Author: Susilo PM
As the heiress of the Inubashiri clan, much is expected of Momiji. She simply wasn't prepared for how much was expected of her. She'd trained her whole life to be the best in the Tengu Patrol Corps, but what is one to do when everything she's trained for is taken from her?Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Momiji I. & Aya S. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 31,805 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 22 - Updated: 09-18-12 - Published: 08-30-12 - id: 8482099
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Scarlet (soon to be renamed Scarlet Ambitions) will be updated as well as revised over the course of this semester. My apologies for the wait. I'll be tackling this story as well in the meantime.
Also, this fic is set in the same universe as Scarlet, but doesn't really require having read Scarlet to understand. The focus is on a completely different set of characters, after all. For those that have read Scarlet and care about a sort of timeline for the two fics, know that Scarlet begins at the start of summer and this fic begins at the start of autumn in the same year.
Chapter 1: Her Place
Though there existed many clans of White Wolf Tengu in Gensokyo, few could rival the dedication of the Inubashiri clan. Theirs was a long line of servitude towards the land they had sworn to protect. Though the Inubashiri were not the only clan to have members charged with patrolling Tengu lands, theirs was the only one who had dedicated themselves to it entirely.
Though their duty was noble, the Inubashiri clan's reputation remained mediocre at best amongst the White Wolves. Other wolves found their calling in politics or in the direct servitude of their superiors, the Crow Tengu. The fact that the Inubashiri had no direct ties to a Crow household hurt their standing greatly.
For the young heir to the Inubashiri name, however, politics and standing were trivial matters at best. All that mattered was the preservation and safety of the lands the Tengu had come to call home.
Momiji took a deep breath and allowed a small smile to spread across her lips as she stood atop one of the taller trees along the eastern edge of the Tengu territory. The sun was slowly falling just behind the mountain to the west, coating the entire side of the mountain in a vibrant orange glow. This was easily her favorite part of the day and had become somewhat of a ritual for her as she ended her patrol.
Looking out at the beauty before her was a reminder that every patrol day was worth it.
Her patrol today had been rather uneventful, though. much to the white wolf's dismay. A worth cause or not, patrolling an area no one dared to intrude upon could be rather boring, even she had to admit. Though on the other hand, patrolling on days either of the mikos or their accomplices were investigating some strange occurrence would always turn out rather... painful. In that sense, days such as these weren't so terrible.
She wouldn't need bandages when she returned home, at least.
Still, she sometimes wished that some random passerby would stumble into the Tengu's side of the mountain, if only so she could stop and escort them out. Stopping to fight and force them out would be even more preferable.
God knew she hadn't faced an opponent that turned out to be her equal in quite some time. They always turned out to be small-fry or someone far beyond her skill level. There was no honor in the former, and only pain in the latter.
However, right now was different. Now, she wished no one would intrude. The sight of the setting sun, the sounds of the local wildlife, and the smell of the autumn foliage carried by the cool evening winds were all a blessing to her enhanced senses. This feeling was bliss.
"Of course," Momiji groaned loudly as her ears twitched from the unwanted sound intruding upon her reverie. This was her fault, she knew. Curse her for wishing for an intruder at this time of day, the white wolf thought to herself as she tried to pinpoint the location of the noise. Monotonous patrol or not, having her evening ritual broken was never appreciated.
Whoever it was, she'd make them pay.
'There you are,' she thought, as her ears managed pick up the sounds of light footsteps on the soft grass roughly a kilometer away. A fallen twig at the exact edge of Tengu territory had been the source of the noise, but from the sounds of the footsteps, two people had been the cause.
Momiji began to leap from tree, allowing herself small bursts of flight between each one as she rapidly closed in on the soft sounds. She'd use the branches below as cover until she found the exact location of her prey.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see another wolf doing the same about three kilometers away, yet he came to an abrupt stop when their eyes met. She turned back towards the noise and smirked. The wolf had not been an Inubashiri, but the name carried at least some respect amongst the others who patrolled these lands. From the looks of it, it seemed the other wolves were content to allow her the pleasure of the hunt this day.
Fine by her.
The sounds were getting louder the closer she came to her targets, but even at their distance, her ears were having to adjust to the sheer volume of one of the intruders. Judging by their footsteps, the louder one was far shorter than the silent one. Even their footsteps mirrored the volume of their voices, which was odd to say the least. That they hadn't been flying suggested that the two were actively trying to stay hidden among the trees, yet their inability to keep silent suggested otherwise.
From what she could hear of their footsteps, the both of them were simply walking naturally, as if unaware of their intrusion. That the taller one's steps were so quiet despite the weight difference hinted that they had gone through some sort of training in their time. She'd have to exercise caution when dealing with that one, at least.
