Author's Note: Here you go, guys. The start of the next arc. What happens from here? You'll just have to read on and see.

Chapter 14: The Start Of A New Dream

It was morning, and what was one of the first things I was being greeted by? My bill. I held up the slip of paper and scowled at the numbers
I was seeing, "...2000 yen a night...and that's just for having a place to sleep..." I narrowed my eyes over the paper at Alyss, "What's next?
You gonna charge 500 for a cup of coffee?" Yeah, if you couldn't tell already, this was NOT a good way to start off my day.

Alyss sighed and waved her hand around the room, "Look around the room and you can easily tell why."

I took my eyes off the paper slip and eyed the room I had been sleeping in. Despite my irritation, it was genuinely a nice room. Simple, yet with
a lot of the comforts of home. There was a bunk bed, a table and chair to sit at with assorted stuff sitting on it. There was an air conditioner built
into the room as well. Heck, for all I knew they had Wi-Fi here as well.

Now, some folks may wonder what's with all the nice tech here in Gensokyo, but really, this group was run mainly by Outsiders, so it only makes sense
they had such easy access to Outside World tech.

Well, there was no point in being dishonest with the lady who had helped save my life, "...Fair enough," That's when something occurred to me, "Wait,
can't you just, like, give me a job here or something?"

The Red Bomber scratched the back of her neck, a frown crossing her facial features, "Well, it IS tempting, since we're a little understaffed..." However,
she quickly shook her head, " be frank, you've only been here for like a week, and all the jobs available here now are...well.."

She didn't need to finish that thought, "Let me guess...dealing with not so nice youkai?"

Alyss averted her eyes but nodded, "That's...putting it lightly."

I shrugged, "Well, can't really fault you for that...and besides, a guy who don't have any powers or proper ways to defend himself ain't exactly gonna be
much help around here." For once, this wasn't me beating down on myself but the honest truth. These guys were professionals who'd been at their jobs
for years, and I was just some dude who's managed to survive his first week here on luck, mainly.

My friend sighed before looking me in the eye, "Look, your best bet is the Human Village. They might gladly give you some pay in exchange for a little
labor or a little of your "Super Special Outsider Knowledge"". She put air quotes around those last four words, barely managing to restrain herself from grinning.

"Super Special Outsider Knowledge?" I couldn't help myself and smirked right back at her.

Alyss shrugged while holding back a laugh, "Hey, you never know! Nothing really surprises them but they'd still offer a lot to know what's outside," Her
eyes seemed to beam with anticipation as she spoke, "Heck, if you came across the right people, you could probably do a little flaunting of how long you've
survived and against what youkai. It might just help."

I had to hand it to her, she was definitely a pragmatic type of individual, "My, my, Alyss...I didn't know you could be so devious." Oh great, now I was channeling
a bit of a certain Sage. That spoke volumes of my future mental stability.

The young president stuck out her tongue cheekily, "Who do you think you're talking to?"

With a snicker, I went over and scooped up my knapsack, checking the contents and frowning, "Hey,um...thanks for letting me hold on to these
bombs of yours...but it's probably best you take them back.." I held out the open sack, "I really don't want to create a bad first impression when I walk
into the village."

Alyss nodded, "Good idea," She took back the bombs and dropped them into her hat one after the other, each vanishing back to wherever they came
from, "I know first-hand how fun explosions can be but that's not exactly something to put on your resume when it comes to job hunting." At this, she winked at me.

"I don't think that would go over well with potential employers either..." I smiled at her before putting on a serious expression and looking off out the
window, " get an early start...the sooner I get some work, the sooner I can get started on that unfinished business of mine..."

"Let me guess, does that include Mizuhashi?" I stopped myself and looked back only to see my friend folding her arms, "You and Lady Yukari aren't the
only ones good at reading people, remember?" Her stern expression softened a little, "Listen...I know you care about her, I do too...but she's not just your
responsibility. You recall what Lady Yukari said about shouldering all that guilt by yourself?"

She shook her head, now smiling again, "Give our Bridge Princess some time. I have the feeling she's going to be fine. For right now, focus on you and what
you gotta do here in the present. Besides, after all you've been through, I don't think anybody's gonna fault you for putting your own needs first," She walked
over to the door and looked back, "You coming?"

"Yeah, sure," I put on my hat and walked over to the door, only to stop as something hit me, "Oh...crud..." She tilted her head, possibly wondering what the
problem was so I proceeded to bang my head against the wall, "I still need to get my flipping laptop back from Nitori!"

"Oh..." Alyss winced while looking away, ", but you're on your own for that one..." At hearing me groan though, she sighed, "Look..the
best advice I can give you about that is, worst case scenario, have something to bargain with. Nitori may be a swindler but even she can't pass up a good deal,"
She motioned for me to follow her as she continued talking, "Don't go pulling a Leeroy Jenkins on me though. Right now, focus on getting yourself a job and worry
about the rest later, understand?"

"Aye, aye, Captain," I saluted her, causing the brunette to giggle before leading me to a staircase, "So, what are your plans from here on out?"

At hearing this, Alyss sighed but managed to keep smiling, "Oh, you know, typical stuff related to my job. It's not as exciting or filled with danger as
keeping Youkai in line, and there's no leaping between dimensions, no bounties to hunt, but I assure you, it is still vital to the framework of this organization!"
She then threw her head back and laughed a little too hard.

However, I wasn't buying it for a second, "Let me guess...Paperwork?"

Her face fell at hearing those words and she slumped there while standing, "...You just had to take the wind out of my sails, didn't you?" She pointed to the
staircase, "Take these stairs and they'll lead you down to the Bar. You can get something to eat down there, and then be on your merry way."

"Great," I bowed my head to her, "Thanks again for everything, Alyss. I'll see you later this evening," I went to go when I heard my friend clearing her
throat, "...What?" She looked up to the ceiling while whistling innocently, "...What is it?" She kept on whistling though I saw her left hand making a "gimme"

That's when it hit me and it was my turn to sigh, "Fine, fine..." I took out my wallet and forked over the 2000 yen I owed her, "There, happy now?"

"Very," Alyss snickered as she counted the bills, "Pleasure doing business with you, Mr White. Have a nice day." She then turned and headed off down
another hallway, leaving me alone.

I shook my head and headed on down the stairs to get started on my day...

...Needless to say, I was out of the bar in less than ten minutes. I'm sorry to say this but the lady in charge there...oh my gosh, she was so flipping depressing!
I don't like saying mean things about people but...geez, I could almost feel my mood getting more sour just being around her! Like, the whole time I was there
she was talking about things like the "Pointlessness of life" and how "we can't achieve anything meaningful" and so on, and so forth.

Of course, the moment I got my food, I dropped some money on the table and politely excused myself.

Finally...I was free. I inhaled a large breath of the fresh air and hoisted the bag up on my shoulder. Without the looming threat of any potential incidents, I felt
like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The sky looked a little more blue and even the flowers smelled nicer. I was pretty sure there'd be more crisis to
deal with in the future, more people who had lost themselves to their own sorrow and misery...but there'd still be people that would keep them from falling under
completely. To ensure there was such a thing as tomorrow...

And I'm getting preachy again, sorry. Anyhow, I was ready to head on my way when I spotted the Hakurei Shrine's donation box out front. I walked over and
decided to give it a gentle shake. Barely anything in there. I had to resist the urge to sigh at the reminder of how ungrateful some of the humans were. Sure,
Reimu spent a lot of time around Youkai, which was definitely reason enough to make most people tense, but she still saved these same people's lives on multiple occasions. One would think she'd get a little more recognition than what she did.

I looked down into my wallet, seeing I now had about 7000 yen to my name. I needed to spend it wisely until I got a steady job but...ughh, seeing that
almost empty donation box just annoyed me to no end! I took out two thousand yen and stared intently between it and the donation box, debating with
myself what the right thing to do was. I needed this money but I couldn't simply forget about my friend either when she had done so much for me.

...Finally, I relented and deposited the money into the box then turned to slip away. I didn't get halfway to the steps though before I heard a voice
behind me, "James?" I stopped and turned to see Reimu standing there on the patio, adjusting her head dress and rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

"Hey Reimu," I waved to her, "What you doing up so early?" Please don't say you smelled my breakfast, please don't say you smelled my breakfast...

"I smelled something tasty and I figured that a certain Oni had finally gotten off her lazy butt and made herself useful by making breakfast..." She rolled
her eyes as she laid her back against a pillar, "Apparently, even that is too much to ask..." Her eyes fell on the parcel I was carrying, "What's in the box?"

I had to resist the urge to facepalm. Why did I not even bother to put it away in my frekkin knapsack?! Oh right, cause I was in too much of a hurry
to get away from Miss "Dark And Depressing"! "Oh...nothing special. Just some-" Suddenly, Reimu snatched it out of my hands, "Oi! That's mine!"

She ignored me as she tore off the wrapping to reveal the portable breakfast box inside. Already, her mouth was starting to water a little at the sight
of it. The shrine maiden inhaled deeply and sighed...before raising an eyebrow at me, "Nothing special, you said?" She held up the box, "You were going
to hog all this to yourself and not bother to share any? Wow, and people call ME a glutton.."

"In all fairness, I did buy that with my own money," I commented as I followed back to the patio, "Besides, you got enough right now to buy some
groceries, right?" Somehow, I got the feeling this wasn't going to go the way I wanted it to.

"You do realize how much work that would involve, right?"Reimu retorted as she opened up the box and took out a rolled omelette and munched down
on it, savoring the food, "First, I gotta head to the village, buy what I need, get back here, get out all sorts of pots and pans, make what it is I want, eat, then
I gotta clean all the dishes I used..." She shrugged, "In all honesty, this is way faster and easier." She chewed down on some grilled fish.

I sighed...before smiling to myself and getting an idea. I reached into my knapsack and pulled out my thermos, now filled with green tea, and poured it into
the lid as a makeshift cup. At seeing this, Reimu's eyes narrowed, "Isn't tea?"

