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Aimless and Mystified Eastern Light

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~ STAGE 4: "New & Bizarre Everyday Life” ~ 

 

[START] 

 


Luka wasn't lucky.

"You're serious?" Luka said. "You don't have a single clue?!"

Both of them were seated at a table floating in the open void, countless dream bubbles surrounding them. One of the 'dream sheep' that always flocked around Doremy had offered itself as a seat for Luka, who graciously took the fluffy pillow's offer. Doremy herself simply sat in the empty air, like the very concept of being 'seated' was enough. 

“Now, let’s settle down." Doremy replied. "I’m sure you were expecting to find a nice and easy answer here. But being capable of coming here since you were a child doesn’t necessarily mean your existence is tied to this place.”

Doremy was a strange person, and Luka only knew vague bits about her. Their first meeting was real-world years ago, back when she was a little girl. The memory was still fresh: she remembered a little Luka who, for as long as her conscious memory could reach, always woke up in some strange place when she went to sleep. Then one day, she learned that if she thought hard enough about something, she could make it happen in the dream—everything except going through a strange 'wall' that seemed to block her every now and then. 

And one day, her curiosity got the better of her. She pushed hard enough, and fell through the world. Falling, falling, until she ended up someplace she’d never seen before. Before she knew what was going on, strangers started chasing her, attacking her, ranting and raving about ‘flesh in the real world’.

It was only thanks to Doremy that she wasn’t caught. Since then, the two of them had formed something of an odd friendship.

“Come on, what else would it be?” Luka protested. “Everything that’s been happening lately seems like it’s tied with me falling asleep. So it has to be something dream-related.” It was the only logical trail she could follow without making huge leaps in logic. “Maybe I have some weird dream powers or something.” She paused. “... I could be a baku, like you. Actually, thinking about it, weren’t you kind of quick to the scene when I was attacked as a kid? You aren’t—?”

Doremy very visibly cringed. “ Please , don’t go making up some bizarre fantasy.” Fair enough. She had more ‘not-aunt’ vibes anyways. “Firstly, we don’t reproduce the same way that you’re thinking. Secondly, if you were a baku, you would have been born in the Dream World and stayed here. You wouldn’t have been orphaned. Thirdly, you wouldn't be 'dreaming' like a normal human.”

“Then what am I?” Luka said. “Come on, you call yourself the ruler of the Dream World, don’t you? You’ve got to know something.'

“Luka,” Doremy said. “Do you remember our agreement?”

The memory was still fresh in her mind. “Yeah, I remember it. Why?”

“What were the terms?”

Why was she bringing this up now? Ugh… “Uh, let’s see… For starters, you asked me to not tell anyone about anything I ever saw when I was asleep. Secondly, you requested that I stay in my dream bubble and never leave it. And ideally, to pretend that I never saw anything at all.”

“Correct.” Doremy seemed pleased. “I made those terms up on the spot, as a way to keep you in-line with the other humans who visit the Dream World in their sleep.”

“What are you getting at?” Luka asked.

“The reason was because you aren’t quite like anything I’ve dealt with before in my very long career.” Doremy said. “I’ve seen my fair share of lucid dreamers, for sure. And quite a few have tried various methods to break free from their bubble, but I can count the number of those who had successfully escaped on one hand.” Doremy frowned. “As for you? You just happened to push through one day just by pushing hard enough. As a child, no less.”

“Yeah, that was apparently a massive safety breach, from what I remember you saying.” 

“A bit off-topic, but yes." Doremy said. "The point I’m trying to make is that if I knew exactly what you were, I wouldn’t have hastily tossed together some half-baked agreement and used that to try and keep you under wraps.”

Luka frowned. “So what you’re saying is that you don’t know what I am, just that I’m not like a ‘normal human’.”

Doremy nodded. “Whether you emphasize the ‘normal’ or ‘human’ part of that is your own business, but yes.”

Great. The one lead she had was already a dead end. She’d interrupted Doremy’s work for no reason and got absolutely nothing out of it, beyond confirmation of something she could already guess.

“Will that be all?” Doremy asked. “It’s nice to catch up, but there’s quite a lot for me to be doing right now.”

“Wait!” Luka said. “I… There has to be something. Some other leads I can follow. Anything, please.” Luka leaned into the table. “ Please .”

Doremy seemed to pause. Consideration flushed through her eyes, and her gaze went past Luka and to the dream bubble she’d just come from. “... You see quite a few strange sights in your dreams, don’t you?”

"Huh?" Luka wasn't sure how to respond to that. "I mean, yeah. That's pretty natural. There were some bagels…"

"No, not that kind." Doremy shook her head. "Places, not things. For example, a town you’ve never seen before. The side of a mountain, despite you only ever knowing the outline of a city.”

Luka froze. "How do you…?"

Doremy huffed. "You said it yourself. I rule this world." Doremy casually gestured to the space all around them. "I see the worlds created by all who visit my domain in their sleep. Every dream, every nightmare, every subconscious fear and desire. And every 'memory'."

At that word, Doremy flicked her wrist toward the book resting on the table. It swung open on command, and began rapidly through its pages. But instead of stopping at a specific page, as it flipped, Luka started to 'see' something in its motion. Like an illusory flipbook, she could see the images of her dreams. The places she'd seen, yet didn't remember. And just like they were in her dreams, every image seemed murky, like someone had hastily run an eraser over each individual frame.

"You're right that I see many things, Luka." Doremy said. "Everything people see in their dreams is something that I'm aware of. But I'm not omniscient. I can only see what you see. So if a memory isn't whole, say from amnesia or some other mental block…"

"You think I have amnesia?" Luka said. "That wouldn't make sense, there aren't enough gaps in my memory for that."

Doremy held a hand up. "It's just a general statement. Whatever these recurring images you see are, the fact is they exist. You can't make them go away."

Luka frowned. "They could just be some weird dream on their own…"

Doremy shrugged whimsically. "Maybe, maybe not. Would you happen to have any other leads you could follow?" She smiled. "Don't answer that, I already know the answer is 'no'."

Luka sighed. "Okay, sure. I see weird places in my dreams sometimes. What exactly am I supposed to do with that information?"

Doremy shrugged again. "I dunno. Maybe go on vacation there?"

Luka glared at her. The sheep she was sitting on bleated anxiously.

"Okay, okay, bad joke." Doremy laughed lightheartedly. "But in all seriousness, that might actually be the answer."

"... Please clarify." Luka restrained violent urges.

