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Return to Mokuren
In spite the sign in front of Hakurei shrine depicted an elderly man with a beard, a pointed hat and a staff, with the macro “You shall not pass!”, somebody passed through.
Mokuren, who had just that morning found a way to strap that sword of his to his back, was staring pretty dumbfound at Reimu.
"Keine is a bit too far to go on foot, I don’t want to waste all day to get there and walk back", she simply said, "So we’ll fly there".
Mokuren stared at the turtle with a humanlike beard, "I... I see"
"But since you cannot fly, Genji will carry you"
"Pleased to meet you", the turtle’s voice was the kind that could only belong to that sort of loving elderly persons; still, the idea of flying riding a giant turtle’s back was... Funny.
"Oh... Nice to meet you too, mr. Genji"
This allowed Mokuren to taste the feeling of flying moderately free through the skies of Gensokyo. After getting used to not looking down too much and learning that Genji was able to carry him safely enough to make him feel comfortable in spite of the reduced space, he found that the air felt nice up high, it was cool and refreshing.
"It feels great out this morning"
Reimu made a “hm” like sound in agreement, as she clearly had something else in her mind. I guess she’s still trying to make heads and tails out of this mess, he thought, closing his eyes and deciding to just enjoy the trip, Maybe I should stop being so selfish and try to help her out, she’s been unbelievably kind to me, after all.
With time, he realized that walking would have taken forever, but the flight was just fine and their trip was over well before he could get bored. The place they landed to was some kind of Meiji-era japanese village, like some kind of small world all of its own.
"Thanks for the trip, mr. Genji"
"My pleasure, youngster, my pleasure", the turtle then resumed walking like any ordinary giant turtle.
"I have to tell you in advance, Keine is not human, but you mustn’t worry about that, she means no harm to ordinary humans"
I knew that already, Mokuren thought, but he simply nodded as not to get the situation more complicated than it was already.
It mustn’t have been the first time the village people saw Reimu walking around, at least hearing the talk about the “Miss shrine maiden” gave him that impression; of course they weren’t used to see him around, and without fail everyone called him “The other shrine maiden”.
If gender distortion field was a danmaku-blocking superpower, he’d be freaking untouchable.
The pair headed to one of the largest building, a two-stories wood and paper building with an iron gate and a large courtyard at the front; considering the amount of ordinary human children present and playing both in and around, it could only be a school.
Of course, once they were in, it was hard to miss her. Just look for the girl with a lunch box on her head.
Other than that, Mokuren was surprised to discover that, in spite he already expected her to be a kind and charming person, her soothing aura could be so powerful. The moment they entered her study, all other sounds and ruckus became distant, and the well-kept but somewhat shoddy building appeared respectfully venerable; the books, shelves and other furniture had an agreeable scent of better old times, as if they could keep all the positive feelings and blatantly ignore the physical effects of time.
"Ah, Reimu, long time no see", her gentle smile was effortlessly charming, she didn’t even need to target him to make him feel like he always belonged there, "I see you brought a guest... My, she looks a lot like you. Are you two relatives?"
"No way", the two said in unison, "She is Mokuren; she’s temporarily my assistant, and she’s a guest in Gensokyo", Reimu continued.
"A guest in Gensokyo", Keine nodded; as expected, it wasn’t the first time, "I see, so you intend to leave her here while you find a way to bring her back? It’ll be troubling for her to assist you from here, thought"
"In fact, I’m not going to station her here", she took a chair and sat down, Moku followed along, "I am here because her case is a bit particular, and I think I might need your help"
She then proceeded to explain the odd circumstances of her arrival, Yukari’s obvious involvement, Yukari’s odd behavior on the topic, and Mokuren’s knowledge and... Interests.
Keine was pondering carefully, but it was hard to tell if it was worry on her face or just some kind of curiosity; up to now, the situation only looked strange, not really dangerous, he thought, as far as I know, I’m still a CR 0 creature here. Assuming we don’t count human Extras, but do they ever?
"Well then, Mokuren", Keine’s smile wiped all of Mokuren’s worries in one fell swoop, "You seem to be pretty informed about Gensokyo through the... Legends spread in your world. You said you need to learn danmaku? Well, you’re the first guest to ever ask that, please understand it is a bit difficult"
"Worry not Keine, I am very patient"
Reimu nodded and rose from her chair, "I am sorry to interrupt so abruptly, but I’m trying to investigate the matter", she turned to Moku, "Mokuren, I’ll send Genji to pick you up before dusk, you stay here and do whatever Keine tells you"
And Reimu left.