"But then Dai-chan was all like 'That doesn't seem like a good idea,'" the loud one proclaimed. Momiji hadn't been focused on exactly what the voice had been saying, but now that she was closer, she could comprehend their words more easily. She just wished she still couldn't though. That annoying voice was familiar. "Then I was like, 'Don't worry. I'm the strongest, remember. It'll be fine.'" It was nothing more than mindless chatter... Never anything more than mindless chatter with that one...
"I take it she didn't quite agree with you. there," the taller of the two spoke kindly.
"Dai-chan just worries a lot," the shorter one mumbled. "She knows I can take care of myself."
Momiji landed silently on a branch overlooking the two, though she had to fight the urge to let out an audible sigh upon receiving confirmation on just who dared to intrude at this our. She had Cirno's voice memorized by now, after all, though she had hoped that it had been her ears playing tricks on her. Of those that she had driven from Tengu lands, that fairy was one of the few repeat offenders.
"I'm surprised she didn't come with you," the taller one, clad in green, stated.
The taller one was new, the white wolf admitted. She'd never met her in person, but recognized her by occupation. On clear days, Momiji could see all the way to the largest lake in Gensokyo. At its center was an island home to a large, overly extravagant mansion with the green clad intruder standing ever vigilant... most of the time ever vigilant at the gate.
"She said she'd come, but she was late so I came to get you instead," Cirno explained without an ounce of shame.
The green-clad one brought a hand to her forehead and sighed, mirroring Momiji's own reaction. This was the status quo for the little fairy, she'd come to realize.
"That's... not very nice of you, Cirno."
She was half tempted to leap down and attack right then. The fairy deserved a rude awakening at the least for her selfishness. Even though the white wolf had encountered Cirno enough to know her behavior was natural and never intentionally rude, the girl still needed to be taught a lesson at some point.
The green-clad one's presence stayed her hand, though. She was a first offender, and her code demanded that she give first offenders fair warning. It wasn't just that, however. It was the way the taller woman carrier herself, even during small talk, that gave her away. As she suspected, there was a secret behind this one's demeanor. A hidden strength, perhaps. Giving the two a warning would be as much for her benefit as the intruders'.
"You should really consider the feelings of your friends mo-"
"Halt!" Momiji yelled sternly as she landed several paces in front of the two. "You will go no further."
The green-clad woman stopped her advance, but gave no inclination that she'd been fazed by the white wolf's sudden appearance. The ice fairy, however, was not so composed.
"You!" Cirno pointed at the white wolf sternly. "Cheater!"
"I have a name."
"I know that," Cirno stamped her foot on the ground angrily. "Momizi is a big fat cheater!"
"It's Momiji," she growled. It irritated her that the fairy got her name wrong nearly every time the two met, but even more so that she wasn't the first to do it. It happened much more often than she'd prefer.
"Cheater," Cirno huffed.
"I'm a little lost here," the green-clad woman scratched her cheek and sighed. "What's going on?"
"Meiling!" Cirno practically shouted before floating up to look her companion in the eye. "This girl keeps attacking me when I come here, and she cheats too! See that shield and sword," she pointed at her again. "she keeps blocking and splitting my attacks before they hit her. It's cheating!"
"There's not really a formal set of rules for-"
Meiling signed once again before turning back to face the glaring Momiji.
"Okay, okay," she waved a hand sideways at the fairy. "I think I get the gist of what's going on here. This land is-"
"Private," the white wolf finished for the green-clad woman curtly. "This side of the mountain is Tengu property, and you are currently intruding where you are not welcome. You of all people should understand that, gate guard. However," she lightened her previously stern tone a bit, "the Tengu are not a purely reclusive people. I am obligated to hear you out if your business here is of dire importance or would benefit the Tengu. I ask you this but once, gate guard, what brings you here?"
"Frogs!" Cirno interrupted with a loud, excited shout. "Where are the frogs? I heard there was a lake full of frogs here, so I came to play with them. Where are they? You know, don't you? Tell me!"
Momiji couldn't stop her hand from returning to rest on her forehead. Every time this little fairy tried to trespass into Tengu lands, she found a new way to give her a headache.
Yet... even in Inubashiri heiress had heard the rumors of a hidden lake filled to the brim with frogs of all sizes and species located somewhere in Tengu lands. It seemed like every Crow Tengu in Gensokyo was spouting some variation of that tale, as gossip-loving as crows could be. It was pure foolishness and falsifications, Momiji had concluded. She'd been up and down every millimeter of these lands and could safely say she knew them better than anyone else. She could tell her own location by only the smell if need be. She was certain nothing of the sort existed here.