Doremy smiled. “The best way to dig up subconscious memories is to find certain triggers for them. Images, sounds, scents, names, anything." She gestured to the images on her book. "You're in an unfamiliar place that seems to have called to you, for one reason or another. In fact, it may not be too far-fetched to guess that the locations you see here could be actual places in Gensokyo."

"That's kind of a reach." Luka said. "But even still, fishing around for a subconscious memory doesn't really do me much good at figuring any of this out."

Doremy frowned. "Luka, didn't I teach you better than this?"

"You didn't teach me at all, actually." Luka said. "All you really did was shove me back in my bubble and check in with me every few months."

The baku huffed. Suddenly, a chalkboard materialized behind her. "You have a dream bubble. You seem to have an unnatural talent at controlling your own dreams, a reflection of your own mental world." A small chalk doodle resembling Luka in her dream bubble appeared, along with some bagels dancing around her. "Put that together with you refreshing any subconscious memories to repair them, and…?"

Luka suddenly got it. "You want me to relive those memories?" 

Doremy nodded. As if on cue, the chalk dream bubble reshaped to resemble the side of a mountain. "Relive, recreate, remember, whatever you choose to do, it's not my business." Doremy waved her hand, and the doodles waved goodbye shortly before the chalkboard vanished in a 'poof!'. "... Well, it is, but I don't really care as long as you don't make trouble."

"Uh huh…" Luka frowned. "You're making this sound a lot easier than it'll probably be."

Doremy's lips curved into a smile. "You'll figure something out. In the meantime, do your 'not-aunt' a favor and get some rest will you?"

"Shit, you heard tha—uwah?!"

Before she could react, something—no, multiple somethings—hoisted her up with a triumphant 'bahh!!'. A trio of fluffy sheep were suddenly marching her toward her dream bubble like a group of plush soldiers. Luka looked back to see Doremy politely waving goodbye, the table they were speaking at dispersing like a stray thought.

"Behave yourself, now! Seriously, I'm busy enough, please don't go causing trouble."

Those were the last words Luka heard before the sheep toppled her straight into her bubble, her body sinking straight into a pink void, then into darkness.


Luka's eyes snapped open. A stream of daylight smacking her in the face immediately informed her it was already the next morning. Funny how time worked in dreams.

This was normally the part where she'd get up and narrate the entire morning routine. Unfortunately, something else dropkicked that idea out of existence.

"@#$…" Luka grumbled unpleasantly. Of course. Of course she had jet lag. She'd been so caught up thinking about everything else, she hadn't considered that she'd jumped from Eastern Time to very Eastern time. 

Maybe she would just lay here for another day… week… month… the rest of her life. It was easier than getting up and tackling the absolute mess she was stuck with.

Ah, screw it. Luka mumbled a few curses against the land itself and forced herself to her feet. After vaguely folding up her futon, she started on her morning.

Reimu had already woken up, though she looked only a little less groggy than Luka. She probably wasn't a morning person either. 

After putting on some temporary plain clothes that Reimu offered, Luka took the responsibility of washing the nightwear she'd worn, as promised. She decided to throw in any other dirty laundry (along with her regular outfit) as a bonus. She was staying in her shrine, after all. It took her a bit to get used to the tools, but they weren't so foreign that she couldn't figure out what was to be used where. It almost felt a little familiar, which was an unnerving sensation. After tidily hanging everything to dry, she made her way back to the main building for breakfast.

Breakfast wasn't quite what she was expecting, which was definitely saying something. Sitting on the small wooden table in front of her was a pair of small rice balls, one for each of them. Plain rice balls with nothing in them, only a little larger than an eraser, with thin tape-sized bits of seaweed wrap on each. 

Luka looked down hesitantly at the 'meal', then at Reimu. She was slowly nibbling through it, almost like she was trying to savor whatever experience of a 'breakfast' she could out of this. 

Luka came dangerously close to blurting out ' Damn girl, you live like this?' She restrained herself.

Luka instead took a slow bite of the rice nugget. It tasted alright, but… "Small portions, huh? Not that I'm complaining, but…"

"And yet you have that complaining tone." Reimu pouted. "It's not like I was expecting to have to feed a guest. Money's been tight for the past while, so food's been a bit of an issue…" She popped the last bit of her rice ball into her mouth, a troubled look on her face. "I'll need to buy some things while we're at the village." She started mumbling. "(I should have just enough to get through this week…)"

… Luka suddenly felt really bad about eating her food. It wasn't just that Reimu had the aura of a low-income worker barely surviving to see the next day. The poor girl was a living testimony. 

After they finished eating, they had a bit of time to talk. Luka decided to use the time to share some of her findings with Reimu.

"You did research…" Reimu blinked in mild confusion. "While you were sleeping?"

"Er, not exactly, uh," Of course, trying to explain it while honoring her promise with Doremy wasn't easy. "It was mostly just thinking. Last night. Before I went to sleep. Thinking that…" Words… "That maybe there are parts of my memory that I might not remember. So maybe I can look around Gensokyo and try to stir them up?"

"Hmm." Reimu seemed suspicious. Her intuition was kind of scary. If she pressed any further, Luka wasn't sure she would be able to hide anything from her. Luckily, she seemed to accept that explanation. "I see. Normally, I try to tell normal humans to not recklessly nose around. But we still aren't exactly sure you're a 'normal human'."

"C'mon, I'm plenty normal. Do I look even remotely supernatural to you?"

"You'd be surprised." Reimu said. She sighed. "Well, whatever you are, you probably won't want to just wander around aimlessly. You'll need to learn how to defend yourself, or at least how to participate in Spell Card battles."

Luka blinked. "Isn't that a children's card game?" Luka thought of a guy with weird, multicolored hair.

"Uh, no. The opposite, actually." Reimu shook her head. "Remember that fight between Marisa and that librarian yesterday? Something like that."

Luka had a hard time even visualizing it. In what world was she ever going to start flying around, shooting lasers at people? It sounded like something restricted to the world of video games.

"Let's not worry about this now. We've got other things to deal with." Reimu said, rising from the table. "Come on, it's a bit of a trip to the village."

Reimu's intuition must've kicked in, since Luka's clothes were nearly dried by the time they got outside. After a quick change, she was all set and ready to go.

Luka patted herself down. "My pants aren't completely dry yet…" An unfortunate weakness of denim. At least her jacket was dried.

Reimu stood at the large red 'gate' at the front of the shrine. "Quit griping. They'll have dried completely by the time we get to the village."

Luka shrugged, then walked over to Reimu. "Alright, whenever you're ready, I guess?"

"...? Reimu blinked. "What?"

"Aren't we going to fly?"

Reimu raised an eyebrow. "Can you fly?"

"Uh, no."

"Do you have something to fly with?"

