I slept better that night, but only because I chose a sleeping spot without any window in sight. I didn’t want to risk my wandering eye getting a glimpse of the night sky. I slept under a low shelf and between two stacks of books. Thankfully I don’t have a fear of tight spaces. One of these days, I’ll get Marisa to clean her house out. Goodness knows how many small animals have died and decomposed in this labyrinth of junk.
I was awake just as the day’s first light filtered into the house. Just like any morning, waking up after a night of crying to mourn the death of one’s self-esteem, I felt haggard. I went to Marisa’s water pump, took a long drink and rinsed my face. The icy cold felt good, woke me up.
I navigated through the front room and into Marisa’s bedroom, which wasn’t any cleaner than the rest of the house. The only clear spot was the bed itself, about three times too big for the person sleeping in it. Marisa lay on her side, covered to the shoulder in blankets. Her breathing was shallow and even. She inhaled, hunnnnnk, then exahaled, zehzehzehhhh.
Was that Marisa snoring? I laughed, slapping a hand on my mouth to stifle it. But then again, I had come in here to wake her. I grabbed the covers and yanked them off the bed. That revealed more than I intended. Marisa wore a nightgown to bed, but nothing else.
If it had been so much of my skin showing to the world, taking my blankets away would have woken me in a bad mood. But not Marisa, apparently. She didn’t stir. Just kept going with that unnecessarily adorable snore. She had to be cuter than me even while asleep. Did she have no shame?
She had to be punished.
I climbed up on the bed and crawled to Marisa slowly, trying not to move the mattress. I cupped a hand near her ear and whispered into it gently.
“Reimu is huge,” I said. “She’s fifty feet tall. She’s taking all your spellcards and eating them.”
I wasn’t stupid enough to think this would give her nightmares, but it was funny. And nightmare or not, she was dreaming about something. She moaned and pulled her arms tighter against her chest.
“Look, Reimu’s got Master Spark. She chews it up. Swallows it. Mmm, yummy.”
That one got her. She moaned again, sounding annoyed. She brought her left hand up, maybe to rub her eyes, but I was too close. Her hand caught me on the chin and snapped my mouth shut, biting my teeth down on my tongue. I clapped my hands over my mouth and screamed pain into them. I got away from Marisa as fast as I could, and fell backwards off the bed. My head knocked on the floor.
I lay there for a while, waiting for the room to stop spinning. Marisa climbed out of bed, bleary eyed, her hair messier than usual. Her bare foot came down on the floor two inches beside my ear, but she didn’t notice me. I certainly noticed her, though. Catching an underside view of Marisa in a nightgown, I saw far more of her than I ever wanted to see. I shut my eyes, trying to squeeze that sight from my mind.
Once she was out of the room, I sat up and shook my head. I heard the water pump running.
“Marisa,” I called. “Good morn—”
A high pitched shriek came from the other room. It sounded like a cat in a butter churn. I got to my feet and ran out of the bedroom. I tripped on a pile of books, fell to my hands and knees while scattering dusty volumes everywhere. I scrambled over the clutter and made it halfway through the front room. There Marisa stood, her hair dripping wet and plastered to her thin frame. Her eyes were wide awake.
“Mornings!” she said. “Sleep wells? Had a weird dreams where big fat Reimus was trying to eat mees.”
“Did you…,” I said. “Did you just stick your head under the pump? That water’s freezing!”
“Don’t need to tell mees,” she said, wringing the water from her hair. “Best ways to wake up on a summer mornings. But let’s get goings, okays? Wanna make good times todays. If we’re fasts, should get to the lakes mansion before darks.”
“Go put on some clothes first,” I said.
Marisa looked down at herself. Water was dripping down from her hair, sticking her nightgown to her body. More exposition I could have done without.
“Don’t be shies, Reimus,” she said, grinning. “Same equipments you haves.”
“Your equipment looks like it was manufactured a lot more recently than mine.” I walked past her, heading into the kitchen. “I’m going to try finding something edible. Be dressed before breakfast is ready, or you don’t get any.”
