the experience of living on that land for more than two millennia was unmatched. So her path was straight and true from Eientei to a small lake to the north.

The water was totally still, reflecting the stars and the Moon perfectly.

Reisen stared down into it.

“Do you like it here?” asked Tewi.

“I do,” replied Reisen.

“Enough to stay?”

Reisen frowned. “I don’t have a choice in that. I can’t go back to the Moon.”

“Alright, but theoretically, if you were allowed to go back, would you?”

Tewi’s gaze was inscrutable.

“They wouldn’t-- want me back to begin with. The Capital isn’t so forgiving to let a coward like me go h--”

“Cut the crap, Moon rabbit. That’s not what I’m asking. I’m worried about keeping this place safe, just like you are.”

The sudden shift in Tewi’s tone made Reisen jump. “Th-then…?”

“Let’s say, perhaps, that the residents of the Lunar Capital decided to clean up some loose ends. If they offered to let you return, all charges dropped, to be a spy for them, or something like that, would you?”


“Eirin says you’re not a spy, and I’ll buy that for now. But what about in future? Can I trust you, rabbit from the Moon?”


Reisen glanced at the Moon in the lake. She’d only been there for a few months, now. She hadn’t expected to be accepted so easily. She still wasn’t really sure of anything that was happening, other than that she’d made a mistake. The invasion hadn’t happened -- or it hadn’t happened so soon, at least. So what did that make her? That just made her a coward, who’d fled at the first sign of danger.

But was that all? Was that the only reason she’d fled the Capital? The only reason she’d been so ready to escape from that place?

A pair of faces flashed through her mind, and she hesitated, and then glanced back at Tewi.

“There’s nothing they could offer me that would make me go back.”

Tewi watched her silently for a moment, and then sighed. “I guess you had it rough after all, huh?”

Reisen nodded silently.

“You wanna talk about it?”

Chapter Text

It was a question that she’d been asked many times before; in fact, sooner or later, everyone that she met asked it.

She’d been asked it by humans and by youkai. Sometimes she’d been asked by people she’d expected to be far more discerning, and yet -- well, what was her answer? She supposed that her unsatisfying answer was why.

Because it was hard to pin down, after all. She could say any number of things, but in the end, the question eluded any kind of simple answer.

And here it was, once more.

This time it came from one of the two goddesses who’d caused the Perfect Possession incident, Yorigami Joon. She’d been (apparently) working hard at the Myouren Temple, but part of the arrangement was that she would also help to tidy up after the mess she and her sister had caused.

Now her sister had begun to cause another mess with the delinquent celestial, Joon seemed to be spending more time at the Hakurei Shrine than at the Myouren Temple as she assisted the Shrine Maiden’s efforts. And, like so many before her, she’d noticed that whenever Reimu set out to solve whatever problems were being caused, she would invariably be accompanied by another girl.

And like so many before her, she thought she’d clear things up, and simply ask.

“So what’s the deal with you two, anyway?”

It would have been easy enough -- and obvious, for that matter -- to say that they were together. Was that enough? Somehow, though, that didn’t feel quite right. Obviously they were together, but…

Reimu had known Marisa since they were both young; since before she was the Hakurei Shrine Maiden, and was still learning about the spiritual powers she would inevitably have to master; since shortly after the youngest child of the Kirisame family vanished into the Forest of Magic, never to return home.

She had been her first friend; the Shrine was so distant that few people visited, and until Marisa, no-one ever stayed for very long. Marisa stayed over all the time, travelling between the Shrine and the Forest of Magic according to her whims. And gradually, Reimu had allowed Marisa to guide her around Gensokyo outside of the limits of her training; the young magician enthusiastically showing her all the bizarre sights she had discovered within the Forest of Magic.

She had brought her to Kourindou, too, and even into the village sometimes; opening up the reclusive Shrine Maiden to all sorts of new people. It was only from Marisa that she even really learnt how to talk to people -- to expand the periphery of her vision beyond what she had been taught.

She wondered, as she grew older, how her mother, and the other Shrine Maidens, had dealt with it; but her memories of her mother were those of a person who was never close, but instead always careful to keep her distance from those around her, even her own child. She was glad, then, that she hadn’t had that same closed existence.

And of course, as they grew older, they developed new feelings for each other, and for others, but it wasn’t like those feelings replaced the ones that were already there; they simply built atop an existing foundation, another layer of the myriad bonds that connected the two. So somehow, a single word answer felt… lacking.

Not that that would ever stop Marisa.

Whilst Reimu was thinking, Marisa grinned confidently, as she always did. “We’re partners, of course!”

Marisa had a certain confidence about her that allowed her to say anything with ease. She distilled the complexities of their relationship into that single word without hesitation. But it was lacking, too. “Partner” simply implied that they worked together, or collaborated together. Which was true, but it was barely sufficient. They were more than simply partners, after all.

Marisa had once, after a particularly heated party, asked to marry her. She’d refused; there were certain expectations that came with being the Shrine Maiden. The next morning, Marisa had forgotten all about it. Sometimes, when her thoughts wandered in this direction, she wondered…

Would that be it, then? Would that be the connection that bound them together? But the idea of marriage in Gensokyo was informal outside of the village. It, too, felt too rudimentary. And perhaps it would simplify things too much.

But what did you call someone that you’d known all your life, who had opened up your world, who you owed your very world to? What did you call someone who was your world?


“Yeah, partners. We’re always together, y’know?”

“Still though, partners…” Joon mused over the word for a moment, and then glanced at the still-thinking Reimu. “Y’know, somehow that doesn’t just fit. Maybe it’s just ‘cause I know what it’s like, but really, you act more like--”

It was strange, really. Reimu rarely overthought things; rarely worried about things; but somehow this was important. Not because she wanted people to get the wrong impression or anything -- she truly did love Marisa, after all -- but because she wanted to get it right; she wanted to be sure that whatever she decided upon encapsulated the depths of her feelings, and the broadness of those feelings -- the childhood friend who’d shown her youkai tracks in the woods, the person who’d sat and helped her cook and clean and mend her clothes when her mother was gone, the person who joked and laughed, who came up with the wildest schemes and never failed to see them through, who followed her on every incident, and competed with her to complete them first; the person who, without fail, had always been there for her.

Marisa was a lot of things. Perhaps this was the easiest way to tie them all together.

“Family, yeah.” Reimu smiled, and took a small drink of her tea, as Marisa sighed. “After all this time, I don’t know what else you’d call it.”

Chapter Text

The Moon was full, and high in the sky, its cold, pale light bathing the forests of what would one day be known as Gensokyo in eerie shadow.

There was a girl laying upon the ground in a clearing. There was a tear in her clothing, and as the other individual drew closer, she saw that there was a tear in the girl, too -- a small, circular wound near her waist.

Her breathing was rough, but it seemed to be a non-fatal wound, and the other individual suspected that she would survive this wound. But falling unconscious in a forest full of monsters was dangerous in its own regard, and if one of those monsters happened upon her…

Well, here was one of those monsters now. One of the oldest residents of the forest, a creature wreathed in flames and fury that attacked any who came close. Was it luck or misfortune that she should collapse in that monster’s territory? Given the nature of the wound, and the creature who gave it to her, perhaps it was fate, more than anything.

The monster carefully lifted her up and examined the wound. There was no blood, and inside of it was a strange green light. Tales, long since forgotten, came to her mind. Perhaps the girl would survive, after all. She flung her over her shoulder and began to steadily walk out of the clearing.

She awoke in discomfort and pain, to the steady sound of footsteps on fallen leaves. When she opened her eyes, she saw the ground below her swaying, moving closer and further away rapidly; only after a moment’s thought did she realise that she was being carried, and none too gently, either.

She began to squirm, and the figure carrying her came to a stop.

“You’re awake, huh?”

The voice was coarse, and rough. It was quiet, and it was old-fashioned. Something about it seemed out of practise, too; as if this were the first time in a while that it had been used.

All of that came to the girl in a single moment.

“Wh… what…”

Her own memories, however, were somewhat vague. She remembered talking about something in the village, and running into the woods. It seemed important somehow, and yet… what was it…?

“You got attacked by something,” the individual continued, not yet putting her down. “You’re lucky it wasn’t something vicious enough to kill ya, honestly.”

“Attacked…?” the girl repeated.

“You’ve got a hole in ya, so yeah. You should know better than to go wandering in the woods on your own. There’s monsters about.”


She remembered.

“You… didn’t see a hakutaku near where I was, did you…?”

There was a pause, and the other person placed her in front of her. She was younger than the girl had expected; she looked barely twenty. Her hair was a dull grey, and her eyes were a dull red.

She looked at her seriously, and asked, calmly, “You’re saying ya got attacked by a hakutaku ?”


She didn’t get further than that, because the other girl suddenly burst out laughing. It was a hoarse, rough laugh; like her voice, it sounded like it hadn’t been used in a very long time. It echoed through the silent woods, adding to and overwhelming the rustling of the trees, causing the shadows around them to writhe from the shock. But finally she stopped laughing, and it was as if a mask had been placed on her; the flash of light and energy faded, leaving only those dull red eyes.

“Sorry about that,” she said. “I’ve just never heard of anyone getting attacked by a hakutaku. What’d you do to it?”

“I didn’t do anything, I think…” the girl replied. “I only wanted…” She hesitated. “I only wanted it to stay.”

The other girl raised an eyebrow. “To stay? Where?”