"No?"

"I don't have a flying broom you can hitch a ride on." Reimu stared flatly. "Don't tell me you were expecting me to carry you."

"... No." Luka lied. Admittedly, she wasn't really thinking about that specifically, but it wasn't like there were any other options. "Geez, I get it, sorry. I just figured since you could, it'd be faster to fly everywhere."

"Do you run everywhere because it's faster?" Reimu said. "Flying's already exhausting enough, I'm not going to wear myself out lugging you around Gensokyo to save time."

Luka didn't have a counter to that. "So, walking?:

"Walking. It's about an hour's walk, so let's get going."

They walked the entire way.

Even considering the view from last night, Luka hadn't realized how really high up the shrine was until they started on their way down. It was only as she walked down the winding stone path, descending what felt to her like a small mountain, that she processed just how high up they were. She couldn't see past the thick forest surrounding their path, but she imagined it was quite the view. If nothing else, it was a nice change of pace from the city.

"Oh, yeah." Luka remembered. “So, we only sort of explained everything yesterday. Since I’m going to be staying here, do you mind answering some more questions?

“Ngh…” Reimu looked like she really didn’t want to explain anything, but she was fighting the urge to say it outright. “Go ahead. We’ve got some time before we get to the village anyways.”

Luka paused to mull over what topic to start with. “I guess to start, what exactly is a ‘youkai’? I keep hearing that word.”

Reimu’s face scrunched up, like Luka’d just asked her where babies came from. “Er…”

“What? Is it hard to explain?”

“Not exactly, but…” Reimu sighed. “I guess an outsider like you might understand if I called them ‘monsters’, but that’s not really the right word.”

“What do you mean?” Luka said.

“‘Monster’ doesn’t really fit the full group of what youkai are.” Reimu explained. “You could think of ‘youkai’ as something that embodies ‘the supernatural’ in a tangible form. A monster would be a youkai, but that doesn’t mean all youkai are what you’d call monsters.”

“That doesn’t really narrow it down for me…” Luka said.

“Hrm” Reimu hummed. “I guess to give some examples, sometimes they’re pretty straightforward things like oni, tengu, ghosts, etc. Other times youkai are like an animal that’s lived for a long time and gained sentience, or a forgotten umbrella that’s done the same.”

Luka tilted her head. “Animals are already sentient, though. Do you mean sapient?”

“What?”

“Y’know, ‘sapience’.” Luka affirmed. “Sentience is being consciously aware of your surroundings and capable of reacting to them, whereas sapience adds the extra set of being able to think and make decisions. It’s what divides humans from regular animals. Is that the kinda thing you mean?”

“I… guess? Sort of.” Reimu said. “Sometimes they’re just kind of mindless, sometimes they’re like that other word—”

“Sapience.”

“Whatever. The point is, they gain intelligence of some kind through supernatural means and begin living as something else entirely.” Reimu said. “Something closer to the spiritual side of the world, instead of physical.”

“Spiritual? As in, souls?”

Reimu cupped her chin. “Not exactly…? It’s more like they need to be believed in to exist. Feared, specifically. If people don’t fear youkai, they’ll forget they exist and stop believing in them. Without that fear, youkai will grow weaker and eventually stop existing.”

‘Stop existing’. 

She’d said the sentence so casually, Luka almost wasn’t sure she’d heard it right. 

“‘Stop existing’?” Luka repeated. “As in, no longer being in this world? They just disappear?”

Reimu raised an eyebrow. “Yes. What else is it supposed to mean?”

Luka felt her blood running cold. She thought back to the last train ride she was on before she woke up in Gensokyo. The long battle with her own exhaustion. All of it, if she followed the logic Reimu was giving to her, led to a rather terrifying conclusion.

She’d nearly faded out of existence. She was ‘forgotten’. She didn’t want to think about what that meant. What it meant about her dad and the few friends she had. Did they forget her too, somehow? Or was only a few people 'believing’ in her not enough? 

The only thing she knew for a fact was that if all of that ‘youkai’ talk with Yukari were true… If it weren’t for Gensokyo, she would have just ‘died’ then and there. She would have been on the train one minute, then gone, without anyone even noticing.

“That’s… terrifying.” Luka tried not to show her anxiety, but she was doing a pretty poor job. “How’re they supposed to sleep at night knowing their lives could end at any moment?”

Reimu looked at her with a strange expression. “You’re soft.”

The suddenness nearly caused Luka to trip and fall on her face. “E-Excuse me? Who?”

“You. You’re really bizarrely soft-heated.”

“Wha—How is that even,” Luka stammered. “Why are you saying that like it’s weird?! Is it really so strange to think that it’s horrible that someone could just vanish one day over something as mild as that?”

Reimu’s expression didn’t change. “Most youkai here aren’t bothered by it. They continue living their troublesome lives, making problems for people so that they can continue to be feared. Then they’re ‘exterminated’ by me so that all the humans in the village can continue to live their own peaceful lives. Everyone’s living, regardless. Don’t take everything so seriously.”

Luka felt like she was being way too nonchalant about all this. No, putting that aside, “‘Exterminated’, you keep using that word so casually. What do you mean by that? You’re not killing people, are you?” She tried to keep her tone in-check, but it ended up coming out as an accusation.

Reimu suddenly stopped walking. “Okay, no .” She turned to Luka. Her eyes looked stormy. “First of all, that’s not what the rules are about—”  

“What ‘rules’?” 

“The Spell Card rules, don’t you—” Reimu stopped herself. Her brain probably caught up with her mouth. “Oh. Right.”

“Yeah. We had a conversation about this earlier.” Luka scratched her head. “Can we add that to the list of things to give me a proper explanation about? I remember asking Marisa and Patchouli about it yesterday, but I didn’t exactly understand what they meant.”

Reimu sighed and cupped her chin. “How to explain… In the interest of avoiding sitting here and explaining things all day, just think of it as a set of nonlethal dueling rules everyone in Gensokyo follows.”

“Nonlethal.” Luka stared. “With giant lasers and explosions.”

“Yes, nonlethal. With giant lasers and explosions.” Reimu nodded. “Look, the point is, it’s not actually life-or-death. We agree on our terms, we fight, and then that’s that.”

Luka had a hard time parsing it. “So that’s how you carry out these exterminations? You just beat them up in a game?” 

Reimu nodded, looking a little too proud of herself as she did.

Luka sighed. All of this was just too confusing for her to grasp. She could see the basic framework for some kind of bizarre give-and-take society, but she had no idea what to really take from it. In the end, she still had tons of questions to ask but little concept of where to begin.

