Delicate blooms sat intertwined with thorn-riddled, reaching branches. It seemed they were no longer inclined to keep their peace. The shrubs reached out as far as they could to knick the unaware and adventurous. Mokou had crouched down and stared intensely at the blood-red blooms. They were beautiful. It was tempting almost, to pluck one from the bunch. The thorns warned her to stay away. A few, little thorns wouldn’t stop her under normal circumstances, but these were not normal circumstances. There wasn’t much that was normal anymore. She could still appreciate the plants and the aroma wafting up from them without stripping one from its home.
“Flowers weren’t meant to be so pungent.”
She whipped her head around and wordlessly leered at the other woman standing a few meters away. How else would she greet Kaguya, interrupting her or not?
“I can smell them from here.”
With a sigh, she raised herself up and took a few wary steps back. Before them stretched the rest of the forest’s edge, painted in a dizzying array of vibrant colors and scattered trees. So many flowers… Mokou swore that some of the blossoms she supposedly recognized weren’t meant to bloom just yet. They did so anyway.
She swore she saw them shuddering too, the rose bush included. It warded off any lingering thoughts of taking a rosette for herself.
Kaguya didn’t say another word before she turned towards the forest and started walking in. Mokou followed suit soon afterwards.
They walked in near silence. That morning, the group of immortals had been abruptly woken up by a pack of wild animals. Wolves, foxes, overgrown weasels… It was hard to say what exactly they were. But they knew they had stayed in that one spot for far too long when those creatures had become brave enough to investigate their campsite while they slept. Immortal or not, it was unnerving to wake up surrounded by a bunch of wild beastly things.
“When did you start appreciating flowers?” It seemed that Kaguya had managed to find her words though. Mokou grunted. “They smelled nice. And… they look just like they did in the past.”
Another silence fell between them. When Kaguya hadn’t responded soon enough for her liking, Mokou glanced and found her staring at her as if she had grown a second head.
“What flowers were those?” Kaguya clippedly asked.
The question seemed asinine to Mokou, but Kaguya clicked her tongue and shook her head like a disappointed mother. “I think your memory is failing you, old lady. Is any flower with a thorny bush a rose to you?”
“You’re older than me!” When was the last time she had seen a rose? How could she be so certain of herself? The thought of strangling the princess crossed her mind.
“Those pretenders don’t remember what their ancestors looked like either.”
It was hard to tell if Kaguya had said that in reconciliation or if that was simply her own unfiltered opinion, but there was a palpable distaste in her voice. Mokou’s anger pewtered out nonetheless.
They walked some more time without exchanging a word. Kaguya had been looking around curiously at whatever noise or pretty thing would catch her attention. Mokou seemed more interested in watching the forest floor, but would dart her head towards anything that sounded vaguely threatening.
Then there was a sound that seemingly only caught Mokou’s ear. Something… talking? From afar? But it stopped just as soon as it had started.Leaning forward, she gazed past Kaguya and into the forest.
“Hey… Did ya hear that? I think I heard someone else down there.”
Kaguya scoffed. “And you’re hearing things too. You surely are losing it.”
“I’m serious, dumbass!”
She heard it again, but the princess gave no indication of hearing. She weighed the possible outcomes in her mind. Yet, against her better judgement, her curiosity outweighed any sound decisions. “... I’m gonna go find out what that is.”
“That seems like a ‘dumbass’ move to me. You don’t even know where our new camp is.”
“Although, maybe you won’t have to worry about finding your way. Eirin and I will locate you by your screams when you inevitably get mauled.”
Mokou paused and Kaguya did too. They both looked at each other at the same time, Kaguya beaming innocently at Mokou as she shot daggers at her.
Shoving past the Lunarian, she carefully trudged through the thickening foliage in pursuit of whatever was calling to her. Kaguya watched her duck and weave through the trees and impeding thicket until her form was indiscernible from the shade of the trees. Then she continued walking by herself.
It only took a few minutes of having her ankles scratched raw by stray twigs until she stumbled upon a clearing. Another flower bush in the midst of a fairy ring, but not a single fairy in sight. The bush precariously balanced itself on an uneven bed of clay and mud. It was not so reckless for her to go ahead and step inside of the ring when she shouldn’t have already been there in the first place.
But, as expected, nothing came of it. She wasn’t really sure what she was expecting, but she still felt disappointed. Did fairies even exist anymore? What would have been chatting if not for them?
“Huh… Maybe I am losin’ it.”
It was probably for the best that she didn’t run into anything. She had no reason to stay but… No. Instead of leaving, she reached towards one of the buds. Suddenly, the sickly-sweet smell of the flowers intensified. An ochre eye embedded in the upheaved mound suddenly opened up and stared at her impeding hand intensely. Something had told her to anticipate a reaction, but this was not what she was expecting. Mokou appropriately launched herself a meter or so away.
