Ends and Beginnings #2
This story begins in the 1940's, at the end of the first sixty-year cycle of Gensokyo.
Which is to say ... the beginning was actually about three or four hundred years previous, when a girl with a grudge killed a princess who'd been exiled from the Moon. The princess returned the favor, several days later.
If you want to get technical, you could say it began some thirteen hundred years ago, when a beautiful princess from the moon was approached by many men for her hand in marriage; she said she would accept the hand of the man who could fulfill her five Requests, which unfortunately turned out to be Impossible. All of them failed; this rather annoyed the daughter of one of them. For that matter, you might say that the beginning was when the Hourai Elixer was perfected, or when the Capital of the Moon was founded, but that way lies the madness tracing the complex lines of cause and effect back to the highly controversial origins of the universe.
But this story begins in 1944. Not many people in Gensokyo knew about the various political and technological goings-on in the outside world, and nobody in the outside world thought they were illusory enough for word to reach Gensokyo easily. They were, however, a bit distracted with all the flowers which had suddenly sprung up in Gensokyo, overflowing the fields.
Fujiwara no Mokou was in the middle of a field that was fairly bursting with red flowers and dark cherry trees; the skies were an unearthly shade of red. At the moment, she was launching a redheaded shinigami into the air with a fireball, at the conclusion of a brief battle. Mokou hadn't been going all-out, because she wasn't sure if even Death could die,1 and didn't really want to find out what would happen if she did.
Then Mokou hesitated, frowning as she saw the the shinigami land next to another woman she hadn't seen before.
She looked rather impressive, with her short green hair stylishly brushed to one side. The first thing you noticed, though, was the uniform, which was in blue and black and gold, and that she carried a golden ... object, shaped sort of like a grave-marker, with emblems engraved in one side. She looked like some sort of celestial Official. She had dark silvery-grey eyes.
And she had the face of a human. That is — youkai who took on a human appearance tended to have a sort of unearthly glow or unnatural smoothness to their features, but this woman ... didn't.
In fact, she seemed to be a more pure human than ... well ... than any normal human Mokou had ever seen.
The woman sighed, looking down at the shinigami. "Komachi," she said, "I'm going to have to talk to you later about attacking immortals just to see if they can die."
The shinigami groaned softly. "I'm sorry, Sikieiki-sama ..."
Mokou straighetened up. There were only a limited number of possibilities as to who a Shinigami would refer to as "sama". Most likely, none of them would ever have anything to do with Mokou, but it Wouldn't Do not to show her respect.
Sikieiki shook her head disapprovingly, then walked over to Mokou and bowed. "Fujiwara no Mokou," she said, "I am Sikieiki, the Yama of Paradise. I must apologize for Komachi Onozuka's behavior."
Ah, a judge of the dead; that would have been her second guess. "Eh, yeah," said Mokou, shrugging. "Well ... uh ... no worries. No harm done, I guess." She glanced around, and picked up Komachi's discarded scythe, offering it to Sikieiki. "Uh. This isn't a real place, now, is it?"
"Oh, it's real," said Sikieiki as she took the scythe. "Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Muenzuka isn't a living place."
Understanding dawned. "I see," said Mokou, looking around again. "Still not real to me, though."
"Perhaps not," said Sikieiki. "Although who knows, with the lunar magicks."
Mokou nodded, trying not to think such disrespectful thoughts as, Oh, gods, she can pronounce the "k" in "magicks."2 "So, all the flowers that sprang up in Gensokyo that were actually ghosts," she said. "That was because she was slacking off, huh?" She gestured to Komachi's prone form.
"Well, Komachi-san certainly didn't help," said Sikieiki. "It has been sixty years since the Great Hakurei Barrier was created, and it has temporarily become weakened. The shrine maiden helped me figure that out. At first she thought it had to do with the zodiac, but sixty years is really a number form of all nature expressed."
"Is that right," said Mokou. Oh boy, long-winded explanation time ...