"Well, danmaku is very dangerous for ordinary humans, so this is not the most appropriate place for this kind of lesson", Keine stood up and offered another smile, "You don’t mind if we go somewhere else, do you?"
"Absolutely not, please lead the way".
They left the village and stationed in a clearing far enough that no sound could come from civilization; apparently, danmaku could get noisy fast.
"Please execuse me if I’m a bit at a loss, but it’s very difficult to explain danmaku", she started, "To most of Gensokyo’s creatures, it is natural and needs not explaination; if we are to examine it from an academic point of view, we could say that danmaku are the ultimate expression of one’s power in Gensokyo.
"Danmaku are all different from each other, ordinary fairies, ghosts and even youkai have pretty straightforward bullets that originate from their being supernatural creatures, more particular creatures have bullets and patterns that fit their style. Reimu fights with her amulets and the aid of her orbs, her friend Marisa is a powerful magician, there is even a person in the netherworld that combines her flawless swordsmanship with danmaku. The first thing you should do is find a way to express your power and skill".
Mokuren pondered carefully, Well, I’m just an amateur at fencing, but I guess I could focus on that, for now. I’d love to cast spells too, but it’s unlikely Marisa will ever lend something to me, let alone breaking in the Scarlet Mansion to “borrow” some...
"Well, I do have this sword", which he unslinged from his back and laid in front of him, "And am a half-decent fighter; I think I’m best to focus with this for now"
"Very good. Now, the most tricky part is to actually pull out the power you have", she chuckled, "I’m sorry... There’s little I can help you with about that. For what I know, human beings need some sort of pull or kickstart to develop powers; you would be best to find a magic item to draw power from before you start drawing from an inner reserve of yours. Still, I do not know where you could-"
She stopped, and they both turned as they felt an overwhelming presence surprisingly close. As a matter of fact, they weren’t alone anymore; a young woman with long blue hair and red ribbons was watching them and her expression was between the surprised and the... Disappointed?
"Ah! Mokou!", Keine stood up, effortlessly pulling her charming smile on, "I didn’t expect you today..."
"It’s ok", the other girl’s voice wasn’t unpleasant, but sounded like it was blurted out without any care for the ears of the listeners, "I’ll... Come back some other time, sorry to have disturbed you".
As she was starting to leave, Keine reached her, almost rushing to prevent her from escaping, "No, Mokou, it’s fine, really!", she smiled, pointing at Mokuren, "She’s just a human, Reimu asked me to teach her danmaku and..."
"Teach danmaku?", Mokou was between the surprised and the disgusted, "To a human? Only because she got her hands on a magic sword doesn’t mean she has to get all cocky".
Mokuren blinked, "Magic sword?"
"Yeah, magic sword", Mokou repeated, "I think it is magical, because of the symbols and for having seen quite a few swords in my time".
"Well, Mokou, even if you don’t feel like helping, you can stay anyways, it’s really not a problem if-"
"Thanks, Keine", Mokou looked at Mokuren with... What? Jealousy? "I was just going to say hello anyways"
Keine was befuddled, looking between the just-as-befuddled Mokuren and the leaving Mokou. Poor Mokou. Poor emo Mokou, he thought, so he smiled to the hakutaku, "Maybe you should go after her"
"Don’t worry, there’s no hurry for these lessons. Besides", he got up, sword in hand, "You told me there’s little you can actually teach me, did you?".
He smiled, then she smiled back, "Thank you Mokuren. Are you really sure you’re not a relative of Reimu’s?"
Judging from Mokuren’s face, the answer must have been “Fuck NO! In what motherfucking language do I have to say a FUCK NO?”, which caused Keine to giggle, "Really thought, you may not be blood related, but you’re very alike, it’s like you’re her spiritual sister".
This said, she left to recover the emo problem child Mokou, and Mokuren looked at his sword, thinking magical, eh? Well, at least now I have something to start from...
Left alone amongst the cherry trees, he focused on his sword, trying to... Feel something, or learn something, or whatever; I spent at least 24 hours with this item, I should be able to attune with it, I guess I’m a heroic enough mortal by now. How much was it? 1 committed willpower?
If swords could talk, this one would be saying “You’re doing it wrong!”. Mokuren eventually realized it, stopped trying to focus pointlessly on who knows what and started examining the symbols Mokou skillfully noticed.
They weren’t in moonspeak, which was good, but they weren’t in any other language he could understand anyways, well, screw that, he thought, and tried to find a way to blindly activate it.
