A quick piece I wrote a while back to keep me in writing shape, which I avoided posting because the flood of questions about summer camp would have driven me batty. Now that I've progressed in that, I can post this with less worries.
Hatate shivered beneath the glare of the mighty youkai. She was almost regretting her choices, but she had to stand strong. She was a tengu! She would fight on no matter what.
"So great youkai sage, I need your help getting to the outside world for a bit," she managed to spit out.
Yukari slowly fanned herself while looking down at her. "So, just so I'm clear as to your insanity, you want me to go out of my way to punch a hole in my perfectly maintained barrier, so that you may take Komeiji Satori on a date?" The gap youkai snapped her fan shut and began tapping it against the palm of her hand.
"Yeah, that sounds about right," Hatate admitted.
The purple clad woman just sat there for a minute, gazing down on Hatate with golden eyes. Finally she spoke. "I'm almost impressed. You have to know I despise Satori. And before today I assumed you were bright enough to realize I usually considered you a minor annoyance, if I bothered to consider you at all. But you seem actually convinced that somehow I'll listen to this ridiculous request. Why is that?"
Hatate took a deep breath. "Because if you do I'll owe you a favor. A big one."
"Hm?" Yukari's eyes widened a little at that. "Oh my. Do you know what you're saying little tengu? That's the type of talk that will get you killed in a few hundred years."
"Maybe." Hatate glared back at the ancient youkai. She hated how people that age questioned her determination and knowledge. "But maybe I care enough about the trip to take that chance."
Yukari opened her fan again to conceal her face and looked down at Hatate again. This time however the judgment was a little more curious. "Hm... Did Ran tell you how to bargain with me? No, she wouldn't have known it would work. Perhaps that little wolf tengu? But no, she's too straightforward."
The gold eyed youkai chuckled. "Well I suppose it doesn't matter in the end. Alright I'll do it." Hatate's heart leaped up into her chest, but flopped back down immediately as Yukari raised a finger. "But! You will perform three small favors for me, and answer a question."
Hatate hesitated, then nodded. "Agreed." Technically Yukari was asking for more than what she offered, but small favors were much easier to refuse.
"First the question. Why?" Yukari folded her fan. "Why go all this way for a date?"
"Huh?" Hatate looked at the youkai sage. She had no idea why Yukari was asking that. But since she was bound to answer… "Well..." She blushed and looked away as she tried to put her thoughts into words. "I mean, well our relationship isn't really going anywhere." Hatate sighed and slumped at the words. "It's not like I'm bored or anything, and really given we annoy each other all the time we're doing great but... we're always just hanging out at her place. I like being with her and all, but it's always the same thing." Hatate began flipping her phone open and closed in frustration. "Like, she can't go wandering out on the surface because of your stupid rules, and I can't officially be seen with her in the underground so that's out. So we need to do something big to like shake things up!"
Yukari blinked a few times then slowly brought her fan up to her brow. "That explanation was both terrible and made no sense. I should have known." Hatate fumed at the youkai sage's condescension, but there was little she could say right now.
After a while Yukari opened her eyes again. "Oh well, a deal is a deal. In any case I'll tell you the first favor you must perform." The fan snapped down to point at Hatate. "You must publish a story about your date."
Hatate froze. "What?"
"Sorry, was I not clear?" Yukari rolled her eyes. "Your date, write it up. Make it a travel piece or a personal piece or an art piece or whatever, but I want you to make it clear to all Gensoukyo you are going out with Satori Komeiji."
The enormity of the request hit her like a boulder. Tengu were allowed to have affairs with other races when they were young, but Hatate was around the age when she was supposed to be settling down with another tengu. Openly dating someone who wasn't a Tengu was a sure way to draw odd looks. Not to mention satori were nearly universally loathed and despised for their powers. Admitting her girlfriend could rip surface thoughts right out of people's heads would not only make her look extra weird, it could forever taint her reputation as a reporter.
"Fine whatever," Hatate snapped. She wasn't going to hide her feelings just for a bit of status.
"Hm..." A faint smile appeared on Yukari's lips. "My, you really do love her. This is far more entertaining."