"The sun, moon, and stars comprise the three spirits," said Sikieiki. "Spring, summer, autumn, and winter comprise the four seasons. Wood, water, fire, earth, and metal comprise the five elements." Her eyes had an unfocused look, as if she was paying more attention to her words than to Mokou. "Combine the three spirits, four seasons, five elements. Three times four times five is sixty." Or at least, Mokou wanted to see an unfocused look in her eyes. "Sixty years is a combined number of complete nature revealed. In other words, nature is reborn every sixty years. Gensokyo will resurrect this year."
"That's cool," said Mokou, nodding. "Well, anyway, I'll be off, then. Don't wanna get you guys bogged down or anything, with be gettin' in the way and stuff." She turned to leave, though she wasn't entirely sure where she had to go to leave this ... afterworldly place.
"Wait," said Sikieiki.
Oh, shit. "What?" said Mokou.
"Well, I freely admit that I'm unlikely to judge you officially any time soon," said Sikieiki, "but that isn't to say that healing your soul isn't virtuous in and of itself, Mokou-san."
Mokou frowned. "You gonna complain about me drinkin' the elixer?"
"Not in and of itself," said Sikieiki. "As far as I'm concerned, that just means more time to heal yourself."
"Yeah, fine," said Mokou, gritting her teeth.
"As for Iwakasa, you have regretted his murder ever since," said Sikieiki softly. "It is a stain on your soul, but you are very close to full penance for that particular deed." Her voice suddenly became much more firm. "It is the murder you have repeatedly committed since then that I'm going to talk to you about."
Mokou growled. "Kaguya," she said.
"And just by the way you say her name," said Sikieiki, not missing a beat, "you have a long way to go."
"She humiliated my father," snarled Mokou, glaring directly at Sikieiki. "She's killed me just as many times as I've killed her —"
Sikieiki's eyes flared. "Fujiwara no Mokou," she said, her voice shooting danmaku straight into Mokou's heart. She was a Yama; she'd undoubtedly faced much greater souls than Mokou's, although admittedly they mostly hadn't been currently occupying their bodies.
Mokou took a step back. She wasn't often outclassed, but this is one of those times.
"You are guilty of a murder, repeated thirty thousand times, for which you have no regret," said Sikieiki, in the tones of a judge who is willing, able, and prepared to condemn you to Hell. "It was an act in the three greatest of the Seven Deadly Sins: Wrath, Envy, and Pride."
"Envy?" said Mokou softly, feeling slightly nervous. A Yama couldn't really send her to hell while she had the Hourai Elixer in her guts, but Sikieiki did a good job giving the impression that she might.
Sikieiki blinked, thrown off-guard by the question, and peered at her. "Yes, envy," she said. She gave Mokou a long, hard look. "That being said," she continued, much less harshly, as if realizing this must be something Mokou didn't actually know about, "sometimes the most insidious form a sin can take is when you commit it unaware, and it drives you to knowingly commit others. Your hatred of Kaguya stems from envy which has lasted twelve and a half centuries."
Mokou frowned. "What the hell," she said softly. "Are you saying I was ... jealous of how Kaguya was getting all those guys who wanted to marry her?"
"Not exactly," said Sikieiki, smiling faintly. The hellfire-and-damnation was suddenly gone. "You were envious of her suitors."
"Mokou-san," said Sikieiki, looking slightly uncomfortable about this next question, "have you ever been ... attracted to another woman?"
"Uh ..." Mokou hesitated, not entirely sure how to answer that. "I dunno. I guess. Everyone in Gensokyo seems to be at least kinda bi, heh."
"You think that's Gensokyo's doing?" said Sikieiki, arching an eyebrow.
Mokou frowned. "I dunno," she said. "I mean ... you can't say I've committed Lust, can ya?"