Still, if it was frogs on the mountain they sought, she could only think of but one of note. Though she knew better when facing down an unknown opponent, she couldn't stop herself from looking away to take a quick scan of the peak of the mountain. At the top, she could barely make out the torii archway above the pathway leading to the Moriya shrine.
As it turned out, today was an unlucky day. On rare occasions, one of the denizens of the Moriya shrine could be seen lazing atop the torii archway in front of their shrine. Today was such a day.
A small, childlike figure was laying atop the archway... gazing directly down at the three of them.
Did gods have senses that rivaled her own, Momiji wondered. Could that one really see them, or even hear their conversation. Momiji stifled a shudder as she turned back to face the intruders. The prospect of it gave her all the more reason to see that these two exited Tengu lands promptly, more than ever before. The last thing she needed was a rampaging god personally seeking to cease the ice fairy's "playtime" with her amphibian brethren in her territory. This would have to end now.
"That is your reason, then?" She asked for confirmation only out of respect for the taller one.
"What Cirno, here, said is true," The green-clad woman Cirno had called 'Meiling' confirmed. "She heard a rumor about a lake of frogs and wanted me to come with her to find it. She was rather... insistent."
"I see," she allowed her voice to return to her previous, stern tone. "Then, it is as I said before," Momiji's eyes narrowed threateningly, "you will go no further. I suggest you and your furry companion turn back now, gate guard. I will respond with force if necessary."
"Gate guard, huh," Meiling smiled as her gaze drifted towards the sky. "Yeah, I know what you're doing. I know what you have to do. I know your job well. Tell me something, though," her gaze fell back on the white wolf with an odd, glazed look in her eyes. "How many vacation days do you get a year?"
"I'm just wondering," Meiling continued. "Guarding a place can get pretty boring after a while, with nothing but the same, unchanging scenery to look at. Doing the same thing day in and day out, for nearly three hundred and sixty-five days out of the year, it's only natural that such people be given time to cool off and clear their heads every once in a while, wouldn't you say?"
Momiji raised an eyebrow at the woman's rant. She was making even less sense than the fairy.
"Me? I get six vacation days each year, one for every other month. I don't even get holidays off! Does that seem fair to you?" Meiling sighed angrily. "Sakuya says six is more than I deserve, but I'm at my wits end after all these years. I just can't take it anymore. I just need some time off! I just need to have a little fun." Meiling shouted as the crazed look in her eyes grew fiercer. "So... you have to understand, when my friend just happens to show up on my one free day in the past two months and decides to drag me along with her..."
Momiji leapt backwards and gripped the hilt of her sword as she watched the green-clad woman fall into some sort of martial arts stance.
"...I'm not going to let a little warning stop me from what my friend here wants to see. Today, I'm going to enjoy myself. I'm going to have fun. I'm going to have the time of my life!" Her head cocked to the side at an odd angle. "You understand, don't you Miss Wolf?"
Momiji took it back. She took it all back when concerning this woman's demeanor. She was just as much of an idiot as the fairy.
Grasping her sword tightly, Momiji did not hesitate to charge.
"Meiling!" Cirno yelled as tears filled her eyes. "Meiling, wake up. Wake up!" She was kneeling over her fallen friend, trying desperately to shake her from her unconscious state.
"She will... be fine," Momiji spoke between heavy pants. The fight had been much more difficult than she had anticipated. She cursed herself for allowing her opponent's odd behavior cloud her judgment at the last minute. "I simply used the blunt end of my sword for the final blow."
It was a miracle she had landed it, though. The gate guard had turned out to be a close quarters martial artist, and a fairly agile one at that. The green-clad woman had used her speed to evade most of her strikes and had put her under constant pressure. She might even had been a match for Momiji... if circumstances had been different.
Cirno's unpredictability had been her greatest asset in the fight, yet it had also proven to be their greatest hindrance. Meiling had been forced to concentrate on dodging the fairy's attacks as well as Momiji's, and had also been overly focused on provoking the wolf into attacking her instead of the fairy. If this had been a one-on-one contest, Momiji wasn't sure how it would have turned out. When she returned home, she'd have to report on the gate guard's battle prowess to the other wolves for future reference.
Of course, she still had work to do here before then.
"I explained myself quite clearly," Momiji stated plainly. "You are trespassing. After so many attempts, I would think you would know better by now."
"I just wanted to play with the frogs!" The fairly shook the tears from her eyes to reveal an icy glare. "Why do you get in my way? Why does everyone always get in my way when I'm just trying to have fun?"
'Because a fairy's idea of fun oftentimes entails intruding upon the civil liberties of those around them,' Momiji thought to herself. She decided against voicing that observation, however. The fairy was worked up enough as it was.