I licked my lips just to tease her more, "Indeed it is...still piping hot too," I took another sip, "I...could be convinced to share with exchange for half
of what's in that box..."

I looked over to see Reimu fuming, glaring between the thermos, the box, and me. I could tell she was having a mental debate with herself. Her eyes darting
back and forth like ping-pong balls. Finally, she relented and shoved over the box, "Fine...but take more than your share, and the next time you get into trouble,
you can save yourself, got it?"

"Of course, Miss Hakurei," I smiled and slid the thermos over to her. Within a few seconds, I finally had my hands on some food and Reimu had her drink, blowing on
it before taking a long sip. We sat there, eating and taking sips of our drink together, just letting the cool breeze pass over us as we savored the moment.

"So," Reimu broke the silence at last, not looking at me right away, "I heard you're planning to stick around for a while." There was neither joy nor dismay at the
tone she was using. Just the usual indifference that she was famous for.

"Yep, felt it be kinda stupid to just ditch everybody so soon. That, and I got some loose ends I need to take care of..." I took another sip, "So, what you think?
You ok with that?"

The shrine maiden was quiet for a moment, before giving a shrug, "Personally, I don't care either way. It's your life, do whatever you want with it. All that I'm
gonna ask is you don't go around intentionally causing trouble or trying to be the big hero that saves the day.." She frowned a little at this point, "Though to
be frank, it's kinda hard to tell the difference between those two sometimes."

"Ain't that the truth..." I sighed as I offered her the thermos so she could refill her cup. She took it, nodding gratefully, "By the way, do you mind if I ask you something? It could be only my mind playing tricks on me but I'd like to run it by you anyways."

"Always with the questions..." Reimu was now the one sighing as she took a sip from her cup, "Alright, what is it?"

I took a deep breath as I tried to compose myself for what I needed to ask, "Did you...happen to see anything odd around here last night? You know, odder than usual?"

"James, this is Gensokyo. What you Outsiders consider "odd" we consider normal. You're gonna have to be way more specific if you want me to be any help," Despite
her quickness, I could see a hint of concern in her eyes as she chowed down on yet another piece of fish.

I wringed my hands together, "Well...I was getting ready for bed last night was only for a moment but I thought I saw something outside my window
with a bushy tail dart by..." I looked up to get her input only to see my friend's eyebrows raising a little, "Reimu? You ok?"

"Yeah, I'm fine..." She shook her head, snapping out of whatever brief stupor she'd been in, "Ok, probably got a million theories
running through your head right now...but the best thing you can do right now is don't focus on it. Just go do whatever it is you're gonna do but...try to keep a
low profile, ok? Maybe you're right in that it was only your mind playing tricks, could've been a raccoon, anything..."

"And if it isn't?" I insisted, "And it was who I might be thinking...?"

"Like I said, don't think about it," She shot back with a hint of an edge to her voice, causing me to back up a little, "Besides, I think we can both agree you've
gotten yourself into enough trouble to last a lifetime already," Geez, Reimu, could you be anymore blunt? "Also, even if it was someone, I doubt they meant any actual harm, considering these are neutral grounds we're on at the moment."

I took a sip from my own mug, pondering over what she was saying. "Yeah...I suppose that makes sense..." I still didn't feel entirely comfortable but perhaps
she was right. Dwelling on something that could've been only in my head was not healthy. I took a bite of an rolled omelet and swallowed before speaking
again, "Well, I should get going to the village. Something tells me I got a busy day ahead of me."

I got up and went to grab my pack only to hear Reimu's voice cut in, "Hey.." I looked over to see her drinking down some more tea, staring contemplatively into the
bottom, "Word of advice? Any business you have that takes you outside the village...stay on the roads, don't try to attract attention to yourself, and make
sure you're back before night falls, ok? I got my own stuff to take care of here so I can't watch you 24/7 anymore, remember that."

"Reimu..." I smiled and chuckled a little, "Yeah, I know, you're not half as bad as the fandom makes you out to be."

"Gee, you're only now figuring that out?" Reimu rolled her eyes, "If I was, I'm pretty sure I'd be out of a job long before now..." She looked away, "But...thanks anyways.."

I nodded and grabbed my pack, "See ya later, Reimu." With that, I walked towards and down the steps that led away from the shrine...

Reimu watched the young man go with her usual stoic expression...though if one looked closely, they may've noticed a hint of somberness on her
features. Once he was out of sight, she sighed and downed the rest of her tea, "...Why do I get the sinking suspicion that there's gonna come a point
that idiot's gonna throw caution to the wind and do the exact opposite of everything I just told him not to do?"

"Maybe because you're pretty good at reading people," Reimu turned to see Suika leaning in the doorway, sipping from her gourd, "Even if those readings are mostly based on instinct, they still tend to be right in the end."

"Well, well, look who finally decided to wake up," The shrine maiden retorted as she set her mug aside and turned to face her tenant, " much
did you hear?" If there was one thing Reimu knew without a shadow of a doubt is that Suika, despite how she appeared on the surface to be a lazy drunk,
which was true to an extent, she was still way smarter and more observant than she let on.

The oni gave a half-hearted shrug, "Enough," She took another guzzle from her gourd before chuckling, "I do have to agree with him on one thing.
You may love putting on the "tough girl" act but I can tell from a mile away you care about him more than you let on." She knew this would get a rise
out of her human friend.

Reimu scrunched up her facial features before turning away, "Hmph, I think all that booze is making you more delirious than usual. You know as well as
I do that it's my job to look after the people, even if they're nimrods from the Outside who can't take a hint and mind their own business..." She glanced back
at Suika, "That's all there is to it. Nothing more, nothing less."

However, Suika only shook her head in dismay. Even after all this time, Reimu still wasn't able to be honest with herself. At least not all the time. "If that's
the case, don't you think you could've made more of an effort to drill into him the "do's and do not's" around here?"

The red-white shrine maiden was the one to shrug this time, "I'm not his babysitter. Besides, he's a grown man and as I told him, he can do whatever he
wants as long he don't go being a nuisance. He's the same as everybody else, in that regard. More importantly..." She held up her now empty mug, "I need
more green tea. Think you can fetch it for me?"

"Sure thing. Just give me a moment..." Nodding, Suika turned and walked back inside...only for a loud thump to be heard and when Reimu glanced inside,
she saw her tenant passed out on the floor, wearing a big goofy smile on her face.

Reimu slumped on the spot, "...Typical..." She got up to go prepare it herself...only to stop and facepalm, "Gosh darn it! I could've gotten him to sweep the
grounds while he was here!"

The trek away from the shrine was...well, I'm gonna be honest, it was just a little disheartening. I mean, over the past week I had gotten so use to traveling
with my new friends and seeing the sights together. We had fought together, shared meals together, talked together. Sure, there was danger here and there
but overall...I had a good time.

Of course, the reality was that anything good tended to not last. I massaged my temples as I walked along the trail presented to me and I talked to myself,
"Ok James. Reimu and the gang aren't here to support you anymore...and to be totally honest, you probably been relying on them a bit more than you
should have..." I shook my head to get rid of those thoughts, "But no more! From here on out, you are back to earning your keep and being self-reliant! Yep, nothing can possibl-"

Before I even finished that thought, I tripped and fell flat on my face, "Ouch..." Turning, I saw one of my shoe laces untied. Apparently, I had been in such
a hurry this was yet another thing I had forgotten to do! Yep, I am off to a great start...should probably stop talking to myself too. Gets distracting.

Quickly fixing that little problem, I now moved a little faster than normal, keeping my eyes peeled for any sort of Youkai that might be interested in a snack
between meals. No powers and no companions meant I was totally exposed and vulnerable to the world around me...and I'm not gonna lie but those two
facts made the terrain around me feel a little more inhospitable. The trees looked taller and the bushes rustled in the wind, and I couldn't be sure when
a rustle was just that...or a youkai waiting to pounce.

I could even hear my breathing get a little heavier at one point, briefly pondering if I should simply run back and get Alyss to contact Yukari and send me
home...only to take a deep breath and calm myself. I was not a coward...and I had something I needed to do. Stick to the roads, don't draw attention
to yourself...I repeated Reimu's advice in my head as I kept moving.

Finally, after following the trail for some time, I reached my destination. A large wooden arch stood before me that I assumed was the gate leading into
the village. I quickly stuffed my scarf and fedora away in my knapsack so to prevent any real suspicion.

With that done, I walked through the gate, finally getting my first real taste of human civilization in over a week. The village definitely looked like it had been frozen in the Feudal Period with a number of houses looking to be made out of bamboo and rectangular while others were wooden and with slanted roofs. I had to admit
that getting a chance to see the way homes were built in another time was pretty cool.

A number of shops lined the streets with a fair group of people going about their business. Almost all of them were dressed in some type of robe
though some had more elaborate designs and patterns on them than others. Needless to say, considering my own attire, I stuck out like a sore
thumb. Not helping matters was that as I walked along, several people actually stopped what they were doing to look over at me, even a couple
of kids stopped to gawk at me...though thankfully a woman whom I assume was their mother led them away.

Remembering my manners, I tried to smile and bow my head in the onlookers direction which did get some of them to nod in return but the rest still
went about gawking. I could feel myself shrinking under the weight of their gazes as I walked along. I guess I should've counted my lucky stars
that the people here were use to strange things cause it probably could've been a lot worse.

Of course, I was so lost in my own thoughts that I felt myself bump into someone and with a loud "Ooff!" I fell on my rear, wincing as I heard a
loud squeal. Ignoring the pain, I looked to see a young girl sitting on the ground, rubbing her forehead. She wore a checkered kimono and seemed to
have orange hair done up with bells and red eyes. Scattered around her were...well, a rather large collection of books. "Excuse me, miss? Are you ok?"

"Y-Yeah, I'm fine!" The girl managed to smile cheerfully and give me a thumbs up, "It takes a lot more than a bump on the head to faze Kosuzu Motoori!
Thanks for your concern though, mister."

"That's good.." I sighed in relief before bowing my head, "I'm...really sorry about bumping into you like that. I was too distracted to know where I was going..."