There was this large, oval, dark blue gem on the flat of the blade, just above the guard; it looked deep, as if there was an entire world of mystical energies inside, he tried to touch it and got a fuzzy, half-warm half-cold sensation through all his body. Groovy! he thought, and he did it again and again, until he became used to the feeling, at the point he could stick his finger on the gem and keep feeling some sort of power flowing, without being disturbed by it.
Very well, I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere, he took a deep breath, letting the early spring air fill his lungs; he took a moment to focus on the peace and sounds of untamed nature, the light breeze filtering through his gihaya. Once all of this became part of his own mind, he adopted a long guard stance, tapping on the blue gem.
The feeling was different, it was as if thought he could feel spring itself if he focused enough; as he started his practice, he started losing track of time, becoming single-mindedly devoted to the purpose of awakening some sort of danmaku-enabling power inside him.
It’s spring, he suddenly thought, and the idea heartened him, for some reason. Maybe he was focusing a bit too much? But he was so close to... Doing something. Yes, it really is spring he thought again, and started suspecting this springjoy wasn’t coming from him.
When he opened his eyes, it’s like he came back from another dimension (or rather: came to an alien dimension from yet another alien one), everything was even more lively and there was something picking up... Wind? No, the breeze was still as light as ever, but...
As if the burst of joy wasn’t strong enough, blue and reddish globes scattered gleefully through the air, coming low enough to fly through the forest, making all the vegetation feel like it could gather twice as much spring essence as ever. Unfortunately, while these things didn’t seem to hurt the landscape at all (quite the contrary), Mokuren felt that he somehow wasn’t entitled to such a selective immunity. And these pretty fast bullet patterns were coming in his direction like a ceiling-tall library falling on him.
"OH SHI-", and only reacting on pure instinct allowed him to evade and firmly deflect three of these bullets to avoid direct contact, grazing against a couple others but taking no damage whatsoever. Once there, he had more or less a couple seconds to think the following:
1 – Wow, my sword can deflect danmaku? Cool!
2 – Oh shit it’s Lily White!
Another barrage of bullets came in his direction (well, actually they were going everywhere, but he was more worried about those going towards him), the pattern this time was made of separate blocks of bullets in horizontal spread, he could’ve ducked behind some and... Had to slide through the others, because he couldn’t surely jump that high.
His sword gave him an odd feedback, it vibrated with joyful energy, as if it absorbed the very essence behind these bullets, Keine said danmaku are the ultimate expression of one’s power, could Lily’s danmaku be the result of this joy?
They sure as hell were, but this didn’t make them less dangerous; he quickly ducked below the first block and discovered there was no way he could fit through the second, nevermind, my sword can block danmaku, after all!
As his back hit a tree after some twenty meters of flight, he discovered that a direct block wasn’t exactly the best idea since BBS feeds. As he landed flat on his face, too stunned to realize he somehow had his spine still intact, he heard something he wouldn’t have liked to hear:
This time the voice was much closer, maybe he had a chance? Without thinking of the consequences, he tapped into his inner reserve of all-or-nothing strength and dashed towards the source...
Only to realize Lily was not only beyond his range anyways, but she was going up, leaving an enveloping bullet pattern behind her.
Oh, this is easy to dodge! he thought as he dived forward, counting on the vibe coming from his sword, which now was giving him some sort of sixth sense, enabling him to “feel” the bullets moving even when they were out of his field of vision. The vibe of spring was now so powerful he felt like he could start firing bullets on his own at any moment.
Now eat this! he thought, just a moment before a grazing bullet hit his sword and made it fly off from his grasp. His sixth sense and vibe zeroed instantly.
"Oops", he said, looking back to see his sword still flying, just a moment before the rest of the bullet pattern smacked hard into him. Hard.
Lily White was, of course, more busy than not expressing her joy about spring and stuff, but she must have noticed that part of her poorly-expressed joy had hit something it shouldn’t have hit. She looked down, and noticed there was a goth miko sprawled face down to the ground with a strange sword a little off of her grasp. As if she suspected being the culprit, she quickly landed at the miko’s side, "Are you ok?", she asked, but the only answer she received was some twitching from the otherwise unmoving body.
Feeling unsure on what to do and seeing there was absolutely nobody around her, Lily started to panic, her mind already imagining the first page of Bunbunmaru News: “Spring Fairy convicted of Murder!”.
"Miss shrine maiden? Miss shrine maiden?? Miss shrine maiden please get a grip!"
To his own surprise, he discovered he was still alive; he couldn’t see much, mostly because he was face down, and his whole body was aching like somebody threw a steamroller at him, and then proceeded to kick his ass.