Before she could really put together her thoughts and pose another question, something appeared through a clearing in the trees. 

At a glance, she could tell it was a gate. Large walls stretching to both the left and right with solid stones lining the bottom, both meeting at a huge wooden arch in the center. From the angle they were at, Luka could see that the walls curved and continued off into the distance. A walled-off town with only one proper entrance into it. Even without there being any kind of sign, Luka could tell they’d found their destination. 

“There it is.” Reimu said. “Come on, quit gaping and let’s get moving.”

At the gate, Luka saw someone. A tall woman with long purple hair tied in a ponytail that reached her back. Dressed in white robes with red flame patterns burning across it, she radiated an intense sort of energy. It didn’t surprise Luka to see a pair of sheathed swords at her hip. What did surprise Luka was the sheer length of one, as it looked like it overtook more than half the woman’s height. 

Next to her was an older man dressed in similarly older, Japanese-style clothing. He seemed to be in hysterics, and as the two of them approached, Luka could start to make out some frantic shouting.

“P-Please, you have to help!!” The man’s tone was fearful, and it almost seemed like he was holding himself back from approaching the woman any closer than arms-length. “He’s my son, please, he’s all I have left!”

The woman didn’t budge. “I’m sorry, but I can’t leave the gate to the village unguarded. You know that. And besides, we’ve already sent someone out—”

“And they haven’t come back yet!! For all we know, they’ve been eaten by youkai by now!” The man only continued to shout. “Please, Lady Meira, I beg of you to lend your strength!! A youkai-like swordsman such as yourself must be able, surely…”

‘Meira’ visibly flinched. At that moment, Reimu stepped forward. 

 “Er,” Reimu walked up to them. “Excuse me, what’s going on here?”

Meira tensed up for some reason, and the man turned to see Reimu. “Ah,” His eyes lit up with hope. “You! The Hakurei shrine maiden, you must hear me out, my son, he’s, he’s—” 

“Okay,” Reimu held both hands up. “Calm down. Take a deep breath, then explain.”

It took the man a moment to calm himself. Once he’d settled down and started talking again, he didn’t stop.

“Last night, my son ran from home. We’d gotten into an argument. I don’t even remember what we were fighting over. He said he was going to leave the village, I didn’t take him seriously and sent him to bed, and when I woke up, he, he—”

The man’s face turned pale and he staggered. Luka rushed up and balanced him, resting her hand on his shoulder. “Easy now…” The man’s ragged breathing slowed somewhat, but it was clear he was on the verge of passing out. 

“I see.” Reimu looked slightly troubled. “Meira, you mentioned someone was already out to search for the kid? Is it any of the local youkai hunters?” 

Meira shook her head. “By the time we were made aware, the child was long gone. Not enough evidence for us to let any regular hunter go looking for the child. Of course, before we could deliberate over what to do next, ‘that one’ ran off.”

Reimu raised an eyebrow. “‘That one’?”

Meira sighed. “What other fool charges off on hopeless quests because he heard someone needed help?”

Reimu paused for a moment, before realization flashed in her eyes. “Ahh,” She nodded, and her shoulder relaxed. “If it’s him, he’ll probably be back any moment now.”

“What?” The man seemed totally lost. “What are you two talking about?! My son’s been gone for almost half a day! By now any manner of youkai could have gotten to him!!”

Reimu didn’t waver. “Like I said.” She locked eyes with the man, a confident and assured look in her eyes. “I’m willing to bet he’s just about—”

“INCOMIIIING!!” A male voice cried out from afar.

Luka seriously wondered if Reimu ever lost bets.

Turning to the source of the voice, she saw a man that fit the look of a private investigator, who was currently running to them at top speed. Dressed in a vaguely formal dark blue suit and glasses, it made the sight of him absolutely gunning it a little morbidly funny. In his arms was a child, likely no older than nine years, clinging to him like he’d die the second he lost his grip.

Behind them… was a giant boar. Covered in scars, sized like a freaking car, and barreling after the detective and child with surging bloodlust pouring out from every single ounce of its body. Its tusks alone could’ve probably shredded a school bus into scrap. She would’ve called the sounds it was making ‘grunts’, but they sounded closer to what an angry steamroller would probably make.

“HOLY—?!” Luka’s heart nearly jumped out her throat. 

‘An animal that’s lived for a long time’. Was this one of the types of youkai Reimu was talking about?

Time seemed to slow to a standstill. The father looked stunned, frozen in shock. Reimu had already overcome her own shock and summoned a slip of paper to her hand, but she probably wouldn’t reach them in time. The boar was getting dangerously close to catching up to the two fleeing it. It reared its head, and prepared to headbutt them. Whatever happened next wasn’t going to be pretty.

Shing.

Luka didn’t quite process the next second. Something moved, a fiery blur zipping by in a single moment. A metallic noise smoothly cut through the air, unimpeded. As her mind caught up, she realized Meira was no longer standing next to them. 

Suddenly, there was a loud squeal, and the boar stumbled backwards. A black fog suddenly sprayed out from its front.

There, between the fleeing pair and the boar, was Meira. She stood in a slightly crouched position, the larger of her swords drawn. Without any sign of fear, she slowly adjusted her stance to a standing position, and pointed her sword at the boar. 

The boar seemed to hesitate. Like it was deciding whether to charge again or flee.

Meira glared. “Well?” Her voice bellowed with a calm yet fierce intensity. 

All it took was her voice. The boar immediately staggered, before reeling back and fleeing into the woods, squealing in terror. 

“—Were all those scars just for show?” Meira let out a dissatisfied sigh and returned her sword to its sheathe with a satisfying ‘click!’. “Don’t go chasing humans if that’s all it takes to send you running, whelp.” With that, she turned and walked back to the gate.

Luka made a mental note to not ever get on her bad side.

After everything calmed down, the detective let the child down, and he immediately sprinted over to his father.

“Eiji!!” The father rushed over and immediately caught his son in his arms. “Oh, my son, please, don’t ever worry your father like that…” His eyes were clamped shut, and it was super obvious he was trying not to cry.

“H-Hey, don’t cry, papa…” The boy was hardly one to talk, his eyes also misty.

“I should be the one apologizing. You’re not hurt, are you?”

The detective beamed. “Not a scratch on him. Wasn’t easy, but I made sure he was safe.” He gave a thumbs-up. “As the old saying goes, ‘all’s well that ends well’.”

“Ah!” The father’s eyes snapped back open, sudden realization filling them. He turned to the tired-looking detective. “Thank you, Mr. Amami. How, how much would it take to repay you for your bravery?” 