"No," said Sikieiki slowly, walking around Mokou, peering at her and giving the eerie impression that she was staring into her soul. In fact, Mokou realized, she probably was staring into her soul. "I suppose you were never in a situation to notice it. You were born into a time and place in which women were women, and men were men, and the idea of marriage was 'between a man and a woman', and anything else was literally unthinkable. You would have eventually been given to a man for marriage; the fact that you never had and never would be attracted to any man would have gone completely unnoticed. Since then, you haven't exactly been looking at people with romance on your mind."
"Wait, what?" said Mokou, getting confused. "Whaddaya mean, 'never had and never would be' ...?"
Sikieiki gave a soft sigh. "Mokou-san, you're a lesbian."
"You heard me."
Mokou narrowed her eyes. "Is that something else you're gonna complain about?"
"No," said Sikieiki, with the assurance of someone who knows exactly what's going to get you sent to heaven or hell. "As far as I'm concerned, the idea of restricting who you can love and how you can love them doesn't make sense. In fact, there've been some people I've ... well. That's neither here nor there." She narrowed her eyes. "It's different, of course, if you end up committing evil acts because of it."
The various threads of this conversation suddenly clicked together. "Are you saying I ... I had the hots for Kaguya?" said Mokou, feeling the heat of Wrath rise up within her, staring at Sikieiki in disbelief.
"Yes," said Sikieiki. "Mokou-san ... calm down."
"The hell with that —"
Precisely sixty years later, Mokou nearly collided with the Yama as she was wandering through the bamboo forest.
"Oh. Hi," she said.
"Hello, Mokou-san," said Sikieiki cautiously.
Mokou tensed up, then sighed, shrugging. "Heh. Y'know what ... I'm sorry for, y'know, attacking you like that."
Sikieiki regarded Mokou for a moment, then nodded. "Apology accepted," she said, smiling. Good, admitting that she had been in the wrong. It looked like she'd improved in that respect, at least.
They started walking through the forest. "Another flower-incident?" said Mokou, glancing sideways at her.
"Yes," said Sikieiki. "Several people, the current shrine maiden included, thought it was some sort of incident that they needed to be resolve, and I had to deal with them as well."
Mokou nodded, rolling her eyes. "Yeah, sounds like her," she said.
Sikieiki shrugged. "Most of them ran into me," she said. "I'm revisiting them now. Have you thought of what I said the last time we met?"
Mokou stretched, considering this. She looked around, as if to make sure there were no crow-tengus in the vicinity to take quotes out of context, then said, "Well ... first of all, thanks for helping me find out I'm a lesbian." She smirked slightly. "It hasn't come up with anyone since then, but there's a whole lot that makes more sense now."
Sikieiki smiled. "And as for Princess Kaguya?"
Mokou's face clouded. "Feh." She stopped walking and crossed her arms, looking away from Sikieiki. "Like I could ever've been interested in her," she said.
Sikieiki had examined enough lives to know that when she saw it. She exasperatedly slapped her forehead.
"What, you think I'm kidding?" said Mokou. "I know I'm not attracted to her. The reason I hate her is for the humiliation of my father —"
"Mokou-san," Sikieiki said slowly, "have you ever heard the term 'tsundere' before?"
Mokou considered this. "That's it, I'm outta here," she said, and took off and began flying down a path which didn't exist at ground level.
"Mokou-san, wait!" said Sikieiki, flying after her. She realized she wasn't entirely sure what she would say, but ...
"I'm not interested in hearing more of this right now," Mokou called back. "Have fun gettin' lost in the woods!"
Sikieiki slowed down and sighed. Well, it looked like this was a lost cause for now. She turned around to return to the path.
She blinked, realizing she wasn't sure where the path was.
"I absolutely will not become lost, even in this bamboo forest," she said aloud.
"Aha!" said a cheerful, mischevious voice.
Sikieiki turned, and saw a short girl with black hair and rabbit-ears, dressed in a pink dress.
"I've seen that face somewhere before!" said Tewi Inaba.