Marisa was right to say we needed to hurry. And not just because of my newly discovered fear of the dark. The mist in the sky was thickening. It had gone from yesterday’s rouge blush to deep crimson. If things kept up like this, the sky would soon go black. Like old dried blood.
We crammed down some meager breakfast and packed up our gear. I tied my up my big floppy bow, Marisa donned her hat, and out the door we went. We took the quickest path out the forest. I kept a good grip on my gohei in case any youkai decided to show. Marisa had her broom at the ready.
In an hour, we were out of the woods. Without the trees to guard our view, we saw how bad things were. The whole valley had taken on the mist’s color. Homes, villages and fields were all lit as if on fire. Worse than that, we met no one as we walked. These paths were well traveled. Merchants should have been going from one town to the next. Families going on walks just to enjoy the land. But not today. People were staying home. They were scared.
This mist would kill Gensokyo’s spirit long before its people.
“Burning lands,” I said as we walked. “Makes you wonder who would want to do something like this.”
“More importants than who is whys,” said Marisa. “But not a lots. Way more importants is if we can stop thems.”
“Speaking of which,” I said. “Did you get your spellcards?”
“Yeps.” Marisa patted her apron pocket. “Six Master Sparks. Six times the destructions needed to kill anythings.”
“I already know you’re an apocalypse on wheels. I meant did you pick up any other spellcards, like you said you were going to?”
“Like I need thems!” she said. “Turns out I used up all my inks on this Master Spark batches.”
“What about the ink you stole from me?”
“Left it at the shrines.”
“Of course you did. You’re a useless as a thief, Marisa.”
She grinned. We kept walking.
The lake grew closer as the day went on. In the distance we saw the island on the water, and the tiny beige dot on it that was the old abandoned mansion. Our road followed around the lake’s edge, but zigged and zagged to stay out of the ponds and wetlands that bordered it. If we followed the road, it would eventually take us to the far side of the lake. We would have to walk twice as far as the crow flew.
We were within sight of the lake shore by noon. What had always been a glittering, cerulean pool in Gensokyo’s landscape now looked like a huge vat of red wine. But the lake’s fresh smell hadn’t changed, wafting to us on the wind. I heard the sound of gently running water, and the chatter of bugs and birds that lived off it.
And there was more to hear than animal noises.
“Hears that, Reimus?” said Marisa.
I nodded. “There’s someone up ahead. Sounds like singing.”
“Yups. Could be another youkais. Be on guards.”
I tried to take her advice. But the sounds and smells of the lake put me at peace, reminded me of how beautiful this place was when both the water and sky were blue. Whoever it was singing added to the image. Her voice was pretty like a siren’s. As we got closer, I could make out the words of her song.
Come out and play.
Come and play with me.
‘Cause it’s a nice day.
There’s so much to see.
The fields and the trees.
The birds and the bees
Taking things too far.
Maybe we should
Take their example,
Have our own bite
Of that sweet apple.
If it’s with you
I know I can do it.
‘Cause we know the truth
We see right through it.
This love of ours will live on.
Remember that one sweet day when
You got brave and told me how you feel.
Were way to busy stuttering, stumbling to
Let me know and make it show your love was real.
The precious look on your face then
I told you that I felt the same way.
Came together laughing and crying so hard ‘cause
We realized how foolish we’d been that day.
Even now, that we’ve known love so long
We’ve found that nothing’s really changed.
Get into our fights and then make up after
And we’re still just learning this thing “love” is strange.
Even so, this love of ours is strong
And it’ll always make it through the night.
You and I were made for each other’s hearts
Walking beside you is the only thing that’s right.
You’ve listened to my song now dear
So sing along.
It’s no fun to sing alone so
Come out and play
Come and play with me…
And she repeated. After we heard the full song through the first time, Marisa and I exchanged glances.
“Take our own bite of that sweet apple?” I said. “Does she know what she’s singing about?”