“Oh, um.” ‘Amami’ rubbed the back of his head. “It’s free. I’m just doing my job, you don’t really need to pay me back.”

“Please, don’t be modest! Ask for whatever you want, and I can give it to you!” The man practically looked like he was about to fall to his knees and start praising the man. “Oh!” The man also turned to Meira. “A-And you, Lady Meira!! I owe you both my very life!! Please allow me to repay this debt!”

Surprisingly, Meira averted her eyes. She looked sheepish. “That’s... unnecessary.”

Amami laughed awkwardly. “We’re flattered, really, but your gratitude alone is enough. And please, there's no need to be so formal. Call me Hiro.” Now that she could get a good look at him, Luka noticed he had a pair of heavy bags under his eyes. In spite of that, his smile seemed to radiate warmth. “I’m just glad to see everything’s worked out.”

As Hiro and the father conversed on the side, Reimu quietly began to grumble to herself. “(Aren’t we magnanimous? If I wasn’t occupied last night, I could’ve taken this job and snagged some extra money…)”

Luka gently patted her shoulder. “(There, there.)” She got her hand smacked for that one.

After they wrapped things up, the father and son were waved back into the village. Luka felt a little like she’d just awkwardly stumbled into the aftermath of something really dramatic and emotional. Still, she couldn’t help but stare as the two walked back home together. 

A parent, who was convinced that his child had run away and would never come back home. A child, stranded away from home, but who managed to find their way back in the embrace of their loving father. 

… What could he have been thinking when she didn’t come back home? How would he react when no one, not even the police, could find any trace of her? He wouldn’t even get the luxury of being told where she’d gone to. Not even a hint. 

Luka East was just gone. In all likelihood, she’d never see her father again.

Suddenly, Reimu poked at her.

“Ow. What?” Luka snapped. 

“You’re staring. What’s wrong?”

Luka glanced back at them. The father and son were now holding hands, neither willing to be separated again. It should’ve been heartwarming, but all Luka felt was envy. 

“... Sorry, just thinking about home, that’s all.” Luka said quietly. At least their last conversation wasn’t some stupid argument. 

Reimu seemed to get the hint. She looked back over at the departing duo, a troubled look on her face. Without another word, she redirected her attention to Meira and Hiro. 

“Hm.” Meira sighed. She looked annoyed. “We’ll need to put out a request for someone to go hunt that youkai boar down before it seriously injures anyone…”

“Taken.” Reimu said. Luka swore she saw dollar signs in the girl's eyes.

Meira nodded. “Well, now that we’ve dealt with that…” She sighed. Luka wasn’t sure why, but it seemed like Meira’s ears were a little red. Oddly enough, it seemed to only happen when she was looking at Reimu. Hmm. “A-Ahem. What brings you down to the village today, Hakurei?”

“A few things.” Reimu jutted a thumb to Luka. “I’m escorting an outsider to the village for right now.”

“Oh?” Hiro peeked over Reimu’s shoulder. “Another outsider, huh? Nice to see another of my kind made it to the village!”

Luka waved awkwardly. “Luka East. Nice to be here?” She took a second to process the last bit of his sentence. “Wait, ‘your kind’? You’re an outsider too?”

Hiro grinned and nodded. “Yup! I arrived here a while ago. I’m Hiro Amami, but feel free to just call me Hiro. Whatever you feel most comfortable with, really.” He gestured to Meira. “This one over here’s Meira. Don’t mind if she seems kinda cold or scary.” He hushed his voice to a whisper. “She’s not really great at talking. She’s actually kinda shy—”

“I can speak for myself, thank you.” Meira’s tone was like a sharpened knife. “Meira. Gatekeeper for the village. No family name. Nice to meet you.”

And without any fanfare, she marched off to stand stoically in front of the village entrance. 

“Whoops. I made her mad.” Hiro frowned. “Going to need to apologize for that later, or else she’ll seriously hold a grudge…” He cleared his throat. “Anyways! What brings the two of you here?”

“I’m actually looking for that boss of yours.” Reimu said. “I have a few important things to discuss with her.”

“Ah, so a business talk with the chief.” Hiro nodded. “She’s dealing with some stuff back at headquarters, but she should be able to meet with you if it’s a personal request. I can walk you two there, if you’d like.”

That’d be appreciated.” Reimu said.

As Hiro escorted them into the village, Luka found herself taking in the sights all around them. Much like everything else she’d seen from her earlier birds-eye view, seeing it in-person made a huge difference. The village definitely had an older style to it, almost like she’d traveled through time. Smaller crowds shuffled about the dirt path, chatting away in the same incomprehensible noise one would hear from any kind of crowd. In contrast to what she was used to, the village hardly seemed overcrowded. There was no rush, or need to squeeze by people on the street. The village seemed to fit the number of people just fine. Looking at the buildings around them, their sizes seemed to match something that she would’ve seen walking around Queens. Obviously the style of building was completely different, and she could hardly call it ‘urban’. Still, the place was just a bit bigger than what she was expecting when she heard the word ‘village’. 

Eventually, they came to a building located at what seemed to be the heart of the village. A two stories tall, it mostly matched the Japanese look of everything around it, but there were some smaller touches that made it stand out. In particular, a sign at the front with what looked like a bunny poking through the writing on it: “Little Rabbit Detective Agency”. 

“What do rabbits have to do with detectives?” Luka commented.

“Well, they’re small, unsuspecting, and tend to nose around a lot.” Hiro said. “Plus they’re friendly, right? People love rabbits.”

Reimu nodded thoughtfully. Luka just imagined a cottontail in a trench coat and hat mindlessly hopping around a crime scene, munching on the police tape.

After that enlightening conversation, the three proceeded in. The moment she stepped in, Luka swore she’d walked right into one of those old noir crime dramas her dad used to watch. It was almost an exact mirror to a set she might have seen in a black-and-white TV show, right down to the slightly disorganized, paper-covered desks and half-open filing cabinets. There was even a vague smell of coffee somewhere in the air. She could almost hear the slight static of an old TV, imagining her dad watching it late at night for ‘nostalgia purposes’. ‘Nostalgia’, said the man born a good twenty-something years after film noir died. And he kept wondering why people called him old.

Amidst the room, three places stood out. A small yet tidy wooden desk with a large number of filing cabinets organized around it stood near the entrance. A nameplace, ‘AMAMI HIRO’ sat proudly at the edge. In the corner, Luka spied a rolled-up futon with another nameplace sitting next to it: ‘MEIRA’. And lastly, one large wooden desk with a smaller amount of filing cabinets and an absolute mess of papers sitting all over it. At the edge there was a framed 'police badge' that, upon closer inspection, looked suspiciously like a Spirit Halloween prop, and one more nameplace: ‘HIJIKATA KOTOHIME’. 