“Our village.” Again, the hesitation. “It showed up a long time ago, and it had been teaching many of the villagers. But they’re leaving now, and once they’re gone, it’ll be gone too. But…” She clenched her fists. “But I still want to know! I still want to know what it has to teach us! But…”

To the other girl’s surprise, she saw tears running down her companion’s frustrated cheeks. It had been a long time since she’d had to deal with anything like this.

“There’s nothing interesting about our village,” she said, quietly. “There’s no reason it would stay. I just wanted… I was going to ask for its blessing.” She glanced down at her wound. “I guess it rejected me.”

“What’d you want from it?”

“I… I don’t know. Protection from disease… a final piece of knowledge… or…” The worn nails of her clenched fists dug into her palms. She sighed. “I suppose I just wanted to know that we mattered.”

“Ya don’t need a hakutaku for that.”

The girl blinked up at her.

“If I’m looking at that wound there the right way, it’s already given you a gift. If you want your little village to matter, then make it matter yourself. Take what you care about, remember it, and never let it go. You don’t need to rely on some youkai for that. Can you walk?”

She’d stuck out her hand, and the girl took it, and was quickly pulled to her feet.

“Come on then. Let’s get you back to town before the sun comes up.”

They parted at the edge of the forest.

It would be a long time before they saw each other again, when a woman with the hakutaku’s blessing would try to learn about a girl who was a monster.

But it was a chance encounter that created the history of the place that would one day be known as Gensokyo -- two humans who met on a moonlit night.

Chapter Text

They said that the mysteries had all been solved.

There were no more unknowns; no more shadows to hide from the light of human knowledge.

Kitashirakawa Chiyuri had heard of Okazaki Yumemi, of course. Even in that era of modern geniuses, Yumemi stood above the rest of them; a prodigy who had mastered even the unified field theory before she had even graduated. That she became a professor at the very academy she had studied at, and so soon after graduating, was surprising only in that, for a woman who could choose to do anything, she had chosen this path.

“She’s throwing her talents away here.”

“You can’t blame her, though. The world doesn’t need another Einstein, now that we’ve already discovered everything.”

Chiyuri had been excited to find that she’d be learning about unified field theory directly from Yumemi; she couldn’t think of anyone more appropriate. And so she and hundreds of others had crowded into the lecture hall to listen to Yumemi speak.

The red-haired girl had patiently explained the basis of the field theory and its components, and it was disappointingly textbook. Chiyuri had been hoping for some exciting new perspective, but she supposed that was too much to expect. And it was only afterwards that she’d realised that she, and everyone else, had missed it.

“This theory, which defines almost everything that we currently know of.”

The boundaries had been drawn around the world. It was simply a matter of ‘tidying up’; solving the remaining equations. Nothing conflicted with the current theories; nothing could be permitted to. The idea that human knowledge was incomplete was almost a taboo.

Only a genius among geniuses would dare to suggest it. Only a genius among geniuses would be willing to explore the possibility that everyone around her was wrong.

“Professor, I was wondering…”


“What doesn’t the unified field theory define?”

Yumemi’s small office, like the other offices, was more like a cubicle than anything. Piles of books and notes had long been superseded with a single computer. Personalisation had become more difficult as materials became more scarce. Indeed, the only real sign of individuality was a wooden hatstand in the corner, from which was hanging what seemed to be a large piece of crimson cloth.

“Why do you ask that?”

Yumemi’s gaze was cautious, but not hostile.

“Because you mentioned that there are things outside of what we know.”

Yumemi was quiet again for a moment. “Do you think that we know everything? That we’ve reached the limits of human knowledge? That all things are within our reach?”


She had never considered it. Not once had it occurred to her.

“There is a force in this world that defies whatever reason we apply to it. The great unknown; that is, the occult.”

“The occult…?”

From anyone else, this would have sounded ridiculous.

Yumemi grinned, and something in her eyes changed. “The occult. Can we, as humans, truly deny that it ever existed? That it still exists? Tell me, can you account for everything that has ever happened to you? Every time you flinched from the dark, every time you were startled by something falling when nothing was around, every time you were certain you were being watched?”


“I can. I’ve done the math!” Yumemi’s eyes were shining, and she slammed her hands on the desk, startling Chiyuri. “My proofs are complete! In the gaps of this world of ‘certainty’ exist the ‘probability space’ of fantasy! And yet… and yet…”

She clenched her fists, and looked down.

“…You don’t believe me, do you?”

Chiyuri was silent for a moment.

“How can I present myself to the Academy? The idea is laughable. After all…”

There were no more unknowns left to find; that was what Chiyuri had been told.

And yet, if Yumemi believed that wasn’t the case, wasn’t it possible that that might not be true after all?

“…Was that your only question?”


Yumemi raised an eyebrow.

“I wonder, could I become your assistant?”

Yumemi raised her other eyebrow. “You don’t think I’m foolish, then?”

“I think… if it’s you, Professor, then you can do it.”

There was a pause, for a moment.

“…Of course I can do it. I already said that I had the proofs, right? And I’ve got a concept in place for a vessel that could take us into probability space…”

They said that the mysteries had all been solved.

There were no more unknowns; no more shadows to hide from the light of human knowledge.

But she stood in defiance of that logic. Humans simply chose not to look at what they couldn’t explain.

There was nothing left to discover, they said?

She would prove them wrong.

Chapter Text

Yakumo Yukari had shown up that morning unannounced and declared that she would be staying over for a few days.

It was hardly unusual for her to do that; and at this point, Hakugyokurou had a guest bedroom permanently reserved for her, so it was simply a matter of Youmu clearing out the dust and moving all her bags into the room. More than once, Youmu had wondered why Yukari didn’t simply use her abilities to immediately tailor the room to her liking, but she assumed that it would be a needless waste of energy when Youmu was right there.

Still, it was mid-afternoon when she returned to the main room to announce that her work was done.

Yakumo Ran, the gap youkai’s shikigami, was dutifully pouring tea for Yukari and Yuyuko. Youmu wondered if Ran had the same kinds of thoughts that she did about Yukari’s abilities, then decided against it; even ignoring the shikigami’s programming, she was far too diligent to have any such thoughts about her master.

As she made her announcement, Yukari grinned one of her catlike smiles, the kind that you could never be sure what they really meant, and remarked, cheerfully, “Finishing that early means you might be able to take Youmu on the shopping trip with you, Ran.”

Ran glanced at her, but said nothing, so Yukari continued.

“We’ll need a lot of food this time. I’m planning on staying for at least a week, if not longer. And we might have some events, too~! Not that it isn’t lovely to just spend time in your company, Yuyuko dearest, but it’s important to keep things interesting, isn’t it~?”

“Of course, of course,” replied Yuyuko, drinking her tea and smiling to herself. “Maybe we could invite the Prismrivers over… get an exclusive performance from them.”

“Those ghosts with their music to sway the listeners’ hearts, hmm~? Oh, that would be very interesting to see…”

Youmu, seemingly forgotten after her entrance, began to turn around, but Yukari’s voice interrupted her mid-step.

“So, Ran, you should take Youmu now, hmm? After all, we might even be able to get them tonight, and we wouldn’t want to be short on food.”

“Of course not, Lady Yukari. I’ll head out immediately.”

“Make sure to get everything on the list, Ran~ I won’t take any excuses this time.”

“Of course, Lady Yukari.”

Ran sighed, almost imperceptibly; the kind of sigh that only the long-suffering servant could identify. Youmu would have glanced at her in surprise, but she was still barely keeping up with the conversation as it was; any conversation between Yuyuko and Yukari tended to give her a headache.

So instead she followed Ran outside, still dressed in her somewhat dusty outfit, and watched as the kitsune stood in Hakugyokurou’s courtyard and began to make gestures in the air, gestures that left orange trails of flame that began to take on their own shape, a writhing, blazing golden symbol floating in the air.

“Wh-where are we going?” asked Youmu.

Ran glanced down at her, but didn’t cease in her casting. “Outside.” Then, she sighed again. “Lady Yukari always overdoes it when she comes here, even taking into account Lady Yuyuko’s appetite… and there’s only one place to get all the food we need.”

Youmu supposed that was true; every time that Yukari came over, they inevitably threw a party that involved dozens of dishes she’d never seen before. She considered herself lucky that it was Ran, rather than her, who’d had to manage the kitchen in preparing them.

Then the actual response to her question caught up with her thoughts.

“Outside?” repeated Youmu. “Like… Outside outside?”

Ran nodded, and made a final gesture. The seal began to spin, and as it spun, the world around them was swept away, and another one took its place; a world of cold white lighting and tiled floors, and seemingly endless metal rows filled with food.

Ran had changed in appearance, too; her indigo tabard had become an indigo jacket, whilst her white dress had become a white shirt and ankle-length white pants. Her ears and tails, too, had vanished… and yet, there was still the illusory impression of a pale golden haze around her; that something was there, and it simply wasn’t visible.

But before she could think any longer, Ran was already walking off quickly, taking a list from a pocket she hadn’t had a moment ago and grabbing something that resembled a wheelbarrow made of thin pieces of metal. By the time Youmu had begun to collect herself, the kitsune had already begun to remove things from the shelves and put them into the odd wheelbarrow.

As she went, Ran meticulously ticked each item off the list, but even as she did, she seemed to be putting things in without ticking them off. And normally, Youmu would have asked, but this strange, bright world was overwhelming her with other things to pay attention to. As she walked next to Ran, she took a small metal can off one of the shelves and looked at it. Its labelling was written in a language she didn’t recognise, but there were pictures of tomatoes on it, so she supposed it must be full of tomatoes. Still holding the can of tomatoes, she followed after Ran once more.