"I told Meiling I'd show her the frogs," Cirno stood with a determined look in her eyes. "I'm not a liar! I'm going to show her the frogs, even if..." She clenched her fist furiously. "Even if you're a chea-"
"Cirno!" A new voice bellowed.
Momiji's eyes to narrow further. This time, it was out of annoyance at herself. She'd been too preoccupied to keep tabs on her surroundings. This fairy truly brought out the worst in her. The White Wolf chanced a moment to take a deep breath and began to focus again. Instantly her surroundings became clear, and she could sense the owner of the new voice behind a group of trees not far from their location. Unfortunately, she also sensed something else. She noticed something out of place in a nearby tree behind her; something, out of place, unwanted, and incredibly irritating. She'd have to deal with that afterward, though. It, at least, had the decency to wait until her current job was complete. For now, there was another fairy coming. Hopefully this was would prove less frustrating.
"Where are you, Cirn-" The voice stopped when the fairy, a green-winged one this time, appeared from behind a nearby tree, stumbling onto the scene.
"Dai-chan," Cirno spoke softly out of shock more than anything. "What are you doing her-"
"I'm looking for you!" The green-winged fairy yelled in exasperation. "I told you not to come here! I told you I'd help you look along the edge of the border, instead!"
"You were late, so..."
"Miss Meiling!" The new fairy gasped as her eyes dropped to the unconscious body in front of the two. "What happ-" The fairy's voice left her and her mouth hung agape as her eyes drifted upwards towards Momiji. "I'm sorry!" Like a flash, the fairy was on her knees before her, bowing apologetically. "I know neither of them are supposed to be here, but it's my fault, really. I should have been here to keep them away. Please don't hurt them anymore. We'll leave immediately."
Momiji loosened the grip on her sword and let out a sigh of relief. At least this one seemed reasonable. "See that you do."
"No!" It was Cirno again... "We came to see the fro-"
"What's more important," the green-winged fairy had jumped to her feet and was looming over Cirno in the blink of an eye, "frogs, or your friend's safety. She's hurt! You should at least take her someplace safe so she can rest! You care about her, don't you?"
"I... I..." The ice fairy began to clench and release her fist for a bit while her face contorted to an odd, conflicting expression. Finally, she spoke again.
"Fine," Cirno muttered softly before her voice began to rise again. "Meiling needs help; I get it. I get it already! I just wanted to show you guys the frogs. I wanted us to have fun!" She turned back towards Momiji, glaring as hard as a fairy could. "You! I'll be back."
"And I'm going to beat you, too! I don't care if you cheat, I'm going to beat you!" With wings fluttering angrily, Cirno flew over to the fallen Meiling and lifted one of her arms over her shoulder. "Come on, Dai-chan! We're leaving!"
"Yes!" The other fairy nodded with a smile before mirroring her friend's actions and helping her float the gate guard off the ground.
Momiji Stayed behind and watched them until they disappeared into the early night's darkness. This was done for many reasons. For one, she needed to be absolutely certain the ice fairy actually left and didn't try something stupid. Also, she was still quite tired from her fight. She'd prefer to wait and catch her breath before reporting on today's events. Finally, there was still that unwanted irritation looming behind her.
"Congratulation, Momiji," The white wolf's eye twitched as the irritation spoke, even having the gall to add in a mock applause. "You've just made the list of people Cirno's vowed to beat." A crow Tengu landed beside her. "Though, it's a long list, so it might take awhile for her to get around to you again."
"Greetings, Lady Shameimaru," Momiji sighed, which only grew louder when the crow continued talking. "What brings you here?"
"The list does include the likes of Reimu, Marisa, Suwako, all three of the Prismriver Sisters-"
"Nue, Utsuho, Tenshi, Suika-"
"the entire Yakumo household-"
"Was that so bad?" Aya Shameimaru smirked, leaning all too close to the white wolf's face for her liking. "I told you to stop with that formal wolf speech. You know I hate all that crow and wolf hierarchy nonsense."
"That would be improper," Momiji spoke flatly, leaning away from the intrusive crow. "What do you want?"
"Just to see you."
"What do you want?"
"Am I not allowed to come see a friendly face when returning with the spoils of war?" Aya questioned sarcastically.
"Your 'reporting' hardly qualifies as 'war.'" 'And my face can hardly be considered friendly when you're around,' Momiji thought to herself. "Perhaps 'breaking and entering' would be a more apt description."
"You're so mean, Momiji," the crow's eyes filled with faux tears. "What happened to good little wolf I used to know. We used to be so close. Where did we go wrong?"