Sitting at that desk was someone who heavily contrasted with the Western-style detective’s office all around her. A red-haired woman dressed in purple robes with floral prints adorning it, she’d have looked the part of some kind of princess if she wasn’t face-first in a stack of paperwork. A small, half-full mug of coffee sat next to her, as if begging for her to wake up and take a sip.

Hiro laughed nervously and walked up to her. “Chief? Hellooo?” He got a loud, unladylike snore in response. “Whoof, this is a bad one. Alright…”

Hiro walked over to his desk, sliding open a drawer. Reimu quickly covered her ears, and before Luka could ask why, she saw what Hiro had grabbed: a tiny, innocuous air horn. “Here’s hoping this horn we borrowed from Morichika still works…”

Luka immediately followed Reimu’s lead.

Hiro walked over to her and raised the horn up into the air right above Kotohime’s head. After a brief pause, the muffled sound of an air horn met Luka’s ears. Like a bolt of lightning struck her, Kotohime shot up out of her chair, her mug nearly flying up off the desk with her. A small line of drool was still on her face.

“UP, I’M AWAKE! I FINISHED THE PAPERWORK, I SWEA—ah.” Kotohime snapped out of it. Her eyes quickly scanned the room, processing that there were now two extra people who didn’t belong. “Oh. good morning, Reimu, and…?”

“Luka East. Hi.” Luka politely gestured to a spot on her face. “You’ve got, uh…” 

Kotohime took a second to catch on, and hastily wiped away the drool on her face.

“You’re still wearing that ‘undercover outfit’?” Reimu asked. “I would’ve expected you to have tossed out the princess robes a while ago.”

Kotohime smiled sheepishly. “They’re… very comfortable.”

“We can see that.” Luka said. 

“She’s getting work done, at least.” Hiro said. While everyone else was talking, he’d been tidying up Kotohime’s desk and arranging her papers into orderly little stacks. “I think it’s fine if she wears her ‘thinking robes’ every now and then, don’t you?”

Kotohime huffed. “They might become ‘sleeping robes’ if I’m not careful.” She sat back in her chair and took her mug. She took a careful sip and frowned. “... of course it’s cold…” With a sigh, Kotohime directed her attention back to Reimu and Luka. “My apologies for keeping you waiting. What brings you two here?”

Reimu was quick to get to the point. “We need a place for the outsider here to stay.” She gestured to Luka.

There was a second of silence.

“... We’re not a housing firm, Reimu.” Kotohime said. “Unless you’re planning on having her rent out a spare broom closet.”

“What, did Meira take your only futon?” Reimu remarked. “I know you have your connections. Not to mention, if I recall correctly, you still owe me for you and that swordsman of yours charging me down during the endless night incident.”

“You’re still on about that little misunderstanding?” Kotohime frowned. “You get into fights with plenty of people during incidents all the time. Including Kirisame, if I recall. What’s so bothersome about Meira and I going at you for a change?”

You aren't a problem, but that samurai…” Reimu shuddered. “I can handle most things, but ducking around that sword of her’s is just too much!”

“Under Spell Card rules, you still wouldn’t be under any real danger, even if she managed to hit you…” Kotohime loudly muttered.

Reimu puffed angrily. “How about that time you locked me up in jail for no apparent reason?”

“Wow, that’s an old one.” Kotohime raised her hands defensively. “Okay, point taken. Clearly, this is pretty important to you. But,” Luka wasn’t entirely sure, but she thought Kotohime’s eyes got more intense. She scanned Luka, as if looking for something. “We'll need to talk over some more concrete terms if you want me to go nosing around for favors.” 

Reimu’s eyes met Luka. There was definitely something going on. “Alright, fine.” Reimu sighed. “This might take a while… Luka, would you mind doing some shopping for me while I speak with Kotohime? Here.” She produced a small slip of paper and handed it to her.

Luka had a feeling that their conversation was going to be about more than just housing, but she wasn’t in any position to argue about being sent off to run errands. “Sure, I’ll try to only get moderately lost in the streets.” Didn’t stop her from shooting back a little. 

“It’s fine,” Kotohime glanced over to Hiro. “Hiro, would you mind giving our friend here a hand? Actually, this might take a while, so why don’t you give her a tour of the village while you’re out?”

“Not a problem!” Hiro saluted cheerily. “Right this way, Miss East.”

As Hiro walked out the door, Luka followed. Before she stepped back outside, she snuck a glance at Kotohime. She wasn’t sure what it was she saw in the red-haired woman’s eyes. Suspicion? Curiosity? Whatever it was, it made her a little nervous. 

After a moment of hesitation, she stepped after Hiro and left the office. 

“So,” Hiro spun around and stood proudly. “Where do you want to start, Miss East? Tour or shopping?”

Luka scratched the back of her head. “Just call me Luka. ‘Miss East’ feels weird. As for where to go first, let’s do the tour first. I’d rather not lug around groceries the whole time we’re wandering around.”

With a nod, Hiro started guiding her around. Getting a tour of an old Japanese village was about as novel an experience as she could get. Hiro was careful to show her around every major landmark he could think of, to give her a proper idea of what the village was like. In summary: it was a lot bigger than she expected, but still small. The village seemed to be divided into smaller areas, each with their own purposes, but there was no real sign of strict organization. The people were just placed wherever they could find space, and everyone worked around it.

“We’ll save the markets for last,” Hiro said. “C’mon, this way!”

She appreciated Hiro’s cheery attitude. It made her feel a little less bad about the people staring at her. Every fifteen-or-so feet, Luka would feel it. A small group of eyes sneaking a look at her. She didn’t detect any sort of malicious intent behind their stares, but there was a definite sense she was being recognized as an ‘outsider’.

A few mutters here and there caught her ears. 

“Another outsider’s arrived, eh?”

“She’s with that Amami fellow…”

“Such a stylish coat. Is this what outsiders dress like now?”

It made her feel a bit like a zoo animal. All she was missing was a random five-year-old pitching a handful of peanuts at her to see her reaction. 

Hiro noticed her discomfort. “Don’t take any of it personally.” He smiled reassuringly. “Outsiders coming by isn’t a very common thing. We stick out like a sore thumb. Clothing from the outside is just way too modern for this place.”

“I’ll say.” Luka glanced at an aged wooden building. “Seriously, did I time travel or something? This place looks ancient.”

“In a way.” Hiro cheerily spun back around, looking more like a tour guide getting to share a fun fact than a detective. “According to history, this place was actually founded all the way back near the start of the Meiji era. It’s stayed mostly the same ever since then.”

