Topic: In the Brilliant Light of Day [Complete] - DDC Novel Length Fanfic (+pics!)  (Read 1622 times)

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hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female


The novel length, sinful ddc fic is finally ready to go. Make sure you check the tags in the image above (or click on the AO3 mirror below to view them) before reading. But first, a few disclaimers. Because this fic needs disclaimers, lol.

  • This story is based on touhou canon as of late 2015, with about ten million headcanons thrown in for good measure. Some of the stuff I've made up will probably be contradicted by canon in the future, so keep that in mind!
  • This fic was written for a mature audience. There's sex scenes, there's bloodshed, there's corruption, and all kinds of alarming things that'd probably make ZUN cry if he ever read it. It never gets extreme or anything (imo), but if you're easily upset, or prefer your touhous cute and fluffy, then you should probably sit this one out.
  • I've tagged all of the 'worst' things in the fic (the dubcon, mainly), but I haven't tagged everything. Again, if you're easily upset, etc etc. If you read RabbitEclair/UnmovingGreatLibrary's excellent fanfic "Eyes in the Dark" on AO3 recently, then you should be able to handle this fic just fine.
  • The sex scenes are nsfw, but they're the kind of nsfw you'd find in a general fiction novel (hence why the fic's rated 'M' not 'E'). Letters to Penthouse this ain't. Since nsfw fic isn't allowed on MotK, I'll be linking to the AO3 version of those chapters instead. The sex scenes are plot critical, so you can't skip them.
  • Huge props to Bear (amemenojaku.tumblr.com) for drawing so many amazing pictures for the fic. Note that some of the pictures depict blood and mild injury detail, but most of them are just really sinful. It matches the text!

There'll be a new chapter posted every Sunday and Wednesday! Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.


Chapter 1
(AO3 Mirror)

Shinmyoumaru Sukuna had never seen natural light.

She’d read about it in books, of course. The sun crossed the sky during the day, and its light poured down to the earth below, warming the soil and making the crops grow. And at night the moon took its place, adding soft silver light to the nightscape. Humans adored the sun. Youkai worshipped the moon. Both were fantastical objects that hung in an ever-changing sky.

But for the inchling race, the sun and the moon belonged in thick, dusty scrolls, along with Issun Boushi and his Miracle Mallet. Their home, the World of Oni, sat in perpetual darkness in a vast underground cavern, the difference between ‘day’ and ‘night’ dictated by the bells ringing from the temples. The light glowing from the houses and taverns cobbled together in the centre never went out. The oni’s banquets continued at all hours, and their jeers and drunken cries echoed off the cavern roof. They didn’t seem sad that there was no moon in the sky, nor a sun to warm their backs.

But oni were different to inchlings.

Shinmyoumaru thought about the sun as she stood in Mamesuke Square – a wide patch of rock hidden behind a disused well. During the day the square was a bustling inchling marketplace, full of food and fabric and metal. At night, it became the rendezvous point for scavenger teams: the brave people inchling society relied on for resources. The place was packed, and Shinmyoumaru struggled to move without elbowing someone in the face. There were the teams clustered together, going over tactics. Carts and crates were being carried around ready for tonight’s findings, and the scavengers’ families – husbands, wives and children – lingered on the outskirts, afraid of leaving in case they never saw their loved ones again.

If the World of Oni had a sun, maybe the inchlings could grow their own food, and keep animals, and live happy lives without anyone having to die. Shinmyoumaru hoped she wouldn’t be around when the parties returned. She didn’t want to see the children crying.

She grimaced at the thought, and pulled her hood lower, hoping to cover her face. Shinmyoumaru had never visited the square alone, and not while it was so crowded. Someone might recognise her if she stuck around for too long, and who knows what would happen then. She had to find who she was looking for, then get out as fast as possible.

Shinmyoumaru saw four royal guards across the sea of people, arms crossed as they kept an eye on the crowd. They each wore thin tin armour, a bowl for a helmet, and held a sharpened chopstick as a weapon. Shinmyoumaru didn’t recognise any of them, but she smiled none-the-less. The guards would have the answers she needed.

It took a few minutes to make her way over, and once she was there she wasted no time. “Excuse me,” she said, louder than she ordinarily would in case they couldn’t hear her over the clamour. “I need to talk to my father and mother.”

“Are you lost?” asked one of the guards. The others didn’t look at her. “What do your mum and dad look like?”

Shinmyoumaru couldn’t blame them. It’d been nine years since she’d left the royal palace, and she looked young for her age. She threw back her hood, hoping her appearance would ring a few bells. “I’m Shinmyoumaru Sukuna,” she declared, “fifth daughter and seventh child of the current king and queen. I’ve been living away from the palace for the last few years, and in light of recent events I seek an audience with them.” She’d practiced the speech beforehand, and felt satisfied with how she’d delivered it.

This time the guards all turned to look at her. The one who spoke to her snorted with laughter, covering his face with a large hand. A guard on the far left, an older inchling with fuzzy grey hair, looked alarmed.

Shinmyoumaru continued. “My aunt, Kikyou Hikona, has passed away in tragic circumstances, and our household can no longer support itself. So I was hoping for-”

“Excuse me.” The older guard stepped forward, and gripped her upper arm. “Please come with me.”

“Ah, wait!” Shinmyoumaru hadn’t expected this. “You can’t just grab my arm, I’m royalty!” But he ignored her protests, and led her away from the other guards, around the other side of the well.

“Listen to me,” he snapped. “I don’t know what this aunt of yours told you, but you’re a fool if you think you can go around telling people you’re Shinmyoumaru Sukuna.”

It was true. Her aunt had warned her to never reveal her name, or linger outside their mansion for long. But her aunt was dead now, and had been for several months. Shinmyoumaru needed to talk to her parents about it. “Why not? That’s who I am!”

“If you have any sense, you’ll leave this place and go back to your aunt’s house. Don’t approach any guards and ask them to lead you to the palace. They’ll think you’re a crook trying to get in and cause havoc.”

Maybe he didn’t realise who she was. She wasn’t the most recognisable princess in the kingdom. “But if my father and mother saw me, they’d know-”

“Do you have any idea how many desperate people there are in this world? Look behind you. See all those people in the square?” He gestured with his spear. “Most of them are hungry. They’re willing to risk death is it means more food. A lot of them have lost friends and relatives to keep our society going. Some of them are bitter enough to try and get revenge. Get what I mean? For all us guards know, Your Highness, you might be yet another murderer claiming to be related to the royals, so you and your friends can assassinate them once you know where the palace is.”

“But I’m not! I’m Shinmyoumaru Sukuna!” She was horrified by the thought. “Please, I need to speak to them! As soon as they see me, they’ll know who I am, really!”

“Like I said, if you have any sense,” said the guard, “you will turn around and return home, and not try something like this again. If you’re who you say you are, and your father and mother wish to see you, they’ll come and visit your house. Don’t approach any guards, and don’t try and find out the palace’s location by yourself. And whatever you do, don’t tell anyone else that you’re Shinmyoumaru Sukuna. You’ll be arrested, or executed on the spot. Understand?” He jabbed a finger at her. “I don’t want to see you here again. I’m going to tell the others you were confused and I dealt with you. Now go home.”

Shinmyoumaru tried to respond, but the guard had already turned his back on her. He disappeared behind the well, returning to his post. Unbelievable. How could he speak to her like that, and ignore her request? That was unbelievably rude! She wanted to stamp her foot and have him punished for insolence, and maybe she would have a year earlier. But things were different now, and all she could do was stand still and feel pathetic.

*****
When Shinmyoumaru was ten years old, her days playing with her siblings amongst beautifully painted shouji screens were cut short when her nanny woke her up in the middle of the night. “Wake up and get dressed, Your Highness. Quickly, and don’t make a sound!” She was dressed, handed a small bag, then led outside through the servant’s entrance. There was a rickshaw waiting for her, and her mother – the queen – was standing beside it in her night clothes. She rushed forward, and gave Shinmyoumaru a tight hug.

“Listen, I know this is sudden,” said her mother, in that gentle, calm voice Shinmyoumaru loved so much, “but you’re going to stay with your aunt for a while. She lives in a big mansion on the other side of the kingdom, and makes beautiful clothes that everyone loves. She’s going to teach you how to sew. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Shinmyoumaru?”

Shinmyoumaru was delighted. She loved sewing, and often made little outfits for her dolls.

“You’ll be with her for a while, all by yourself, so you mustn’t cause any trouble. I’ll come and get you once it’s time for you to come home, okay? So be a brave girl and behave. Promise?”

“Of course,” said Shinmyoumaru, with a big smile on her face. The thought of being by herself with this unknown aunt (an aunt! She didn’t even know she had an aunt!) was a bit scary, but it felt exciting at the same time. Her mother hugged her again, then Shinmyoumaru was lifted onto the rickshaw with a servant, and they set off. She waved until the palace was out of sight.

The servant didn’t say anything for the whole trip, and despite the rickshaw’s shakes and bumps, Shinmyoumaru quickly fell back to sleep. When she woke up, they’d already arrived at her aunt’s mansion. It was made of two large wooden crates, and had a fence made of shoelaces around the perimeter. Two servants came out to meet them, and Shinmyoumaru was invited inside.

Her aunt Kikyou was an imposing woman: tall for an inchling, with long hair and cold black eyes. Shinmyoumaru thought she looked strict, and felt afraid. She wanted to be back in her familiar room, with her kind nanny and brothers and sisters, but the rickshaw had already left. She couldn’t go back to the palace. At her aunt’s command, Shinmyoumaru’s bag was carried to her new room, and Shinmyoumaru was put to bed in an unfamiliar futon.

And so began her new life at the mansion.

Aunt Kikyou was a woman of few words. She rarely spoke to her servants, and they all seemed to know what she wanted anyway. They would appear with the food she wanted at mealtimes, and have her outdoor clothes ready when she stood up for a walk. The only time Shinmyoumaru heard her aunt say more than a few brisk sentences was during their lessons together. Back at the palace, Shinmyoumaru had taken lessons with a wide variety of tutors alongside her brothers and sisters, but here Aunt Kikyou taught her everything by herself, from Japanese reading and writing, to mathematics and the recent history of the inchling race. She even taught Shinmyoumaru practical things, like diplomacy and how to defend herself. She gave Shinmyoumaru her own needle sword, and instructed her in the rock garden behind the mansion. After lessons, Shinmyoumaru would be allowed an hour or two to herself while her aunt met with clients and business partners. She usually spent this time reading, or practising her swordsmanship outside. Then in the evenings, they would sew together.


This was Shinmyoumaru’s favourite time of the day. They would sit opposite each other, with a huge bundle of cloth between them, and work on commissioned outfits. Aunt Kikyou made clothes for a lot of rich people in inchling society, and there was always something new to design, or alterations to be made. They created everything from funeral clothes to fashionaaabluh furisode, to shiromuku wedding kimono and baby clothes. Her aunt never told her the names of their clients, but Shinmyoumaru liked to pretend they were people she knew, like her mother, or one of her older sisters.

Shinmyoumaru made a big effort to be a brave girl, just like her mother wanted. Even when she felt home sick, or her aunt yelled at her for making a mistake, or she pricked her finger and got blood on the cloth, she never complained, and tried her best not to cry.

“We all have to start somewhere,” her aunt would occasionally mumble, and that was the closest she ever got to ‘sorry’.

Years passed. Shinmyoumaru grew from a girl to a young woman. Her fencing improved, along with her embroidery, and her aunt started letting her take charge of a few outfits by herself. Her life in the royal palace felt like a lifetime ago, and Shinmyoumaru often wondered how everyone else was doing. How were her siblings getting on? Were any of them married yet? Maybe the oldest had children by now. The thought of being an aunt thrilled her. But there was never any word from the palace. No letters, no parcels, not even on her birthday. Shinmyoumaru could only imagine.

“Being in charge is a difficult job,” her aunt told her when she asked one day. “Rest assured that you are in their thoughts.”

Previously Shinmyoumaru had never been allowed beyond the mansion grounds. The furthest she could go was the rock garden, where she would pass the time while her aunt was away. But when Shinmyoumaru turned eighteen, her aunt began letting her ride in the rickshaw with her. She had to be dressed in an oversized cloak, and was ordered to never talk to anyone, to never make eye contact with strangers, and to never leave her aunt’s side. Shinmyoumaru obeyed those rules, and in return was granted a tour of the inchling kingdom every weekend.

“This is where we get our food,” her aunt whispered as they passed Mamesuke Square for the first time. There was a busy market, full of colourful stalls and people browsing. Shinmyoumaru gasped with delight. “A servant visits every Friday and buys it for us.”

“Can I go with them?” she asked, wanting a closer look at the market.

“Absolutely not. It’s too dangerous.”

Shinmyoumaru noticed two rough-looking inchling men fighting over a large scrap of meat near the road, and physically recoiled. Her aunt placed a hand on her arm, and the rickshaw rolled back to the road.

*****
Her aunt died a month after Shinmyoumaru’s nineteenth birthday.

There was nothing unusual about that day. Shinmyoumaru was working on a particularly complicated kimono, and wanted to dedicate her free time to redoing the sash. Her aunt rode in the rickshaw by herself that afternoon, accompanied by a few servants. She came back in a box. An oni had trodden on the rickshaw, and crushed her.

Most inchlings died that way. It was nothing unusual. The inchling kingdom was stretched across the World of Oni, hidden in cracks and uninhabited corners. It wasn’t uncommon for a drunk oni to stumble into an inchling area, and cause chaos. There were always casualties. The lucky got trodden on and killed instantly. The unlucky suffered horribly until a royal guard found them and put them out of their misery.

But Aunt Kikyou was a noble. She was supposed to be above such a cruel death. Shinmyoumaru’s whole world turned upside down. Distraught, she locked herself in her bedroom, and did nothing but sew and sleep for several months. She finished all the kimonos they were commissioned to make, then made her own out of the leftover fabric. Servants would come into her room with food, then beg her to take charge of the household. Shinmyoumaru had no idea what they meant by that. She didn’t want to leave her room, let alone the safety of the mansion.

She had nightmares every night about a huge, horrible foot stomping down on her, and her aunt’s disfigured body lying amongst the shattered rickshaw. Her dark eyes lacked life, and the bright red blood matted her hair. Shinmyoumaru hadn’t been allowed to see the interior of the box, so her subconscious kindly filled in the blanks, producing an image far nastier than reality could. Shinmyoumaru began to dread night time, but any attempts she made to stay awake always ended with her collapsing, or dozing off in the bath.

Time passed. When Shinmyoumaru finally felt brave enough to leave her room, she found the mansion falling apart. The servants were nowhere to be seen, and neither were the valuables nor most of the food in the larder. Everything had a thin layer of dust on it, and the clocks had stopped at random times.

Why did the servants run away and leave her? She’d known some of them for years and years. Didn’t they care about her? It took Shinmyoumaru a few hours to realise why: the servants were being paid to wait on her. It had never occurred to her before, and why would it? No one had ever told her. There was no money coming into the mansion, so they’d cut their losses and left, taking a few things along with them. When they told Shinmyoumaru to take charge of the household, they must have been asking her to earn money to pay them.

Shinmyoumaru stared at the empty rooms, and wondered what to do now.

*****
In the end, she decided to go find her parents. Shinmyoumaru had been too upset to go to her aunt’s funeral, and had no idea if the royal family had made any effort to contact her. It was faster if she learnt where they were, and visited them directly. She dressed modestly, with as many layers she could put on herself, and wore the same large cloak as always. She’d spent the last few months too terrified to leave her room, so going outside the mansion brought a whole new level of fear. But she had to be brave. After an hour, she persuaded herself to leave the front door. Then she took things slowly, one step at a time.

But in the end, no one would tell her where the palace was. The guard at Mamesuke Square sent her away with a bizarre warning, leaving Shinmyoumaru with even more questions than before. She returned to the mansion in tears, and sat in the hallway by herself until they stopped. There was no one left inside to hear her, let alone comfort her.

But this was no time for crying. She had to make the best of things, and be the brave girl her mother wanted her to be.

So Shinmyoumaru wiped her eyes, and pulled herself upright. Her stomach gurgled. It’d been a while since she’d last had a meal. Maybe there was something in the larder she could eat? Shinmyoumaru walked over to the kitchen, stepped into the storeroom and rummaged through the jars. She had no idea how to cook, and most of the leftover food looked brittle and dry. Was it edible? Only one way to find out. Shinmyoumaru chomped down on a large flake of something, and forced herself to chew. It was tough and flavourless, and hard to swallow.

How long could she keep this up for?

There was no one to wind the clocks, so Shinmyoumaru had no idea what time it was. If she hadn’t gone down to the square earlier she wouldn’t have even known it was evening. The World of Oni was dark at all hours. For some reason this felt like the most terrible thing of all. Shinmyoumaru didn’t even know when to go to sleep or wake up anymore.

But she needed to think. The clocks weren’t moving, so she had all the time in the world.

Her legs moved by themselves. She walked out of the storeroom, back through the kitchen, then into the corridor. Soon she was outside, in the rock garden. The beautiful swirls in the gravel barely held their shape now, and a few of the boulders had been dislodged. The fence made of shoelaces sagged. Shinmyoumaru sat on a boulder, and gazed at the garden. Once, in celebration of a particularly large order of clothes, her aunt had held a private picnic. They’d sat in the centre of the rock garden, using a scrap of cloth from an oni’s skirt as a sheet, and chatted. The servants had carried over dish after dish, and laid out each plate in front of them: soft rice grains, breadcrumbs, chunks of fruit the size of their fists, and a long, fat udon noodle that had to be cut up. A mouth-watering feast. She could still remember the elegant way her aunt had used her chopsticks, and how cleanly she ate.

She thought of her aunt’s mangled body in the box, and shuddered. No, she had to be strong. She wouldn’t let her happiest memories get twisted like that. Shinmyoumaru took a deep breath, and let her head rest in her hands.

When she looked up, she saw a letter poking out from underneath one of the boulders.

It couldn’t have been there for long. Shinmyoumaru was sure she would have noticed something like that. But there was no way anyone had entered the garden just now. They would’ve needed to come in through the entrance behind her, or climb over the fence. Cautiously, she stood, and picked up the letter. It was addressed to her, in handwriting she didn’t recognise.

To Her Royal Highness, Princess Shinmyoumaru Sukuna,
   I am writing to inform you that I have very important information regarding the history of the inchling race. I wish to discuss it with you face-to-face. Please meet me at the place you found this letter when the bells strike five times tomorrow evening. You may bring guards or servants if you wish. I can assure you, however, that I mean you no harm.


They wanted to meet her here? Shinmyoumaru glanced around again, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sender. But even if they had been in the rock garden earlier, they weren’t there now. She turned the letter over, wondering if it continued on the other side, but the page was blank. The sender had left no signature, or any hint to their identity.

The paper felt crisp, and the ink looked fresh. There were no obvious signs of wear and tear. The letter genuinely couldn’t have been there for long.

“Don’t be stupid,” Shinmyoumaru muttered to herself. Everything was moving too fast. She needed to lie down for a bit and think through her options. Sleep felt like a good idea, so she went indoors. She checked every room in the mansion, just in case, half expecting the sender to leap out from behind the shouji screen every time she slid open a door. But she was alone in the mansion. Her needle sword felt heavy on her back, and her bare feet ached.

*****
Shinmyoumaru knew what to do as soon as she woke up. She spent the morning tidying up the mansion, and locking it up the best she could. Then once her gut feeling told her it was late afternoon, Shinmyoumaru sat in the rock garden, and waited. She’d hidden her hair under a simple bowl helmet, and wore the same cloak as yesterday. She held a needle sword in her right hand, her only ally left in the mansion. In the distance she could hear the oni taverns, the shouts and yells of drunks, and the constant murmur of voices. It’d never occurred to Shinmyoumaru before that an oni could stumble across the mansion at any moment. One kick and that would be it. They’d been living on borrowed time and she’d never noticed.

Footsteps. Someone was coming. Shinmyoumaru’s hand touched the hilt of her sword, just in case. She heard someone climb over the fence, then a figure appeared from behind the mansion. It was a man with hollow cheeks, wearing a long battered cloak. Shinmyoumaru didn’t recognise him, and gripped the sword hilt as tight as she could.

“Who are you?” she snapped. “State your name!”

“Princess Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, I presume?” His voice revealed his age, and Shinmyoumaru realised he was no older than she was. “I take it you read the letter.”

“I did, now your name, please.”

He shook his head. “My name isn’t important. I’m working on behalf of someone. They’re the person who wants to see you.”

He didn’t seem even remotely afraid of her. Shinmyoumaru glared at him, and considered raising her sword. “Then tell me their name instead.”

“It would be faster for you to meet them.” He sighed. “We need to go to Mamesuke Square. Do you know where that is?”

He was just as vague as the guards yesterday. The lack of answers annoyed her, but she couldn’t sense any threat coming from him. The man seemed tired, like he wanted to get the whole thing over with. She brushed down her cloak. “I know where that is, yes.”

“Then assuming you’re interested in what they have to say, please follow me.” He turned, and started walking back to the fence. Shinmyoumaru hesitated, then with a quick glance at the mansion, followed after him.

She expected them to take a rickshaw, but instead they walked. The man occasionally glanced back, to make sure she was still following him. Aunt Kikyou would’ve been furious, knowing she’d revealed herself to a stranger, and was now following him because she didn’t know what else to do. Shinmyoumaru knew she was completely mad for even considering this, but her gut feeling told her to keep walking. She’d thought long and hard about what to do that morning, and seeing what the sender had to say was the only concrete option she had. Shinmyoumaru had a lot of confidence in her sword technique, and figured she could cut down anyone who tried to hurt her. If the sender turned out to be a criminal, she wouldn’t hold back.

“I wouldn’t be a good kidnapping victim,” she said to the stranger, just so he knew. “There are lots of other princesses to replace me, so my family won’t pay a ransom.”

“No one’s going to get kidnapped,” said the stranger, firmly.

They reached the square at the height of chaos. The scavenger teams were about to leave, and inchlings of all ages were packed into every available space. The stranger stopped at the edge of the square, and turned to her. “I’m going to tell you now, because this’ll be your last chance to back out. The person we’re meeting is a big person.”

Shinmyoumaru squeaked, and covered her mouth. “An oni!?”

“They don’t mean you any harm, I can guarantee that. We’re going to tag along with one of the scavenger teams, for safety reasons, then I’ll lead you over to them. They only want an hour or so of your time, then I can take you back to your mansion.”

That explained a lot. Of course a big person couldn’t just stroll over to the mansion and talk to Shinmyoumaru there. Well, they could’ve, since it was just Shinmyoumaru living in it now, but they probably didn’t know that. She looked over the crowds, and realised how tense everyone in the square was. If the scavengers, all ordinary people, could go out and do something as terrifying as steal food off big people, then couldn’t she, an inchling princess, go talk to one?

She’d already come this far. Turning back wasn’t an option. “All right,” she said, “but as soon as they’re done talking to me, I’m leaving. Understand?”

The stranger nodded, lifted up his hood, and beckoned. Shinmyoumaru followed him, squeezing through the crowd. Nobody yelled or protested, and moments later there was an unmistakable surge of movement as the teams began to head out. A woman was crying far at the back. A group to the left were shouting good luck. The people in front of her drew their weapons. Shinmyoumaru lifted her needle sword, not wanting to look out of place.

The stranger stayed closed to her. Some of the people around her were chatting and joking, used to this, but luckily there were just as many saying nothing, focusing on the mission ahead. Soon they were out of the square, and ducking underneath a large rock ledge. Then the crowd split, each team going their own direction. The stranger tugged Shinmyoumaru’s cloak, and they followed the group going left. The light around them was getting brighter. She heard low, booming voices up ahead.

Then suddenly, they were in oni territory. They stood inside a dry sewage gutter, and hundreds and hundreds of towering oni were walking past. Shinmyoumaru covered her mouth, afraid she’d scream. One of them stepped extremely close, the foot pounding down with the force of a rockslide. Her aunt hadn’t stood a chance.

The stranger was yanking on her cloak again. “Hurry up!” She’d frozen in place. Shinmyoumaru regretted coming out. She wanted to turn back and run home, but that wasn’t an option. The scavenger team was edging along the kerb, sticking to the shadows. Shinmyoumaru copied them, afraid her heart was pounding so fast it’d give them away. What would happen if the oni saw them? Would they be stomped on? Eaten?

After what seemed like an eternity, the people in front of her turned left again, and they emerged from the gutter into a quiet alleyway. There were no oni in sight, and Shinmyoumaru let herself relax.

The stranger turned to her again. “We’re splitting off here,” he whispered. “Follow me.”

He left the safety of the shadows, and dashed out into the alleyway. It looked suicidal, but none of the other scavengers seemed to notice. Shinmyoumaru gathered her courage, and followed him. She felt her hair come loose beneath her helmet, and tumble down her back. They dashed behind a large crate, and moments later a group of three oni stumbled into view, clearly drunk. They cheered, and sang, and swaggered around in unpredictable movements. Shinmyoumaru glared at them. The oni weren’t looking at the ground. An inchling could die in seconds and they wouldn’t notice.

“We’re nearly there,” said the stranger, impatient. They walked behind the crate, then down another alleyway, this one too slim for an oni to enter. It opened into a wider waste area a few minutes later. There were chunks of wood piled up everywhere, and black dust that Shinmyoumaru assumed was ash.

There was a big person sitting on one of the wood piles. They wore a cloak, a big tattered thing that barely hung together, and the upper part of their face was hidden by the hood. A gold bracelet gleamed on one wrist, and an old pair of sandals hung off their feet. Shinmyoumaru braced herself. She could already imagine those sandals stomping on her.

“I brought her,” yelled the stranger, “just like you asked!”

The cloaked figure smiled. “Princess Shinmyoumaru Sukuna?”

She shouldn’t have come here. Fear overcame Shinmyoumaru, and she took a step back. She held her needle sword out in front of her, her hands shaking too hard to hold it straight.


“Now now, don’t be afraid,” said the big person, “I’m not here to cause you harm. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

Their voice was surprisingly girlish. Shinmyoumaru realised the big person was a woman, and calmed down a little. “I’m… I’m here now. What do you want?”

The figure pulled back her hood. Her black hair was flecked with white and red streaks, and two small ivory horns poked out on either side. A female youkai of some kind, most likely an oni. She looked down at Shinmyoumaru with a bright, cunning smile. “I am here to make you an offer, Your Highness.” She bowed politely. “One that I hope you will consider, and ultimately accept.”

Shinmyoumaru listened.

And the needle sword fell from her hands, and clattered to the ground.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2017, 05:30:22 pm by hungrybookworm »

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Chapter 2
(AO3 Mirror)

There was something about Shinmyoumaru’s history lessons that always bothered her. Neither her tutors in the palace, nor her aunt in their one-on-one sessions, covered anything past the last few hundred years. The inchling’s history had been lost a long time ago, so lessons were dedicated to information borrowed from the oni, and a handful of folklore tales featuring Issun Boushi. Time left over covered recent inchling history – the actions of her grandparents, and such.

Shinmyoumaru had always been full of questions. How did the inchlings end up in the World of Oni in the first place? What happened to Issun Boushi and his family after the folktale ended? But her aunt and tutors couldn’t answer. They had no idea.

And now, this big person she’d just met was filling in the blanks, recounting the lost history of the inchling race as though it was common knowledge.

“You know about Gensokyo, right? The youkai paradise above ground? The inchling race used to live there too, with all the tengu and kappa and ghosts, surrounded by green vegetation and fresh clean air. But the inchlings were teeny-tiny compared to everyone else. They were weak! The youkai of Gensokyo took advantage of that and did whatever they wanted to them. They crushed them, pulled on their limbs like flower petals, roasted them over a fire on skewers, all kind of horrible things! And no one stood up for them, because no one cared about them. Not one stinking youkai in the whole place felt like defending them. So the inchlings ran away to the World of Oni, where they could live a life free of persecution. But as you’ve seen for yourself, Your Highness, the inchlings are no safer here. It’ll only take one drunk oni to find your palace and it’ll all be over: the building kicked down like a sandcastle, the whole lot of you trampled.”

“That’s… horrible.” Shinmyoumaru couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Why would Gensokyo’s youkai do something so cruel?”

“Because they’re strong.” The big person curled her lip, disgusted. “The strong can do whatever they want in this world. They stomp all over the weak.”

Her aunt’s face flashed through her mind, and Shinmyoumaru covered her face with one hand. This was all too much.

“But I’m fed up with it,” said the big person. “I’m sick of them doing whatever they want. I want to create a world where the weak don’t have to fear the strong. I’m gonna turn Gensokyo’s society upside down. Flip it on its head and let all the youkai in Gensokyo know how it feels to be at the bottom for once!”

Shinmyoumaru understood. “…You’re going to start a revolution?”

“That’s my plan. And I want you to join me.”

“…Me? Why?”

The big person jumped down, and knelt in front of Shinmyoumaru. She slowly reached out, and placed a fingertip on Shinmyoumaru’s helmet. Shinmyoumaru flinched, but she didn’t run away. Her legs were trembling too hard for her to move.

“Have you ever heard of the Miracle Mallet?” asked the big person.

Of course she had. “Y-Yes, but… umm…”

The finger lowered, and stroked Shinmyoumaru’s hair. Was she trying to sooth her? “It exists. And I know where it is. We can change society using the power of miracles.”

If Shinmyoumaru hadn’t felt so terrified, she would’ve laughed. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m completely serious. Don’t believe me?”

“You want me to use it?”

“That’s right.”

Shinmyoumaru took a long, deep breath. “Why me?”

“Because only a descendant of Issun Boushi can use the Miracle Mallet.”

The fingertip continued stroking her hair. Shinmyoumaru looked up at the big person’s face, trying to find a hint of ill intent or maliciousness in there. The big person smiled back, and her red eyes narrowed. The man in the cloak was standing to the left, completely forgotten.

What would Shinmyoumaru do if she refused to help, and went back home? She’d be living alone in her mansion, with no food or help, fearing the day an oni found her, or some desperate inchlings broke in and kidnapped her. No, she could sew, couldn’t she? She could find her aunt’s old records and track down all her old clients. Offer the same service and spend her days making outfits. Once she earned enough money she could hire new servants, and everything would return to before. Wouldn’t it? Alternatively she could keep looking for the palace, this time more discretely. She was good with a sword, so maybe she could join the royal guards? Under a different name, of course. That was guaranteed to get her in contact with the royal family. And if everything else failed, she could always be a scavenger. It was a dangerous job, but it paid well, so if she survived for a year or two and didn’t spend the earnings…

Or, she could take up this big person’s mad offer, and go avenge all the pain and humiliation her people suffered. And maybe afterwards, the inchling people could live under the sun, and grow their own food, and never fear oni again.

“All right.” She couldn’t refuse. “Take me to the Miracle Mallet. If it’s real, I’ll join you.”

The big person’s face lit up. “Wonderful!” She lifted her finger away from Shinmyoumaru’s head, and turned back to the pile of wood. “Glad to have you on board, Your Highness!” She pulled out a ceramic bowl, with a lid and a piece of string. “It’s on the edge of the cavern, so we’ll have to walk quite far. I’ll need to carry you in here, for safety reasons.” She removed the lid, and lowered the bowl to Shinmyoumaru’s level.

Shinmyoumaru looked at the bowl suspiciously. But she wasn’t turning back now. She picked her needle sword up off the floor, and stepped into the bowl. The big person replaced the lid, and it became pitch black inside. Shinmyoumaru curled up into a ball, and felt the bowl shake as the big person tied the string around it, securing the lid in place.

“Listen.” The big person whispered into the bowl. “I need to go take my helper back home, so I have to leave you here for a few minutes. He needs a nice long rest for all his hard work, I think you’ll agree. I’ve hidden you from view, so no-one will find you, don’t worry. I’ll be back in no time.”

“Okay,” said Shinmyoumaru. She felt the big person place the bowl down somewhere, then heard her walk away. The distant sound of the oni’s partying returned.

Her aunt would be livid. Here she was, inside a bowl (a perfect ceramic casket) putting her faith in someone she’d only met twenty minutes ago, who may or may not turn out to be an oni. Yes, she was stupid for agreeing to this, and she had absolutely no evidence that anyone would come back and get her ‘in a few minutes’, but Shinmyoumaru didn’t have time for regrets. If she died here, then so be it. At least she tried.

After what felt like an eternity, she heard footsteps again. “I’m back,” yelled the big person, and Shinmyoumaru felt relief rush through her. She could trust her after all. “Sorry that took so long. We got lost.” The big person seemed to be in a good mood as she lifted the bowl up. “Ready to go? The trip will take about an hour. Don’t worry, I won’t drop you!”

“I’d hope not!” yelled Shinmyoumaru from inside. She couldn’t help but smile, excited.

“Oh, and my apologies for being so rude.” The big person chuckled. “My name is Seija Kijin.”

“And I’m Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, though… you already know that.”

Seija Kijin laughed again. Shinmyoumaru felt the bowl shift up and down, in a way that made her wonder if Seija was skipping. She glanced at her sword, making sure it was pointing away from her. Getting stabbed by accident would be a depressing way to go at this point.

They walked for quite a while, Seija chatting away to pass the time. She told Shinmyoumaru all about Gensokyo – the various rivers and lakes and mountains, and the kinds of youkai that lived there. Seija never mentioned what species of youkai she was, so Shinmyoumaru assumed she was an oni that lived above ground. It felt rude to ask, somehow, and she didn’t think it mattered anyway.

Just as Shinmyoumaru started to feel queasy, she felt Seija come to a stop. “We’re here.” The lid rattled, then came off. Bright light poured down, and Shinmyoumaru shielded her eyes with an arm.

The light was unlike anything she’d ever experienced before. A thin, delicate spotlight shone down from the ceiling, and made the cavern they were standing in glitter like gold dust. Shinmyoumaru scrunched up her eyes, and tried to see where the light came from.

“Never seen sunlight before?” asked Seija, amused. Her black hair glistened, and her horns were bone white. “That hole leads to Gensokyo. That’s how I got in here.”

Sunlight! Shinmyoumaru couldn’t believe it. She reached out, and tried to touch it with a tiny hand. Seija moved the bowl closer to the spotlight to let her, and soon the light covered Shinmyoumaru.

“It’s warm.” Shinmyoumaru stared at her hands in disbelief. They looked so pale in the light, and her clothes so worn and tattered. “It’s… amazing.”

“This part of the cave system is a natural chimney,” explained Seija. “See that hole in the ceiling? It looks tiny from here, but it’s actually the size of a human house. But first, please look behind you, Your Highness.”

Shinmyoumaru turned around. There was a filthy white wall behind her, streaked with grey stains and black mould. To the left, she saw the rotten remains of a shouji screen. She frowned. It looked different to the huge buildings the oni lived in. “Is that a house?”

“It’s a castle,” explained Seija. “It’s buried deep in here.” She started walking over to it, and Shinmyoumaru grasped the edge of the bowl, afraid of falling out. “A big, magnificent castle. The mallet’s inside it. Would you like to look at it, Your Highness?”

They were going inside? Shinmyoumaru stared at it for a little longer, and shivered. Then she nodded. “Yes, yes I would.”

They went in through a window. It was unmistakably a castle inside, with a vast corridor wrapped around each large, rectangular room, and the flimsy remains of wall dividers sagging and rotting in the centre. The whole place stank of mould, and there was something odd about the ceiling. It seemed to have tatami mats pasted on it. Shinmyoumaru looked down at the floor, and saw several thick wooden beams stretched across at set intervals. Seija was striding over them, humming as she went.

“It’s upside down,” realised Shinmyoumaru.

“That’s right! The best castle in the world. I’ll show you where the mallet is.” The floor creaked, and Shinmyoumaru gripped the bowl edge again. The castle was clearly in need of refurbishment, and the floor didn’t look that sturdy. She half expected Seija’s sandals to punch a hole in it, and send them plummeting to their deaths.

But nothing like that happened. Seija stood under what looked like a staircase, and to Shinmyoumaru’s amazement, floated up through the hole in the ceiling, to the floor above.

“You can fly!”

“Everyone can fly,” said Seija, with a smug grin.

This room was wider and darker, and a battered wooden box sat on a rickety table in the centre. The box was plastered with dirty paper seals, and looked inconspicuous in the old, forgotten castle. Seija knelt before it, and brought the bowl close to the box.

“I can’t open it,” Seija explained. “Only someone with Issun Boushi’s blood can do that.”

Shinmyoumaru looked at the paper seals, suddenly afraid. What if she couldn’t open it either? But she’d been told over and over as a child that the Sukuna family were the descendants of Issun Boushi himself. They wouldn’t lie to her.

“What do I do?” she asked, looking up at Seija.

“Try touching the seals first.” Seija’s smile looked strange in the light. Shinmyoumaru reached out, and placed a hand against one. The paper felt cold and slimy, and nothing about the seals changed. She glanced back at Seija, disappointed, but Seija was still smiling.

“Try tearing it,” she suggested, “go on.”

She grasped the edge of one seal, and yanked at it. It fell apart in her hands, like the wet paper it was. She heard Seija laugh. “That’s it! Don’t stop there! Rip more of it. Rip it all off!”

Shinmyoumaru clambered onto the box, and dug her fingernails into each seal, ripping and tearing as much as she could. Seija started clapping her hands, jumping around as each one came off. When the last seal fell away, she could barely contain her excitement. “This is it! You’re the real deal! The real Issun Boushi descendant!” She scooped Shinmyoumaru up with both hands, and lifted her high into the air. “I finally found you!”

Shinmyoumaru squeaked, and clung to Seija’s hand. But despite her fear, she laughed, caught up in the excitement. Seija’s smile stretched across her whole face, and her eyes were wide and bright. She looked really pretty, Shinmyoumaru thought.

For the first time in her life, Shinmyoumaru resented their height difference. She wished Seija wasn’t a big person, but an inchling too. Someone she could’ve met and been friends with in the past.

Seija lowered her to the ground, and began fiddling with the chest. It swung open, and she pulled out a large, intricately decorated mallet. Its red and gold paint gleamed, and the red string wrapped around its handle looked brand new. Both women gazed at it in awe.

“It’s real,” whispered Shinmyoumaru. “It really exists…”

“Of course it’s real. Everything’s real in Gensokyo.” Seija held out the mallet. “Here you go, Your Highness. It’s all yours.”

Shinmyoumaru stared at it. The mallet’s handle was huge; she’d need both arms to grab it. Could she really change society with something she could barely hold upright? But she reached out nonetheless, and took it from Seija’s hands. A kick of magical energy rushed through her. Warm, bubbly happiness filled her tiny body, and she couldn’t help but laugh.

Seija was smiling too. They gazed at each other, delighted with their handiwork. And for the second time, Shinmyoumaru felt a pang of annoyance at their height difference. She wanted to rush forward and hug Seija, or clasp her hands and squeeze them.

I want to be bigger, she thought.

The mallet glowed.

“Why don’t you make a wish?” suggested Seija. “Try it out. Don’t ask for anything stupid though. Or too big. Or… you know.”

Of course, what else was the Miracle Mallet for? Shinmyoumaru had the power of miracles in her arms. She raised the mallet up high, and yelled the first thing that came to mind: “I wish I was bigger!”

Nothing happened. Maybe she was supposed to strike the thing she wanted to make bigger. But the mallet was massive. Wouldn’t it crush her if it fell on top of her?

It was a risk she was willing to take. She put the handle between her knees, grasped the head with both hands, and yelled again: “I want to be bigger!” Then she pulled the head towards her, and let it touch her forehead.

There was a blinding flash of light, a loud, comical pop and suddenly everything shrank. Shinmyoumaru screamed, and stumbled backwards, disorientated. The mallet was smaller; it could fit in one hand now. The room was only slightly bigger than the main room back in her aunt’s mansion. Seija was no longer a giant, and stood opposite her, mouth wide open in amazement. She was still taller than Shinmyoumaru, but only by a head or so.

And she was beautiful. Shinmyoumaru could see it clearly now. Seija Kijin was absolutely stunning.

“It works,” said Seija, barely believing it herself. “It actually works!” And before Shinmyoumaru could move, she rushed forward and embraced her. Shinmyoumaru laughed, relieved the mallet had made her clothes bigger too, and hugged back. Seija felt skinny underneath her cloak, and smelt of something Shinmyoumaru couldn’t pin down. Something foreign and wonderful.

Seija let go, and grasped Shinmyoumaru’s free hand. Shinmyoumaru felt herself blush. “Your Highness, Princess Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, please let me serve you. Let me work as your retainer and advisor, and together we can change Gensokyo for the better.”

“I-I’m going to be in charge?”

“A mere-” Then Seija paused, and thought over what she was going to say. “A commoner such as myself has no elegance, no charisma. It’s only fitting that a member of the royal Sukuna family should lead the revolution, and become the ruler of Gensokyo once things have changed. You have been trained as a ruler, haven’t you?”

It was true, Shinmyoumaru had been taught things like diplomacy and leadership in case she took the throne. Would that be enough to help her? “I have, but… I don’t know if I’d be good enough.”

“Of course you will.” Seija spoke with such conviction that Shinmyoumaru had to believe her. “Why don’t we go outside? Up to Gensokyo? Ask the mallet to take us up there.”

Go to Gensokyo? Now? Well, why not? She was big, she had nothing to fear. Shinmyoumaru could do anything with the mallet. She gripped Seija’s hand, and held the mallet up high. “Mallet, take us up to Gensokyo!” And then she struck their clenched hands.

The whole castle shook.

Shinmyoumaru shrieked. Seija grabbed hold of her, and pulled her close. The box and the table trembled, and a loud creaking sound echoed through the room. Then, with a horrifying crack, the whole building was catapulted high, and they shot up the natural chimney. Seija’s grip on Shinmyoumaru tightened, and her nails dug painfully into her arms.

Light exploded around them. Shinmyoumaru squeezed her eyes shut. Any minute they’d slow down, and fall to their deaths. She had to say something. She needed to use the mallet to protect them.

And then, the castle stopped moving. There was one final shudder, and it lay still. Neither woman moved.

Shinmyoumaru felt something brush her face. It felt soft, like a feather. She opened her eyes, and lifted her head. Her surroundings were bright. Outside the window was a wide, pastel blue sheet.

Shinmyoumaru wiggled out of Seija’s arms and rushed over. It was the sky! They were floating in the sky! Seija ran up behind her. “Be careful, Your Highness. Don’t fall!” She grasped Shinmyoumaru’s shoulders, and together they peered through the window.

It was just like the picture books. Above and below them was nothing but blue sky, with the occasional white fluffy cloud drifting past. Beyond that, Shinmyoumaru realised, were trees. An endless number of trees across a rugged landscape. Hills. Mountains. Valleys. The highest points even had tiny white flecks of snow. The invisible feather stroking her cheek, she realised, was wind. The air felt colder and fresher than she’d ever experienced, and filled every part of her lungs. She wanted to find the sun, then remembered that it was bad to look at it directly. But where was it? She noticed it on the left, climbing the sky.

“I’m outside,” she said, her voice trembling. “I’m outside… it’s all real… it exists…”

“What the World of Oni takes to be evening is actually morning in Gensokyo,” explained Seija. “They’ve got it backwards. Funny, isn’t it?”

“Did we really used to live here? Did inchlings really live in a place like this?”

“They did, and they can live here again under your rule.”

Shinmyoumaru looked up at Seija, reluctant to tear her eyes away from the scenery. “Can I really do it? Can I really rule over everyone here?”

“Of course you can. And I’ll be by your side, supporting you. If you allow me to, of course.”

“I…” Shinmyoumaru felt tears well up in her eyes. “I’ll do it… I’ll lead your revolution.” She gripped the mallet. She didn’t need convincing. Not after experiencing such beauty. “I can’t let the inchling race stay in the World of Oni anymore. Not after seeing this.”

Seija squeezed her shoulders, then turned her around, so they were facing each other. Then she took Shinmyoumaru’s hand. “If I may?”

Shinmyoumaru nodded, unsure what she meant. Seija knelt down on one knee, and pressed her lips against it.



And so began their revolution.

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Chapter 3
(AO3 Mirror)

There was a lot to do in the castle. All the damp and mould had to be cleared away, and brand new shouji screens put in. The water-damaged beams needed replacing, and the stains on the white walls scrubbed off. And once all that was over, they had to find furniture.

“Why can’t we just use the mallet?” asked Shinmyoumaru, intimidated by the work required.

“Same reason we can’t wave it around and make our revolution happen overnight,” grumbled Seija. “Though I guess it should be fine if you do it in bits. Tap a few shouji screens and see what happens.”

Seija never explained what that reason was, of course. Shinmyoumaru was confused. They had the power of miracles on their side, so what was wrong with smacking everything in sight and ruling over Gensokyo by the end of the week? But she did as Seija said, only tapping a few screens with the mallet as she walked around the castle, and watching as they repaired themselves before her eyes.

The next day, Seija gave her the go ahead to do the rest of the castle. “Use separate wishes for everything,” she cautioned, “understand? Never wish for anything big in one go. Not without asking me first.”

“Why’s that? Will something bad happen?”

“Maybe.” And that’s all Seija said on the subject.

