Moisture gathered on the stalactites, condensing and gathering at the tip, reflecting the distant flickering of light. The droplet would grow in size before finally releasing itself from the ceiling of the cave, and it would fall, the glittering light it mirrored giving it the appearance of a falling jewel. It would land on the girl's neck and slide into the small pool cradled by her collarbone. Another would follow its path, and another. She no longer noticed the frigid temperature of the drops, or of the pool she drifted in. This was Parsee's home, and she hated it.
Her arms were outstretched, floating and still. At the end of her left hand, there was a steady point of light, the path to the world above ground. To her right, there were many small, glittering lights, the city where the oni dwelled. But those were not places she belonged, nor were they places she would be accepted. Her only home was here, the dark damp cave connecting the two. Her only fate was to watch those who would cross from the shadows. She despised it, she clenched her fist and she glared at the dripping water.
She heard voices. Oni from the city below crossing her "bridge". She hated calling it that. She wasn't even granted a physical bridge she could live under; just a dingy cave between a city of parties and a dazzling overworld.
She recognized the oni as they passed. The shorter one, showing off her cute looks, always mostly drunk, carrying around that fancy gourd. The taller one, a well-toned beauty showing off her legs with that translucent skirt. They both would ramble loudly, and occasionally the tall one might nod in Parsee's direction as she passed. Parsee couldn't stand it. Why were those two able to move from place to place and not her? Why were those two allowed to party and not her? Why were those two so pretty and not her?
There was a muffled sound of wood clunking against rock, a yell and Parsee suddenly found her vision obscured. In the next instant, a great weight was pulling her down, and water began flooding her mouth and lungs. Instinctively, she tried to struggle to the surface, but the thing dragging her down was too heavy for her to move. Something grabbed her, and she found herself being moved about the pool. Her head broke the surface and she immediately began coughing up water. Whatever else was in the water lifted Parsee up, and set her at the edge of the pool's basin.
"Sorry about that!" The voice came from in front of her, bringing with it the sweet smell of sake. Parsee wiped the excess water from her eyes and opened them. The taller oni was beaming at her. "You okay?"
Parsee clutched at the wet clothing clinging to her chest and nodded slightly.
"Yuugi!" The smaller oni called from the other end of the cave, waving a small crate above her head. "Hurry up~! They're gonna drink it all without us!"
The tall oni turned and yelled to the small oni, before turning and staring at Parsee for a moment. Parsee unconsciously drew her arms tighter around her body. The tall oni flashed a bright grin, lifted herself from the water and jogged over to her partner, geta clunking and water dripping all over the place. The two began conversing, and Parsee watched. She wished they would move on. That they would leave her be. It was bad enough watching them move between the above ground and underground. She heard clinking glass, and the taller oni returned holding a dusty bottle.
"Here!" She held it out. Parsee took it silently and rolled it in her hands. There was no label. "It's sake! My way of apologizing." Parsee nodded. "Yuugi Hoshiguma." The taller oni extended a hand.
Parsee hesitated. Slowly she extended her hand and grasped the oni's. Her skin was rough, calloused with hard work Parsee would never experience, fights Parsee would never engage in, parties Parsee would never be able to attend. The oni's grip was firm, a striking contrast from Parsee's weak own.
"Yuugi!" The smaller oni yelled again. "Come oooon!"
"Gotta go!" Yuugi stood to her full height and gave a quick parting wave. "See you later!"
Parsee watched the two depart before observing the bottle in her hands again. Tinted green glass and a clear liquid. She imagined it would be a beautiful spectacle to behold its reflections in light. With some effort, she eventually worked out the cork and put the bottle to her lips. The liquid was oddly dry, filling her throat with a strange burning sensation as she drank it. So this is what they drank? It was strange. Parsee tipped the bottle up again, and she began filling with a warmth that seemed to radiate from her stomach outward.
"Yo~!" The door to the shrine opened, bringing the voice of a tiny oni and the welcome sound of clinking sake bottles from the Ancient City.
"About time." Reimu sighed. "It's not a party without sa—" Reimu paused, observing the two in her entranceway. "Yuugi. May I ask why you are soaked?"
"Oh." Yuugi scratched the back of her head. "I fell in a puddle."
After Reimu forced Yuugi into a side room and into an old, but considerably more dry spare yukata, they rejoined the festivities in a suspiciously large room in the back. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that a large portion of Gensokyo's population were gathered around several tables.
"Well," Reimu answered when Yuugi asked, "When you consider who we drink with..."
They took a seat at a large table in the center. On Yuugi's left, Suika had already let herself go entirely, and was hanging off of Yukari's shoulder. On her right, Remilia was positioned in Sakuya's lap, leaning into the head maid's shoulder and sipping a glass of red wine. Across from her, Reimu took a seat next to Satori.
"So I see we already need to catch up with ya, Suika." Yuugi nudged her fellow Deva in the ribs. Suika said something incoherent and laughed in response, before rolling down Yukari's arm and into her lap.
"Let's hurry up then." Reimu poured some sake into her dish. "Cheers!"
The table shared a round of sake from ornate dishes that Yukari had claimed from "somewhere". The others decided it was probably best not to inquire about it.
"Say, Yuugi." Reimu started suddenly. "Your box was missing a bottle."
"Oh, you noticed?" Yuugi smiled and drank another dish of sake. "Yeah, I gave it to..." Yuugi trailed off and Reimu tilted her head slightly. "Suika, what was that girl's name?"
"The one we saw coming up here. You know, between the Ancient City and—"
"Do you mean Parsee?" Satori spoke up suddenly.
"Uh, kinda short, blond hair, green eyes?"
"Yes. She's the bridge princess who guards the path between the underworld and here."