“Where are we?” she asked, as they turned into another corridor lined with cans.

Ran hesitated for a moment. “It’s… somewhere in America,” she replied. “It’s just a supermarket. Lady Yukari likes Western food, and they have a lot of it here, so it saves me multiple trips.”

Youmu nodded, then was silent for a moment. “What’s a supermarket?”

“It’s like a market, but bigger.”

Youmu nodded again. “And they have lots of these in America?”

“Quite a lot, yes.”

Ran went back to silently filling the wheelbarrow, and then another thought occurred to Youmu.

“Am I allowed to be out here?”

Ran glanced down at her, and smiled. “Allowed?” she repeated. “There’s no rule preventing youkai from leaving Gensokyo, it’s merely risky. In Gensokyo, our existences are secure; outside of it, we’re at the mercy of human belief. That’s why I placed us under an enchantment, even though there’s no-one around.”

“Are there normally more people…?”

“Of course. But it’s early in the morning over here, and the workers who should be filling the shelves have all decided to take a break.” Ran smiled to herself, and something in her smile was more Yukari-like than one would expect; a clever, sharp kind of smile, almost bordering on cruel. “The cameras won’t see us, and even if someone does happen across us, they’ll just think we’re meant to be here. Humans are so easy to manipulate… they only want to see what they expect to see, so if you give it to them, they’ll give you no trouble at all~”

“M-miss Ran…?”

Ran glanced back down at her in surprise. “My apologies. I usually do these trips on my own, so I’m used to talking to myself… And you’re half-human, yourself, of course. Although, you aren’t so vulnerable to illusions as these ones are.”

“Mhmm…” There was another silence, and then, “Miss Ran, why do you serve Lady Yukari?”

“Why I chose to become her shikigami, you mean?”

Youmu nodded, and for the first time, Ran stopped moving the now-overstuffed wheelbarrow.

And then she grinned, and this time it truly was a sharp grin, with sharp teeth, and glittering golden eyes.

“When a kitsune has nine tails, she’s become truly powerful -- but she’s also reached the limits of her ability. Lady Yukari offered me the option to go beyond those limits, and I accepted, without hesitating. Now, let me ask you -- why do you serve your Lady Yuyuko?”

Youmu opened her mouth to reply, and then frowned to herself. Ran took up the handles of the shopping wheelbarrow and resumed walking.

She supposed it had been a rude question to ask, Youmu thought, and she should have expected that kind of answer, but she’d never really thought about it before. Serving Yuyuko was simply what the Konpaku family did; she’d never had to think of a reason for it.

For the last few minutes of the journey there was silence, until they returned to the slightly-more-open space where they had initially appeared, and Ran began to cast a blazing symbol in the air once more.

“Lady Ran?”


“Is it alright… if I don’t have an answer?”

Ran raised an eyebrow. “I think you do have an answer, though. You just might not recognise it for what it is.”

Youmu looked blank for a moment, and Ran smiled; not her fierce smile from earlier, but a calmer, gentler one. “I confess… I lied a little bit, earlier. That’s why I chose to become Lady Yukari’s shikigami, certainly, but that’s not why I stayed. And the truth is, she’s a difficult employer… she leaves me with a lot of work, and is rarely ever grateful. Even with the power she offers, I could simply refuse to take it, and leave…”

The mark was almost complete once more.

“But the truth is, it’s interesting to follow her. And it’s fun, in its own way. And what about you, Youmu? Do you have fun doing what you do?”

Youmu thought for a moment about the work she put in around Lady Yuyuko’s home, work which was rarely acknowledged beyond an offhand comment. Then she thought about the parties and events she accompanied her to, and invariably had to clean up after, and often had to put up with teasing during.

And yet--

Whilst she was having them, she was certainly having fun, right? Fun she wouldn’t have been able to have, with people she wouldn’t have been able to meet, in places she wouldn’t have been able to go, if she weren’t Lady Yuyuko’s attendant.

Indeed, why had she even hesitated?

“Of course I do!”

Ran grinned again, a smile that was washed away with the rest of the world as that stark white world was replaced with the cool shades of the Netherworld’s evening.

The wheelbarrow had somehow become an immense sack which Ran held over her shoulder effortlessly as she strolled back into Hakugyokurou; then, she unfurled it, and Yukari immediately began to critically examine the pile of food.

After a moment, she nodded. “This should be satisfactory. As usual, excellent service, Ran.”

“Of course, Lady Yukari. And Miss Youmu’s assistance was greatly appreciated.”

“I’m sure it was~” replied Yukari in a singsong voice.

“Of course it was, Yukari,” said Yuyuko, nudging her with her shoulder and smiling brightly. “Youmu’s extremely capable, so I’m sure she did a fantastic job, as always!”

And somehow that made all of it worth it.

Chapter Text

“So, the incident with the Animal Realm has been resolved, for now?”

Kutaka nodded slowly.

“You don’t seem to be happy about it.”

“W-well…” She looked down at the ground. “I didn’t have anything to do with it, Yama. It was only because I failed in my duties that those beast spirits were defeated.”

Eiki was quiet for a moment. “Why are you so frustrated?”

Kutaka blinked back at her. “Yama?”

“It’s a question I can’t answer for you.” She hesitated, then smiled. “Well, I could, but it wouldn’t be much use. Some things, we have to work out for ourselves.”

Kutaka frowned. “I suppose…”

Eiki held up her hand. “Not now. Besides, we’ve still got work to do. There’s still beast spirits coming across the Sanzu, and for now you need to maintain your position at the entrance to Hell. Just because they’ve stopped for now, doesn’t mean they won’t renew their efforts at a later point. Especially without any kind of binding arrangement…” Then, muttered under her breath, “And who knows how long that’s going to take…”

The Yama began to trail off at that point. “I’ll return to my post, then, Yama!” said Kutaka, and the other woman smiled back.

“Much appreciated, Miss Niwatari. And I hope you feel better soon.”

The unchanging fields of Higan stretched out endlessly before her, providing solace, but no answers.

When she had accepted the role of Higan’s gatekeeper, it had been an honour, and she had been determined to fulfil her obligations to the best of her ability. And she’d certainly done it to the best of her ability; it was just that the best of her ability hadn’t been enough.

For now, she stood at the entrance to Hell, turning back most of the weaker beast spirits. But occasionally one would come by with proof that they had permission from the Hakurei Shrine, and she would let it pass.

--They were allowed to visit the Hakurei Shrine, now. In spite of having caused this incident, and in spite of still being threats to the surface. The spirits condemned to the Animal Realm were free to wander and see what they weren’t permitted to have. Somehow, she couldn’t see that as a good idea, but who was she to defy the Hakurei Shrine?

That girl had defeated her, after all. Kutaka’s strength as a god had barely scratched the surface of the Hakurei Shrine Maiden’s ability, someone who’d fought both gods and demons far greater than her.

But she’d resolved the incident too, and defeated the strongest of the beast spirits. Thanks to her, the turmoil in the Animal Realm had settled down enough that the Yama were able to discuss intervention to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again. So Kutaka supposed she should be grateful to the Shrine Maiden.

But she wasn’t.

As she waved another of the spirits past, that cold, ungenerous thought lurked in the back of her mind. Had she failed in her duties, and the Shrine Maiden had had to pick up where she’d been unable; or had the Shrine Maiden, in defeating her, revealed that all along, her role had simply been a symbolic one?

How could someone like her ever hope to protect her home from the residents of Hell?

Maybe it would have been better if she hadn’t been here at all…

She could quit. They could find someone else to do this job, someone stronger, and then she’d go back home and stay there until she eventually faded away.

Somehow, the thought felt like a relief. It felt nice to have made a decision; to have control over something. She couldn’t control anything that happened in Hell, but she could control what happened to herself.

Having made that decision, she was much more cheerful for the rest of that day, politely acknowledging the beast spirits as she would any others and warning them to be careful on the surface; after all, she wouldn’t be looking out for them.


Eiki glanced up from the piles of paperwork to see Kutaka, her face a mix of trepidation and excitement, standing in the doorway to her cramped office.

“Good evening, Miss Niwatari,” she replied, smiling. “I’m glad to see you’re feeling better.”

“I’m resigning, Yama!”

Eiki blinked. “Why?”

Kutaka hesitated. “B-because--” She glanced around the office, suddenly avoiding eye contact. “Because I didn’t do a good job!”

“I won’t accept your resignation,” said Eiki calmly. “Or-- if you can answer my question from earlier, I’ll consider it.”

Kutaka frowned. “Your question from earlier?” she asked.

“Why are you so frustrated, Kutaka? To the point that you’re thinking of resigning? Are you unhappy doing the work you’re doing?”

“N-no, Yama! It’s a great honour to be the gatekeeper, and-- and, I’d miss doing it, b-but--”

Eiki raised an eyebrow, and Kutaka’s gaze began to sweep through the corners of the office, before she finally looked down at her feet.

“I wasn’t strong enough, Yama. I couldn’t do my job.”

“Did you think you were hired for your strength?”

Kutaka finally returned Eiki’s gentle gaze.


“If it was someone powerful who was required to guard Higan, we would have assigned an oni to that position. But we didn’t. We-- I assigned you, Miss Niwatari. Do you know why?”

Kutaka slowly shook her head.