With the castle now habitable, they started settling in. The whole building consisted of a single tower: five floors tall, with a cellar in the large stone block at the top. The first floor directly beneath the cellar was the widest, and was chosen to be the main room. Seija claimed the floor below – the second floor – to herself, and Shinmyoumaru chose the fifth floor, right at the bottom. It would’ve been the highest part of the tower if the castle had been right way up, and it was small and cosy. And best of all, she could look out the window whenever she felt like it, and see Gensokyo stretch out for miles and miles below. The third and fourth floors remained unused. They didn’t have time to keep them clean anyway.

It soon became obvious to Shinmyoumaru that there were several problems with living in a floating upside down castle. Firstly, the tower had no kitchen or bathroom. A traditional Japanese castle would’ve placed them in separate buildings, but whoever built the tower hadn’t thought of adding any useful extras like that. Secondly, the toilets were in the ceiling, and there was no underground pit to dump the waste afterwards. Thirdly, they had no running water, and no well or nearby river to drink from. Neither of them needed water on a daily basis, being youkai, but not being able to wash bothered Shinmyoumaru a lot.

And the beams on the floor were really, really annoying. Shinmyoumaru stubbed her toes on them, tripped over one at least twice a day, and hated sleeping across them at night.

Seija, however, adored the beams, and thought the castle being upside down was the best thing about it. “It’s the best castle in the world!” she declared. “I wanna live here forever!” And she looked so happy Shinmyoumaru found herself not minding it after all.

Their first month together passed slowly. Seija made trips down into Gensokyo, and Shinmyoumaru spent her days gazing out of the windows, watching the clouds change shape and the sun cross the sky. She never got bored of it. Once, a tall, dark cloud rolled over the castle, and a hundred thousand water drops poured down onto the underside of the gabled roof. Shinmyoumaru stretched her hand through the wooden bars covering the window, and felt the droplets land on her palm.

Seija brought things back from Gensokyo: wooden boards for Shinmyoumaru to sleep on, so the beams wouldn’t hurt her back anymore; big ceramic pots, which they used to store rainwater and dried food in the cellar; furniture of varying quality, most of which went in the main room; and big dusty books that Seija would carry away to her floor. “For planning tactics,” she’d say, if Shinmyoumaru asked.

Shinmyoumaru forgot about the revolution sometimes. She was too busy enjoying life under the sun. In a way, she never wanted it to come. She wanted to live up in the sky forever, passing her days peacefully with Seija by her side.

Time passed. The wind blowing through the castle became colder. Shinmyoumaru’s breath puffed out in little balls of steam. She and Seija started leaving their makeshift hearth alight after dinner, to keep warm.

“You need new clothes, Your Highness,” commented Seija one evening, with a strange smile on her face. “I can see you shivering.”

“It’s freezing!” Shinmyoumaru rubbed her arms. She’d never felt so cold before. “Aren’t you cold too, Seija?”

“Not really.” Seija was wearing a cloak over her usual clothes, and didn’t seem bothered by the temperature. There were so many strange things about Seija. Shinmyoumaru already thought she was a bit odd, but it was becoming more obvious with each passing day. Seija ate burnt or undercooked food, and wore clothes that didn’t fit her properly. She spoke politely to Shinmyoumaru most of the time, but occasionally slipped into gruff, vulgar language. She smiled when she hurt herself, and laughed if she stubbed her toe. And every now and then, she’d return from Gensokyo covered in cuts and bruises, with a dark look on her face that made Shinmyoumaru keep her distance.

And she could fly too.

Apparently flying was normal in Gensokyo, but Seija was the first person Shinmyoumaru had ever seen float in the air. She’d spring off the ground, and drift past with seemingly no effort. Due to the castle being upside down, none of the staircases were any use. Seija could just float up to the next floor, but Shinmyoumaru didn’t have that option, so Seija had to find several rickety old ladders down in Gensokyo, and spend an afternoon securing them with some rope. The wind made them sway from side-to-side, and Shinmyoumaru never felt safe climbing them.

If she could fly, maybe she could go down to Gensokyo too, and see it for herself. She wanted to see all the green grass and trees, and the sparkling lakes and snow-capped mountains. She wanted to go up to the stone block at the top of the castle too, and gaze up at the sky above her. She wanted to fly in the rain, and get completely drenched.

Shinmyoumaru shivered again, and edged closer to the hearth. She wished she’d brought some more clothes with her, so she could add a few extra layers. Seija was watching her out of the corner of her eye. Shinmyoumaru smiled at her, and Seija looked away.

A moment later, Seija sighed, took her cloak off, and draped it over Shinmyoumaru’s shoulders. “I’ll get you some warmer clothes tomorrow,” she mumbled.

Shinmyoumaru felt herself blush. “Thank you!” She pulled the cloak around her. It was made with heavy fabric, and warmed her up. “But are you gonna be okay? Without a cloak, I mean.”

Seija didn’t look happy to be thanked. “I’ll be fine,” she said, and went back to staring at the hearth.

*****
Winter settled across Gensokyo. Black tree bark contrasted with the endless white snow pouring down from the sky, and the humans in the village began wearing coats and scarves and gloves. The sun set frighteningly early, and gave little warmth once it rose.

To the far east of Gensokyo, on a steep hill facing the Human Village, stood a small wooden shrine. Its roof was covered in a thick layer of snow, and tiny snowflakes drifted down from the night sky, dying the grounds the same bright white colour covering the rest of Gensokyo’s landscape. Light flickered from the windows, warm and inviting.


It was two o’clock in the morning, and Marisa Kirisame should have gone home three hours ago. Instead she was sitting in Reimu Hakurei’s lap, too tipsy to work out whether the arms wrapped around her were real, or part of a drunken hallucination. Reimu was smiling, and resting her head against Marisa’s. This was far from their first drinking session alone together, but nothing this intimate had happened before. The room stank of alcohol, and the fire in the hearth crackled. The kotatsu was out, but neither of them showed any interest in moving towards it.

They didn’t say anything. Speaking would only ruin the moment, and remind them that they weren’t meant to be holding each other like this. Marisa wrapped an arm around Reimu’s back, and leant closer. Her heart pounded so loud she was afraid Reimu might hear it. They’d been friends for over a decade. A long, long decade full of fights and rivalry, and drinking tea on the shrine porch to pass the time. Marisa had long given up on them being more than friends. It was better that way anyway. Safer. Reimu was too important to lose over something as fickle as romance.

But now, the possibility opened up inside her, flooding her with emotions she’d locked away a long time ago. She grasped the back of Reimu’s top, enjoying the feel of the fabric between her fingers. It’d always been Reimu invading her mind. Ever since she was young enough to know who the Hakurei shrine maiden was, she’d never thought about anyone else.

Marisa felt fingers brush over her hair, and touch her cheek. She looked up, and met Reimu’s gaze. The Hakurei shrine maiden was blushing, and Marisa could smell the sake in her breath. If they both lent forward a few millimetres, their noses would touch. And if they leant even further than that…

Marisa couldn’t miss this opportunity. It might never come again. She reached up, and cupped Reimu’s cheek. Reimu didn’t react, nor did she look away. Holding her breath, Marisa tilted her head, leaned forward, and-

Was shoved to the floor.

Reimu scrambled to her feet, shaking. She stared down at Marisa, her mouth open in horror. Marisa stared back, confused. A second passed. Two. Three.

“Hey!” Marisa broke the silence. “What was that for?”

“What do you think that was for?” Reimu struggled to speak. “You just tried to kiss me!”

She’d tried to kiss Reimu? She’d tried to kiss Reimu! What was wrong with her? Marisa had ruined everything. It was all over. “No I didn’t! I thought I saw a spot on your nose, so I was trying to take a closer look!”

Reimu touched the tip of her nose, alarmed. Marisa had the sudden urge to smash something, and got to her feet before she gave into it. “Anyway, it’s late. I need to get going.” She turned around. One of her knees gave way, and she stumbled. Shit. She had to get out of there. “…See you later, I guess.” She grabbed her broom, rolled the shouji screen open, and stepped outside.

Reimu didn’t say anything. She just watched Marisa leave, frozen in shock. Outside the snow glittered in the moonlight, and cold air drifted into the main room.

*****
“Seija, Seija look!” Shinmyoumaru ran across the stone block, making footprints in the snow. “Look what I’m making!”

“What are you, a kid?” Seija snorted. “You’re acting like someone who’s never seen snow before.”

She hadn’t. Shinmyoumaru had only seen it in picture books. “I’m trying to write your name! See, there’s the ‘sei’, and I’m doing the ‘ja’ bit now.” Shinmyoumaru was wearing boots, a bright yellow scarf, and a thick duffle coat Seija found for her last week. The mallet hung from her belt, and dripped melted snow onto the ground. Unworn gloves were tied to her sleeves with coloured pieces of string, and her hands were red from the cold. She’d begged Seija to bring her up to the block once she saw the snow fluttering past the window, and after being dressed in about ten layers and carried up, she started running around like an overexcited child, up and down the uneven surface, scooping up snow and watching it melt in her hands, and making patterns with her footprints. She wasn’t bothered by the cold. In fact, she loved the sharp, numb feeling stabbing through her fingers. The flakes were still falling, and landed in her long hair.

Seija watched her, arms crossed. She didn’t look happy to be there.

Shinmyoumaru finished writing the ‘ja’ character, only to find the fresh snow had already erased the ‘sei’ part. “It’s gone! Look Seija, it’s gone!”

“Obviously.” Seija rolled her eyes. “It’s snow. It does that.” She was rubbing her arms, shivering. Despite the weather, she hadn’t bothered putting on a coat, or changing out of her sandals. “God, it’s freezing!”

“Do you want to borrow my coat?”

“I’m fine,” grumbled Seija. “I’m a youkai. I can’t freeze to death.”

Seija had been in a bad mood ever since that evening a few weeks ago, when she’d given Shinmyoumaru her cloak. Shinmyoumaru was worried she’d said something rude at some point, but she couldn’t think of anything that might’ve offended Seija. Whenever she asked, Seija just shook her head and smiled politely, reassuring her that everything was fine. Shinmyoumaru was just over thinking things.

Shinmyoumaru glanced up at Seija, and had an idea. “Let’s make something together, come on! Let’s make a mini-castle!” She grabbed Seija’s hand before she could refuse, and dragged her over to a small slope on the block. “Let’s make a big five-tier castle, and houses around it!” There was a big pile of untouched snow on top of it. Shinmyoumaru immediately dived in.

“All right.” Seija gave up. “Fine. Let’s make a castle.” And they spent the next half hour sculpting a miniature replica of their own castle, right-side up. Shinmyoumaru added a garden and a moat, and a bath house with six luxury tubs. Seija seemed more interested in making tiny, identical figures, which somehow ended up the same size as the buildings. “It’s our army!” she explained. “They’re gonna help us take over Gensokyo.”

She gave each figure a thin cylinder of snow to hold. Shinmyoumaru wasn’t sure what they were meant to be. “Are those spears?”

Seija looked surprised. “They’re guns.”

“Guns?” Shinmyoumaru tilted her head. “What’re guns?”

Seija chuckled. “We’ve got about fifty of them in the castle. They’re on that rack on the fourth floor.”

So that’s what they were! Shinmyoumaru remembered finding several weird wooden sticks with metal parts stacked on the wall. They’d been rotting, but Shinmyoumaru restored them with the mallet. “If you’re making an army, then we need someone to command them!” Shinmyoumaru scooped up more snow, and attempted to make two small figures herself. One was short, and the other so thin it kept collapsing. “There, that’s me, and that’s you!”

Seija laughed at that. “You look so dumb!”

“I’ve never made anything out of snow before!” Shinmyoumaru pouted.

Seija grabbed a small handful of snow, and fashioned a miniature mallet out of it. “Can’t forget this.” She put it on the Shinmyoumaru figure’s head. “Most important part.”

“Meanie!” Shinmyoumaru laughed. “The castle looks funny the right way up.”

“Everyone would see it on the ground,” said Seija. “They’d come and attack us right away!”

“Would they?”

“Yeah, with pitchforks and torches and everything! No mercy.” Seija grinned. “But you don’t have to worry, Your Highness! We’re safe up here in the sky. We can’t even feel earthquakes this high up.”

“You’re right, we can’t…”

“Not like our mini-castle!” Seija kicked it, and it crumbled away. “Hah! Look at that! So weak!”

Shinmyoumaru gasped. “Don’t destroy our castle!”

“I’m the big bad earthquake, here to crush our revolution!”

“I can’t believe you!” Shinmyoumaru grabbed part of the ruined castle with both hands, and moulded it into a ball. “Take this!” She chucked it at Seija, and it smacked into her shoulder. “And another one!”

Seija laughed, and made a feeble attempt to dodge the snowball. “Is that it? I could dodge them with my eyes closed!”

“You want me to try harder? All right, I’ll show you what the inchling race are capable of!” She scooped up as much snow as she could. “I’ll make the biggest snowball you’ve ever seen!” When it stopped fitting in her hand, she put it on the ground, and started rolling it across the hill. The snowball grew in size. “I’m gonna drop this on your head!”

Seija watched, laughing hysterically. “Bring it!” She scooped up more snow. “I’m not taking this lying down. You’re in for a world of pain!” She threw it at Shinmyoumaru, and it smacked the side of her head. Snow ran down her neck, underneath her scarf and coat. Shinmyoumaru squeaked, surprised, but kept going anyway.

Eventually she had a snowball the size of a cannonball. “Can you even pick that up?” sneered Seija, already holding a new snowball.

Shinmyoumaru wrapped both arms around it, and heaved it up. She wobbled forwards, and used the momentum to break into run. “Take thiiiiis!”

Seija watched her, smirked, and elegantly side-stepped to the right. Shinmyoumaru shot past, tried to stop, skidded instead, and hurtled towards the edge. She shrieked, and tried to drop the snowball. Instead she tripped over it, rolled over and over in the snow…

And right over the edge, into thin air.

Shinmyoumaru screamed.

“You idiot!” She felt a hand grasp the collar of her coat. “Look where you’re going!” She was yanked back onto the stone block. She fell backwards, into the snow again, and lay still for a few seconds, stupefied. Seija looked down at her, and Shinmyoumaru had never seen her look so scared before. “Do you have a death wish or something? We’re over a thousand metres above the ground!”

“S-Sorry…”

Seija opened her mouth, but bit her tongue, and closed it again. Then she sighed. “Forgive my harsh language, Your Highness.” She was back to being polite. “But please don’t do that again. I barely had time to catch you.”

“I’m sorry, Seija. Really.”

Seija groaned, and covered her face with both hands. Shinmyoumaru continued looking at her, baffled by her reaction. The mallet felt heavy against her hip.

“I think,” said Seija at last, “that it’s best if I teach you how to fly after all.”

Shinmyoumaru’s face lit up. “Really? You’ll teach me how to fly?”

“Yes. And I need to teach you about spell card rules anyway. Might as well do that as well.”

Shinmyoumaru had no idea what ‘spell card rules’ were. “What’s that?”

“It’s how people solve disputes in Gensokyo. I was going to get round to it eventually, once we finished fixing the castle.” Seija let her hands drop away from her face, and did her best to smile. “Let’s go back inside for now. We’ve had enough excitement for one day.”

“Ah, but!”

“The snow will be here tomorrow.” Seija began walking away. “Hurry up, or I’ll leave without you.”

Shinmyoumaru scrambled to her feet, and with a glance at their ruined miniature castle, followed after her.
« Last Edit: June 25, 2016, 10:20:14 pm by hungrybookworm »

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Whoops I forgot to post chapter 4 here before flying home.


Chapter 4
(AO3 Mirror)

Seija became more reserved after that day in the snow. She wouldn’t look Shinmyoumaru in the eye, and reverted to polite language whenever they spoke. She would bow – a hand placed on her chest, and a soft smile on her lips – and leave the room as soon as she was done talking to Shinmyoumaru. “I don’t want to disturb you, Your Highness,” she would say, like an actor in a well-rehearsed play.

Shinmyoumaru hated it. No matter how many times she asked Seija to relax, or to speak less formally, or to just spend more time with her, nothing changed. She could only sit by herself and gaze at the world below, watching the snow recede and a few of the trees blossom into beautiful pink. Cherry blossoms. Shinmyoumaru was desperate to go down and see them for herself, but to do that, she needed to know how to fly.

True to her word, Seija had taught her the basics in a few stolen moments after dinner. Apparently it was all about being in the right frame of mind, then having the right balance, and keeping your posture if you wanted to retain a certain speed. Some people could fly using advanced magic, or rode on things that floated, but flying that way put you at a disadvantage. If the thing you rode on broke, you’d fall. If you exhausted your magic before you got home, you’d be stuck in the middle of nowhere. Seija was adamant that Shinmyoumaru flew through her own strength.

And that required hours of practise. So when Shinmyoumaru grew tired of looking out the window, she would spend hours in her room meditating, picturing herself flying, then balancing on one foot and waving her arms around like an idiot. When she finally managed to hover a few centimetres above the ground, the cold wind had warmed up, and the sun was starting to set later in the evening.

Even Seija couldn’t help but smile when Shinmyoumaru showed her. The same bright, beautiful smile she wore when they first found the mallet.

The less Shinmyoumaru saw of Seija, the more she weighed on her mind. Seija continued spending most of her time away from the castle, and came back with unusual things. Buckets of water, for example. Apparently the snow they’d collected during the winter wouldn’t be enough to last through the summer. She started bringing things specifically for Shinmyoumaru too, like newspapers. Hundreds of newspapers, with ragged square holes in each page.

“I got them from a dustbin,” explained Seija, “and the previous owner cut out some of the articles.”

The holes didn’t bother Shinmyoumaru. She poured over the pages, reading them over and over. Shinmyoumaru learnt about the residents of Gensokyo: the humans in the village, who always seemed troubled by some vague supernatural menace; the creatures on Youkai Mountain, and their strange society; the various youkai that stalked the night, all by themselves; and the most famous youkai exterminators. A pretty shrine maiden, and a magician with a huge hat. The articles were a bit wordy, so Shinmyoumaru couldn’t read them very quickly, but their daily lives all sounded so fun, full of whimsical events and wacky adventures.

But of course, there wasn’t a single mention of the inchling race. The World of Oni got referenced every now and then, but that was all. One particularly bulky edition included the results of a recent census, and inchlings weren’t listed anywhere.

“Seija,” asked Shinmyoumaru that evening, as they ate dinner, “which youkai are you?”

She’d never come out and asked Seija before. Shinmyoumaru was confident Seija wasn’t an oni now. It didn’t matter to her which species Seija was (she’d treat her the same no matter what) but she wanted to look up how many friends Seija had in the census.

Seija’s face went pale, and she coughed loudly.

“I mean, I’m an inchling!” Shinmyoumaru smiled. “I want everyone to know I’m an inchling! Don’t you want everyone to know what you are?”

Seija didn’t say anything. She finished her food, tossed the chopsticks onto the table, and stood up.

Maybe she was being too pushy. “Is it… a secret?”

“You’re better off not knowing,” said Seija, “that’s all.” And she walked out of the room.

*****
Seija was even more reclusive after that. She would disappear before Shinmyoumaru woke up, and come back several hours later to cook dinner. Then she would disappear again, and Shinmyoumaru would sit on the third floor until she heard Seija come home.

“Where are you going all the time, Seija?” Shinmyoumaru frowned, wondering if she should mention how empty the castle felt during the day. “I hardly see you.”

She didn’t get a proper answer, of course. “My apologies, Your Highness.” Seija smiled politely. “It’s just for a few weeks, while I sort one or two things out.”

But the more time passed, the more Shinmyoumaru began to worry. Seija came back injured almost every night, her arms and legs covered in scratches and bruises, and she’d reek of smoke. Shinmyoumaru saw her wince as she stirred a pot of stew.

“It’s nothing,” Seija snarled. “Don’t look at me like that.”

Shinmyoumaru would pace around the castle during the day, unable to settle down. Desperate for clues one afternoon, she snuck into Seija’s bedroom on the second floor. It was empty except for a few books, a messy, unmade futon and a large map of Gensokyo stuck to the tatami mats in the ceiling. It had different coloured pins stabbed into it, over locations Shinmyoumaru didn’t recognise.

The books all had dramatic sounding titles – An Encyclopaedia of Local Youkai; Tactics and Strategies of the Sengoku Era; A Basic Guide to Matchlock Rifles – and buried under them, a slim booklet titled Gensokyo’s Spell Card System: A Beginner’s Guide.

Seija had mentioned something about teaching her spell cards. Maybe Shinmyoumaru could teach herself? She doubted Seija would mind if she borrowed the book for a while. She picked it up, and carried it back down to her room.

The next day, Seija brought a large box full of western cutlery into the main room. There was a long cut on her cheek, and the left side of her hair was matted with blood. “We’re going to make tsukumogami!” she declared. “Use the mallet to give them power.”

Shinmyoumaru leapt to her feet. “Okay!” She snatched the mallet off her kimono obi. “Um… I just make the wish, and hit the box, right?”

“Not the box, hit each one individually.” Seija smiled. Not her usual polite one, but the big bright one Shinmyoumaru loved. “Start with this one.” She pulled a large, sharp knife out from the box.

Shinmyoumaru took it off her, and held it up. “Mallet, grant this simple knife more power!” The mallet glowed in her hand. She struck the knife with one swing, and both she and Seija stared at it. The knife glowed for a few seconds, but otherwise didn’t change.

But Seija noticed something. “It worked!”

“Did it?” Shinmyoumaru stared. “It looks the same to me.”

“You’ll notice it the more you use that mallet. Now get started.” She patted the box. “Don’t do them all at once, remember? One knife and fork at a time. Once you’re finished, I’ll scatter then around Gensokyo.”

Shinmyoumaru pulled a hair band out from her kimono, and tied her long hair into a ponytail. “Leave it to me!”

“Okay. I’ll be in my room.” Seija turned, and winced. She stopped moving, and clasped both hands around her leg.

“Seija?” Shinmyoumaru looked up from the box. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.” Seija spoke through gritted teeth. Then she limped her way over to the stairs, and floated up to the next floor.

Shinmyoumaru worked on the cutlery, rustling through the box and pulling out knives and forks one-by-one. What was Seija doing down in Gensokyo? There was no way finding things to bring up to the castle took all day. Why did she keep getting hurt? Was she getting into fights with people? Youkai healed quickly from physical wounds, so it wasn’t like Seija would suffer for long, but it still bothered Shinmyoumaru a lot.

The thought of Seija being kicked and punched, and wrestled to the floor as blood dribbled from her mouth, made Shinmyoumaru feel weak and dizzy. She didn’t want those kinds of things to happen to Seija. Not to anyone.

Reading the newspapers had softened her view of Gensokyo. The youkai inhabiting it were ruthless. The evidence was all over Seija’s body. Shinmyoumaru felt ashamed for forgetting what she was there for. What would those youkai do if they found out she was an inchling? Would they attack her too? Kick and punch her until she broke?

Like her aunt’s broken body, lying there in the box, her clothes dyed red, her skin-

No.

She couldn’t think about that now. She had work to do.

After thirty or so knives and forks, she started noticing the difference between the cutlery she’d struck, and the cutlery still in the box. She picked up one of the first few knives she did, and it made her fingertips tingle. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end.

The knife wanted to cut. She could sense that. Its purpose in life was to cut things, and it longed to be useful and slice whatever its owner desired. Shinmyoumaru wanted to grant its simple wish. She didn’t need the mallet for this. She touched her ponytail. Washing her hair took a long time, and wasted a lot of water.

She reached behind her, and cut her ponytail off with the knife. The hair fell away with one slice. She’d never had short hair before. It felt strange.

“Don’t worry,” she said to the knife, “I’ll make sure you live a nicer life from now on. Follow me, and you’ll never suffer again. I promise.”

*****
That night, for the first time since she met Seija, Shinmyoumaru had a nightmare.

She was back at her aunt’s mansion, on the day of her death. She was peeking out the window, watching the servants run over to help carry a large box being unloaded from a rickshaw. Just like in real life, Shinmyoumaru felt a stab of dread, but unlike real life, she sprinted over to the front door.

The box was placed on the ground, and prised open. The female servants screamed. The male servants cringed and looked away. Shinmyoumaru pushed through them, and looked down…

Inside the box was Seija’s mangled body.

Shinmyoumaru shot awake, gasping, cold sweat making her night clothes stick to her skin. “Seija!” She clung to her pillow. “Seija?”

No response. Just the creak of the castle moving in the wind. Shinmyoumaru threw the covers off, and climbed out of her futon. She needed to find Seija, and make sure she was all right. Otherwise it’d be like her aunt all over again.

Seija was her subordinate. Shinmyoumaru was obligated to protect her. How long had she been in the castle now, letting Seija run around doing whatever she wanted, while Shinmyoumaru sat alone reading and practicing, oblivious and uninterested in changing things? It was no different to the life she’d led with her Aunt Kikyou! And look how that had turned out.

A day might come when Seija wouldn’t come back, and Shinmyoumaru would have no idea how she’d died, or where she’d died, or who’d killed her. Inchlings left corpses for a short while after their death, which made them unusual for youkai. Seija was clearly not an inchling, and would crumble away after the final blow. Shinmyoumaru would never find a corpse.

She had to go find Seija and start acting like the leader of a revolution, not a pampered princess who needed looking after. She dressed herself, brushed her hair, then grabbed her needle sword. It lived in a scabbard Shinmyoumaru had sewn herself, and she quickly slung it over her back. She stood at the bottom of the stairs, and ignored the ladder. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and kicked against the ground.

She floated up to the next floor.

She passed through the fourth floor, then the third. On the second, she landed on the floor and began striding to Seija’s room. She rolled the room divider back, and saw an empty futon. The books were arranged around it like a fortress, and the map of Gensokyo now had pieces of coloured string stretched between the pins. But no Seija. Shinmyoumaru shut the room divider, and went up to the first floor. The plates from last night’s dinner were still stacked on the table, otherwise it was completely deserted.

Was Seija on the stone block? Shinmyoumaru had never flown there by herself before. There was a large opening on the first floor that was supposed to be the tower’s main entrance, and they always kept it shut to stop birds flying in. Shinmyoumaru briefly thought about opening it, then decided going through one of the windows would be faster. Most of the castle windows had vertical wooden bars across them, but Seija had removed a few during restoration so she could get in and out of the castle easily. There were wooden screens covering most of them, so the birds stayed away. Shinmyoumaru rolled one aside, and looked out of the window.

It was pitch black outside. Her short hair tickled her cheeks as it blew in the wind. How far was the forest below the castle? Shinmyoumaru shivered, but slung a leg over the window sill anyway. She wouldn’t plunge to her death. Not after all that flying practice. It’d be fine.

Shinmyoumaru swung the other leg over, and sat on the edge of the window sill. Her feet dangled over nothing. The mallet felt heavy against her hip. Shinmyoumaru thought about using it to help her, but that felt like cheating somehow. (Climbing wasn’t an option either; the stone block had a huge overhang.) Shinmyoumaru wanted to find Seija through her own strength; otherwise she wouldn’t be fit to lead their revolution.

She closed her eyes, prayed, and pushed herself off the edge.

Her stomach swooped, and Shinmyoumaru felt herself panic. She fell, passing the third floor, the fourth… but then she regained her balance, and hovered in midair. She clenched the mallet, terrified, ready to use it at a moment’s notice, but she stayed put. A cloud drifted below her, and she felt cold water vapour pass over her toes.

Shinmyoumaru took a deep breath, then slowly levitated upwards. She moved to the right, to avoid the overhang, and soon became level with the stone block. She touched its rough edge with a hand, drifted over it, then slowly lowered herself down. Her trembling feet touched solid rock. She’d done it. She’d done it! She’d flown to the block all by herself!


And Seija was sitting to the left, holding a pipe and staring at Shinmyoumaru in total shock.

“Seija!” Shinmyoumaru ran over to her. She was alive, she was all right! “Seija!”

Seija opened her mouth to say something, but Shinmyoumaru collided with her, and pulled her into a fierce hug. “Seija!” Tears ran down her cheeks. “Seija, Seija!”

“W-What?” Seija looked baffled, and didn’t return the hug. “What are you doing up at this time, Your Highness?” The pipe shook in her hand. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”

“I was worried about you! I thought you’d died!”

“G… Get off me, it hurts.” Seija pushed her away, and Shinmyoumaru stared at her, heartbroken. “Don’t look at me like that. I don’t like it.” She groaned, and covered her face. “Shit…”

What had she done? Shinmyoumaru felt terrible. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I got carried away… You’re away all day and coming back late at night, so I never get to see you. I was worried something might’ve happened to you.”

Seija sucked on the end of her pipe, and blew white smoke out of her mouth. The cut on her face was gone, and her hair the same colour as always. “I’m busy down in Gensokyo getting things ready for our revolution. And… and I don’t want to get in the way of your training, Your Highness. I would only be a hindrance.”

Shinmyoumaru looked at the pipe. “When did you start smoking?”

“It’s an old habit.” She put it to her mouth again. “It helps me de-stress.” She looked at Shinmyoumaru, and smiled slightly. “Wanna try it?”

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“You sure?” There was a wicked glint in Seija’s eye. “Smoking’s great. It helps you relax.”

“Um, I’m told it makes your lungs bad…”

“Only in humans. You’re a youkai, aren’t you?”

“I am, but...” But inchling biology was similar to humans’ in several places. Shinmyoumaru felt annoyed. “Seija, if I asked you to come home early, would you?”

Seija frowned, and said nothing for a few moments. She took another drag of smoke. “Maybe.”

“You’re my retainer. You need to do as I say.” The Seija in her dream flashed before her eyes. Broken, mangled, dead. “I want you to come home before dinner at least, and spend the evening with me.”

She heard Seija groan. “Give me a break.”

Shinmyoumaru felt tears well up in her eyes again. “Is spending time with me really that awful? Did I do something to upset you, Seija? Do you hate me?”

Another long silence. Seija chewed the pipe, thinking. Shinmyoumaru wiped her eyes with a sleeve. She had to be brave.

“What happened to your hair?” asked Seija.

“I cut it. I’m going to be serious about our revolution from now on. I’m done with sitting around and letting you do all the hard work.”

Seija looked at her again. Shinmyoumaru stared back, determined, and they gazed at each other.

Seija spoke first. Slowly, and deliberately. “Tell me, Your Highness. What kind of youkai do you think I am?”

Shinmyoumaru thought about it for a moment. “I don’t think you’re an oni,” she said. “That much I’m confident about.”

Seija smiled weakly. “I’m not an oni, no.” And she turned away. “I’m an amanojaku.”

“…An amanojaku?” Shinmyoumaru thought she’d misheard her. “Like in that story about the melon princess?”

Shinmyoumaru had heard that folktale in her history lessons. The melon princess – Urikohime – lets an amanojaku into her home while her parents are out. What happened to her next depended on the version, but in some endings the princess got eaten, and the amanojaku stole her identity.

“Just like that one,” said Seija. “Like the amanojaku in all the scariest versions.”

Shinmyoumaru fell silent. A gust of wind blew across the roof, making Seija’s collar flap and her hair blow across her face. She looked at peace, as though she’d finally confessed a huge secret.

Everything clicked into place. All of Seija’s strange behaviour, her eagerness to be alone, why she kept being rude and didn’t always do what Shinmyoumaru asked…

“…Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

Seija giggled, and took another puff of smoke.

“Because who’d want to team up with an amanojaku?”

*****
Once Shinmyoumaru returned to the castle, she went straight to the second floor. She’s seen an encyclopaedia on youkai in there, and she needed it now. Luckily it wasn’t hard to find – the book was near the top of the pile, and she dug it out without knocking anything over. Then she carried it down to her bedroom, and sat cross-legged on her futon.

Amanojaku… good, they had amanojaku listed in the index. She flicked to the correct page, and began reading. There was a colourful picture of a male amanojaku on the frontispiece. He didn’t look much like Seija – the horns were the same, but his body was bulkier and a strange purple colour, and there was a cruel look in his eyes. Shinmyoumaru wondered if all the male amanojaku looked like that, or if the artist was just using their imagination.

The article was full of doom and gloom. Amanojaku were a nasty species of youkai, who existed to cause trouble and feed off other people’s misery. Everyone – humans and youkai alike – were recommended to avoid them whenever possible. Nothing good came out of associating with them. The rest of the section described their way of life: they were solitary youkai, only encountering each other to mate. Most meetings with other amanojaku ended in fights, some of which were fatal. Amanojaku chicks were born in large broods, as the average amanojaku lifespan was low. Most died at a young age after annoying someone stronger than them, or biting off more than they could chew. Those that lived longer than a century were usually very powerful, or very clever. Some even became gods.

They were happiest surrounded by and causing misery, and aspired to be hated by all. Being liked made them miserable.

Who’d want to team up with an amanojaku?

A teardrop hit the page. Shinmyoumaru snivelled, and wiped her eyes with a sleeve. No wonder Seija was stressed out! Her life sounded horrible! And she was going out of her way to team up with Shinmyoumaru and make things better for weak youkai, against all her natural desires to be alone and cause misery.

Shinmyoumaru wanted to help her somehow. She wanted to make Seija’s life easier. She had no idea how, but if Seija could fight her own instincts to make her dream come true, then couldn’t Shinmyoumaru step outside her comfort zone too? She thought of the big smile Seija had when she was happy. How excited she’d looked when they saw the mallet.

She wanted Seija to smile like that again and again. She wanted to see Seija next to her, grinning from ear-to-ear, a strong arm around Shinmyoumaru’s shoulder... They were a team. Comrades. They’d fight back-to-back, and never give up. Even if they lost, and were imprisoned together for treason, she wanted Seija there with her, holding her hand through the bars. They can break our bodies, but not our spirit!

Seija’s hand felt nice. Even though she was an amanojaku, it was so smooth and soft. Shinmyoumaru wanted to hold it again.

The book fell out of her lap. Shinmyoumaru returned to reality, and reached down to pick it back up.


But when she lifted it off the floor, she noticed a folded sheet of paper hidden in the back of the book. Frowning, Shinmyoumaru pulled it free and opened it. The handwriting was neat and curly, like a young girl’s, and the ink a crisp black.

This is my final testament, as one of the few surviving inchlings from that day. We, who desired too much and brought about our own destruction. We, who thought we were akin to gods, as long as the mallet was by our side. We, who deserve this black hell we now find ourselves imprisoned within, to atone for our many, many sins. I must write them all down, before our generation passes away, and history is given the chance to repeat itself.

This is the tale of how the descendants of Issun Boushi used his Miracle Mallet to satisfy their own greed, and how it plunged our entire race into the World of Oni, and took us away from the sun’s warmth forever.

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Chapter 5
(AO3 Mirror)

Reimu Hakurei woke up before the sun rose, and got dressed without eating breakfast. It was late April, and the weather had been warm and bright for the last few days. But now a light drizzle fell outside, and the smell of wet earth crept into the shrine. Reimu dug her umbrella out from the kitchen, and chose her thickest boots from the shoe cupboard.

She walked to the Human Village. There was no need to hurry. Flying would just get her wet, and running could make her slip in the mud. She clenched her purification rod in her left hand, and tried to stay focused. Exterminating youkai was one of the more exciting parts of her job, but she was dreading the next few hours.

The village was totally silent, as it should be this early in the morning. The shops were shut, and no lights were on in any of the houses. Reimu found the place she was looking for – a furniture shop. She went around the back of the shop, as requested, and knocked on the wall. An old lady opened the back door, and beckoned her inside.

She was lead into the house, upstairs, towards a small room near the back. The old lady didn’t say anything, and Reimu didn’t try to make conversation. It had taken a long time to talk the family around to this, and she didn’t want to make things harder for them. In the corner of the small room was a handmade, wooden prison cell, containing a young man. The bars were plastered with crudely-made ofuda, and the man sat on the floor with his head bowed. His arms and legs were bound.

Earlier in the year, during January and February, there had been reports all over the village of people’s shouji screens and floorboards going missing, or decaying overnight. What was first assumed to be a prank or bizarre theft got more and more baffling as people’s gun collections, roof tiles, and even the village temple’s thick supporting pillar fell apart in a matter of hours. Reimu was sure it was the work of some irritating youkai, and normally she’d hunt down the culprit within a few days. But investigating took a lot longer than expected. Her intuition hadn’t been working properly ever since that winter night with Marisa, and all the youkai she confronted turned out to be innocent.

And then, while sitting in a tavern mulling over everything, she overheard two women gossiping behind her.

The furniture maker’s grandchildren have been dabbling with black magic, apparently.

I don’t believe that. Didn’t one of their children die of fever recently?

No, he didn’t die of fever. My neighbour told me he died during a ritual, and only the oldest one survived. He turned into a youkai, and that’s why no one’s seen him in such a long time. The family locked him up to stop him going out and eating people.

He’s probably got the same illness as his younger brother. Poor mites. It must be awful for their family, having all these rumours spread while they’re in mourning.


Reimu paid for her food and left. It took a while for the furniture shop owners to tell the truth, and even longer to consent to Reimu exterminating their grandson. It was sordid stuff, and Reimu felt horrible the whole way through. But finally, they agreed to let her inside the house, and deal with the youkai.


The old lady left the room, unwilling to watch. The man in the cage looked up at her, with a confident smirk on his face. He was probably around the same age as Reimu, but he looked like a cocky brat in the morning light.

“Why did you do it?” she asked.

“Throw away my humanity? Because I was sick of it.” The young man tried to sound dramatic. “Both me and my brother were sick of it. I got fed up with being a weak little human, stuck in a house with a bunch of fear-mongering cowards, and my brother wanted to live longer than a hundred years. Shame he went and died halfway through the ritual. Moron.”

Reimu wasn’t going to exterminate him via spell card rules. A human from the village couldn’t become a youkai. It was an ironclad rule, and breaking it was the greatest sin anyone could commit in Gensokyo. Reimu wasn’t strict – she wouldn’t chase after humans who left for Makai, for example. But she made it her business to visit anyone who crossed the line, and get rid of them before they caused any harm. She couldn’t allow this man to live.

He was still smirking at her, unafraid. Reimu felt disgusted. His own brother had died and he didn’t seem the least bit sad about it. She wondered if he knew the consequences. He probably thought she looked stupid, holding a stick and some fragile pieces of paper. A human wouldn’t feel threatened by those things, after all, and he hadn’t been a youkai long enough to become afraid of them. Reimu made a mental note to talk to the Village Leader afterwards, and arrange an information evening about youkai transformation with the villagers.

She couldn’t allow something like this to happen again.

Marisa knew, didn’t she? Reimu was sure she did. Marisa would never do something as moronic as turn herself into a youkai, and she’d never hurt other people in the process. Reimu had asked her a long time ago whether she planned to become a youkai magician, and Marisa had laughed and laughed until she cried.

But now wasn’t the time to think about Marisa. Reimu reached over to the cage door, and unlocked it. “Keep still,” she told the youkai, “and I won’t drag it out. Understand?”

He laughed again, still unafraid. Reimu hardened her heart, and stepped inside.

*****
In order to recognise light, darkness is necessary in this world. Life exists as a concept because death contrasts it. Where there is virtue, there is corruption. Where there is happiness, there is misery. And thus, just as good people exist to lead society in the right direction, bad people are required to hinder their progress, and remind the world what it’s eternally fighting against.

Amanojaku are necessary in this world.

Seija Kijin was necessary in this world.

She forgot her age a long time ago. Her childhood was a blur, and she couldn’t remember the faces of her siblings anyway. Not that it mattered. All of them had died centuries ago, after picking fights with the wrong people. Seija had been the runt of the brood – the scrawniest amanojaku of the lot – yet she was the only one who reached adulthood. The thought always made her smile.

But for as long as she could remember, Seija had suffered. Her body was weaker than average for an amanojaku, and despite picking her victims carefully, she could never run away fast enough when things turned sour. Amanojaku were acceptable targets, and other youkai took great glee in tormenting her. It was the price that came with being a symbol of hate.

She tried training herself to get stronger, but nothing ever helped; once she got caught, there was nothing she could do to fight back. All she could do was cower and hope it’d be over with soon. Even when spell card rules were introduced, complex and beautiful patterns were beyond her, and her dodging skills left a lot to be desired. Seija’s place in Gensokyo’s society was right at the bottom, where she was expected to stay quiet and behave, or suffer the consequences.

But amanojaku can’t just sit back and behave. Seija needed hatred and suffering in her life to survive, so she looked for other ways to get stronger. She taught herself how to read, then scanned book after book in search of a miracle. Seija wanted power. She wanted so much power no one would dare cross her again. She wanted to see her tormentors’ faces when she finally turned the tables. The thought kept her going for centuries.

Then at last, at the end of an otherwise unremarkable year, she found a lead. A tiny book on miracles she’d found at the back of a shop had a footnote on the Miracle Mallet, the magical tool from the tale of Issun Boushi. The footnote implied it really had existed, and could be found somewhere in Gensokyo today.

Seija’s imagination ran wild. She spent the next few years collecting as much information as she could about Issun Boushi and the Miracle Mallet. If she had the power of miracles on her side, maybe she could do more than just humiliate her tormentors. Maybe she could change everything. Show all of Gensokyo how it felt to suffer. Yes, she could turn Gensokyo’s power structure upside down, and put herself at the top. The ideas buzzed through her head, doubling and tripling at an alarming rate. She would become the most feared amanojaku in history. All she needed was that mallet.

She was desperate, but didn’t want to admit it. When Seija ran out of books to read on the mallet, she switched to talking to people. She was excellent at luring her victims into agreeing with her, and getting them to admit their darkest desires. It was part of her job as an amanojaku. But coaxing information out of people and just leaving them afterwards turned out to be the hardest part of her investigation. It taught her a lot of things about verbal manipulation, and how to hold back her primal urges. She followed rumours, found the right people, backtracked a bit, and found herself in the World of Oni.

It was a great place for an amanojaku. Despite the name, it was just a ramshackle underground town, full of oni partying day and night. There was no sun, and the residents never seemed to sleep. No sunlight and no rest meant lots of darkness and despair lurking in the shadows, so Seija took the opportunity to milk some hatred off a few oni. After successfully persuading one of them to break a beer bottle over their partner’s head (and getting herself banned from half the taverns for drunk and disorderly behaviour) she ran across town, and started lurking in one of the few quiet drinking holes.

It was a small tavern, with barely anyone in it. The bartender had a permanent frown on his face, and for good reason. The beer was awful. The sake even worse. Seija glugged it down, and became their only regular.

At least, until the person she was looking for turned up.

He was a male oni, with slim glasses and a wide smile, and as luck would have it, this turned out to be his local. Apparently it was the only place in the World of Oni where you could get some peace and quiet. His table was constantly covered in scraps of paper, and various academic essays on the inchling race. Papers all written by him, of course. He was the only scholar interested in that area of research. Seija bought him a few drinks, and got him talking. Soon they were meeting up every day, sharing their passion for the inchling people. Or at least that’s how Seija wanted it to look. It took a lot of self control to stop herself ridiculing him.

It was a lot easier than she expected, in the end. He enjoyed getting attention off a cute girl, and once he got talking, Seija could just sit back and let him rabble on.

“The inchlings are fascinating creatures,” he’d say. “Utterly admirable. I’ve never seen such a hardworking race in all my life. Such a shame my fellow oni see them as mere pests. I think it’s a great honour to be visited by an inchling, and have some of your leftovers stolen away in the night.”

Seija would just nod, and sip her vile beer.

“Why one time, let me tell you, I opened my cupboard door and there was one right there, stuffing a rice grain down his top. He froze the moment I locked eyes on him, and I thought the poor thing would die of fright. So I said to him, ‘Don’t be afraid, I’m a scholar. I want to talk to you. In exchange, I’ll give you a whole bag of rice.’ And after that, me and the little fellow had an agreement. He’d come to my house and answer all my questions, and in return I’d give him as much rice as he could carry.”

Maybe bribery worked well on inchlings.

“After a few months of this, he started telling me his life story. He used to be a guard at the royal palace, but was let go after getting involved in a major scandal. The palace’s exact location is kept a secret from most inchlings, but he knew it. He wouldn’t tell me where it was, of course, noble creature he was, but apparently it was a glorious building, made out of top quality wooden crates and-”

“Major scandal?” Seija was interested. “What major scandal?”

The scholar’s eyes twinkled. “Well! What a scandal it was! Who would’ve thought inchling society could be so outrageous. Nearly ten years ago there was a big fuss in the palace when the inchling queen was caught in the throes of passion with someone who wasn’t the king! It was her personal advisor, a member of the Hikona family, and it turned out the two of them had been meeting in secret for the last fifteen years. Fifteen years! That takes a lot of effort, if you ask me. Naturally the king was distraught. He had the advisor executed, and the queen imprisoned until she passed away a few years later. There were rumours one of the royal heirs was actually their child, and my inchling friend told me that he and a few of his colleagues were ordered by the queen to send a child away to the Hikona’s safe house. Apparently the child died of fever not long afterwards. Quite depressing, isn’t it?”

It took a few more days to get him talking about the Miracle Mallet. The scholar frowned, and scratched his nose with a long fingernail. “It supposedly exists. To be honest, this is the one area I haven’t researched enough. What I have gathered is, if it does exist, only blood descendants of Issun Boushi can use it. Which would be the royal family: the Sukunas. However!” He grinned, and leaned forward. “About a month ago I came across what looked like a family tree, and a list of ancestors and descendants from several centuries ago. From what little I could decipher, it was some attempt at keeping birth and death records. And what was interesting was the Sukuna family was originally the branch family. At some point Issun Boushi’s direct descendants lost power and handed over the throne. I would estimate it happened around the time the inchling race entered the World of Oni.”