"Miss shrine maiden you’re alive!", he then felt the fairy hugging him with such a joy of relief he feared she’d shoot danmaku again.
"... ow... air... lungs... can’t... expand..."
"Ah! I’m sorry, miss shrine maiden!"
Lily White certainly didn’t take any first aid class or course or whatever, for she wasn’t supposed to move and drag the body of an injured person without knowing the damage, but what the hell, at least Mokuren was now resting in her lap instead of face-down into the cold ground. It also looked like he didn’t have anything broken, maybe her danmaku isn’t really that harmful? "Ahahah...", she laughed out of embarass, without passion, "I’m sorry miss shrine maiden... When spring comes, I can’t help but fly screaming “IT’S SPRIIIIIING!” and shoot danmaku... I usually never hit humans!"
"Don’t worry...", his voice was still wavering a little, but he was recovering, "I’m fine, just a bit aching"
Lily let (yet another) sigh of relief, "I’m very sorry, miss shrine maiden... But by the way, I thought there was only one shrine maiden in Gensokyo"
"I’m her assistant", he quickly answered before she could come out with strange ideas about blood relationships, "Figure, I was trying to learn danmaku and got hit by some. Can’t say I didn’t learn anything"
To Lily, the idea of “learning danmaku” seemed okay for an apprentice shrine maiden, at least giving she didn’t make any questions, except: "And how are you doing?"
"So far, it’s a blunder", he sighed, "I’m sort of powerless without that sword, and I still can’t use it very well".
"Please don’t lose faith, miss shrine maiden!", Lily firmly clasped his hands, "Danmaku is easy. You have to feel the power of SPRING! flowing through you!"
Thanks, but I felt enough of that on myself for today, still, holding hands with a cute girl was something he didn’t regret at all. He used his other hand to touch the sword, to check if he was still attuned.
This gave him a whole new meaning to the fairy’s words.
He spent the rest of the day at Keine’s house. Most of that time was spent trying to convince her that he was all right, that she didn’t have to worry and that Mokou needed more help than he did; guess this is the day for guilt trips he thought.
"... Still, it’s surprising you’re alive", Keine said with a half-smile.
"Well, they were a spring fairy’s danmaku, it’s not like they’re supposed to kill people..."
"You’re wrong, Mokuren", surprisingly, she was serious about that, which left him quite dumbfound, "Danmaku are harmful to human beings, you should be full of holes by now".
Eerie silence followed, full of holes? So why am I...
"I guess you have developed some power already, so it really is possible for humans to learn danmaku..."
You mean you made me try but weren’t sure yourself? "Oh... I’m on the good way, then?"
"Most likely yes. You already developed a barrier jacket"
Barrier jacket? he thought, and then, somehow, the image of himself in a fancy magical girl dress came to his mind. He tried to rub it off with all his power.
"When you have power, you can use it to protect yourself, that is why Reimu and her friends can survive a danmaku fight even if they’re not youkai. As a matter of fact, I think that the more one becomes powerful, the less human he gradually becomes", for a moment, it’s a bit like she felt sorry for Mokuren, but that glimpse was quickly replaced by her usual smile, "Oh, please don’t mind me... I’m talking nonsense"
You’re not, he thought, I’m sure Mokou knows this pretty well
When Reimu was back, she had eyes that could kill with a glance; luckily, the news about Mokuren’s progresses seemed to up her mood.
"Oh? You got into a danmaku fight already?"
"Not really a fight... Mostly an accident", ‘’most like “I got my ass handed to me on a silver plate” actually’’
Reimu nodded, "Good". Wha? She’s rooting for me? I thought she didn’t approve of this idea.. He blinked, something must have happened to her.
"Mokuren’s a good student, there’s nothing more I can teach him", Keine chuckled, knowing perfectly well she didn’t teach him anything at all.
"I know Keine, looks like he somehow found his way to the cheat codes"
They all laughed... Figure, it was the first time he saw Reimu laugh.
"Oh! By the way, what happened to the spring fairy?"
"Ah... She said she had to keep spreading news of the spring’s come, so I assured her I was fine and... Eventually Keine and Mokou returned"
"Mokou?", Reimu shot an inquiring glance at Keine, "Yes, she came to visit all of a sudden" the hakutaku explained.
"She basically spent all the way back laughing at me", Mokuren chuckled, "Still, it was good to see her in a good mood, she’s much more agreeable like that"
"I’m surprised you find Mokou “agreeable”, but considering you’re some sort of Gensokyo Hijack element, I should stop being surprised at all when I’m around you"
"Did something happen, Reimu?", Keine wondered.
