When I first opened my eyes, I could see nothing.
An overbearing pressure surrounded me. Liquid rock, ever so slowly dancing as the world drew its first breathes. Carried away by the flow of magma, my mind was blank and unformed.
Before long, my body was violently thrown out of the planet's womb through a volcano. The power of the explosion shook the malformed continents. The pyroclastic flow was impossibly high, dragging me with it. I flew, nearly losing myself to space before being forcefully brought back. A miles-wide and kilometers-deep crater formed when I finally hit the ground.
I laid there, immobile, for what must've been years.
Ever so slowly, I raised my head.
And when I looked up, I saw the skies of primordial Earth.
A sea of rock and magma stretched before me. Volcanos and mountains dominated the landscape, and the air would frequently become an impenetrable curtain of ash. Fire rained from above, spilled forth from the bowels of the world and falling down from the depths of space.
I walked and walked, sometimes glimpsing the faint glow of celestial bodies in the horizon. The sun shone so brightly back then. I used to see myself in that lonely disc, eternally moving through an empty land with no rhyme or reason to exist, yet continuing to do so anyway.
Then, one day, a colossal vessel struck the Earth. Continents were annihilated. A wave of magma and rock rose, drowning the ones that survived. Stone and lava spilled from the gaping wound of the planet, flying even higher than I did when I was born. The resulting river glowed in the sky, a beautiful stream of fire shinning amidst the darkness of the heavens.
When I lowered my head to look at the object that had caused such spectacle, I saw a faint white glow.
And at its core, there was a creature like me.
I couldn't call to her, because I knew no words and had no voice. But she saw me. I remember her silver hair, floating as if unaffected by gravity. I remember her dark grey eyes, cold and calculating, much older than mine. And I remember the smile she gave as she rose towards the sky, the distance eventually turning her into a mere white dot.
She then began circling the spilled blood of the planet, which started to ever so slowly gather together. Fascinated, I continuously walked towards the horizon as the Earth spun, my gaze fixed at the dance that the strange being conducted. For far longer than I could count I watched, and when she finally finished her performance, an enormous sphere floated in the skies, its pristine white surface a beautiful canvas already being painted by the numerous meteors bombarding it.
The Sun wasn't alone in its land anymore… and when I finally looked down, neither was I.
Mountains rose as continents collided, and the gods of today would envy the size that these primeval structures could reach. Volcanos still spilled the world's guts into its surface, but the burning magma was now cooled by the oceans of water that surrounded them.
And near the ridges that pushed the continents, small thermal vents housed the first friends I'd ever make.
They were very small. Naked human eyes can't see such simple, fragile things. They moved around their warm homes, blind and mindless, devouring each other before splitting themselves. I watched, mesmerized, as they repeated this endless circle of death and birth. The world moved as more and more of these colonies sprouted, covering the floor in the depths of the seas.
Their simple shapes grew and changed. They became larger, organized. I saw as the individuals became inseparable, as the colonies of many became a singular being. Slithering through the mud, swimming through the water, or still feeding in the vents where their ancestors came from, I watched with pride as my little companions diversified and attained forms most beautiful.
Many eras later, when I finally left the water, I saw a world much different from the one I remembered. And as with the first time I met my friends, I was once again utterly captivated by these beautiful new sights.
Tall, lush plants dominated the landscape, covering what had once been nothing but bare rock. Ferns, moss and trees sprawled as far as the eye could see, their rich greens painting a majestic picture.
The buzzing noises of life, so different from how they sounded underwater, filled the air around me. The corner of my eye caught sight of an oddly proportioned fish, clumsily waddling through the mud in search of food; above me, insects flew in circles around each other in complex dances; at my feet, dozens of tiny crustaceans fled from my presence, terrified I'd end up crushing them.
Walking through the swamp, I stopped by a particularly beautiful fern. With leaves as wide as me and almost as tall, I had never seen such an elegant being. I plucked one of them from its bark and wrapped it around myself, feeling the pleasantly prickly sensation of its barbs against my skin. This closeness felt comfortable and natural, giving me a feeling of contentment that I had never experienced before.
As I removed more leaves to cover myself with, a sudden screech attracted my attention. A large flying bug sprung from behind the tree and, after an angry snap and a confused stare in my direction, immediately took to the air and fled.