Well, that was interesting. “Who were the original descendants then?”

“The Hikona family, oddly enough. They’re essentially the Sukuna’s branch family now, and usually act as political advisors. With that in mind, someone with the best chance of being compatible with the Miracle Mallet, should it exist, would be from the Hikona family. Or possibly both the Sukuna and Hikona family. Maybe if that illegitimate child hadn’t died, they would have had the perfect genes! Such a waste.”

A waste indeed. Seija sunk back in her chair, disappointed. “Do you know anything else about that kid? Did they have any kids of their own or whatever?”

“Of course not, they were only a child! Inchlings mature at a similar rate to humans, so they wouldn’t have been old enough to have children.”

All this stuff about genetics was helpful, but Seija was eager to get to the good stuff. “So is that everything you know about the mallet?”

The scholar took a sip of beer, and looked like he was contemplating something. Then he cleared his throat, and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Actually… I have a rare scroll that I think contains the exact location of the mallet, if it exists.”

Seija kept her voice level. “Really?”

“Yes, but it’s written in the ancient inchling language, and I’m having a lot of trouble deciphering it. Linguistics and cryptography isn’t really my forte. I’m hoping to have it cracked within a few hundred years.”

Too long. That thing was her golden ticket to the Miracle Mallet. Seija was growing impatient with the scholar and his tiresome lectures. She needed that scroll. “Show it to me,” she said. “I might be able to read it.”

And the idiot did. He came in the next day with the scroll tucked under his arm. Seija opened it up, and confirmed it was the real thing. Then as soon as he got up to order more drinks, she snuck out of the tavern and out of his life forever, the scroll safe in her hands.

Once she’d put some distance between herself and the tavern, Seija unrolled the scroll and checked it again. The text was totally unreadable, he was right about that, but her intuition told her this was the one. This thing held the key to the Miracle Mallet’s location. She just had to find someone who could read it.

*****
The sunlight hurt her eyes when she floated back into Gensokyo. Her tiny den was the same as always, covered in books and paper and weird junk. She shoved it all onto the floor, and placed the scroll on the table.

Originally Seija wanted to start looking for a linguist right away, but she had to wait a few days after bumping into some tengu. They recognised her, and Seija had her head smashed against a rock for a few hours. Once her skull finally healed, she went for a walk around the Misty Lake, and overheard two dumbass fairies discussing recent events in the Human Village.

Apparently the book lender’s daughter, Kosuzu Motoori, has some kind of nifty new power. The power to read any text, no matter what the language, and it was causing havoc.

Seija didn’t believe in fancy things like fate or destiny, but things were slotting together a bit too conveniently. Was a stronger youkai watching her, and manipulating her movements? She had to be careful. That afternoon she dug out a large straw hat to hide her horns, put on a cloak, and brought the scroll into the Human Village.

It wasn’t a pleasant experience – it was a sunny autumn day in the village, and people were smiling as they mulled around. Children played in the streets and the elderly chatted in circles. The happiness in the air made Seija want to be sick, and she longed to run into the back alleys and go mock some homeless people. But she held her head high, and located the shop she needed – Suzunaan. An otherwise unremarkable building near a canal.

The shop was dark and stank of paper, and had this rich, sinister air that made Seija feel at ease. A girl sat behind a desk near the back of the shop, reading a book. A gramophone played crackling jazz music. Was this Kosuzu Motoori? She seemed very young. Tricking human children was generally frowned upon in the amanojaku community. They were too easy, to start with, and once the parents found out it rarely ended well. It was the sort of thing desperate amanojaku did. But she wasn’t here to trick Kosuzu. She was here as a customer.

The girl looked up, and noticed her. “Hello! Can I help you?”

 Seija grinned. “I’m here to see Kosuzu Motoori.”

“Me?” The girl tilted her head. “What for?”

So she was Kosuzu Motoori. Her voice made her sound like she was in her late teens. Good, old enough to think for herself, but too inexperienced to have any common sense. “Is it true you can read anything?”

Kosuzu’s eyes lit up. “Yes, I can! I only found out recently though, so I don’t know if I can really read anything, but so far I’ve understood all the books put in front of me. Who told you?”

“Oh, rumours. Gensokyo’s a small place.” Seija tossed the scroll onto the desk. “Can you read this for me?”

Kosuzu picked up the scroll and opened it. She didn’t check for traps or curses. What a gullible human.

“This is my…” Kosuzu frowned, and peered at the text, “final… testament? As one of the few surviving inchlings from that day. We, who desired too much and brought about our own destruction… Is this right?”

“Yes!” Seija punched the air, and nearly dislodged her hat. “Ah!” She grabbed it in time, and fixed it back in place. That was close. “Yes, that’s what I’d hoped to hear. I can’t read it, of course, being a simple human. Uh, human. You know what I mean. I need it for my research. Can you translate it for me?”

“Well, I’ve never tried translation before, but…” Kosuzu smiled. “This is very long. Are you sure you want me to translate all of it?”

“Just the stuff about the Miracle Mallet will do.”

“Okay… hmm… the language is pretty verbose, so once I write it out in Japanese it probably won’t take up too much space. Come back in three weeks. I’ll have it done by then. Um, it might cost a bit though…”

Seija glanced around the shop. The books stacked behind Kosuzu had a forbidding aura about them. Human hearts were easy to read, especially one full of curiosity. Kosuzu Motoori was probably a book collector. “I’ll give you the scroll if you do it,” suggested Seija. “It’s heavy and a pain to lug around.”

Kosuzu gasped. “Really?”

Seija ignored the stab of self-disgust making someone happy gave her. “Really.” She turned to the door. “See you. I’ll be back in three weeks.”

“Ah, of course! Thank you!”

Seija returned two weeks later instead. Kosuzu smiled when she saw her. “You’re back early, but don’t worry, I finished translating the excerpt this morning! Hang on while I get it from my room.” She returned with a sheet of paper. The translation fitted on one side. “Here, tell me what you think.”

Seija glanced over it, heart pounding.

It was here. A full description of how the inchling race fell into the World of Oni. They’d overused the mallet’s power, and it finally ran out once they requested a luxurious castle. The castle turned on its head, and plunged them into the World of Oni. The second half of the story talked about their decision to seal the mallet within the castle, and to leave it to rot. The author hoped that one day, once the mallet recharged, they could use it again, and be more cautious next time.

She had everything she needed now.

Finally, Seija’s revolution could begin.

*****
She returned to the World of Oni, and began hunting for inchlings. When the bells signalled late evening, they began scurrying through the shadows, snatching food and materials whenever no one was looking. Catching one turned out to be easy. Seija waited until she saw a long line of them moving through the gutter, and grabbed one near the back.
 
“Please don’t kill me!” It was a female, and she looked terrified. Seija held her in one hand, and enjoyed the kick of power it gave her.

“I need to know more about the Hikona family,” said Seija. “Tell me everything you know.”

“The Hikona…?” The inchling could hardly believe it. “Why the Hikona family? I dunno how you know about them, but we all hate them. Them and the royal family. We’re out here risking our lives every evening, and they always get the best food and cloth.”

“Do you know where their safe house is?” asked Seija.

“Safe house? No… I didn’t know they had one. Um…”

Seija tightened her grip. “Know anyone who does?”

The inchling panicked. “Don’t hurt me… please…!”

“I won’t if you answer my questions. Direct me to someone who knows where the Hikona safe house is.”

“All right, all right! Let me go and I’ll tell you!”

Seija resisted the urge to torment her further. There’d be plenty of opportunities to hurt people once she got the mallet. But she pinched the inchling’s arm between her thumb and index finger anyway, just to scare her. “Tell me.”

“He lives behind the umbrella maker’s place to the east, in a tin box. Now let me go, please!”

“Hmm.” Seija sneered. “Why should I?”

The inchling shrieked. “You said! You said! I have children! I need to feed them!”

“All right, all right.” Seija giggled, and put her down. The inchling sprinted away as fast as she could, and disappeared. Seija had no idea if she’d told the truth, but it was worth a try. She could always catch another one if it failed.

But it turned out there was a little tin box behind the umbrella maker’s house, and the inchling living inside knew all about the Hikona family’s safe house. He looked tired, and wasn’t afraid of Seija. “I’ve got no job,” he explained. “I can’t decide whether I should go scavenging and get crushed, or just sit here and wait for death.” He seemed happy to chat, and told Seija everything she needed to know.

His sister worked at the safe house as a servant, and she used to come over regularly to complain about her colleagues. Things had fallen apart in the Hikona safe house after the mistress was crushed by an oni in a gruesome accident. The young girl the mistress adopted had been no use at all, choosing to hide in her room and sew all day instead of earning money. The servants had talked of selling her to a brothel at one point, but decided to just make off with all the gold and silver in the house.

“The young girl?” asked Seija “What young girl?”

“I dunno much about her, but the mistress took her in nearly ten years ago. She helped out with sewing a bit, but she was basically a pampered little pet. The mistress never let her outside the mansion by herself, and told the servants not to make friends with her. My sister said the mistress never had kids of her own, and probably wanted one, or something.”

Nearly ten years ago. That matched what that scholar said, about the child who died of fever. Except she hadn’t died. She was still alive, with the perfect genetic combination to use the mallet.

“I’m not telling you where that house is,” he said. “I don’t care what you do to me. We inchlings don’t give away important locations like that to anyone, least of all big people.”

“Then bring the girl to me,” said Seija. “I don’t care what method you use. Tell her I have important information about the history of the inchling race, and I need to tell her about it in person. Bring her to me and I’ll reward you.”

So he did, and that was how Seija met Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, and came to live in the sky with her.

*****
Seija gave herself a role, a new personality, and played it perfectly. So well that she was sick of it by the middle of winter, and started spending less and less time in the castle. Being around Shinmyoumaru and her bubbling happiness every day wore away at her. She dug out her old pipe, and smoked for the first time in several hundred years. She picked on other weak youkai down in Gensokyo, and got beaten up for the trouble. The stress of constantly being nice to someone, and seeing them smile and thank you, and like you, was the worst thing in the world.

So when Shinmyoumaru appeared on the stone block that evening, and asked her questions, Seija couldn’t hold back anymore.

“I’m not an oni, no,” she’d said, feeling her plan unravel before her eyes. “I’m an amanojaku.”

She was ruining everything, but it felt good. It felt so good to give Shinmyoumaru a little bit of the truth, and to feel the shock oozing out of her body. It nourished Seija. Why not go all the way and tell her the whole story? Not only that, but I lied to you about the inchlings’ true history, and you’re not even a proper princess, you little illegitimate rat! You’re just a walking breathing miracle dispenser! Be grateful I can be bothered to feed you! It would feel amazing. Shinmyoumaru’s face would be unforgettable! But then Seija’s revolution would never happen, and she would have to accept being weak forever. All that hard work for nothing.

Shinmyoumaru stared at her. “…An amanojaku? Like in that story about the melon princess?”

Seija was glad she knew that story. “Just like that one,” she said. “Like the amanojaku in all the scariest versions.”

Shinmyoumaru was confused. Seija could taste it. Upset or afraid would’ve been better, but oh well. She definitely wasn’t happy, and that was better than nothing. Seija’s hate-starved body would take anything negative at this point. She hadn’t planned to tell Shinmyoumaru any of this. The princess was supposed to stay ignorant, blindly following Seija’s suggestions until they came out top. But there was no turning back now. She probably would’ve worked it out eventually.

Finally, Shinmyoumaru spoke. “…Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

Seija giggled. She couldn’t help it. “Because who’d want to team up with an amanojaku?”

Mature amanojaku held back. They planned, calculated, and made the payoff as good as possible. Sometimes the hatred and misery they milked off one victim was enough for decades. Then they got away without a trace, never to be seen again.

Childish amanojaku gave in to their urges, annoyed anyone and everyone, and died early deaths. Seija was going to be the greatest amanojaku Gensokyo had ever seen, so she needed flawless willpower. Everything had to be perfect. No excuses.

Why did she have to go ruin everything because of something like stress?

Shinmyoumaru left the block after that. Seija stayed up until she finished smoking, and watched the sky change colour. Dawn would break soon. She emptied her pipe over the edge, and got up. She wanted to sleep. And after that, she’d think.

Her books looked strange. That was the first thing that jumped out when Seija entered her room. The books were partly for research, but mostly to hide the scroll translation. Seija had put it at the back of the most mundane book she’d found – the boring youkai encyclopaedia. She had a few other encyclopaedias dotted around the room, with better pictures and more youkai descriptions, which she assumed Shinmyoumaru would choose she ever got curious. But as she looked around the room, the realisation sank in.

The one book she didn’t want Shinmyoumaru reading had disappeared.

Seija sprinted out of the room.

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Chapter 6
(AO3 Mirror)

There had to be a mistake. Shinmyoumaru read through the sheet of paper a second time, unsure what to make of it. The narrator said he was an inchling from a time before they lived in the World of Oni, but the story of how they got there was completely different to the one Seija told her. In this version, the youkai of Gensokyo were uninvolved. It was the Miracle Mallet that plunged the inchling race into darkness. Shinmyoumaru frowned. Was this story made up by the youkai in Gensokyo, intending to trick the inchling people at a later date? But it explained a bit too much, like why the castle was upside down, and why making big wishes with the mallet was a bad idea. Was this stuff common knowledge in Gensokyo? She’d never seen any of the newspapers mention it.

And what was it doing in Seija’s youkai encyclopaedia book?

Her head hurt. Shinmyoumaru didn’t like this, and she didn’t want to think about it now. She opened the book again, and put the sheet of paper back where it was before. Now Seija wouldn’t know she’d read it, in theory.

Then she opened the section on amanojaku again, and stared at it. Her brain wanted to focus on one new thing at a time, and right now it was Seija’s feelings. Rereading the section again seemed like a good idea, but she kept scanning the same sentence over and over, and losing her place in the paragraph.

Seija was an amanojaku. The inchling race misused the mallet. The youkai of Gensokyo hurt Seija. The castle turned on its head and plummeted into the World of Oni. The mallet ran out of power. The mallet will make their revolution a reality.

She heard footsteps, a crash, and Seija leapt into her room. “Your Highness!”

Shinmyoumaru shrieked in surprise. Seija’s face was covered in sweat, and her hair was a mess. She was on the verge of panic. “Oh, oh… is that my youkai encyclopaedia?” Seija took a few shaky steps forward, and reached down to pick the book up. Shinmyoumaru saw faded wounds on her forehead, and smelt tobacco smoke.

A wave of sadness, affection, terror and love rushed through Shinmyoumaru. She saw the Seija in her dream again, a broken lump of flesh. She could see Seija’s cuts and bruises as clear as day.

Shinmyoumaru couldn’t stop herself. She grabbed Seija’s arm, and yanked her down. Seija yelped, and struggled, but Shinmyoumaru held on tight. “Stay still, please!” she ordered, and wrapped her arms around her. She felt bad for doing this, but she needed to hold Seija. She needed some kind of physical comfort. “Please Seija, stay still. I need this.”

Seija growled, and fell still. Shinmyoumaru felt her tremble. Tremble? The big bad amanojaku was trembling? Of course, she probably hated this. Hugs felt nice to Shinmyoumaru, but they were probably agony to an amanojaku. Seija felt so weak in her arms, and so skinny too. Like her bones might snap if Shinmyoumaru hugged too hard.

Seija was weak.

Weaker than Shinmyoumaru.

“Don’t pity me,” snarled Seija. “I hate that.”

“Sorry!” Shinmyoumaru let go. Seija scrabbled away, with the encyclopaedia in her hands. They looked at each other, neither knowing what to say.

Shinmyoumaru wondered if she should ask about the sheet of paper. But then she saw Seija quickly open the back of the book, glance down, and smile with relief.

With relief?

Seija flicked through the book, pretending to look for something. “Are you reading up on me?”

“Ah…” Shinmyoumaru blushed. “Um, sorry. I didn’t mean to take it without asking you. I don’t know much about amanojaku, so…”

Seija snorted. “This picture’s so dumb. I’ve never seen such a stupid looking amanojaku.”

“You mean boy amanojaku aren’t purple?”

“Some of them are! I mean the look on his face, like he’s just worked out how to count.” She tucked the book under her arm. “I’ve got much better encyclopaedias upstairs. Read those instead.”

“Is all that stuff in the article true?” Shinmyoumaru had to know. “It said amanojaku are contrary and take pleasure in being hated. Do they?”

“Well…” Seija grinned. “I suppose you could phrase it like that.”

“Then doesn’t being nice to me all the time hurt you?” Shinmyoumaru clenched her fists. “If I had to be really mean to someone every day, I’d feel terrible. So for you, being nice to me must be really difficult. Right?”

Seija looked terrified, as though Shinmyoumaru had seen through her act.

“That’s why you’ve been avoiding me so much, isn’t it?” Shinmyoumaru continued. “Because it’s making you feel bad.”

“Shut up.” Seija glared at her. “Don’t psychoanalyse me.”

So she was right. “Sorry.”

Seija shuddered. “Look, just… I… Fine, yes. The book’s right. Every time I open my mouth all I wanna do is throw insults at you.”

That hurt, but Shinmyoumaru didn’t want it to show. “I thought so… I’m sorry, Seija. It’s not fair, is it? You can be mean to me if it makes you feel better. I’ll know you can’t help it.”

“Don’t be stupid!” Seija snapped. She jabbed a finger at Shinmyoumaru. “You have no idea what’s going on in my head! If I let myself say whatever I wanted, you’d run away and never come back!”

Shinmyoumaru refused to back down. Seeing Seija yell was scary, but it didn’t frighten her all that much. “No I wouldn’t!”

“You would. Anyone would! I’m not here to make you hate me; I’m here to change the world with you, so I have to keep my mouth shut!” Her voice quivered. “I’m an adult amanojaku. I can hold my tongue.”

“You can be honest with me! I’m an adult too, an adult inchling.” Shinmyoumaru stood up. “I’m fed up with acting like a kid.”

“I just said I can’t be honest with you. Listen to me!” Seija kicked a wooden beam on the floor in frustration. “God. I’m fed up with this. I’m going to bed, it’s too late.”

“Wait, don’t! Please don’t go, Seija!”

“Tough, I’m going.”

Seija strode to the stairs, her wooden sandals slapping against the floor. Shinmyoumaru panicked, and dashed over. She lunged, and grabbed Seija’s arm

“Hey, get off!” Seija winced, and tried to fling her away, but Shinmyoumaru held on tight. “Come on!”

“I won’t let go until you tell me the truth!”

“What truth? I am telling the truth! Let go!” The book slipped out from under Seija’s arm, and fell to the floor. “Shit!” Seija yanked her arm free, and swooped down to grab it. Shinmyoumaru watched as the sheet of paper slipped out of the book. Seija snatched it up, and shoved it back in. “Damn loose pages.”

“What was that?” asked Shinmyoumaru.

“A loose page, I just told you. Now let me go!”

“No! Be honest with me!”

“Only if you’re honest with me!” Seija looked at her, and sneered. “You’re thinking about leaving me, aren’t you? I’m a big scary amanojaku, and I might gobble you up like the melon princess if you do anything I don’t like! I feel happy making people suffer! Seeing them scream and cry and look at me with eyes full of hatred makes me feel so good! No one in their right minds would live alone with an amanojaku. It’s unsafe!”

“I don’t want to run away from you, Seija.”

“What are you, stupid? A hardcore masochist or something?” She laughed. “If you knew even half the stuff I’d done other the years, you’d never speak to me again!”

“You’re an amanojaku, though. You’re made that way.”

“It feels good! Every time someone looks at me with disgust I feel so damn good!” Her sneer widened into a grotesque smile. “I could make you cry in seconds if I wanted to. I would make every day unpleasant if it made you hate me! That’s my job! I make people miserable! I ruin lives!”

She made people miserable. Was that why the youkai in Gensokyo hurt her all the time? Were they afraid of her? Protecting themselves? Or maybe they just hated amanojaku. And Seija wasn’t strong enough to fight back. Shinmyoumaru felt tears well up in her eyes. “Seija…”

“I told you not to pity me!”

“I’m not pitying you, I…!” What was she doing then? Feeling bad for her? Caring about her? Of course she cared about Seija. She wanted Seija to be happy. She… wait… no way…

Shinmyoumaru looked at Seija. Her heart rate tripled. No way.

“I’m…” How could she put this feeling into words? No, she mustn’t, Seija would hate it. Wouldn’t she? “Um…” Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her heart was a mess. She needed to lie down somewhere quiet and think over all this new information. But Seija was staring at her, waiting for an answer.

Seija worked it out first. “You’re in love with me?”

Shinmyoumaru paused, then nodded.

Seija looked horrified. “You can’t be serious. What’s wrong with you?”

“I love you.” Yes, those words felt right. So this was love. Shinmyoumaru had never fallen in love before. “Because… you’re so brave, and determined, and even though you’re weak like me, you’re actually really strong, and… I love you, I just love you.” She couldn’t stop herself. She was in love. In love! With an amanojaku! “I’m sorry.” She looked away. “I’m so sorry…”

Seija kept staring at her. Shinmyoumaru sobbed. Things were just getting more and more complicated. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, unsure what else to say. Did Seija hate her now?

“I need time to think about this,” said Seija at last. “I’m going back to my room.”

Shinmyoumaru didn’t stop her this time. She watched as Seija flew up to the fourth floor, and out of sight. Then she heard the distant rumble of the room dividers opening and closing, and at last she was alone.

That book. Seija had clung to it the whole time, and looked moments from a heart attack when the paper slipped out. She’d been afraid of Shinmyoumaru seeing it. Why? Because it was the truth after all? Maybe it was the truth… Shinmyoumaru covered her face with her hands. If it was the truth, then what about the story Seija told her?

What if Seija was lying to her?

Shinmyoumaru stayed awake that night, thinking and thinking and thinking.

*****
A red western mansion stood in Gensokyo, beside the Misty Lake. At night the mansion was filled with light and noise and excitement, as its vampire inhabitants ran through the corridors, laughing and shouting. But during the day the mansion was silent, and the servants did their best to clean up the mess.

A postwoman stood at the gates that afternoon, holding a large package. Sakuya Izayoi, the head maid, was inspecting the order form. “Yes, seventy silver knives,” she confirmed. “That’s what I ordered.”

“Then could you stamp here please?” asked the postwoman.

Hong Meiling, the gate guard, watched the exchange through half open eyes. The postwoman left, and Sakuya moved indoors. Finally, the replacements had arrived! Sakuya had been looking forward to this. She placed the package on the kitchen table, and cut it open.

Inside were seventy-one knives.

It was obvious which knife was the odd one out. One of the knives was longer, thicker, and sharper than the others. Sakuya picked it up, and frowned. She hadn’t ordered it. Should she send it back? No, Sakuya wasn’t one to turn down freebies. It was worth trying out, at least. She grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl, and held the knife to it. The blade slid through it with minimum effort, and split the apple into two perfect halves.

That felt good. The knife’s handle fitted into her palm perfectly. Its edge gleamed. Sakuya smiled. What a pleasant surprise! Maybe she would cook breakfast with it later, as a second trial. She tucked the knife into her garter belt, and turned to sort the other seventy.

By the end of the day, it was her new favourite.

*****
Seija lay in her futon, and wondered if she should run away.

She could, if she wanted to. Grab her stuff, snatch the mallet, fly out the window, the end. But no, things were fine. She was overreacting. She had no proof that Shinmyoumaru had read the translation. It was in the same place as before when she’d checked the book, and the strange mixture of emotions she detected from Shinmyoumaru – confusion, wariness, even a hint of betrayal – were perfectly natural for a woman who just found out she was living with an amanojaku. And all that sickly sweet love made Seija want to retch. Unbelievable.

She went to bed stressed out, but when she woke up that morning, her mind was clear. Shinmyoumaru being in love with her was perfect. Absolutely brilliant. Now Shinmyoumaru would never leave her. If Seija played her cards right, she could even get away with telling her nothing for longer, because the inchling would be too infatuated to notice. She’d obediently use the mallet for her, and never think twice about anything. Seija wasn’t going to ruin such a convenient development by rejecting Shinmyoumaru’s feelings.

But.

Love was disgusting. It made Seija’s skin crawl. It was a dumb thing other people felt that made them do stupid things. Amanojaku didn’t fall in love with each other. Why would they, when hate felt so much better? They didn’t go around in pairs, or rear children together. There was no benefit to it. When a male and female amanojaku met, they would circle each other, then lunge for the throat if interested. They would scratch, bite, snarl, and attempt to kill each other until the fighting turned to sex, then they would continue trying to kill each other until they were done. The instant the filthy act was over, they would run away and hope to never see each other again. Then the female amanojaku would have half a dozen chicks a few months later, and rear them by herself until she got tired of them.

Seija had done that stuff with a few male amanojaku in her youth (and several more female amanojaku over the years), but no children had come out of it. Just as well really, she couldn’t imagine rearing a herd of bratty kids. She’d never tried getting it on with a human or another youkai. It had never appealed to her. All the touching and kissing and tenderness disgusted her.

But.

She wanted this revolution to happen. It needed to happen, no matter what the cost. If romancing Shinmyoumaru made it more likely to succeed, then Seija would do it. Any other option could lead to failure, and worst of all, regret.

Seija pulled herself out of bed, and got dressed. Shinmyoumaru was nowhere to be seen in the main room, and was probably still asleep. Seija felt relieved, and sat down on top of the table. She wanted to spend all day in Gensokyo again. She wasn’t doing anything in particular down there – it was still too early for them to attempt an attack, or to start recruiting other people – but being away from the castle helped her think. She’d know how to handle things by sunset.

That night, Seija returned to the castle covered in cuts and bruises again. She’d made the mistake of picking on a group of tanuki, and now she couldn’t lift her arms above her head without wincing. She’d managed to get away before things got really bad, but Seija hadn’t been able to rest without worrying they were sneaking up behind her. Upsetting shape shifters was the worst. You never knew when they’d jump out at you. Her injuries would heal by tomorrow morning; she just had to put up with the pain for now. Her dress was torn in a few places. The wind blew into the tears and made her shiver.

She landed on the stone block, planning to smoke her pipe before finding Shinmyoumaru. But the inchling was already sitting on the block, on a slope near the opposite edge. She had her back to Seija, and the gold thread in her kimono shone in the moonlight. The mallet was tied to her obi, as always.

Seija paused. Was now a good opportunity to talk to her? If she left things any longer, she’d just be putting them off. Seija had thought about Shinmyoumaru’s feelings all day, and had come to a decision before flying back. She had no reason to hesitate.

Seija walked across the block, ignoring the pain that shot through her limbs with each step, until she was right behind Shinmyoumaru. “What are you doing up here?” she asked.

“I couldn’t focus on anything.” Shinmyoumaru mumbled, and continued staring ahead.

Seija sat next to her. “Thinking about yesterday?”

“Yeah.” Shinmyoumaru sighed. “I’ve been thinking about it all day.”

It was perfectly quiet. The sky was clear above them, and the stars glittered around a crescent moon. Shinmyoumaru’s emotions were hard to read, but love was definitely in there. Thick, syrupy, sickly love.

“What are we going to do, Seija?” she asked.

Seija took a deep breath. “More like what are you gonna do?”

“I…” Shinmyoumaru grimaced. “I was thinking. That actually, it would’ve been weird if I hadn’t fallen in love with you. I mean, um… you gave my life new meaning. You showed me the sky.” She looked at Seija, and smiled. “I’d never seen the sky before. I knew things like sunlight and clouds and the rain and snow existed in fairytales, but I’d never seen them before. Not until you showed me.” She blushed. “Nothing but good things have happened since you came into my life. So… of course I’d fall in love with you. Even though you’re an amanojaku, so you’ll hate it… I’m sorry.”

They sat in awkward silence. Seija had no idea what to do next. Her eyes drifted to the mallet. Shinmyoumaru carried it everywhere now. Shinmyoumaru even brought it into the bathing area when she washed, and slept next to it at night.

Seija had no way of knowing how much power they’d used, and how much was left in the mallet. For all she knew, it could run out tomorrow, and backfire on them out of nowhere. She hadn’t told Shinmyoumaru about the price system, or the limited power the mallet had, but she’d made her aware of the importance of small wishes. The mallet still looked brand new. Its paint was bright and unchipped, and the red string on its handle clean. Seija wished Shinmyoumaru would leave it alone for once, so she could hold it. She’d spent so much time and effort getting her hands on that mallet, and hadn’t had any time with it since Shinmyoumaru got it out of that box for her. Seija wanted to gaze at its patterns, and trace a fingertip along its edge. She wanted to feel its power tingle against her skin. Her own little miracle maker. Her key to unlimited happiness.

Shinmyoumaru saw her looking. She unhooked the mallet, and held it out. “Do you want to hold it?”

Seija frowned, embarrassed. But she wasn’t going to say no. She accepted it, and held it in both hands. Here it was. The Miracle Mallet. Her Miracle Mallet. Seija felt the stress melt away as she turned it over in her hands. She could feel its power pulse and swirl beneath her fingertips, just like when they first prised it out of that box. Even now, it was hard to believe it was real.

She glanced up, and saw Shinmyoumaru watching her with a warm smile on her face. The love oozing out of her was covering up all her other emotions. Seija squeezed her eyes shut, and took a deep breath.

“Shinmyoumaru,” she said.

She heard Shinmyoumaru gasp. Seija had never said her first name before. Seija opened her eyes, tightened her grip on the mallet’s handle, and shuffled closer.

“S… Seija…?” Shinmyoumaru didn’t move. Seija put an arm around her shoulders as casually as she could, and focused on breathing.

“Y-You don’t have to if it hurts!” gushed Shinmyoumaru. “It’s okay!”

“It doesn’t hurt,” hissed Seija, which was the truth. “I’m just not used to this.”

“Stop if it ever hurts you, okay? Promise?”

Seija grunted, and gripped the mallet so hard its edge dug into her palm. Shinmyoumaru smelt like the cheap soap they used in the bathing area, and her kimono was soft. “Have you ever done this stuff before?”

“Not like this. I mean, um…”

“How old are you anyway?”

“I’ll be twenty soon.” Shinmyoumaru glanced up at Seija, then let herself lean sideways and rest her head on her shoulder. “Is this okay?”

Seija didn’t push her away. It was weird, but not too uncomfortable. She could cope with it as long as Shinmyoumaru did nothing sudden. “Stop being nice, it’s annoying.”

Shinmyoumaru giggled. “I can’t help it.”

“If I can stop myself being nasty, you can stop being nice.”

“Would you prefer me nasty?”

“Not if you don’t mean it. It only works if you hate me.”

Shinmyoumaru sighed. “I don’t hate you though. I love you.”

“I know.”

“It’s not fair if you have to hold back all the time and put up with me liking you.”

“I can deal with it.”

The first hint of dawn glowed behind the mountains. Soon Gensokyo’s youkai would curl up to sleep, and its humans would crawl out of bed, ready to start a new day. All totally oblivious to the women sitting high above them, awkwardly leaning against each other and plotting to change the world.

“How old are you, Seija?” asked Shinmyoumaru.

“Dunno. I forgot after a few centuries.”

“Isn’t it weird, living for that long? Can you remember everything?”

“No way.” Seija didn’t want to remember all of it. “I guess it’s weird if you hang out with humans, but who does that?”

“The oldest inchling I knew got to one-hundred-and-fifty,” said Shinmyoumaru. “He was my great-granddad.”

“Good for him…” Seija made a mental note to remember that. Maybe she could persuade Shinmyoumaru to have kids in a decade or two, to take over the mallet after she dies.

“…We might get killed if this goes wrong, won’t we?”

“Well, yeah.” Seija laughed. “It’s a revolution. All or nothing.”

Shinmyoumaru put her arm around Seija’s back. “Dying’s scary.”

Seija sneered. “Having second thoughts?”

“No, if it makes things better for my people, and for the weak, then… I can handle it. It’s scary, but I can handle it if it’s for that.” There was a spark of uncertainty that Seija couldn’t ignore, but it was gone in seconds, covered by the love and happiness pouring out of Shinmyoumaru.

Time to make a move. “Because I’m here?”

“…It helps. I mean, yes…” She squirmed. “Sorry.”

Seija gently pushed Shinmyoumaru’s head away from her shoulder. She gazed at her face, and smiled as kindly as she could. Her princess was blushing, and her mouth was pursed with determination.

Seija leant forward, and kissed her.


She felt Shinmyoumaru shudder, and freeze up. Seija pulled away almost immediately, reluctant to linger. “We’re in this together,” she said. “So don’t do anything dumb, okay?”

“I won’t.” Shinmyoumaru’s voice trembled. “Ah… can we do that again?”

Seija sighed. “All right.”

The Miracle Mallet stayed in Seija’s lap, its weight comforting her.

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Chapter 7

This chapter contains nsfw content! Since nsfw stuff isn't allowed on MotK, you'll all have to read this chapter on AO3 instead. So click the link below, and prepare yourselves for the sin.



(Reminder that the nsfw sections are necessary for the story (they wouldn't be there otherwise!) so you can't wimp out and skip this chapter. There's a few more later on too, so grab your holy water buckets while you still have the chance.)

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Re: In the Brilliant Light of Day [8/??] - DDC/SeiShin Novel Length Fanfic
« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2016, 07:09:38 pm »
So. I was kinda hospitalised this summer and nearly died and blah blah blah long story short I forgot I was posting this fic here and not just on AO3 so, time for a long overdue update!

Chapter 8
(AO3 Mirror)

The cold, hard lump was still lodged in Marisa’s stomach the next morning. Eating her favourite snack food did nothing to shift it, and going on a walk just made it worse. Her head was fixated on the night before, and refused to focus on anything else. There was Miko’s offer, her own foul mood, the way Reimu smiled as she talked to Sanae... and the cold, bitter defeat that always came the morning after, when she remembered she hadn’t solved the incident. She hadn’t stood above her competitors. She wouldn’t get a fat paycheque for her trouble, and no one would even remember she was there.

Re-reading her grimoires and pouring over her experiment results rarely failed to cheer her up. But Marisa’s charts displayed nothing but duds and negatives these days: pages and pages of angry scribbles and red crosses. In the end Marisa had to snap the book shut, and toss it across her desk. She was wasting her time.

Instead she stood up, and went outside again. It was only seven-am, but the forest air was already stuffy. Marisa sat down on a half-broken garden bench, and tried to clear her head. Her garden was as messy as the interior of her house: there were weeds everywhere, and random items she’d picked up and couldn’t squeeze through the front door. Her mini-Hakkero sat on top of a cracked sundial, morning dew gleaming on its metal surface.

Marisa had to leave it outside now. It’d started acting up a week ago, and keeping it in the house was too dangerous. It destroyed the curtains in her living room the other day, and nearly set fire to her bed. Marisa had escaped any serious burns, but there were calluses on her fingers from the metal heating up too fast. She glanced down at her right hand, and inspected her fingers. In a way, she was delighted. She’d spent years trying to work out how to make the mini-Hakkero’s fire stronger, and now its flame was thicker and hotter than ever before. What had caused it though? Probably the same thing that made it disobey her. Whatever that was.

She didn’t want to think about it too hard. Marisa didn’t want to see the state of her magic once she lost the furnace’s power boost.

No, that was silly. Marisa’s progress couldn’t go backwards, not without some effort. But it was becoming more and more obvious that she’d gone as far as she could boiling mushrooms and setting fire to things. Any other year and she would’ve been excited. She would be down in the library with Patchouli discussing further options, or getting Alice’s advice on which spells to focus on in the future, but now…

Marisa was honestly terrified.

Forest mushrooms were the perfect research material. They were free, and some of them were edible. They were loud and flashy, but explosive in a safe way. Perfect for the easy going, perpetual state of poverty she lived in. If she had to switch to new materials, they would undoubtedly cost more money. And if she needed more money, she’d need regular work. Youkai extermination paid well, but it wasn’t something people needed every day. And regular work would mean less time to experiment, so her progress would slow down.

It was a downward spiral. Marisa was human, so unlike Alice and Patchouli, she only had so many years to research new things. She was going to have to make a sacrifice: money, or time. She needed money to eat. She needed time to improve. It wasn’t so much about which new direction to take her magic in, as whether she could continue practising it at her current level.

She wouldn’t be able to keep up with Reimu.

Marisa shook her head, trying to chase the thought away. So what about Reimu? Marisa didn’t become a magician just to chase after her. Did she? No, she definitely didn’t. Reimu could smile at Sanae all she wanted. Marisa didn’t care. She didn’t need the free meals whenever she visited the shrine, or the money from stealing Reimu’s customers. Reimu could keep all that to herself.

The lump in her stomach returned. She’d tried to pretend otherwise, but Marisa knew now. Their friendship was over. It’d been over for half a year. The flicker of hope she’d treasured all this time had died last night. Reimu didn’t care about her anymore, and Marisa was on her own finding food and work and ways to get noticed.

An orange flame shimmered in the mini-Hakkero, as though responding to her feelings. Marisa gazed at it, hypnotised. Was it trying to comfort her? She got up, and walked over to the sundial. The furnace wasn’t burning hot, just pleasantly warm. Marisa lifted it up, and held it in her lap, taking care to keep it aimed away from her. It was soothing, like having a small, metal cat. Well okay, not really, but Marisa relaxed regardless.


“I wish you behaved more often,” she said. “I’ve got enough problems to deal with right now.” She felt stupid talking to her mini-Hakkero. Like she had no friends or something.

Wait.

Why was she talking to it? It wasn’t alive, was it?

Was it?

The revelation hit her. Marisa leapt to her feet, appalled at herself. Why hadn’t she noticed sooner? Her mini-Hakkero was turning into a tsukumogami! Why? She hadn’t neglected it recently, and she hadn’t brought anything into her house that could corrupt it. Should she go to Kourindou? Ask Alice? Talk to Reimu?

No. Her gut feeling told her it was something big. Maybe it was caused by a spell she’d tried earlier in the week, or maybe it was the start of a new incident. If it was the latter, she needed to get moving. Usually she waited for Reimu to notice before heading out herself, but this time she needed to resolve it first. For her pride more than anything.

Maybe Reimu would look at her, and feel pissed off.

Marisa’s fear turned to optimism. She grabbed her broom from the porch, clenched the mini-Hakkero in her right hand, and wasted no time setting off. She visited Alice, then Kourindou, and talked to a few merchants and blacksmiths in the village. By late afternoon she was rushing through the sky, dodging bullets and fairies through the clouds, moving towards an unknown destination somewhere to the west. Her gut feeling led her towards a patch of sky she’d never explored before. Through the bamboo forest, across forests and mountains, and then…

The clouds parted, and she saw an upside down castle floating in the sky.

Marisa gawped at it. The castle was at least five stories tall, and had a fat stone wedge attached to the top. How had no one noticed it before? This wasn’t the most inhabited part of Gensokyo, but surely the fairies would’ve noticed it? Was anyone living inside it? The castle didn’t bob or sway in the wind. It sat perfectly still, as rigid as a building constructed on the ground.

This was it. Whatever caused her mini-Hakkero to play up was waiting inside. Marisa knew she had to get in somehow. She flew closer, and looked at the windows. Most of them had wooden bars, and the big gate at the very top was bolted shut. But there were a few windows that had no bars, and Marisa saw that their wooden shutters were open. She could easily break in.

The owners probably thought security wasn’t necessary this high up, but they hadn’t met Marisa Kirisame yet. A castle was a status symbol. Castles meant rich people. Rich people meant treasure. Marisa grinned. Maybe she could borrow a few things inside, and use them to fund her studies. Two birds with one stone! Excited, she squeezed her mini-Hakkero, and flew over to the window.

The castle interior was also inverted, and sparse. There was a small table in the centre of the room, placed on top of a thin wooden board, and a ceramic bowl filled with sand and ash sat between two wooden beams, which Marisa guessed was some kind of hearth. A cupboard lay in the corner, with plates and bowls piled on top of it. Living in an upside down castle looked really inconvenient. Marisa glanced up, and saw tatami mats on the ceiling. The actual hearth was right above her. What was the point? The residents would have an easier time flipping the castle right side up.

Maybe they liked it that way. Marisa had no idea what kind of strange people she was dealing with. Reimu would know, of course. Reimu would have guessed the inhabitants with one glance at the room, and flown over to where they were hiding without hesitation. Marisa could already imagine her figure gliding over the floor beams, frowning at the weird interior.

…Why was she thinking about Reimu at a time like this? There was no one around. Time to raid the room, then find the occupiers. She walked over to the cupboard and yanked the door open, hoping to find something expensive. Inside were basic food supplies: rice, dried noodles, crackers, things that would last a while. There were one or two pieces of what was probably fresh food a long time ago, but now had a layer of green and white mould. The left corner smelt rancid. Disappointed, Marisa took a cracker out of an open packet, and put it in her mouth.

“Who are you?”

A woman’s voice. Marisa jolted upright, and almost slammed the cupboard door on her fingers. She turned, and saw a youkai with streaked black hair staring at her. The blue bows on her dress were tied upside down, and two small white horns jutted out of her head.

What was she? An oni? Marisa wasn’t sure. The upside down bows implied she owned the castle. Maybe. “Hey,” she said. “Just checking out your larder.”

“How did you get in? Oh.” The stranger noticed the mini-Hakkero. “Oh...”

Marisa grinned. So the castle was related to her mini-Hakkero! “You know about this?”

“I see. I see.” The stranger peered down at it. Marisa hoped the mini-Hakkero would choose this moment to vomit a pillar of fire straight into the stranger’s face, but no such luck. “Are you here to join us?”

“Join you? Doing what?”

“Join our revolution, of course.” The stranger smiled. “Did another tsukumogami tell you about it?”

“…Revolution?”

“You’re a newly awakened tsukumogami, aren’t you?”

Marisa pouted. “I’m human!”

“Oh.” The stranger lost her smile. “What are you doing here then? This is a youkai castle.”

“I’m a youkai exterminator.” Marisa produced her spell card deck. “Paying you a visit to check your taxes and stuff. Why don’t you tell me all about this ‘revolution’ of yours? And your name while you’re at it.”

The stranger glared at her. “I thought you looked familiar. You’re that magician from the newspapers, aren’t you? The exterminator always cashing in on that shrine maiden’s popularity.”

“Wow, rude!” Marisa glared at her. “She’s the one cashing in on my popularity, actually! Without me she’d be eating her donation box for dinner. With seasoning and miso soup on the side.”

“Sounds like extermination’s not the greatest gig. Why not switch careers?” The stranger held out a hand. “Join now and I’ll give you half of Gensokyo to rule over once we’re done.”

“Yeah right!” Marisa laughed at that. “How gullible do you think I am? Now start talking or I’ll have to use brute force.” She lifted the mini-Hakkero. It was already warming up in her hand.

“Fine, fine.” The stranger produced a spell card deck from her dress pocket. “I’ll tell you whatever if you beat me. But if I win, you’re listening to my sales pitch.”

“All right, I’m fine with that.” Marisa noticed the stranger glancing at her mini-Hakkero again. She had to be involved with it somehow. If she solved the incident now, maybe she could go down to the shrine tomorrow and rub it in Reimu’s face. What a great reward. “Four cards.”

“Four cards! Bring it!”

Marisa held up her first card. “Magic Sign: Stardust Reverie!”

And the stranger did the same. “Reverse Sign: Danmaku Through the Looking Glass!”

*****
There was a loud bang, and Shinmyoumaru was shaken out of her seat. She immediately curled into a ball, and covered her head. It was an earthquake. The worst earthquake she’d felt since leaving the World of Oni. Then she came to her senses, and remembered they were floating in the air. The explosion had come from above.

She heard shouts and yells. More bangs. Crashes. An unfamiliar voice snarling in pain. Shinmyoumaru leapt to her feet. She snatched her bowl helmet up from the board. “Seija?” There was a stranger upstairs. Someone had found them. Someone from Gensokyo had located their castle, and challenged Seija to a fight. Shinmyoumaru’s hands trembled as she swung her needle sword onto her back. “Seija, I’m coming!”

She floated up as fast as she could. The noise grew louder. Shinmyoumaru felt sweat drip down her back. She felt tiny again. Tiny and powerless, and praying she wouldn’t get crushed. Seija had warned her about this. Someone from Gensokyo could investigate them any day, and shut down their revolution before it even happened. Shinmyoumaru hadn’t expected a visit so soon. Peace had made her lax. She unhooked the Miracle Mallet from her obi, and prepared for the worst.

She got to the second floor. Through the hole in the ceiling she could see hundreds and thousands of brightly coloured bullets flying above her, interspersed with Seija’s familiar purple danmaku. There was a flash of light, then a crack. She heard Seija yelp.

“Seija!” Shinmyoumaru had to get up there. She had to help Seija. But her legs wouldn’t move. She was paralysed with fear. This was a full blown, serious danmaku fight. There was no way her own cards would cut it. Not against a pro like this.

The courage ran out of her. Shinmyoumaru covered her face, and bit back tears. It was over. She thought of the snow castle they’d made all those months ago. One well aimed kick, and that was it. Their revolution would crumble away.

If Seija lost, Shinmyoumaru would have to face the intruder. Their revolution rested on her shoulders.

There was a loud crack, and the castle shook again. She heard Seija yell. The match had ended. Shinmyoumaru wasn’t ready, but she forced herself to move. “Seija!” She jumped through the hole in the ceiling. “Seija!”