Sikieiki straightened up. Looking like she'd just had an argument and was about to get lost Wouldn't Do. "I've come to see if you've been keeping to what I've said," she said.
"Ah, of course!" said Tewi, radiating the kind of innocence that no one who was genuinely innocent could possibly display. "I've been living a proper life since then!"
Sikieiki sighed. It looked like she still had her work cut out for her ...
The easy part had been getting the fairies to clear out of the abandoned house, because they had long since learned that attacking Mokou or getting in her way was a recipe for fire, even on a relatively damp day like this.
"Okay, peeps, everybody stand back!" said Mokou, grinning back at the various watchers. "And that includes you, Mika, even though I wouldn't mind you getting hit by a random piece of flaming debris that much.
Her audience consisted of youkai rabbits from Eientei; they ranged from simply rabbits with visible expressions of cheerful dimwittedness, to fairies which happened to have rabbit ears, to what looked like short girls in pink dresses with rabbit ears, as well as Tewi and Reisen. The brown-haired rabbit Mokou had addressed belonged to the third category; she gave an indignant snort, to the general giggles from the others, as they all shuffled away to a safe distance.
Oh — there was one other person in the audience. Kaguya stood near the back, smiling as she watched.
Mokou stretched and flexed, turning to face what had previously been her rundown shack,3 which looked even worse than it had in the past winter now that it really was abandoned. In fact, it looked as if this wasn't really necessary; all she'd probably really need to do is wait for a nice gale. Sill, this was something she wanted to do herself.
She suddenly threw her hands out to her sides, a pair of fiery red-orange phoenix-wings appearing at her back with a whoomph. This wasn't actually necessary, but it looked cool — especially when she rose up into the air. She threw her hands out, and several fireballs flew out from them, entering the windows. Mokou snapped her fingers, the wings vanishing, and she dropped to the ground, turning around and strolling away casually as the house exploded.
It was a rather impressive fireball. There was lots of steam from the damp atmosphere, too. The debris weren't actually very hot, though, so there wasn't actually much danger of anything else catching on fire. (Mokou had learned her lesson about forest fires much earlier.) She had also carefully positioned the blasts so that the debris was mostly thrown away from her and the rabbits.
It was generally agreed that it was a rather impressive explosion.
"And that's the end of that," said Mokou, striding towards the forest path as the rabbits applauded. "No more lumpin' around in an ugly old shack fer me."
The audience began to disperse, mostly towards Eientei. Kaguya smiled as she walked over, letting all the rabbits go on ahead. "I'm glad you decided move in permanently," she said.
She slipped an arm around Mokou's waist. Mokou felt herself stiffen and blush faintly. Kaguya was the only person who could get that kind of reaction from her. "Heh ... well, y'know," she said. "I guess you're just that persuasive."
Kaguya smiled, giving Mokou's waist a squeeze. Mokou's blush deepened, and she looked away for an instant, then turned back to face Kaguya and kissed her lightly on the lips. Kaguya retaliated by throwing her arms around Mokou and deepening the kiss.
Mokou felt herself starting to relax, and then her tension returned in full force as she pulled back. "Not ... not out here in the middle of the path ..."
Kaguya paused dramatically. "Well, all right," she said, and abruptly scooped Mokou up in her arms, took off, and flew off the path rather fast.
"Augh! Hey!" Mokou squirmed. "I can fly on my own, you know!"
Kaguya giggled. "But you're so cute when I cuddle you like this, Moekko!" she said cheerfully as she landed in a clearing that was more or less out of earshot of the path.
Mokou chortled. "Don't call me Moekko," she said, grinning somewhat embarassedly.4
Kaguya grinned, and then darted forward, kissing Mokou deeply on the lips. Mokou stiffened for an instant, then returned the kiss, hugging her close as she parted her lips, slipping in her tongue. Kaguya met it with her own, increasing the pressure against Mokou's mouth.
It was just the two of them together, with no one to bother them, and this is one of those moments when Mokou thought, You know what, hell with it. I love her. There really was no excuse not to simply return the affections, so she did.