A smile crept on my face as I saw the insect fly in the distance, and a predatory instinct stirred inside me. I ran in the direction that the animal went, and as I ran and ran I felt my back burning and shifting and before long my wings sprouted, a green pair and a purple pair, and with them I took to the skies, my eyes fixed into the giant flyer that was now acutely aware of the creature hunting it…
I stood quietly in the middle of a small clearing, surrounded by trees, as I waited. The slight breeze stirred the scent of the flowers decorating my head, and I had to resist the urge to search for more of them. I had a job to do, but ah, flowers! Such beauty, such elegance, such colors! They were newcomers to this world, and I already loved them most of all.
As I pondered over the beauty of the current flora, I suddenly heard screams echoing through the air. A towering beast broke the line of the forest, running towards its center. Panic was evident in its bestial eyes as its brain ordered it to flee from the jawed monsters that pursued it. The colossal biped had been separated from its horde by two equally large and powerful predators, and now it stumbled aimlessly towards me, its sheer bulk making the ground tremble as it approached.
When it got close enough, I took to the air and punched it square in its head, crushing its scales, muscles, skull and brain.
With a final moan, the hulking creature ungraciously stumbled to the ground, inertia making the body move a few more meters forward before coming to a complete stop.
I watched the carcass make its final, jerky movements in silence as the ground slowly began to tremble again. Before long, the two apex hunters of this forest arrived on the scene, followed closely by their three children.
One of the adults growled slightly as it passed. Its partner went straight for the prize, diving its huge, strong jaws into the corpse and pulling away large chunks of meat. The little ones jumped around me, snapping playfully at my fingers. I smiled, dancing around them, lightly pulling their tails as they got distracted by the scent of blood and gently tackling them into the ground as they rushed me.
I had seen them hatching from their eggs perhaps two or three months prior, and they were already near my size. Their kind grew so fast. Soon they would leave my side, their parents' side, and search for lands of their own to rule. And as with the many, many other beings that I helped raise over the eons, I couldn't help but feel some manner of pride swelling in me, and hoped that they'd live long, eventful lives.
Of course, that's not really what happened.
I was caressing the feathers on the back of oldest child when an impossibly bright flash filled my vision. Screams of alarm and fright began to rise around me as I looked to the sky to watch a spectacle that I had not seen in a very long time.
Time seemed to slow down as the two large predators in front of me began to run, frightened, deeper into the forest. Their kids were left behind, forgotten, and I gently stroked the head of the one in my lap as I looked into the heavens.
A colossal ball of fire was heading in our direction, one whose size made me recall the destructive rains back from when the Earth was still young. I remembered well what happened every time a particularly large one fell.
The baby in my grip was struggling now, desperate to run for shelter and to its parents. My hands slowly descended upon the terrified creature's neck, and after one swift motion, it stopped moving. The other two barked at me, confused and scared, and I quickly ended their torment too.
As the meteor came closer and closer, I mused on which sort of creature would next inherit this Earth.
As small blue bird perched on my shoulder as I laid still, gazing at the small campfire in the prairie ahead. I gave it a faint smile, recalling its graceful ancestors, before turning my attention back to the gathering group.
Humans looked a lot like me, although I had yet to see one who shared the colors of my hair, eyes and skin. I had watched with great curiosity as generation after generation of tree climbing monkeys grew larger, stronger, and smarter. This huge continent was full of danger, and back then these clever creatures were confined to its uppermost region, rare and few in numbers. I used to fear for their existence, which in hindsight seems quite laughable.
I had tried to approach them once, but as with all members of this line of animals, they instinctively feared me. They changed the world around them in more complex ways than any other being, they built tools to compensate for their weaknesses, and they used their voices in a manner far more organized than I had ever seen before, but for now, beneath their sophistication… beneath their fledgling civilization… they were still animals.
And when animals are confronted with what they fear, they either run… or lash out.
Their skin, muscles and bones broke easily under my grip.
Their faces resembled mine, but in the end, they were nothing like me.
So I decided to just gaze upon them from afar.
I would soon be joined by demons and spirits who slowly began to stalk the night. The moon's light had dimmed much from the time the celestial body covered a third of the sky, and the powerful minds of man conjured frightful visages and phantoms in the darkness beyond their campsites, filling it with unnatural abominations.
Shapeless and dangerous were these creatures. Ever shifting and elusive. They paid me no mind, but held only malice and hatred towards their unwitting creators.
And so I watched as mankind diversified and grew, taking their monsters with them whenever they went. Soon, both would cover the world.