The purple clad youkai idly grabbed a book and threw it at Hatate. She easily caught the missile then looked at the front cover in confusion. "Learning French volumes one and two? The hell is this?"
"I'm not stupid enough to send a satori to a country where the populace will understand her usual speech," Yukari replied bluntly. "She'll spew out whatever's in their heart, and this little farce will end up in a fight. So instead you're going to Paris. Lucky you. Hope you can learn the language fast."
Hatate rolled her eyes and pocketed the book. "I'm a crow tengu. Don't insult me."
"You really didn't need to do this," Satori said again as the two of them waited for Yukari to arrive.
The diminutive youkai had worked to straighten out her hair better, and had changed to boots that were more appropriate to the season up top. Most importantly Satori had added a modern style jacket to hide away her third eye. Hatate thought she looked cute in the outfit, though it helped that she was blushing. It was really hard to make Satori flustered enough to blush.
"I still think I did," Hatate said. "You can say you don't mind sitting around in your house and uh... talking every date, but I don't believe it."
"Well, I'm not sure if I'd ever get bored with having long personal talks followed by kinky sex," Satori replied, "but I can see you feel a little differently. And I have to admit, I like the idea myself."
Hatate blushed and just shook her head. She'd slowly gotten used to Satori reading her unspoken words and answering them, but some things were still embarrassing to hear out loud.
"That's part of what makes you cute," Satori whispered as she moved to kiss Hatate's cheek.
"Alright lovebirds, your train is here." Yukari plopped out of a gap causing Hatate to squawk and mentally curse. "You've got forty eight hours, and a thousand euros." The gap youkai held out one of the 'debt' cards that had replaced money in the outside world. "Don't spend either all in one place."
Hatate recovered herself enough to snatch the card. "Don't you usually send Ran for these little excursions?"
Yukari just opened the boundary. "Don't question, just go."
Satori nodded. "Ah, you're trying to make Aya jealous so she'll make a move at Ran. It won't work, but I understand the effort." Yukari snarled as Satori took Hatate by the hand. "Thank you for this."
Hatate recovered enough to start through the portal. "Yeah, thanks and later."
She was rewarded with one last sigh from the boundary youkai before the gap swallowed her up and spat her out into a weakly lit stone passageway, Satori at her side. The strange flow of air told the tengu they were underground. The fact that the walls were niches filled to the brim with bones told them they were in a catacomb. "What the heck? Why here?"
"Ah, I don't think this is actually an insult," Satori said. "It must be easier to link the old hell to places where death is revered. And down here we're unlikely to bump into anyone when we enter and leave."
Hatate frowned, but conceded the point. It still wasn't the first place she'd expected to see in Paris though.
Letting her mind calm down a bit though she started to see the charm of the place. Sure bones were bones, but the effort and ritual the humans spent to build this resting place for their bodies was interesting. And the little touches here and there showed that the workers had a sense of humor as well. A heart made out of skulls looked at them from across the way.
"A fitting start for a date among youkai," Satori said as she moved to stand next to Hatate.
"Yeah," Hatate agreed. She reached out and took the other woman's arm. "Still there's a lot more to see."
"Yes there is," Satori replied with a smile. "We're going to... the Louvre first?"
Hatate nodded as she pulled out a map. "Let's see if we can figure out where we are then use this metro nonsense. Man, not being able to fly is such a pain."
As the two youkai emerged from the catacombs the other reason Yukari probably dropped them down there became evident. The noise of the city was like a open hand slap to Hatate. It wasn't the people really, though there were more people wandering around then anywhere in Gensoukyo that wasn't having a festival. It was those strange cars that the humans were driving around. The noise of their engines and the rattling of the larger ones made the city loud indeed.
Next to her Satori winced a little and rubbed her eyes. Hatate mentally kicked herself. This was the first time in two years the other woman had been above ground, and she knew that Satori avoided both loud noises and crowds.
"It's fine," Satori said with a weak smile. "I don't hate the sun. And I should be able to handle crowds for a little bit. I'll be fine." Satori patted her on the arm. "Let's go. We can find someplace quiet for lunch." She blushed. "Ah and if I start replying to people's hearts under my breath just ignore me."