"You took pictures of me in the bath, for one," the wolf growled through gritted teeth. "That would be only one of your many, minor infringes on my privacy, though I'm sure I don't have to remind you of any of them, do I?"
"Nope!" Aya's faux tears were gone, replaced with with a wide smirk. "I still have the pictures, remember?"
Momiji gripped the hilt of her sword so tight it felt like her knuckles were about to bleed. This crow...
"Don't worry, though." Aya nodded, laughing in that unique way that irritated Momiji so. "I haven't shown the pictures to anyone. They're perfectly safe with me. I even look over them every night to make sure no one's tampered with them, too."
This crow... This crow... This crow...
"I like the one under the waterfall the best, by the way."
She was going to kill her, and she'd enjoy every minute of it. Every last second of bliss would be enjoyed to the fullest.
Momiji's grip on her sword loosened as a sudden realization hit her. She'd never bathed under a waterfall before.
"I hate you, do you know that?" The wolf growled in frustration, causing a genuine frown to form across the crow's lips.
"Do you really mean that?"
"Yes," she glared daggers. "You are utterly intolerable. I can't go a single day without you showing up to make things worse."
Aya sighed and muttered to herself, "I'm going about this the wrong way, aren't I? This isn't working."
"Nothing, nothing," she laughed awkwardly before continuing to mutter. "Freaking super wolf hearing."
Momiji rolled her eyes, taking note of the position of the rising moon in the process. She'd missed the sunset entirely, hadn't she? That idiot fairy, and now the crow, too. She was having such a good day until now.
"Listen," Aya continued, but with an uncharacteristically serious voice this time. "I'm sorry, okay."
Well this one was new, though her money was on it being disingenuous as usual.
"I don't really still have those pictures, and I didn't give them away, either." Aya looked oddly uncomfortable. It was weird. "I destroyed the film, and I'm sorry for taking them in the first place. You just looked so beautiful at that moment, and I couldn't resist. I'm really sorry."
"Well... you should be." Momiji shifted nervously. Aya was starting to weird her out. This wasn't like her.
"I just like to tease you, okay? You're embarrassed face if too cute, ya know? Obviously, I tend to go a little overboard like when I'm investigating a scoop or something."
"...O...obviously." Momiji didn't like this at all. What was going on?
"You don't like me, I get that," the crow continued. "That doesn't mean I have to like that fact, but I get it. I miss what it was like before all that, before I... before I messed up. That was nice, right?"
"Can we just..." Aya sighed. "Can we just start over? I thought this would work, but it's not. I messed up. I shouldn't have teased you so much. I just... can't help myself around you. I just want to-"
"I'm... going back," Momiji hesitantly started with a raised eyebrow. This was too much. "I have to report on today's... events. I'm already late."
"No... wait... just," Aya sighed in defeat. "No, nevermind. Just... nevermind. You're right. I'm keeping you too long. You should go... I should go. I have... film to develop, I guess."
With that, Aya was gone. Though the crow was known as the fastest in Gensokyo, Momiji had never seen her leave so fast before, at least not when she had been pestering her. Perhaps there was something wrong. Maybe she was distracted by something. Maybe she was sick.
The white wolf shook her head abruptly. No, it didn't matter. Like she had said, she needed to get back and report on the gate guard. She really was late for her debriefing, after all. Aya... Aya's problems were of no concern to her. In fact, it would be better if she could just ignore her completely, especially if the crow continued to act like... that.
That was is. She would just ignore Aya from now on. It wasn't going to be easy, knowing Aya, but she was going to do it.
The Inubashiri household was home to many great traditions, not the least of which their dedication to the protection of all lands held by the Tengu. Additionally, the Inubashiri were equally dedicated to their own health and well-being. Their efforts in aspiration of that goal ranged from physical training on their days off to enjoying the best nutritional dishes they could create with what they could find on the mountain. While other Tengu enjoyed luxuries such as sake and extravagant feasts, the Inubashiri were committed to a life of moderation and alertness. Who else would protect the mountain if the Inubashiri somehow proved unfit for the task, after all. Though other clans had members who shared their occupation, none of them were as reliable as one of their own in their minds.
In light of the Inubashiri clan's disposition, it was especially odd to see the main household so active so late at night as it was on this day. Seemingly every lamp in the house had been lit, and heated voices could be heard well outside the Inubashiri lands.
If not for a local festival, the whole of the White Wolf Tengu would have been privy to the scheme being concocted.
"Brother," Momiji's eldest uncle, Michio,\ spoke up addressing the head of the clan, her father. "My apologies, first off, for requesting this meeting so late into the night. However, I feel this news is urgent."