“Probably nots,” said Marisa. “Fairies don’t make babies like humans.”
“How do you know it’s a fairy?”
She pointed ahead. “Right up theres.”
I looked forward. A few yards away was a large but shallow pond, surrounded by wet grasses and weeds. In the middle of the pond, kneeling in mud and singing her heart out, was a girl in a blue one-piece dress. A set of translucent fairy wings flapped on her back, keeping time for her song. She had short, curly blue hair two shades lighter than her dress.
That’s right. Blue hair. Youkai have a wider range of colors than humans do. And this fairy’s colors didn’t allow much speculation as to what she was fairy of.
“Let’s go say hellos,” said Marisa.
I put a hand on her shoulder, pulling her to a stop.
“She hasn’t noticed us,” I whispered to her. “Let’s keep going. I don’t want trouble.”
Marisa turned back at me. “Not all youkais are nasties, Reimus. And this one’s a fairies. Might gets her to help us. Maybe fly us across the lakes so we don’t have to walk all days.”
I shook my head. “Absolutely not. Never make a deal with a fairy. They always get the better side of the bargain.”
“Not always. Some fairies are clevers. Some not.” She smiled. “Stupider the fairies, better the deals. Come ons.”
I wanted to argue the point further, but Marisa pulled free and walked to the pond. She held up a hand and called out to the fairy.
“Good days!” she said. “Find anything yummies in the muds?”
The fairy’s head snapped up, her eyes wide. She stood. Her dress somehow came away clean, but her hands and feet were covered with dripping wet earth. She held her arms out, as if to deny entrance.
“No!” she yelled. Her voice was surprisingly powerful coming out of such a small girl.
“Sorry to hear thats,” said Marisa, stepping up to the pond’s edge. “Gots some eats if you wanna have lunches with us—”
“No!” the fairy yelled again, stomping in the mud. She pointed to Marisa’s feet.
“What’s wrongs?” said Marisa. “Want mees to come in barefoots like yous?”
“No trespassing!” said the fairy. “This is Cirno’s pond! Cirno came here first! Any frogs found are property of Cirno!”
“’Course they ares,” said Marisa. “Wouldn’t dreams of taking aways Cirno’s frogs. We’re not heres for frogs, anyways. And by the ways, who is Cirnos?”
The fairy patted her self on the chest. She left no muddy handprint on her blouse.
“This!” she said. “This is Cirno! Cirno the ice fairy!”
“Gotchas. Nice to meet, Cirnos.” Marisa curtsied. “This is Marisa Kirisames.” She pointed a thumb back to me. “That thing back theres is Reimu Hakureis.”
“Warm bodied humans,” said Cirno. “What do you want with Cirno?”
“Just shoot the breezes,” said Marisa. “Not every days you meet a greater ice fairies. And in the middle of summers! How come you’re not meltings?”
“Cirno is an ice fairy, not a winter fairy,” she said. “Do warm bodied humans freeze in cold weather?”
“Hopefully nots. Stay insides with some hot teas and a nice fires to warm our toes.”
Cirno nodded and put a dirty hand to her chin, as if considering a thoughtful argument.
“True,” she said. “Cirno usually stays in the lake on summer days. The lake is icky red today, but there’s no sun out either. So Cirno thought she’d come and look for some frogs.”
“Frogs good for eatings?”
“Yuck, no!” Cirno stuck out her tongue. “Frogs aren’t food. They’re art. Nothing’s more magnificent than the creation of hydro-crystallized amphibius.”
“Hydro whats?” Marisa looked back at me. “Help, Reimus?”
“It’s gibberish,” I said, stepping up to Marisa’s side. “She freezes frogs for a living. That’s not art. That’s cruelty.”
“Cirno doesn’t expect a warm bodied human to understand,” said the fairy. “Cirno will honor you with a demonstration. Stand aside!”