“Do you enjoy the work you’re doing?” asked Eiki, once more. “Do you think it’s important? Meaningful? Valuable?”

“I do,” answered Kutaka, voice almost a whisper. Then, more energetically. “I do, Yama! B-but--”

“We don’t need someone strong in Higan,” continued Eiki. “Higan is where the restless dead lie, as they await their judgement. And even if things are turbulent right now… Those wandering spirits will always welcome a friendly voice to send them into their next life.” She smiled again, a bright smile that burnt away at Kutaka’s frustrations. “I chose you because you’re kind, Miss Niwatari. That’s all that the dead still want, after all. A bit of kindness.” She laughed. “So don’t worry about the beast spirits. So long as you’re happy, you’re doing your job. And are you happy, Miss Niwatari?”

Kutaka was silent for a moment, and then she smiled back brightly. “Absolutely, Yama!”

Chapter Text

The human silently glared at her from the cage she’d built in the corner of the room.

Yumeko had found the human wandering on the outskirts of Makai, gathering fairies, whilst on one of her now-regular patrols. Suspecting the human was up to something, she had observed them, and been unfortunately proved right in her suspicions when they had attacked one of the residents with little to no warning.

The human had proved fairly simple to capture, though; after throwing a handful of blades at Yumeko that she had easily deflected, they’d surrendered.

So she dragged them back to Pandemonium and locked them up until she could decide what to do with them.

For her part, Izayoi Sakuya’s current primary emotion was sheer embarrassment.

She’d been sent to Makai on Remilia’s request; after seeing a few natives of Makai wandering around Gensokyo, the vampire had requested that her maid bring her a few of the residents so that she could sample their blood. Naturally, she’d headed into Makai immediately, but had only managed to capture a few fairies before being defeated.

Even worse, her trusted ability to stop time had somehow failed her during battle, meaning that she’d been overwhelmed easily. Her skills had grown rusty over the centuries, it seemed; she’d grown over-reliant on being able to combat enemies whilst they were immobilised.

So now she sat in a cage made of crystals, observing the room she was being kept in and the woman who had put her there.

The room itself was wide, and circular. Brown pots filled with shining blue crystals were placed around the room haphazardly. Black-clothed fairies flitted from here to there carrying crystals to and from those pots and into other rooms through slits in the wall and a hole in the ground; other creatures, five-legged creatures with strange bowl-shaped heads, wandered around and carefully moved crystals from pot to pot, examining them with the strange compound eyes that ringed their heads.

In the heart of it all sat the woman who had captured her, sitting at a crystal desk and writing tirelessly. Her outfit was odd; a butler’s uniform in dull pink, perfectly tailored, yet still somehow unfitting. Every hour or so, she would be interrupted from her ceaseless writing by a humanoid figure emerging from one of the hidden entrances in the walls; at this point, she would hand them a dozen forms and brightly welcome them to Makai, then return to her silent work.

Sakuya had watched this happen a few times before when she finally spoke.

“So, who are all those people?”

Yumeko glanced at her prisoner in surprise. “Which people?” she asked, confused.

The prisoner frowned at her. “The ones who keep coming through. The ones you’re giving the papers to.”

“Oh!” replied Yumeko. “They’re new residents of Makai. After Lady Shinki gives them their identity, it’s my job to identify the locations the new residents are best suited for and send them there.” She glanced back at her papers, which were beginning to spill off the desk, forcing her bowl-crabs to gather them. “I’ve been busier than ever lately, too, because Lady Shinki keeps coming up with new ideas…”

“So you’re the head maid of Makai, then?” the prisoner remarked. “I’d heard rumours about you, you know.”

“The head maid of Makai…?” repeated Yumeko, then shook her head. “No, I’m only Shinki’s maid.”

The prisoner’s frown deepened. “Then… why are you doing all of this?”

Yumeko frowned back at her. “To make less work for Lady Shinki, of course.”


The prisoner was silent for a while after that, and Yumeko returned to her work, somewhat perturbed by the odd questions.

About half an hour later, the maid left the room, and returned shortly after with a couple of bowls of soup. The crystal bars of the cage slid away from her hands as she handed one of the bowls through the gap to Sakuya, then reformed as she took her hand back.

Sakuya glanced at the bowl suspiciously. She’d been warned about the food of Makai, but this didn’t seem too dangerous…

She glanced back up at the maid, who was smiling at her. “Humans need to eat, right?” she asked brightly.

Sakuya nodded, and had a small spoonful of the soup. Its somewhat savoury taste was surprisingly normal, if rich. “Everything needs to eat,” she replied. “Humans, animals, and youkai.”

“I don’t need to eat,” said Yumeko, sitting cross-legged outside of Sakuya’s cage and steadily eating her own soup. “I was made before Lady Shinki decided on that function. I don’t need to eat, or sleep, or breathe, or die.”

Sakuya frowned. “You don’t need to die?”

“Most things do, but I don’t,” agreed Yumeko. “That’s not important, though! You’re a maid too, right?”

Sakuya nodded again. “I’m the head maid at a place in Gensokyo.”

Yumeko was quiet, thinking, then tentatively asked, “Could you tell me about Gensokyo?”

Sakuya raised an eyebrow at that. “Surely,” she replied, “there’s enough people from Makai going there now that you could probably just go there and learn about it in person.”

“Oh, I couldn’t,” replied Yumeko. “I wouldn’t leave Lady Shinki alone, and right now she’s still in a creative mood. Maybe in a few years, though, she’ll be in a mood to travel again!” She leant towards the cage, smiling brightly. “Just last year, we finished travelling all around Makai! That was really fun.”

Sakuya was silent for a moment, only eating her soup. “Alright, I’ll tell you about Gensokyo, then. I work for someone called Remilia Scarlet…”

She felt like she had talked for hours, interrupted only occasionally by a question from Yumeko, but it was impossible to tell. All she knew was that when she finally began to run out of breath, the other maid reached through the bars once more and silently collected her bowl.

As Yumeko turned to leave, though, Sakuya spoke again.

“So when are you going to let me go?”

Yumeko stared at her in surprise. “Go?”

Sakuya stared back. “I have to get back to Gensokyo, after all. I’ve got responsibilities there. The Mistress-- is waiting for me.”

Yumeko blinked, slowly. “I have to let you go?”

Yes,” insisted Sakuya. “You can’t keep me locked up forever.”

“Of course I can,” replied Yumeko calmly. “It’s the most efficient way of making sure that troublemakers don’t wander around Makai. After all, if I let you out, you could just return to Makai and begin attacking the residents again.”

Sakuya was quiet again for a moment, and Yumeko turned away once more.

“But how would you feel if you were trapped somewhere, and you couldn’t return to Makai?”

Her grip on the bowls tightened slightly, and the ornate, false porcelain began to crack.

“I can always return to Makai,” she muttered. “I must always be at Lady Shinki’s side.”

“But what if you weren’t?”

They said the residents of Makai didn’t dream; they didn’t sleep, after all. But in her worst daydreams, Yumeko had felt that fear -- the fear that one day, Lady Shinki wouldn’t be there.

Or even worse-- the fear that one day she wouldn’t be there for Lady Shinki.

“I’m always going to be there!” she yelled, and the bowls shattered in her hands, dripping the remnants of the soup on her shoes. “I won’t-- I won’t--”

She glanced back at Sakuya with tears in her eyes, and the other maid blinked at her in surprise, then held her gaze.

“You need to let me go,” she repeated. “There are people waiting for me.”

Yumeko hesitated again, glancing between her and the hole in the wall behind her. Then, with the remnants of their meals still ruining her clothes, she crept closer to the cage.

“You can’t cause problems anymore,” she murmured. “Or I’ll lock you up again.”

“You shouldn’t lock people up,” Sakuya replied calmly. “…But I promise not to cause problems here anymore, either.”

The cage dissolved into the ground, and the two of them faced each other for a moment.

“I wonder, what has the god of Makai done to earn such a diligent maid?” asked Sakuya.

Yumeko was silent for a moment, then smiled. “All she’s ever needed to do was be my Lady Shinki, of course,” she replied. “I wouldn’t want anything other than that.”

Sakuya was surprised for the final time, then laughed quietly. “Of course. I shouldn’t have expected anything else.” She stood at the edge of the hole in the centre of the room, nodded once, and then jumped down it, vanishing from sight.

Yumeko watched it silently for a moment, then sighed to herself as she called over one of the five-legged scuttling creatures and took a small brush from inside her coat. Clearly, trying to keep invading humans captive was far too much effort, especially if they were all like that.

As she brushed the shards of the bowls into the creature’s bowl-shaped head, though, her mind was filled with thoughts of Gensokyo. Perhaps… Lady Shinki had said she wanted to stay in Makai, but perhaps… just this once, perhaps…

The head maid smiled to herself, her thoughts unusually selfish, as she began to daydream about the world that lay beyond Makai.

Chapter Text

“Hey, old man.”

The ancient turtle glanced up to see a figure dressed in blue standing -- no, floating -- near the edge of the lake. For a moment he was silent.

“Good afternoon, Lady Mima.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Of course.” He frowned at her. “May I ask what brings you to my lake?”

The spirit shrugged. “Just felt like visiting. I’ve been so busy the past few years, I’ve barely had time to come back to Gensokyo…” She smirked. “It hasn’t changed, though, and neither have you.”

“It’s changed more than you might realise,” Genjii replied.

“Maybe.” Mima shrugged. “But the air’s still the same. Compared to Hell, this place is stagnant.”