The first floor was a mess. The table had been overturned, and plates lay broken on the floor. Seija was on her knees, clutching her left side and shuddering. Her opponent stood a few metres away, gasping, but smiling. Shinmyoumaru recognised her as Marisa Kirisame, the human magician from the newspaper articles.

A youkai exterminator.

Was the shrine maiden with her too? Thankfully not, by the looks of things, but Shinmyoumaru still wanted to cry. She stood firm, and tried to look menacing.

“Hey, another one.” The magician had spotted her. “Are you a part of this revolution too?”

Shinmyoumaru looked at Seija. Seija stared back at her, panic-stricken. She was afraid. Shinmyoumaru felt the responsibility loom over her. If she didn’t win against Marisa, that would be it. The weak would stay weak. The inchlings would never get the justice they deserved.

Seija was weak. Far weaker than Shinmyoumaru had imagined. And she was weak too. This was how things were in Gensokyo. The strong did what they wanted, and the weak relented.

“I’m the leader,” said Shinmyoumaru. She felt angry with herself. What a joke of the leader she was! She held up her Miracle Mallet. “My name is Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, and I’m a member of the inchling race.”

Marisa Kirisame laughed.  “Inchling? You’re almost as tall as me. What’s an inchling doing up here, in an upside down castle? And who’s this?” She pointed at Seija. “Your underling?”

“She’s my retainer.” Shinmyoumaru kept her voice level. “Her name is Seija Kijin.”

“Funny looking inchling,” commented Marisa.

“I’m an amanojaku,” grunted Seija.

“An amanojaku?” Marisa looked back at Shinmyoumaru, surprised. “You’ve teamed up with an amanojaku?”

“We’re here to make things better for the weak,” explained Shinmyoumaru. “We’re going to readdress the balance, and make the world a better place.”

“An oversized inchling and an amanojaku in an upside down castle. This sounds like the start of a bad joke.” Marisa Kirisame didn’t seem impressed, but that was hardly a surprise. Marisa wasn’t weak. She probably didn’t know how it felt to suffer.

“The world we’re going to create will be a nicer place for humans too,” Shinmyoumaru continued. She and Seija had discussed this strategy in advance – if any strong enemies showed up, they’d try and recruit them before the fight began. She doubted it would work, but it was worth a shot. “I’m sure you’re here to get rid of us, but I’d like to ask you to reconsider. If you join our cause, then it would be a huge boost to our-”

“I came here because my mini-Hakkero started playing up. We can save all this revolution stuff for after you explain what you’ve done to it.” She held up the metal, octagon-shaped furnace in her hand.

“Don’t point that thing at the princess,” snarled Seija.

Shinmyoumaru wasn’t afraid of it. She gripped the mallet tighter. “Let me have a look.” Shinmyoumaru could feel the same energy flowing out of it as all those knives and forks she’d struck. It was weaker, diluted, but unmistakably the Miracle Mallet’s. “Oh, that’s interesting.”

“What’s interesting?” asked Marisa.

“It’s the same energy as my Miracle Mallet’s. But I don’t remember striking it. Hmm.”

Marisa jumped back. “The Miracle Mallet?” She looked afraid. “You’ve got the Miracle Mallet!?”

“Yep.” Shinmyoumaru was relieved to see fear on her face. “See, here it is! With this, nothing is impossible. All of our wildest dreams can come true.”

“You should’ve told me you had the Miracle Mallet!” Marisa was furious. “I can’t just sit back and let you play revolutionaries if you’ve got that thing with you.” She held up her spell card deck. “Five cards.”

Here it was. Shinmyoumaru felt strangely calm. “I’ll show you what we’re capable of.” She held up all the cards she had. “Five cards!”

Light filled the room again.

*****
Seija sat in the corner, and watched the match with bated breath. Her bruised body wouldn’t stop shaking, and she gnawed on a fingernail to keep calm. She wished she’d brought her pipe up, so she could have a smoke as she waited for the end. Maybe she could grab the mallet the moment Shinmyoumaru lost, and take off before Marisa noticed. She’d need lightning fast reflexes, but then she could rendezvous with Shinmyoumaru again at a later date, and continue their revolution from there. As long as they had that mallet, nothing was impossible. But Marisa Kirisame probably knew that, and would take the thing for herself.

Why did Shinmyoumaru have to mention its name! Seija couldn’t believe she’d been so careless. Then again, Shinmyoumaru was currently using it to inflate her tiny bullets into giant globes. It would’ve been obvious they had a wacky magic item on their side, and not many of them were mallet shaped. Seija didn’t know why Shinmyoumaru was even bothering with the spell card duel, really. It would be faster to just give in and try and stall for time.

Their revolution was minutes away from falling apart, and all Seija could do was watch and hope for a lucky break.

Except maybe it was her imagination, but wasn’t Shinmyoumaru doing well? Seija looked up, and saw the princess staring at Marisa’s bullets, making tiny side steps and dashing between the gaps. She hadn’t been hit yet. Her own bullets were flying everywhere, and Marisa seemed to be having trouble moving out of the way in time. One clipped her elbow, and Seija heard Marisa’s spell card crack.

It was too early to get hopeful, but if Shinmyoumaru somehow managed to win, what then? Would Marisa leave them alone? Would she go and get reinforcements? If Seija was quick, and the princess helped, they could probably gather all their possessions within an hour, and flee the castle until things calmed down.

Another crack. Marisa had been hit again.

And again.

And again.

Seija got to her feet. She covered her mouth, hardly believing it. What was going on? Marisa looked frustrated. And she looked tired too. Had Seija’s cards exhausted her? Seija began pacing. Shinmyoumaru was still staring at the bullets, still concentrating with all her might.

Marisa was at the end of her tether. Seija saw her raise the furnace, and aimed it straight at Shinmyoumaru. “Fine, dodge this!” she snarled. Bright light shone from the furnace. “Love Sign: Master Sp-”

And before she could finish her sentence, a bullet smacked her in the stomach.

hungrybookworm

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Re: In the Brilliant Light of Day [9/??] - DDC/SeiShin Novel Length Fanfic
« Reply #8 on: December 08, 2016, 07:12:32 pm »
Chapter 9
(AO3 Mirror)

The explosion made the whole castle tremble. The shouji screens shook, and a room divider spun across the room. Shinmyoumaru stood victorious above Marisa. Her bowl helmet lay on the floor and her hair and clothes were a mess. The mallet gleamed in her hand.

Marisa was sprawled on the floor, lying across one of the wooden beams and gasping for breath. She tried to push herself upright with shivering arms, but her strength gave way, and she fell back onto the beam. She snarled with pain.

“No rematches,” said Shinmyoumaru, exhilarated. “I’ve shown you the power of the inchling race.”

“Yeah… urgh…” Marisa closed her eyes. “God…”

“And the power of the Miracle Mallet.” Shinmyoumaru’s eyes narrowed, and she smiled. A strange, almost seductive smile that Seija had never seen before. “I’ve read about you in newspapers, Marisa Kirisame.”

“Who hasn’t? I’m pretty famous.” Marisa finally got to her feet. Her strange furnace weapon was still clutched in her hand. “Come on, one more time.”

“Why do you want to win so badly?” asked Shinmyoumaru. “Does losing bother you?”

“It’s not ideal,” said Marisa. She winced, and touched her ribs. “Ow... you didn’t break my ribs, did you?”

“You know, when you’re weak, losing becomes a part of your daily life.” Shinmyoumaru’s smile faded. “Victory is a luxury only the strong can enjoy.” She spun the mallet in her hand. “You understand that, don’t you? I wasn’t sure if you did at first, but you really do. You know what it’s like to lose.”

Marisa glared at her. “Are you stupid? Do you have any idea how many youkai I’ve exterminated over the years? I’m just out of shape. Today’s not my day.”

“That’s a bit much for out of shape!” Seija couldn’t hold back anymore. She strolled into view, unable to contain her glee. They’d won. They’d won! “Look at you, you can barely stand up. I thought Gensokyo’s humans packed more of a punch than that.”

“Shut up.” Marisa lifted her furnace. “Give me a rematch.”

“You might not make it home tonight if I give you a rematch.” Shinmyoumaru glanced at the window. “It’s getting dark too. Isn’t it dangerous for humans to walk around after the sun sets?”

“I’m not scared of the dark.”

“Why don’t you stay the night?” Shinmyoumaru’s eyes shone. Seija was surprised she’d thought of such a cunning tactic by herself. “We can tell you all about our revolution. A human ally would be beneficial to us, especially one as well known as you.”

“…What are you even revolting against?”

“Weren’t you listening earlier? We’re gonna overturn society so the weak switch places with the strong!” declared Seija. “We’re gonna make this unfair world our paradise!”

“Right, uh, that’s kind of drastic.” Marisa looked sceptical. “I kinda like Gensokyo the way it is.”

“Do you? Really?” Seija sneered, and enjoyed the way Marisa’s expression twisted. She could taste her uncertainty. “I think you’ve got your doubts.”

“Look, just...” Marisa reached into her pocket too quickly, and winced. She pulled out her spell cards again. “Just... give me a rematch. We’ll decide this once and for all.”

“And I refuse,” said Shinmyoumaru again. “We can have a rematch if you come back tomorrow.”

“Don’t say that, you idiot!” hissed Seija.

“All right, I’ll be back then.” Marisa ignored Seija’s comment, lowered the brim of her hat, and limped away. “Where’s my broom?”

Shinmyoumaru looked at Seija. “Why not? She’ll just pester us for the rest of the evening otherwise.”

“She might come back with friends, or a spell card designed to beat you!”

“Good, it’s intact.” Marisa picked the broom up. Seija realised she was leaving. She couldn’t let Marisa go right now. She’d felt the power oozing from her furnace. They needed more time to talk.

“I’ll be right back,” she said to Shinmyoumaru, then ran up to Marisa. “Why don’t I escort you out?” Seija put an arm around her shoulder. “We can have a little chat on the roof.”

“Hey, hands off.”

She heard Shinmyoumaru sigh behind her, and slowly sink to the floor. Concentrating for so long had drained the princess’ energy, and she needed time to rest. Good, Seija could handle the rest by herself.

“Why didn’t you let the princess fix your mini-Hakkero?” Seija recalled the name of the furnace once they moved through the window.

Marisa stood on the underside of the gabled roof, and straddled her broom. “She can do that tomorrow when I beat the crap out of her.”

So she didn’t want it fixed after all. Perfect. Seija grabbed Marisa’s upper arm, and gripped hard. “Then why bother going all the way back home if you’re coming tomorrow? Take up the princess’ offer and stay the night.”

Marisa tried to shrug her hand away. “Since when were you amanojaku so touchy-feely? I’m going home.”

“I can read you like an open book.” Seija dug her nails into Marisa’s arm. “I can taste your frustration. You’re really pissed off, aren’t you?”

“Well, yeah. I would’ve won if I’d Master Spark’d her.” Marisa looked uneasy. “That hurts, you know. Let go of me.”

“You know, the princess only started learning danmaku a few months ago. She’s never had a serious match before.” Seija leant forward, and whispered in Marisa’s ear. “She’s strong because of the mallet.”

Marisa flinched. “Are you telling me she was cheating?”

“No, nothing that brilliant. The princess is weak, but she’s very clever, where it counts. A fast learner. Keen to discover new things.” Seija’s smile brightened. “She’ll make a good ruler, don’t you think?”

Seija loved the look of uncertainty on Marisa’s face. It’d been so long since she’d had fun with a human, and Marisa’s reactions were pushing the right buttons. Humans had an odd effect on amanojaku. They smelt delicious.

“…Are you serious about this revolution thing?” asked Marisa.

“Completely.” Seija squeezed her arm again. “Join us, Marisa Kirisame. You can stand above your rivals as a ruler of Gensokyo. All the power and wealth and glory you could ever imagine would be yours for the taking.”

Marisa didn’t respond. Seija could taste her temptation. Humans were all the same. So greedy. So easy to lead astray. She leant forward again, trying not to get too close. She didn’t want to cross the line between seductive and creepy. “You want power, don’t you?”

Marisa laughed nervously. “Who doesn’t?”

Seija glanced at the mini-Hakkero in Marisa’s hand. She’d seen what it was capable of earlier, and wanted more. “The mallet can grant you all the power you could ever desire. It can make your mini-Hakkero even stronger.”

That got a reaction. She felt a flicker of emotion run through Marisa. Greed. Excitement. Hope. “Look, I need to get going.” Marisa was too tempted. She wanted to leave. She shoved Seija’s arm away, and gripped her broom handle. “I won’t blab about your revolution to anyone, if you’re worried about that. Not until I beat you both up tomorrow. See you then.” And she kicked off before Seija could grab her again, and flew out of sight.

Seija clicked her tongue. They were so close! She wasn’t going to let Marisa just fly off, not after that. She didn’t believe for a minute she’d stay quiet about their castle. “Princess!” she shouted through the window. “I’m following after her. You stay here and guard the castle.”

“Okay…” She heard Shinmyoumaru’s voice through the window. “Be careful.”

Seija flew up to the stone block. She could still see Marisa through the clouds, moving slowly but steadily back home. Trailing her wouldn’t be too hard. Seija set off behind her, and kept her distance. Looking at the mini-Hakkero gave her the same kick as holding the Miracle Mallet. It had to be hers. Seija wouldn’t rest until it was on their side.

*****
It was pitch black by the time Marisa arrived home. She shoved her front door open, washed quickly, then changed into her nightclothes and slumped into bed. She fell asleep seconds after her head hit the pillow, and her mind busied itself with anxiety dreams and the worst kind of nightmares.

She was floating under an engorged full moon, trying to dodge horrifyingly complex danmaku patterns. The terror of being hit pounded through her bruised body, and she screamed as bullet after bullet narrowly missed her. She felt a sharp pain hurl through her chest, and realise she’d been hit. The bullet had gone straight through her, and Marisa was tumbling head over heels, to her death.

The dream changed. She was sitting next to Reimu at the shrine. It was a bright sunny day, and she could feel the sunlight warm her knees through her black dress. Reimu was looking away from her, and Marisa felt relieved they were friends again. Their falling out must’ve all been a bad dream. She was so happy she wanted to cry. But Reimu wouldn’t turn around. Why not? Marisa reached out, and placed a hand on her shoulder. It was cold. Reimu slumped to the side, and fell off the porch. There was blood all the way down her front. Her face was mangled. She was dead, and Marisa hadn’t noticed all this time.

Marisa woke up. She shot upright, gasping for breath, trying to take in her surroundings. She was in her own room. In the Forest of Magic. Reimu wasn’t dead. It was all a bad dream.

Just a dream.

Marisa whimpered.

She covered her face to try and stop herself from crying, but it was no use. Tears flowed down her cheeks, and dripped onto her blanket. She couldn’t breathe through her nose. The sensation of Reimu’s cold skin remained on her hand. She could still smell the blood. All the pain, frustration, and humiliation from the last few days spilled out of her. Marisa wanted to scream. She wanted to kick her wall and pound her fists into her pillow. Some kid who’d barely learnt spell card rules had annihilated her! Marisa had thrown everything into beating that amanojaku, and had no energy left to deal with the inchling. An inchling! It was pathetic. Marisa wanted to lock her front door and never venture outside again.

She wanted to see Reimu. She wanted to throw her front door open and fly over to the shrine, and make sure Reimu was still alive. But the urge faded, and Marisa knew there’d be no point. Reimu wouldn’t want to be woken up this late at night, and things would just become awkward between them, like they always did these days. Marisa wouldn’t know what to say, and Reimu would just sit there in silence, as though Marisa wasn’t there at all.

She missed talking to Reimu.

Marisa missed hanging out on the shrine porch, drinking tea and chatting about nothing. She missed watching the sun set and the lights glowing brighter in the Human Village below. She missed the way Reimu smiled, and the warm feeling it gave her. Why hadn’t she been satisfied with just that? Why did Marisa have to try and kiss her?

No, what was done was done. She couldn’t change the past, and mulling over regrets wouldn’t make them go away. Marisa wiped her face, lay back in bed, and pulled the covers over her head. She wanted to shut out the world. Pretend it was still last year and nothing had changed at all.

She rolled over, and found herself face-to-face with Seija Kijin.

“What the hell are you doing in my bed!?” Marisa leapt up, and snapped on the lamp. Seija was lying in bed next to her, fully clothed with a gross smirk on her face. “How long have you been there!?”

“Long enough to see you cry like the snivelling brat you are.” Seija made no attempt to move. “I saw you twitch in your sleep too. Enjoying a nightmare?”

“You have some freaky hobbies.” Marisa reached for her mini-Hakkero, furious. But she’d left it outside as usual, so her hand groped empty space. “I didn’t know amanojaku had side careers as burglars. How did you find my house?”

“It was pretty easy to spot. Now don’t be so tight.” Seija patted the pillow. “Lie back down and tell Aunty Seija all your woes and fears.”

“No way in hell.”

“Let it all out. You’ll feel better afterwards.”

“Get out of my bed!” Marisa grabbed Seija’s front, and tried to wrestle her out. But Seija just laughed, and gripped Marisa’s arms. She pushed, and made Marisa lie back down. “Hey!”

“Shhh.” Seija smiled. Marisa could smell tobacco in her breath. “I won’t do anything bad, don’t worry. I just want to listen.”

“I don’t wanna tell you anything!” snapped Marisa. She struggled, but Seija was stronger than her. She couldn’t move.

“I heard you say ‘Reimu’ a few times earlier. It’s got something to do with the Hakurei shrine maiden, hasn’t it?”

Marisa looked away. She must’ve spoken in her sleep. “No.”

“I think it has. Come on, tell me.” Seija squeezed her arms. “Did she dump you?”

“No she didn’t, shut up.”

“I’m an amanojaku. No one believes a word I say, so I can’t gossip about you. You can tell me whatever you want.”

“I don’t believe you.” Marisa was furious. “I’m not stupid enough to confide in an amanojaku.”

“Then let me guess. See how right I am.”

“If it makes you go away faster.”

Seija let go of an arm, and skimmed a hand over Marisa’s hair. “I think you’re in big trouble.”

“Oh?” Marisa didn’t move. “How am I in trouble?”

“You seemed pretty desperate to beat the princess earlier. All the newspaper articles about youkai extermination focus on the Hakurei shrine maiden, your business rival. You were saying her name in your sleep, and woke up crying… I know a fellow weakling when I see one.”

Marisa gritted her teeth. “If I’m so weak, how come I beat you up earlier? Your cards were a joke.”

“Do you want power?” asked Seija.

“I’ve got plenty of power already, thanks.”

“You want more though, don’t you?” Seija grinned. “That’s why you didn’t ask the princess to fix your mini-Hakkero. Because you can’t beat us without it.”

“Nah, I don’t need it.” Marisa’s voice didn’t sound as confident as she wanted. How did Seija know all this? It scared her a little. “You’re crazy to start a revolution, you know. You’re finished once Reimu finds out. The youkai sages will penalise you for it. You might even get permanently exterminated.”

Seija snorted. “Oh you’re funny. It’s better to have a go and fail than to never try in the first place. Don’t you agree? People like the youkai sages don’t scare me.”

“I guess, but…” Marisa frowned. “Gensokyo’s pretty nice the way it is now. It’s a youkai paradise. Why would you want to change it?”

“You’re a human. You wouldn’t understand.” Seija continued caressing her hair. Marisa was tempted to bat her hand away, but didn’t act on it. There was something strangely soothing about Seija’s touch. “We have the Miracle Mallet with us. The power of dreams is on our side. Nothing stands in our way.”

“You’re aiming for the top, are you?”

“The absolute highest.”

“Plenty of room to fall back down.”

“Maybe. Or we could reign supreme over Gensokyo.” Seija giggled. “Your mini-Hakkero would cover a lot of the mallet’s weaknesses, you know. If you want more power, then the mallet can give you that. It can give you anything in the world.”

Marisa thought of the negative results in her grimoires. She thought of Reimu smiling at Sanae at the party, her own uncertain future… and the power gushing out of her mini-Hakkero, like a beacon of hope. “…You can do that?”

“Yes, though you won’t stay human.” Seija gave her most sinister smile. “A small sacrifice.”

“Oh, never mind then.” Marisa had no interest in losing her humanity. “I can live without it.”

“Even without the power boost, your mini-Hakkero would still benefit our cause. How about it? You scratch our back, and we’ll scratch yours. You might even rule over Gensokyo by the end of it.”

She was tempted now. It was madness, of course. Rule number one of dealing with amanojaku was to never let them talk you into doing anything, no matter how innocent. And a crazy plan to turn Gensokyo’s society on its head was a recipe for disaster. But Marisa ran away from home to live with a ghost back when she was a kid, and it opened up all kinds of doors for her. This wasn’t too different from that, at the end of the day, was it? “Rule over Gensokyo, huh?”

“Changing Gensokyo’s society is within your interests. We’ll make things much nicer for humans than they are now. You can see to it yourself, when you’re standing beside us at the top.”

“I see.”

Seija pulled Marisa closer. Their noses touched. “How about it?”

Marisa didn’t struggle, or pull away. It was obvious she should refuse. Nothing good would come out of joining a revolution, especially once they lost. But if she said no, things would return to the way they were before. Back to sitting in her room staring at dud results. Back to watching Reimu sprint ahead of her, farther and farther away until she was totally out of sight. She would fix her mini-Hakkero, and be left with nothing. Marisa Kirisame’s career as a human magician would be over.

In the end, Marisa shook her head. “Sorry, I just can’t imagine you guys beating Reimu.”

Seija snorted.

“It’ll all be over once she notices. She’s superhuman, you know. She can teleport and everything.” Marisa took a deep breath, and pronounced each word carefully. “So, how about this instead? I’ll hang around until she shows up. I’ll make things super hard for her. Give her a real work out. Make your revolution a bit more than just a pipe dream. And if you somehow beat her and zip to the top, well, I guess I won’t mind ruling over Gensokyo too. Sound good?”

Seija looked ecstatic. A bright, almost innocent smile appeared on her face. “Yes, good.” She pulled Marisa into a tight embrace. “Very good! Now pack your bags and come with me. We can discuss things further at the castle.”

“Great.” Marisa knew she’d made the wrong decision, but when had making the right one ever helped her? She wrapped her arms around Seija’s back, and gently squeezed her new comrade. “Looking forward to it.”


And like that, Marisa joined their revolution.

hungrybookworm

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Re: In the Brilliant Light of Day [10/??] - DDC/SeiShin Novel Length Fanfic
« Reply #9 on: December 08, 2016, 07:15:09 pm »
Chapter 10
(AO3 Mirror)

Reimu finished rinsing the bath, and threw the bucket onto the bathroom floor. She got to her feet, and inspected the room one last time. It was the middle of September, and the air held no hint of autumn. The cicadas chirped through the grounds, and linen-white cumulonimbus clouds towered behind the mountains. Once winter came, the bathroom floor would be painfully cold against her bare feet, and the hot water difficult to climb out of. This year had been long and unpleasant, and Reimu wondered if it would ever end.

The bathroom looked as clean as it was going to get. Reimu retrieved her sleeves from the side table, and noticed that her purification rod had disappeared.

“Gyaaah!”

A drunken scream came from the front of the shrine. Reimu sighed, quickly tied her sleeves back on, and went to see what the problem was. She found Suika running in a circle, yelping as Reimu’s purification rod bounced after her, taking an occasional swipe at her behind. “Call it off,” she yelled, once she saw Reimu. “Call it off!”

Reimu snatched the purification rod up from the ground. It struggled, and she held it with both hands to stop it escaping. “Calm down,” she hissed at it.

“God, Reimu!” Suika rubbed her backside. She was swaying from left to right, and stank of booze. “Chill out for a minute, I was only peeking at your donation box.” She laughed. “Donation box! You know what that sounds like, right? Hic!”

Reimu wasn’t amused. “I don’t have the time to play around with you. I’m busy.”

“When did you learn to do that… that trick?”

“What trick?”

“Getting the rod to chase after me without you holding it.” Suika smirked. “Pretty scary stuff. Are you learning manipulation magic or something? Like that Alice girl?”

“Something like that.” Reimu was relieved Suika was drunk. She didn’t notice the rod was moving by itself. “Why don’t you go visit her? She can teach you how to do it too.”

“Aw, come on, I was hoping you’d join me for an afternoon drink or two.”

Suika’s ‘afternoon drinks’ consisted of her chugging down Reimu’s sake supply, one barrel at a time. “I told you I’m busy. Come back later.”

“Pffff!” Suika stuck out her tongue. “You’ve been no fun ever since you broke up with Marisa.”

Reimu glared at her. “I wasn’t dating her! And don’t loiter near the front of the shrine. You’ll scare the worshippers away.”

“Fine, fine.” Suika staggered away. “See you later, maybe…”

Reimu waited until Suika was out of sight. Then she grumbled to herself, and turned back to the main room. Any mention of Marisa always put her in a bad mood. It made her want to kick something.

Things had been awkward between them ever since Marisa tried to kiss her back in January. Then there were all the unsolved mysteries in the village, and the young man Reimu had to exterminate. She still hadn’t found the culprit behind the rotting planks and the disappearing room dividers. Marisa stopped visiting the shrine not long after that, and Reimu found she had too much food in the larder, and too much time to kill.

And as Marisa showed her face less and less, Reimu’s purification rod began acting up. It went from twitching in her hand, to actively bouncing around the shrine grounds by itself, chasing any youkai it fancied. Reimu wasn’t sure what to make of it. While it definitely freaked her out, it did have its conveniences. Less youkai meant more human worshippers, and it didn’t need feeding or looking after like a normal guard dog. It made extermination a lot easier too. She just had to chuck it in the youkai’s general direction, and it did all the work for her.

But it was only a matter of time before someone noticed it hopping around. Then Reimu wouldn’t be able to ignore the unpleasant feeling in her stomach that told her purification rods weren’t normally sentient, and she would have to go sort it out. And as much as Reimu enjoyed beating up youkai, she just wasn’t in the mood these days.

She slipped off her shoes in front of the main room, and slid open the shouji screen. Yukari Yakumo was sitting uninvited at her table, helping herself to the fruit bowl.

“Don’t just let yourself in and eat my food,” grumbled Reimu. She strolled into the room, and sat down opposite her.

“Why not?” asked Yukari, holding an apple. “Someone needs to help you eat it.”

“I can manage just fine by myself.” Reimu placed her purification rod in her lap, and kept hold of it. “What do you want?”

“I wanted to see how you were getting on.”

“Getting on?” Reimu frowned. “With what?”

“Oh, just your daily life. I want to make sure you’re carrying out your duties properly, as the Hakurei shrine maiden.”

Reimu didn’t like the way she phrased that. “Of course I am. I’ve got nothing else to do, after all.” Did Yukari know about her rod? It wasn’t impossible.

Yukari gave her a pointed look, then took a bite out of the apple. “Are you feeling lonely?”

“No.”

“Marisa Kirisame hasn’t been here for a while, has she?”

Not again. Reimu prepared herself for the usual questions. “…And?”

“And you aren’t getting too attached to things you shouldn’t get attached to?” Yukari glanced at Reimu’s lap. “If you know what I mean.”

“No, I have no idea what you mean, as usual.” So she did know about the rod. Reimu closed her eyes, and resisted the urge to chuck it at her.

“Never mind.” Yukari took another bite. “I’m sure you’ll work it out once you hear about the ruckus near the Misty Lake.”

Reimu opened her eyes. “What ruckus?”

“Nothing of importance. When did you last see Marisa Kirisame?”

“God, why do you all care about me and Marisa so much?” Reimu felt unease creep through her. There was something about Yukari’s carefree expression that bothered her. “Are you trying to sell information to the tengu or something? We weren’t dating. She wasn’t my girlfriend.”

“When did you last see her?”

“…During this summer’s incident, so about six weeks ago,” admitted Reimu. “Just incident resolving. It barely even counts.”

“Six weeks. Hm.” Yukari finished the apple. She placed the core on the table, and held it upright with the tip of her gloved finger. “Interesting. I should mention that the puppeteer in the forest hasn’t seen her for six weeks either.”

“Maybe she’s researching something.” There was a period when Marisa didn’t visit the shrine for a week, and came back with some kind of weird laser-water hybrid spell card. Reimu beat it in two attempts. “She’s a magician, it’s not exactly weird.”

“The Scarlet Devil Mansion has reported no break ins over the last six weeks, and when I asked their librarian, she said no books had gone missing. In fact, there has been only one reported sighting of Marisa Kirisame in the last six weeks. A minor youkai told me she saw a figure in black with a broomstick approach her and offer her power. When I showed the youkai a picture of her, she said the figure looked uncannily like Marisa Kirisame. Do you understand what I’m saying, Reimu?”

That was a bit strange, Reimu had to agree. “No, not really. Are you telling me she’s running a scam or something?” Her head throbbed. She wished Yukari would stop talking in riddles. “Go talk to the village police if you think it’s a problem.”

“A human going missing for a long period of time rarely means anything pleasant.” Yukari’s eyes narrowed. “Marisa Kirisame still counts as a human from the village, as you are well aware, and keeping an eye on them is part of your job.”

“Obviously.” Reimu thought of the young man she exterminated. “Marisa can look after herself. She doesn’t need my protection.” But Yukari was right. Six weeks was a long time for a human to be missing. Reimu started to feel worried. “Did you check her house?”

“Why don’t you check her house yourself? Maybe you’ll find a few clues.” Yukari stood up. “Either way, I have things to do myself. It’s almost my bedtime.” She smiled mischievously, and picked up her parasol. “I’m sure you have a lot to do too, this afternoon.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Reimu should’ve expected this. Yukari rarely did any dirty work herself. “I mean, yes, obviously.”

“I’ll leave you to it.”

Yukari was gone when Reimu looked up again. Only the apple core remained on the table. Reimu picked it up, and tossed it in the bin. The rod leapt out of her lap, and started jumping around on the tatami.

“I’m glad you know when to behave,” grunted Reimu. She got up, and started rummaging through the chest of drawers. She wanted a spare pair of clothes, at least one hundred ofuda, twenty or thirty needles, and some snacks to last the journey. Her hands touched the yin-yang orbs, clenched them, then decided against it. She could always come back and get them later if things got serious.

Last winter, Reimu pulled Marisa into a tight embrace. They were both drunk, it was cold outside, and Marisa was warm. She could still remember it, clearer than any of her more recent memories: the sharp smell of the cold night air, the texture of Marisa’s clothes, the comforting taste of alcohol. Marisa was far better than a kotatsu, or a fire in the hearth. Reimu had held her tight, and enjoyed it.

But then Marisa tried to kiss her. Reimu panicked, and pushed her away. Then they argued, and Marisa went home, leaving Reimu alone in her freezing cold shrine. Reimu had vowed to explain herself the next time she saw Marisa. She didn’t feel anything romantic towards her friend, and hadn’t meant to imply it by holding her. But whenever Marisa visited, she couldn’t find the right words. They would just sit there, unable to maintain a conversation, while Reimu struggled to say what was on her mind.

And then those weird incidents started in the village. Things going missing, and that young man turning into a youkai. Reimu’s intuition failed her, and she never found the thief. The young man’s confident smile had haunted her for weeks and weeks, until his face overlapped with Marisa’s, and Reimu woke up from nightmares sweating and shivering. By then Marisa rarely visited her shrine. Their endless conversations about nothing in particular had long dried up. Marisa never showed up at all now.

It was inevitable, Reimu told herself. Marisa had always been a pest at the shrine, eating her food and stealing customers whenever Reimu’s back was turned. It was only a matter of time until she got bored and moved somewhere else. They hadn’t really been friends anyway. They never confided in each other, or talked about their personal lives or anything.

It wasn’t appropriate for the Hakurei shrine maiden to have friends in the first place.

Reimu glanced at the purification rod. It was for the best Marisa wasn’t around; she would’ve asked about the rod moving by itself. Reimu finished packing her things, and closed the drawer. Time to check Marisa’s house, then see what was going on at the Misty Lake. The rod bounced into her hand, eager to get going, and Reimu couldn’t help but smile at it as she stepped outside.

*****
The forest air was suffocating. Reimu strolled through it, sweating from the heat. She batted overhanging branches aside with her purification rod, and tried to ignore the growing fear in her stomach. Marisa was fine, she told herself. She’d probably ask what Reimu was doing, and make fun of her or something. Or maybe it would just be awkward, as always.

Or maybe Marisa would be lying under something, crushed to death and slowly rotting, with no one around to notice.

Reimu turned the corner, and saw Marisa’s house. The curtains were closed, and there was a stack of newspapers piled up on the doorstep. It looked uninhabited. Reimu tried the front door, and found it unlocked.

“Marisa?” She stepped inside, afraid of what she might find. “It’s me, I’m coming in.” No answer. She shut the door behind her, and slipped off her shoes. The floor was covered with the usual junk, and the furniture coated with dust. Reimu threw the curtains open, and was relieved to find no corpses. The house smelt of spice and mushrooms. “Marisa, are you in here?”

Reimu trod carefully through each room, afraid of finding something unpleasant. What would she do if she did find Marisa dead? Reimu had no idea. She didn’t want to think about it.

In the end she had no reason to worry. There was no sign of Marisa anywhere. Reimu even checked the garden shed, and found nothing. She returned inside, and sat on the sofa. Reimu rarely visited Marisa’s house, so she had no idea what was and wasn’t normally inside. There was no way for her to look around, and immediately spot some vital object missing, or see something out of place that could give her a clue to Marisa’s whereabouts. Marisa always visited Reimu, so there was no need for her to return the favour.

The forest wasn’t the safest place to live. There was a very real chance Marisa slipped up and hurt herself while foraging for mushrooms, or was eaten by one of the monsters. Some were big enough to swallow a human whole. There would be no corpse. “All right,” Reimu said to the purification rod. “We’ll look around for clues next, something that might help us find Marisa.” She let go of it, and watched it bounce through the room. “Don’t knock anything over.”

The rod bounced over the junk piles, towards Marisa’s bedroom. Reimu followed after it, wondering if it knew where it was going. The rod hopped onto Marisa’s bed, and started smacking itself against the mattress. The bed was unmade, and Reimu peeled the blanket aside to see what lay underneath.

Nothing. No gruesome stains, or hidden messages. Except…  Reimu could make out one or two black hairs on the white bed sheet. Reimu picked one up, and held it between her finger and thumb. Marisa’s hair wasn’t black, and the hair was too short to be hers. So whose was it? She realised, with a jolt, that whoever it belonged to had slept in Marisa’s bed. Reimu had always suspected Marisa did things with other people at night, but it felt weird to see the evidence right in front of her. It made her feel strange. She tossed the hair back on the bed sheet, and to her surprise, saw the rod leap over to it, and start hitting it.

Whoever the hair belonged to wasn’t human.

The unease churning in Reimu’s stomach got even worse. Her intuition hadn’t been working for the last few months, but Reimu could feel it coming back. The fog covering her mind was clearing, and sharp, vivid fear rose through it. She turned to the wardrobe and threw the doors open. Half of Marisa’s dresses and boots were missing. She ran to the kitchen, and found the larder empty. When she looked at Marisa’s desk, she saw several gaping holes in the bookshelves lined up along the wall. She was looking now, and there was evidence that something was wrong everywhere.

She had to calm down. There could be several explanations. The door was unlocked, so some dark-haired youkai could’ve squatted in her house for a few nights, and eaten all her food. Aya Shameimaru had short black hair, and Reimu had seen her newspaper outside, so she was a candidate. But why would she steal Marisa’s clothes and books? And it didn’t change the fact that Marisa wasn’t here, and hadn’t been here for a while.

After one last circuit around the house, Reimu picked up the rod and left through the front door. Yukari had mentioned that Alice hadn’t seen Marisa in six weeks, so she walked towards Kourindou instead. She could barely remember the route to Rinnosuke’s shop through the forest, and arrived there hot and exhausted twenty-five minutes later.

Kourindou was devoid of customers, as always. Rinnosuke was slumped in his chair, reading a book with an intrigued look on his face. He glanced up when Reimu entered the shop. “Oh, Reimu.” He put the book down. “I haven’t seen you here in a while.”

“I’ve been busy,” said Reimu. “Have you seen Marisa anywhere?”

“…I thought that might be why you’re here.” Rinnosuke sighed. “I saw her two weeks ago, which is apparently more recent than most.”

Reimu felt comforted by that. “Where did you see her? What was she doing?”

“She came in and asked to buy all the cloth and fabric I had, then haggled over it. She left with a pile of material taller than her. I have no idea how she got it all home. I didn’t think much of it.”

Reimu hadn’t seen any cloth or fabric in Marisa’s house. “What did she want it for?”

“She said something about a personal project.” He frowned. “She was wearing a new set of clothes, so I assumed she’d become interested in sewing again. She was wearing a cloak too, in this heat. It was strange.”

“At the end of August? She’ll be roasting hot.” Reimu thought that was strange too. “Do you know where she went after that? Any clues or hints?”

“If she isn’t in the usual places, then I have no idea. She doesn’t visit me very often, so I didn’t realise anything was amiss until the gap youkai came. Although…” He remembered something. “Before then, around six weeks ago, she did come to the shop asking about her mini-Hakkero.”

Reimu’s heart thudded. She gripped her purification rod tighter. “What about it?”

“It was acting strange. She wouldn’t go into detail, and didn’t want to leave it with me for maintenance, but she did ask if any of my items had started acting up.”

“I see…” So Marisa’s mini-Hakkero had started moving by itself too. Reimu thought it looked stronger than usual during the popularity incident.

“And after that, I did notice a few of my items going missing, or being in places I didn’t put them.” Rinnosuke looked at her. “Have you noticed anything strange yourself? Is your purification rod acting as it should?”

“Yes, everything’s fine.” Reimu lied, and tried to change the subject. “Is Marisa’s hair naturally blonde?”

The question took Rinnosuke by surprise. “…Yes, it is, believe it or not. Her father’s hair is naturally blonde too. They’re not descended from outsiders, so I don’t know what combination of genes she got to make it happen. Stranger things have happened in Gensokyo. Why do you want to know?”

“Just curious.” Reimu wanted to completely rule out the possibility the black hair belonged to Marisa. “I thought she dyed it.”

“Are you going to keep looking for Marisa?” asked Rinnosuke, and Reimu finally noticed how worried he was. “I was thinking of making a search party if she didn’t show up in the next week.”

“Yes, I am.” Reimu didn’t need to think about it. “I’m going to find her, and drag her back home, so don’t worry.”

Rinnosuke smiled, relieved. “Good. She won’t like me saying this, but she isn’t as strong as she pretends to be. I’m amazed she’s lived as long as she has without seriously hurting herself.”

“I’ll bring her back in one piece.” But Reimu didn’t feel as confident as she sounded. She’d hoped getting a few clues would reassure her that Marisa had run off to meditate in a cave, or something wacky like that. But instead they just made her feel even more afraid. “I should get going. I need to check on the Misty Lake.” And she had other things to do today. Reimu was going to be busy this evening.

“Is something happening there?” asked Rinnosuke.

“Maybe.” Reimu turned to leave. “Thanks for the information. I’ll see you later.”

“Let me know how it goes.”

Cold sweat ran down the back of her neck.

*****
The lake was in complete chaos.

Reimu had seen a black mass shimmering above it from a distance, and it looked much worse close up. It was a huge crowd of fairies, swarming like angry flies, shrieking and yelling and tossing danmaku around left, right and centre. It was normal for fairies to gather around powerful youkai, but this was a whole new level of mayhem. Reimu couldn’t see the Scarlet Devil Mansion through the swarm.

“Hey!” She grabbed one of the fairies. “What’s going on?”

The fairy giggled. Her eyes were wide open, and her pupils dilated. “It’s a festival! The weak are strong now! We can do whatever we want!”

“What?”

“Look!” The fairy pointed to the left. “Hah, gotcha!” She threw a danmaku bullet the moment Reimu turned her head. “You can’t win, shrine maiden!”

Reimu sighed, and deflected the bullet with a swipe of her purification rod. “I don’t have time for this.” She let the fairy go, and watched it dive back into the crowd. Reimu needed to get to the centre of that swarm. The Human Village was nearby, and the villagers would be terrified if they noticed it.

“Hey, hey you!” Reimu felt something kick her leg. She looked to her right, and saw Cirno the ice fairy looking up at her. “Ready for the beating of your life?”

Reimu knew how to deal with this one. “How many cards?”

“I don’t need spell cards anymore! Behold my amazing danmaku curtain hell!” Cirno didn’t bother declaring a card. She tossed clusters of tightly-packed bullets around her, and laughed as they expanded, and slid towards Reimu.

But all Reimu needed to do was float aside, wait for gaps to appear between the bullets, then step through them. The usual, really. Though this was a lot of bullets for Cirno, she had to admit. She reached into her pocket, and tossed a few ofuda out in retaliation. Cirno ducked, and one of them skimmed the top of her bow. “Your fancy tricks are above me now, shrine maiden!” she yelled. “It’s my time to shine!”

Reimu was already bored. She decided to be done with it, and threw the purification rod at her. The rod flew at Cirno like a starving dog smelling food, and struck her right between the eyes. Cirno squealed, fell backwards, and into the lake with a loud splash. Reimu swooped over the remaining bullets, and grabbed the rod before it plunged in after her.

That was fast. Reimu wasted no time turning back to the swarm, and to her surprise, saw that it had thinned considerably. She heard screams coming from the centre. The sound of something slicing through the air.

She saw Sakuya Izayoi in the centre of the swarm, moving her right hand in quick, graceful movements. Reimu saw the glint of metal. She was holding a long knife; the one Reimu saw at the party six weeks ago. The blade cut through a wall of fairies, and they disappeared immediately.

Reimu called out to her. “What are you doing here? Killing time?”

“Milady asked me to take a look at the lake,” said Sakuya, not looking up. There was another shriek, and the remaining fairies dispersed. They were running away. “I do believe I’m done.” Sakuya held the knife up, inspecting it for blemishes. “Not a spot of blood.”

Her tone of voice sounded different. Sakuya had always been a bit strange, but Reimu figured anyone would be strange if they served a bratty vampire for a living. But there was something dangerous about her smile, and the glint in her eyes made Reimu want to keep her distance.

“Do you know anything about knives, Reimu?” asked Sakuya.

“No, not really.” Reimu felt the purification rod twitch in her hand again. It wasn’t sure about Sakuya either.

“This one is quite remarkable. No matter how many times I use it, the blade never seems to dull.”

“Good for you.” Reimu remembered being told that at the party too, but she doubted it was a good idea to mention that. “Were you killing those fairies just now?”

“It was the easiest way to deal with them.” Sakuya didn’t look particularly bothered by it. “There were too many for danmaku. I took care not to spill any blood. Although…” She looked down at the lake. There was a pool of red liquid below her feet. “It seems a little slipped through.”

There was a loud splash, and a head rose out of the water. Reimu leapt aside, and reached into her pocket for more ofuda. It was a mermaid, giggling like a child playing in the water.


“Did I surprise you?” she asked, brushing her curly hair aside. Her fish tail surfaced with another splash. “I bet you didn’t even realise I was here!”

“Oh, why hello there.” Sakuya smiled politely. She hadn’t moved at all. “I didn’t realise there were living creatures in this dead lake. My apologies for dirtying your home.” She gestured to blood beneath her. “The fairies made a bit of a mess.”

“The blood drew me here,” said the mermaid. “It’s the strangest thing; I’ve always been disgusted by it, until now.” She sneered. “I bet you’ve never thought about us mermaids before. We’ll be feared all over Gensokyo once everyone hears about this!”

“Hears about what?” asked Reimu.

“That I beat you two up!”

Typical trash talking. Reimu had heard this all before, though she’d never expected to hear it from a mermaid. They were peace-loving youkai who sang songs and swam around all day. They didn’t attack humans. “What’s your name?”

“Wakasagihime,” said the mermaid. Her pupils were dilated, just like the fairies. “I already know who you are. You can both take me on at the same time, if you want. I don’t mind!”

“With pleasure.” Sakuya held out her knife.

Reimu grabbed her arm. Fairies came back to life if you cut them, but a mermaid didn’t have that luxury. Reimu had no idea if that knife was a proper youkai extermination weapon or not, but she wasn’t going to sit back and let Sakuya ignore the rules. “Sakuya, spell cards,” she hissed.

“Oh, of course.” Sakuya tucked the knife into her apron string. “Three cards should do it.”

“Two,” said Reimu.

“Two as well!” Wakasagihime held up her cards. “Here we go!”

The fight wasn’t challenging, though Reimu was surprised by how easily Wakasagihime slipped between her ofuda. The mermaid didn’t leave the lake the whole time, despite the disadvantage it gave her. Danmaku was designed for mid-air battles, so staying on the ground made dodging certain patterns harder.

Sakuya didn’t get a chance to declare a card, and had a deep scowl on her face as the fight came to a close. There was an explosion to signal the end of the match, and Wakasagihime disappeared into the lake.

“I’ve never seen a mermaid act like that before,” said Reimu, tucking the cards back into her pocket. “Do you think there’s something in the lake water? Like fairy blood, for example?”

Sakuya pretended not to hear that. “They were rabid when I arrived. You saw the look on that mermaid’s face. Whatever affected the fairies was affecting her too.”

Sakuya looked at Reimu. Reimu stared back. This was an incident, clear as day, and only one of them could solve it. This was their cue to either fight, or split up.