Marisa and I both moved, letting Cirno out of the pond. Her wings flapped gently as she walked, just as a human’s arms swing while walking. She shook the mud off her feet before stepping onto the grass, but the mud didn’t come away in globs and spatters. It flew off her feet in frozen chunks and shards. Once both feet were out of the pond, she clapped her hands together. Dirty slivers of ice exploded from her hands and forearms. Marisa and I both looked away, hands over our faces. One bit of ice went down the front of my blouse and stuck in my sarashi. I tried to pick it out, but it melted between my fingers. It left a dirty spot on my chest.
I looked up and saw Cirno with a satisfied smile. Both her hands and feet were clean. There wasn’t even a bit of dirt under her fingernails.
“Very impressives,” said Marisa. “But totally inconsiderates. You haves any useful powers? Can you flies?”
“Of course Cirno can fly!” She beat her wings, blowing cold air at us. “Cirno is a fairy! Fairies can fly!”
“Demonstrate thats,” said Marisa. “Fly mees to that islands across the lakes. Then come backs and get Reimus here. Careful, thoughs. She’s heavier than I ams.”
Cirno laughed at us.
“Ha!” she said. “Trying to get something for nothing. Cirno won’t fall for that. Cirno’s too clever. Cirno will fly by herself. Watch!”
The fairy ran off to the nearest tree, her wings flopping in the wind behind her. The tree was stunted with low-hanging branches. Cirno grabbed the lowest and pulled herself up.
“What is she doing?” I said. “Climbing a tree to show us she can fly?”
“Shhh.” Marisa put a finger over her lips. “Let mees handle this.”
I shook my head. I had no idea what was going on, and Marisa was telling me I didn’t need to. Whatever.
We watched Cirno climb the tree. It wasn’t big, and she soon reached one of the top branches. She stood up on that branch, bowing it under her weight. She held her arms out like another set of wings.
“Watch now!” she yelled to us. “The magnificent flight of Cirno!”
It turned out that Cirno couldn’t fly after all. She could certainly fall, but not fly.
I watched her jump from the tree. I saw her airborne for one second, like a child jumping from a barn into a haystack. Except there was no hay to break Cirno’s fall. She hit the ground. Hit it hard.
Marisa and I ran over to her, the ice fairy who couldn’t fly. The fairy who might have just broken her ankle. The fairy who was crying her eyes out, bawling in pain.
“It hurts!” she cried, rocking back and forth on her butt, clenching her right foot. Tears fell off her face in little gems of ice.
“There theres,” said Marisa, kneeling down beside her. “Cry for a little bits if you wants, but get better soons. Still gotta gets us across the lakes.”
“No!” Cirno yelled at her. “Cirno’s not doing anything for you! Cirno’s in pain! Go away and let Cirno suffer in peace!”
“You’ll helps us,” said Marisa, making her voice sound sinister. “Freezing muds off was a good tricks. Trying to flies was even betters. But tricking you into jumpings out of a trees… that was my demonstrations.”
Demonstration of what? Marisa’s conversation with the fairy wasn’t making any sense. But whatever I was failing to understand, Cirno seemed to understand clearly. She cringed away from Marisa in fear, whimpering.
“Wants to take another tumbles from a high places?” said Marisa. “Or something worses?”
Cirno dug her hands into her hair, shook her head back and forth. “No! Don’t hurt Cirno anymore!”
“Help us across the lakes.”
“Cirno can’t! Fairies can’t give humans something for nothing.”
Marisa opened her mouth, but stopped before threatening Cirno again. She stood, brushing her apron off.
“All rights,” she said. “Probably some kinds of fairies laws. Then we’ll makes you a deals. You like to freeze frogs, rights?”
Cirno said nothing. Just held on to her injured ankle, moaning.
“Like the chances to freezes something bigger than a frogs?” said Marisa.
Still nothing, but she looked up at Marisa. She was interested.
“We’ll make you a deals. Get the us across the lakes. Then, after we’ve done our businesses there….” Marisa stabbed a finger at me. “You can freeze Reimus!”
Cirno’s face lit up. “Really?”
“What?” I said. “No she can’t! I like not being frozen!”