The main hall of the head household was the source of it all. It was here where Momiji found herself, and it was here where she knelt half asleep at her father's side. She had been roused in the dead of night by her mother, and she was certainly feeling the effects now. The fools at central had kept her far too long with her report, asking meaningless questions. All that had been relevant, she had reported, but that had not stopped their senseless inquiries. Sleep had found her later than usual, and it wasn't long before it was lost to this accursed meeting.
Yes, she was irritable when sleep deprived, and it was fortunate that not many saw her in such a state.
She loved her two uncles dearly, but for their sake, whatever they needed to report had better prove of worth.
"It best prove so," Momiji's father spoke with his usual, booming voice. It was no wonder why her father had been chosen as the next head of the Inubashiri household. Though he lacked the skills her uncles possessed, he radiated a sort of presence about him. He employed this commanding aura that almost forced those around him to fall in line. Both Momiji and her younger sister were fortunate that he tended to dote on the both of him.
The main hall was large enough to fit the entire clan, but the importance of those present caused Momiji to feel as if the room was packed. Her father sat at the head of the table with her at his right and her younger sister at his left. Her mother, though every bit her father's equal in terms of skill, had relinquished herself to the more traditional role of serving tea to the room. Her younger sister was barely old enough to hold a sword, but even still, she was old enough to be considered necessary for these meetings. Her sister had also managed to fall asleep sitting up, Momiji noted, though she wasn't irritable enough to deny her own sister what she'd been denied herself.
At the right of table was Momiji's eldest uncle, accompanied by his wife and daughters. If her father was the commander, then her eldest uncle was his sword and shield. Michio had trained his body to be a powerhouse, ready to give his life for the Tengu cause at any time. Momiji had trained under him in her earlier years, and even though he preferred to fight weaponless, he was still skilled enough to impart the basics upon her. As a warrior, Momiji respected him almost as much as she did her father. As a person, however, Momiji was rapidly changing her opinion.
She was still rather bitter about being woken, after all.
Similarly, Momiji's youngest uncle, Yukio, sat at the left end of the table, though he sat alone. His wife and his two daughters all patrolled Tengu lands at night, as was per her father's suggestion. The head of the clan would not see the mountain without an Inubashiri guard at all times of the day. The younger uncle was not a warrior, she admitted. He was, however, skilled in reconnaissance. It was he who had helped her hone her senses, eventually molding them to come close to his own. She did not possess his natural skill with his wolven senses, but her mastery of both combat and reconnaissance set her apart in the eyes of others.
What was odd, however, was that there was a certain look in his eye now that mirrored the one in her other uncle's. They shared something, and it did not take long for Momiji to deduce that that something was information. Whatever had brought about this meeting, her two uncles had come to the same conclusion about it.
"Brother," the younger of the two spoke this time. "This may seem unthinkable, but just know that whatever we bring to you here today we have fully verified ourselves."
"As you know," the older one continued, "the Inubashiri have been the stalwart defenders of the Tengu for generations. We were the sword of the crow and the shield of the wolves for longer than we have even lived in these lands. Yet..."
"Yet," Yukio interrupted with a raised voice. "Yet we receive little respect from our peers, and even less from the crows!"
"If you begin to suggest that our noble cause no longer satisfies you both," Momiji's father growled, "then I suggest we end this meeting now. I will hear no such slander while I sit here as the head!"
"Far from it, brother," the younger one spoke in defense. "Nothing could satisfy us more. Nothing could be more noble, and nothing could be more worthy of the Inubashiri than this charge. It is just..."
"Certain... developments have been brought to our attention," the elder uncle stepped in. "Brother, if we could do something that would raise our clan's standing, we could then live by example and not merely in the shadows. We could show the rest of the wolves what it truly means to be a White Wolf Tengu."
Momiji blinked a few times to rid the sleep from her eyes. Standing? What were her uncles talking about. Did they not already lead by example? Was the respect the others of the Tengu guard showed them not proof enough?
"Continue," her father nodded, much to her surprise. She expected that he especially would share her sentiment.
"What if a crow were to wed a wolf?" One of her uncles, she wasn't sure which, brought up.
"Preposterous," her father dismissed. "Crows keep to crows, and wolves keep to wolves. Are you suggesting that we ask one of our daughters to seduce a crow? Are you to ask one of yours? Am I to ask one of mine?!"
"No, Brother," Yukio smirked. "I'm saying the unthinkable has happened."
"A crow," Michio finished, "has set their sights on a wolf."
Silence filled the room as Momiji's father looked from brother to brother, taking in the gravity of their assertion. After what seemed like an eternity, he spoke again.
"And I take it the reason for this disturbance is that the two of you believe that this crow of yours is interested in one of ours?" He questioned skeptically.
"We are certain of it, brother."