Hatate hesitated a bit, but eventually gave in. "Alright. But don't push yourself too much, okay."
It turned out that the metro system wasn't that hard to figure out at all. The tickets were a little difficult, but Hatate's experience with Kappa technology allowed her to piece it together after a few faulty starts.
The ride over was slow, but not as slow as walking. And the short trip did show them an interesting view of the city, both old and new. Hatate was surprised at how different European architecture was to Japanese design. And the random switching from generally clean streets of boutiques to generic blocky apartments with graffiti was an odd sight.
"It's always easy to forget these cities are real," Satori said quietly beside her. "I've read so many stories, but the reality is always different."
"I wonder if there's a mythical Paris out there? Like our Gensoukyo, or Baghdad the City of Wonders?" Hatate mused.
Satori glance at her in surprise, then smiled. "I wonder." Satori turned back towards the city. "But I'd rather visit the real one first."
Hatate's further musing was cut short as the rail line dipped below the ground. Instead she turned her attention to the metro maps. "Ah. It's the next stop."
As they reached the metro stop Hatate reached down and took hold of Satori's hand again. Both of them were fairly short, and the station here looked a lot more crowded than the sparse platforms where they had got on.
"I'll make sure not to get lost," Satori replied with a smirk. Hatate blushed again but didn't release her grip.
They made it out of the metro station with little incident, other than Satori muttering to some old guy chattering on his phone that he really shouldn't be lying to his mistress. Fortunately the guy didn't know Japanese. After that it was a pretty simple walk out of the station and across the street.
"Whoa," Hatate said as they rounded the corner and found the front of the building. Her hand instinctively fished up her cell phone camera and took a picture. The entry plaza was pretty, but even more than that, it was a beautiful anachronism. The pyramid of glass and light in front of a very formal european palace made for an interesting juxtaposition.
"A little like having a Meiji era village with cellphones?" Satori asked.
Hatate winced. "Well, I mean, honestly I have to say this is cooler. I mean cellphones are easy. This takes work." She thought for a moment. "Maybe if the kappa actually made that Hisoutensoku robot or something?"
"I think you might have spent a bit too much time chatting with that Sanae girl," Satori replied.
Hatate's retort was cut off as a tour bus stopped next to them. Seeing Satori's grimace the tengu hurried over to the lines.
It took them a good five minutes to work through the queue. Satori spent most of the time with her eyes closed and muttering to herself, while Hatate did her best to flutter around without actually fluttering. Finally they made it to the front where Hatate managed to compose herself enough to ask for the tickets in French before dragging Satori over to a quieter corner, mentally kicking herself all the while.
"I should have known this was dangerous," she muttered to herself as she rubbed the shorter woman's back.
"It's not your fault," Satori replied weakly. "It's no worse then when all my pets come to see me. I just need a breather."
Anger washed over Hatate. "Don't lie to me! This isn't like when your pets all visit at once." She turned away. "Damn it Satori, I need you to tell me the truth about your feelings. I can't read your heart." Sometimes she wondered what the hell she was thinking.
"I don't know. Did you think dating a satori was going to be easier?" Satori snapped.
Hatate fumed at the constant refrain. She hated it when Satori pulled that card on her. It was so-
Hatate slumped and took a deep breath. She wondered again if this was the right choice.
She felt Satori's arm fall on her shoulder. "That's why I was afraid to speak my own mind. I don't want you worrying about this. I want to be here."
Hatate lightly covered Satori's hand. "Are you sure?" This wasn't what she'd planned.
"I'm sure." Satori squeezed her shoulder. "Reality will never be as perfect as your dreams. But I want to see it anyway."
She gave Satori's hand a return squeeze, then wiped her eyes before turning to face her lover. "Alright. Let's start off in the smaller exhibits then. We can visit the bigger exhibits right before we leave."
"And you've got a quieter place we can visit afterwards? Good idea." Satori nodded, then pointed towards the stairwell. "Why don't we start with the Egyptian relics then?"
Hatate broke off a piece of the local bread and used it to scoop up some jam before eating it. "This is pretty good," she said. "I wonder how hard it is to bake?"