"D-Don't worry about it!" Kosuzu laughed a little and waved it off, "To be honest, it's partly my fault too. Carrying around so many books at one time
makes it tough to see where you're going..." She looked around wearily at the scattered texts, "I only hope none of them got damaged.." She got to
work picking them up, "What's your name by the way?"

"It's James. James White,"Still feeling a little bad, I decided to pitch in, "Here. Let me help," I started picking up texts and piling them together...only to hear a soft growl coming from what I swore was the book itself! "Uh...did this book just growl at me?"

"Hmm?" Kosuzu stopped and looked over while holding an arcane tome. At hearing the growl again,she winced and quickly snatched the book out of
my hands, "N-No,of course not! After all,we're in the middle of a busy work hour, so you probably just heard things!" Well played, Miss Motoori. I'll go
along with it for the time being.

"Yeah, I suppose you're right," I chuckled to show I was none the wiser and helped finish stacking the books, "There. Let's both be more careful in the
future, ok?" I felt this was as good a time to ask as any, "Hey, I know this is a little out of the blue wouldn't happen to know of anybody around
here who'd pay to have some work done, would ya?"

"Hmm..." She tapped her chin for a few moments, thinking, before snapping her fingers, "I got it! There's this man who runs a small take out place and it's
only down the street from my family's book store! In fact, here," She took the top half of the pile, "Would you mind taking the other half of those books for
me? I'd take them myself but...well, like you yourself said, we need to be more careful, right?" She smiled in a way that made it look like she was messing with me.

"Heh...alright..." I scooped up the other half and we set off down the street, with the book lover leading the way, "So, Miss Mitoori...I guess you're quite
the book enthusiast, eh?" It was perhaps for the best I kept my Touhou knowledge to myself for the time being as there was no telling how she might
react. Heck, I could end up giving the poor girl an existential crisis!

"Yep!" She exclaimed cheerfully and walked along a little more proudly, "I love books! Whenever I open one up I feel like I'm getting ready to set sail on
a grand adventure! The kinds of adventures that I can't really go on outside the village..." The young girl stopped herself at this point, ",
you're not from around here are you Mr White?"

Already trying to change the subject? Something wasn't right...but I needed to make an attempt to stay out of other people's business so I let it go
for now, "Yeah...I guess the attire and my name kinda gave it away, didn't it?"

"Well, I don't want to come off as rude but...yeah, kinda," Kosuzu giggled before we turned another corner and came upon a rectangular building with
a slanted roof and a sign up top with japanese lettering on it that I assumed spelled Suzanaan, "Here we are! She's a beauty, isn't she?" Kosuzu beckoned
me inside where I got a look at all the shelves filled to the brim with books of all kinds and ladders set up in several places that reached towards the
higher levels, "You can just lay them down anywhere. Thanks."

"No problem. Thanks for getting me this far," I did as told, setting them down on a table before peeking my head out the door and looked down the street, "So, just down the street from here, you said?"

"Yep! Big red and brown building! Can't miss it. Although...there's something I want to ask before you go.." I glanced back as I saw Kosuzu walk behind her
desk and take a seat, clasping her hands together, "There's been rumors going around lately that an Outsider's shown up who's able to talk to Youkai like
their equal AND is able to befriend them...that wouldn't happen to be you would it, Mr White?"

As if on instinct, I winced and looked at my wrist like I was checking a watch, "Wow, look at the time! I should be going! Nice meeting you,Miss Mitoori!"
I got ready to book it.

"Ha! I knew it!" Kosuzu slammed her hand on the table and stood up, pointing triumphantly at me, "I told Lady Hieda that all those detective novels
weren't a waste of time, and now I have proof! The great detective Kosuzu Mitoori strikes again!" It was obvious that this girl felt very proud of herself
at the moment.

I sighed and slumped on the spot. I swear if it turns out a certain Tengu is behind this, she and I are gonna have words... "Yes, that's me. The guy who's
had close calls with some of the most powerful people in this world...In the flesh..." I leered over at the book keeper, "So, now you know who I am...what do you
intend to do with that knowledge?"

The orange-haired girl opened her mouth...only to close it again, "I don't know..." She resumed sitting, "I didn't really think I'd even get this far...hey, why
don't you take a seat and tell me some of your stories?" Her eyes brightened once again, "Yeah, you must have lots of stories to tell! Hey, is it true you hung
out with Reimu-san and Marisa-san?! That you got to travel to Youkai Mountain?! Visit the Underground?!"

"Whoa, whoa!" I put up my hands to stop her, "Calm yourself, please. First off, I'd like to ask you to keep this knowledge to yourself for the time being..." Before
she could speak up, I cut in, "I ask because...well, I may be new to the village but I knows that Youkai are viewed, at best, with indifference. If the humans
here find out I been associating with youkai...I could get into ALOT of trouble, and quite a few folks would probably want to run me out..."

"But..." Kosuzu frowned and turned her head to the side. Ah geez, I suddenly felt like that one douchebag who went and told some little kids that Santa Claus and
the Easter Bunny don't exist!

"...Please.." I clasped my hands and bowed my head, "I know I am asking a lot here...but it's very important that nobody know about this! I don't want
special treatment, at least not anymore...and I've been enough of an nuisance for my please just treat me like you would any other average joe!"

The book keeper sighed as her eyes scanned the room we were in, and for the longest time, she was quiet. Eventually, she nodded, "Ok, sure," I breathed
a small sigh of relief, "I'll cut you a deal," And there went any chance of a quick getaway, "I won't tell anybody who you really are...and in exchange, you
meet me here when you got spare time and share some of your stories with me! A win-win situation for both of us!" Kosuzu folded her arms, looking quite happy with herself.

I did my best not to groan in annoyance...though I'll admit that my inner storyteller was a bit excited at the thought of being able to wow someone with
my adventures up till now. "Alright, you got a deal.."

"Pinky swear on it!" Kosuzu exclaimed as she held up her pinky, still smiling.

I smiled and linked my own pinky with hers, "There ya have a nice day now, Miss Mitoori."

"See ya later!" She called to me as I headed for the door, "Oh, and just so ya know, the guy I told you about is a bit on the cranky side but he's not bad. So,
be patient with him if he gives you a hard time. He goes by the name Mr Tanaka."

"Thanks for the heads up. I'll be seeing you." With those words, I was out and on my way...

I knocked on the door on the side of the building, "Excuse me, Mr Tanaka?" I waited a few seconds before knocking again, "Mr Tanaka, I'd like to speak
to you for a moment."

"Go away!" came an elderly voice from behind the door this time, causing me to jump,"If you're here to buy something, come back around noon, and
if you're one of those people preaching their faith, get lost! I have better things to do than listen to a pile of empty words and even more empty promises!"

Geez, why did I suddenly feel like I was listening to my own reflection? Regardless, I pressed on, "Mr Tanaka. My name is James White. I apologize for
disturbing you at such an early hour but I heard you might have some work available," There was silence on the other end, "...I'm not a member of
any of the faiths around here! I'm an Outsider! I assure you, I'm not here to shove my faith down your throat. I'm just looking for some honest work, that's it!" Still, nothing. I sighed, "I understand...sorry to bother you, sir."

I got ready to go when I heard a latch being undone on the door and it slid open enough to let the tanned face of an elderly man peek out. He looked to be in
his late fifties at least with a few wrinkles on his face and short faded brown hair with hints of grey in it and wore glasses. "...Were you followed?" I tilted my
head at him, "Answer the question, boy! Were you followed?!"

"O-Of course not!" I exclaimed as I put up my hands like he was ready to attack, "At least, I don't think so..."

The elderly man sighed, "Young people these days..." He finished undoing the latches and slid his door open, "Alright, follow me...but don't think I ain't
got my eye on you! I maybe an old geezer but you try to scam me and I'll have you run out of this village so fast your head will spin! Understood?"

"Y-Yes sir!" I stammered while saluting him...only to realize that was the wrong thing to do and bowed instead, "I promise you won't regret this!"

"We'll see, boy..." He led me into the building and pass what looked like a well-stocked kitchen full of bags of flour, rice and sugar among other things.
We went out another door and into a small garden where various vegetables were already in bloom and ready to be harvested...only problem is that
they were clumped together with bunches of weeds and what not, "Alright, kid, let's see if you're all talk or if you can actually back up what you say,"

He gestured to the rows of plants, "I want you to take out all these weeds and throw away whatever vegetables here aren't any good. There's buckets
over there you can use to put the good ones in. Also, don't even THINK of eating any, cause I'll be watching you!" He went over to the side and turned back,
"Well? Think you can handle that? I know it's a bit more work than what you Outsiders are probably use to..." Somehow, I got the feeling he was being sarcastic at the end.

I walked over and dropped my bag next to him, "...With all due respect sir...I wouldn't judge a book by its cover if I were you..." With that, I scooped up a pair of work gloves and got to work, hauling up the weeds, roots and all, and tossing them into a bin. I moved down the rows, removing the veggies that had gone bad and
digging small holes so that they could return to the earth and have a second chance. I didn't bother to look up at my potential employer as I worked.

Suddenly, I was very grateful towards my Mom as she had been the one to teach me various things about gardening. Namely that when it came to weeds,
unless you remove the root, they just grow back, and when planting you make sure there's at least a few inches apart from where something is already
growing...what? You people thought I only played video games and watched anime for a living? Give me a break.

But yeah, I kept up a steady pace, and before long, the garden had been mostly freed of weeds and there were several buckets full of ripe, fresh vegetables
ready to be used for cooking. I wiped the sweat from my brow as I stood up, "Well, I'll be...guess you aren't just talk after all, huh kid?" I turned in time to
have a wet cloth thrown in my direction. I caught it and wiped the dirt and sweat away as he came over next to me, looking over my work, "...Where did
you learn to garden like that? It usually takes me the better part of the morning to get all that done."

"I've had...a lot of practice, let's put it that way," I admitted before a sack of seeds got shoved into my hands, "What the?"