"This whole notion is ridiculous," the head scoffed. "Though I would be remiss if I did not at least hear you out. You deserve that much as my kin." He shook his head dismissively before continuing in a mocking tone. "Well, who is it, then? Is it your eldest? Your youngest? I'll have you know the joke has gone too far if you suggest it my youngest."
"It is your eldest, brother," the older one explained in all seriousness. "It is Momiji."
The girl in question's eyes shot open at the statement, all traces of exhaustion leaving her in that instant. A crow? With her? That was ridiculous. She'd never even considered the notion of any sort of romance, let alone with someone who wasn't a wolf. A crow was just as alien to her as a human in that regard.
"You ask that we simply relinquish our greatest on some crow's whim?" Her father's eyes narrowed. "You've both trained her. You both know her potential, let alone everything she already is! You still sit there and suggest this?"
Any sort of pride she could feel at the moment was overshadowed by her own confusion. Were her uncles truly suggesting that she be married off to some random person?
"We do, because we know what this could mean."
"And what does it mean?" Her father yelled.
"That our status would raise," Yukio submitted. "Wolves are the servants of the crow, yet if one of our own has ties to a grow, their family's status among the other wolves rises. This is why there are so many wolves who degrades themselves by being mere servants to those crows that run some sort of publication. None of them have such a direct tie as this, though. If Momiji marries a crow, our clan would become the most respected amongst the wolves overnight."
"And in doing so... you would gain another chance to sire a son."
The silence returned. Her father stiffened in his seat while maintaining his glare.
"What do you mean?" He asked, voice shaking.
"Our father was fortunate," the younger one explained. "Such a thing... such a notion as birth restrictions had not even been thought of in his time. I would not even exist if they had! That we are only allowed two children is insane."
What was he-
"We have been blessed," the elder one interrupted. "Our wives are strong, and our daughters inherited that strength. Even still, of we three brothers, none of our wives have born sons. I am proud of Momiji. I am proud of all of our daughters. However, those of us here stand to be the last of the Inubashiri without a proper heir."
Oh... It was all because she'd been born a girl. She was the heiress, but not an heir. She wanted to yell. She wanted to scream, but it was not her place. She was next in line, but she was not at the head yet. In this meeting, her place was to kneel formally until spoken to. She didn't like it, but that was their way.
"Surely you've realized this as well, Brother?"
Her father closed his eyes in a deep grimace. There was a certain truth to what her uncles were saying, even she had to admit, and it looked like her father had been well aware.
"How could I not?" He sighed. "My clan is on the verge of death. How could I be in the least bit ignorant of that? The gods have deemed it, though. Who are we to question."
"But even gods allow for loopholes," Yukio grinned sinisterly. "That is what has brought us here today."
"Exactly how would marrying my daughter to a crow change anything? The restrictions are clear. We wolves are allowed two children per household, regardless of marriage."
"Yes, brother, the restrictions are clear," Yukio continued. "When two wolves are wed, the act does not exempt their parents from the restriction. Wolves, Brother. Wolves."
"You are splitting hairs."
"Hairs that must be split if our clan is to survive, Brother!" It was Michio this time, and the raw emotion behind his words was unnerving. Momiji had always thought him to be disciplined; to be logical. It seemed even her teacher in the art of combat could lose himself in desperation. "This is the only way!"
Again, Momiji's father was silent. He refused to look at either of his brothers, and when he chanced a glance at her, he quickly turned away in disgust. His reaction was not directed at her, though. It was at the fact that he was considering his brothers' proposal at all.
"Who is the crow."
That was a question that had been on Momiji's mind from the start. She'd expected that this topic would have been dismissed before the question could be asked, though. However, here they were, and the question had been asked.
"I know of them," her father shook his head. "Their family has but one son, and as I recall, he has already been wed. I will not give up my daughter to be a mistress."
"It isn't the son It's the daughter."
Aya... No, no, no, no, no... They had to be joking. Aya didn't... She couldn't...
"It's true that such a thing is not... uncommon... in these lands," her father sighed, "but to ask me to encourage my own daughter down that path... How can I?"
She had heard about Aya's... preferences, but she never thought it concerned her. Why did it now?
"For the good of the clan," her younger uncle stated solemnly. "We would not have brought this to you if we did not think it for the best."
"You... are certain that this Shameimaru can even look at a wolf in the way you suggest?"
"Brother," Yukio continued, "it is the worst kept secret of the crow's printing syndicate that oftentimes Miss Shameimaru will deliver pictures that do not go with any article that she had submitted for her publication. They are pictures of the one I am certain she desires; pictures of you daughter on Patrol. They are only ever of your daughter."