“And that’s where you’ve been? Hell?”

“Of course! I’ve been busy seizing territory during all the infighting. You should come down and join me.”

Genjii sighed. “My obligations aside, I’ve no interest in joining your ventures in Hell. It still disappoints me to see you using your abilities simply for the sake of mischief.”

“Mischief, huh?” Mima laughed, mockingly. “You say it’s just mischief, but what about you? Do you really intend to spend your entire life training those shrine maidens to do the bidding of the gap youkai?”

The turtle narrowed his eyes. “I have already devoted my life to the service of Lady Yakumo, and in turn she has instructed me to protect the peace of this sanctuary.”

“This sanctuary? This stagnant little bubble trapped under her grip?”

“If you hate it so much, then why not challenge it? If you’re so powerful in Hell, and if your grudge against the Hakurei Shrine still endures, then do something about it. Or do you think the current Shrine Maiden is a match for your century of experience?”

Mima was silent for a moment.

“I could defeat that Shrine Maiden,” she said, finally. “But she’s not the one I bear a grudge against. Nor is it you, or any of the Sages. I haven’t forgotten that. But surely, you admit that it’s boring here?”

“And your life of constant fighting is more fulfilling, is it? Allow me to ask you the same question you asked of me -- are you truly willing to spend your eternity battling in Hell, until nothing but your grudge and your arrogance remain?”

“Of course. I’m an evil spirit, after all! What could be more delightful than striking down those who oppose me? If I can do it forever, then that’s all the better!”

“…By the way, your apprentice is doing well.”

“The Kirisame girl?” replied Mima. “I’m glad to hear it. It would have been a waste to not let her fully realise her potential.”

“And that’s the only reason you did it, is it?” The turtle smiled to himself. “An unusual act of benevolence from an evil spirit.”

“Shut up, old man.”

Genjii laughed. “I don’t know why you bothered visiting. You can act as cruel as you like, but you’re the same now as you were when you were alive, grudge or no. That’s why I called it mischief. You’ve never once even thought about attacking the Shrine Maiden, have you?”

“Why would I involve an outsider in my grudge? I’m not nearly that petty. Then again, she did attack me a few times…” She tapped her chin thoughtfully, then laughed. “Nah, I got her back for those already. No point bothering her, then.” She glanced down at the turtle. “Anyway, since you’re clearly in the know, mind telling me a little bit more about my protege?”

“So is that why you’ve returned, after all this time?” Genjii asked. “You’re merely after the local gossip?”

“Hey, I’ve gotta look after my girl, y’know.”

“Like I said, an unusual act of benevolence from you.”

“Oh, shut it.”

In spite of the supposed tedium of Gensokyo, the evil spirit drank up the old turtle’s words, and the shadows were stretching across the lake by the time she finally interrupted him, bringing their conversation to an end.

Mima looked around cautiously. “Even if she doesn’t visit much, perhaps I should head off before that little Shrine Maiden finds out you’ve been palling around with me.” She smirked. “I don’t know if your reputation could handle the association.”

“She visits when she needs to,” replied Genjii calmly. “And my reputation will be fine.”

“That so? Well, you’d know, I suppose.” She continued looking around, and remarked idly, “Maybe I will start an incident, actually. Just for old times’ sake, y’know?”

They were both silent for a moment.

“By the way, my offer’s still open. Come down and visit, any time you’d like.”

“And when you get bored of Hell, you’re welcome to return here, too.”

Mima laughed again. “I’ll think about it. Don’t expect anything too soon, though.”

“Of course not. But I’m used to waiting.” The turtle nodded at her. “Take care, Lady Mima.”

“…Look after yourself, old man Genjii.”

Chapter Text

The seasons were returning to normal, and it was quiet in the mansion hidden within the Land of the Back Door.

--Or, it should have been, but the Hidden God’s two retainers had been murmuring among themselves for a while now, and it was getting distracting. Worse, they went quiet when she entered the room! It was almost as if they were keeping secrets from her. From her!

She gave them almost a full day before it finally became truly irritating, and then she summoned them to her room.

They stood before her guiltily, and she frowned down at them. “Might I ask what’s been on your mind, my retainers?”

They glanced at each other, and then Satono asked, quietly, “We were wondering about why you had us go and draw out peoples’ mental energy.”

Mai nodded. “You said that it’d be to attract more allies, but then no-one joined, and it’s still just us!”

Okina raised an eyebrow. “You’re questioning my instructions, then?” They both went pale, and Okina smirked. “Very well, then. If you’re so desperately curious, then I’ll tell you the true reason I had you cause this incident! However, you might not like what you hear.”

“N-no, it’s really fine--” started Satono.

“This was a test,” continued Okina, voice calm. “A test of your competence.”

“A… a test…?!” repeated Mai, having become even more pale.

“So you were testing us this entire time…” whispered Satono, eyes wide. “Th-then… did we pass…?”

“Hmm…” Okina closed her eyes, thoughtfully. “Well… the test was simple. I instructed you to empower individuals in Gensokyo, so that I could investigate the most powerful ones. I wasn’t lying when I said that they would join me as my allies. However, they would not join you.” She opened one eye, watching them both. “They would be your replacements.”

“O-o-our replacements?!” repeated Satono.

“Lord Okina! Master Okina!” cried Mai, falling to her knees. “If we’ve ever failed you, if we’ve ever disappointed you--”

“And you have!” interrupted Okina. “Despite empowering any number of people in Gensokyo, you found barely any worth my consideration! Worse, you allowed multiple intruders to invade this realm, and only one of those was a viable candidate! You did a sloppy job, you failed to perform your duties, and as a result--”

The two of them were terrified, now; their faces pale, their eyes wide, clinging to each other and both shaking. Neither even dared to speak.

“As a result--” she repeated, her voice faltering.

It had been a rainy night.

The two figures had emerged from the downpour, only to come to the back door of a temple and find it closed. Even as their strength left them, they continued to beat their hands against it, desperately, crying out for help.

And the one who had opened the door had been a god, in the form of a human. They had been given a test, then, too, and they had passed it.

Did either of them retain any memory of that day, so long ago?

“As a result,” she concluded, “I must, regrettably, continue to utilise my two hopeless retainers.”

They were quiet for a moment.

“Th--” started Mai, quietly. “Th-th-th-th--”

“Lord Okina!” declared Satono. “I swear, upon this life of mine that you saved, that I will never--”

“Th-thank you so much, Lord Okina!” yelled Mai. “Thank you so much! Thank you so much!”

The two’s voices began to reach a crescendo, but Okina raised her hand and they both stopped instantly.

“You understand, of course, that this means that you’ll both require further training, too?” she remarked. “Especially now that we’ll be engaging with the people of Gensokyo more frequently. Now that you’re recognised as my representatives, I wouldn’t permit you to disappoint me again.”

“Of course not, Lord Okina!” replied Satono.

“We’ll accept any training that you have for us!” added Mai.

“Of course you will. Anyway, now that that’s settled, go and tidy the house.”

As the two left the room, Okina put her head on her hand, and closed her eyes, almost falling into a sleepy daze. Perhaps she was too easy on them… had she wanted, she could have overwritten them completely, turned them entirely into shikigami.

Of course, that would have removed one of the most interesting things about them; their tendency to fall further into madness as more of their human memories faded away. But there was madness everywhere in the world, and she had no need of retainers suffering from that same impediment.

So perhaps it really was…

Two young women, illuminated by the light of the Land of Back Doors as it poured from that temple’s door.

A plea. A request. An agreement, made without hesitation.

“We’ll do anything. So long as we’re together.”

And the Hidden God, their face in shadow, smiled.

Chapter Text

A cascade of bullets surrounded her, and she raised her sword. There was a flash of red light, and her vision went hazy for a moment; and then, as it cleared, the bullets had shifted, their trajectories altered during that instant of non-awareness.

It would take more than that to trick her, though; she swung her sword through the air in slow, steady motions, faster than the eye could see, and the bullets were slashed apart, dissolving before they ever had a chance to reach her.

There was another flash, and the bullets went hazy, and in that moment--

“Lord Futsunushi--”


Instead of solidifying, the bullets faded, and Yorihime cancelled her invocation, frowning.

“Stop?” she repeated. “Why are we stopping?”

Reisen sighed. “Lady Yorihime, when you said you knew the rules to a Spell Card battle…” She hesitated. “Would you mind telling me what those are?”

The Watatsukis were visiting Eientei again, and Yorihime, after her usual severe training courses, had suggested that Reisen challenge her to a Spell Card battle, saying that she’d been wondering about it since the “invasion” a few years back. So that had lead to this, and almost immediately Reisen had had to put a stop to it; slashing her bullets was one thing when she was meant to be dodging them or blocking them with her own danmaku, but to invoke a heavenly god during such a battle was another thing entirely -- and it made Reisen wonder what, exactly, her former master had been taught.

“Well,” started Yorihime, after a moment’s hesitation, “I believe it was… you crush your opponent with your most beautiful moves, and you keep going until one of you runs out of energy.”

Reisen made an odd, slightly pained expression. “It’s… that’s not quite…” She hesitated, and then sighed. “I could probably guess who told you that.”

“It was a human, about this high, dressed in black…”


Yorihime’s frown deepened. “So, if those aren’t the rules, then what are…?”

“It’s like…” Reisen paused again, and then snapped her fingers. “Hang on, I’ll go find the pamphlet.”

The rabbit ran inside, leaving Yorihime on her own.