"You didn't think you were getting off the hook that easily, did you?" The elderly man quizzed, raising an eyebrow, "Now you got that out of the way for
me, we actually got some time to start a bit of planting! Hop to it, boy! Let's see if you can keep up with this old timer!" Without warning, he picked
up his own sack and watering can and beckoned me to get to work.

I scooped out a small hole, dropped some seeds in, covered it over, and moved on as he watered the dirt. We repeated the procedure several times over
for each row. I had to hand it to Mr Tanaka, for someone who looked to be in his elder years, he was pretty spry and energetic about his work. I could
tell since he actually seemed to have a fire in his eye with the way he worked. Deciding I wasn't losing to him, I picked up the pace, "I gotta say, Mr Tanaka,
you certainly love your gardening."

"Well, of course I do, boy!" The older man wiped his brow and got back to work, "Other folks around here may love their fighting and being all flashy with magic and
what not...but it's people like me who gives them the fuel they need to go out and do what they do! There's pride to be taken in this kind of work! Now if only
getting out to gather stuff wasn't such a hassle...and..." He winced and adjusted his back until a crack could be heard, "If my back wouldn't pick the worst
possible time to flare up!"

I stopped my gardening as I looked over to him, worried, "Mr Tanaka...if you wanted to take a spell, I can finish the rest for ya."

"You'd do that...?" The older man looked at me critically, as if to make sure I wasn't screwing him over. Finally, he sighed, "Alright...lunch time is around
the corner anyway. I gotta get some pain medicine, so when you finish here, take a five minute breather, then bring in those pails." Without waiting for
an answer, he headed inside.

I took in a deep breath and finished up the row, throwing some water over the plants to help them grow before spotting a couple of kids perched on
top of the fence surrounding the garden and watching the veggies. I narrowed my eyes in their direction, "I know what you guys are planning...don't try
anything or I'll let Keine-sensei know..." Their faces going pale, they automatically booked it, causing me to chuckle as I picked up my pails and headed

Mr Tanaka was standing at a counter, sorting out ingredients and heating up an old iron stove. He turned as I entered, "Tell me, boy, if you had to make
something, what would it be?"

Feeling that this was another part of my evaluation, I didn't hesitate to answer, "Curry Rice..." He rose an eyebrow at me, "...Is something the matter, sir?"

"Hmm? No, nothing," He shook his head, "That's just not something I expected an Outsider to be familiar with...anyhow.." He tossed an apron towards
me, "Get over here and show me what you can do. If you can pull this off. and NOT scam me out of any money..well, I'll pay you for sure...and who knows? Maybe I'll even consider putting in a good word for you with the other shopkeepers," He frowned at seeing my spirits brighten, "Don't get a big head though. I said maybe."

"That's fine..." I'm use to disappointment in my life. However, I kept those thoughts to myself as I joined him and started cutting up veggies while we waited
for the water to boil, "Hey, Mr Tanaka?" The elderly man grunted, a sign he was listening, "I know it's none of my business you happen to have a problem
with the various faiths around here in Gensokyo?"

The elderly man stopped cutting the meat for a moment and went quiet, his gaze looking off somewhere else, "...Kid, I don't know if this has fully sunk in for
you yet but...for those of us with no magic to throw around, we're kinda stuck between a rock and a hard place..." He picked up a tomato and an onion to
illustrate his point, "As long as we stay within the village, we humans are safe...but in reality.." He held up the tomato, "Those darn Youkai see themselves
as Gods. They can basically do what they want and get away with it for the most the end, we humans are just glorified cattle to them..."

He held up the onion, "On the other hand, we got all these factions who want our faith and will stoop pretty low to get it. Heck, a couple years back there
was this big civil war between them that basically split our community down the middle and nearly destroyed everything!" The man sighed and sat in his chair, "So...yeah, honestly, it's a bit hard to be hopeful about things when your supposed "protectors" are sometimes as bad as those they fight against..."

"What about the Spell Card System?" I asked him.

He shrugged, "It works...sometimes, but no system is perfect, and there are those who can bend the rules and make some of us just...disappear...take you for example," He pointed to me, "You're an Outsider, right? Meaning the system is not obligated to protect you. A youkai could eat you for lunch and nothing would be done.
You'd just be another statistic..." He looked away from me, as if he was recalling something he didn't want to...

I put my knife down and scowled, "I will not be just another statistic."

Mr Tanaka turnes back and rose an eyebrow at me, "Really?...Well, we'll see, kid.." He checked the water and put in the rice as I added in a pinch of salt. I got the veggies and meat in the pan and started mixing it all together. The smell began wafting out the window and already there were people arriving at the tables. We nodded
to each other and got to work serving out the curry rice. Before long, the area outside the restaurant was bustling. It was nice to see all our work had
actually yielded something.

"Here..." I turned in time to have a plate of curry and rice shoved into my hands by my boss, "Felt you've earned this. Now go eat, and I'll handle things
here for a bit."

"Thanks, sir," I nodded and went over to an empty table to eat. There was just something about working up an appetite that made food taste so much better...granted,
this wasn't the kind of thing I wanted to do all the time but it was alright once in a while.

"Well, well, look who we have here," A familiar voice reached my ears as I saw someone sit in front of me, "Long time no see, Mr White."

I looked up to see whom it was and gasped in shock, "R-Rinnosuke?"

"That's me," The grey-haired man smiled as he swallowed a spoonful of curry, "I gotta say, this is a pleasant surprise. I only came into the village to
grab some supplies and look who I run into. The newest Outsider cooking up a hearty meal for the locals," He took a sip from what I guess was a mug of tea, "So,
how's the last week or so been treating you? It can't had been too bad since you're still here in one piece," He chuckled but stopped at seeing the downcast
look on my face, "...Is something the matter?"

"No, it's just..." I sighed as I sat back in my chair and looked upwards at the sky, "My time started out good but...I don't know...I can't really tell you all
the details right now but...I kinda made some choices that seemed good on the surface but ended up causing a lot of trouble for my friends..."

"Does this have something to do with that green mist that spread over Gensokyo a couple days ago?" I hesitated for a couple seconds before nodding, "I
figured as much...listen, I don't know much about you...but you seem like a good kid, and the fact we're all still here means things didn't turn out as bad
as they could've..." He ate some more curry, "I guess your friends also told you this wasn't your fault, huh?"

I nodded again, "But you still feel like it was..." Surprisingly, he chuckled, "Kid...everybody makes mistakes, or they make choices that inconvenience
others. It's part of being alive...and it's good to acknowledge them, but don't go dwelling on them too much," He downed a bit more of his drink, "It maybe true
that I don't know all the details...but I'm not that interested in knowing anyway...what's important is you actually bother to reflect on these things...and that
says more about you than a lot of people I've seen."

I was quiet for a while as I ate and sipped from a cup of water, before bothering to speak up again, "...I know it's not healthy to hold on to guilt and what
not for so long but...I don't know but I guess I'm afraid of letting it go."

"Hmm..." Rinnosuke finished his food and pushed the empty plate away, "Maybe you feel that letting go is the same thing as pretending like nothing
happened," I looked up to him as he sighed and drank the rest of his tea, "Guilt is much like a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can inspire us to not
make the same mistakes again...or it can grow and fester until it consumes us completely," He smiled in a way that was likely meant to be reassuring, "But
nobody can decide what it does except you."

I listened to what he was saying...before nodding, "I'll keep that in mind...thanks Rinnosuke."

"Don't mention it, kid," He stood up from the table and grabbed his bag, "Oh, and word of advice? If you want to make some extra money and you don't
mind taking a few risks...I'd suggest looking for items that fell through the barrier. Bring them to the right people and you could make good cash.."

"You aren't trying to influence me so I'll drop off valuables at your store again, are you?" I said with a smirk on my face.

"Who knows?..." Rinnosuke smiled back at me before turning to go, "One last bit of takes a strong person to take responsibility for their mistakes...but
in my opinion, it takes an even stronger person to take responsibility...and then move on from them," He walked off, "It was good to see you again, Mr White. Have a nice day." With that, the shopkeeper disappeared into the crowd. I finished up my own food and rejoined my boss to work again.

I was in the middle of finishing another order when Mr Tanaka spoke up again, "I know what you're thinking of doing and I say you're an idiot for
even considering it," I rose an eyebrow at him as he folded his arms and scoffed, "Don't give me that look, kid. I saw you and that man talking over there,
and I can assure you that if you step outside that gate, there's no guarantee you're coming back in."

"You don't think I know that?" I cut him off, causing him to tilt his head, "Believe it or not, I been in quite a few scuffles with Youkai since I got
here...take a look.." I pulled up the side of my shirt to show him the faint scars that were on my abdomen, causing him to stare, "I got this from
a Youkai who got a little too close for comfort...but I'm here, and I'm alive. I know the risks I'm taking...but taking risks is better than leading a
sheltered life, if you ask me."

"Even if those risks can get you killed?" He shot back before fetching another dish, "Those scars only prove my point...everyone's luck runs out sooner
or later, no matter who you are."

"Then I'll make my own luck," I shot back at him, "I'm going...whether you or anyone else want me to or not."

"Hrmmm..." Mr Tanaka closed his eyes, as if doing some deep thinking. Finally, he sighed in resignation and opened his eyes, "Fine, do as you
wish. However, if you insist on this foolishness, you should at least go prepared," A bell went off on the counter top, "Let's finish up here and then we'll talk."

Another hour or so of sharing out orders and the line of customers gradually dissipated. When there were no more in sight, we finally hung up our
aprons and I grabbed my bag, "That man was correct...items fall through the barrier all the time...many of them end up in the Forest Of Magic so
I'd recommend taking this..." He handed me a breathing mask, "And buy some medicine on your way out so the miasma doesn't affect you too much.
Grab anything you can and get out of there before night falls, got it?"

I nodded and took the mask, "I do...I guess I'll be seeing you around, Mr Tanaka?"