The greatest human civilization of all time was born shortly after mankind developed its first languages.
They had help, of course. Silver spirits that descended from the Moon. They called themselves Lunarians.
These creatures claimed to be humans who had previously fled from the impurity of the Earth, and acquired great wisdom in their new home. They offered to teach humanity secrets beyond imagination if they agreed to fulfill a single request, to be revealed at a later date.
The humans, of course, accepted.
The cities that resulted from this alliance were beautiful beyond compare. Long spires and towers of blue metal glowed in the sun, comforting beacons of light that provided protection from the perils of the world. Luxurious gardens of gargantuan size were spread around the continents, a never-ending parade of flowers and trees from a myriad of species, some of which long extinct. They adorned themselves with gold and silver and platinum, and their rings and necklaces were decorated with beautiful stones that mankind would never see again. They were healthy and strong, their technology allowing them long lifespans, so much so that their elders knew the grandchildren of their grandchildren. Feasts were common and plentiful, for their citizens wanted for nothing, and work and leisure did not have different meanings in their language.
At the height of their power, the silver spirits descended from their fortress again, and finally delivered their request.
What humanity had to do was very simple. To repay the kindness of the Moon, all they had to do was to find and destroy me.
I don't really know why the Lunarians asked for that. Maybe they feared me, even though they know I can't reach them. Maybe they simply hated what I represent. Maybe it had nothing to do with me; perhaps this human civilization had grown far more powerful than they intended, and they needed to get rid of them fast.
I didn't matter.
At first, they weren't trying very hard, confident in their abilities and skills. I avoided the searching ships and scouting parties, and the ones that did find me discovered that, for all their greatness, they were simply no match for me.
As time went on and more of their people died by my hands, they became desperate. Their technology became more and more sophisticated, and they razed the world for resources as they felt the Lunarians breathing down on their necks, patience running thin… and after a while, I could hide no longer.
So I began hunting them myself.
Cities fell before my power, as I turned light into destructive rays that vaporized anything they touched. Screams of fear and agony filled the skies for precious few moments before my might silenced them for good. They prayed for their gods, and when they descended, I murdered them too, crushing their divinity under my palm and erasing their names from history as I scorched their worshipers.
I cannot deny the thrill I felt during those days.
And after years of carnage and destruction, only a single city remained.
It was the crown of their empire, a humongous structure floating in the middle of the ocean, its pristine beauty masking the broken spirit of its people. Once, it denoted their full mastery of land and sea; now, it was their only fortress against an unstoppable enemy.
Their last army rose as I watched them from the shore. They were desperate. Every single woman, man and child rose from the city, flying on deadly machines that blackened the skies. They shouted in defiance, resolute in their fate, challenging me.
I complied, and raised my hand. Their proud screams quickly turned into cries of agony and pain.
A few seconds later, the only thing that I could hear was the gentle breeze of the ocean.
That wasn't, of course, the end of mankind's history. There were many other civilizations outside of that mighty empire.
The Lunarians never did return to Earth, and so these smaller groups could grow and prosper unperturbed, if at a far slower pace. As they moved further and further away from their old animalistic selves, they forgot my face, and I could mingle among them, barely noticed.
I watched as they built great monuments with the strength of their backs. I saw beautiful cities rise, shinning like the Sun, through the power of human ingenuity. I stood on the edges of battlefields, seeing blood fly through the air, appeasing gods and monsters alike. I threaded upon hanging gardens and titanic temples, filled with colorful statues of the most varied deities. I walked through deserts alongside nomads and their camels. I was there during the invention of black powder, and saw the first fireworks burst in the skies. I felt the stench of open graves as a deadly plague tore through a whole continent. I heard cries of pain and joy, sadness and happiness, echoing again and again and again, in the most varied places and in the most varied tongues.
I also witnessed the formless darkness that tails humanity grow. Once fleeting and poorly defined, they splintered into an endless variety of forms as their creators themselves diversified. Each civilization had its own demons, which changed as fast as human imagination could conjure new shapes to fear in the night.
And so their history went on, as I watched with mild interest. For a few thousand years , I was content in merely walking among them, unseen.
It was a little over a hundred years ago, long after humanity had fully conquered the Earth and the once plentiful shadows began to fade, that I first met her, on a small strip of volcanic land in the so called east of the world.
I was on my knees.