"Getting the wheat might be hard," Satori said lightly as she nursed a cold coffee drink.
The rest of the Louvre tour had turned out pretty well, aside from their rush through the most famous exhibits. Hatate had taken tons of pictures of the artifacts and paintings. Meanwhile Satori had regaled her of the various histories behind each of the works, either from the many books she'd read or by stealing the info out of other people's hearts. It was amazing how much more interesting art was when you knew the stories.
"It's a lot like reporting and writing isn't it?" Satori said as she smeared butter on her own half of the baguette. "It's not just the facts. It's the story. A record of the lives and emotions of others."
Hatate thought over it for a moment. "Yeah. I guess you're right. I mean, no one's gonna care about a picture of some woman who's kinda smiling. I can get those anywhere. It's the story that makes the picture important."
The two walked on in silence for a bit more, enjoying the view. The streets here were much quieter, along the banks of the Seine, and the river itself was gorgeous. Hatate could understand why there were so many amateur painters on the riverside.
"So why Notre Dame as a quieter place?" Satori asked.
"Eh?" Hatate looked over to her date. "Ah! Well uh, I figure it's gotta be kinda quiet because it's a church. And well, the pictures I got... well you'll see when you get there."
"It looks like my palace?" Satori raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. "Well, that does sound interesting. And the streets around here are nice."
They finished their lunch as they crossed the bridge to the island. Now that they were close enough Hatate didn't need the map. The giant cathedral stood out, its intricately carved grey walls and minarets looming over the rest of the city. It was the second biggest building Hatate had seen, barring the palace of the earth spirits, and she could tell it was taller than Satori's home by a few stories.
The crowds picked up a little here in front of the tourist attraction, but the part in front of the building was sizeable, and youkai had better eyesight than humans. Hatate led Satori to a spot a decent distance away so they could look over the saints and angels carved into the front. Hatate flipped out her phone as Satori began explaining the imagery. "Those there are the apostles-"
Suddenly Hatate felt a chill wash over her. She instinctively raised her camera and looked up towards the rooftop. There, peering down at her were several twisted stone statues, with grotesque faces and odd bodies. They looked more like demons then angels.
"Gargoyles," Satori said quietly. "They were made as wards against evil creatures. Strange, I didn't expect them to react to us."
Hatate snapped a picture of them just in case, but there was no reaction from her camera's spiritual energy stealing function. "They just there to creep us out or something?"
"Probably that's all they can do. They have no hearts or minds," Satori said.
"Hmph," Hatate stuck her tongue out at the statues then took some pictures of the front. "Let's get inside. They won't be able to glare at us there."
Satori chuckled lightly and led the way towards the chapel.
Once they entered the dimly lit cathedral Hatate felt the pressure leave her mind. At her side Satori seemed to brighten up a bit more as well. "I see what you meant when you said it looked like home," the other woman said as she looked up at the rose patterned stained glass window.
"Yep!" Hatate allowed herself to preen a bit. Finally something that had actually gone as planned! Sure Satori was right that plans didn't always work, but she had her pride. She refused to accept that nothing would go right!
Satori laughed. "You do always have your pride. I can trust your tengu blood to give you that." The other woman leaned against her arm, taking the sting out of the words. "Still, I like it."
The two grabbed a pew and sat down to rest. Hatate hated to admit it, but this was a lot more walking then she was used to. She had wings for a reason after all.
"It's a good thing we both can depend on youkai endurance," Satori said quietly.
Hatate nodded, then let her eyes and camera wander. "Huh, my spirit photography still works here," she noticed as she snapped a few photos.
"Probably the same reason the blessing didn't affect us. The priests can't accept that we exist, so they can't protect against us. One of the many species of devils on the other hand would probably have a hard time." Satori leaned back against the hardwood bench. "The faith in the gargoyles is a little more broad."
Hatate frowned. "That reminds me. How come there are so many different hells worth of devils? I mean I know why we don't count but..."
"Hm... Well from what I've read off Kanako that's related to how all this came about," Satori said, gesturing to the cathedral. "The war god of a pantheon decided they were going to take over the position of all the gods and get rid of all their competition. And he sort of did."