The Lunarian had lived for a very long time, and had experienced a lot of different things. And yet, the foolish, meaningless combat from a few years ago had lingered in her mind. So she had decided to investigate it further, and she’d thought that the best person to help her with that would be her former pet.

Somehow, though, she’d been given a mistaken impression of the mechanics of a Spell Card battle, and the surprisingly insolent Moon rabbit had gone off to find a… a pamphlet? Well, who knew what that was about.

Still, if it helped her understand the Spell Card battles better, then she was willing to read whatever pamphlets her former pet thought would help. She wasn’t quite sure why she still thought about them, but she did.

Something about the thrill of combat, an enthusiasm she hadn’t felt for centuries of watchful training…

Reisen returned quickly, clutching what was definitely a pamphlet -- somewhat crumpled, and slightly aged. On the cover, in bright letters and a cheery font, was the phrase “Spell Cards and You!”.

Yorihime examined it skeptically as Reisen handed it over. “What… is this, exactly?”

“It’s the guide to the Spell Card rules,” replied Reisen, with a note of reluctance in her voice. “Miss Fujiwara brought it a few years ago. …It’s more reliable than it seems.”

Yorihime opened it, and found, in contrast to the cover, a page full of tiny printed words. After a final glance at Reisen, she began reading.

“Is it engaging reading, sister?”

Yorihime glanced up to see Toyohime standing over her, smiling slightly. The small pamphlet had proven surprisingly dense, and she’d lost track of time; the Sun was already beginning to rise.

“It’s an explanation of the rules those invaders used against us,” stated Yorihime calmly. “I felt it would be interesting to examine them further.”

Toyohime’s smile didn’t change. “That was the same game you asked little Reisen to play with you, right?” she asked. “I didn’t realise it was so compelling.”

“Neither did I, honestly… but it seems that I had made false assumptions to begin with, and--”

“It’s not your responsibility to correct yourself if the creatures of Earth can’t even explain their own games.”

“That’s not why I’m doing it.”

“So then, why are you bothering with it?”

Yorihime hesitated. “I’m not sure. That’s why I want to find out.”

Toyohime was frowning at her by this point, but then she sighed. “Well, if that’s how you choose to spend your time here, I can’t really fault you. It’s difficult enough trying to find something to do, after all.”

Yorihime glanced up at her older sister again, and smirked. “Dearest sister, I hope you haven’t interrupted my investigation to complain about your treatment by Lady Yagokoro and Lady Houraisan?”

And from the expression that she made, it was clearly the case.

After that interruption, she had been engaged in further conversation with her sister, and then into conversation with Lady Houraisan, who had spent hours cheerfully talking about things on Earth that neither of the Watatsuki sisters could care any less for.

So it was getting late in the afternoon when Yorihime could return to the little, battered pamphlet; but once more, she was interrupted almost as soon as she had begun.

“I was wondering what you’ve been doing.”

She glanced up to see that this time it wasn’t her sister; rather, it was her former master, Yagokoro Eirin. She almost began to hide the pamphlet, then realised it was too late. Somehow, she felt as if she’d been caught doing something she shouldn’t be.

Eirin had a small smile on her face, but beyond that betrayed nothing of what she was thinking, as usual. Back on the Moon, even the highest of the gods had been unable to penetrate into Omoikane’s deeper thoughts; that hadn’t changed once she descended to Earth, it seemed.

“I’ve been trying to learn about the Spell Card battles, Lady Yagokoro,” Yorihime admitted. “And… admittedly, I can’t quite understand them.”

“The rules?”

Yorihime shook her head. “Why they’re necessary. Why they’re done in this manner. It’s confounding, and meaningless.”

“That meaninglessness is the meaning,” noted Eirin calmly. When Yorihime was silent, she continued. “Why do you think that Spell Cards must reflect their user?”

Yorihime considered. Her first impulse was to reply that it was for convenience, but she could tell that was the wrong answer; if it were that simple, Eirin wouldn’t have asked. “Perhaps… as a means of communication…?”

“Close,” replied Eirin. “The Spell Card rules allow youkai to communicate their own existence to humans without needing to kill them. They use Spell Cards named for their identity, for their abilities, for their natures, so that those natures can be understood and remembered.”

“Then why do beings other than youkai adhere to them?”

“Partially, because it allows for an even playing field. There’s no satisfaction in a battle you’re certain to win.” She turned away from her former student for a moment. “But also… perhaps you should try to work it out for yourself?”

Yorihime was silent again, and Eirin glanced down at her.

“Before you try to understand the meaning of the Spell Card battles, try to understand why they interest you so much. You only have another few days here; I wonder if you’ll reach Reisen’s level by the time you depart?”

“Reisen’s…?” repeated Yorihime, surprised. “That Moon rabbit?”

Eirin’s enigmatic smile widened, ever-so-slightly. “The reason you think you could defeat her in a Spell Card battle is the reason that you struggle to understand them. Power means nothing in a Spell Card battle, after all.”

Her master began to walk away, and Yorihime remained silent, lost in her own thoughts. Beside her, the pamphlet, almost forgotten, began to drift away in the wind.

For the next few days she seemingly returned to her usual self, pushing Reisen into training in the absence of any other Moon rabbits to bully, and often doing her own training in Eientei’s yard. The preoccupation of her thoughts that had been so evident whilst she was examining the Spell Card battles seemed to be gone; but it was there more than ever, bubbling under the surface.

And it was only on the final night, before they were due to depart, that she once more challenged Reisen to a Spell Card battle.

This time they had an audience, too; her sister, Lady Yagokoro and Lady Houraisan, and a small army of youkai rabbits, watching silently from Eientei’s porch as she faced off against her former pet.

And after a nod, they’d begun. A cascade of bullets had swarmed the air around her, blocking her vision until all she could see were those crimson bullets. She weaved through the openings she knew would be there -- that had to be there, for a Spell Card battle could not permit there to be no opportunities to escape -- and swung her sword outwards, sending a series of shockwaves through the air. Suddenly Reisen was the one dodging, and the two of them shifted around each other, neither faltering, until Reisen raised her hand.

The atmosphere changed, imperceptibly. The world around her became hazier; the swarm of bullets ceased for a moment, then reappeared as two exploding spheres on either side of the Moon rabbit. Her shining crimson eyes pierced into the Lunarian, and she understood.

The purpose of the Spell Card battle was to assert one’s identity.

A cry that all sentient beings, from the lowliest youkai to the greatest of the gods, could understand.

It was not a cry to be mocked, or to be brushed aside; nor to be discarded, with overwhelming, unjust power.

It was a cry to be reciprocated in kind; a conversation composed of two answers.

“This is who I am.”

“Illusion Wave, Mind Blowing!”

The exploding spheres vanished and solidified, their patterns endlessly shifting as her vision betrayed her to Reisen’s ability.

She had understood the meaning of the Spell Card battles earlier that week; and had been dwelling upon it in her mind. She had even begun to idly muse on her own techniques. But now that she was facing Reisen, she understood why Eirin had said that she couldn’t reach Reisen’s level.

After all, the rabbit had spent sixty years working out who she was. How could one who used the borrowed power of the gods hope to compete with one who relied on no-one but herself?

--No, that wasn’t the case. Reisen relied on those at Eientei, and those at Eientei relied on her.

Even as she dodged the hallucinatory bullets, she glanced down at those watchers once again. Her gaze met Eirin’s, watching her with that same careful look and inscrutable smile. She hoped, silently, that she wouldn’t disappoint her former master.

And she turned back to Reisen, raised her sword, and swung it down, as if to embed it into the very air itself. The shockwave rippled through the air, and as it did it split apart, shifting into half a dozen blades of air that curved through the air towards the Moon rabbit.

“--I won’t lose so easily!” declared Yorihime. “I’m the guardian of the Lunar Capital! So bear witness! Sword Sign, Sword of the Moon!”

She only had time to come up with two Spell Cards that week, though, so she still lost.

Chapter Text

Kazami Yuuka frowned at the light shining through Mugenkan’s windows.

She raised a hand, and moments later her only servant had arrived.

“Good morning, Mistress!” she said brightly. Yuuka glanced back at her.

“Good morning, Elly. Has anything unusual happened whilst I was asleep?”

She frowned. “It’s been a bit hotter than usual at the Garden of the Sun, and a bit colder than usual in the Forest of Magic.”

“Where are we right now?”

“Just outside the Garden, Mistress.”

Yuuka nodded, and then grinned. “I think I’ll be going out, then. Something interesting’s happening.”

Elly nodded back. “Would you like me to accompany you today, Mistress?”

Yuuka considered for a moment. “…Yes, that would be useful.”

Elly practically skipped off, and Yuuka watched her for a moment. The girl’s only real role was maintaining Mugenkan whilst she slept, and due to its nature, the house almost did that by itself. And it’s not like her power even held a candle to her own… but it was useful to have someone to turn away the few guests who could find her home, and it would be useful now to have someone to think aloud to.

The seasons were going out of control, that much was clear. The Sun beaming through her windows was too Summer-y even for this early Summer; possibly even more Summer-y than an actual Summer. There were a few factors that could influence the seasons to this degree, but each of those factors could itself have any number of reasons to be causing this.

No, this was an Incident, and though she didn’t normally get involved in those, she was at least curious as to who was tampering with the domain that she had claimed for herself.

She changed. Not how humans did, but something more fundamental; she changed the way that the rest of the world perceived her effortlessly. Someone as powerful as her had no issues with maintaining their form, after all.