She sighed, "Yukari was nowhere to be found, her shikigami was away as well. That nekomata brat was rather uncooperative, but after asking nicely she said she didn’t know anything, as expected. Marisa’s visiting Mima and won’t be there for a couple days. Unless you know something, Keine, I think we’re back at square one"
Keine shook her head, "I’m sorry Reimu, I wish I could be of help"
"But you’ve been Keine, you’ve been", Mokuren patted her on the shoulder, "Thanks to you, I think I’m starting to learn how danmaku is supposed to work. I was this close to being able to fire one myself" except I’ve been pwnz0rd like a n00b
"Well, thanks for taking care of my guest Keine, but I think we’re better leave now", Reimu then turned, as if she was in a hurry, "Please get on Genji, Mokuren, it’s getting dark already".
On their way back, Reimu was silent, but Moku could clearly feel she was deep in thought about something, something that had to do with him, of course.
"Are you suspecting foul play?", he eventually asked.
"Yukari’s powerful as she is unpredictable, and this is never good news", she sighed, "She usually does her best to annoy me or try to sneak in my house, or in my clothes".
"That youkai pervert...", Moku shook his head.
"But this is the first time I hear of her pulling somebody in Gensokyo and then proceed to save her after intentionally leaving her at the mercy of youkais. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence if you were dropped closer to my shrine than the human village"
"Do you think she wanted me to meet you?"
"That’s what I wanted to ask her. Surely, she somehow knew you’d be weirdo enough to refuse both just going home and staying in a town that doesn’t belong to you", she sighed, looking at Mokuren, "You’re such a bother, sometimes I wonder if you two are working together?"
"I can assure you I don’t", he chuckled, "I would like to ask her some questions myself. On this matter, can I come too next time you visit her?"
Reimu nodded, "I’m glad you asked. Actually, I’m starting to feel that your desire to learn danmaku might be appropriate to the situation. Which makes things even stranger"
He tilted his head, giving Reimu an awkward look, "What do you mean?"
"Sometimes, people get stupid ideas in their heads, and there’s no way to make them change them kindly. Sometimes, you need to become persuasive. This is when danmaku start flying" He paused, he was afraid of where this was going to get.
"If we are to confront Yukari, it’ll be because of you", she gave him a rather scary (but somehow funny) face, "And I don’t want you to lay back and relax while we risk our necks for you; I’m expecting you to do your best to help, even if all you can do is flail uselessly at her direction".
"Uh... I see. I’ll gladly do all I can to help", he smiled, "You think Mokou may need this kind of treatment too?"
"Mokou? Tsk", she shook her head, "Already gave her once, looks like she’ll need a whole lifetime of these to become a decent person", she paused, then looked at Mokuren, smelling something strange, "... You’re not thinking you can turn her into a good girl, are you?"
"Mokou is about as dangerous as Yukari; and last time we gave Yukari a lesson we were in three. If you value your life, please be careful of who you pick a fight with"
Yeah, I guess EX stage bosses won’t cut it for a beginner. There was much wisdom in Reimu’s words.
Once they were back to the shrine, she stopped in the front courtyard, crossing her arms and waiting for Mokuren to look at her and realize she had something to say.
"Show me what you learned today".
She didn’t sound that expectant, or pretentious, or eager, or even interested. Curious, she was curious to see what he might have learned in one day. That’s “nothing”, dummy.
"Uh... Well, I almost learned to do something, but mostly, I guess I just learned I can survive a danmaku fight, assuming my opponent doesn’t want to kill me".
"It’s ok then, I don’t want to kill you", a pair of large, ying-yang orbs appeared at her sides, "I just want to make sure that, when I’ll need you to help me out, you’ll be able to".
"Uh...", he really wanted to explain her that going from Easy mode to Lunatic mode in half a day wasn’t the best idea since chocolate bars, but he had drawn his sword already, just in case she didn’t want to listen, "Thanks, Reimu... But maybe I should first-"
And then, without warning, it started.
Ten seconds later, Mokuren was buried some ten centimeters into the ground, which cracked up to adapt to his form.
"Ah, amateurs are such a bother", Reimu sighed deeply, scratching her head, "Where’s Marisa when I need her to teach boring stuff to people? Ah, nevermind. I’m making dinner tonight, Mokuren, you just cover that hole you’ve made".
Of course, he couldn’t move or speak to agree or disagree or whatever, but deep in his aching mind he was thinking Fuck you, Reimu, fuck you and your balls.
Return to Mokuren