"Indeed...even if I think you're an idiot for even attempting this...I wouldn't mind having you come work with me again," He handed me an envelope
containing a couple thousand yen in it. For a moment, I swore a hint of a smile appeared on the old man's features before he headed inside, "And a deal is a deal...I'll let my fellow shopkeepers know about you, but don't expect too much from it..." He stopped at the doorway, silent for a moment, "...Good luck, boy. You're gonna need it." With that, he shut the door and I was left alone.

I took the mask in my hand and turned, heading off first to get the medicine and then off to the forest...

The Forest Of Magic...for anyone who wanted to disappear, this would be the place you'd want to come to. The trees were so tall and heavily grouped
together that they actually managed to block out a considerable amount of sunlight, casting a large shadow over much of the forest. A breeze was
blowing about, creating a slightly chilly climate and some parts of the terrain looked like it had sunken into piles of muck.

As if that weren't enough, there were mushrooms all over the place, and these weren't just traditional "fit in your hand" mushrooms. Oh no. More than a few of them looked big enough you could actually sit on them and have your dinner too! I wandered through the trees, mask concealing much of my face, as I kept
an eye out for anything valuable. I stopped and picked up a tome on the ground, sliding it into my knapsack before I moved onward.

There were various other valuables lying around during my walk, including a small clock that looked to come from the 1800s, a miniature camera, some newspapers that looked to be dated AT LEAST a couple decades in the past, some money from the outside, rolls of thread, and yes, quite a few books too.

I had just finished zipping up my knapsack...when I heard the trees rustling. I winced as, off in the distance, I saw several of them being parted as
something came towards me. Looking around for a quick escape, I grabbed several of the mushrooms on the ground and darted into the trees, hiding
in a crevice as I waited for whomever it was to pass me by...hoping that the strong scent of the mushrooms would disguise my own.

After a few moments, the trees near me parted as a large black orb floated through the air. Despite this, I could still make out the shape of a little girl
inside with short blonde hair and wearing a red ribbon in her hair. Her attire was a white long-sleeved shirt with a black vest and black skirt.


Normally, the sight of one of the weakest and presumably dumbest Youkai in Gensokyo would be reason to relax...but considering my current circumstances,
taking her lightly would've been a very bad idea. The youkai sniffed the air about her, " odd...I could've sworn I smelled a human around here..." She
looked down and rubbed her tummy, "Awww...and I was so looking forward to having some tasty human meat too..." That was more than enough reason to
get me to swallow the lump in my throat.

She shrugged, "Ah well...maybe another time.." The Darkness Youkai turned and flew off...only to bump into a tree, "Ouch! Stupid Tree!" She pointed a
finger and a few bursts of energy bullets flew out, blowing it to pieces. She then flew off and before long, she was gone.

I breathed a sigh of relief. That had been quite the bullet I dodged. Suddenly, a different scent touched my nostrils, "Huh? Smoke..?" I turned and headed
towards the source, passing by what looked to be craters and gouges in the terrain. Why did I suddenly feel like I was heading into familiar territory?

I got my answer when I came into a clearing...and saw the head of a certain giant robot lying before me. Not too far away, I saw the rest of the massive
metallic menace lying on its side, still smoldering and emitting faint smoke streams. For some reason, a plethora of fairies were playing on the thing like
it was some oversized jungle gym.

Wondering if there was anything useful lying around, I took a step forward...only to freeze when I heard another voice behind me, "I wouldn't take another
step forward if I were you, Mr White," I turned my head slowly to see the one in charge of this behemoth, Nitori Kawashiro. Her backpack was open and a
bunch of assorted tools and weapons were out for all to see, and she herself was holding her water pistol up at me. "You have a lot of nerve coming back
around here, you know that?" It was obvious from the look on her face she wasn't too happy to see me.

I held up my hands as I turned to face her. For some reason though, I wasn't in the mood to deal with her antics, "Hello to you too, Nitori..."

"Planning on snatching up Kappa technology for yourself, huh?" Nitori growled as she shook her head, "And here I thought you actually had a hint of decency,
maybe even something resembling a brain up there."

I scoffed, "That's rich, coming from the likes of you," Her eyes narrowed at me, "And technically, that thing there was never yours. The Moriya Gang commissioned
you to make it for Mizuhashi, and you would likely had not been able to make it unless I loaned you that device from the Outside. So, in a way, shouldn't I have
as much claim to it as you do?"

"S-Shut up!" Her cheeks flushed from embarrassment but she kept her weapons trained on me, "Need I remind you that YOU'RE the idiot that decided to
give your "precious laptop" to a complete stranger?" I looked away at having to once more hear this, "Yeah...that shut you up pretty fast, didn't it?" As one might expect, she took this moment to showboat, "You see, the truth is all I wanted was to make a quick buck, is that really so wrong? Considering the kinds of things humans have done, anything I do is a drop in the bucket in comparison."

"Did I take advantage of you? Kinda...but that's business for you. You can't make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, after all.." She smirked in my
direction, "And were one of those eggs. So sorry, but hey, that's life."

I was quiet for some time, letting what she said sink in, before nodding in acknowledgment, "You know something? You're a degree," She rose
an eyebrow at this, "It was pretty stupid of me, wasn't it? Deciding to give you the benefit of a doubt, trusting in that old legend of how humans are close
friends to the Kappa...letting that lonely kid inside me think we could be friends..."

At hearing all this, Nitori's smirk slowly faded but I continued, "It's funny, isn't it? I've shown you a great deal of kindness and how do I get repaid? I get threatened, shot at, nearly blown up, and a dozen other things...for someone who labels herself a genius and a "friend to humans" don't really know much about being an actual friend, do you?"

"Be quiet! You don't know anything!" She snapped, though it was obvious I had struck a nerve. "You're only talking big cause you got those stupid cards on
you to protect you!"

"That's where you're wrong..." The kappa stopped at hearing this, "I didn't stop Mizuhashi using the Capture fact, I didn't even get a chance to use
them on her before she destroyed them."

"W-W-What..?" Nitori stammered as her hand started trembling a little. She shook her head furiously, ", you're lying! Just trying to psych me out so you
can launch a sneak attack! Well, I'm not falling for it!"

I sighed and lowered my hands, "Nitori...ask yourself...what do I get from lying to you?" That made her freeze up, "I'm a terrible liar, so bad I couldn't lie to
save my life...literally. You were there too, and you saw most of what happened, didn't you?"

"O-Of course I did!" The kappa was starting to sweat now, anxiously looking side to side, " couldn't have stopped her without magic! That defies all
logic and rationality! She was a berserk monster, and you're saying you somehow managed to bring her back?! How?! And don't you dare say it was the Power Of Love
cause that has no place in science!" It was obvious that knowing there was something she couldn't explain away with science was eating at her.

I shrugged, "To be frank...I don't really know.." That made her trembling stop and she tilted her head. I suddenly glared at her, "And don't you dare call her
a monster when you don't know the first thing about her!" She winced and actually took a step back, "I don't agree with what she did...not at all...but after
the way the world's treated her, how it took away everything of value to her...I can't say I'm too surprised she ended up the way she did. She was wronged in
some very big ways, so she decided to return the favor..."

At that moment, I was reminded of what I had been told by the others...of shouldering all this guilt by one's self wasn't healthy, "I admit that I might've
made some poor decisions...acting more with my heart than my head at times...but at least I made things right in the end," I rose an eyebrow at her, "I have
to ask...back when you helped us against Mizuhashi...did you do it purely for revenge, or did you genuinely want to do your part to make things right again?"

For a while, Nitori just stood there, not saying anything, her face like stone...finally, she sighed and lowered her weapon, putting it in her bag's side pocket, "Regardless of what I say, it's not gonna make too much difference at this point. It's over. It's done with. Time to move on already..." Ok, I had mixed feelings on that. On one
hand, it was another sign of just how arrogant she could be, wanting to move on without even acknowledging her own mistakes...on the other hand, she was
willing to move on WITHOUT letting said mistakes weigh her down...unlike yours truly.

"...I have a question for you..." I looked up to Nitori at being addressed, "...What do you intend to do now? Gonna give me one of your "friendship" speeches
and make everything a-okay between us? I know how much you love to talk..."

To her surprise...I shook my head, causing her to blink at me, "No...I can't force you to be friends with me, Nitori...and to be honest, after the things
that have happened lately...I'm not too sure I even want to be friends anymore..." The kappa recoiled in shock...before slumping on the spot, the metallic arms
mimicking her movements. A conflicted expression crossed her facial features, possibly wondering how to respond.

However, before she could, a familiar voice echoed through the air, "MASTER SPARK!" A massive energy beam tore through a weakened side of the
mech's armor, the sight of the blast being enough to spook the fairies into retreating deep into the woods. From out of the smoldering hole, emerged
a familiar figure with a sack on her back, tossing her Hakkero up and down with a grin, "Awww yeah! Still got it!"

She noticed I standing not far from her, "Hey James! Hoping to strip this thing for parts too, are we? Well, help yourself! I already got what I wanted. Oh, here ya go, Nitori!" She reached into the bag and pulled out a small black sphere-like object with gold lines all over it, and tossed it to the kappa.

Nitori cut me off before I could ask, "Relax. It's just a memory drive that I want to decode. I'm not building anymore weapons for the time being..."
She let out a sad sigh as she spun the orb back and forth, "...I suppose you want your precious laptop back too, huh?"

For a second, I was actually tempted to say I did want it back...but seeing the glum look on her face...I groaned, knowing I would regret this, "
can keep it.." She stopped, looking at me with disbelief written all over her face, even Marisa raised an eyebrow, "At least for a couple more days...think of
it as my way of saying thanks for your help back than."

"R-R-Really?!" Nitori looked ready to jump for joy, only to compose herself at the last second, "I mean, uh...good! Good! At least you got enough brains to
repay your debts, human..." Despite her attitude, her cheeks had a hint of red to them as she turned to go, "I'll see ya around, Marisa..." She and I locked eyes for a moment...before she turned away and activated her pack's helicopter function, flying off into the forest.