But Reimu didn’t feel comfortable letting Sakuya roam around Gensokyo by herself. Any other incident and Reimu would’ve fought and defeated her, and sent Sakuya back to the mansion until the incident passed. But Reimu had seen the look on Sakuya’s face when she gazed at that knife. Sakuya wouldn’t be satisfied with laying low. She would go out again, and cause havoc wherever she went.

“Let’s team up,” said Reimu. “For now.”

Sakuya hadn’t expected that. “Does this incident really need both of us involved?”

“I think it does.” Reimu glanced in the direction of the Human Village. “Just a hunch.”

“Hm.” Sakuya looked annoyed, but gave in anyway. “All right, just for the time being. We should check the village next. I saw some of the fairies go in that direction.”

“I’m on it.” And Reimu flew ahead, already focusing on the houses near the lake shore. She glanced back, to check Sakuya was following her. The Scarlet Devil Mansion shone bright red in the evening sunlight behind them.

Each mystery hung before Reimu like strands of spider silk. The missing floorboards. The rotting room dividers. The riot at the lake. Reimu could fiddle with them as much she pleased, but if she wanted answers, she had to find a way to tie the strands together. Then maybe the whole, beautiful web of an incident would reveal itself.

And Marisa would be fast asleep in its centre, wrapped in a long piece of translucent silk, with a peaceful smile on her face.

Mеа

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  • Nickname: Next
there's comments over on the ao3 side but I seem to be the first one to comment on this thread?
started to read this in class today just on a whim looking through psl, stopped right before chapter 7 (the first nsfw chapter). mmm I'm enjoying this so far, got hooked instantly with the writing and the cool initial inchling setting. romance between touhou characters is something I have a hard time getting over when reading fan fiction but the straightforward way you've been presenting it (with seija and sukuna at least) drops it beneath my conscious notice, so good job. hopefully I decide to catch up with what you've posted up here since I'm finding myself rather invested in both sukuna and seija, slightly more towards the latter. Am curious about how you'll go about dealing with the contradictory nature of their relationship.
Naked expression; purple raspberry flavour

hungrybookworm

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there's comments over on the ao3 side but I seem to be the first one to comment on this thread?
started to read this in class today just on a whim looking through psl, stopped right before chapter 7 (the first nsfw chapter). mmm I'm enjoying this so far, got hooked instantly with the writing and the cool initial inchling setting. romance between touhou characters is something I have a hard time getting over when reading fan fiction but the straightforward way you've been presenting it (with seija and sukuna at least) drops it beneath my conscious notice, so good job. hopefully I decide to catch up with what you've posted up here since I'm finding myself rather invested in both sukuna and seija, slightly more towards the latter. Am curious about how you'll go about dealing with the contradictory nature of their relationship.
Thank you, I hope you enjoy the rest of the story too! Though you might not want to read it in class lol (I don't think anyone's reading it on here, hence the lack of comments. Or maybe it's because I don't really post on the forum much... but I ought to post the rest of the fic here anyway, for the few people who are following it. And for archive purposes!)

Evil_Nazgul0616

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I don't think anyone's reading it on here, hence the lack of comments.
I've been reading it since the first chapter was posted. Sorry for not commenting at all...  :(

hungrybookworm

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I've been reading it since the first chapter was posted. Sorry for not commenting at all...  :(
Oh, don't worry about that! It's pretty normal for me to get no comments lol I don't leave comments on other people's work, after all. But I'm always happy to hear what people think of the fic, so don't be shy if you ever get the urge!
« Last Edit: January 13, 2017, 10:33:12 pm by hungrybookworm »

Your Everyday NEET

  • Part time Researcher & Let's Player, full time NEET, also an eel
  • Nickname: YEN
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Read it completely until the final chapter. I do like how you have (mostly) consistent schedule for posting a new chapter. Shame that you went on temporary hiatus after a particularly massive cliffhanger. 

hungrybookworm

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Read it completely until the final chapter. I do like how you have (mostly) consistent schedule for posting a new chapter. Shame that you went on temporary hiatus after a particularly massive cliffhanger.
Thanks. Yeah, I tried my best to keep the fic as hiatus-free as possible, despite my health tanking, but oh well. I was determined to have the whole thing up and finished on AO3 before the end of 2016, which I managed to do, so I'm glad about that at least.

Rin Satsuki

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  • Nickname: Tashi
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Enjoying this fic so far! Really good!

Looking forward to see more!

the old guy

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  • Gender: Male, boring i know.
The rest of the fic is on Archive of our own btw.

My thoughts: Awesome fic, probably one of the best i've read for touhou honestly. The ending killed me thou.
My old avatars: Old ass turtle, Unzan - Second and Current Avatar by the talented Aoshi-shi

hungrybookworm

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I... totally forgot about uploading the chapters here orz. Posting continues as of right now. Those of you who want to read more asap can read the whole thing on AO3 if you feel like it (though the nsfw chapters aren't marked there, so not in public!)

And talking of nsfw...!

Chapter 11



This chapter is nsfw-ish, so no reading in front of your grandma!

hungrybookworm

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(Are the subject/title input boxes broken? I can't change the chapter numbers. Ah well I'll do it later.)

Chapter 12
(AO3 Mirror)

Reimu sank to the ground. The wound was just below her wrist, and her bare skin glistened with blood and drool. A thin red line ran down her forearm, and dripped onto the ground.

The werewolf was borderline hysterical. “Oh my god, I’ve bitten the Hakurei shrine maiden! I’ve bitten the Hakurei shrine maiden! I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry!”

“Stay calm.” Sakuya reached into her pocket. “Don’t panic.”

Reimu blinked, and found herself indoors. The three of them were now in a familiar room, with chairs lined up against the wall, and posters on keeping healthy hanging from the ceiling. The werewolf shrieked with surprise, and someone cried out from the corridor.

“Don’t scare me like that!” Reisen Udongein Inaba walked over, a hand on her chest. “What are you doing in here? How did you get in?”

They were in Eientei. Sakuya had paused time and transported them. This was the surgery waiting room, thankfully empty. Reimu looked up at the clock on the wall, and saw the hands point to quarter-past-midnight.

Reimu wasn’t scared. She felt detached from her surroundings, as though she was watching herself act out a peculiar dream. Her mouth was dry. A sharp, steady pain ached in time with her heartbeat.

“I bit the Hakurei shrine maiden!” The werewolf sobbed. “She’s going to turn into a werewolf!”

“Reimu’s been bitten. We need immediate medical assistance.” Sakuya took control. “Find that doctor right now.”

“What’s all that noise, Udonge?” Eirin Yagokoro entered the room, frowning. “Is it an emergency?”

Sakuya placed a hand on Reimu’s shoulder. It felt cold against her bare skin, and Reimu twitched, confused, hoping to shake it off. But everything around her was moving so much faster all of a sudden. The other people in the room sped around it like spooked insects, and spoke in a high-pitched whine. Eientei itself was spinning, its contents a blur of colour. Reimu closed her eyes, and fought the urge to be sick. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears. Pain oozed up her arm, driving away her lethargy. She’d been bitten by a werewolf. Bitten on a full moon night. Reimu wasn’t going to get away with just a scar.

She was going to turn into a werewolf too. She was going to lose her humanity.

The terror washed over her, like ice cold water on a winter night. It snatched her breath away. Reimu began to panic. She tried to grope for her purification rod, only to realise it was still in her left hand. Both of her arms were going numb.

She was going to lose her humanity.

Reimu sought comfort. She stared at her purification rod, and tried to reach out to it emotionally. And to her surprise, it responded. A soft, friendly warmth seeped into her. Everything will be all right. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’ll work out, just like always. I know, because I’ve been there. I’ve been by your side all this time, so you have nothing to fear.

Sakuya’s hand left her shoulder, and everything ground to a halt. Eirin was holding a small bottle of cloudy liquid in front of her face. “Reimu, can you hear me? I’m going to make you drink this, okay? Stay still.”

Reimu felt Sakuya grip her head with both hands, to hold it in place, and Eirin gently pushed the bottle against her lips. “You need to drink it all, or the antidote won’t work. Ready? One, two, three.”

She tipped the bottle back, and the liquid entered Reimu’s mouth. It was thick, and tasted vile. Reimu’s first reaction was to retch. “Stay calm, you can keep it down. Keep swallowing.” Eirin finally pulled the bottle away, only to cover Reimu’s mouth with a lukewarm hand. “A bit more. A bit more.”

Tears ran down Reimu’s cheeks. She tried to squeeze her purification rod as tight as she could. Everything will be okay. Everything will be okay. And the rod responded. It will be okay. It will be okay.

Then finally, the last of the liquid passed down her throat, and Eirin stepped away. Reimu gasped, and tried to squirm free of Sakuya’s grip. “Let me go! Urgh…!” Nausea overwhelmed her.

“Udonge, water. Now.” Eirin gripped Reimu’s shoulders. “You need to keep it down, Reimu.”

“Here.” And Reisen had a cup. “Drink this.”

Reimu tried to take it from her. But her right hand had gone completely numb, and she knocked the cup out of Reisen’s hands. It fell to the floor, and cracked, spilling water everywhere. Reimu tried to apologise, but nothing resembling words came out of her mouth. She thought she could see black fur on her right arm. The antidote or whatever they’d given her hadn’t worked. Any minute the transformation would reach her heart, and become irreversible. Then what? She couldn’t be the Hakurei shrine maiden anymore. Would they get rid of her? Cut her down? Or maybe she’d live in the village and be feared by all, like the rokurokubi. She’d have to watch her human friends age, and die long before her. Generation, after generation, after generation.

Marisa.

Where was Marisa? Reimu became convinced she was in the room somewhere. Of course Marisa was there. Marisa was never far behind her in an incident. She probably saw the whole thing, and chased after them to Eientei. She tried to say her name. Marisa! Marisa! But only a long moan escaped her mouth.

Marisa would die before her. Reimu would have to watch her hair turn grey, and the wrinkles spread across her face. She could see it right now. Marisa was in the room with her, already aging. She was staring at Reimu through half-blind eyes, her thin lips shut, her trembling hands trying to open and reach out to her. If Reimu reached out, she was convinced she’d be able to touch Marisa, and feel her delicate, sagging skin under her fingertips.

She’d failed Marisa. She got caught up chasing the rebels and keeping an eye on Sakuya. What an idiot she was! Every second she wasted took Marisa further away from her. Reimu threw herself forwards. She had to grab Marisa now, before it was too late. Before Reimu was forced to live the rest of her life without her.

And then, everything went dark. Reimu felt herself fall. Her consciousness clouded over, and she sank deeper, and deeper.

Only the purification’s rod warmth remained, reassuring her. It will be okay. It will be okay. It will be okay.

*****
They carried the tranquilised Reimu into the sick room, and tucked her into the futon closest to the door. The werewolf was still sobbing, and the lunarians’ faces were solemn as they lay Reimu on her side, in case she threw up as she slept. The scene felt more like a funeral than a celebration of Reimu’s safety.

“Will she be all right?” asked Sakuya. She felt foolish for not slowing down Reimu’s time earlier, and was concerned she’d missed precious seconds. It had taken about half an hour for Eirin to create an antidote, and Sakuya had seen Reimu’s complexion change in slow motion.

“She should be.” But Eirin was solemn. “We need to keep an eye on her over the next twenty-four hours. I’ll take a blood sample later to make sure the medicine’s taking effect. Reisen, I need you to stay with her and monitor her condition.”

“Understood.”

“Now then.” Eirin turned to the werewolf, and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”


“It was an accident…” The werewolf wiped her eyes. She’d calmed down. “I’m sorry…”

“What’s your name?”

“Kagerou Imaizumi. Is she going to be okay?”

“I made an antidote.” Eirin smiled slightly. “Werewolf transformations can be reversed if caught early enough, as you’re probably aware. We’ll see how she is once she wakes up.”

“I’m not normally so violent, I swear. I don’t know what came over me.” Kagerou moaned, and covered her face with both hands. “I woke up this morning feeling really bitter and resentful, so I left the village to visit the bamboo forest, to get some fresh air, even though I look all hairy and horrible, and then-”

“Tell the truth,” grumbled Sakuya. She reached into her garter belt, meaning to pull out a silver knife. But instead, her hand touched her favourite, and the urge to slice everything returned. No, not now. Not just yet. “We can tell you’re lying.”

“I’m not- oh fine! Yes I am lying. It was that mallet!” Kagerou blurted it out. “I’ve been feeling weird ever since it hit me! That’s why I went mad tonight!”

“A mallet?” Eirin frowned. “What do you mean?”

“The Miracle Mallet. I don’t go out on full moon nights, but my whole body felt itchy. I needed to move. I needed to make something happen! I was fed up with normality and needed change!”

“That again.” Reimu had told Sakuya about the rokurokubi and her motives on the way to the bamboo forest. “I need to find whoever’s using that mallet and get rid of them.” She pulled the knife out and held it out in front of her. It felt good to hold it again. She couldn’t hang around for too long. Milady was probably starting to miss her, and now was the perfect opportunity to shake off Reimu. “I have little time to waste. Unless there’s anything else that needs my assistance, I’ll take my leave. Thank you for your work, doctor.”

Kagerou grabbed Sakuya’s arm. “No, don’t leave me with them, please! I don’t want to be exterminated!”

“It’s your fault for biting her in the first place.” Sakuya felt no sympathy. She resisted the urge to swipe at her with the knife. “Let me go.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?” Eirin asked. “Reimu should wake up in a few hours.”

Good, that gave Sakuya several hours to get away from her. “I need to find the source of these riots. You wouldn’t happen to know anything, would you?” She felt her knife tremble. How nice it would be to stick her knife into Dr Yagokoro... But no, that would cause trouble.

“Unfortunately I don’t, no.” Eirin sighed. Maybe she could tell things weren’t quite right with Sakuya, because she didn’t push the subject. “Do you need to be escorted, or can you make your way out of the bamboo forest alone?”

“I can do fine by myself.” Sakuya prised her arm away from Kagerou, and walked out of the room. “Goodbye. Thank you for treating Reimu.”

“I’m not going to exterminate you, don’t worry,” whispered Eirin, once Sakuya was gone. Kagerou’s tail was still drooped between her legs, and she was trembling. “We’re going to go into my office, drink some tea and have a chat. I want to hear all about this strange mallet.”

“I’ve never lost control like that before, honestly,” said Kagerou. “Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you I always stay calm, even on full moon nights. I don’t even-”

“I can tell you’re shaken. Come on.” Eirin lead her into the corridor. “Our rabbits make some delicious mochi. You have to try it.”

Reisen untied Reimu’s sleeve, and wiped the blood from her wound.

*****
Sakuya floated through the night air, the knife still clutched in her hand as Eientei faded away behind her. She couldn’t stop smiling. Finally, finally, she’d shaken off Reimu! She could get back to business, solve the incident, and return to the mansion before the sun rose. What a relief.

There was a clearing directly below her. A few seconds ago it’d been a thick bamboo grove, but now the plants had been sliced into thick, two-centimetre strips, and piled up around the edge. Sakuya wiped the flat of her knife with a handkerchief. She’d become so caught up in the riots and duals and urges to cut that she’d forgotten about her time-stopping abilities. Her, forgetting her own ability! What an embarrassment. She glanced down at the grove. From now on, she’d indulge the knife during paused time. No more wastage.

She could see tiny flashes of light up ahead, barely visible behind the mountain range. It hadn’t rained in several days, so Sakuya assumed it was a thunderstorm, caused by the humidity. She kept an eye on it. The castle was probably somewhere nearby, she just had to find it.

Once she solved the incident, she could return home and begin preparing a celebratory meal. What would Milady be in the mood for? Maybe something themed after the night’s events? Sakuya imagined the knife sinking through a large, fat steak. Yes, something thick and meaty. The knife excelled at cutting flesh. She thought of the blood oozing out of the steak, and running along the edge of the knife. Delicious. Absolutely delicious.

She wanted to cut something again. Her thoughts agitated her knife, and it was keen to slice. Sakuya considered going back into the forest, but instinct told her there were better things to cut up ahead. Something more succulent than bamboo.

She heard a deep rumble. The first thing she thought of was a drum at a Shinto festival. The drum skin would be thin and tight, and perfect for piercing with the tip of her knife. But then the sound came again, and Sakuya realised it was thunder. The flashes were lightning after all, but there was no rain. The cloud was tinged orange and purple, and a sharp, burning smell floated around it. Sakuya felt relieved. It was a magic storm. If she got struck by lightning, it would feel no different to being hit by a danmaku bullet. She had nothing to fear. Sakuya pressed on, feeling her hair stand on end as she approached the storm clouds.

Colourful vapour twisted around her, and blocked her vision. Sakuya couldn’t see further than a metre ahead, but that didn’t bother her. Nothing truly scared Sakuya. If things ever got frightening, she could stop time, and walk away, as simple as that.

An old phrase drifted into her mind. Something Remilia said back when they caused their own incident. “I want the mist so thick it blocks out the sun! Thick enough you could cut out a chunk of it, Sakuya, and serve it up like a giant block of tofu!” How long ago was that? It was hard to remember. Sakuya lifted her knife, and swished it through the cloud. The blade passed through it harmlessly.

“Hey, watch what you’re doing with that thing!” yelled a voice up ahead. There was a flash of light, and Sakuya glimpsed a figure. Another flash revealed several wide magical circles below them, spinning on top of each other like plates in a magic act.

“You might cut someone if you’re not careful!” It was a young woman, with dark hair and a purple hair band, wearing a strange blue and white outfit. A rifle was slung over her back, and a small brown bag attached to the strap. Long, gleaming red strings floated above her thighs, and her hands rested over them, as though awaiting instructions to start playing. A golden, diamond-shaped badge flickered in her lap.

“The cloud was quite thick, so I wanted to see if I could cut through it.” Sakuya glanced at the knife’s edge, and smiled. “This knife never dulls.”

“Oh, are you one of us?” The woman looked delighted. She flew closer. “Have you come to join our new paradise?”

Sakuya’s smile widened. “New paradise?”


“Yes, a paradise for tsukumogami! It’s all change in Gensokyo right now. Did you just come to life? A lot of new tsukumogami are born around here, so it’s my job to greet them.”

She’d walked straight into the lion’s den. Sakuya resisted the urge to clap her hands with delight. “You’re a tsukumogami, are you?”

“Of course! Aren’t you?”

“No.”

“Oh.” The woman looked disappointed. “That’s odd, I mean… I get the tsukumogami aura from you, if you know what I mean. You feel like one. Are you a tsukumogami user instead? You seem pretty close to that knife.”

“A tsukumogami user? Hmm…” Sakuya peered at the blade again. Her knife did have a will of its own, there was no denying that. “I suppose this knife does act like a tsukumogami.”

“You’ve gotta join us! We’re gonna make a paradise where tools can rule the world. Oh right, my name’s Yatsuhashi Tsukumo, pleased to meet you!” She bowed quickly, then held out a hand. “I’m a commander in the Shining Needle Tsukumogami Brigade. We’re still recruiting new members, so if you want a slice of the pie, you’d better come with me! We’ll fit you out with a uniform just like mine.”

Sakuya grabbed Yatsuhashi’s wrist, and yanked her closer. “A tsukumogami brigade? Why would you need something like that?”

“We serve the princess of the Shining Needle Castle. We’re her personal army.” Yatsuhashi’s smile twitched. “Um, can you let go? It hurts.”

Sakuya tightened her grip. “I’m sorry, but I’m in a bit of a hurry.” She lifted the knife. “Perhaps you can tell me all about it right now?”

The colour disappeared from Yatsuhashi’s face. “Um, yes, sure. I guess. My sister’s got all the recruitment documents on her though, so you’ll need to talk to her.” She glanced around, and tried to pull her arm free. “Um, she should be around here somewhere. I can go find her if you let me go!”

Sakuya placed the cold, flat edge of the knife against Yatsuhashi’s cheek. Yatsuhashi squeaked, and fell still. “There we go.” Sakuya resisted the urge to laugh. “This knife is very, very sharp, you know. I’d quite like to try it out on a tsukumogami. Cut a few strings. Slice through the wooden body. Or are you made of flesh?”

Yatsuhashi groped for her rifle with her free hand. But the sling was designed to be removed from her back before the rifle could be pulled out, so all she could do was pull on the cloth. “D-Don’t…”

Sakuya really wanted to cut her now. She could feel the drool welling up in her mouth, as though someone had placed an aromatic dish in front of her. It was hard to hold back. Maybe just slicing Yatsuhashi’s uniform a bit would be enough? Yes, that would satisfy her knife. Sakuya moved the knife to Yatsuhashi’s front, and pressed the tip against the cloth.

“Help me, help me!” Yatsuhashi struggled. “Nee-san, help me!”

“Yatsuhashi!”

There was a gunshot, and Sakuya felt something hot skim past her cheek. Someone was shooting at her. Sakuya turned. There was a blue blur, and the sound of something hard and heavy swinging through the air. Pain crashed through Sakuya’s head. She let go of Yatsuhashi, and lost her balance. Her hand clung to her knife, afraid she might drop it and lose it forever. That would be the worst thing. Far worse than death.

“Nee-san!”

“Yatsuhashi, are you okay!?”

She had to stop time. But Sakuya lost consciousness before she remembered how to do it. And when she next opened her eyes, she was lying on her back somewhere dark. A sharp headache pounded through her head, and for a moment Sakuya thought her skull had split open. But the feeling passed, and she groaned, and rolled over.

“She’s a human. You could’ve killed her, Nee-san! They’ve got rules against that here!”

“It was in self-defence. She was going to hurt you, Yatsuhashi, and I wasn’t going to just stand there and let her.”

There was something heavy covering Sakuya’s body. A blanket, most likely. The smell of mould was overwhelming, and she noticed shadows flickering over the dark, uneven ceiling. She closed her eyes again, and when Sakuya woke up a second time, the dull pain in her head had mostly faded. She turned, and realised for the first time she was in a cave. There was light pouring in from an entrance to her left, and she could hear laughter and chatter, as though they were hosting a party in another room.

“Oh, you’re awake!”

Sakuya recognised the voice, but couldn’t see who it belonged to. She heard the clack of wooden clogs, and saw a silhouette approach the light. “Guys, guys she’s awake!” Murmurs, noise, and then the sound of footsteps as people began pouring into the room. Sakuya noticed something in her right hand, and was relieved to find the knife still there. She wasn’t sure if she had the stamina to stop time right now, so a weapon made her feel safer.

Someone brought a lamp into the room, and the cave filled with light. Sakuya saw that she was lying in a futon. Around forty tsukumogami surrounded her, all wearing the same uniform as Yatsuhashi, and all staring at her.

“Is that really her?”

“Isn’t she the maid at that big red mansion?”

“She’s one of us, isn’t she?”

A woman with long, flowing hair stepped forward, with Yatsuhashi following behind her. Part of what looked like a biwa was chained to the woman’s wrist, floating close to her ankles. There was a rifle in her hands, and Sakuya noticed a small blood stain on the gun’s hilt. The source of her headache, perhaps.

“I’m sorry I had to hit you,” said the woman. She wasn’t pointing the rifle at Sakuya, just holding it against her chest. The message was clear: I’m not threatening you, but I’m ready if you try anything. “My name is Benben Tsukumo. I’m Yatsuhashi’s older sister. How are you feeling?”

Sakuya took great pride in her appearance, and it bothered her that so many people were staring at her when she looked unladylike. She sat up with great effort, and reached up to check her hair. She found a bandage wrapped around her head. “I’m surprised, to say the least,” she said. “How long was I asleep?”

“Um.” Benben looked at Yatsuhashi, and started counting on her fingers. The crowd muttered, and someone shouted: “Four hours!”

Sakuya winced. Four hours wasn’t terrible, but if things had gone to plan she would’ve solved the incident and flown home by now. Sharp pain shot through her head, and she pressed her fingertips against her forehead.

“Are you hungry?” Benben nodded to the crowd, and someone walked over with a bowl of rice. “You’re still human, aren’t you? So you probably need some food. Here. A peace offering.”

The bowl was placed in Sakuya’s lap, and she stared at it. It was hard to imagine how they would benefit from poisoning her food straight after nursing her back to health. “I’ll eat it later,” she said, moving the bowl to one side. She still felt terrible, and doubted putting food in her stomach would end well. “But thank you anyway.”

“We should press on, now that you’re awake.” Benben looked at Yatsuhashi again. She nodded, and Benben continued. “You’re the maid at the Scarlet Devil Mansion, aren’t you?”

Sakuya nodded. “That’s correct.”

“I thought so!” A voice spoke up from the back of the crowd. It was the familiar voice from earlier, and the sound of clogs slapping against the cave floor as she pushed her way forward confirmed it. Sakuya saw a purple umbrella emerge through the crowd, and came face-to-face with Kogasa Tatara. She was dressed in the same uniform as everyone else, and grinning from ear-to-ear. “Remember me?” she asked.

“Vaguely.” Sakuya recalled her from Reimu’s parties, and the Myouren Temple graveyard. “What are you doing here?”

“Joining the cause!” Kogasa giggled, and twirled her umbrella around. The other tsukumogami moved back, to avoid the big floppy tongue. “Were you surprised? I bet you were!”

“Kogasa filled us in,” explained Benben. “Most of us were only born a few weeks ago, so there’s still a lot we don’t know about Gensokyo. She’s an irreplaceable member of the team.”

Kogasa tried to look modest. “I’m not that great. This is just basic stuff.”

The knife warmed up in the palm of her hand. The sensation felt comforting, and made Sakuya want to smile too. How odd. She’d felt nothing but bloodlust from the knife up until now. Maybe it was happy.

“Why did you attack Yatsuhashi?” asked Benben suddenly.

“Nee-san, don’t. You might provoke her.”

“I need to know.”

Sakuya lifted the knife out of the futon. Yes, it was radiating heat. The blade had an orange tint. She saw Yatsuhashi flinch at the sight of it. “I had the urge,” Sakuya explained. “This knife enjoys cutting, and I wanted to indulge it. Rest assured I had no intention of actually hurting your sister. I was planning to run the blade over her uniform.”

The crowd whispered nervously.

“But that’s something we can all relate to here,” said Benben, unfazed. “There is nothing a tsukumogami enjoys more than fulfilling its purpose. A few of us were originally knives as well. You are among friends.”

“Friends?” Sakuya wasn’t sure about that. She gazed down at the blanket. It had a faded criss-cross pattern, and a few rips and tears. It was already spoilt. Sakuya wondered if there’d be any harm in tracing the pattern with her knife.

“Benben, don’t!” Yatsuhashi yanked her sister’s sleeve. “I don’t think we should recruit her after all. She’s dangerous!”

“We’ve had this discussion already,” said Benben firmly. “And we all agreed we would accept her if she wanted to join.”

“She didn’t want to slice my clothes; she was going to slice me up! She was going to kill me!”
 
Sakuya ignored them, and began sliding the knife over the blanket. She could feel the material give way beneath the blade, like she was slowly unzipping a dress. It felt calming. It gave her complete piece of mind, faster than meditation. Sakuya hadn’t felt so relaxed since she’d started working for Remilia. How long ago was that? She couldn’t remember the exact number of years.

“That was an accident. We sometimes play our instruments without realising, don’t we? It’s similar to that. Look.” Benben pointed at her. “She just wants to cut some cloth.”

“Maybe we should ask Her Royal Highness,” suggested Kogasa. “I mean, if we can’t decide ourselves.”

The crowd liked that. They began to murmur again.

“Yes, Her Royal Highness would know what to do.”

“She’d know best!”

Benben grimaced. “We shouldn’t trouble Her Royal Highness too much. She’s very busy right now.”

“I think we should ask her,” said Yatsuhashi, relieved. “It’d only take a moment, and we’ll be seeing her tomorrow anyway, for the lesson.”

“But-”

“We shouldn’t do anything without Her Royal Highness’ word anyway.” Yatsuhashi crossed her arms, and nodded. “We need the blessing of the Miracle Mallet.”

The crowd yelled in agreement. Sakuya was sure there were words she was meant to be paying attention to in the conversation, but her focus was on the blanket. Her knife made beautiful patterns in the fabric, slicing it into identical strips. It was going to look splendid once she was done, like a large, elegant tassel.

“I suppose you’re right.” Benben sighed. “Her Royal Highness won’t object if there’s nothing wrong with her joining, so there’s no harm in asking.”

Yatsuhashi turned to the crowd. “Right, you all heard that. We’re going to-”

“Stop!”

Benben froze. Yatsuhashi spun around. Sakuya frowned, and looked up. A tall woman in an off-white suit pushed her way into view. She was visibly limping, and her suit was specked with dirt and mud. Her clothes hadn’t been washed in a long time. “Stop, everyone stay where you are!” She looked frantic. “No one move.”

“Raiko…” Benben looked at her, amazed.

“About time you showed up!” Yatsuhashi glared at her. “Where’ve you been!?”

The woman named Raiko jabbed a finger at the cave entrance. “Get everyone in here. Even the soldiers on duty. I’ve got something really important to tell you.”

“I thought you’d gone for good!” Benben reached out, and grabbed her arm. “Why didn’t you send me a message? I was so worried!”

“I’m sorry, Benben, but this is urgent. I’ll explain where I’ve been afterwards. It’s about the Miracle Mallet.”

A ripple of terror ran through the crowd. The Miracle Mallet! The tsukumogami looked at each other. Kogasa bit her lip, and held her umbrella close.

“We can’t round up the soldiers on duty!” cried Yatsuhashi. “They’re guarding the castle! What if an intruder gets in?”

“Be quiet, everyone!” Benben took command. “It won’t hurt if they’re away from their posts for a few minutes. We’ve yet to be attacked anyway. Yatsuhashi, go round them up. Kogasa, get Raiko a chair. Everyone else, stay put and await further instructions.”

Within a few minutes, the room was packed full of tsukumogami. A few of the new faces looked tired, and Yatsuhashi paced around the outskirts of the crowd, impatient. Benben had put her rifle back in its sling, and was fussing over Raiko, giving her a cup of water to drink, and trying to brush the dirt off her suit.

Raiko stood up as soon as the last group of tsukumogami arrived. “I won’t waste your time mincing words,” she announced. “The Miracle Mallet’s power is finite!” She looked around the crowd, and tried to make eye contact with every member of the brigade in turn. “It’s only a matter of time before it runs out, and we return to how we were before.”

The crowd reacted with shocked silence.

“That’s… a really big thing to say,” said Benben cautiously. “What do you mean, it’ll run out?”

“I knew there was something not right about that mallet! Nothing comes for free in this world, especially not miracles!” Raiko looked back at Benben, and held her gaze. “I knew you guys turning into an army was a bad idea. Listen to me, I’ve been travelling. I looked for information about the Miracle Mallet, and how we all came into being, and here’s what I found out: the mallet’s power is too good to be true! So I searched for an alternative, and I found one. If you all follow my instructions now, it won’t be too late. We can stay as we are without the mallet’s power, and live life without following anyone’s orders!”

“…And what happens if we don’t follow your instructions?” asked Yatsuhashi.

“We’ll return to mere objects.” Raiko was solemn. “You’ll go back to being a koto instrument, Yatsuhashi, with little will of your own.”

“How do you know the mallet’s power is finite?” yelled someone from the crowd. “How can you find something like that out when the mallet’s right here in the castle?”

Raiko paused. The crowd murmured amongst itself. They were sceptical.

“Saying the mallet’s finite. I don’t believe it.”

“It goes against the words of Her Royal Highness.”

“Isn’t this blasphemy?”

“Blasphemy? What are you talking about?” Raiko looked alarmed.

“The mallet gave us life,” explained Yatsuhashi. “We wouldn’t be here without it. You know that! What you’re saying is really serious, Raiko. It’s hard to believe.”

“Are you worshipping that mallet?” Raiko turned to Benben. “What’s happened while I’ve been gone? First you all start wearing the same clothes, now you’re all idolising a mallet! What’s wrong with you all?”

“I’m proud to wear this uniform!” yelled another tsukumogami. There was a roar of agreement, and the crowd started closing in on Raiko.

“Everyone, calm down! Stay put!” Benben held her arms out, and the crowd moved back. “Raiko, you too. Tell us where you heard this information. Give us more detail.”

“I went to the World of Oni during my travels.” But Raiko had lost her confidence. Her voice sounded weaker. “I met an inchling there who’d met the princess and Seija Kijin. He told me all kinds of things, and-”

“You’re a traitor!” The crowd wasn’t listening anymore. “Her Royal Highness told us the mallet can grant any wish we want, for as long as we want!”

“Her Royal Highness would never lie to us!”

“Why should we believe you? You don’t believe in us! You don’t believe in what we’re trying to achieve!”

“She’s not one of us anymore!”

“Woah, woah, wait a minute.” Raiko was shouting. “Slow down a bit! Let me finish what I have to say!”

“Nee-san, I’m concerned about leaving the castle unguarded,” whispered Yatsuhashi. “I think we should send the soldiers back before continuing with this.”

“No, you can’t! Everyone needs to hear this! Don’t you all want to stay the way you are? You have to do as I say before it’s too late!”

“Raiko…” Benben looked at the floor. “I know you’re desperate to explain everything, but I can’t deny that what you’re saying sounds really strange. You disappeared all of a sudden, without saying a word to anyone, and now you’ve come back, claiming all this stuff you’ve learnt from somewhere… it’s worrying.”

“Benben, no! You need to believe me, above everyone else.” It was dawning on Raiko that she was fighting a losing battle. She reached out. “Please, believe me! You have to!”

The crowd was losing interest. A few tsukumogami were wandering out of the room. “No, no, stop!” Raiko tried to run over, but Benben grasped her hand.

“Raiko,” she snapped. “Calm down. Please. We should discuss this later, when you’ve got a cool head.”

“No, we need to talk about this now! The mallet could run out of power any minute! Please!”

“I said calm down.” Benben glared at her. “You’re making this hard for everyone.”

“No, I won’t calm down. You’ve all decided to ignore me without hearing the full story. Listen to me!”

Sakuya continued cutting, unconcerned.

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Chapter 13
(AO3 Mirror)

Reimu was woken up by the pain in her arm. The pillow felt cold and clammy against the side of her face, and strands of hair were stuck to her cheeks. There was a dry, bitter taste in her mouth, and her teeth ached from dehydration. She’d had a dream, but the pain had driven it from her memory, and now there was a hollow feeling in her stomach that told her she shouldn’t have forgotten it.

The pain ebbed, and Reimu rolled over. She was lying alone in the sick room, surrounded by empty futons lit up by a single lamp. There was a glass of water next to her elbow, and Reimu picked it up carefully. She could feel the cold glass against her palm. She drank the liquid down in one gulp, and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Fabric rubbed against her lips, and she noticed a crisp white bandage near her wrist.

Her purification rod was lying on the floor, alongside her freshly washed and neatly folded shrine maiden uniform. The contents of her pockets were piled next to it.

The air was perfectly still. Reimu couldn’t hear anything outside, not even crickets, or the bamboo shaking in the wind. It was almost as if time had stopped.

Time had stopped?

Sakuya.

That knife.

The riots around Gensokyo.

Sharp teeth sinking into her arm.

The rokurokubi.

The mermaid.

Marisa.

Reimu flung the covers aside. She had to move. Sakuya was out there by herself, with her knife, and Marisa was god knows where in the thick of chaos. She didn’t have time to lie in bed. Reimu’s limbs ached as she scrambled out of the futon, and for a moment she felt faint. Her wrist hurt. In fact, it hurt enough to make her wince, and she felt relieved her left hand, her dominant hand, had been unaffected. Then the adrenaline kicked in, and the pain and exhaustion didn’t matter anymore. She reached for her uniform, and her purification rod came to life, bouncing around the room like a rubber ball.

“Shh!” She was worried someone would hear it. “Behave.” Reimu had no idea how long she’d slept for, but it was long enough. She needed to leave before Eirin or Reisen came to check on her.

A shout rang down the corridor. “Tewi, get back here!”

It was Reisen’s voice. Reimu tore at her bed clothes, and used them to scrub the sweat off her body. She grabbed her sarashi, and wrapped it around her chest as quickly as she could.

“You’re gonna be in for it once Master hears about this, Tewi!”

Reimu tugged on her skirt, threw her top over her head, and began tying her sleeves. The ribbons were as fiddly as always, and she felt the dizziness return as she tried to focus. No, not now. Not here.

“Tewi!”

She arranged her hair the best she could, and was tugging her socks on when she heard footsteps.

“Stupid earth rabbits, think they’re all that…”

Reisen was heading over to the sick room. Reimu stuffed her things back into her pockets, shoved her feet into her shoes, and sprinted over to the window. The purification rod was already bouncing up and down next to it. The window was unlocked, and big enough for Reimu to slip through.

The footsteps came to a stop outside her door.

Reimu flung the window open, and leapt.

The door rolled aside. Reisen walked in, and found the room empty. A breeze blew in through the open window.

There was no one outside. Reimu had seemingly disappeared.

*****
“The tsukumogami are taking a while,” commented Shinmyoumaru. The sun was beginning to rise, and the last few stars were fading from view. Daylight was returning to Gensokyo. “They’ll be late for their lesson if they don’t hurry up.”

Marisa nodded. She was sitting cross-legged on the stone block, adjusting her ponytail and gazing at the scenery far below. Shinmyoumaru spent every free morning she had instructing the tsukumogami on the basics of life. This week’s theme was fencing, and Marisa had spent most of yesterday morning watching the recruits wave their (unloaded) rifles around in mock sword fights. But right now it was just her and Shinmyoumaru, waiting for company.

“Do you think they got bored of it?” asked Shinmyoumaru, worried. “I’m not used to teaching.”

“Nah, they hang off your every word,” Marisa reassured her. They adored Shinmyoumaru. “Maybe Seija’s using them for something.”

Marisa liked watching the lessons. They helped wake her up after an early start, and being around Shinmyoumaru and the tsukumogami motivated her for the day ahead. Their enthusiasm was infectious. She’d even felt tempted to grab a gun and join in yesterday.

Six weeks had passed since Marisa joined the revolution, and things were getting hectic. Marisa liked it that way. She preferred to be kept busy. Some of the jobs she had to do were pretty gross, or boring, or involved arguing with Seija for an hour before starting, but Marisa wasn’t afraid of hard work. She’d go to bed exhausted, and still wake up before sunrise so she could squeeze in an extra hour or two of studying. The castle had a surprising number of books on tsukumogami-related magic, and Marisa would take notes and test theories out on her mini-Hakkero. She even had a few new spell cards themed around it.

It felt great to be making progress again. Marisa had missed the satisfaction researching magic gave her. Not a day went by when she didn’t feel glad for joining Seija and Shinmyoumaru’s crazy revolution. It even made emptying the chamber pots worth it.

Shinmyoumaru frowned at the mention of Seija. “She rarely talks to them, so I’d be surprised if she is.”

They said nothing after that, so Marisa looked back at the scenery again. The mountains were covered in lush green forest, as far as the eye could see, and heavy white mist lurked within the valleys.

Shinmyoumaru turned to face Marisa. “Actually Marisa…” She fidgeted. “Can I ask you something? About Seija.”

“Sure, what?” Marisa wasn’t sure whether Seija and Shinmyoumaru were an item or not, but it was obvious Shinmyoumaru held romantic feelings for the amanojaku. For some reason. Marisa would rather date a tree, given the choice.

“I think… I think I did something really bad to Seija last night.” Shinmyoumaru cringed. “I was really angry with her about… something, and I woke up with a headache so I must’ve been drunk. She wasn’t in her futon this morning, and there were nail clippings around her bed.”

“She’s always up and about early. I doubt it means anything.”

“But I’ve never seen her clip her nails before! She always chews them. I’m worried it’s a sign she’s angry with me.”

Marisa tried not to laugh. “You’re over thinking things.” She smiled. “Seija’s an amanojaku. They’re not very subtle when they’re angry about something. Just ask her if she’s mad at you later.” Though Marisa had no idea whether Seija would answer truthfully or not. “Did you have a fight or something?”

Shinmyoumaru blushed. “M-Maybe.”

“Okay, then just say sorry when you see her. She’ll act annoyed and stuff, but if it really bothered her, then she’ll be relieved you apologised. Or she might yell at you, but you can handle that. It’s not too hard, don’t worry.”

“Thanks, Marisa.” Shinmyoumaru grinned. “You’re always so sensible!”

Marisa was flattered. “Naturally. I’m the most sensible woman in Gensokyo. Don’t know why they didn’t make me Village Leader as soon as I turned eighteen.”

“They should’ve! You’d make a great leader.”

“Aw, you’re too kind.” Marisa reached out, and rapped a knuckle on Shinmyoumaru’s helmet.

Shinmyoumaru giggled. “I’m glad you joined, Marisa.” But her voice lowered, and she suddenly looked unsure.

Marisa decided to ignore that. “Thanks. You know what? I’m gonna head back to the kitchen, have a drink, then go see where your pupils ran off to. Maybe they’re all still asleep.” One slow morning, Marisa travelled down to the brigade’s cave, grabbed one of the rifles and shot at the ceiling to wake them up. That’s how she learnt real bullets ricocheted off things. “Back soon.”

“Okay.” Shinmyoumaru waved. “See you.”

Marisa waved back, sat on her broom, and floated down to the first floor.

The tsukumogami brigade had been her idea, so she felt responsible for them, in a way. A few days into the start of Marisa’s new life in the castle, she and Seija had noticed a magical storm brewing behind one of the mountains, and tsukumogami coming out of it. It made perfect sense to organise them into a private army, and use them to guard the castle. A few were stationed near the storm to bring in new recruits. The castle wasn’t big enough to house them all, and Shinmyoumaru was worried about them being too noisy, so they found a cave in the forest below to act as the brigade base. Marisa even recruited a few tsukumogami in Gensokyo, to help guide the newer ones. The thought of Reimu having to battle her way through a whole army – with one or two familiar faces hidden within – put a big grin on Marisa’s face.

She reached the first floor window, and stepped inside. Marisa expected Reimu to show up any day now, so she made every day count. From dawn to dusk, and beyond that, Marisa worked hard to make Reimu’s job as difficult as possible. That’s why she was there, after all: to watch Reimu sweat, and shiver, and regret ignoring Marisa all year.

She tossed her broom on the floor, and sat down at the table. The pot of tea in the centre was still warm, so Marisa helped herself. Then she pulled out her mini-Hakkero, and gazed at it.

She’d started to really enjoy holding it. Resting the mini-Hakkero in her palm felt soothing, and calmed her if she felt overwhelmed. But Marisa couldn’t hold it for too long, or she started getting all kinds of strange urges. She’d want to run around and burn things. She’d want to boil a pot of water with it and feel the steam against her cheek. She’d want to dangle a piece of paper over the flame and watch it curl into ash.

And the longer she felt those urges, the harder they became to resist. The books she’d read on tsukumogami magic had an answer of sorts: sometimes a tool would start influencing its user if it wasn’t strong enough to become a full tsukumogami. But Marisa wanted to bond with her tool, to enjoy the full benefits of owning it. Marisa was a risk taker, and letting the mini-Hakkero creep into her subconscious was yet another gamble.

She wanted its flame to be bigger and brighter. She wanted it to incinerate everything in its path. Her mini-Hakkero needed to be the ultimate weapon: a menace no one but her could stand up against. She longed to tower above Gensokyo, and watch her old enemies quake with fear.

Especially Reimu. She wanted Reimu to look at her and go pale. To acknowledge that Marisa was a threat, and one she might not win against. She wanted Reimu to cry.

Marisa let go of the mini-Hakkero. No, she wasn’t here to become the ultimate ruler of Gensokyo; she was here to get out of her rut, and scare Reimu silly. If she wanted power, she’d listen to Seija’s eternal suggestions about power ups and miracles, and throw away her humanity. She’d known from the beginning that true power meant big sacrifices, and there were some she wasn’t willing to make.

Reimu was never going to lose to their revolution. Marisa was under no illusions about that. And yet, she was having so much fun. Whenever she watched Shinmyoumaru and the tsukumogami practising together, or glimpsed the look of excitement on their new recruits’ faces, Marisa wished they could continue for a little longer. Even Seija’s grins when things went well tickled her heart a little. What if they made it? What if they went all the way and created a Gensokyo where everyone could be happy?

Marisa smiled to herself. She adjusted her hat, and took another sip of tea. There was a soft thump behind her. Someone had come in through the window. Probably Seija, or a tsukumogami explaining their absence. “Hey,” said Marisa, not bothering to turn around. “Where’ve you been?”

“That’s what I want to know,” said Reimu Hakurei. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you, Marisa.”

The table crashed to the floor. Marisa had stood up too fast, and overturned it. The tea pot cracked in two, and brown water ran along the floor beams. Marisa clenched her mini-Hakkero in her left hand. Her first instinct was to run. But her feet were frozen in place. She couldn’t move.

Marisa turned, and looked at Reimu for the first time in six weeks.

She looked terrible. Reimu’s face was pale, her hair was a mess, a thick layer of sweat clung to her forehead and her hands trembled as she held out her purification rod. Her clothes were surprisingly clean, but there was a bright white bandage wrapped around her lower right arm. She also didn’t have her yin-yang orbs with her, with Marisa interpreted as an insult. Reimu didn’t bother bringing them for routine jobs.

“Oh, it’s you.” Marisa tried to sound casual. “Long time no see. Having fun down in Gensokyo?”

“Fun?” Reimu shook. Her voice was barely higher than a whisper, and it sent a chill down Marisa’s spine. Reimu was angry. Absolutely furious. “If you call that ‘fun’, then you’re further gone than I thought. What’s going on up here?”