My breath was ragged and shallow, and a sharp, horrifying sensation burned in my chest as I struggled to raise my head to gaze upon the terrible abomination in front of me.
She looked human, but was clearly not. Her golden hair shone brightly, contrasting with her unnatural porcelain-white skin. She wore an intricate white and violet dress, a strange mix of eastern and western cultures guiding its design. Sitting atop of a gap in space, she looked down on me with her purple eyes, a lazy smile on her face.
My body trembled with fury, power stirring inside of me, anger giving me strength to rise and meet those damnable eyes as an equal…
…only to fizzle out as another powerful push brought me back to the ground. Bringing my hand to my chest, I finally felt the heads of the numerous spears crossing my body, and at once understood that this terrible feeling was pain. Pain.
Pain. A nebulous concept which I had inflicted on others innumerous times and yet, in my nearly endless existence, had never felt before. Pain.
Pain and blood.
My blood covered the ground.
It was red. Not unlike the blood of a lizard, or a human, or a bird.
I never knew I had blood.
In spite of the pain, I smiled.
I smiled wide. And I laughed.
I laughed so much.
The monster in front of me raised an eyebrow, amused, and as I straightened my back I gazed deep upon her eyes and sprang forward, laughter still in my mouth as I clenched my fists, closing on her faster than light could travel—
"Incredible" she said, looking down on me again.
I was lying down on the ground, my face turned upwards, watching the numerous purple rifts the filled the blue sky. A dozen spears were stuck in my body, piercing my chest, legs, hands and arms. Gylphs the size of cities filled the area, drawn by that terrible woman using my blood and her own magic. I was stuck, unable to move anything other than my eyes.
I should've felt humiliated. But I didn't.
I was thrilled.
I never knew such might existed in this world.
"I heard you were strong, but I would never expect so much power. What are you?" she said, her eyes filled with amusement.
"I am an earthquake. I am a volcano. I am a hurricane, a tsunami, a meteor. I am the rage of this Earth" I gloated. Stupid as it was, I had always wanted to say that.
"Oh, how very impressive, Miss Natural Disaster" she said. "Do you have a name? Although if you say 'Mother Nature' I'll probably just leave you stuck here forever."
"I was called many things throughout my life, but never really decided on a name for myself", I answered.
"Well," she said, lazily cooling herself with a bamboo fan. "Now would be a good time."
"…which tongue do humans speak in this country again?"
I paused again, recalling the language's many words and symbols and how these people strung names together. The strange woman had pulled a small book, and was now distracted by it. I paid her no mind.
A few minutes later, I decided.
"My name. Call me Kazami. Kazami Yuuka."
The woman closed her book and smiled, and with a wave of her hand, the spears piercing my body were lifted and thrown towards the skies, vanishing behind the purple gaps that were then closed themselves.
"Pleased to meet you, Kazami Yuuka" she said, extending her hand.
"You may call me Yakumo Yukari. I have a proposition for you."
I sat beneath a large torii, holding my umbrella and trying to keep the powerful winds from ripping it to shreds. Above me, Yukari stood on top of the gate, serenely watching the mountains that surrounded us.
The skies were dark, and thunder could be heard in the distance. A heavy storm was coming, the kind of which was hardly seen by mortal eyes. And I could feel its source, swimming between the dark gray clouds…
"Ah, they're here", Yukari said, as a small group of humans walking in our direction came into view.
They were led by a woman donning the red and white garb of priesthood. Her long black hair trailed before her, blowing wildly in the wind. The many scars spread across the well-defined muscles of her arms and the grim expression on her face told me all I needed to know about her.
They passed through the gate, not paying me or Yukari any mind, and proceeded to the center of the empty clearing behind us. Their leader stood in the middle while her followers made a circle around her.
"Humph. How rude" I said, an amused smile on my face. I heard a stifled laugh from above, and even though I couldn't see her, I knew that Yukari's expression matched mine.
After the last priest stopped moving, the woman at the center grabbed her gohei with both hands and lifted it towards the skies. Her followers clapped their hands thrice, and began chanting.
"Yuuka. All groups are in position. It's time" Yukari said.
"Yes, yes. I just need to stand here?"
"Correct. I'll manipulate the border between myself and you, giving me access to your strength. This will be more than enough for what we need, but you have to remain still."
"It warms my heart to know that your power alone isn't sufficient for this. And, above all, that you need to use mine."