"You really are too soft for your own good sometimes, you know that?" Marisa admonished as she came up beside me, though she was smiling. Her smile
stiffened a little as she looked in the direction the kappa had flown off. "...Seems like you and Nitori still aren't too fond of each other, huh?"

"If you call being possessive enough over your stuff to point a weapon at somebody "not fond of each other"...yeah, I guess so.." Marisa narrowed her
eyebrows at me, causing me to put up my hands, "Sorry, sorry, I know, gotta cut her some slack and what not...but it's kinda hard to do when the other
side is so keen on painting you as the villain."

"That's fair enough, I suppose," Marisa acknowledged before scratching the side of her head, "I mean, I was gonna say that you seem to have some
skewed priorities, since you were right friendly towards that Mizuhashi girl and yet it seems like you and Nitori tend to walk on thin ice around one another...but
yeah, she's not one to fess up to her mistakes, much...unless there's an Oni around..."

"Trust me, I'm learning that fact the hard way..." I remarked before looking to her, "So, how's your day been so far, Marisa?"

"Great!" The magician put on a cheeky grin, "Got to work on my Mini-Hakkero, shoot some fairies, you know, usual stuff. I'm on my way now to return
a book I borrowed from Alice..."

"Whoa, hold up!" I stopped her, "You...actually returning something you borrowed..." I then pretended to be serious, "Who are you and what have you done with Marisa Kirisame?"

"Oh, shut up, you!" She gave me a friendly punch in the arm, "And for your information, I DO return some of the things I borrow...when I'm in the right mood, of course," She tipped her hat back, still smiling, "So, what about you? You look like you've had a busy day so far."

I proceeded to take a few minutes and fill her in on all that had happened so far. I got a good chuckle out of her when I mentioned how I pulled one over on
Reimu. She seemed genuinely interested in my efforts to help the villagers, and even appeared a tad concerned when it came to talking about Nitori.

She whistled once I was done, "Well, I'll be a youkai's uncle. You're definitely not the kind who likes sitting around,are you? Still...about Nitori...I don't know...I
get why you feel upset...but right now she's probably in much the same spot, frustrated that somebody took advantage of something she valued..."

I nodded as I looked over to where the ruined mech lied, shuddering as my mind briefly flashed back to the torture I had endured...but then for some reason,
I recalled the work she had put into this machine, and how it had all gone to waste. "Say, you think I might've been a little too hard on her...?"

Marisa opened her mouth...and then closed it again, looking off to the side in an uncertain manner, "Um...maybe a LITTLE bit, yeah. Sure, she did some
stupid stuff...but I'd like to think she simply didn't know any better, and for all I know, the Moriya gang made her an offer she couldn't refuse. Also, I don't
want to sound like a jerk but...Kappa having big egos is kind of a trait they all have, so in that regard, Nitori's not a unique case..."

"I see..." I kept my eyes on the massive machine. I still wasn't fond of the kappa but...having something you valued so highly being taken and twisted to
suit someone else's end goals...that would be a major blow for most people.

"Hey..." Marisa came up and put a hand on my shoulder, "Let's not dwell on it too much, ok? How about you come with me to see Alice and maybe have a
bit of tea? You look like you need it." Ladies and gentlemen, more proof that Marisa Kirisame has a good side to her!

"Yeah, sure. Let's-" However, before anything could happen, I spotted something over her shoulder, "Wait...what's that?" I walked past her to get a closer
look and saw a figure huddled in the bushes, "Umm...hello?" The figure stood up and...I swore I saw a flash of green, "...Parsee?" The figure took off, "W-Wait!"

I took off running but the entity was fast. Also, all the luggage I carried wasn't helping things. However, before I could call out again, someone grabbed my
bag, stopping me in my tracks, "Whoa, hang on there, cowboy!" I fell on my rear as Marisa walked out in front of me, hand on her waist, "Sorry partner, but
you ain't running off on your own on my watch, especially around here."

"But Parsee.." I pointed to the place I had seen her, "She was standing right there...I'm sure of it! I only wanted to talk to her, that's it!"

"Parsee?" Marisa rose an eyebrow and glanced over to the trees before looking back at me, "You positive you saw her, or do you think your mind was playing tricks on you?"

"I...I..." I slumped on the spot and sighed deeply, "...I don't know...this is all getting so messed up that I feel my mind's become stuck in the Twilight Zone..."

"James.." Marisa bent down to my level, worry etched on her facial features, "It's ok...If it was your mind playing tricks, I wouldn't be surprised. The miasma here
is strong, and it takes a long time to build up a resistance to it. Even a mild exposure to it can make you see things that aren't there. Just drink any medicine you got on you, and I'll give you a ride to Alice's. I won't even charge ya this time." She smiled and winked.

"Marisa..." I nodded and pulled out the medicine, yanking off the mask long enough to drink it down and enduring the bitter taste as I felt my head getting a bit clearer, "Alright...I'm better now. Thanks."

"No problem," She helped me up and let me take a seat on the broom, "Now, I trust you remember how I like to fly fast, right?" I nodded, "Good...let's hope we get to Alice's before we get caught in the rain!" A quick look at the sky revealed clouds had consumed the rest of the light in the sky, meaning we were in for a downpour. Remembering whom I was riding with, I hung on tight.

With that, we took off into the depths of the forest...

Marisa hammered on the door to a simple one-story house as me and her stood under the roof siding to block out the rain droplets, "Yo, Alice! You got company! Open up before we drown out here!"

"Truly,Marisa, you are the master of subtlety..." I remarked as I rolled my eyes, "You sure she's even home?"

"Positive. Trust me when I say she spends most of her days here. Heck, if I didn't know any better, I would say she was a hermit of sorts..." Marisa hammered on
the door once more, "Come on, Alice! Don't make me blow the door off its hinges...again!" Typical Marisa. Solve everything with lasers and explosions.

The door finally opened and I got my first look at the Seven-Colored Puppeteer. She had short blonde hair and green eyes while wearing a type of blue dress with
a white cloth over the top part of it and a pink ribbon. When she saw who was standing before her, she sighed, "You're late, Marisa. You were suppose to have
arrived at least one hour and twenty-five minutes ago."

"Ah, come on, don't be like that, Alice! I came, didn't I?" She gave a dismissive wave, still smiling, "Besides, you of all people know how much I love being fashionably late."

"I suppose that is something I can count on when it comes to you..." Alice stepped aside, "Take off your shoes and come on in. Wait here while I grab some towels..." She walked off without bothering to look back. We did as told and sure enough, she returned soon after, handing us each a hand towel, "And whom might this be?"

I took off my hat and bowed to her, "Good afternoon to you, Miss Margatroid. My name is James White, Outsider. It's nice to meet you."

"Well, at the very least you have manners. Alice is fine though since I'm not big on formalities.." Alice snapped her fingers and several dolls flew in from down the hall, "Since you're here, I suppose it's only right I get some tea ready. Go on and make yourselves comfortable." With that, she left us alone.

I rose an eyebrow at Marisa whom only shrugged, "Don't worry too much about her. She simply doesn't get many visitors out this way." She led me into
what looked like a living room with a fire place, some chairs a carpet, and shelves full of books. I took a seat while Marisa dropped her sack next to hers and
collapsed into it, sighing contently.

Alice wandered back in with a plate of steaming hot mugs and her dolls carrying small kettles of what I assumed were milk and sugar. Once we were all
settled away, she dismissed her dolls and took a seat across from her fellow magician, "So, Marisa. I trust you found the text I loaned you informative?"

"Yep! It was a real page-turner too!" Grinning, Marisa pulled out a leather tome and handed it over to the puppeteer, "I took down the notes I needed so
hopefully once I mix them with my tinkering of the Mini-Hakkero, I can cut down on the power cost while still retaining the magical output!"

"Which you will then use to blast your way into Miss Knowledge's library to acquire even more books that you won't return for months on end..." Alice
sighed and blew on her tea before taking a sip, "You never change, do you Marisa?"

"Of course not! Why would I change when I'm happy with whom I am?" I winced at hearing this which didn't go unnoticed by the magician, "Hey, you ok James?"

"Y-Yeah, I'm fine," I nodded, trying to smile, "I've a lot on my mind right now," I stood up while still carrying my tea, "Say, it ok if I go for a walk? Don't worry, I promise not to "borrow" anything without your permission."

Marisa looked over to Alice who was quiet for a couple seconds, looking at me as if she could somehow read my mind, before nodding, "Very well. Go where you please, as long you avoid any rooms with a sign on them."

"Thank you," I stood up and walked out of the room, feeling like an idiot once again. Was I coming down with PTSD or something? I thought I was over all this and
yet for some reason, I felt like a switch had gone off in my mind back there. I needed to clear my head so I decided to walk about the house as the two proceeded to
chat about magic or whatever it is magicians discuss. I walked down a hallway and turned to see a number of dolls doing some dusting and light cleaning...and that's when it hit me...

Oh my gosh, so many cute dollies! I squealed internally as I fidgeted on the spot at seeing them all...before quickly composing myself to make sure no one had seen
that. Nope, nope. Keep it together, James. This is not the time for squealing and what not. You are sharp, focused, intelligent, respectable and- My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by someone tugging on my arm, "Relax, Miss Alice, I'm not Marisa, so you got no worries about me taking your stuff." Another tug, "...Miss Alice? Could you please stop that? It's getting on my-" I stopped at finally seeing whom it was, "Oh...hello there."

A pair of dolls floated before me, having been the ones to tug on my attire. Both of them looked very similar to the others I'd seen. Each looking like a miniature Alice only wearing long violet-colored dresses with white sleeves and black shoes plus bows in their hair. The only thing separating them was that one had a red bow and the
other's was blue. These two were likely Shanghai and Hourai, perhaps the closest that Alice had gotten in her research on creating dolls that could think for themselves.
"Guess you didn't want me to bother the other dolls, huh?" They each shook their heads,"Ok, sorry."