Call what fun? Marisa wasn’t sure what she meant, and wasn’t in the mood to ask. “This is my new pad. My place in the forest was getting a bit small, so I decided to expand.”

“I’m not in the mood for jokes.” Reimu winced, and rubbed the bandage. “God... not now.”

“How did you get in anyway?” It was rare for Reimu to get seriously hurt. Marisa wanted a closer look at her wrist. “We’ve got guards and stuff outside.”

“I didn’t see any.”

“What, none at all?” And now that she thought about it, Marisa hadn’t seen any guards when she went up to the stone block earlier. “Where’ve they gone?” She needed to go straight to the tsukumogami cave afterwards. Then remembered there wouldn’t be an afterwards. Reimu was here. It was all over. Their revolution was finished. “We’ve got a whole army of tsukumogami guarding the place.”

“What would you need a whole army for?” Reimu glared. “Tell me what you’re doing here, Marisa. Or do I need to fight you?”

They were going to fight regardless, that much was clear. Marisa felt her mini-Hakkero warm up in anticipation.


“Sure, I’ll tell you all about it.” She cleared her throat, and made a show of swishing her cloak. “I decided to take over the world. I’m gonna be the big boss of Gensokyo, and you’ll be my personal assistant. You’ll be filing paperwork and dealing with assassins while I lounge around drinking sake and yelling at everyone. Sounds good, huh? You’ll need to give me a shoulder massage once a day, so get practising.”

“Tell me the truth, Marisa. What’re you doing?”

“Oh, don’t believe me?”

“You can’t take over Gensokyo by yourself. You’re not stupid enough to try that.”

“…Stupid?” Marisa paused. The word got to her. “I guess it is a bit stupid, isn’t it?”

“Anyone who tries is doomed to fail. You know that, come on. Give up now and I won’t have to fight you.”

“Maybe we are doomed to fail.” Of course Reimu would think that. Marisa didn’t know why she’d expected otherwise. “Or maybe the previous lot didn’t try hard enough.”

Reimu looked confused. “…You are Marisa, right?”

“Of course I’m Marisa! Marisa Kirisame, an ordinary human magician and third in charge of this revolution!” She laughed. “Wanna join too? You can be fourth in line if you say yes now.”

“…I see.” Reimu didn’t react. Marisa had hoped she might sound shocked, or even a little upset. “I’ll deal with you the usual way then. Five cards.”

“Five, you’re going to regret this.”

“Dream Sign: Evil-Sealing Circle!”

“Light Blast: Shoot the Moon.”


She wasn’t going to win, but Marisa wanted to have some fun before the end. One last push against the inevitable. Spell card duels were a form of self expression, and she was going to make her annoyance and frustration loud and clear.

But danmaku indoors meant less room to dodge, and they’d both chosen cards that forced their opponents to follow a set path. Marisa moved violently, making sharp, sudden turns and ducking under Reimu’s bullets. Evil-Sealing Circle was claustrophobic, but she didn’t let that get to her. Marisa had fought it over a hundred times in the past, and captured it a good fifteen-percent of the time.

But Marisa couldn’t afford to dodge on autopilot. Reimu knew Marisa’s cards too, and avoided her bullets in the same, effortless way she always did. She slowly edged along the room, narrowly missing the lasers zapping up from the floor. Marisa wanted to throw something heavier at her. She wanted to see perfect, flawless Reimu stumble for once. “Hey Reimu, I dunno about you, but I’ve been pretty busy these last few weeks,” yelled Marisa over the noise. “I’ve been messing about with all kinds of interesting things. Wanna see?”

There, a reaction. Reimu glanced up at her, and looked uneasy. Finally, Reimu looked bothered by something! But Marisa looked at Reimu for a second too long. An ofuda smacked into her shoulder with the weight of a brick, and Marisa yelled as her spell card broke. She didn’t have time to feel angry at herself. She whipped out her next card. “Watch this! Bewitched Weapon: Dark Spark!”

“What?” Reimu moved back to the centre of the room, to avoid being cornered. Marisa’s old bullets crumbled to dust. “Bewitched?”

Marisa pointed her mini-Hakkero straight at her. Reimu recognised what was going to happen next, and threw herself to the left. Black flame engulfed everything around them. Heat swamped the room. Marisa laughed, delighted. “What’s the problem, Reimu? It’s just a regular Master Spark!” The flame faded, and Marisa got ready for another blast. “Getting rusty?”

“What have you done to your mini-Hakkero?” Reimu shouted.

“Improved it.” And she shot another flame into the room. Reimu yelped, and narrowly dodged it. Marisa laughed again. The Dark Spark’s range was wider than her usual blasts, so Reimu couldn’t rely on muscle memory. “What’s wrong, don’t like it?”

“Shut up!” Reimu own card was close to timing out. Marisa saw her pull out a blank card. It wasn’t against the rules to make a spell card up on the spot, but using untested patterns in a serious duel was a big risk. “First Sakuya and her stupid knife, now you and your furnace. This is ridiculous!”

Sakuya and her knife? What did she mean by that? “Feeling left out? Don’t worry, you can get your own self aware tool if you join our revolution. One of the many benefits.”

“Who said I felt left out?” Reimu lifted the card up in the air. “Bewitched Weapon: Merciless Purification Rod!”

Marisa saw Reimu lift her purification rod, aim, and comically fling it. “You’re throwing a stick at me?” Marisa laughed, and dodged it. “There’s no way it can stand up against my-”

Only to see the rod home in on her.

“Shit!” She held up her hand instinctively, to protect her face, and the rod wacked against the side of her palm. Marisa yelled, and heard her spell card crack. “Wait, no! No way does that count!” But it did, and Marisa needed to declare a new card before the rod came back. “Crap!”

It didn’t matter what Marisa used for the next three cards. Reimu’s purification rod kept batting the bullets aside, and flying straight towards her. It wasn’t very fast by itself, but Reimu kept diving in to grab it, then chucking it across the room. Marisa wanted to burn it. She wanted to reduce it to ash, and grind it into the tatami with her foot. By the time Marisa’s last card broke, she was kneeling on the floor covering her head. Her hat was on the other side of the room, battered. It wasn’t fair. Marisa had spent weeks reading up on tsukumogami magic, weeks casting spells on her mini-Hakkero to make it stronger, and just like always, Reimu had strolled in and swept all her effort aside without even trying.

What was the point? Marisa wanted to cry. She couldn’t beat Reimu, even now. Their revolution was going to be put down. All her hard work and effort – no, all their hard work and effort was totally worthless. They’d done nothing but waste time these last six weeks.

This is how it felt to be weak. The strong were always one step ahead, always looming over with a patronising sneer on their faces, always kicking you down without a speck of fear. This was how it was, and how it would always be.

“Are you done?” asked Reimu, standing over her. “Shown me everything?”

I hate you. Marisa rubbed her face with her sleeve, afraid she was crying. No, not in front of Reimu. Not now. I hate you so much. She took a long breath, and looked up again.

“…Are you crying?” Reimu tilted her head. “Come on, it was just danmaku. Don’t get upset just because you lost. What did you do to your mini-Hakkero? It wasn’t that strong before.”

Marisa could feel the mini-Hakkero heat up. It was furious, and its anger merged with her own. She wanted to stand up and aim it at Reimu again. Blast her with it until her clothes burnt off and her skin blistered. But the urge went as quickly as it came, and Marisa was left with frustration and self-disgust.

“Same goes for you,” she snarled. “What’s going on with your purification rod?”

“That’s what I’m here to find out.” Reimu crouched down, and gazed at Marisa. She was worried. “I’m taking you home once this is over, okay? We’re going to have a long talk, and you’re going to tell me everything. Now who’s in charge here? Who talked you into doing this?”

Someone giggled to the right. Reimu spun around, purification rod raised. Marisa saw Seija step in through the window. She was wearing a pair of white silk gloves, for some reason. “Having fun, are we?” asked Seija. “What’s a human like you doing here so early in the morning? Did you come to play with Marisa?”

Reimu flinched at the mention of Marisa’s name. Seija wasn’t using an honorific. “I’m here to beat up whoever’s behind those riots in Gensokyo! Do you have any idea how much chaos you’ve caused?”

“Oh, are we causing chaos? Excellent.” Seija looked down at Marisa. “Get up already, you’re a disgrace.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Marisa dragged herself upright, and touched her hair. She needed to retie her ponytail. “Where’s the princess?”

“Still on the block, waiting for the tsukumogami. They’re faffing around in the cave with an old friend of theirs.”

“Are you serious?” Marisa wanted to groan. “Well, whatever. Reimu’s here now. Not like it matters anymore.”

“What princess?” Reimu glanced between them. “Marisa, who is this?”

Seija chuckled, and placed a hand on Marisa’s head. “I’m Marisa’s owner.”

“I’m not your pet,” grumbled Marisa.

Seija made a show of stroking her hair. Marisa swiped at her, but Seija just caught her arm, and laughed. “What, embarrassed?”

Reimu’s face whitened.

“Oh, someone’s angry.” Seija took full advantage of it. “Don’t like me touching her? Well sorry, she’s my property now. You’ll have to fight me if you want her back.”

“Give it a rest, Seija,” Marisa finally got to her feet. “Reimu’s pretty scary when she’s angry. Should I go warn the princess?”

“Warn her about what? I’m not gonna lose to some lame shrine maiden.” Seija licked her lips. “I’ve waited a long, long time for this.”

“Stay where you are, Marisa,” demanded Reimu. She was clearly shaken. “So I just have to beat you with the horns, then your princess, and that’s it?”

“Stay here, Marisa. That’s an order.” Seija pulled out her spell card deck, and began flicking through it. There were only five or six cards inside, so she didn’t have to look for long. “How does three sound?”

“Fine by me!”

“Nah, I think I’ll go with four instead.”

“Suit yourself. I’m going to beat you either way.”

Marisa didn’t want to sit in the corner and watch Seija get beaten to a pulp. She needed to go warn Shinmyoumaru, and maybe get the tsukumogami to surround her before Reimu got to the stone block. Their revolution wasn’t truly over until Shinmyoumaru fell, and Marisa wanted to give her the best chance of success possible.

But instead she retrieved her hat, sat down, retied her ponytail, and held her mini-Hakkero with both hands. Seija was smirking confidently, while Reimu had a look of deep concentration on her face. She glanced at Marisa, then back at Seija.

Marisa prepared herself for the end.

*****
Shinmyoumaru watched the sun rise as she waited for the tsukumogami. She saw the mountain peaks turn gold, and the mist fade between the trees. She thought of Seija last night, panting and twitching underneath her, refusing to look her in the eye. Shinmyoumaru had woken up with a slight headache, and knew she’d done something terrible.

Seija had clearly not wanted to do it. Shinmyoumaru had known she didn’t want to do it. And yet Seija had talked Shinmyoumaru into fucking her, and they’d spent well over two hours in each other’s arms. Why!? What for!? Shinmyoumaru couldn’t understand it. What would Seija get out of something like this? Was it part of her amanojaku nature?

Was she scared Shinmyoumaru would leave her if she didn’t agree to it?

The thought made her sick. Shinmyoumaru didn’t want Seija to think like that. She didn’t want that kind of relationship.

Then what was going on?

The doubt was back. Seija had lied to her. She had definitely, one-hundred percent lied to her, and Shinmyoumaru had believed her, and made a decision based on that lie. What else was Seija lying about? What other decisions had Shinmyoumaru made based on false information?

Her aunt would’ve been ashamed. Shinmyoumaru had lost all the servants in their house, abandoned it to start a revolution with a stranger, in a land she knew nothing about. She’d fallen in love with an amanojaku, and did filthy things with her at night. She’d stood in front of weeks-old tsukumogami and acted like their mentor, despite being neck deep in ignorance. Shinmyoumaru still hadn’t made any big decisions herself. She was still just sitting around, sewing clothes and making speeches while Seija and a human they adopted did all the legwork. She still hadn’t left the castle. Nothing had changed at all.

Shinmyoumaru was the leader. She was a princess. She had to be better than this.

“My sincere apologies, Your Royal Highness!”

Yatsuhashi had arrived on the stone block, out of breath. Shinmyoumaru returned to the present, and smiled, pleased to see her.

“We’ve got a small problem in the cave right now,” explained Yatsuhashi. “We’ll be done within the hour. I’m truly sorry for making you wait.” She bowed as low as she could.

Shinmyoumaru shook her head. “It’s fine, don’t apologise. Is everything okay? Should I go down and help?” The suggestion sent a ripple of excitement through her. Down to the cave! What could be inside?
 
“Oh no, there is no need to trouble yourself, Your Royal Highness. My sister is dealing with it.” Yatsuhashi didn’t raise her head, so she didn’t see Shinmyoumaru’s disappointment. “The tsukumogami on duty will return to their posts as well. My apologies for the disruption.”

Shinmyoumaru nodded. “Understood. You may leave.” But then she thought of something. “Actually, Yatsuhashi, tell me. Have you ever lived in Gensokyo?”

Yatsuhashi looked up at her. “Not in the form I am now, but when I was a koto I was played by musicians all over Gensokyo.”

“What was it like?”

“It was quite fun, I thought. I was used in several big performances, and for a lot of unusual songs.” Yatsuhashi’s face lit up. “I mean, it was dull when I was in storage and no one was using me, but otherwise it was great. Well, um, actually some of my owners didn’t look after me properly, and I got broken a few times. That hurt a lot. I’m glad I’m self aware now. I’m really grateful you gave me this power.”

Shinmyoumaru had thought it odd, that there were so many objects walking around with the mallet’s power that she definitely hadn’t struck. Seija explained something about a magical storm nearby attracting tsukumogami, but didn’t go into detail about it. Maybe she should go look at it. She thought about asking Yatsuhashi to direct her, but changed her mind. Not right now. She wanted to deliver her lesson first. “Thank you, Yatsuhashi. You may leave now.”

“Thank you.” Yatsuhashi bowed again, and flew away. Shinmyoumaru watched her go.

And made a decision.

She would leave the castle tomorrow morning, as early as possible. She would go see the magical storm, or… actually no, she’d go further than that. She’d go down into Gensokyo, and see the land she was going to liberate with her own eyes. She wouldn’t tell anyone about it – not Marisa, not the tsukumogami, and especially not Seija – and try to return before anyone noticed she was missing.

She needed her own view on things. She wanted the absolute, guaranteed truth.

Shinmyoumaru placed both hands in her lap, and wondered if her mother would’ve been proud of her, for being such a brave girl.

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Chapter 14
(AO3 Mirror)

Marisa watched, eyes wide open, unable to blink. Reimu was on her knees in the centre of the room, breathing painfully loud, and holding her head in her hands to try and steady herself. Seija stood over her, trembling with excitement. “Unbelievable!” she yelled. “You couldn’t even beat my second spell card! This is hilarious!”

Seija’s spell cards were a gimmicky mess. The patterns were simple, and once you got over the shock of being upside down, or having your sense of direction flipped, she wasn’t much of a threat. But Reimu couldn’t handle her. Marisa had never seen Reimu fight so badly before. She’d practically thrown herself at Seija’s bullets, over and over, until she dropped to the ground like a dead insect.

“Hate being upside down or something?” Seija kicked her. Reimu flopped onto her back, not even crying out in pain. The purification rod fell out of her hand, rolled across the floor beams, then dropped into a gap between two of them, out of reach. “You’re too used to winning right side up, aren’t you? You’re an idiot! A weak, pathetic idiot! Gensokyo’s in big trouble if it’s relying on you to keep things in check. Good thing we’re going to change that!”

Things weren’t meant to go like this. Reimu was supposed to wipe the floor clean with Seija, go on to beat Shinmyoumaru, then shut their revolution down for good. Marisa’s hands trembled. It’d never occurred to her, in all her time in the castle, that they might actually win.

“Come on, say something.” Seija grabbed a clump of Reimu’s hair, and yanked on it. Reimu looked up in deep disgust, and Marisa realised there was something really, really wrong with her. She was drenched from head-to-toe in sweat, and her face was deathly white. Was she ill?

“Let me try again.” Reimu sounded as weak as she looked. “I was caught off guard.”

Reimu had to be ill. There was no other explanation. She’d used up a lot of stamina flying to the castle, and fighting people along the way. And now she was too tired to stand up. Marisa felt sick. She’d lost to Reimu like this. She couldn’t even beat Reimu at her weakest. She was pathetic.

Seija laughed. “No second chances!” She tugged on Reimu’s hair again, and this time Reimu yelped. “I won, you lost. Deal with it.”

Marisa had enough. “Give it a rest, Seija,” she said, and stood up. “Do a rematch. It’s only fair.”

“Yeah right! I’m an amanojaku, I don’t play fair.”

“She’s the Hakurei shrine maiden. They’ve got rules against hurting her.”

“Like I care about those.”

Marisa looked at Reimu again. Reimu met her gaze, and held it. Marisa could turn on Seija right now, if she wanted to. She could team up with Reimu, help her dismantle the revolution, and go back to the shrine with her, friends again maybe. Her reputation would be restored, and Gensokyo would remain the peaceful youkai paradise it’d always been. It was clearly the ‘right’ thing to do, and as the second best incident resolver in Gensokyo, it would be strange if Marisa chose otherwise.

But Marisa hesitated. Maybe a year ago she would’ve laughed in Seija’s face as she wrapped an arm around Reimu’s shoulder, and pulled her up, but not anymore.

Instead she walked over to the purification rod, picked it up, and held it at arm’s length. The rod didn’t try to hit her. The only hint that there was something wrong with it came from the tingling sensation against her fingertips. It was filled with the mallet’s magic, just like the mini-Hakkero.

Maybe it would do Reimu some good to lose for a bit.

“And the last time I checked, I was your boss, not the other way round. So if I say she’s not getting a rematch, then she’s not getting a rematch.” Seija was still talking. She turned away from Marisa, and jerked Reimu to her feet. “Where are those damn tsukumogami when I need them? Well whatever, I’ll take her to the dungeon myself.”

Reimu’s expression flickered. “Dungeon? You’ve got a dungeon?”

“Yep, brand new. I finished fixing it up last night. You’re gonna be our first ever prisoner. Isn’t that great?” Seija looked at Marisa again. “Go tell the princess what happened, and chuck that rod off the side of the castle. Our shrine maiden won’t be needing it anymore.”

“Wait, no, you can’t!” Reimu snapped out of her reverie, and finally started struggling. “Give me my rod back!”

“Got any last words?” Seija grinned from ear-to-ear, enjoying herself. “Come on, we’re going upstairs to have a nice talk, just me and you.”

“Let me go!” Reimu stared at Marisa, now pleading for help. Marisa felt a perverse wave of satisfaction run through her. Reimu opened her mouth. “Ma…” But her voice failed her, and Seija began dragging her towards the right side of the room. “D-Don’t chuck my…” And Marisa realised Reimu wasn’t looking at her, but at the rod in her hand. “Please don’t throw it away!”

Seija wrapped an arm around Reimu, flew up, unlocked the trapdoor covering the store room (now dungeon) entrance with one hand, and disappeared inside. The trapdoor closed behind them with a loud thunk, and Marisa was left alone with the purification rod.

And as soon as Reimu was gone, the rod went berserk. It thrashed around in Marisa’s hand like a terrified animal, distraught at being separated from its owner.

“What the hell?” Marisa grasped it with both hands, knelt down and managed to press it against the floor. She trod on it, and held it in place with her foot. There was no question now that Reimu’s rod was alive. It felt odd, knowing her mini-Hakkero wasn’t the only one with a mind of its own. Reimu had mentioned something about Sakuya and ‘her knife’ too. Was the same thing happening to her? How many people were walking around Gensokyo with a bewitched weapon?

She’d mentioned riots as well. Marisa felt uneasy, but not as concerned as she ought to be. Gensokyo felt like a whole other world to her now. What happened down there didn’t matter all that much.

The rod continued wiggling beneath her boot. Marisa glared at it. “You don’t scare me,” she snarled. “You’re just made of wood and paper. I could destroy something as weak as you in about two minutes.” Her mini-Hakkero warmed up in her pocket in response, keen to burn something. She was tempted. Reimu carried that rod everywhere; it was a symbol of her power over youkai, and burning it would be a great way of letting her know who was boss now. But the urge faded as quickly as it came. There wouldn’t be any point behind it, just needless sadism. Marisa wasn’t a monster.

Seija had told her to chuck the rod out the window, but Marisa wouldn’t do that. If the rod was alive, then it’d just fly straight back, and make its would-be murderer suffer. Instead Marisa stood there, and waited for the rod to calm down. Assuming it would calm down. She still needed to find Shinmyoumaru and tell her the big news, so she hoped it wouldn’t take too long.

They had defeated the Hakurei shrine maiden. The tide was turning. Soon nothing would stand in their way.

*****
She’d been tranquilised in Eientei. Reimu hadn’t realised it until the first wave of exhaustion hit her outside the castle. She’d been tranquilised, her body was still fighting the werewolf infection, and she hadn’t slept long enough. She was fine when she faced Marisa, still able to fake it, but against that amanojaku’s weird spell cards… the dizziness and disorientation got to her.

 She should have stayed in Eientei and recovered. She should have spent the whole day sleeping.

Now she was being dragged inside a dark room by an amanojaku, one of the least pleasant youkai you could find in Gensokyo. Reimu had met a few before, and knew them as particularly obnoxious pests. This one seemed cleverer than the others, and a clever amanojaku rarely meant anything good.

It was pitch black inside the dungeon, and stank of wood. Reimu couldn’t make anything out, and felt herself be shoved against a hard wooden wall. The amanojaku’s breath brushed against her cheek as she forced Reimu’s hands over her head. Something cold and metallic wrapped around her wrists. There was a click, the sound of a screw being turned, and Reimu realised she’d been shackled to the wall.

“Let me go!” she shouted into the amanojaku’s face, and struggled weakly. “Give me my purification rod back!”

“You’re hilarious.” Seija didn’t move away. Her breath reeked of tobacco smoke. “I’ve got your best friend downstairs, but you’re more interested in your stupid stick.”

Reimu needed it. She needed its comfort. “Please give it back, please.”

“Good, beg more. I like it when humans beg.” Seija giggled. “I feel sorry for my dear Marisa. Coming second to a piece of wood? Pitiful.”

Reimu thought of Marisa. She thought of the dark look in her eyes, and the way the amanojaku had stroked her hair. She thought of the horrid black flame that spewed out of her mini-Hakkero, and the spell cards built around it. Marisa reminded her of Sakuya. Her mini-Hakkero was alive, and influencing her.

Reimu felt panic bubble in her stomach.

“Listen, okay.” A gloved hand clasped her neck. “Let me tell you a story. It’s not very long, don’t worry, it’ll be over before you know it.


“Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there were fifteen amanojaku. All of them shared the same mother, and the other fourteen were really mean to their youngest sibling. Because, you see, the youngest was also the weakest, and amanojaku take great delight in mocking their prey. They made life really unpleasant for her, and no matter how terrible things got, the youngest was never strong enough to fight back. When their mother finally left them all to fend for themselves, the others threw the youngest into a ditch, and left her to starve. She was just an extra mouth to feed, so what was the point in keeping her around?

“But guess what? The youngest is the only one still alive today! In the end, the weakest amanojaku became the strongest. Do you wanna know why? I bet you do, huh? It’s because she was cleverer than all the others.”

Reimu didn’t say anything.

“The other fourteen amanojaku were all exterminated by humans. The youngest tagged along and made sure of it. The Hakurei shrine maiden of that era would come and get rid of them. And those idiots cried and screamed and begged so much, right until the end! It was hilarious. So you see, all my dumbass brothers and sisters got turned to dust, but not me! Not me! I’m the first one to beat the Hakurei shrine maiden! I defeated you fair and square in a spell card duel, using rules designed for your benefit, and now you’re all chained up.” Her fingers squeezed Reimu’s neck. “You’re my prey. I could kill you and wouldn’t be able to stop me.”

“...Your name’s Seija, isn’t it?” Reimu looked ahead, hoping to make eye contact with her. She couldn’t see Seija’s face in the dark. “Tell me everything. What’s this revolution about? Why did you get Marisa involved?”

Seija laughed. “You don’t know anything, do you?” Her hand left Reimu’s neck, and caressed her hair. Reimu twitched, hating it. “We’re going to change the world. The weak will rule over the strong, and Gensokyo will become a better place for everyone. That’s what we’re here to do. Your dear friend Marisa agreed to join us through her own free will. She listened to our goals, and agreed with them. She’s my subordinate now, you know. She has to obey my every command.”

Reimu laughed at the thought. “I can’t imagine Marisa listening to anyone, least of all you.”

“Oh, but she does. She has to. It’s a lot of fun to watch. Why don’t I bring her in here and demonstrate?”

The thought appalled her. “No thank you.”

“You don’t like that, do you? Interesting.” Seija giggled again. “You can’t hide your emotions from me. I can taste them. Your hate and disgust is absolutely delicious.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “It makes me wanna gobble you up.”

“You don’t scare me,” hissed Reimu. “I know amanojaku. They’re all talk.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.” And Seija reached up, and touched Reimu’s mouth with her hand. Reimu felt silk slide over her lips. She flinched, and turned her head away. “Don’t worry, I plan to keep you around for a while longer. You’re going to be a great addition to our revolution, and I want to enjoy you to the fullest. Oh, I can’t wait to play with you. The Hakurei shrine maiden, my new favourite toy.”

“People will notice I’m missing,” snarled Reimu. “They’ll come looking for me.”

“I really should bring Marisa up here.” Seija ignored her. “You need to see her. She’s so funny. Totally into her little furnace.” She poked Reimu’s cheek. “I should have her play with you. Do all the hard work for me. Would you like that? She really does have to do everything I say, so she won’t refuse. Though... wait, actually I have an even better idea.”

Reimu could hear the smile in Seija’s voice.

“Instead of making Marisa hurt you, maybe I should hurt Marisa in front of you. Not permanently, of course, she still has her uses. But I want to see how long you last before you start begging and crying. Oh, the possibilities are endless!” Seija clapped her hands together. “This is going to be so fun!”

Reimu snapped. “Touch her and I’ll exterminate you.”

“She’s mine, I’ll touch her however I want.”

“You’re disgusting.”

“Thank you. Now I’m a busy woman. I need to start preparing our next move.” Seija finally moved away. She had what she wanted out of Reimu. “I’ll get Marisa to come feed you later. Maybe. Depends if I remember or not.”

“Wait!” Reimu didn’t want to be left alone. “Give me my purification rod back, please!”

Seija laughed. “You’re still going on about your stick? You’re hysterical.” She opened the trap door, and Reimu saw a large wooden pillar opposite her, with another pair of shackles attached. “See you later.” Then Seija was gone, and the trapdoor fell shut. Reimu was left in total darkness.

*****
Time passed. There were no windows in the dungeon, nor light coming in from the outside, so Reimu couldn’t track the sun’s position. The only hint of the minutes and hours passing by was the pain, deep and persistent, throbbing in waves that left sweat all over her body. Her bite wound itched below its bandage, but she couldn’t scratch it. Her mouth was dry, but she had nothing to drink.

The shock of the last few hours began to fade, and terror took its place. She’d lost a spell card duel, was refused a rematch, and now she was chained up, at the mercy of her captures. The amanojaku hadn’t been joking; they could do anything they wanted to her now, and Reimu had no way of resisting. They could kill her, or worse.

And Marisa had done nothing to stop them.

She had so much to worry about. It wasn’t just the shackles around her wrists; Reimu had no idea if the antidote at Eientei had worked. Sakuya was out there somewhere, with her knife. Someone could be getting hurt. Someone could be dying, and Reimu was up in the sky, sweating like a pig and barely able to hold herself upright.

But worst of all, worse than the regret and fear and dread of the unknown, was not knowing if her purification rod was safe. She missed it more than she’d ever imagined. It’d been a huge pain when it came to life, of course, but her rod had always been by her side. It’d aided her in every incident, every extermination job she’d ever faced, and in her daily rituals at the shrine too. It was a loyal friend, one that was always there for her. One that would never leave her. A better friend than Marisa ever was.

No, that was ridiculous. What was she thinking? It was a wooden stick! Something she occasionally used to scratch her back, and jab things she couldn’t reach with her hands. And now she was pining for it like a puppy with separation anxiety. It was ridiculous. Embarrassing.

She wondered what Sakuya was doing.

She wondered if Marisa would visit her. Marisa, who had watched Seija yank Reimu’s hair without a flicker of emotion. Everything would’ve been fine if Marisa had jumped to her side and helped her! Why hadn’t she done that? Reimu had thought everything would sort itself out once she found Marisa. She could lift her up and take her home, and everything would return back to normal.

She’d been naïve.

More time passed. Reimu found herself falling asleep. Her head drooped, and seconds later she would wake up. Her neck ached. At one point she thought the trapdoor opened again, but when she opened her eyes, it was still dark, and she couldn’t make anything out. She’d dreamt it.

Then, the trapdoor did open again. Light poured into the room, then disappeared as quickly as it came. The room flickered suddenly, and a faint glow spread through the dungeon. Marisa was standing in front of her, holding a paper lamp. There was a tray at her feet, containing a simple meal of rice, pickled vegetables and miso soup.

Reimu and Marisa looked at each other, neither smiling, neither speaking. Then Marisa placed the lamp on the floor, and stepped towards her. At first Reimu thought Marisa had come to her senses, and was going to free her. But Marisa wasn’t looking above Reimu’s head. She was looking at her skirt.

“Marisa, what?” And Reimu felt hands slide into her pockets. “Wait, stop it!” She squirmed, shocked by Marisa’s proximity. “What are you doing?”

“Disarming you,” said Marisa nonchalantly. She pulled out Reimu’s stack of ofuda, then her needles. “Orders and stuff. You can keep your spell cards, don’t worry.”

“Give it back!” Reimu kicked out. “I need those!”

Marisa had already stepped away, out of reach. She tossed the paper and needles aside, then reached behind her cloak. “God, this thing won’t stop struggling.” And to Reimu’s surprise, she produced the purification rod. “Here, you can have it back. Feels unfair to totally disarm you.”

Reimu almost cried out with relief. The rod leapt out of Marisa’s hand, and bounced around Reimu’s feet. Then, as though suddenly exhausted from the ordeal, it flopped against Reimu’s leg, and fell still. A smile stretched across Reimu’s face. The rod felt comforting against her skin. Her mind cleared. She could focus now.

“I figured throwing it away would be a waste of time. It’d just come straight back. Don’t let Seija see it, okay? She’ll order me to snap it in two.”

Seija’s name brought Reimu back to reality. The touch of silk still lingered on her lips. “Marisa, what are you doing here?” she asked. “What happened to you?”

“Nothing happened to me.” Marisa picked the rice bowl up from the tray. “Hungry?”

Reimu was, but she didn’t want to change the subject. “I take my eye off you for one second and the next thing I know, you’ve joined some crackpot revolution and you’re taking orders from an amanojaku. Are you working undercover? Are you trying to destroy it from the inside?”

Marisa ignored her, and pinched a clump of rice with a pair of chopsticks. She held it out in front of Reimu’s face, hovering the bowl below the chopsticks in case the food fell away. “Come on, eat up.”

Reimu looked at the food, and didn’t open her mouth.

“It’s not poisoned or anything. Look.” Marisa took a bite. “It’s fine. Tastes pretty good. I mean, I cooked it, so of course it tastes good.”

“Will you be honest with me if I eat it all?”

“Sure, I’ve no reason to lie now.” Marisa scooped up more rice. “You messed up big time, you know.”

Reimu opened her mouth, and let Marisa feed her. The rice was slightly overcooked, but otherwise not bad. She chewed, and swallowed. “Don’t just feed me the rice, give me the sides too.”

“Yeah yeah.” Marisa grabbed some pickles. “What’s that bandage on your arm about? Did you get hurt?”

“A werewolf bit me.”

“Oh.” Marisa wasn’t concerned. “How did that happen?”

“One attacked me. Her name was Kagerou Imaizumi. You recruited her at some point.”

“Was she with the rokurokubi?” Marisa frowned. “Yeah, I remember her. I sat out in the sun for four hours waiting for them to walk over. Nearly got heatstroke.”

“Your stupid mallet made her irrational!” Reimu snapped. There was callousness in Marisa’s expression that frightened her. “There was a riot in the village caused by the rokurokubi, you know! The villagers were terrified. You might be having fun playing revolutionaries up here, but you’re putting people in danger down in Gensokyo.”

“People aren’t supposed to riot until we give them the signal.” Marisa didn’t rise to it. She lifted the chopsticks to Reimu’s mouth again. “I’ll go down and check it out later. Make sure no one’s giving out fake orders. It’s a big pain, you know, running a revolution. I thought it’d be easier than this.”

“Marisa!”

“What?” Marisa frowned. “Oh, sorry. Did you become a werewolf?”

“I’m human!” At least, Reimu thought she was still human. “Why aren’t you bothered by this? Don’t you have family in the village?”

“Yeah, I guess it’d stink if they got hurt. Want some miso soup?”

“Don’t spill it down my top.”

Marisa lifted it to Reimu’s lips, and Reimu drank it.

“This is embarrassing,” said Reimu afterwards. “Just free me and let me eat it myself.”

“Sorry, can’t do that.” Marisa put the soup bowl down. There was a hint of a smile in her voice. “You might try and escape.”

Reimu said nothing. They didn’t speak for a few minutes, Marisa feeding Reimu, and Reimu chewing and swallowing. Once Reimu finished the meal, Marisa sighed, and put the chopsticks back on the tray. “Seija’s really easy, you know,” she said. She reached for the ofuda, and put that on the tray too. “I beat her on my first try, when I came here.”

Reimu raised her eyebrows. “You beat her?”

“Yeah.” The needles went on there as well, ready to be carried away. “It was the princess I couldn’t win against. Surprised?” Marisa smiled. “I came pretty close to solving this incident myself, way before you even thought about it. Once I joined, I woke up every day expecting you to show up. I made things really hard for you.” Reimu didn’t like the look in Marisa’s eyes. “I wanted to give you a work out. Make you regret overlooking me. I didn’t expect you to actually lose, though.”

“Marisa…”

“What?”

“You’ve… changed.”

She laughed at that. “Maybe. What’s different about me?”

“You sound like that amanojaku. You’re bitter.”

“…Bitter?”

“The Marisa I remember never let things get to her.” Reimu stared at her, worried. “Come on, stop this silly game and free me. We can solve the incident together, then go home and celebrate. Chat just like we used to.”

“A game, you say? Well... I did say I’d be honest with you once you finished eating. So I will.” Marisa’s smile twisted. “Has being human ever frustrated you, Reimu Hakurei?”

“…No?” Reimu frowned, unsure where this was leading. “Not at all.”

“Of course it wouldn’t. You’re talented. You’re powerful. You always have been, and always will be.” Marisa’s hands trembled as she rearranged the bowls on the tray. “I know what it’s like to be afraid of the dark, you see. A long time ago, before you knew me, I wasn’t anything special. Just an ordinary village human, who ran home when the sun set, and shook if I heard something move around outside after dark. You can’t go on the offensive when you’re weak. You have to save all your energy for hiding, and getting ready to defend yourself. I got fed up with that, so I became a magician and moved to the forest.” Marisa looked at her. “And it’s the same now. I got fed up with everything, so I moved, and here I am in a castle, getting ready to rule over Gensokyo.”

“But we have spell card rules!” Reimu hated this. “You don’t need to be strong to use danmaku, you know that! Even kids can use it! And if we meet any youkai lurking around the village at night, we sort them out together, don’t we? I sort them out! There’s no reason for humans to feel inferior anymore. We can stand against youkai as equals.”

Marisa laughed, and shook her head. “You don’t get it at all, do you?” And then, she glared at Reimu, and lowered her voice. “I’m fed up with it,” she spat. “I’m fed up with you.” She returned her attention to the tray. “It doesn’t matter. I’m done here anyway. I need to get going.”

“Let me go, Marisa,” Reimu commanded.

“You’re our prisoner now. I’m not letting you go.”

“What happens when I need the toilet?”

Marisa thought about that as she lifted the tray. “I guess I can put a bowl beneath you and remove your drawers.”

“That’s horrible!”

“Yeah I wouldn’t enjoy cleaning that up either. I guess I can talk to Seija and the princess about it.”

“No, let me go!” Reimu looked down at her purification rod, hoping it would help her out somehow. But it just rested against her leg, too tired to move. “Please! I need water too, and exercise. You can’t keep me locked up here!”

“I’ll talk to them about it.”

“Marisa!”

“See you later, Reimu.” Marisa reached for the trap door. “I’ll leave the lamp in here, okay? So you’ve got some light.”

“Marisa, don’t!”

The trapdoor swung open, and Marisa jumped through it. She was gone, and the doors banged shut behind her. The room fell into silence.

At least her rod was here now. But it wasn’t itself. It seemed tired, and unwilling to move from Reimu’s leg. Maybe it was depressed. Reimu couldn’t blame it. She wanted to lie down in a warm, soft futon, and sleep until daylight came again. She wanted all her problems to melt away with the night.

Until then, she dozed the best she could, and hoped she would wake up to something better.

*****
“Can I see her?” asked Shinmyoumaru when they were finally alone. “Can I see the Hakurei shrine maiden?”

“No,” snapped Seija as she climbed into her futon. It’d been a long day, and she was exhausted. “She’ll try and guilt trip you into freeing her. You can see her with me in a few days, once she knows her place.”

“Aw, okay.” Shinmyoumaru wasn’t as disappointed as Seija hoped. “I can’t believe you beat her though. Marisa’s been telling me about her for weeks and she sounded really scary...”

“Oh she was a pushover. Nothing I couldn’t handle. Now stop talking and go to bed.” Seija pulled the futon covers over her head. She was still wearing the gloves, and had no intention of taking them off. “I’m tired.”

“Seija.”

“Yeah?”

“…Are you angry with me?”

Not this. Not now. “...Why would I be angry with you, Princess?” Seija didn’t have the energy to pretend tonight. She tensed up below her futon. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”

It was the truth. Seija wasn’t angry at Shinmyoumaru, she was angry at herself. Shinmyoumaru had seen her flirt with Marisa, and reacted exactly as Seija knew she would. And Seija had tried so, so hard to hide how much she loved it. How refreshing it was for Shinmyoumaru to feel genuine anger at her! And it nearly ruined everything. Shinmyoumaru couldn’t doubt her. Shinmyoumaru had to love her. Otherwise all of Seija’s lies would come to light, and their revolution would be ruined.

Everything was spinning out of control, and it terrified Seija. One slip up, and that would be it.

Sacrifices needed to be made. Seija wanted her revolution to work more than anything, and if that meant being on the receiving end of Shinmyoumaru’s affection all night, then so be it. She needed to play the part of the misunderstood amanojaku lover for a while longer, and that required more endurance.

“I’m sorry about last night,” whispered Shinmyoumaru. “I shouldn’t have done it.”

And yet, Shinmyoumaru knew Seija hadn’t enjoyed it. The room reeked of her guilt. It sent a chill down Seija’s spine. Maybe she wasn’t as great at acting as she’d thought. Or maybe Shinmyoumaru wasn’t as deeply in love with her as she used to be.

She needed her pipe. She needed something to detach her from the world, to stop her going insane. The gloves were helping. Seija had woken up with the mad urge to cover her hands. She’d clipped her nails short, and gone down to Gensokyo to steal a pair. She looked ridiculous wearing them. It was still hot outside, and they didn’t go with her outfit. That made her feel better. She wanted to keep them on until she calmed down, or until winter came and the gloves became too practical.

“It’s fine,” lied Seija. “I would’ve said no if I’d hated it. Stop worrying.”

Shinmyoumaru’s guilt didn’t go away. Shinmyoumaru knew. She knew, and Seija could do nothing to change that.

“All right.” Shinmyoumaru gave in first. “I’m going to turn the light off, okay?”

The subject would probably come up again later. Seija made a mental note to think up a better excuse. “Yeah yeah.”

Shinmyoumaru turned the lamp off, and settled down between the sheets. Seija lay there, waiting for her own heartbeat to slow down, and for the sweat to roll off her face.

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
While this chapter is technically sfw, I dunno what the stance on 'pics of reimu's nekkid, soapy body' is on this forum so juuuuust to be safe...!

Chapter 15



The next 3 chapters are all 100% nsfw so... lol... I'll post those tomorrow.

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
All three of these are nsfw so might as well chuck them all in the same post!

Chapter 16


Chapter 17

(also lots of blood in the pic)

Chapter 18


Reminder that the nsfw scenes all contain important plot details, so you can't skip them!

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Chapter 19
(AO3 Mirror)

Kosuzu poured another cup of iced tea. “Here.”

Akyuu smiled, and accepted the cup with both hands. It was another peaceful afternoon in Suzunaan, and the shop was belting hot.

“Phew, I can’t wait for it to get cooler.” Kosuzu wiped the sweat off her forehead. “I’m starting to worry about the books.”

“Like this one?” Akyuu pointed at the scroll sitting on the table. “Not another youma book, I hope.”

“Well, I suppose it might be.” Kosuzu picked it up, and gently unravelled it. She’d brought it out to show Akyuu. “It was written by an inchling several centuries ago, about their history.”

“Inchlings?” Akyuu raised her eyebrows. “They exist in Gensokyo?”

“I think so.” Kosuzu glanced over the text. Nearly a year had passed since someone came into Suzunaan asking for a translation. A strange woman with a big straw hat. Kosuzu had almost forgotten about the scroll until a week ago, when another woman with red hair came rushing into the shop, asking for something about inchlings. Kosuzu had shown her the scroll, expecting her to borrow it, or ask for a translation. But the woman just held it in her hands, and had a one-way conversation with it. She talked to the scroll! Kosuzu had never seen anything like it.

“Hm, I need to know about it, if they exist in Gensokyo.” Akyuu sipped her drink. “There’s nothing about inchlings in the chronicle.”

“Look. The text is so tiny I had to use a magnifying glass to decipher it.” Kosuzu pointed at a line. “See, those look like a string of ten kanji characters, don’t they? But actually those are kanji radicals. The whole sentence is a word.”

The bell rang, and Kosuzu leapt to her feet. They had a customer. “Hello, welcome to- oh!” A familiar face. “Reimu-san. Is everything all right?”

Reimu had skidded into Suzunaan, and grabbed one of the bookshelves to keep herself upright. Her body lurched with each breath. She looked terrible. One of her sleeves were missing; revealing two dirty bandages and long lines of dried blood running down her arm. Her face was bone white, and covered in sweat. There were big bags under her eyes. “Kosuzu-chan...” Speaking took visible effort. “Have you seen Marisa anywhere? Has she been in here?”

“Marisa?” Kosuzu looked at Akyuu, nervous. “Um, no I haven’t. Is everything okay? You look exhausted.”

“If you see her, grab her and don’t let her get away!” And Reimu was gone again. She’d sprinted out of the door, and back into the street.

“What’s going on?” asked Akyuu, equally horrified. “Is it an incident?”

“Maybe.” Kosuzu thought about that youkai riot in the village the other day. Suzunaan was unharmed, but she knew a lot of shops that weren’t so lucky. “She looked awful.”

“Well, she’s the Hakurei shrine maiden. I’m sure she’ll be fine.” Akyuu tried to smile. “Now tell me more about this scroll. That’s why I’m here, after all.”

*****
It was approaching early evening by the time Shinmyoumaru decided to head home. She retraced her steps back to the village, followed the dirt path through the forest, and switched to flying. Seija was going to be furious with her, but Shinmyoumaru could handle that. She’d spent an hour or two by herself after speaking to Wakasagihime, thinking through all the new information she’d learnt, and merging it with everything she already knew.

Or at least, thought she already knew.

It felt like forever ago since she ventured out of her aunt’s home, and met Seija. So much had happened, and she’d learnt so many new things: how to fly, how to make and use spell cards, how to mould snow, and how to create miracles. Things her aunt could never have known, let alone teach her. Shinmyoumaru wished she was still alive. She wished she could go back down to the World of Oni for a brief visit, and show her.

But her aunt was dead, and their servants gone, and Shinmyoumaru had fled the mansion. Her old life no longer existed.

Shinmyoumaru touched the mallet hanging from her obi. She wanted to create a better world for the inchling race. She wanted them to grow their own food and keep their own livestock, and live a life without constant fear. Since when did her mission include vengeance against Gensokyo’s youkai, and liberation for the weak youkai of Gensokyo? Because of the story Seija told her, that might not even be true? No, it wasn’t just that. It was because of the injuries Seija came home with. It was because of the tsukumogami, and people like Wakasagihime and the old lady in the village, who reminded her of the inchlings in Mamesuke Square. So many people suffered in Gensokyo, similar to how the inchlings suffered in the World of Oni. And Shinmyoumaru could make a difference. She held the power of miracles! She was in charge of a revolution, with its own castle and army, and both human and youkai allies. She’d be mad not to take advantage of that.

Shinmyoumaru decided. Once she got back to the castle, she’d go up to the dungeon and talk to the Hakurei shrine maiden. She wasn’t sure what they’d talk about yet, but Shinmyoumaru hoped it’d give her clarity on how things were in Gensokyo. The shrine maiden was all chained up, and wouldn’t pose a threat. Shinmyoumaru had nothing to fear. And after that, she’d take a more active role, and lead their revolution to victory.