Aya, what have you been doing? What have you done?
"That is hardly enough to prove a genuine interest," her father contested. "At most it proves an obsession."
"You need no more proof than my ears, Brother," the younger one challenged before turning towards Momiji. "My apologies, but my ears could not ignore your interaction with Miss Shameimaru earlier this evening. I heard everything."
She'd been spoken to!
"She said nothing to indicate any interest," Momiji had to hold back from yelling. Her future was on the line. "By her own admission she simply enjoys teasing me."
"Child, I don't mean just what was said to you," her uncle shook his head. "She may boast to be the fastest in these lands, but even her speed can not hide her musings from my ears. She can not hide how she berates herself for angering you, nor can she hide the fact that she said she loved you in that moment of depression. She thought herself high enough to be alone, but one cannot escape my ears so easily."
Momiji's eyes widened in realization. It was true, her uncle possessed greater senses than she. However, it was still only his word and not actual proof.
"F-Forgive me, uncle," her voice shook. "I-I cannot be certain with your word alone. This is... too much."
"I understand child, but even you must have heard of her suitors."
"I knew of her orientation," she admitted, "and I knew that she was rather sought after by those that were similar. I just know that she's never accepted any of their offers."
"You need only ask any of the rejected and they will tell you why," her uncle explained. "Though Miss Shameimaru may not have the courage to tell you directly, she has no problem explaining her situation to those she turns down. Her reason is that she's already in love with someone else."
"You pry too much into crow business," her father grumbled. "You've played a dangerous game to get the insight that you have."
"I play this game because I have reason to, because I must. Hearing what you have, do you blame me? Do you hold me at fault for searching for any possible way to save our clan?"
Her father growled to himself before turning to his other brother's wife. "And what of you?" He questioned. "Surely you must have some opinion. If it were you my daughter, how would you prefer this dealt with?"
The wife, to her credit, looked the head of the clan dead in the eyes and sternly answered. "I would rather not be ordered to do anything against my will, sir. If I was not opposed to the prospect, however, nothing would bring me more honor than to be the reason for my clan's survival."
"I see..." Her father nodded before turning to face his eldest daughter, his face falling into a gentle, fatherly expression. "Momiji."
"Yes, father." She did her best to play the part of the formal heir in this situation, but truth be told, she was finding it difficult to sit straight. Everything... everything was falling down around her and was being replaced with such inconceivable notions. She'd never felt under as much pressure on patrol as she did now in the safety of her own home.
"Tell me of this Shameimaru."
Oh, she could tell him stories, but this was not the place. She had to be truthful, yet respectful when speaking both of and to a crow. If Aya were any other crow, Momiji could have been hauled off somewhere for speaking to her as she does regularly.
"She is... eccentric," she explained. "Though her publication is not held in high regard, her dedication to it is... admirable. She sometimes goes overboard with... a lot of things, but I don't think she's sincerely trying to wrong anyone." That was true only if Aya's actions earlier that day could be taken at face value. They could be, though, if anything said here was true, she admitted. "I don't believe she is a bad person."
"Would you..." her father hesitated. "Would you consider … Are you opposed to being with a woman?"
Momiji pitied her father at that moment. That was not a question any man wanted to ask their daughter.
"I have not considered it, father." Romance was never a priority. She was an Inubashiri. The mountain's protection was all that had mattered to her for her entire life up to that moment.
"Then," her father sat straight, and his face returned to the very image of the head of the clan, "If you can find it within yourself, I urge you to sincerely consider all that has been said here. Contemplate on this Shameimaru's feelings for you, as well as your own of her. If you find the least bit motivation to reciprocate her feelings, then it is as my brothers have said." He looked her dead in the eyes, and she understood. "You would be saving the clan."
Momiji understood; she understood exactly what he was saying. She thought he had been reluctant, but the way he looked at her... This had not been a request. That was a command as held of the Inubashiri clan. He was telling her to reciprocate Aya's feelings. He was just trying to fool everyone else. He'd made up his mind as to what was most important.
This was her place and she had no right to disobey, even if it meant the end of her life as she knew it.
Momiji or Momizi. It doesn't matter to me. For the purpose of this fic, however, one had to win out.
I wanted to come at this particular pairing in a more serious manner. Certainly Remilia's ambitions towards Reimu in Scarlet can be devious, but there's still a light-hearted air about it. This story comes with a more formal setting, seeing Momiji trapped between what is expected of her as the current heir to the Inubashiri name and what she wants. Things will get worse for her, but they'll also get better. If I manage to actually finish this fic, it should prove to be a fun ride. As God as my witness, though, I'm going to make every effort to finish both this and Scarlet Ambitions.
Wish me luck.