The bush shuddered and the ground stirred, and Mokou soon realized those plants from before had not been shaking from their own accord. They had been growing on top of something else. Her hands exploded into flames; the distance between her and whatever this monster was didn’t ease her nerves. Instead of engaging her as she expected however, the mud-creature stepped a few paces back and muttered, “Put… Put those flames away, stranger…”
She recognized the language. Newer, but not one that was commonly used. More importantly though, that was certainly the voice she had heard, soft like a jingling bell. It took her a moment, but she relented. Just what was she looking at? She was unlike the weasel-ish creatures before, in which she was distinctly vixen in appearance. What she had assumed to be dirt was just dirt-colored and dusty fur that made her blend near perfectly into the ground. The grass on her back, which had stood erect just before, was draping over her sides like a blanket. Maybe that had just been fur too. The only thing that wasn’t a facsimile of something else was the plant. Their roots clung and wrapped around the creature’s torso for dear life.
Was it a kitsune? Had she truly been lured away? Or was she something else entirely? Nothing had to subscribe itself to what she was familiar with. Maybe she was just some sort of plant monster. It was odd that only she had heard her call, but Mokou felt she could afford to take her chances.
“Hi,” the fox-like thing mumbled quizzically when Mokou didn’t say anything. She shrunk back almost immediately though, as if she expected Mokou to attack her for speaking up again. “Yer not from around ‘ere, yuh?”
Mokou shook her head. When she could hear her clearly, she noticed she had a strong accent. It made her care a little less about how awkward she would sound, pulling ancient vocabulary from the recesses of her mind. Her posse preferred to speak in their own shared, dead language.
“I can tell. Yer clothes are shredded at the ankles. That’d be th’ work of my kind. They’re not too kind t’ most things. Step too close to their faces ‘n they nip at yer ankles.”
She didn’t even have to glance down to know what she was talking about. Traversing through the field of flowers they were driven across had been a literal pain. Dagger-like spines insisted on clawing at her ankles after they had thoroughly shredded through her final pair of pants. She had just assumed that the flora were exuberantly prickly this season. The forests’ branches were just as eager to pick up the slack, though they didn’t sting nearly as much.
Mokou sniffed. “That whole field is your… family?”
“Yuh. Pretty much. Yer lucky yer still standing. We’re venomous.”
And now she knows why she had passed out only a step into the forest. It was beyond annoying hearing Kaguya taunt her about not flying with her and Eirin. She couldn’t understand why she hadn’t done so in the first place either. Mokou sighed. Nothing seemed to hold back in proving just how harsh the world had become. It wouldn’t wait on her to change. Of course, all that meant was that she had to wait until it changed into something vaguely ‘normal’. The earth mutated cyclically. One day she’d be able to mindlessly pick flowers again. One day.
“... Why are you not out there with them?” she asked. The question left her lips so suddenly that she hadn’t realized she even asked it until the fox answered her. Reconciliation hardly helped when she so dearly missed the past. Talking brought her back to the present.
“By choice.” She didn’t appear bothered by the question, at least. It actually seemed like she was just fine answering her questions. Beats being the fuel for a fire, Mokou supposed. “I don’t like bein’ around my folks. My flowers don’t like bein’ around other things ‘n general. It’s a win-win. Ended up findin’ this nice place t’ sunbathe, so we just kinda hang around ‘ere.” She paused for a moment to sit down on the floor. “That bein’ said, it’s rude t’ try ‘nd take one of our flowers without askin’.”
“Don’t apologize t’ me! Apologize to ‘em.” She pointed to the bush.
Mokou scowled. The vixen barked out a laugh.
Her scowl deepened.
“Are you messing with me?”
“Naw!” she yipped, lifting up her paws defensively. “Ya just… reminded me of someone when ya made that face. Anyway, I think I can convince them t’ forgive ya since ya didn’t know. Most don’t find out our ways of livin’ ‘til it’s too late.”
Mokou grunted in acknowledgement. Much to her surprise, she actually did start talking to her botanical symbiont. Had she just overheard her talking to them? Some faded memory tugged at her mind watching her. It was too faint to parse. Instead, her eyes trailed over the shrub and the fragrant flowers. The perennial blooms were a blue so soft that they only carried the whispers of their original hue. And yet, resting on her head, there was a deep red one that perfectly mimicked the ones she had seen earlier. More questions rose to the forefront of her mind, but she felt like she had already said enough. Although, there was only one other thing she really cared about finding out.
“Speaking of your flowers… What are they called?”
She told her. Mokou snorted.
The fox tilted her head. It was a mystery to her why that tidbit of information spurred such a reaction. “Did I say somethin’ funny?”
“Nah. You have helped me out a lot more than you realize.”
“Alright,” she mumbled. A silence befell them. “If it’s all the same t’ ya,” she continued. “I’d like t’ go back t’ sunbathin’.”
Apparently, she wasn’t too frightened of Mokou anymore because she hadn’t waited on a response before moving. The imprint in the earth where she had been resting before welcomed her back just as easily. Although, before she shut her eyes, she glanced up at Mokou one last time. “… I don’t mind ya stickin’ around if ya wanna. This spot is plenty nice.”
“I don’t have much of a reason to stay.” Mokou felt like she had disturbed her (and her plant) enough as is. But, then again, when was the last time she had talked to someone else? Someone new? She had just reconvened with Kaguya under a century ago. It was impossible for her to quantify how many millennia she had spent alone and listless before then. She had found out what she wanted, but there was more to be asked.
When she found her way back to Eirin and Kaguya, the sun had finished its slow crawl across the sky. And, on her head, a pale rose had found its new home in her hair.