Their lips parted, and Mokou smiled down at her, feeling a faint blush as she stroked Kaguya's cheek. Kaguya grinned back, arms still wrapped around Mokou's back, then moved one hand up to Mokou's suspenders, tugging at it gently.
"Er, um, hey," said Mokou, blushing even more. "I'm ... not really in the mood for that right now."
"Aw. Oh well," said Kaguya, shrugging a bit, and she simply leaned against Mokou, giving her a gentle squeeze.
Mokou let out a soft sigh, smiling as she stroked Kaguya's hair. "Y'know, Kaguya ... I really do love you, but ..." She shrugged. "I sometimes just feel kinda ... overwhelmed."
"Hmm?" Kaguya looked up into her eyes, frowning thoughtfully. "Ah ... yes, I can understand that." A hand gently ran through Mokou's hair. "The kind of life you've lived ... you haven't had much in the way of affection in, in ..."
"Thirteen centuries," said Mokou.
"Yes," said Kaguya softly.
There was a pause.
"Don't stop now, though," added Mokou.
Kaguya giggled, resting her head on Mokou's shoulder. "Okay, I won't," she said.
Mokou smiled, kissing Kaguya's cheek. There were hundreds of things she could have said, about how they'd come together, or how foolish she'd been before then, or any number of sweet nothings which she would have completely botched since she didn't know how. Instead, she simply said, "I love you, Kaguya."
"I love you too, Mokou," she said, smiling up at her.
"We're back," said Reisen as the rabbits arrived back at Eientei.
"Nobody got hurt?" said Eirin, standing on the front porch. She'd stayed behind, but had been ready at a moment's notice to give first aid and, if necessary, last rites.
Reisen shook her head. "No, I don't think anything actually fell toward us, either," she said. "Mokou was pretty good about it."
Eirin nodded. "I'm sorry I missed it, then," she said, with only a modicum of sincerity. "Where are they?"
Reisen blinked, glancing back at the group and realizing it consisted only of rabbits. "Er ... I don't know ... I guess they, um, strayed behind."
"Prolly makin' out in the bushes somewhere," said Tewi cheerfully, as lewdly as someone who looks like a twelve-year-old girl can manage.5
"Well, I won't worry, then," said Eirin, who knew excactly when Tewi was trying to get her disapproval and, thus, when not to give it. "I guess they've really found happiness with each other."
Reisen nodded thoughtfully. "I guess so," she said. "Nothing to worry about at all."
Sikieiki exhaled heavily as she sat back, peering at her mirror which, up to several seconds ago, had showed Mokou's life in it. She reflected on what she'd seen.
It was called the Cleansed Crystal Mirror, and it allowed a Yama to see the peoples' lives. It was tiring to use, however.
"Well," she murmured, with a measure of uncertainly, "there's one set of sins completely gotten rid of ..."
1Since untold aeons hadn't passed.
2Not a literal translation from Japanese. But the actual words Sikieiki used and Mokou's response amount to the same thing.
3Although caling it this is an insult to run-down shacks.
4Um ... it's like this. The concept of moe (pronounced mo-eh) is commonly translated as "turn-on," but it is entirely inaccurate. It refers to a sort of natural cuteness — not like a Saturday morning cartoon targeted at eight-year-old girls obsessed with the color pink is cute, but like a puppy is cute. The term also indicates a sort of innocence, vulnerability, and/or shyness. It is often designed to invoke more of a "brotherly" or even "parental" affection, rather than a sexual attraction (mostly). The suffix "-kko" means "girl who has or embodies this trait." Mokou, as previously established, would rather have deliberately let herself freeze half to death to show how strong-willed she was than to even imply some kind of weakness. As also previously established, this resulted in her actually freezing to death on more than one occasion.
5The shock value was lessened by the fact that just about everyone in the room except Reisen had known her for hundreds of years, and Reisen had known her since 1969.