“I don’t even know what a ‘Meiji’ is.”

“Ah. Hm,” Hiro scratched his chin. “Think somewhere in the mid-1800s, then.”

Luka’s eyes widened. “Geez. This place is that old?” 

“You think it’s old?” Hiro said. “I think that’s pretty recent.”

“200 years is recent to you?”

“Well, time’s relative to everyone, isn’t it? Haven’t you heard? The older you get, the faster years seem to go by.”

Luka stared at him. “You barely look over twenty.”

Hiro beamed. “I’m an old soul! I’m practically throwing my spiritual back out every day!”

“Whatever you say, ‘old-timer’.” Luka shrugged. What a weird person. He did look tired, though. Maybe he was just rapidly aging from stress. 

They passed some more buildings. Luka stopped to stare idly at a small store, reading the sign ‘Suzunaan’, but hardly processing it. She was too deep in thought.

“Going back a second…” Luka looked to Hiro. “Are there any others? Besides you and me?” 

“You mean outsiders?” Hiro scratched his head. “At the moment, yes, it’s just us. Most other people that show up tend to go back home. It’s not uncommon to find outsiders wandering around, but the ones who decide to stay here are pretty rare.” He seemed to pause. “On the subject. What made you stay here?”

Luka paused. “What made you stay?”

“Question for a question, huh? That’s fair.” Hiro said. “I guess you could say I didn’t really have any places left to go when I ended up here.”

“That bad back home?”

Hiro smiled, but there seemed to be a bitter emotion behind it. “Sort of. I’d rather not delve into it, if you don’t mind.”

Luka sensed that she'd pressed a button she shouldn't have. "Sorry."

"Hey, what're you apologizing for?" Hiro laughed lightly. "It's my baggage, not yours." He smiled once again. "So, what about you? What brings you to our little pocket of reality?"

Luka hesitated. "... I guess you could say I didn't really have any places left to go."

Hiro paused for a moment, then nodded understandingly. "I see. Well," he smiled warmly. "If you ever feel like you need to talk about it, or anything else, you've got a friend right here!"

Luka returned the smile. "Thanks. And consider it likewise."

She started to relax and enjoy the tour. As they walked, the two of them began to chat. There was no denying Hiro was a bit of a weird person, but he seemed nice. There wasn't any sense that he was trying to pry any information from her, even in some subtle way by lowering her guard. His sincerity made her feel a lot more comfortable.

Eventually, they passed a small building with a small crowd of people and a sign that had a whale on it out front.

"Oh, hey. A pub."

"Hm?" Hiro peered over to where Luka was looking. "Oh, that's Geidontei. Wait, how did you know that was a pub?"

"Look at the people going in. A bunch of tired, stressed, vaguely depressed-looking older guys. It's either a pub, a bar, or something less age-appropriate." She lightly sniffed at the air. "And I've got a faint smell of alcohol and food, so yeah." Were those veggies? They smelled good. 

"Wow. You're talking like a real expert."

"I used to work in a pub back outside. So I know a thing or two." Luka said. She paused, then realized something. "Speaking of, I'll need to find a job if I'm going to stay here... Do you know if this place is hiring?"

"Hm. I'm not sure, but the old man that runs the place probably won't turn you away if you really know your stuff." Hiro nodded contemplatively. "He's got a good eye for talent. Plus, even if he doesn't hire you, it's not like this place has any shortage of bars for you to work at."

Luka raised an eyebrow. "You make it sound so easy."

"You'd be surprised. Especially if you're a rare commodity like an outsider." Hiro said. "The village is always curious about different knowledge from the outside, and if you happen to come here with any special skills, you might find yourself developing a reputation."

"Are you speaking from experience?" Luka said. 

Hiro smirked. "A little. Of course, I actually got hired by pure dumb luck…"

"Oh? You wanna share that story?"

"Hm. Where to begin…" Hiro stepped to the side of some oncoming pedestrian traffic, moving to the side of the street. Luka moved with him. "Well, I arrived in Gensokyo a few years back. I woke up in the middle of nowhere and managed to stumble my way to the village."

"Wait, you were spirited away too?" Luka thought back to Yukari. Was she scheming something involving Hiro too?

"Uh, no." Hiro said. "I, uh… How to phrase this… I was alone for a while, basically hit my limit, and passed out in the middle of nowhere. And when I came to, I was here. Since I was in Japan at the time, everyone assumes I just got snagged by the barrier by accident. No spiritings away, at least not as far as I'm aware."

"I see…" So, no Yukari. At least now she could probably guess why he didn't want to talk about his life outside.

"Anyways." Hiro continued. "When I arrived at the village, I was greeted by a certain purple-haired samurai guarding the gate. She, uh, didn't realize I was a person at first and started trying to cut down the 'evil spirit' that was trying to sneak its way into the village."

"Geez. You must've looked real bad."

"Oh, I seriously did!" Hiro laughed. "Eventually, someone overheard the chase out by the gates and notified Miss Hijikata."

"That messy-looking red-haired lady?"

"She's a lot more refined and elegant than you'd think!" Hiro frowned. "… But, yes, her. She calmed Meira down and heard me out. I was taken in the next day, and after I, well, happened to offer some help with a recent human disappearance case that had been causing them trouble, she offered me a place to stay at her agency with Meira."

"Huh. Makes sense." Luka paused. "Wait. You both live there?"

"There's a tiny room in the back with a bed Miss Hijikata used to take mid-morning naps on ." Hiro smiled awkwardly. "Meira actually… wasn't using it. She apparently prefers to sleep on the floor." 

Luka thought back to that lonely little futon in the main room. Damn, girl, you live like that?

"So, what exactly is it you guys do?" Luka asked. "I mean, I get you're a 'detective agency', but…"

"Our staff consists of a former-undercover-princess, a samurai, and me?"

"You could say 'me' with a little less self-deprecation, but yeah." ( Also, wait, 'former-undercover- what )

"It's a bit complicated." Hiro said. "Gensokyo, and by extension this village, doesn't really work the same way as the outside world. Specifically in the whole 'law enforcement' deal."

"How so?" Luka asked.

"For starters, we don't really have laws. Actually, there isn’t even really any system of government here." 

Luka's brain fell down a set of stairs. “I’m sorry?”

“You’re… forgiven?” Hiro tilted his head. 

“No, I mean,” Luka stopped herself. She needed to get her head straight. “There are zero laws here? No rules, nothing?”

“No no, you’re misinterpreting.” Hiro gently corrected. “I said there were no 'laws'. I didn't mean there weren't any rules."