Elly returned soon after, and the two of them left Mugenkan together. As Yuuka closed the door, for a moment the shape of her mansion was visible, and then it distorted and once more became a regular tree, indistinguishable from the others on the edge of the Garden.

Unlike certain other powerful youkai, she wasn’t quite so willing to broadcast her home’s location; especially given its tendency to occasionally relocate itself to another part of Gensokyo.

As she strode into the Garden, she noticed almost immediately the energy flowing through it, trailing away from all the fairies that swarmed through it like a horde of insects. She reached out to grab one, and the creature fired a half dozen danmaku pellets at her before shooting away.

“Are you alright, Mistress?”

Yuuka glanced at her hand, which had intercepted most of the shots. To her surprise, there were visible bruises, though they quickly began to fade.

“Someone’s done something to the fairies,” she remarked. “Elly, I don’t suppose you could grab me some?”

As the other girl ran off, she began to watch the movements of the fairies in the Garden. Aside from being somewhat faster, they didn’t seem to be any different to how they usually were. She’d idly wondered if the empowering of the fairies could be part of a scheme to manipulate them, but that didn’t seem to be the case. But then, what other purpose could empowering fairies serve?

Something caught her eye -- a figure half-glimpsed in the sunflowers behind Elly, who was dutifully trying to catch the wilful fairies, swiping them out of the air with her scythe. She narrowed her eyes, and she caught a second glimpse, and then a third. There were at least two figures, possibly more.

It certainly wasn’t a coincidence that two people she didn’t recognise had appeared in the midst of all this.

She leapt onto the top of the sunflowers and began walking across them, not even bending their stems as she did, watching for glimpses of the figures; but when she arrived near Elly, she couldn’t even find a trace of them. She frowned.

The other youkai frowned back at her. “Mistress, is everything alright? I only caught--”

She caught a glimpse of something else. “Elly, stand still.”

The youkai immediately froze. She’d never get stronger if she was that obedient, but that was none of her business. The weak obeyed the strong, or they perished. That was one of the first things she’d learnt as a youkai.

Instead, she walked around her gatekeeper and examined her back. It was almost imperceptible, but there was definitely a thin, perfectly straight line slightly above her back. A hidden door, just like the door to her home.

She slid her hand into that impossible gap, expecting to pull it open; but instead, she suddenly found herself somewhere else, floating in an endless void filled with hundreds of doors.

Invisible currents of energy flowed through that space and into the doors, including the one she’d emerged from; tendrils emerging from something lurking deep within that space. Without hesitation, she flew forwards, observing as the currents flowed together, streams forming creeks and then massive, surging rivers.

At their point of origin was an ocean, far surpassing anything she could create. For a moment she was in awe of it, her youkai impulses warning her to run; and then she realised the trick, and began to laugh.

“Oh? I don’t recall letting you in here.”

She turned around to see a woman in a wheelchair watching her curiously.

“I wonder what you found so funny, too.”

Yuuka gestured at the reservoir behind her. “How long did it take you to gather all of that?”

“Only twenty years, but I have a much wider source than Gensokyo.” She smirked. “Still, you’re impressive to have worked that out so quickly.” She paused for a moment, then suddenly snapped her fingers. “Oh, that’s right! You were there when the Barrier was created.”

Yuuka nodded. “You’re one of the Sages, then.”

“I’ve changed a bit since then,” the woman confirmed. “It’s rather limiting to maintain the same appearance for too long. I’m sure you’d understand that.”

Yuuka nodded again.

“So, I wonder… now that you’ve found the culprit, what are you going to do?”

“I’m not going to do anything. I’m just a youkai, so whatever the Sages do is none of my concern.”

“That’s hardly true, otherwise you wouldn’t have come this far.” The Sage raised an eyebrow. “I wonder, perhaps you were worried that I was interfering with the fairies? Or perhaps, with nature itself?” She grinned. “There’s no need to act so aloof. You care about Gensokyo as much as any of the others. If I said that I had grown bored and chosen to destroy it, would you still do nothing?”

“I couldn’t win a battle against you.”

“Would that change what you would do?”

Yuuka smiled. “Of course not. I have my pride as a youkai.”

The Sage clapped her hands together. “How delightful! Oh, it really is nice to be back. Anyway, I can assure you that I’m planning nothing of the kind. It’s simply an introduction from myself to the new residents of Gensokyo.”

“You still haven’t introduced yourself to me.”

“You’re not a new resident, either.” The Sage’s grin became a smirk. “Matara Okina, Sage of Gensokyo, and Hidden God. And your name was Kazami Yuuka, if I recall correctly?”

“It still is.” She glanced back from where she’d come. “My underling is probably wondering where I’ve gone, so unless there was anything you wanted from me, I’d better go and return to her.”

“Well,” said Okina, “there was one thing.”

Yuuka glanced back at her. Okina had on an even more mischievous grin than before.

“You see,” she continued, “it’s been a while since I’ve been to Gensokyo, and I’m not fully clear on the Spell Card rules. I was wondering if you could help me a bit there?”

Yuuka’s eyes widened slightly, and then she grinned back. “A Sage of Gensokyo, challenging me to a Spell Card battle?”

“Oh, I’m sure you should be good practice, at the very least,” replied Okina brightly. “I’d be disappointed if you couldn’t even provide that.”

“Don’t worry,” said Yuuka calmly, “I’ll be sure to provide you a challenge.”

“Excellent, excellent!” Okina pulled herself out of the wheelchair and began floating in that empty space, as four coloured flames emerged from behind her, drawing in the energy that still flowed around them both. “Now, let’s see what you can do!”

Chapter Text

I fell in love with a butterfly on a hazy midsummer morning…

“What are you writing?”

She glanced up to see purple eyes looking back at her, accompanied with an apparently innocent smile.

“Just some poetry…”

“Oh? It’s been a while since you last wrote poetry, isn’t it?”

“What are you writing?”

The girl looked around at the sound of the voice, then glanced up at the branches of the cherry tree above her.

A girl with glittering golden eyes and a strange purple dress grinned back down at her.

“Poetry,” she replied quietly. “How did you get in here?”

The girl’s grin widened. “Don’t worry about that. What are you writing poetry about?”

“Whatever I see,” she replied. “Today it’s butterflies.”

“Butterflies?” repeated the girl with golden eyes. “I know a story about a butterfly.”

She was starting to lose patience with this odd girl, intriguing as she was. “The tale of the butterfly’s dream?”

The girl laughed. “Ah, you’ve already heard it? Then again, you probably haven’t my version.”

“Your version?”

The girl jumped out of the tree, landing on her feet next to her sitting on the ground. She flinched away, and the girl with golden eyes frowned at her.

“I’m not going to hurt you, you know.”

“I might hurt you, though.”

“You?” The girl laughed again. Her laugh was bright, and cheerful, yet somehow pessimistic.

“I’m cursed,” she murmured quietly. “Other than Father, everyone I touch dies.”

“Is that so?” The girl crept forwards slightly, then leant over her so that their faces were almost touching. Her voice was almost inaudible as she whispered, “Don’t worry, I’m cursed, just like you.”

She closed her eyes, and when she opened them, the girl was gone. She looked around, but she was nowhere to be seen; not a trace remained of her.

“I’m a bit out of practice, honestly… I don’t remember how I used to do this.”

“I’m certain that whatever you’ve written is lovely, and I’ll look forward to reading it.”

Hesitation. Hesitation that was noticed.

“Come to think of it, why are you writing it in a book?”

She glanced away.

The woman with violet eyes frowned.

Then, she leapt at the table to grab the unfinished book of poetry, and Yuyuko screamed as Yukari tumbled over her and the book went flying.

A different temple. Different cherry blossoms. But always the same girl.

“What are you writing about today?”

She smiled back. “That’s a se~cret~!”

“A secret!” The girl with golden eyes gasped dramatically. “A secret, even from me? It must be something exciting, then.”

She never quite got used to how the girl spoke; but there were any number of things about the girl she never got used to.

The fact that she seemed to follow her everywhere she and her father went, for one thing.

“Nothing too exciting,” she replied. “It’s just a secret. Maybe you’ll read it one day.”

“I’m sure I will.” The girl glanced away, tapping the side of the tree. “But not yet. You’ve still got a ways to go, yet.”

She frowned. “Until what?”

“Until you find what you’re looking for, of course.”

The girl patted the tree again, and cherry blossoms began to scatter around them. She grinned apologetically, and disappeared in the flurry.

She didn’t know who the girl was, either; whether she was a ghost, or a god, or a wandering spirit drawn to cherry blossoms. But there was no-one else who would come close to her anymore.

The book lay face-down on the floor, and Yukari snatched it before Yuyuko could.

But instead of reading inside it, Yukari examined the covers, and glanced down at Yuyuko.

“These are seals, Yuyuko. Why would you put seals onto a book of poetry?”

“You found what you were looking for.”

The girl was the one permanent fixture in her life, now that her father was gone.

He’d been smiling when he died, beneath this cherry blossom tree. He had been content until the end, happy to find a place to rest…

She had kept away when they buried him beneath the tree. Even a touch could spell death.

She was envious of her father. She was jealous that he had found peace in death. She was angry that he had left her behind.

Without the girl, she would have had no-one left who understood her, but--

“Is this what I was looking for? The place my father would die?!”

“This is the place where you can rest,” the girl replied quietly. Those golden eyes bored into her soul like twin suns.

“There’s nowhere that I can rest,” she said sullenly. “Not whilst I live like this!”