“Whoops.” Marisa put her fist to the side of her head. “Already made the offers. Can’t take it back nows. Too bads, so sads.”
“That’s right!” said Cirno, standing up. “Cirno accepts your offer. Cirno will help you across the lake. Must get to work!” She ran down to the lakeshore, splashing through the muddy pond on the way.
I wanted to say something very harsh to Marisa right then. And I was about to, until I realized Cirno was running. I stared at her as she went, my mouth hanging open.
“But…” I stammered. “But her foot… It was just—”
“Broken, surelies” said Marisa. “Poor frosty girls. Didn’t know hows to spread her weights on a falls.”
“You don’t go frolicking through the mud two minutes after you break a bone!” I said. “How in the world—”
Marisa held up a hand. “Reimu, listens. Cirno’s an ice fairies. What’re her bones are made out ofs?”
“Ice?” I said. “That’s stupid. Bones can’t be made out of ice. They’d break all the time.”
“You bets,” she said. “But when you’re an ice fairies, it’s not hard to freeze. Cirno probablies breaks bones ninety hundred times a days, but never notices ‘cause they heal so fast.”
“Then why did it hurt her so bad?”
Marisa shrugged. “You’d be sad too if you couldn’t flies.”
I had nothing to say. I was so confused and upset. I was tempted to take my gohei and whack Marisa’s hat right off her head. Except that would be a poor way to repay her for her help so far, so I rubbed my eyes instead.
“I don’t understand anything,” I said.
“Ours is not to question whys,” said Marisa. “Ours is only to eat ice creams and pies.”
“And what the heck does that mean?”
“Have funs and don’t sweat the small stuffs.” She pointed down to the lake. “Cirno’s got a solutions for us. Let’s go sees.”
Cirno made us a raft.
She started by cupping lake water between her hands, freezing it into a bowl-shaped ingot of ice. She dropped it in the water. It plopped below the surface and came back up, bobbing up and down.
“Water gets bigger when it freezes,” she said. “Ice isn’t as heavy as water, so it floats.”
Cirno put her fingers in the water and spun the chunk of ice around. The more it revolved, the larger it grew. It became as large as a dinner plate, the trunk of a tree, a wagon wheel. Soon she was no longer spinning it with her fingers, but giving it hefty pushes with both arms. All the while, she smoothed her hands over the top, keeping it mostly flat.
Before long, the ice platform was large enough to support the weight of two people. I could only see the top surface, but I suspected the ice extended a long ways underwater.
“So we’ll float out on this thing?” I said. “I don’t know. It seems unstable.”
“Totally stables,” said Marisa. “This’ll never sinks, unlike boats. But missing somethings.” She set her broom down and gathered up two big handfuls of soil. She hopped onto the ice raft, which only bobbed slightly under her weight. Her feet slipped a little, but she stayed standing. She dropped the dirt onto the raft’s top and spread it around with her feet.
“Stop!” said Cirno, beating her wings in anger. “What’re you doing? You’re ruining my masterpiece!”
“Every work needs an imperfections,” said Marisa. She stepped back to the shore to gather more dirt. “Me and Reimus can’t go slippy-slidies all over. Gotta have some grits.”
“She’s right,” I said, gathering up some dirt and following Marisa’s example. “When this thing starts to melt, we’ll slide right off and into the water. The dirt will give us some friction.”
Cirno hmphed, but didn’t try to stop us. Marisa and I spread a few more handfuls of earth and rocks and grass over the raft. Soon we could stand on it without loosing our balance. Our shoes would get muddy, but we could live with that.
“Very well.” Cirno waded into the water, clamped her hands on the raft’s edge. “Now you’ll see Cirno’s true power.”
She flapped her wings and kicked her feet, and we were moving away from the shore. Cirno swam, pushing us along at the speed of a brisk walk. Marisa giggled. She cupped a hand by her mouth and whispered to me.
“Her true powers,” she said. “She’s a boat motors.”
“A boat what?” I whispered back.