A bright orange light hovered near the horizon. Shinmyoumaru wondered if she’d left it too late, and the sun was starting to set. But it was probably just her castle catching the sunlight. It was lit up like a beacon, calling her home.

Except, the light seemed to be growing brighter. The sky behind it was dark, and made her think of thunderclouds. Shinmyoumaru sped up, curious what was going on. Was the weather turning bad? Was Marisa trying out a new spell? Seija had talked about camouflage and self-defence mechanisms before, so it wasn’t impossible. But then she smelt it. The overpowering stench of burning wood.

Her castle was on fire.

Shinmyoumaru froze.

It didn’t register in her head. She hovered in mid-air, and stared at the ball of orange flame until her eyes hurt. She didn’t panic. She didn’t even feel afraid. It didn’t feel real.

“Over here! Your Royal Highness, over here!”

Someone was calling out to her. Shinmyoumaru glanced to the right, and saw three figures approach her in tandem. One of them was waving. She recognised Yatsuhashi Tsukumo, and the umbrella tsukumogami Kogasa Tatara. Marisa Kirisame was in the middle, missing her broom and hat, and staring at the ground below.

And like that, reality set in. Fear hit her. Shinmyoumaru covered her mouth. She nearly lost her balance, and fell out of her sky. “What happened to the castle!?” She yelled. “Where’s Seija? Is Seija all right?”

“I’m glad we found you, Your Royal Highness.” Yatsuhashi looked deeply relieved. “We’ve been looking everywhere.”

“The castle’s on fire!” Kogasa answered her question. “We need to head to the brigade base and rendezvous there. I haven’t seen Kijin-sama anywhere.”

“Is she still in the castle?” Seija could be trapped in there. Shinmyoumaru thought she would suffocate with terror. “I’ll get her!”

“Wait, please!” Yatsuhashi let go of Marisa, and grabbed Shinmyoumaru’s arm with both hands. Kogasa was left to support Marisa by herself. “Calm down. She’s probably waiting for us as the base. We need to hurry over there.”

“That’s my castle! My castle’s on fire!” Shinmyoumaru struggled. Maybe if she got close enough, she could use the mallet to put the fire out. “Let me go, I order you!”

Marisa snorted. Kogasa tightened her grip, afraid she might try something. But all Marisa did was laugh. She laughed and laughed, until she was shaking.

Shinmyoumaru was shocked. “It isn’t funny, Marisa! Stop laughing!”

“I set it on fire!” Marisa declared. She looked up, and Shinmyoumaru knew immediately that there was something wrong with her. Her eyes were empty. Her smile was bright and innocent. “I did it. I’m burning it down, and you can’t do anything about it.” She lifted her free hand. The mini-Hakkero’s flame flickered. “I’m going to burn you next. I’m going to burn everything!”

Shinmyoumaru screamed.

“Get out of the way!” Yatsuhashi threw herself in front of Shinmyoumaru. Kogasa grappled with Marisa, trying to snatch the furnace away from her. Marisa kept laughing, undaunted.

“You can’t stop me!” she yelled. “I’m going to burn all of Gensokyo, starting with you!”

“Commander, help me!” shouted Kogasa.

“Declare a spell card if you want to fight me!” Shinmyoumaru yanked the mallet off her obi. This wasn’t a danmaku fight. If the mini-Hakkero’s flame hit her, Shinmyoumaru would be seriously injured, possibly knocked out of the sky. “Come on, Marisa! You know better than this!”

Marisa finally shoved Kogasa aside, and grasped the mini-Hakkero with both hands. Fire jetted out of the furnace. Shinmyoumaru shrieked, and rushed upwards. The flames licked the soles of her feet. She heard Yatsuhashi shout after her. Marisa was out of control. Shinmyoumaru didn’t know what’d happened to her, but she didn’t have time to deal with it. Marisa couldn’t move quickly when the mini-Hakkero was vomiting fire. Shinmyoumaru flew down at an angle, aiming for Marisa’s right shoulder.

“Ah.” Marisa spotted the mallet. “I’m not supposed to burn that, am I?”

“You’re not supposed to burn anything!” Shinmyoumaru raised it. “Mallet, put Marisa Kirisame to sleep!”

“Wait, I’m meant to-” But Marisa couldn’t finish her sentence. Shinmyoumaru tapped the mallet against her shoulder, and watched as Marisa went limp. The furnace slipped from her hands, and she tipped sideways. Kogasa caught her, and Yatsuhashi grabbed Marisa’s legs.

Shinmyoumaru caught the mini-Hakkero, and almost dropped it. It was red hot, and painful to hold. It wanted to be returned to Marisa.

“Okay, okay.” Shinmyoumaru flew back up, and quickly tucked the furnace into Marisa’s pocket. And then the dizziness hit her. The air stank of smoke. Her eyes felt itchy. There was an odd, hollow ache in her stomach, similar to hunger pangs. Shinmyoumaru coughed, and covered her mouth with her sleeve. “Where’s the base?” she asked. She needed to get out of the air, before she fainted.

“We’ll lead the way!” Yatsuhashi tugged Marisa’s legs, and Kogasa moved with her. “It’s not far away, Your Royal Highness, rest assured.”

“What happened to Marisa?”

“I don’t know.” They moved as fast as they could. “There was an intruder in the castle, and none of us could find you. So Commander Benben went to take them on, while I went to find Kijin-sama and… um…”

“And what?” Shinmyoumaru couldn’t believe what she was hearing. All this, while she was out of the castle? What an idiot she’d been. Shinmyoumaru wanted to cry. She’d failed everyone again. “What happened after you went to find Seija?”

“Uh…” Yatsuhashi looked away, suddenly embarrassed. “Kirisame-sama was talking to Kijin-sama about something… so, I think Kijin-sama will know what happened to Kirisame-sama.”

“And where’s Seija now?”

“At the evacuation point, along with everyone else.” Kogasa tried to cheer her up. “Please don’t worry. Everything’s going to be all right.”

Shinmyoumaru had never been to the base before, so it surprised her how close it was to the castle. It was a cave in the side of a mountain, hidden behind several large trees. “There’s a small corridor, then it leads to two big caverns, one behind the other,” explained Kogasa. Shinmyoumaru stepped inside first, and immediately noticed the stench of blood.

The cavern was filled with corpses.

“It’s okay, it’s okay!” Yatsuhashi yelled behind her. “They’re not dead! They’ve just been knocked out.”

Shinmyoumaru sank to her knees.

“Please don’t worry about it, Your Royal Highness.”

“It’s my fault.” Tears fell down her cheeks. “It’s because I’ve been so useless.”

Yatsuhashi nodded at Kogasa, and they slowly placed Marisa down on the floor. “That’s not true!” said Kogasa. “You’ve been great.”

Shinmyoumaru didn’t believe them. She looked at the carpet of bloodstained tsukumogami before her. She could still picture them all a few days ago, smiling and waving their rifles around in mock sword fights. She’d let them all down. She should’ve explored Gensokyo earlier. She should’ve led everyone from the very beginning, instead of sitting in her room sewing and watching the weather change. How could she put herself forward as Gensokyo’s liberator when she couldn’t protect her own soldiers?

She gripped the Miracle Mallet. Enough of that. Enough sitting around letting everyone else do the hard work. Shinmyoumaru slowly got to her feet, and wiped her face with her sleeve. She was going to be a proper leader. She was going to be the leader the inchling people needed to live in Gensokyo. “Listen,” she said. “I’m going to wake everyone up. Seija isn’t here, so I need one of you to go outside and wait for her.” Was the Hakurei shrine maiden still in the castle? Had she escaped? Shinmyoumaru glanced at Marisa. If the shrine maiden escaped, she’d almost certainly come back for revenge, possibly with backup. Shinmyoumaru needed to keep everyone safe. “Kogasa, can you do that?”

“Of course.” Kogasa saluted.

“Yatsuhashi, help me heal everyone.” She needed her army back in action. “Hopefully Seija will be here once we’re done. Then we can find out what happened to Marisa, and discuss what to do next.”

“Understood!”

Shinmyoumaru turned to the first body. A knife tsukumogami, with a gruesome cut wound across her chest. “Mallet, please heal her.” And she struck her.

The dizziness again. The strange hunger pangs. But Shinmyoumaru ignored it. She gritted her teeth, and moved through the tsukumogami.

She could endure anything if it was for other people.

*****
Marisa wasn’t in the village. Marisa wasn’t in the bamboo forest. Marisa wasn’t in her house, or anywhere near Kourindou. By the time Reimu arrived at the Misty Lake, she was approaching her limit. She hadn’t checked her shrine yet, so she hadn’t restocked or washed, and was still out of weaponry. Going up Youkai Mountain was out of the question. She would collapse from exhaustion. The clock was ticking. Reimu had no time to waste.

She swooped to land on the lake shore, but missed, and rolled face first into sand. Reimu groaned, and tried to push herself upright. Her arms trembled, too weak to carry her weight. She flopped back down, tasting sand on her lips.

But she couldn’t afford to lie down and rest! Reimu had to get up and find Marisa. With a loud grunt, Reimu pushed herself up, and managed to get into a sitting position. She turned, and saw a pair of eyes watching her near the lake’s edge.

“Oh, very funny I bet!” she snapped at the figure. “Laugh all you want!” She tried to wipe the sand off her face. It scratched her skin, and made her feel sick and dizzy. Her head hurt. Her injuries hurt. Everything hurt.

“I don’t want to laugh!” The figure’s voice sounded vaguely familiar. “Are you all right? You look terrible.”

“I’m fine.” Reimu slowly got to her feet. She saw the figure clearly, and realised it was the mermaid she’d exterminated earlier. “Oh, you. Are you behaving now?”

“Yes! Yes, I am.” The mermaid looked alarmed. “Um, are you here to exterminate me again?”

“No, I’m...” Reimu covered her mouth, and waited for the wave of pain and nausea to pass. “I’m looking for Marisa Kirisame. Have you seen her anywhere?”

“I’ve seen her,” said a voice behind Reimu.

She turned, and saw Cirno the ice fairy standing on the shore, holding hands with a timid Daiyousei. “It was pretty far from here. We were following that short girl with the bowl on her head to see who she was, weren’t we, Dai?”

“Yeah, she said something about giving weak youkai power, and she had a mallet that could do it, or something,” said Daiyousei.

“And as Gensokyo’s strongest, that’s pretty bad for us! So we followed her!”

Reimu didn’t have time for chit-chat. “Tell me where Marisa is!”

“It was in the middle of a forest, near some big upside down castle,” continued Cirno. “It was on fire, and that short girl and Marisa were with an umbrella tsukumogami and someone I didn’t recognise… It was pretty weird!”

Near the castle! Reimu wanted to stamp her foot and scream. She’d been sent on a wild goose chase. “Did anything happen? Did you see the short girl strike Marisa with her mallet or anything?”

“They were having some kind of fight, so it was hard to tell,” said Daiyousei. “But afterwards Marisa fainted, and they all carried her away.”

Reimu froze up. “She fainted?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t make much out either,” said Cirno. “Then the wind direction changed and all this smoke blew in our faces, so we decided to turn back and, hey wait! Where are you going?”

Reimu was already in the air. She tried not to cry. She tried as hard as she could, but tears still flooded her cheeks. Marisa had met up with the princess, and something had happened to make her faint. It didn’t take a genius to work out what. Reimu had to prepare herself for the worst. She had to steady herself, and get ready to face Marisa as something other than human.

But all she really wanted to do was let herself fall out of the sky. Down and down, until she smacked headfirst into the ground and couldn’t feel pain anymore. Her left hand felt empty without her rod, and her right arm cold without its sleeve. She couldn’t afford to change direction and restock at the shrine. It was madness, but she’d have to face Marisa with just her spell cards and basic danmaku. Her balance was wobbly, and she knew she’d collapse if she let herself rest again. Her head hurt. Her eyes hurt. Her chest hurt.

But Reimu kept going. She was going to find Marisa, just like she set out to do in the first place, and deal with her no matter what state she was in. She saw the castle up ahead, ablaze like a hilltop beacon. She saw the black smoke tumbling into the upper atmosphere. She could almost taste the ash on her tongue. Had Sakuya escaped from the castle in time? Or did Seija overpower her in the end?

She didn’t have time to check. Reimu glimpsed a flash of purple to the distant left, and recognised it as Kogasa’s umbrella. She was floating, rifle in both hands and umbrella tucked under her arm, looking all around her. When she saw Reimu, she waved the rifle, and flew over to her. “Reimu-san, Reimu-san!”

Reimu was cautious of the rifle, but was confident she could dodge its bullets in such a wide open space. “Kogasa! Where’s Marisa? Where’ve you taken her?”

“She’s in the brigade base with Her Royal Highness.” Kogasa gripped the rifle. “And Her Royal Highness wants to see you. Can you follow me?”

She wants to see her? Well, good. Reimu wanted to see her too. “You’ll take me to the base?”

“Of course.” Kogasa turned. “This way!”

Kogasa lead her to the right. They swooped into the forest, then floated up the side of a mountain. Near the base of a large cliff was a hole big enough for several people to fit through. Reimu felt uneasy about going inside. It would make it easier for Kogasa to shoot her, and she had no idea what to expect from this ‘Royal Highness’ person. But most of all, she felt afraid of what lay ahead. She was afraid of facing Marisa.

Kogasa hovered near the entrance, just as uncertain as she was. “I’m sorry, Reimu-san,” she said. “I didn’t think we’d be doing things like this. I wouldn’t have joined if I’d known.”

They stepped inside. Reimu reached into her remaining sleeve, and touched the splinters of her rod. But it was nothing but cold wood now, and she gained no comfort from it. All it did was send another stab of grief through her.

The cave tunnel was bigger than Reimu expected, and stank of blood. The daylight faded, and soon they were walking through darkness. It was a good thing Kogasa was in front of her. Reimu began to fear she was being led into a trap. She had to be strong. No matter how scary it got, and how much pain she was in, Reimu would keep moving ahead, towards Marisa, and the revolution’s ringleader.

Soon the cave lit up again. The scent of blood grew stronger, and Reimu resisted the urge to retch. They entered a large cavern, with a high ceiling and a smooth floor. Splintered furniture was pushed against the walls, and about forty people were crowded inside, waiting. A few of them held torches. Kogasa raised her voice as they entered. “She’s here.”

The crowd turned to look at them, and Reimu jumped back. They all wore the same uniform as Kogasa, and were all armed. Only the tsukumogami holding torches weren’t holding their guns. Their uniforms, arms, legs, faces and hair were smeared with blood. Upon seeing Reimu, they all lifted their rifles, and aimed straight at her.

It was something straight out of a nightmare. Reimu had no ofuda, no needles, no purification rod to defend herself with. She stumbled back, and got ready to run.

“They won’t fire.” But Kogasa was blocking her path, aiming her own rifle at Reimu’s chest. “Calm down. We’re acting under orders.” There were tears in her eyes. “Reimu-san, move into the centre of the room. Please.”

It was a trap after all. Reimu turned, and saw the crowd part. She glimpsed a short woman sitting in the centre of the room. Marisa was lying before her, her head resting in the woman’s lap. She seemed to be asleep. The woman held a mallet in her right hand, and her left hand was placed on Marisa’s head. She was staring straight at Reimu, imposing, angry, the only hint of fear coming from the way her shoulders twitched.


So this was the inchling princess. This was the woman in charge of the revolution. Reimu had expected someone with presence. She couldn’t imagine an amanojaku listening to a girl barely out of her teens.

But Marisa was right there, almost in reaching distance. All the weaponry in the room was trained on Reimu. If she made one step in the wrong direction, she would be shot. The barrels glinted in the dark.

The princess looked up at her. “My name is Shinmyoumaru Sukuna,” she said. Her voice was level, “and I am a member of the inchling royal family.” She gestured in front of her. “Sit down. Please.”

Reimu glanced around her, then slowly stepped forward, and knelt. She had to stay calm. She had to stay in control. “What have you done to Marisa?” she asked.

“She’s just sleeping, don’t worry.”

“So you haven’t turned her into a youkai?”

“It’s true that she’ll stop being human if I grant her power with my mallet.” Shinmyoumaru’s voice trembled, and she had to stop for a moment. Then she took a deep breath, and continued. “I want you to listen to what I have to say, as a representative of the inching race, and of all weak youkai in Gensokyo. Otherwise…” She gripped Marisa’s hair with a quivering hand. “I’ll give her that power.”

“So you’re threatening me.” Reimu glanced up at the tsukumogami, at the rifles aimed at her. “What if I don’t like what you have to say?”

“Listen to it first, and then make up your mind.” Shinmyoumaru wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “I know I look big for an inchling, but you mustn’t underestimate me. Just because we can stand in the palm of your hand doesn’t give you the right to ignore us.” She swallowed hard. “I know you’re human too, so you probably don’t think this applies to you. But you’re strong. You help rule over Gensokyo. So I want you to listen to me.”

“All right.” Reimu recalled Raiko’s story. Their trump card. If they tell the princess that the amanojaku’s using her, they can get her on their side. But she had to choose her timing carefully. No one would betray their partner that easily. “I’ll listen to you, but in return, I want you to listen to everything I have to say afterwards, with no interruptions. Understand?”

“Okay.”Shinmyoumaru took another long, shuddering breath. “Listen carefully.” And she began to tell her story.

*****
A messenger had stumbled into the cave earlier. It was a tsukumogami who’d been guarding the castle, and she explained the situation the best she could. The castle was on fire, and couldn’t be saved. The tsukumogami still standing were getting their fallen comrades out of the building before it burned down. The Hakurei shrine maiden had escaped from the dungeon, and would probably return with back up. Seija was dealing with the intruder.

Shinmyoumaru took charge. Kogasa was brought back in, and the tsukumogami moved the broken furniture against the cave wall, out of the way. Everyone shared whatever information they knew about the Hakurei shrine maiden, with Kogasa being the most helpful.

“She’s got amazing intuition,” Kogasa explained. “She knows exactly where to go to find the culprit, and what cards to use against them. When I fought her it was like, she knew where my bullets were going to go in advance, even though I was sure she’d never seen them before.”

Shinmyoumaru had two options: hide, hope Seija found them before Reimu did, and run away as a group. Or face Reimu Hakurei head on, and fight her. The second option made her sick with fear, but she couldn’t pick the first one. She was done hiding. She wasn’t going to let other people fight her battles anymore.

It was time to play dirty.

Kogasa was sent out to wait for Reimu. Yatsuhashi found the spare ammo hidden at the back of the cave, and everyone loaded their rifles. Then Shinmyoumaru sat down in the centre, and moved Marisa closer. In the end, she placed Marisa’s head on her knee. Marisa was sound asleep, and Shinmyoumaru could feel her breath when she placed a hand near her mouth.

“I’m sorry, Marisa,” she whispered. “Forgive me.”

The tsukumogami surrounded her. And they waited for Reimu. When she came, Shinmyoumaru couldn’t believe it. The shrine maiden she’d expected to see had been scary, powerful, merciless, and surrounded by allies. The one standing before her was battered, bloodied, barely able to stand upright, and missing a sleeve. Her trademark purification rod and yin-yang orbs were nowhere in sight. And when she saw the rifles, and Marisa lying so close to the Miracle Mallet, the fear was obvious on her face.

Shinmyoumaru felt sorry for her. She’d intended to dive straight into strict negotiations, but her heart wasn’t hard enough. Maybe, just maybe, she could talk Reimu into seeing things her way. Into understanding why they’d locked her up in the dungeon, and fought so hard to make their revolution happen. It was a shot in the dark, but Seija had always told her to try recruiting powerful enemies before fighting them. And it seemed Reimu had something to tell her too, so she was in the mood to sit down and listen.

So Shinmyoumaru told her about the World of Oni, and the inchling race. About her aunt being crushed to death, and the scavengers risking their lives for food. She explained that the youkai of Gensokyo drove them there, and that the inchling people wanted nothing more than to live outside again, in Gensokyo.

“But, that’s not possible, is it?” Shinmyoumaru was aware of the silence in the cave. Everyone was hanging on her every word. “I went down into Gensokyo this morning, and talked to a few of the youkai who lived there. What I heard was horrific. Strong youkai eating weak youkai. Doing whatever they wanted without care for others. How can my people live in a place like that? They’d just be driven underground again.” She felt her resolve strengthen with each word. “And it’s not just unfair on us inchlings, it’s unfair on all the weak youkai of Gensokyo. On the youkai that don’t even have voices.”

A few of the tsukumogami murmured with agreement.

“But, we have the power of miracles on our side.” Shinmyoumaru smiled. “I can do anything with my mallet. Absolutely anything! I can make any dream come true. Even the dream of living in Gensokyo, happy and safe. So won’t you join us? Won’t you help us create a better Gensokyo for everyone? Even humans will benefit. That’s why your friend Marisa joined.”

Reimu looked heartbroken. Shinmyoumaru wondered if her words were getting through to her.

“I’m sorry about locking you up in our dungeon, and I’m sorry I have to threaten you like this, but I don’t want us to be enemies. I’m sure with someone as amazing as you on our side, we can change Gensokyo peacefully. No one would have to get hurt. It’ll be-”

Reimu held her hand up. “I’ve heard enough.” Her voice cracked. She closed her eyes for a moment to steady herself. “…I get it.”

Shinmyoumaru fell silent. All eyes were back on Reimu.

“Let me talk now,” said Reimu. “No interruptions. Understand?”

“I understand,” said Shinmyoumaru.

“Okay… Three things. Firstly, if you think I’d join you after your subordinate shackled me to a pillar, denied me basic human rights, and had her subordinate hurt me with a knife, then you are stupid.” Reimu’s sadness gave way to anger. “I’ve never heard anything so stupid in all my life! You’ve got rifles trained on me and you expect me to sympathise with you? You’re planning to change Gensokyo for your own benefit, and rule over it, and on top of all that…!” She pointed at Marisa. “You’re holding a human hostage and threatening to turn them into a youkai right before my eyes. You’re threatening to break one of Gensokyo’s fundamental rules.”

Shinmyoumaru said nothing. She was lost for words.

“Gensokyo isn’t perfect. I know that. We all know that! That doesn’t mean you can waltz in and change it however you like. Now secondly, enough with the guns. They’re loaded with real bullets, aren’t they? We use danmaku here, so load them with danmaku. Hand Marisa over to me now, and fight me using spell card rules. That’s how we resolve problems here in Gensokyo! We throw things at each other and no one gets killed!”

Shinmyoumaru didn’t move.

“And thirdly.” For the first time since she started talking, Reimu hesitated. She looked afraid. Maybe she knew she wasn’t getting through to Shinmyoumaru. “Thirdly… listen, you aren’t going to like this, but you need to hear it. You’re being used.”

Shinmyoumaru frowned. “Excuse me?”

“You are…” Reimu’s voice lost strength. She swallowed. “You’re… you’re being used. By that amanojaku.”

Shinmyoumaru nearly laughed. “Are you trying to lie to me?”

“I’m telling the truth. You need to listen.”

“All right, I’ll listen. I promised I’d listen, after all.”

“That amanojaku’s been lying to you from the very beginning. Most of what you just told me - about inchlings being driven out of Gensokyo by youkai - is something she made up to get you on her side. She’s using you for the mallet. She doesn’t care about you, she just wants you to cause havoc in Gensokyo. And you’ve fallen for it! She picked you because of your genetics. You’re an illegitimate princess, so no one would go looking for you, and-”

“I’m an illegitimate princess?” Finally, something she knew wasn’t true. Shinmyoumaru scoffed. “That’s ridiculous.”

“You are. You said in your story that you got sent out of the palace to stay with your aunt, and never saw your parents again.”

“I did say that, but that doesn’t make me illegitimate.” Shinmyoumaru felt angry. What a horrible thing to say. “Who told you all this?”

“Actually, um...” Yatsuhashi spoke up. “What she’s saying matches something a tsukumogami told us recently. We arrested them and put them in the dungeon, so she might have heard it from them.”

“Her again!” shouted a voice from the crowd.

“Don’t listen to her, Your Royal Highness, she was full of lies,” said one of the torch-bearing tsukumogami. “She said the mallet was going to run out of power, and kill us all.”

The mallet was going to run out of power?

This is the tale of how the descendants of Issun Boushi used his Miracle Mallet to satisfy their own greed, and how it plunged our entire race into the World of Oni, and took us away from the sun’s warmth forever.

She hadn’t expected any of this. Shinmyoumaru wished Seija was here. She wished she didn’t have to deal with this by herself. “And where did she learn that?”

Silence. The tsukumogami looked at each other.

“She heard it in the World of Oni, where you used to live,” said Reimu. “She got the information from talking to various people.”

The World of Oni? One of her tsukumogami had been down there? This was getting more and more preposterous. Shinmyoumaru had to do something to regain control of the conversation, but what? Seija would know what to do, of course, but Seija wasn’t here.

“So hand Marisa to me, and let’s go outside,” Reimu continued. “You can talk to the tsukumogami who told me all this later, and your amanojaku friend too. Just give me Marisa.”

Shinmyoumaru gripped Marisa’s hair. Reimu wanted Marisa. That was all. She’d spew any old lies to make it happen. Shinmyoumaru had to resist them. “Seija isn’t a bad person,” she said.

“She is!” Reimu looked offended. “She’s an amanojaku, of course she’s a bad person! She’s tricking you.”

“She isn’t a bad person.” Shinmyoumaru raised her voice. “She’s forced to do bad things because of what she is. She’s never done anything to hurt me.”

“She’s definitely a bad person!”

“No she’s not, really!” Hearing someone badmouth Seija upset her. “I’m sorry if she hurt you in the dungeon, but she gets carried away sometimes. She’s really sensitive to emotions, and-”

“And as soon as I beat you she’s going to run off with your mallet and leave you to suffer the consequences. That’s what amanojaku do! They set people up and ruin lives, and feed off it.”

“Seija would never set me up for anything!” Shinmyoumaru couldn’t understand why Reimu had to be like this. Marisa was a nice person. Marisa wouldn’t lie to her. “We’re a team! She needs me and I need her. We’re in love.” It slipped out unexpectedly. But there, it was out in the open now. “We’re in love with each other. We kiss and sleep together and everything. She wouldn’t do anything to hurt me, not willingly.”

Reimu groaned. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m completely serious! I love her! And she loves me!”

“I can’t believe I’m going to have to say this… look, you’re definitely being taken for a ride. Listen.” Reimu pointed at Marisa. “She had sex with Marisa this morning. I heard her say it right in front of me. She told me all the explicit acts they did, and how it turned her into a walking vessel for her mini-Hakkero. She’s a pyromaniac now. That’s probably what happened to your castle.”

Horror sank through her. No, it couldn’t be true! More lies, surely. Seija had promised she’d never lay a finger on Marisa. And Shinmyoumaru believed her. Seija had her faults, but she’d never betray her. Anger surged through her. How dare Reimu Hakurei tell her all these lies, all to rile her up. It was disgusting, despicable. Shinmyoumaru wouldn’t stand for it. Reimu had crossed a line.

“…I’m sorry, Your Royal Highness.” And suddenly, Yatsuhashi was crying. “I walked in on Kijin-sama and Kirisame-sama earlier. The shrine maiden’s telling the truth. Forgive me for not telling you earlier.”

It was a slap in the face.

“What?” Shinmyoumaru looked around the room, hoping someone would claim it wasn’t true. But no one spoke up. “No… no there’s been some mistake.” And it was all coming back now. All the things Seija said to her. Seija kissing Marisa when she thought Shinmyoumaru wasn’t around. Seija licking the mallet. Seija wincing as they made love. And not just that. She was remembering things from a long, long time ago, that she thought she’d forgotten. Her siblings used to tease her for looking a bit different. Her face was rounder than her other brothers’ and sisters’, and she was shorter and stockier. And she could remember now too, the urgency in the older guard’s voice back in Mamesuke Square. Don’t tell anyone you’re Shinmyoumaru Sukuna. And if she was illegitimate, it would explain why her aunt kept her hidden from the public, and why no one came to visit her, and…

The ground was crumbling beneath her. Had Aunt Kikyou really been her aunt, or a complete stranger? Had her mother hated her? Had her father hated her? Who were her real parents? What else wasn’t true? What else was fake about her life? She turned to Reimu. “What are you suggesting I do, then? If everything you’re saying is true, what do you want me to do?”

Reimu looked relieved. “Hand Marisa to me, and surrender. If you don’t want to surrender, we can handle things the usual way, with spell cards. If I win, you will shut down your revolution and behave. If you win, I will retreat.”

The tsukumogami looked at Shinmyoumaru, waiting for instructions. Marisa’s head felt heavy on her knee. She glanced at the mallet, unsure what to do. The strange, empty ache in her stomach was still there.

The ache wasn’t because of the mallet, was it?

Was the mallet running out of power?

“What are you doing!?”

“Seija!” Shinmyoumaru nearly stood up. Seija’s voice. Seija was here! “Seija, I’m here!”

The crowd parted, and Seija stumbled into the circle. Her clothes were blackened with soot, and there was a huge bloodstain around her stomach. Her gloves were gone, and she was clutching her abdomen with a blood-streaked hand. She smiled with relief when she saw Shinmyoumaru. “Good. I’ve been looking for you.”

“What happened to you?” Shinmyoumaru wanted to hug her. Everything would be all right, now that Seija was here. She didn’t have to fight Reimu alone anymore. “Is your stomach okay?”

“I’ll explain later. Right now you all need to get out of the cave.” She pointed behind her, at the entrance. “The castle’s collapsing, and the forest below is on fire. It’s only a matter of time before the fire gets here, along with Gensokyo’s youkai.” She turned to Shinmyoumaru. “Have you hit Marisa with the mallet yet?”

“Huh, no?” Shinmyoumaru looked confused. How did Seija know about her threat? “Am I meant to?”

Seija groaned. “I can’t believe this… Marisa was meant to ask you for a power up. She promised me she’d get one.” She glared down at Marisa. “Well, just hit her now anyway, and let’s get going. We can take the shrine maiden with us. Well done for catching her again, by the way.”

Shinmyoumaru’s expression stiffened. Reimu glared at Seija’s back. No one moved in the room.

“Don’t just sit there!” yelled Seija, frustrated. “Get going!”

“Stay put, everyone.” Shinmyoumaru needed to ask her, before she lost the courage. “Seija, I’ve been talking to the Hakurei shrine maiden, and she said you slept with Marisa.”

Seija didn’t even blink. “Did she now? That’s creative.”

“She said you stood in front of her and listed all the things you did to her.”

“Obviously she’d say that. She knows it’d upset you.”

“She said I’m an illegitimate princess.” Shinmyoumaru wanted to cry. “She said you’ve been using me for the Miracle Mallet!”

Seija laughed. “Come on, that’s ridiculous. I don’t have the patience to keep up a charade like that. She wants to tear us apart, so we can’t do our revolution anymore. Don’t believe her.”

“Stop lying and tell her the truth,” snapped Reimu.

“I am telling the truth.” Seija sneered. “You just want to save your beloved Marisa and get revenge. Well sorry, but Marisa said she wanted the mallet’s power with her own mouth. Trying to turn my princess against me won’t stop us granting her wish.”

“You’re using that inchling for your own means!” Reimu stood up, and pointed a finger at Seija. “You’re a textbook amanojaku!”

“Yatsuhashi said she saw you sleep with Marisa too.” Shinmyoumaru needed to hear Seija’s answer. She needed a reason to assume they were lies.

“Yatsuhashi did?” Seija turned, and glared at her. “That’s a shame. I expected a commander to be less susceptible to corruption and bribery.”

“I wasn’t bribed!” But Yatsuhashi didn’t seem eager to defend herself. She looked confused. All the tsukumogami looked confused.

“Hurry up and hit Marisa with the mallet, Princess,” said Seija, ignoring her. “We need to get moving.”

Shinmyoumaru didn’t move.

Reimu saw the danger. “Don’t you dare! Don’t do anything to Marisa! I’ll exterminate you!”

A sob escaped Shinmyoumaru’s lips. She wanted to get up, fling her mallet away and run. Seija, have sex with Marisa? And brag about it afterwards? It was horrible. The worst lie of all. And yet it didn’t feel like a lie. She could still see Seija’s arms around Marisa, close enough to kiss her, their backs to Shinmyoumaru…

Because even if Seija was lying to her about the inchling’s history, even if Seija was using her for the mallet, Shinmyoumaru wanted to believe that the love between them was real. That the big, bright smile she loved wasn’t fake. That Seija wanted her by her side, and saw her as a partner. That together they were unstoppable, and could make even the smallest wishes come true.

“Is something the matter?” Seija cocked her head, and at first Shinmyoumaru thought she was talking to her. But Seija was looking at Reimu again. “We can wake Marisa up and ask her, if that makes you feel better.”

“Don’t do it! I’m serious, don’t do it!” Reimu marched forward, and was intervened by two tsukumogami. “Let go of me! Marisa, wake up!”

“See, she’s desperate.” Seija turned to Shinmyoumaru, and smiled mischievously. “Are you really gonna believe her over me? She’s friends with Gensokyo’s youkai, remember? You saw them drinking together in all those newspaper articles. She’s just trying to trick you.”

“Seija…” Shinmyoumaru wanted to believe her. But her resolve was falling away. “Seija…” Her aunt was gone. Her home in the World of Oni was gone. And now her castle was gone too. At the very least, she wanted to keep her first love. The woman who’d shown her the sun. “What should I do? I don’t know what to do. I’m scared…”

Seija crouched down. “Hit Marisa with the mallet, then come with me.” She touched Shinmyoumaru’s shoulders. “It’s been me and you together all this time, hasn’t it? Us versus them, so why should that change now? Hit Marisa, and we’ll find somewhere else to live. Somewhere no one will find us.”

“I’m not trying to trick you!” Reimu struggled. “You have to listen to me, please!”

“I love you, Shinmyoumaru.” Seija smiled. A pure, genuine smile. “I’d never lie to you, come on. You know me.”

“She would! She’s lying right now!” Reimu was hysterical. More tsukumogami flocked around her, to keep her still. “Let me go!”

Shinmyoumaru wanted to cover her ears. The mallet felt heavy in her right hand.

Seija reached out, and caressed Shinmyoumaru’s cheek. Her bare hand was cold, and flaked with dry blood. “Do it, for me?”

Reimu struggled as hard as she could. “No! No, don’t! Please! Please!”

Shinmyoumaru sobbed. Marisa slept peacefully in her lap, oblivious to the danger.

“Marisa!”

Listen to Reimu and turn against Seija, or listen to Seija and continue with how things were? There’d be no turning back once she made this choice. The weight of it threatened to crush her. Shinmyoumaru took a deep breath, and let another round of tears run down her cheeks. She cleared her mind.

She had to make a decision. She had to act not as Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, but as a representative of the inchling race, a mentor to the tsukumogami, and the future leader of Gensokyo. She had to pick what was best for the world, not for her.

She knew what to do.

“Mallet,” she said. “Please grant Marisa Kirisame the power she desires.”

Reimu screamed. Seija yelped with delight. And with regret, Shinmyoumaru swung the mallet, and struck Marisa.

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
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Let's finish this!

Chapter 20
(AO3 Mirror)

The castle burned. The books piled up on the second floor curled to ash. The dining table Shinmyoumaru, Seija and Marisa sat around at meal times clattered to the floor. The place Shinmyoumaru first saw the sun melted away. Fire tore through the rooms like a whirlwind, sparing nothing.

Burning wood fell away from the building, plummeting down to the forest below. Smoke was already billowing from the trees. It hadn’t rained for over a week, and conditions were perfect for a forest fire.

Sakuya lay in the dungeon, dimly aware of the flames flickering below her. The air was thick with smoke, and she couldn’t see anything further than a few centimetres in front of her. The heat was suffocating. She passed in and out of consciousness, waking up only to cough and splutter before she ran out of air again. She couldn’t feel pain. The stab wounds around her chest and stomach didn’t even hurt anymore.

Seija had won. She’d made short work of Sakuya, and left her lying in a pool of her own blood. Sakuya knew she only had herself to blame; she hadn’t had the stamina to stop time again after freeing Reimu and Raiko, and the pain in her arm had slowed her down. Blood was pooling around her.

She was dying.

Either she would suffocate from the smoke and burn to death, or she’d pass out and die of blood loss. No one was going to save her in time. Stopping or slowing time to delay her death was futile. Her knife was still clenched in her right hand, and she could feel it panicking. It was going to die too – melt into a little pool of metal – and it wasn’t ready.

Sakuya rested her cheek against the floorboards. The blood pouring out of her felt warm and comforting, like she was lying on a big warm bed, listening to the fire crackling in the stove. It didn’t feel scary at all, for some reason. It felt like going to sleep after a long day cleaning the mansion.

But still, she only had herself to blame. None of this would’ve happened if she’d thrown that knife away as soon as she saw it. Now Remilia was going to have to find a new maid, and remember Sakuya as a disappointment. The mansion would run less efficiently without her. Everyone would attend her funeral, and grieve for a while, but eventually get on with their lives and forget about her. Maybe Meiling would remember to clean her tombstone for a few centuries, at least. Sakuya had never been interested in things like marriage or children, and had expected to die as she lived: serving Remilia Scarlet, but not like this.

But there was nothing she could do about it.

She heard footsteps. Someone had entered the dungeon, except… no, that was impossible. Sakuya was hallucinating. She was in her death throws, and her brain was inventing things to comfort her.

“I figured you’d lose,” said Raiko Horikawa. Her white suit was black with soot, and her face glittered with sweat. “I saved you for last on purpose, you know, as payback. I’ll never forgive you for what you did to Benben.” She bent down, and lifted Sakuya up with both arms.

Sakuya winced with pain. She felt annoyed. She didn’t want to see Raiko Horikawa in her last moments. Her brain should’ve picked someone more comforting.

“I’m not bitter enough to let you die, though. I know how precious life is.” Raiko began walking towards the trapdoor. “Come on, I’ll get you to a doctor.”

Sakuya tried to struggle. But her consciousness faded again, and her arm dangled free. Her fingers lost their grip, and the knife slipped out of her hand. Raiko didn’t notice it fall, and leapt down to the next floor without a second glance.

Sakuya fell into a deep, deep sleep.

*****
Everyone in the room was staring at Marisa. Shinmyoumaru’s arms trembled. Seija’s smile flickered. The tsukumogami held their breath.

But nothing happened. There was no sudden transformation, or gentle glow, or any hint that Marisa was no longer human. She just slept.

“Marisa…!” Reimu wailed, and covered her face with both hands. The tsukumogami stepped away from her, and let her fall to the ground.

“Seija…?” Shinmyoumaru looked up. “Did something-?”

Then at last, there was a loud, comical pop.

Shinmyoumaru squealed, and disappeared. The Miracle Mallet clattered to the floor. And the room fell into chaos. The tsukumogami rushed forward. “Your Royal Highness! Are you all right?” The cave was packed with blue and white fabric. Reimu couldn’t see anything.

“What happened?”

“Where is she?”

“Is she safe?”

“Stop!” Reimu scrambled to her feet, and tried to push her way forward. “Get out of my way!” Marisa was nowhere to be seen either. Nor was Seija. “Where’s that amanojaku? Someone catch her!”

A tsukumogami near her shrieked. There was a bang, and a shot rang through the cave.

“Don’t fire your guns, that’s dan-” But Reimu screamed before she could finish her sentence. Something burning hot tore through her left shoulder. She dropped to the ground. The pain was blinding. She thought she would lose consciousness from the agony alone. She covered her head as explosions rocketed through the room. The tsukumogami were panicking, and shooting at everything that moved. Blood ran down her arm, and soaked into her remaining sleeve.

She’d been shot.

There were more shouts. More yells. Reimu couldn’t get up again. Her head swam. Her body was at its limit. But she didn’t have time to rest. She needed to find Marisa, and get home alive. Reimu tried to push herself up with her right arm, and felt something hot skim over her head. Another bullet. The cave was a death trap. She had to get out.

Something caught her eye on the floor. A creature the size of a large rodent was dashing between the tsukumogami’s feet. Reimu swiped at it with her right arm, and heard a squeak. She’d caught it.

It was the inchling princess, trembling from head-to-foot with terror.

Reimu was shocked, but didn’t have time to freeze and work out what’d happened. “Nobody move!” She yelled, and finally, she stood up. She held the inchling high in the air. “I’ve got your princess, stay put!” Her vision swayed, and she closed her eyes. Another wave of pain ran through her. She resisted the urge to throw up.

“Unhand her!” screamed Yatsuhashi.

“Don’t attack!” Shinmyoumaru’s voice was tiny, but it echoed through the cave. “Stand back!”

Yatsuhashi cringed, and lowered her rifle. The others did the same.

“I’m not going to hurt her,” said Reimu, through gritted teeth. “I’m… ahh…” She thought she was going to faint. “I’m… arresting her…”

“Where’s Seija?” yelled Shinmyoumaru. “I saw her take my Miracle Mallet!”

Seija was gone. Marisa was gone. The Miracle Mallet was gone. Reimu did the maths. “She’s taken them!” She had to go after them. “You tsukumogami stay here! I’m taking the princess with me.”

“Everyone stay where you are,” ordered Shinmyoumaru. “I’ll come back, promise!”

“Are you sure-” began Yatsuhashi, but Reimu was already staggering towards the exit. “Hey!”

But they let her leave. Reimu’s left arm was completely limp. Blood dripped down her fingers and onto the floor as she walked. Shinmyoumaru was trembling in her hand, and Reimu could hear her hyperventilating. Outside the air was thick with smoke, and Reimu’s deteriorating vision made it nigh-impossible to see anything.

“You’re hurting me! Stop squeezing me!”

Reimu had unconsciously clenched her fist. She loosened her grip, and lifted her arm to face the inchling. “Why did you give those idiots guns?”

“It was Seija’s idea.”

“Of course it was Seija’s idea!” Reimu coughed, and moaned. Pain exploded through her left shoulder, and down the rest of her body. Seija Kijin could be anywhere, and Reimu had nothing to point them in the right direction. Every second took Marisa further away from her. “You’re under arrest,” said Reimu. “I saw what you did. You struck Marisa with the mallet. I won’t forgive that.”

“I’m sorry!”

“Apologies won’t cut it!” Every second robbed her of blood too. She didn’t have time to sit around. “Any idea where that amanojaku went?”

“I don’t know.” Shinmyoumaru sobbed. She’d started crying, and Reimu felt a pang of pity for her. “I don’t know…”

“Fine, I’ll do it the usual way.” Reimu put faith in her intuition, faced left, and flew towards a wall of smoke. “Hold your breath!”

*****
One mistake. That’s all it took for Seija’s plan to fall apart, and here she was, fleeing through thick walls of smoke, trying to get as far away from that cave as possible. She had the mallet in her right hand, and Marisa tucked under her left arm. Both tools were accounted for. It was a shame about the princess.

Because for thirty seconds back there, Seija had succeeded. Shinmyoumaru had believed her over the truth, and had hit Marisa with the Miracle Mallet. But the mallet had to run out of power. It had to run out of power in a room full of armed tsukumogami, and the Hakurei shrine maiden, and a tiny inchling who’d demand answers, as their castle burned and a huge forest fire blazed outside. Seija knew a death trap when she saw one. She needed time to hide, let her stomach heal, and rethink her plan.

Because her plan wasn’t going to work without Shinmyoumaru.

Marisa stirred. She was waking up. Of course, the mallet was recharging, so it was going to reclaim its magic. Seija tightened her grip, afraid the mini-Hakkero had lost its hold on Marisa. She didn’t want to lose her second tool, but if she had to abandon it to get away, then so be it.

Marisa opened her eyes, and looked up at Seija. “What’s going on?”

“Everything’s fallen to pieces,” said Seija. “We’re switching to plan B. How are you feeling? Inhuman?”

“Mm, not really.” Marisa pulled the mini-Hakkero out of her pocket, and noticed the forest fire below. “Woah, it’s burning! Did I do that?”

Relief flooded through Seija. The mini-Hakkero was still in control. “Yes, you did. Because you burnt down the castle, you idiot.”

“I did?” Marisa grinned. “Whoops.”

“I’ll punish you later. Right now we need to get away.” What should she do, aim for a cave and lie low? How would she handle Marisa once she returned to normal? Seija had no idea. She wanted to yell and kick something. It was so unfair. All her hard word and effort came to nothing. Playing the long game had screwed her over. She hated Gensokyo. She hated all the people in it, hated the Hakurei shrine maiden, and the youkai sages, and the scumbags who hurt and hit and abused her. Her stomach wound hurt like crazy. Her face still stung from the purification rod’s onslaught. Seija wanted revenge. Seija wanted to make everyone suffer as much as she did.

“Marisa, do you want to burn more things?” she asked.

“Yes!”

“It looks amazing here, doesn’t it? Why don’t we travel around Gensokyo and set fire to stuff? Forests, grasslands, and houses too. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

“You’ll let me?” Marisa looked up at her. “Really?”

“Of course.” Seija pulled her up, and kissed Marisa on the lips. “But only when I say so. Be a good tool and behave.”

Marisa looked thrilled. “I can’t wait!”

Seija smiled, and kissed her again. They were going to set Gensokyo alight. Maybe she could destroy Gensokyo’s beloved Human Village before Marisa came to her senses. Torch all the humans inside and hear them squeal. “You can burn anything you want after this, I promise.”