"Sort of did?" Hatate blinked in confusion. "How do you sorta become head god?"
"He killed most of the other gods, and the surviving gods and demigods either accepted his rule or were cast into hells." Satori sighed. "And then he found that it's easy to convince people to believe in a creator with your name, but that doesn't actually make you the one true god."
Hatate thought about it for a moment. "Huh. I don't really get it, but that does explain the devil bit." She looked over at Satori again. "Why'd Kanako tell you all that anyway?"
Satori opened her eyes. "Well it was part of her lessons on the care and feeding of gods. Since Utsuho occasionally gets a little overconfident."
"You know, it's still kinda weird knowing you keep the sun god as a pet," Hatate said, turning her gaze back to the cathedral's architecture.
"It's still weird keeping a sun god as a pet," Satori muttered. "Especially a sun god who hasn't really learned much from the experience other than nuclear physics."
Honestly Hatate still wondered how Satori managed to keep sentient youkai as pets to begin with, but they'd had that conversation before and in the end it just seemed to be another satori thing. The best Hatate could hope for was corvid solidarity.
"Hm, well my definition of pet is a little different from what you consider as well, but as you said, we had this conversation before." Satori stretched and stood. "I'm feeling better now. Why don't we finish looking over the interior before walking through the city a little more?"
"Sure thing," Hatate said as she hopped to her feet.
Hatate stretched as they left the restaurant. They'd spent a fair amount of time wandering the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter before hunting down a nice quiet and dark restaurant. Hatate had managed to get a seafood platter, while Satori had ordered a thick stew like dish called cassoulet. Hatate suspected the dish had chicken in it, but kept her peace. Well as much as possible with someone who could read your heart.
"So the next stop is the Eiffel Tower," Satori said. "That's a good choice. It appears so often in books, but they never visit it. I'm curious."
"Yeah! I figured we should go at night to see the city all lit up. It's gotta be cooler that way, ya know?" Hatate replied.
Satori nodded. "So how are we getting there? Oh, the street is just around the corner?"
Hatate turned and pointed. "It looks like it."
The tower was just as impressive as she imagined, glowing brightly in the sky, standing taller than any tree. Past it stood the Arc de Triomphe, glowing under its own light, but dwarfed beneath the tower. Hatate wondered how much power it took to light up the whole structure.
"Quite a bit I imagine, though from what I've read off of Kanako, less than a single reactor," Satori said.
Hatate blinked. "A reactor can make that much power, huh? It's hard to believe."
As they slowly strolled through the park to the monument Satori looked over the structure. "So I take it we'll visit all three of the decks?"
"Of course," Hatate replied. "Yukari's card has plenty of money, and we have to go to the highest floor. I mean, it's the closest we'll get to flying right?"
"I see. Then it looks like we'll have to wait until tomorrow," Satori said, pointing at a sign.
Hatate peered at it. "Observation deck closes at four for maintenance? The heck is that!" The brightly lit tower seemed to be mocking her now. "We won't be able to see the city at night then!"
Satori shrugged. "So it seems. We can always visit tomorrow."
"To hell with that," Hatate muttered. She looked around at the other tourists to make sure none of them were watching, then pulled out her cellphone and punched in some commands that the kappa had shown her.
Satori's eyes widened. "Camera blinding? What? But- Ah-!" Satori gasped as Hatate pulled her close then lept into the sky at speeds only a crow tengu could reach. The brightly lit edifice became a wall of light as she flew upwards, then cut out as she opened her wings and lightly flitted to the top of the observation deck.
"There we are!" Hatate relaxed her grip on Satori slightly, but she kept her arm around the other woman. Being rapidly dragged somewhere by a tengu was a little disorienting.
Satori took a few breaths before shaking her head. "Yukari's going to have a fit. What was that about camera blinding as well?"
"Ah well," Hatate rubbed her head. "I figure the only things that could see us would be cameras and stuff, so I used my own camera to make them blurry."
"Something the kappa probably made to mess with us reporters, hm?" Satori sighed. "Well I suppose it worked for us."