Yukari chuckled. "Don't be silly. You don't have a heart."
I hummed in agreement.
The chanting of the priests increased in volume, and so did the sound of thunder.
Gradually, I felt my consciousness melding with Yukari's. Her thoughts and the disjointed memories of her past came flooding to me. An endless purple expanse littered with eyes… an eight tailed fox pacing worried inside a dark room… a beautiful young woman in front of a cherry tree, smiling as tears ran down her face, knife in hand… two bloodstained women, one with a sword and the other with a fan, standing amidst the bodies of hundreds of youkai… a brown haired girl with a black hat—
No, that last memory was gone before I could see it. There were some things Yukari would rather keep for herself.
As the process continued, I felt my strength (our strength) rising and rising. Our power mingled and danced as our personalities entwined to the sound of the ethereal chanting and the pounding of thunder. Yukari (we) raised my hands (our hands) and joined in the priests' prayer, her power (our power) flowing towards the gohei of the red-clad woman in the center of the clearing.
I… We… turned our head to the skies. Sections of the massive serpentine body of the Dragon were visible through the clouds, diving in and out of the dark masses with no end in sight. It stretched as far as the eyes could see, its overwhelming power joining ours within the rod held by the priestess, who was now glowing with a pure white light as the chanting melded with the rumble of thunder, raising in volume until the Earth itself shook with the strength of our hymn, and when the woman's light filled our vision and the divine song was all we could hear our hands twisted into the sacred glyphs we learned eons ago, making the ever expanding light explode into a million colors as the ground was ripped from the world and was sent spiraling through the emptiness between dimensions—
And before it could be lost to the void, the Dragon's body anchored the new land to the old one, bringing everything to an abrupt halt as darkness fell on us.
When I opened my eyes (my eyes? Yes… they were mine again), the skies that met me were of the most beautiful blue I had ever seen. Where before a ridge of mountains surrounded us, there was now only a single, enormous one, with a thin trail of smoke escaping from its top. The grass swayed from a gentle breeze, and the scent of sunflowers filled the air.
The priestess and her followers were splayed on the clearing, comatose, and I chuckled at their ridiculous poses.
The Dragon was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly, a gap in space opened beside me, and Yukari stepped through it.
"Yuuka Kazami" she said, her now golden eyes sparkling with pride and power.
"Welcome to Gensokyo."
She raised her hand.
Smiling, I took it, and stepped into her promised wonderland.
"Yuuukaaaaa! Over heeeere!"
I hear that familiar voice calling me just as I finish climbing the steps to the Shrine.
For a moment, I confuse the red and white woman that's running in my direction with the priestess of old. I sometimes forget how short mortal lives are.
"Hello, Reimu. How are the preparations for the flower viewing going?"
"They're going fine, yeah" the shrine maiden says, waving her hand dismissively. "Anyway, did you bring it?"
"Bring what?" I ask, feigning ignorance, a sweet smile on my face.
Reimu's brow furrows. "Sake! You said you'd bring the sake this time. Something like, ten barrels of the best stuff? Wasn't that what you said? Where is it? Bottom of the stairs?"
"Ah, that!" I say, opening my eyes wide. "I lied. I don't actually have any" I continue, beaming.
Reimu is not amused, but doesn't seem surprised.
"Whatever. I had a hunch you'd pull this stupid prank again, so I just asked Suika to bring some. Come on, I'll have you moving around tables as punishment."
"Awww, I was just teasing you a bit. Don't be so grumpy!" I say, as I follow her to the back of the shrine, where the cherry blossoms are.
She waves her hands again, clearly annoyed, and starts barking orders on what I should be doing.
For once, I comply. Why not?
This peaceful paradise that Yukari made had reached its most beautiful bloom.
And I know from experience that it will not last.
I know that, before long, another catastrophe will come and bring an end to these easy days that humans and monsters share, both in this land and in the outside. Humanity's grip on this planet will eventually grow weak and feeble, and they will die off, their bones joining the stone tombs of the previous rulers of the world. They will be replaced by yet another collection of creatures, who will grow, breed and spread for a few eras before they, too, die out, only to be replaced by yet another species again and again and again, until the Sun grows too large for this Earth and I find myself alone in a barren wasteland once more.
But there's still some time left before all that.
For now, I am content to watch life unfold around me.
The cherry blossoms are on their prime, and the promises of cold oni sake and pleasant company are more than enough to keep my mind at peace.