*****
“There they are!” Shinmyoumaru spotted them first. “They’re heading west!”

Seija’s filthy white dress stood out against the black smoke. She was carrying Marisa, her back to Reimu. “I can see them,” Reimu said, then shouted. “Hey! Hey!”

Seija paused, and turned to look at them. She held Marisa closer, and smiled. “Why, the Hakurei shrine maiden? Fancy seeing you here. And oh, is that my princess you’re holding?” There was a speck of something strange in Seija’s expression. Fear? Anticipation? Reimu couldn’t pin it down. “How kind of you to bring her along.”

Reimu heard Shinmyoumaru steady her breath. “Seija… give me my mallet back.”

Seija giggled.

“You knew, didn’t you?” Shinmyoumaru shouted as loud as she could. “You knew my mallet was going to run out of power! Why didn’t you warn me?”

Seija tried to cover her face with the mallet, to hide her expression, but she was laughing too hard. Reimu assumed she was laughing victoriously at first, but quickly realised it was the opposite. Seija Kijin was on the verge of madness.

“Seija…!”

Reimu didn’t have time for this. “Hand Marisa over! Now!”

“And why would I do that? We’re going on a little adventure together.” She gently shook her. “Marisa, are you awake?”

Marisa opened her eyes. Reimu held her breath, unsure what to expect.

But Marisa didn’t seem any different. “I’m awake,” she murmured.

“Ready to burn things? We’re getting started early.” She pointed at Reimu. “I want you to blast her to smithereens.”

Marisa looked at Reimu, half awake. “You want me to burn the shrine maiden?”

“Yes, blast her with your mini-Hakkero. Toast her good, so she won’t come back afterwards. Can you do that? Don’t worry about the princess. She’s a youkai, so she won’t die or anything.”

“What are you doing!?” Shinmyoumaru was horrified. “You can’t do that, Seija! She’ll die!” She turned to Reimu. “Run away now, please! I’ll get Marisa back for you, so save yourself.”

But Reimu couldn’t run. She couldn’t move. Blood coated her left side. Her breath was fast and shallow. Adrenaline had kept her going, and that wasn’t enough anymore. It took everything she had to stay upright in midair. If she fled now, that’d be it. She’d never see Marisa again.

“I’m staying put.” Reimu loosened her grip, in case Shinmyoumaru needed to escape if things turned bad. “That mini-Hakkero’s a youkai extermination weapon. You should get away from me.” Then she turned to Marisa, and spoke up. “Marisa, can you hear me? I’m here. I’m right in front of you.”

Marisa looked at Reimu, and frowned. Then, she lifted her mini-Hakkero. “Can I really burn her?” she asked Seija. “As much as I want?”

“As much as you want,” confirmed Seija. “Don’t hold back.”

“Stop this!” Shinmyoumaru drew her needle sword. “I order you to stop!”

Seija laughed again. Reimu saw the mini-Hakkero glow. “As much as I want…” murmured Marisa. “As much as I want…”

Reimu had to dodge. She had to protect herself. But she knew she couldn’t get away. If she moved too fast, she’d black out and fall to her death. She was going to die, no matter what.

There was only one option left, and that was to talk Marisa back to rationality. But Reimu had no idea what to say, and no time to think of something clever.

So instead, she spoke the truth. The unguarded, honest truth.

“I love you, Marisa,” said Reimu.

The flame flickered.

“I’ve always loved you. I’ve loved you for years and years. I was just too stupid to notice it. You love me too, don’t you? I’m sorry.” Reimu couldn’t stop. Tears ran down her cheeks. “I’m sorry I didn’t try and fix things. I’m sorry I let things get awkward between us. I’m sorry I never realised how hard you worked, and how much suffering you went through. I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry!”


Marisa stared at her, frozen.

Reimu prepared for death. She shouted her feelings loud and clear, in case she never got a chance to speak again. “I’ve felt so lonely without you these last few months. I missed you! I missed you but I told myself I didn’t, so I never looked for you! I’m an idiot!” She stared into Marisa’s eyes. “So don’t do this, please! Come over here and come home with me, back to the shrine. We can start again. We can fix what went wrong. Okay? You don’t have to go this far. You don’t have to become a monster, or a murderer. Come back to me!”

“What’re you doing?” Seija snapped at Marisa. “Hurry up and blast her.”

Marisa looked at Reimu, at Seija, then at Reimu again, visibly confused.

“Kill her!” Seija was growing impatient. “Hurry up, or I’ll do it for you!”

“I love you, Marisa!” Reimu tried one last time. “I love you! I love you!”

“Oh, shut up.” Seija jabbed a finger at Reimu. “You’re making me sick.”

Marisa’s expression clouded over. She turned, and aimed the mini-Hakkero at Seija.

Seija’s eyes widened. Shinmyoumaru shrieked, and jumped out of Reimu’s hand. Black light exploded around them. Something hard collided with Reimu, and she was knocked out of the sky. Reimu screamed. It was Marisa. The blast had shoved her into Reimu, and now they were falling together.

Marisa.

Marisa!

Reimu forced both arms to move, and grabbed her. “I’ve got you!” she screamed. “I’ve got you, it’s okay!” She held Marisa tight, afraid of letting go. She felt warm and solid in her arms. “It’s okay…” Tears fell away from Reimu’s eyes. She sobbed. “It’s okay…!”

They plunged head-first into the forest fire.

They weren’t going to survive. Either the fall would kill them, or the fire would. Reimu clung, trying to shield Marisa’s body with her own. The least she could do was take the impact, and hope someone found Marisa before the flames did.

And all of a sudden, three pairs of hands reached out to them. They grabbed Reimu and Marisa, and slowed their fall to a stop.

“That was close,” said Sekibanki.

“Are you all right?” asked Kagerou Imaizumi. “Oh my god, you’re bleeding!”

“Everyone stay calm,” ordered Reisen Udongein Inaba. “Get them away from the flames. Reimu, can you hear me? Marisa?”

Reimu tried to respond, but nothing came out of her mouth. She was losing consciousness.

“I think she’s dying,” said Sekibanki.

“She’s losing blood. We need to get them to the tent.” Reisen pointed east. “Take her to the clearing. They should be done treating the tsukumogami by now. Hurry!”

Reimu tried to keep her eyes open, and her arms wrapped around Marisa. But exhaustion swept over her. Her eyes shut tight. Her head flopped against Marisa’s. Love swept through her, and she felt relieved. It didn’t matter what happened to her. She’d saved Marisa. She’d done her job.

Reimu could rest now.

*****
Seija fell backwards. She flipped over in mid-air, and landed with a sickening crack. She lay face-first in the dirt, thick smoke masking the fire around her. She was lying in a clearing devoid of vegetation. A tiny piece of the evening sky was visible overhead.

Her dress hung off her in rags. Her face and upper body was covered in painful burns. But the physical pain was nothing compared to Seija’s wounded pride. The mini-Hakkero had failed her too. Now both her tools had turned on her, and there was nothing Seija could’ve done to stop them.

Maybe a stronger youkai would’ve foreseen it. Maybe a stronger youkai would’ve found a way to prevent it. But Seija wasn’t strong, and never would be. She pressed the Miracle Mallet close to her chest, like a child hugging a soft toy. It was unharmed. She could use it again sometime in the future. Her only comfort.

She lay in the dirt for around ten minutes, before she felt something land on her arm, and walk along her shoulder. She felt the cold prick of a needle on her neck. “Don’t move,” snarled Shinmyoumaru, “or I’ll stab your jugular.”

Her emotions seeped into Seija. There was confusion, stronger than anything else, and patches of fear, anger, betrayal, even a little bit of concern. It nourished Seija. She wanted bask in it, until her wounds healed and her strength returned.

“Talk to me, Seija,” ordered Shinmyoumaru. “Tell me the truth.”

Seija thought about it. Was it worth trying to talk Shinmyoumaru back to her side again? She had no idea how long the mallet would take to recharge. She’d have the play the part of Shinmyoumaru’s lover all that time, and keep up the charade of lies. The thought sent a wave of despair through her.

“Seija!”

And Shinmyoumaru’s misery – the temptation that almost drove her to self-sabotage over and over in the castle – was right in front of her. She could taste it on the tip of her tongue. Seija needed it. Her body needed it. Like a thirsty man searching for water, Seija sought hate, and she wasn’t strong enough to refuse it anymore.

So for once, she did as Shinmyoumaru asked, and told the truth.

“It wasn’t all lies,” said Seija. “Some of it was true. I wasn’t dedicated enough to fake my injuries from Gensokyo, and I was serious about making the revolution happen. But other than that, I made pretty much everything up.”

She felt the horror slide through Shinmyoumaru.

It encouraged her. “You were perfect, you know that?” Seija wanted to laugh, but her face hurt too much. “You never asked questions. You never tried to do anything by yourself. You did everything I said without a second thought. Keeping you like that wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I had my very own, little miracle maker, and I could do anything I wanted with it.”

“Seija…?”

“I was going to install you as Gensokyo’s Queen, and rule through you. You’d become the worst, most feared ruler in Gensokyo’s history, and once I got bored of you after a few decades, I’d start a counter revolution and bring you down. It was all going as I planned too, until today. You had to get cocky, and leave the castle at the worst possible moment.”

“No…” Shinmyoumaru was crying. Her shock was delicious. “Seija, stop it. What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me, Princess. I’m an amanojaku; this is what we’re like. I told you, didn’t I? Back when you wanted me to be honest with you. I said if I was honest with you, you’d run away, and now you know why.”

“You said… you…” Shinmyoumaru was having trouble breathing. The tears were too thick. “You said you loved me… we held hands, you kissed me…”

“And I hated every minute of it.”

“No! I don’t believe you!”

“All that love and affection oozing out of you made me sick. But I put up with it. I put up with it to keep you sweet. I hated holding your hand, and I hated kissing you. I hated being touched by you! Sex was horrific. But I couldn’t tell you, or you might’ve started noticing all my lies. That you didn’t really need to listen to me, and could do whatever you wanted with that mallet. So I endured it! I endured it every single day!”

Shinmyoumaru’s heart was broken. Her grief overpowered everything, and Seija gorged on it. “Is that why you slept with Marisa? Did you do it to get revenge?”

“No, I slept with her for the same reason I slept with you: to get her to do what I wanted. It’s a good form of manipulation, isn’t it? It felt great though. Way better than when I did it with you!”And before Shinmyoumaru could react, Seija swiped at her.

Shinmyoumaru squeaked, and dropped her needle sword in surprise. Seija grabbed her in one hand, and slowly got to her feet. She enjoyed Shinmyoumaru’s expression change as she took in Seija’s injuries. Her eyes darted between the burns, and the blood and dirt all over her front. Seija could feel her burns healing. There was something wet on her cheeks.

Seija was crying. Tear drops fell down her face, and onto her ruined dress.

“I wanted to see the look on your face,” said Seija. “I wanted you to look at me with absolute disgust. The thought kept me going every day. One day, once everything was ready, I’d tell you the truth, and see you break. I couldn’t wait.”

And there it was, at long last. Pitch black emotions surged through Shinmyoumaru, darker than any Seija had sampled before. Anger, hatred, despair, grief, resentment. Shinmyoumaru dug her fingernails into Seija’s hand, to hurt her. “I hate you,” she hissed. “I hate you!”

It was like ascending heaven. The kick was incredible. Seija’s pain faded away. Her muscles relaxed. “Thank you.” And she smiled. A peaceful, gentle smile.


Seija was happy. She was truly, truly happy. “I wanted you to hate me. More than anything… I…” She let the tears run down her face. Over her burns, and between her cuts. “I wanted you to abhor me. It’s strange. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. I’ve never wanted anyone to hate me so much.”

“I loved you! I thought you cared about me more than anything! I thought you were a good person! How could you. How dare you!”

“Good, good…”

“I never want to see you again!”

“I’m so glad.” Seija sobbed. So this is how she’d really felt, all this time. She hadn’t expected this clarity. It felt wonderful. “I hate you too, Shinmyoumaru. I want to see you suffer. I want to see you crying in pain, with no one around to help you.” Seija wanted to kiss her. She wanted to wrap her arms around Shinmyoumaru, and express her feelings another way. “I’m glad I met you. I’m glad I got a chance to tell you all this.”

“Give me the mallet and get out of my sight! Never come near my people again, you vile amanojaku!”

“Your people? You’re illegitimate, remember? It was your mum who cheated, by the way. They caught her screwing your real dad and threw her in prison. She died a few years later. Sad story, eh?”

“Shut up!” Shinmyoumaru struggled. “Shut up shut up shut up!”

“Your real dad’s dead too. He got executed. Oh, and you’re supposed to be dead as well. That’s why your aunt didn’t want anyone seeing you. They’d realise you hadn’t died of fever like you were meant to and come kill you. What a tragedy.” Seija lifted the mallet. “I’ll be keeping this. Don’t worry, I won’t kill you. I don’t want to, after all the hatred you’ve given me.”

Shinmyoumaru snarled. “Give it back!”

“Come and get it then.” And suddenly, Seija tossed Shinmyoumaru up in the air. Shinmyoumaru screamed, and curled into a ball. She didn’t have time to regain her balance, and fell to the ground. “Not that you’ll be able to find me.”

“Seija! Wait!”

But Seija had already turned away. She knew exactly what she was doing, and even felt a little sad about it. But this was how things should be. She wanted Shinmyoumaru to remember her as disgusting. “What?” She glanced over her shoulder. “Got something else to say?”

Shinmyoumaru glared at her. Seija gazed back, still smiling.

“I’ll find you again, Seija.” Shinmyoumaru yelled. “I’ll find you, and I’ll kill you.”

Seija giggled. “I wouldn’t bother, Princess. You won’t find me in your lifetime.”

“Then one of my descendants will. One of my daughters will find you, or one of their daughters will. One of us will hunt you down and kill you, so you’ll never lay a finger on the inchling race again!”

Seija couldn’t wait. “I’m looking forward to it.” She waved. “Goodbye, Shinmyoumaru Sukuna. Think of me when you can’t sleep at night, and remember what I did to you.” And then she turned, and walked into the wall of grey smoke.

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
  • Gender: Female
Chapter 21
(AO3 Mirror)

“Here it is.” Kosuzu reappeared from the storeroom, and placed the scroll on the table. “Careful, it’s really heavy.”

“It’s huge!” Shinmyoumaru leapt off Reimu’s shoulder, and ran across the table. “Open it up, let’s look inside!” She grabbed the scroll’s clasp, and tugged.

“Don’t do that.” Reimu scooped her up with both hands, and lifted her out of harm’s way. “It might fly open and squash you.”

“I want to read it!”

Kosuzu giggled. “I’ll open it, don’t worry.” She unfastened the clasp, and let the scroll roll across the table. The paper was crammed with tiny characters Reimu couldn’t read, and had clearly been kept in good condition. “Can you read it, Shinmyoumaru-san?”

Shinmyoumaru wiggled in Reimu’s hands, keen to get a better look. Reimu placed her back on the table, and watched her run along the edge of the scroll. “Wow! Wow, this is amazing! The characters are huge, it must’ve been written for big people. Oh!” Shinmyoumaru pointed. “Look, footprints.”

“Those are footprints?” Kosuzu was amazed. “You’re right… they’re the same size as your foot. And now that you mention it, the characters do look a bit big for you.”

“Yeah, I can’t read it though…” Shinmyoumaru frowned. “But I’ve seen writing that looks a bit like this, in the palace heirloom room. No one could read that either.”

“Fascinating,” said Akyuu, from her seat on the other side of the room. She was taking rapid notes. “So it’s written in a dead language? What do the inchlings use at the moment?”

“I can read the signs in the Human Village,” said Shinmyoumaru. “So… I suppose the same language as everyone else?”

“Anyway, don’t worry if you can’t read it,” said Kosuzu, “because I can! It’ll take me a while, but I can translate the whole book for you, if you want.”

Shinmyoumaru’s eyes lit up. “Please! That would be wonderful!”

Reimu smiled to herself. She was relieved to see Shinmyoumaru getting along with Kosuzu. So far Reimu’s attempts at introducing Shinmyoumaru to Gensokyo’s residents had been a success. They’d visited a new location every day for the last week, and had Shinmyoumaru talk to the locals. The tengu newspapers were already having a bid war over who got to publish the first interview with her, and the kappa put her in a strange remote control boat and drove her around their ravine. Things did get a bit hairy with Suika, however, with Shinmyoumaru running around the shrine with her needle sword drawn, and for some reason Kasen became really nervous around her, but otherwise everyone was keen to meet Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, and hear about the inchling race.

“How’s your shoulder, Reimu-san?” asked Kosuzu.

“Oh, fine.” Reimu touched the bandage wrapped around her left shoulder. “I might be able to take the bandage off soon.” And she was coming off her anti-werewolf medication tomorrow. For a week after the incident, Reimu had lain in bed with five or six tubes going in and out of her, sleeping for most of the day. “Your shop wasn’t damaged in the riots last month, was it?”

“We sheltered a few people, and Dad got his sword out and sat near the door, but nothing happened in the end. I’m glad you sorted it out.”

“I’ll need to make inchling-sized copies of this,” said Shinmyoumaru, still looking at the scroll, “and pass them around. And I’ll need to find some storytellers, so the people who can’t read can learn our history too, and...”

“Not anytime soon,” said Reimu with a sigh. “You’re still under arrest.”

Shinmyoumaru pouted, but didn’t argue. She wasn’t allowed anywhere without Reimu until the end of the year.

“It’ll probably take me a few months to finish the translation anyway,” said Kosuzu. “Lots of time to plan what to do with it afterwards.”

They chatted for about an hour. Kosuzu read important parts of the scroll aloud, and Akyuu had to open a second ink bottle to keep up with all the new information. Eventually Reimu stood up, and stretched. “Shinmyoumaru,” she said. “We’re leaving.”

“Already?” Shinmyoumaru looked disappointed.

“We can come back another time. Come on, I need to start making dinner.” Reimu picked her up, and placed her back on her shoulder.

“Thanks for letting me observe.” Akyuu’s eyes shone. “This is exciting!”

“Yes, bring her again sometime, Reimu-san,” said Kosuzu. “I don’t get many opportunities to talk to real youkai!”

“There’s a reason for that,” said Reimu. Shinmyoumaru waved, and the two of them left Suzunaan.

It was a lukewarm autumn day, and the leaves were beginning to turn. Reimu felt Shinmyoumaru twitch, and hide beneath her hair. Previously Reimu had wanted Shinmyoumaru to hide in a bag as they walked around the village, but Shinmyoumaru hated that, so they compromised like this instead. Few humans would be happy if they saw a youkai sitting on the Hakurei shrine maiden’s shoulder.

But when they turned the corner, Reimu found herself face-to-face with a large crowd of youkai.

“How’s Her Royal Highness doing?”

“Is everything okay?”

“How’s your shoulder?”

It was the tsukumogami. Reimu hadn’t recognised them without their uniform. There were rabbits with them too, nibbling on the grass next to the river.

“What are you all doing here?” snapped Reimu. “This is the Human Village. Shoo!”

“We wanted to see how she was,” said Yatsuhashi Tsukumo.

“It’s been a while since we saw her,” said Benben Tsukumo, next to her.

Raiko Horikawa met Reimu’s gaze, and rolled her eyes.

“They wouldn’t shut up about it, so we brought them over,” said one of the rabbits.

The tsukumogami brigade had been disbanded, of course, and their weapons confiscated. But most of the tsukumogami had nowhere to go, so they stuck around Eientei and made friends with the rabbits. Reimu had seen their huge tent from her hospital bed. Apparently they were going to stick around until they finished ridding themselves of the mallet’s magic, and replacing it with Raiko’s more permanent source from the outside world. Reimu didn’t really get it, but they didn’t seem to be doing anything dangerous, so she let it be.
 
“I thought we could surprise you,” said Kogasa, with a grin. She was still hanging out with them, and helping them adapt to Gensokyo’s society.

“I’m okay.” Shinmyoumaru poked her head through Reimu’s hair, and waved. “Don’t worry!”

The crowd cheered. Some of the tsukumogami tried to move forward, and get a closer look.

“Oh no you don’t.” Reimu still didn’t trust them. “Stay where you are. As you can see, she’s perfectly fine.” She reached into her sleeve, and pulled out her new purification rod. “Now go away before I decide to exterminate you.”

“You all need to do what Reimu says, understand?” said Shinmyoumaru. “You’ll scare the humans if you come in the village.”

Reimu pointed at a rabbit. “You need to teach them the rules!”

“We did,” said the rabbit, “but they wanted to come anyway.”

“You brought them here! Look, if you want to see her that badly, then you can come visit her at the shrine every now and then. But not every day, and definitely not during worshipping hours. Understand?”

The crowd cheered. “Thanks, Reimu-san!” said Kogasa.

“Now leave the village and don’t come back.” Reimu waved her purification rod for emphasis, and the crowd quickly dispersed. The rabbits hopped away.

But Benben and Raiko didn’t move. “Um… Your Royal Highness.” Benben blushed. “We just want you to know that, um…”

Raiko hooked her arm around Benben’s, and grinned. “We’re getting married.”

“You’re getting married?” Shinmyoumaru jumped up and down. “That’s wonderful! Congratulations!”

“We’d love it if you could come to the wedding,” said Raiko. “And you can come too if you want, Reimu.”

“I’ll have to, if you’re inviting her,” grumbled Reimu. But she was pleased for them.

“Your magician friend’s welcome as well, as long as she doesn’t set fire to the venue.”

“She won’t be doing that anymore,” said Reimu confidently. “Don’t worry.”

*****
They walked along the path to the shrine, the breeze making the long grass sway. The higher the path went, the brighter the autumn leaves became. Reimu expected to hear Shinmyoumaru’s breath catch at the sight, like it always did when they travelled to and from the shrine. But she didn’t hear anything. Shinmyoumaru’s attention was elsewhere.

“Are you thinking about that amanojaku again?” asked Reimu.

“No,” said Shinmyoumaru, a bit too quickly.

“She’s not worth thinking about. Don’t waste your energy.”

Reimu still couldn’t trust Shinmyoumaru. She made a point of locking Shinmyoumaru’s insect-cage-cum-prison-cell at night, to prevent her rushing off to find that horrible amanojaku again. She doubted she could ever forgive her for striking Marisa with the mallet, even though Eirin had given Marisa the all clear when they were treated. Thankfully Shinmyoumaru seemed more interested in getting other inchlings living in Gensokyo now, rather than vengeance and social upheaval, and spending time with her was thawing Reimu’s heart. It was hard to stay angry at someone so small and defenceless.

“I’m thinking about my mallet,” said Shinmyoumaru. “That’s all. I don’t care about Seija anymore.”

Three figures came into view, walking towards them. One of them seemed to be pushing a large cart. Reimu slowed down, wondering what they were doing. Shinmyoumaru recognised them, and hid behind Reimu’s hair again.

Sekibanki and Kagerou Imaizumi were in deep conversation. Wakasagihime the mermaid was sitting in the cart, in a tub full of lake water. Kagerou was pushing it, and occasionally glanced down at the tub, to make sure the water wasn’t spilling over. All three of them looked happy and cheerful.

“Oh, hey!” Kagerou stopped to talk to them. “We’re on our way back from the latest grassroots youkai meeting!”

“Good for you,” said Reimu. She didn’t want to antagonise them too much, after they saved her and Marisa, but it was part of her job. “You aren’t plotting anything, are you?”

“We’re creating a book,” explained Sekibanki, “and we’re going to send copies to the youkai sages.”

The riots inspired a lot of weak youkai to think seriously about their position in society, and now they were organising meetings and lectures to promote solidarity. Reimu knew some of the stronger youkai were keeping an eye on them, but so far nothing dangerous had happened. The weak youkai simply wanted their voices heard. They wanted peace. “Well, okay,” said Reimu, pretending not to care. She had an image to uphold, after all.

“We can send you a copy, if you want,” offered Wakasagihime.

“I can’t keep a book written by youkai around the shrine. But I suppose I ought to read it, just to be safe.” Reimu turned to Kagerou. “What happened at the hearing?”

Kagerou looked away, embarrassed. Sekibanki’s cloak twitched.

“They said I was acting under the influence of the Miracle Mallet, and wasn’t of sound mind when I bit you,” said Kagerou, “so I have to do community service for the next ten years.”

“You got lucky,” grumbled Sekibanki. “They nearly kicked me out of the village.”

Wakasagihime looked relieved. “I’m glad neither of you were sent to prison!”

“It would’ve been worse than that,” said Kagerou, with a sigh. “A proper extermination. Anyway, we’d better get going. We can’t have our mermaid princess dehydrate.”

“Oh, I’m not really a princess,” insisted Wakasagihime, and all three of them laughed.


“Are they gone?” asked Shinmyoumaru, once they were out of sight.

“You didn’t need to hide,” said Reimu.

“Yes I do! I’m embarrassed.” She gripped Reimu’s collar. “It’s my fault they got in trouble.”

“I’ve sorted them out already, they won’t hurt you.” Reimu began walking again. The steps to the shrine were in sight.

“…I’m not a real princess either,” whispered Shinmyoumaru.

*****
That bothered her most of all. Shinmyoumaru Sukuna was an illegitimate child, had been removed from the palace for her own safety, and swiftly killed off to stop anyone looking for her. Her real parents were both dead, killed by the man she thought was her father, and all her brothers and sisters either hated her, or mourned her every year around the Obon festival. Was there a gravestone somewhere in the World of Oni with her name on it? She didn’t want to think about it.

After Seija walked away with her mallet, Shinmyoumaru spent a week looking for her. But she was too tiny, and Gensokyo too vast, so she was forced to give up. It took her three days to reach the Hakurei Shrine. Three days of wading through grass higher than her head, and fighting off small animals and insects. Surrendering was easy. Shinmyoumaru had nothing to protect anymore.

Reimu found an insect cage, and used it as a prison cell. Marisa was apparently living in the shrine too, under house arrest, but Reimu didn’t want them meeting, so she kept Shinmyoumaru’s cage on the porch, and locked it at night. Shinmyoumaru didn’t mind. She didn’t want to escape, and she didn’t want to see Marisa either. She wanted to lie in bed, and sleep, and dream about being big again.

She dreamt about Seija all the time: Seija smiling, Seija holding her hand, Seija throwing snow at her, Seija smoking on the roof, Seija cooking her food, Seija kissing her, Seija touching her. She’d wake up from those dreams distraught, and couldn’t calm down for hours afterwards. But once the sun rose, and Reimu brought her breakfast, Shinmyoumaru found it easier to focus on the present. And once Reimu started taking her outside, and introducing her to people, Shinmyoumaru felt her strength return.

Getting the inchling race into Gensokyo wasn’t going to be easy. Shinmyoumaru had always assumed she would stroll into the World of Oni with her mallet, and use her status as royalty to rally her people together and get them marching outside. But now she was just an ordinary inchling, who had enemies high up, and no Miracle Mallet to back up her story.

Seija had robbed her of the opportunity. Seija had lifted her into the sky and made her focus on a revolution instead. Shinmyoumaru despised her for it. It made her sick to the stomach.

“I told you to stop thinking about that amanojaku,” said Reimu, breaking Shinmyoumaru’s train of thought.

“Sorry…” Shinmyoumaru hung her head. Reimu always seemed to know when she was thinking about Seija. “It’s just… I need to kill her, or she might trick another inchling someday and start her revolution again. I need to get our mallet back.”

They reached the steps, and Reimu began climbing. Shinmyoumaru gripped her collar, and felt frustrated. She was so tiny. Could she really find Seija in her lifetime, and get her mallet back? Maybe Seija was right. Maybe it would be impossible.

They arrived at the shrine. Shinmyoumaru’s cage sat on the porch, just as they left it. “Well, if I see that amanojaku, I’m exterminating her on the spot.” Reimu opened the cage, and offered her palm to Shinmyoumaru. Shinmyoumaru gripped Reimu’s thumb, climbed on, and let herself be carried down.

“I’ll let you out again once dinner’s ready,” said Reimu, as Shinmyoumaru got inside the cage. “Tempura tonight.”

“Thank you,” said Shinmyoumaru. Reimu had been so kind to her, despite everything that’d happened. “I’m sorry… I’m really sorry I hit Marisa with the mallet, really.”

Reimu didn’t respond. This wasn’t the first time Shinmyoumaru had apologised, and it wouldn’t be the last. Shinmyoumaru didn’t expect forgiveness, but wanted to keep trying anyway. It was the least she could do.

“I’ll make it up to you somehow,” vowed Shinmyoumaru. “I promise.”

“I’ll see you later,” muttered Reimu. She took her shoes off, and stepped inside the shrine. Shinmyoumaru was by herself.

“Sorry,” she whispered, to no one in particular. She was sorry for so many things now, but she knew in time, she would make up for them. She would do her best to make things right again, and create a better world for everyone. The revolution had made her a stronger person. She was no longer the girl hiding in her room after her aunt’s death, ignorant of the world and unable to take care of anyone. Shinmyoumaru was going to change things. She was going to dedicate her life to bringing the inchling race out into the sunlight. It wouldn’t be easy, but she had decades of time ahead of her. She wanted children too, if possible, to create a happy family of her own. And once they were grown up, and the inchlings were outside growing their own food, Shinmyoumaru would set out to look for Seija, and retrieve the mallet.

Inside the cage, next to her bed, was the smooth pebble Wakasagihime had given her. It’d shrunk alongside Shinmyoumaru’s clothes when the mallet backfired. Shinmyoumaru picked it up, and held it in her palm. It was cool to the touch. Gensokyo’s youkai weren’t perfect, but they weren’t her enemies either. The inchlings could stand alongside them as allies.

It really was the same colour as Seija’s dress.

Shinmyoumaru held it to her chest, and closed her eyes. And promised to never forget.

*****
“Is it time for my afternoon snack yet, Sakuya?”

“It will be once my biscuits finish cooking in the oven.” Sakuya glanced at her watch. “In around ten minutes. I tried a new recipe, so I’m looking forward to hearing your opinion.”

“Excellent.” Remilia leant back, and closed her eyes. She was sitting under a large parasol, viewing the autumn leaves in the mansion garden. The birds sung, and the lake water gently hissed in the distance. “Give some to Flandre once you’re done.”

“Of course.”

They sat in silence. Sakuya shifted uncomfortably in her seat, feeling an unpleasant, low ache in her torso. Her stab wounds weren’t even a month old, and the pain still made her feel sick.

She’d been discharged from Eientei around the same time as Reimu and Marisa, and returned to find the mansion in chaos. Patchouli had been forced to take over cooking duties, and the kitchen was full of boiling vats of purple sludge. The fairy maids had built a den in one of the spare rooms, and were fighting over who got access to the sugar cupboard. Flandre wasn’t in her room, and had been found hiding in a tree in the grounds, having decided to start a new life as a monkey.

“I’m glad you decided to come back, Sakuya,” Remilia had said at the time. “I was getting bored with dragon wings every meal.”

Going back to her daily life had proved difficult for Sakuya. She craved her knife like a smoker craved cigarettes. She fantasised about flying back to the forest and looking for it. There was no way it’d survived that fire. If she did find it, it’d be a puddle of lifeless metal, and nothing more. But that didn’t stop her. Her normal silver knifes weren’t enough. She needed something sharper.

But she knew the urge would fade with time. Her red scars would turn white, the pain would fade, and her withdrawals would ease with it. Because Sakuya had plenty of time. All the time in the world.

“When are you going to tell me what happened in that castle?” asked Remilia.

“When Reimu releases her report,” said Sakuya. She’d filled Remilia in on the basics, but hadn’t gone in detail. She couldn’t. She could barely remember what’d happened; just the deep satisfaction of cutting things. “She’ll tell the story far better than I.”

“I’d rather hear your version of events,” said Remilia.

“Well… in due course. I think it’s time we enjoyed some tea and biscuits.” Sakuya stood up. “They should be ready by now.”

“Oh yes, bring them out.” Remilia waved her hand. “I’d like some cucumber sandwiches too. A proper afternoon tea.”

“As you wish, Milady.” And Sakuya smiled. Remilia was her mistress, not the knife. As long as she served Remilia Scarlet, she had nothing to long for.

Right?

*****
Marisa had constant nightmares.

She’d wake up every few hours, drenched in sweat and shaking violently. Her dreams were full of fire; of everything burning, and the supreme joy it gave her; of Seija’s cold lips on her skin, sending her deeper into warm oblivion. She would dream of Reimu floating in front of her, bruised, battered and bleeding, screaming her love for Marisa. Marisa didn’t turn on Seija in those dreams. In those dreams, she blasted Reimu out of the sky, and laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world.

Twice a week, like clockwork, the dreams changed. She would be kneeling opposite Yukari Yakumo, in a large tatami room that stank of blood. Yukari would raise her parasol, and beat Marisa with it. One swing every ten seconds. Marisa was forced to count them, and the number always added up to one-hundred-and-eight. Yukari never stopped, even if Marisa begged her. The pain was unbelievable. She was usually sobbing before she counted to fifty.

“Never do that again,” Yukari would say at the end, and Marisa would wake up unharmed.

She didn’t mention the dreams to Reimu.

Marisa heard Reimu move around outside. She was talking to Shinmyoumaru, probably putting her back in the insect cage. Marisa had glimpsed Shinmyoumaru a few times, but hadn’t gathered the courage to talk to her yet. She doubted Shinmyoumaru would want to speak to her anyway, after everything that happened.

The shouji screen rolled open, and Reimu stepped inside. She closed it behind her, sighed, and adjusted her ribbon. Marisa caught a glimpse of a red scar on Reimu’s arm, just above her sleeve. It was the cut Marisa gave her. No matter how much time passed, the sight of it made Marisa want to cover her face and apologise.

But now wasn’t the time for apologies. “You took your time,” grumbled Marisa. “My ear’s been itching for the last three hours. It’s driving me nuts.” She was sitting on the tatami, her arms tied behind her back. A second rope stretched between her and the big chest of drawers behind her, to ensure she couldn’t get up and walk around.

“Being tied up isn’t nice, is it?” said Reimu, with a hint of smugness.

“Yeah it’s crap, I shouldn’t have left you in the dungeon, I get it already.” Marisa was under house arrest at the shrine, and wasn’t allowed to go anywhere by herself. A table sat in front of her, containing a jug of water and a long straw. Most of the water was already gone. “Can’t you loosen the ropes a bit? They hurt.”

Marisa had been trusted to stay in the main room without restraints for the first few days, but one evening Reimu returned to find the shrine empty, and the shouji screens wide open. Marisa had bolted to the forest, to try and find her mini-Hakkero amongst the ash. It’d fallen out of her hand when she blasted Seija. Needless to say, she failed to find it, and Reimu had shown her no mercy in the following spell card duel. Now Reimu made a point of tying Marisa up before leaving, and even slapped a few ofuda on the ropes for extra security.

“I’ll loosen the ropes when I can trust you not to run away.” Reimu caught sight of something on the floor. “Is that my report?”

Several pages of hand-written manuscript were spread across the tatami. “Yeah, I’ve been reading it with my feet,” said Marisa. “I was bored.”

“Don’t put your feet near it. God…” Reimu gathered the pages up. “What if you knocked the jug over and spilt water all over it?”

“Then you’d have to rewrite it.”

“And it’s not ready yet. You’re not supposed to be reading it.”

“You haven’t written about me yet. It’s all amanojaku this and amanojaku that.”

Reimu had been commissioned to write a report on the incident. Normally Reimu and Marisa had to write accounts of all the incidents they resolved anyway, to receive compensation for their work, but this one had to be more detailed and in-depth than usual. Yukari, it seemed, wanted to know everything. Marisa often watched Reimu as she wrote it in the evenings.

“You’ll come up eventually.” Reimu began to untie the knots. “Hold still.”

Marisa pulled her arms free as soon as the rope slackened, and made a show of scratching her ear. “Ahh, there we go.” Then she inspected her wrists. “See? They’re too tight. I’ve got burns.”

“And my shoulders are still sore after my arms were forced up in the air for forty-eight hours.”

“Yeah, and I had bruises the size of my hand after your purification rod flew at me in the dungeon.”

Reimu put the report back in its drawer. “It wanted to beat the corruption out of you.”

The report was accurate, for the most part. Marisa knew Reimu was omitting certain things, to avoid overcomplicating an already delicate situation. Like the part where Shinmyoumaru chose to strike Marisa with the mallet. If Reimu included that in the report, Marisa doubted the inchling race would be permitted in Gensokyo. Reimu would be forced to get rid of Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, or hand her over to someone higher up.

But other than that, the report told the truth. Reimu had interviewed Shinmyoumaru and Marisa extensively, and found various eye witnesses. Seija Kijin the amanojaku had gone underground to find Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, and make her unseal the mallet. They used it to make Shinmyoumaru bigger, and to get their upside down castle up in the air and habitable. The mallet operated on a price system, which the amanojaku knew, but Shinmyoumaru didn’t. Thus every time they repaired something in the castle, they were actually swapping the old, broken parts with newer ones from elsewhere in Gensokyo, hence all the decaying shouji screens and rotten floorboards in the village.

Every time they used the mallet, it also expelled a little bit of its own magic, which fell down into Gensokyo. The amanojaku knew about this, and collected items affected by its magic to be struck by the inchling, giving them further power, and eventually creating a private army out of any resulting tsukumogami. Other items around Gensokyo were also affected, and over time those used frequently gained a life of their own. Those items held a lot of influence over their owners, preventing many from seeing the danger of their favourite tools bouncing around, and even enjoying their company. The tools weren’t strong enough to become tsukumogami by themselves, and sought further power through their owners.

As far as the report was concerned, all the rioters in Gensokyo had been influenced by the mallet in a similar fashion, and weren’t capable of rational thought at the time. Thus they shouldn’t receive any serious punishment beyond what Reimu had already done. The same applied to Shinmyoumaru and Marisa, who Reimu explained were being manipulated by the amanojaku. Everyone was a puppet in Seija Kijin’s farce of a revolution.

Seija Kijin needed to be hunted down, and the Miracle Mallet retrieved. Then peace could return to Gensokyo.

“Are you still thinking about that furnace?” asked Reimu.

“Sometimes…” Marisa missed it a lot. She found it embarrassing. “But I’m not gonna run off and look for it again. I was relying on it too much anyway, for my research.” She’d been trying to avoid thinking about her plans from now on. “I might ask Kourin for a new one, so I can do Master Sparks again.”

“As long as you don’t try anything villainous with it.”

“Nah, I’m done being a bad guy.” Marisa looked away. “I’m an idiot. I know. Tell me something new already.”

They sat in awkward silence for a moment.

“We were both idiots,” said Reimu, quietly.

“Yeah but, I was the bigger idiot. I let an amanojaku talk me into joining some wacky revolution, did all this stuff to make my mini-Hakkero really dangerous, then got seduced into giving it my body.”

“I suppose that’s hard to beat,” said Reimu, begrudgingly. Then she shuffled closer, and leant against Marisa. “At least you didn’t actually set fire to Gensokyo.”

“I wasn’t far off.” Marisa put an arm around her. “Alice said it took them several days to extinguish the forest fire.” She pulled Reimu close, and held her. “You saved me,” she admitted.

“And you blasted that amanojaku in the face, and saved Gensokyo.” Reimu hugged her back. “You’re a rubbish bad guy.”

“Says Reimu Hakurei, who cried over a stick. Some heroine you are.” Marisa cupped the back of Reimu’s head, and kissed her.

They didn’t need anyone else.

*****
Time passed.

The leaves fell, and the cherry blossom opened. The bare patches of the forest began to sprout. The trees climbed higher and higher, stretching their branches up to the sun.

There was a story that the inchlings of Gensokyo loved, more than any other: the tale of the inchling princess and the amanojaku. In the story, a horrid amanojaku fooled a pure-hearted princess into using the Miracle Mallet for her. In some versions they lived in a magnificent castle that floated in the sky. In others they lurked in the shadows and performed their wicked deeds in secret. All versions ended the same way, with the princess discovering the betrayal, and the amanojaku escaping with the mallet. Rumour had it that the amanojaku was still alive, still holding onto their mallet and looking for a new victim.


Seija Kijin was still alive, and she still had the Miracle Mallet. She slept with it close to her chest every night, and never let it out of her sight. For several hundred years now, she’d alternated between going above ground to torment people, and heading back down to rest. She spent a lot of time in her cave, sleeping, and waiting for her old stomach wound to calm down again.

She never gave up on her quest for vengeance. Every few hundred years, she would make an effort to find an inchling with the right genetics to use the mallet for her. But none of them agreed, and most attacked her, hoping to get their mallet back. It was fun seeing them so infuriated, and even more fun watching them cry when they couldn’t find Seija again. She would play hide and seek with the inchlings until her stomach hurt. Then she would retreat to her cave, and hope the next generation would be stupider.

Until today.

Seija heard something enter her cave. Tiny footsteps, barely audible. Seija opened one eye, and slowly sat up. She hoped it was an animal, lost in the cave system. Food was a non-issue, with an entire race of youkai hating her, but she sometimes craved the taste of undercooked meat.

But it wasn’t an animal. It was a tiny inchling, standing at the cave’s entrance.

Seija shot to her feet. It couldn’t be Shinmyoumaru. Shinmyoumaru should have died several hundred years ago, of old age or worse. But the inchling looked just like her. From her clothes to her hairstyle, to the way she held her needle sword. And the look of disgust on her face felt incredibly nostalgic.

Just as Seija had promised, Shinmyoumaru hadn’t found her in her life time. And just as Shinmyoumaru had promised, one of her descendants had come to kill her instead.

“I’ve found you, foul amanojaku!” The inchling even sounded like Shinmyoumaru. “I’m here to kill you, and reclaim the Miracle Mallet!”

Seija laughed. She realised, all of a sudden, that she’d been waiting for this moment for a long, long time. “You want your mallet back, do you? Well tough, I’ve taken a liking to it. I’ll let you have it if you agree to join me, and bring ruin to the world outside.”

“Never!” The inchling didn’t hesitate. “I’ll never fall for your tricks!” And she raised her sword. “Prepare yourself!”

The tale of the amanojaku and the inchling princess was incomplete. It needed a heroine. And Seija needed to die.

Seija didn’t want to die, of course. It didn’t look much fun. But deep down she knew her time had come. It wouldn’t all be bad. Maybe she’d see Shinmyoumaru again, on the other side of the Sanzu River. Maybe the story about them would spread across Gensokyo and the outside world, and resurrect them in the future. Then they could act out their story for all eternity.

“I hope you’re ready for this.” Seija sneered. “I’ll drag you to hell with me, Sukuna.”

The inchling flinched. “How did you know my name?”

She giggled. “How could I ever forget it?”

It was the name of her first love, after all.

The End



Thank you so much for reading until the end. This is hungrybookworm.

I started planning this fic around Christmas 2014, began writing it in May 2015, not long after finishing Astraphobia, and now here we are at Christmas 2016, with the final word count clocking in at over 100,000 words. I’ve never written something so long in all my life. I’m amazed at myself.

A lot of things happened while I was writing. I nearly died, to start with. Luckily I didn’t! Hurray! Bookworm lives to sin again. I probably could’ve written this fic a lot faster if my health hadn’t been so bad the entire time I was working on it, but oh well. I had my operation and I’m all right now. Being alive is great.

There’s so many people I want to thank that I don’t know where to begin. Firstly, I want to thank everyone who read this fanfic: the people who read it as I posted it, and put up with the numerous hiatuses; the people who patiently waited for all the chapters to be posted before reading it; the people who left comments; the people who left kudos; and the people who reblogged and retweeted the chapters on twitter and tumblr. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Secondly, I want to thank bear, for drawing twenty-eight full colour pictures for this fanfic, and putting up with my weird demands and suggestions, which ranged from “Can you change that one line next to her arm?” to “You’re gonna have to redraw the whole thing. Seija looks like she’s about to slam down some serious yu-gi-oh cards.” She also let me shamelessly steal her seishin headcanons, cheered me on when things got tough, and has been an amazing, fantastic, supportive person in general. This fic literally wouldn’t exist without her.

Thirdly, I want to thank RabbitEclair/UnmovingGreatLibrary, who managed to plan, write, rewrite and post her fanfic Eyes in the Dark while I was working on this story. She’s always a great person to complain to, sympathetic, and puts up with me rambling about all kinds of weird rubbish at 2am at night. Go check out her fanfic if you haven’t already.

Lastly, I want to thank all the people I went to on about this fanfic before I posted it: Squishy, Brook, N-Forza, Vento, and the other foreigners I met at Reitaisai (sorry guys lol). All my friends on the Japanese side of the fandom for cheering me on, especially Hatsuhi, Tsukushi, Hitomaru, Ariya, and Hitohira. Special thanks goes to RD-Sounds, for his kindness and support while I was in the hospital. Being around Japanese touhou fans really pushed me to keep going, even when I was in pain and feeling sick, and generally not in the mood to write.

Well, this is long enough already. Time to wrap it up. See you next time!



(Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any comments or questions!)

Evil_Nazgul0616

  • Seg Fault
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  • Nickname: Nazgul
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Ah, that was a good read. I'm pleased to see this story went to completion. (Most fics here that I actually get hooked on tend to get abandoned partway through. Lol)

hungrybookworm

  • Shipper On Board
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Ah, that was a good read. I'm pleased to see this story went to completion. (Most fics here that I actually get hooked on tend to get abandoned partway through. Lol)
Thank you! I try to write the whole thing out before I start posting chapters online, to prevent that happening. Stories are easy to start, but hard to finish!
 

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