Hatate pouted. "Come on, look at the view!" Turning to look over the city she found herself stunned by her own suggestion. A sea of lights, some moving down the roads, most glimmering in the darkness spread out before her. It was a scene unlike anything in Gensoukyo. Even the bright lights of a festival in the oni city were nothing in comparison.
"It is beautiful," Satori said quietly as she snuggled closer to her.
The two stood there on top of the tower for several minutes, slowly turning around to see all the skyline. "It really is the City of Lights," Hatate said softly.
"Hm," Satori nodded. "Perhaps one day we'll be able to compare it to another city."
Hatate silently agreed, though she wondered if that day would ever come. It would take a lot of blackmail to get the youkai sage to allow them to do something like this again.
"Ah!" Hatate started as she remembered something. "That's right! I've gotta take a photo of us!"
Satori's eyes opened wide and she blushed. "Ah, well, but I don't like photos and..."
Hatate pouted as she looked down at her girlfriend. This was a once in a lifetime photo!
"Well. Since you need a photo for the article." Satori straightened up a bit and pulled at her hair to try to straighten it.
"Right! On three then!" Hatate smiled widely and aimed the camera at the two of them. This one was for great memories!
Hatate groaned as there was another knock on her door. "No comment," she yelled at the visitor.
"I'm not a journalist," Momiji's voice called back.
The table creaked as Hatate pushed herself to her feet, then quickly threw the door open. "Come in fast, before the rest of the vultures see their opening."
The wolf tengu smiled mercilessly, but stepped inside. "So, how's it feel being the one whose relationship is currently under intense scrutiny?"
"I said I was sorry for that Valentine's Day mistake," Hatate cried raising her hands to the uncaring heavens. "Besides this is like a thousand times worse!"
"I thought you'd be proudly proclaiming how love conquers all," Momiji asked, her smile widening.
Hatate slumped back in her chair. "Yeah love conquers all and stuff. It doesn't make all this nonsense suck any less."
"It was somewhat brave of you though," Momiji said as she took a seat. "As a wolf tengu I'm mildly impressed."
"What you don't think I'm just doing this for the attention?" Hatate replied with a roll of her eyes.
Momiji shook her head. "If you were doing it for attention you'd have printed it immediately, like you did when the Taoist trio shot down your drunken advances." Hatate blushed deeply at that reminder. The wolf tengu's harsh smile faded into a serious expression. "No, I think you mean it. Which is why I wanted to congratulate you, sincerely."
"Um, thanks." Hatate idly flipped out her cell phone. "It's easier for me though. I mean, this will blow over eventually."
Momiji's expression grew grim. "No, it won't." The wolf tengu sighed and closed her eyes. "You don't spend a lot of time with the older tengu. They remember the youkai of the underground, and they hate them. Even if our generations don't care, the elders will always view someone with ties to the underground as suspect." Momiji pulled out a small sake bottle from her sleeve. "You should drink to your political career, because it's dead."
Hatate sighed and grabbed the bottle. "Yeah whatever." She poured a cup and handed it to Momiji before scrounging for another one for herself. "My career died when I decided to be a chronicling journalist instead of a reporter."
Momiji gave a light chuckle. "Well that might be true." She sipped the wine. "Though I have to admit, I think I like your new paper more. If nothing else it's different."
"Thanks. That means a lot." Hatate bowed slightly in return. Praise like that did mean a lot to a crow tengu.
"Ah, one more thing," Momiji tossed an odd key onto the table. "A… mutual friend was so moved by your story she… stole this key. It should get you through the wards on the reactor elevator."
Hatate picked up the gift. There was no way it was stolen, given the only people who used the elevator didn't have to worry about wards, but that just meant no one would complain. "Tell her thanks for me. I'd text her myself but she's being all cloak and dagger about it so…"
Momiji rolled her eyes. "I told her no one would believe that story, but she insisted."
Hatate giggled, than smiled as a thought hit her. "Hey that's right! Now that the stories out we can totally chat about our romances! Come on, I want to hear all the details."
"What!" Momiji's tail bristled. "Not a chance! Especially not while you've got your cell phone out!"
"Come on Momiji. This'll be totally off the record. I promise-"
And so the two friends talked and fought well into the night.