I walked off down the other hall, lost in my own thoughts...only to get the feeling someone was behind me. I turned and saw the two dolls were still following
me. I rose an eyebrow,"I don't mean to be rude but don't you two have anything better to do than follow some random stranger around?" The two dolls glanced
at each other before shaking their heads,"Yeah,I guess you guys don't exactly have too much to do around here aside from help your master with whatever
she needs. That, and...well, I guess being a stranger is good enough reason to keep an eye on me, considering who else is here..."

Shanghai tilted her head and floated over before poking at my bag, "You want to know what's in my bag?" She and Hourai nodded. I dropped the knapsack
and unzipped it, "Alright, but don't expect anything fancy..." I brought out the spools of thread, the clock and a couple of the tomes I'd found. The pair of
dolls actually showed a surprising level of interest, poking and prodding at whatever they could. Even if these guys hadn't achieved full sentience yet, it was
still rather adorable. I actually chuckled at one point.

I picked up one of the spools and turned it over, "I guess your master goes through a lot of this stuff, doesn't she?" Shanghai and Hourai nodded, "Well, if
you want, we can see if she'd like to have them. I certainly won't get any use out of them..." When I looked up for an answer, the two had already scooped up
the spools and flew off with them, "W-Wait! Those are still technically mine!"

I followed them back to where the living room was...only to catch the last snippets of the magicians' conversation, "So, have you given it anymore thought?"
It was definitely Alice.

Marisa could be heard sighing, "..I have but...I'm still not entirely sure. I mean, becoming immortal is one of my life goals as a magician but...I'm not too
sure I'm ready to give up being human to do so."

"Just because you become a "complete" magician doesn't mean you have to give up the things that made you human, Marisa," Alice's voice was laden with
concern but a hint of irritation too, "You can still solve incidents like you use to, go around annoying everybody and taking their stuff, none of that will change.
You'll simply have...more time for it, that's all. Besides, you don't see me or Miss Knowledge going around eating people or terrifying them to stay alive, do you?"

"Of course not. You guys are better than that," Marisa retorted rather abruptly, "But...we come from two completely different worlds, Alice. You know how
proud I am of being human and accomplishing what I have while remaining as I am. Going down the path you're just feels like a giant slap
in the face to all I've worked for.."

Alice was quiet for a bit after this, "...Believe it or not, I do understand where you're coming from. I'd hate to see you give up something you valued so
highly...but at the same time...don't let your fears hold you back from being all you can be. Every living thing goes through change, and trying to stay as
one thing only limits our potential..." She sighed, "But for now, I will say no more on this matter. You still have plenty of time to think it over...besides, I think
we have a snoop here..."

I winced at being caught, "Mr White? It's rude to listen in on other people's conversations..." I leaned out to see Marisa waving at me though Alice appeared
a tad annoyed, "Tell me, would you like it if one of us listened in on your private conversations?"

"N-No...not really..." I bowed my head, a little ashamed now, "S-Sorry...I didn't mean to. I was just coming back and overheard you talking. Don't worry
though, I got no intentions of telling anybody what I heard."

"Yeah, you can trust him!" Marisa chimed in, vouching for me, "He's a big soft-hearted dork and he's one of my biggest fans! Apparently, I'm quite popular on the
Outside! Heck, one of the reasons he even came here was to meet me!" I facepalmed at hearing this. "...What?"

"The Outside?" Her interest piqued, Alice got up and walked toward me, "Elaborate, now."

I sighed and scratched the back of my neck, "It's a long story but to give you the basics, in the Outside World, there's this...series, you could say, that
chronicles this world and those who live in it called Touhou Project. The main "games" or "stories" involve Reimu Hakurei and her friends trying to solve
various incidents like the Scarlet Mist Incident, that one time winter never ended, and so on."

"Interesting..." It seemed the more I talked, the more hooked she got, "And where do I specifically fit into all this?"

"You're one of Marisa's closest friends," I admitted, "Right up there with Reimu. There's a number of theories about you, such as the tome you carry being a powerful relic that you hardly use, but it's commonly believed you didn't originally live here in Gensokyo.." Her eyebrow raised at hearing this, "...You came from Makai, a world created by the Goddess Shinki who was responsible for a previous incident...and there are those who believe you're her daughter..."

"Stop." Her voice was so quick that I automatically shut up. She closed her eyes, as if briefly recalling something from her past. Even Marisa got up to walk
beside her, "That's...that's enough, for now.." She opened her eyes though now she appeared more serious, "Mr White, considering that Marisa appears to trust
you, I will reserve my own judgement of you for the time being...but you must promise me that you will never utter a word of what was said here tonight to
anyone. Especially what you just said..." It was obvious from her tone that this was more a command than a request.

It was enough to make me flinch a little and take a step back, "O-Of course. I promise. I didn't mean to offend y-"

"Perhaps," She cut me off, "But I would advise you, in the future, to use a bit more tact when you reveal such sensitive information. There are those who
would not take well to it..."

Marisa laid a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder, looking a tad guilty herself though still trying to smile, "Easy there, Alice. He simply didn't know any better," She looked to me, "Alice...really doesn't like talking about what happened in the past much..." It was then I got reminded that neither of them were too fond of talking about personal details. Marisa had to deal with Mima, and Alice...yeah..

Suddenly, I winced as I felt something in my chest tighten...and at that moment, I swore my vision went all blurry...and then I spotted something...a golden thread of sorts going from Marisa's chest to shimmered and shined...before the light finally faded along with the string itself. What the...oh my gosh, I really am seeing things, aren't I?

"Deciding to steer us away from the depressing topic, I asked, "Oh yeah, I think your doll friends have something for you."

"For me?" Alice snapped her fingers and Shanghai and Hourai flew in with the spools of thread, "Now where did you two find those? Wait.." She finally noticed my knapsack was still open, "You?"

"Yeah..that's kinda what I was coming to tell you about, that they ran off with the thread before I could stop them..." I looked away, embarrassed, "You can have them, if you want."

"Hmm..." Alice looked to the thread spools, contemplating, "I guess this would save me a trip to the market place...alright, I'll pay you 250 yen for each spool,
and.." She glanced in my bag, "I'll pay you another 1500 for the clock and 500 for each of those books. Does that sound fair?"

I opened my mouth to speak, only for Marisa to put her hand over it, "He'll take it!" She threw me a warning glance to keep quiet. Eventually, I nodded.

We did the trade and now I had another 5000 yen to my name. With the pay from Mr Tanaka added in, it wasn't a whole lot of money, sure, but for my first day of actual work, it was pretty good, in my opinion. I glanced outside to see the sun starting to set, "Huh, looks like the rain finally stopped," I checked my phone, "And it's
close to dinner time too."

"Great!" Marisa adjusted her hat and grabbed her sack, "Hey Alice, why don't you join us for dinner? With all the cash Mr Hero here has got now, I'm sure he
can pay for all three of us!" Wait, I never agreed to that!

"Tempting, but I'll have to pass for tonight," Alice shook her head, though she threw a glance in my direction, "I have some studying I gotta catch up on anyways."

"Alright.." Marisa didn't push the issue and ruffled her hair, "You know where to find me if you need me."

"I'll keep that in mind," She walked over and opened the door for us, "Have a safe night, both of you."

I bowed to her before following Marisa out and onto the broom before flying off. Finally, I asked, "Mind telling me what that was about back there?"

"I was trying to help you out, ok?" She replied, exasperated, "I hate to tell you this but you got some work ahead of ya if you want to get into Alice's good books..."

"Yeah, but you're the one who brought up that whole thing about me and the Outside World, remember?" I reminded her in turn.

Marisa opened her mouth to reply...only to stop herself and look ahead, embarrassed, "W-Whatever...let's just drop it for now and swing by Rinnosuke's shop.
Once I get all this dropped off, YOU can treat me to dinner," She looked back, smirking at seeing how flustered I appeared, "Oh come on..don't tell me you ain't
never wanted the privilege of taking a cute girl out to dinner?"

"Y-You're enjoying this way too much, you know that?!" I exclaimed as she laughed and flew onward, "And I want us to go half and half on the bill, got that?!"

Why did I get the feeling I was gonna be flat broke by the time we were done?

Well, good news? I wasn't flat broke. The bad news? I had quite a dent in my wallet at the moment. Apparently, Marisa had no interest in something simple
like a sandwich. Oh no, she had to go and order herself a huge meal including a huge bowl of noodles, a tray of meat cutlets, skewers holding barbecued chicken,
mochi for dessert, and a couple other things.

Thankfully, I didn't have to pay for ALL of it...just half of it.

Marisa downed the last of her drink and burped, letting out a content sigh, "Ahhh...that was good. I enjoyed that."

"I guess you did, considering you didn't have to pay for most of it..." I had one elbow on the table and was balancing my chin on top of my hand, looking at
her with a rather annoyed expression, "Is there anything else you might like? Or are you finally full?"

"Hmm..." Marisa tapped her chin as she seemingly pondered. At seeing me narrow my eyes, she laughed, "Relax, man. I'm full."

"Alright then..." I looked up at the sky above us, "Seems it's gonna be another nice night for star gazing..."

"Yep. Looks like it..." The two of us spent the next couple of minutes, sitting together and finishing off our drinks. Quiet moments like these were nice.
Just sit back and let the world pass by, "So, I guess you're planning to head home at some point, huh?" I looked over to her at hearing this only to see her
roll her eyes, "Don't look at me like that, James. You've been wearing this expression on your face all through out our meal that basically said "I got something
important to discuss but I don't want to ruin this". Am I right?"

"No use hiding it from you," In a way, I was grateful to her for bringing this up instead of me, "But don't worry, I got no intentions of leaving like tomorrow
or something. I'll be around for a while yet."

"I'm glad to hear that," Her mood seemed to brighten up when I said this, "To be honest, having you here's been fun. I don't really get to interact with
too many Outsiders before they either get themselves killed or decide to head back home cause they can't handle things here, so I rarely ever get to truly
know who they are."

"Yeah..." That matter was a whole other can of worms that I would rather avoid opening for the time being, so I focused on something more relevant, "So,
what's your personal opinion on me eventually leaving?"