"What's the difference?"

"Think of it like this. A 'law' is something firmly written down, set in stone. It's something that's enforced by those in power, which makes it both rigid and flimsy all at once." Hiro said. "After all, if laws exist, someone has to write them. And that someone can easily write laws such that they can be bent to benefit them, but also made rigid to go against their 'enemies'. You're from the outside world, right? I'm sure you've seen that before."

Luka didn't have a good counter argument for that. She nodded.

"A 'rule' is something commonly understood, yet not firmly written. It's not something any one person decided on. As such, no one can escape them by bending anything or hiding behind some rigid wording any small group of people decided. Everyone agrees on the idea of it, and fairness is upheld by that common understanding."

"Okay…" Luka was slowly starting to understand this place. "But, you can't have perfect understanding all the time. Disputes or fights have got to end up happening, right?"

Hiro nodded. "That's where we come in. One of our many jobs is technically what you might think of as 'the police', though calling us that feels kind of dishonest. We try to encourage everyone to uphold these ideas, but should someone decide they're above the common rules, we have the authority to step in and tell them to knock it off."

"By…?"

"Whatever causes the least amount of trouble for everyone involved. Most people understand, so that part of our job doesn't come up very often." Hiro said. "Usually our job consists of general work with helping around the village, or 'major incident damage control' whenever that comes up. Sometimes we also assist with missing person cases and minor incidents with youkai on busy days."

"Missing… Like that kid you helped out earlier." Luka recalled.

"That's right." Hiro smiled gently. He looked out at the village. He seemed to settle on something, but when she followed his gaze, Luka couldn't see what. There was a satisfied expression on his face. "It's not always the most eventful job, but it pays in more ways than one."

Luka took it all in. "I sort of get it. Seems like a bit of an odd system, though."

"The system wasn't my idea." Hiro said. "It was here for a long time before I even got to Gensokyo."

"Uh-huh…" As she looked out all around them, Luka thought about something. "Wait, there's only three of you. How do all three of you manage to cover this entire village?"

"Oh, that's easy." Hiro smirked. "Our 'abilities' complement each other."

"'Abilities'?" Luka detected a very particular emphasis on that word.

"Right, that's probably a new concept for you, huh?" Hiro folded his arms in thought. "Uhm… I guess you could just say they're like individual powers. Practically everyone in Gensokyo has one."

"Huh? How does that even work?" Luka paused. "Wait, let me guess. No one knows, but they just sort of accept it."

"I dunno. I just know we have them." Hiro shrugged. “You’ve seen Meira’s in action. Her’s is ‘rapidly stepping from one place to another’.”

Luka blinked. “That looked more like teleportation than… whatever you just described.

Hiro grinned. “Cool, isn’t it? Apparently, she didn’t learn it until she observed some fancy footwork technique from a tengu when she was younger.”

“Wait. I thought you said people just ‘have’ their abilities?” Luka said.

Hiro nodded. “They do, they’re just not all gained the same way. Sometimes, people have their abilities at birth. Other times, it takes people time to understand and gain their ability through training. Think of it like a natural talent. Sometimes it just clicks with people right away. Other times, you need to experiment until you figure it out.”

“Uh huh…” Luka wasn’t sure she understood, but nodded anyway. “Okay, so how does this help with your job?

“Well, for Meira, she’s usually our quick-response person. Her ability means she can respond to just about any problem lightning-fast.” Hiro said. “Of course, she can’t see everything in the village at once, so my ability comes into play there.”

Luka tilted her head. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

Hiro smiled sheepishly. “Well… It’s kinda boring, but…”

“C’mon, dude. You just told me someone had the power to ‘rapidly step around’, and it looked like friggin’ teleportation. Just spill it.”

Hiro hesitated. “My ability is… ‘to observe’.”

Luka blinked.

“Like… to see?”

“Yes.”

“With your eyes?”

“Not… exactly, but yes.” Hiro pointed to his eyes, nose, and ears. “You ‘observe’ with lots of different things. Your eyes are one, sure, but you also observe the world around you through other senses, like smell, sound, touch, etcetera. My ability amplifies that sort of thing, so I can pick up on things much easier than most people.” He looked out to the village. “I’ve gotten pretty good with it. I can ‘see’ most things in the village, even if they aren’t directly in my line of sight. I communicate that information to Meira, and we respond to problems accordingly.”

“Huh.” Luka’s eyes shone with a bit of respect. “That’s pretty neat!” 

"You think so?" Hiro rubbed his neck. "To be honest, I think everyone has this kind of power. Everyone can observe the world around them."

"Yeah, but you can see stuff most people don't." Luka patted him on the back. "Chin up, it's a cool power! For a detective, I bet nothing gets past you with something like that."

Hiro smiled awkwardly. For some reason, he still looked ashamed. "... the constant stimulation makes it hard to sleep sometimes, but thank you. I'm sure whatever your ability is, it'll be cool too!"

Luka chuckled nervously. "Yeah, uh, sure." No way could she even imagine something like that. If she had any superpower, it was extremely bad luck. She paused. "Oh, right. What about Kotohime? If she's the 'chief', she must have some really hardcore, awesome power."

Hiro smiled nervously. "E-Er."

"... What?"

"Her power is to… 'collect bizarre objects'." Hiro scratched his cheek. "I-It's more useful than it sounds, I assure you!" 

… ...This place was seriously weird.

Before she knew it, they'd been talking for quite a while. Now was probably a good time for them to head over and grab the groceries they needed to get.

"Let's see…" Luka squinted into the sheet of paper Reimu handed her. "Geez, her handwriting is still tiny. And messy. I can barely read this stuff."

"Can I see?" Hiro leaned in. "Hm… Ah, I can read this."

"Seriously? I told you your ability was cool!"

"I'm not so sure it's my ability this time, but thank you?"

With Hiro's help, they quickly grabbed what they needed. Food, ingredients, everything on their list. Luka even remembered her promise with Ran and snagged two servings of fried tofu (though, mulling it over, she didn't quite know how she was going to get it to her).

As she went over everything one last time, a realization hit her. 

"Oh, crap." Luka stopped. "I forgot, I don't have any money to pay for this."

Hiro smiled. "Not to worry. I can cover the expenses."

Luka balked. "You sure? I don't want to cause you any trouble."

"Please. Helping people out is what I'm here for." Hiro beamed. "Just leave it to your friendly neighborhood Hiro!"

Geez. What an unbelievably pure guy.

With everything they needed, Luka and Hiro made their way back to Kotohime and Reimu. Luka only hoped that she'd come back to some good news.