Marisa shook her head. “Read in a books. I’ll show you sometimes.”
The shore got further away, until it was no more important to the eyes than the mountains in the distance. The lake was still red, although the effect wasn’t as dramatic when on the water. Looking straight down, I could see through the water and to the lake bed. It was as clean and clear as it had ever been. But when I looked up and gazed around the waterscape, the water took on the sky’s color. We were rafting through a sea of blood.
And just to make things weird, Cirno hummed the whole way. It sounded like the same tune she’d been singing when we met her. Yet her head never came up from the water, and no air bubbles came from her nose or mouth. She seemed to breathe water just as easily as air. She kept pushing us, pumping her legs and wings diligently, never tiring.
Marisa used her broom as a rudder. She alternately dipped it into the water on either side of the raft, giving enough drag to keep Cirno on a straight course. I would have used my gohei to help, but a miko’s staff is essentially a stick with paper tied to it. It wouldn’t have made a difference.
“Can’t believe Cirnos wants a paybacks for this,” said Marisa, pulling her broom from the water. “Having the times of her lives.”
“What I can’t believe is what you offered her,” I said. “Freeze me? What were you thinking?”
“Thinking might not gets around the lake by nightfalls,” she said. “If we goes across the waters instead of around its, Gensokyo might not spends one more nights under those evil clouds. Don’t stop whoever’s making the mists, it won’t matters if you’re Reimu the Snowmans.”
Darn it. She was right. I hated it when Marisa was right.
“So what happens if we succeed?” I said. “We’ve got this glorious victory over the forces of darkness. Except I can’t enjoy it, because Cirno turns me into an icicle. What then?”
Marisa grinned, patted the apron pocket that carried her spellcards.
I sighed. “Master Spark isn’t the solution to all the world’s problems, you know.”
“All but ones,” she said. “Won’t solve that whole love things.”
I blinked at that. Then I laughed. I imagined a few ways Master spark could solve the problem of love, but they all focused on someone getting incinerated.
We made good time. The island grew closer and larger, looking like a continent unto itself. Even so, by the time we set foot on land again, noon was long past. The sky was darkening.
Our ice raft had shrunk some during the trip, but not much. I supposed Cirno kept refreezing water to it as we went. Cirno stayed in the water and pushed the raft away. Little moulds the shape of her fingers and hands were melted into the edge. Her hands weren’t warm enough to soften the ice, but readily became a part of it. She rolled over and floated on her back, hands behind her head.
“That was a good swim,” she said. “But Cirno’s tired now, so she’s going to drift.” She looked at me. “You’re indebted to Cirno now. Don’t forget!”
“I won’t,” I said. What I didn’t say was, But I’m desperately hoping that you will.
Cirno seemed satisfied. She leaned back, kicking her legs gently to push away from the shore. Marisa and I turned to look over the island.
The abandoned mansion was the biggest thing here. Covering about half the island, the mansion stood tall, wide and imposing. A large, red brick wall surrounded the whole place, topped with guard towers every hundred yards. What could be seen above the wall were huge spires stabbing into the sky, tall buildings and the turrets built onto them.
“It’s not even a mansion,” I said. “It’s more like a palace. Or a keep.”
Marisa nodded. “Big, but no matters. Let’s move in, and carefullies. Don’t have any covers.”
I nodded. Our approach to the mansion would be exposed. There was no terrain to hide behind, no dark of night to cloak us. A few trees dotted the landscape between here and the mansion wall, but that was it.
I started walking. Marisa came up beside me.
“We have no hope of stealth,” I said. “Let’s try diplomacy instead. If we see anyone, let’s greet them.”
“Okays. Peoples on the walls can pick us off no troubles, but oh wells. Scared, Reimus?”
I took a deep breath, let it out. I hadn’t noticed it until she asked, but my heart was beating faster than I wanted it to.
“Terrified,” I looked at her. “But that hasn’t stopped us so far, right?”
“Not yets,” she said.
Forward to Chapter Five
Back to Chapter Three
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