Marisa hesitated to answer at first, before finally letting out a long sigh, "...Don't let what I say sway your judgement but...I think you should stay. It might
take a while, sure, but I think you got what it takes to make a good life for yourself here. I mean, you made all these great friends like Cirno, Sanae, Suika,
Tenshi, Alyss, yours truly...heck, I think even Reimu's got a soft spot for you," She smiled again though it looked a bit forced, "And besides...even if it's only
small things, I think you've done some real good since you arrived. Heck, you even managed to stop Mizuhashi without any real magic!"

"You raise some good points..." I acknowledged as I downed my drink, "And I won't ever forget you guys...but..the world outside is still my home. A part
of me belongs out there, and...I guess I feel obligated to go back and make something of myself."

"Sounds more like to me you're afraid," She flicked her hat up as she leveled a gaze at me, "Look..if you're afraid, that's fine. Heck, a bit of fear is healthy,
keeps us from taking stupid risks...but like Alice said, we can't let our fears control us. Even someone as amazing as me has been afraid on many occasions."

"You? The human magician who's taken down gods and demons...afraid?" I was ready to laugh...only to stop at seeing the grim look on her face, "...You're serious. always look so calm and nothing fazes you...I sometimes wanted to be just as strong as you...someone who was happy with herself and
knew who she was..."

"James...I'm still human at the end of the day.." Her smile now looked sad, "Trust me, I was not the least bit calm and composed when you were trapped inside
that machine...and even less so when I learned what Mizuhashi did to you. a way I should be envious of you...I mainly solve things with lots of lasers and
explosions but you got through to that girl when nobody else even wanted to try, aside from Alyss...and you did it by being you," She chuckled, "And to be honest? I think on some level you already know who you just haven't accepted it yet."

"Accepted?" I tilted my head at her, "What you talking about?"

"You really are a soft-hearted dork..." She shook her head, smiling, before giving me a playful punch, "You'll figure it out if you think hard enough. For now,
you should probably call it a night and head on back."

I let out a yawn, "I suppose...all that work and fresh air really takes the good out of ya. I'll go pay for the food, and I'll be seeing ya."

"See ya later, friend." With a wave, she dropped off the money for her half of the bill and walked off.

I got up, paid for the bill, and then started my walk towards the gate, stopping to observe the stars for a bit. I knew I should've gotten moving, return to
the VR headquarters while there was still light out...and looking back, maybe I should've, cause then I might have avoided running into a certain someone.

Some footsteps could be heard behind me. I didn't skip a beat, "Sorry Marisa. If you want a snack for the road, you gotta pay for it yourself..." No answer,"...Marisa?"
Again, no answer, "Ok, you're starting to creep me out a bit. What's th-" I turned..and suddenly stopped at seeing who it was, "Oh...hello."

"Good evening to you, Mr White," Before me was a familiar silver-haired woman dressed in a french maid outfit. Sakuya Izayoi. "I see you're doing well."
Despite her words, she was wearing more of a neutral expression than a smile, as if she were silently evaluating me.

"Yeah, I'm fine..." Strange, for some reason I felt a bit on edge around her right now, "Listen, I'm sorry to do this to you but I've had a long day so if it's ok
with you, I gotta head back to where I'm crashing. Nice seeing you again though," I bowed my head before turning to go..only to stop at seeing her right in
front of me, blocking my path! "W-Whoa!"

"I'm afraid I can't allow that, Mr White," Her words were stern, almost cold, "At least not until I have done what I came to do. My mistress personally requested
this and I intend to see her will fulfilled."

Alarm bells were going off in my head. Something wasn't right about her this time, no pun intended. "...Alright..what is it Miss Scarlet wanted?"

At seeing I was listening, the oppressive air around her lifted slightly,"My mistress asked me to pass along a message...she wishes to have your word that
you will stay out of events that don't personally concern you, nor will you do anything that will affect the stability of this world."

I rose an eyebrow at her, "Your master sent you all this way to make a bizarre request like that?" Her eyes narrowed and I quickly put up my hands, "Ok, ok!
Take it easy, would you?" I sighed as I avoided her gaze, "...I'm sorry but that is not an easy request she's asking for. I've learned I have a habit of doing things
that people tell me not to, or getting involved when a situation goes bad..."

"Then I suggest you learn to curb that habit and quickly," Her words were so cold that I was surprised that the temperature didn't drop, "Perhaps you need
a reminder but there is a very delicate balance in this world and we ALL are meant to do our part to maintain it, whether we like it or not," She closed her
eyes, "Regardless of how good your intentions are, if your actions end up meddling with that balance, the consequences will be most severe..."

I found myself gnarling my teeth. Boy, did I hate that type of thinking. That the concept of "balance" was worth any price, "...I get that, I really do...but
in all honesty...if there's a bad situation going on and I have the ability to do something about it...I can't just turn the other cheek.." Her eyes opened
and boy,she did not look happy, "...You can glare at me all you want, but I refuse to let you or anyone else tell me how to live my life."

"There's that attitude again..." Sakuya sighed as she looked upwards, as if seeking some invisible entity for guidance, "...Do you have any idea how many
times I've seen your type? People who think they alone are in control of their lives and can surpass all the odds stacked against him? I'll tell you where they
end up...they end up dead, or worse, they drag others down with them..." She leveled her gaze at me again, "I am telling you this for your own good too, Mr White. Your way of doing things has been tolerated up till now because of unique circumstances...but that has ended. You have two choices from here...either Adapt, or Leave."

I massaged my temples as I did my best to keep calm, "...And if I don't like those options?"

"Then that is your problem. Not ours," For a moment, I swore I saw a hint of red in her eyes, "You might not agree, but this is what is best for everyone."

I sighed and hefted up my bag, "You keep telling yourself that, Time Lord. I'm sure it helps you sleep great at night," I went to walk past her and got
about ten feet...before she popped into view right in front of me, causing me to yelp and fall on my rear. "...I'm not getting rid of you, am I?

"Not until I have finished..." She leaned over me and I swallowed a lump in my throat. Boy, was she menacing up close, "And I would suggest you watch
your tongue. There are many youkai who would've gutted you long before now if you showed them that kind of attitude."

"I don't respect someone just cause they have power..." I spat back, "I respect them cause of who they are...and cause it's proper manners...but mostly
the former." Boy, I was digging my own grave here, wasn't I? "Besides...if I didn't know any better...I would say your master had a hand in the previous incident, did she?"

Sakuya stood up and took out her pocket watch, observing the time, "Even if that were true, and I'm not saying it is, what good would that knowledge do for you?"

I shrugged before getting up, "Call it curiosity if you want...I would ask what she hoped to get out of it but I guess we both already know the answer to that?"

"Perhaps..and perhaps not..." Sakuya pocketed her watch, "I am not privy to every single one of my Mistress' secrets...and I certainly wouldn't reveal them to
someone like you, human," The way she said that last word had such venom in it I actually took a step back, "I am but a simple servant to my mistress for as
long as she needs me. Nothing more. But we have gotten off-topic...what do you intend to do?"

I frowned at her and shook my head,"Tell your mistress that I won't interfere on the condition that people aren't being made to suffer or being put in
harm's way. If that happens though...all bets are off. I'm sorry but that's the best she's getting."

"So, the reality I've informed you of means nothing to you?" She quizzed.

"Oh, it means something, alright.." I pulled out my fedora and slipped it on, "I just don't think that "Balance" should come at the cost of needless suffering, that's all."

"...That is a dangerous way to think, Mr White, and very unrealistic," No mistaking it now. There was red in her eyes, "Regardless of what you think, you
are not as in control as you may disagree with what has been done to keep things in balance but I assure you, without those actions that have
been taken, this world would've collapsed long ago...and if you threaten that stability in any way...your story will NOT have a happy ending."

I scowled and turned away. Yes, I had to see things from the other perspective...but I couldn't just ignore my own opinions either! "...Tell Miss Scarlet
what I told you...and that my actions WON'T destroy this world...she has my word on that."

"You say that but I wonder if you can keep it.." She took out a knife and flipped it between her fingers, "Tell me one last thing...have you noticed how
easy it is to draw others to you?"

I rose an eyebrow at this, "Not really...I just thought they appreciated being treated with kindness and all that."

"So naive..." She sighed and put away her knife, "I don't know how but you managed to acquire a circle of powerful allies in a short period...that which allows you to draw people to you and drive them to be more...there is no doubt in my mind you have the potential to be very dangerous."

I finally lost it, "I thought I told you! I'm not going to destroy this world that my friends live in! I'll die before I let that happen!" Suddenly, a flash of
silver and I froze at seeing a knife in my face, only inches from my eye.

"...Are you prepared to die for them, I wonder?" Sakuya asked me, "Does your love for them really stretch that far?" Both of us stood there like statues
for the longest time. Eventually, she pulled her knife away and the air around us returned to normal, "I suppose we'll just have to wait and see...for now,
as long my mistress deems you a guest, you will be treated as such..." She stepped back a couple paces, "Remember what we talked about here...for you
will not receive a second warning..."

"Good evening to you, Mr White." With a pop, she was gone...and I was alone.

After a few moments, I finally managed to shake off the paralysis and look around, making sure there were no more surprises. It took a few more minutes, but
I managed to calm down enough to start moving again and walk onward.

Well, if there was one thing I learned from was that the rest of my stay here was not going to be boring.

Author's Note: Phew. Well, good news about this chapter? It didn't take FOUR FLIPPING MONTHS!...It only took one month, give or take a day or two. XD

With this, the next arc has taken off...and you may have noticed a small tonal shift in the story...and the reality that things aren't as honky dory in
Gensokyo as one might think...then again, anyone who's read Forbidden Scrollery probably expected that...also, this chapter features the debut of one of my first actual, "NPCs" Mr Tanaka who is...going to be semi-important at some points...

Regardless, that's it for this chapter. Next one is...well, it's going to be special, let's put it that way XD

Hope you enjoyed this, and I'll see you next time!