A butterfly passed across her vision, and when it was gone, the girl was standing in front of her.

“Kneel down, Saigyou. It’s alright for you to mourn. It’s alright to be sad that you were left behind. This is the place where you can rest.”

She collapsed, and began to sob, even as those watching kept their distance, and her deadly tears nourished the roots of the most beautiful of all cherry blossoms.

Yuyuko glanced away.

“Those seals are for my memory. Once I’ve finished my poetry-- everything within that book will be forgotten. That’s why it had to be a book.”

Yukari was silent.

“I just--” She glanced back at the woman with violet eyes. “I can’t keep remembering, Yukari.”

The tree had grown greater, and ever more beautiful, nurtured by the blood of the dozens that it had lured to this place.

The girl was there, like she always was; but she sat upon the ground, watching, rather than in the branches of the tree.

“You’re going to tell me that I don’t have to do this. That it’s not my responsibility.”

The girl with golden eyes was silent, smiling like she always did.

And so the daughter of the poet hesitated, even now.

“Aren’t you?!”

The girl glanced back at the tree, then at her.

Then she laughed, suddenly. “I don’t care about that. This is a beautiful cherry blossom tree. A creature that fed upon your father’s love of beauty to become the most beautiful of all.” Her eyes pierced through her, exposing all her fears in an instant. “Is your life its equal? Can you say that your life is a fair exchange for something so beautiful?”

She was quiet for a moment. The ritual had already been completed; all that remained was the final step.

“You never told me your story about the butterfly.”

The girl smiled. “Imagine that you were a butterfly, and one day you dreamt of being human, and you could never wake up.”

She was quiet for a moment.

“I know who you are now.”

The girl with golden eyes only smiled.

“You’re the butterfly cursed to be a human.”

“It’s a terrible burden, to be human.”

And then her grin widened, wider than it should have, and her golden eyes faded into an endless violet emptiness.

“But I’m not a human anymore, either. I’m neither human nor butterfly. I’m the dream itself. A never-ending butterfly’s dream.”

The human girl turned her gaze back to the tree before her.

“If I do this, will I wake up? Will I see my father again?”

Her eyes filled with tears.

“If I go back to before I met you, will all of this be over?”

“Is that what you want?”

“What I want--”

The human girl with eyes the colour of dried blood raised the knife she held in her hand--

Yukari placed the book on the table, gently, then placed her hands over Yuyuko’s.

“I understand.”

Yuyuko’s eyes began to fill with tears.


“No-one should have gone through what you went through. And no-one will again. That’s why I’m here, now.” She smiled, gently. “You should have told me.”

“I didn’t want you to worry,” Yuyuko replied, laughing softly. “I only made you worry more, though…”

“That’s alright. But I’ll always help you, you know. I owe you that much, at least.”

The empty Netherworld stretched away into the distance. There was only one thing visible between the mansion and the horizon.

“Is this your doing?”

She laughed. “You think I have enough pull with the Yama to convince them to do this? The most I offered was a suggestion. Maybe the promise of a favour, somewhere down the line.”

“So it was your doing.”

“Well… I could hardly let such a brave soul as yourself simply fade away, now could I?”

“And it’s just a coincidence that that came with me?”

The cherry blossom tree, its branches bare, stood before her.

The girl with violet eyes laughed again. “Of course not~! Actually, if you’d simply come here as a normal ghost, it would have remained on the surface and continued to grow stronger, even despite your seal. I did warn you, after all.”

“So you set me up as a ghost to bring it here?”

“Where it can never harm anyone ever again,” replied the girl, eyes closed, smiling to herself in a satisfied way.

“I don’t believe you.”

The girl opened one of her golden eyes and glanced at her. “And why’s that?”

Yuyuko leant towards her…

“What are you writing?”

Replying without looking up, “Poetry~”

“What are you writing poetry about?”

“Oh, whatever comes to mind~! It just feels like it’s been such a long time since I wrote poetry! And I can’t remember why I stopped, either…”

Hidden away, deep within a house no-one can find, sits a small book of poetry.

“Well, it probably wasn’t that important, then. Just make sure to let me read it when you’re done, alright?”

“Of course, of course! If it’s good enough, I might even try to get Youmu to sell a few copies of it.”

“From you, Yuyuko, I’m sure it’ll be perfect.”

I fell in love with a butterfly's dream on a hazy midsummer morning…

Chapter Text

“Lady Hieda, you have a visitor.”

The girl glanced up from her endless writing to see one of her servants standing in the doorway. He had a somewhat glazed expression, and she wondered if he’d been sleeping before the visitor awoke him. Then again, in this summer heat, one could hardly be faulted for a bit of rest, could they?

Still, though… “A visitor?” she repeated. “No-one you recognise?”

He shook his head. “She’s unfamiliar, Lady Hieda. I’ve never seen her before today.”

“And no introduction?”

He shook his head again. “She simply said that she wished to meet you, and that I should bring her to you.”

“Well, then--” she started, then paused. “What was that last part?”

“I said,” came a third voice -- quiet, and somewhat rough -- from behind the man, “that I wanted to meet you. So I had him bring me to you. You can take a nap, now.”

The man dropped like a stone, revealing a pink-haired girl dressed in pale blue. From all over her body, red-and-gold cords trailed together into a floating crimson eye.

Akyuu immediately rose. “You’re--” she started.

The eye flashed, and she went silent. Trapped within that terrible gaze, she once more returned to her knees as the satori approached.

“My name is Komeiji Satori,” the youkai remarked, then paused. “Oh? You’ve heard about me. From that stuck-up mountain goddess who had the audacity to go around feeding strange divinities to my pets. That’ll make things easier.”

Akyuu remained silent, her eyes locked onto Satori’s third eye. Unbidden, memories emerged from the corners of her mind and came to the forefront of her thoughts.

The satori leant over the table, so that all three of her eyes were locked onto her gaze. “You’ve lived for a very long time, Hieda no Akyuu,” she murmured. “I can see it. Nine lifetimes of trauma, nine lots of thirty years of such a tragically short, tragically human lifespan. You’ve taken on such a needless burden.”

Akyuu’s mind began to rebel as the satori fed upon the information of her spotless memory. Her traumas, and her knowledge of Gensokyo, was replaced with every image she could think of -- animals and plants she had seen, people she had met--

Satori smirked, and her third eye shone ever-brighter. “It’d take more than that to stop me. But that said… I don’t care about your secrets.” She shrugged. “I’ve no interest in the politics of Gensokyo. Besides, you and I both know about the truce between this place and the underground. Believe me, I don’t want to harm you. But I want information…” The satori took something from a small handbag. “…about this.”

Akyuu’s eyes wandered from Satori’s third eye to examine the object, and suddenly the spell was broken. It wasn’t simply the lack of eye contact; it was that the object Satori held was the last thing Akyuu could have possibly conceived it to be. The sheer shock of her mind absorbing this new information had destroyed the hypnotic charm.

In Satori’s left hand, she held a copy of the latest volume of ‘Was it All a Youkai’s Doing?’

Akyuu stared at it for a moment, and then glanced back at Satori. “You… you want information about my book…?”

Satori snapped her fingers. “I do. And just because you’ve broken out of that spell, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. I’ll bring the thought I want to the surface manually, if I must!” She grabbed Akyuu’s face with her hands, staring straight into her eyes. “Now, reveal your secrets to me! Tell me the ending!”

“The ending?” repeated Akyuu, and then she realised. This youkai’s true goal was--

There was a pause, and then Satori jumped into the air. “I was right~!” she declared triumphantly. “Oh, Parsee told me that it was too obvious, but I knew it was a double blind! After all, what other explanation could answer everything?”

As the satori celebrated to herself, Akyuu gathered herself, and then asked, quietly, “You really came here… to find out the ending to a book I’m releasing in a month anyway…?”

Satori shrugged. “It was the fastest way to solve the problem.” Then her smile shrank -- going from jubilant to something more conniving. “And besides, I wanted to meet the mysterious Agatha Chris Q. I was sure she’d be an interesting human, and I was absolutely correct.” She pointed down at Akyuu. “You, Hieda no Akyuu, are an interesting human.”

“Th-thank you?” replied Akyuu, baffled.

Satori merely nodded in response, regathering her composure. She began to leave, then glanced back. “I apologise for taking advantage of you in this manner,” she said, her voice suddenly quiet, polite. “After all, I only did it to indulge my own selfish curiosity. I hope you won’t consider the pact to have been broken…?”

“Of course not,” replied Akyuu. “And perhaps in future, you’d be interested in a collaboration?”

Satori raised her eyebrows. “A collaboration?” she repeated. “I didn’t mention that I was a writer.”

“Any aspiring author needs to be aware of her contemporaries,” said Akyuu calmly. “And it seems to me that there were already a few unsigned novels that only existed within Gensokyo before I began writing. I wonder… who could have written those?”

Satori was quiet for a moment. Then she smiled again. “You’re a very interesting human, Miss Akyuu. I’ll definitely have to keep you in mind.”

She nodded once again, and then finally left, stepping over the body of Akyuu’s still-sleeping servant. Akyuu was quiet for a moment, and then carefully put the section of the Chronicle she was writing aside, grabbing for a blank sheet of paper.

Her mind was not merely clear, but buzzing from the encounter. Already, the shape of a story was beginning to take shape within her thoughts.

A youkai detective who could read minds… perhaps there was something in that…

Perhaps it really was all a youkai’s doing?