"Oh." Yuugi scratched her head and poured another dish of sake.
"I recall that girl." Remilia nuzzled deeper into Sakuya's chest. "After the incident a while ago, I got curious and decided to take a stroll into the City. She made the mistake of challenging me to a duel."
"Milady won most splendidly." Sakuya added, rubbing the top of Remilia's head. The vampire smiled and raised her head into the maid's hand, while Satori suddenly looked very uncomfortable and buried her face in another dish of sake.
"Her heart is a very negative one." Satori chimed in, trying to distract herself from Remilia. "It is probably because she is chained to that place."
"Huh?" Yuugi looked up from a Suika who had decided to wrap around Yuugi's midsection. "Chained?"
"Yes." Yukari finally set down her dish and turned to Yuugi with an already red face. "As a bridge princess, she is unable to leave the area she is guarding."
"That sucks." Yuugi filled her dish, passed the bottle to Reimu across the table, and crossed her arms. "Ya can't party living like that."
"Indeed." Satori gazed at Yuugi with calculating eyes. She opened her mouth to speak again before Reimu interrupted.
"This is too gloomy. Let's stop worrying about it and drink some more."
The night wore on, and the conversations remained merry from that point forward. However, Yuugi had begun drinking more and more slowly as the night wore on. Eventually, Yuugi rose from the table and excused herself.
"Goin' alreaaadyyy?" Suika pouted over her new lack of pillow, but quickly concluded that Yukari was acceptable substitute... again.
"Yeah, y'know how those oni are." Yuugi shrugged. "If I'm gone any longer, I might not have a house to come back to!"
"Sounds rough." Reimu was resting her head in her arms. "See you."
Yuugi nodded and waved, exiting the party room without so much as a drunken wobble. It was only when she was putting on her geta at the door that she felt like someone had followed her. She turned to find a small frame of purple standing in the hall.
"Yuugi." Satori's eyes were emotionless and cold. "I would suggest not getting involved with Parsee."
"Wasn't thinkin' anything of the sort!" Yuugi grinned confidently. Satori's expression did not change. Yuugi laughed and ran a hand through her bangs. "Guess there's no lyin' to you, huh? Well, I can't just sit in good conscience while there's someone out there who's not partyin'."
A fleeting grin crossed Satori's face. "An oni talking about good conscience..." She shook her head, and her cold expression returned. "But, even so. Getting involved will only cause pain. To you, and to her."
Yuugi's own face grew more serious as she deliberated Satori's words. What did she mean, exactly? She recalled what they spoke about earlier... a negative heart and bound to a single place. Yuugi wasn't sure why, but the more she thought about it, the less she wanted to listen to Satori's words, and the less her reasoning became about compassion. No, now it was a challenge.
"I see my words have had a different effect than what I have intended." Satori sighed. "Good luck." And with that, she quietly turned and walked into the back of the shrine.
The cave was spinning, so Parsee decided to lay down. The ground was wobbling back and forth. Is this what they subjugated themselves to? On one hand, Parsee felt light, floaty, like she was flying even though she was firmly planted on the ground. On the other, she couldn't keep her balance, nothing would stay still, and she kept thinking weird, disjointed thoughts.
The drink was still radiating a warmth from within her, but it was a lonely warmth. For the first time in ages, Parsee began to wish that she wasn't alone.
It was then she heard the clunking of wood against stone, a steady sound in perfect time. She realized that she was lying in the middle of the path between worlds, and she struggled to her feet. The land lurched beneath her, and she stumbled forward, losing her balance and she slowly tumbled onto her elbows, and for some reason she found this whole thing amusing and started chuckling softly.
"Um. Are you okay?" Parsee recognized the voice from somewhere. It smelled like the sake from before. "Hey..." A hand grabbed her shoulder and rolled Parsee onto her back. "Oh man, your face is really red."
Parsee nodded, and she begun to recognize the woman above her. The purple horn, the great height, the long, silky hair. It reminded Parsee of something. She reached around until she felt the cold, smooth bottle and held it up to the woman.
"I see that." Yuugi smiled. Apparently, this girl wasn't an experienced drinker. She took the bottle from Parsee's hand and set it off to the side. "I can get you more later." She smiled brightly.
"Good." Parsee found herself staring at the oni's smiling face. It was warm, the same kind of warm that still dwelled in Parsee's stomach. Except the oni's warm wasn't lonely like Parsee's warm. She didn't like it. It wasn't fair. Parsee hadn't felt lonliness for so long, and now... "'s all you're fault."
Yuugi cocked an eyebrow. "What is?"
"Everythin'." Parsee rolled on her side away from Yuugi and furrowed her eyebrows. She felt awful and giddy all at once and couldn't make heads or tails of anything. The cave spinning wasn't helping, either.
"You gonna be okay?"
Parsee shrugged in response, still trying to sort out herself. Eventually, she heard Yuugi sigh. The oni kicked off her geta and settled against a large stalagmite. She reached over and hoisted Parsee's head onto her lap, illiciting a small groan from the small youkai. "You lie there, okay? Lemme know if you feel sick." Yuugi smiled down into Parsee's red and bleary eyes.
All Parsee could do was nod. She suddenly felt very sleepy. The oni's legs were firm, and had a softness to them Parsee was not accustomed to. They weren't anything like the rocks Parsee normally rested her head on. They were warm, too. But not like the lonely warmth inside Parsee. She closed her eyes and listened to the oni breathe. Eventually, she began to dream.
Parsee wasn't stiff when she awoke, and that was her first indication that something was wrong. Her recollection of the previous night was foggy at best, dim memories of stumbling about the cave. All because of that bottle that the oni gave her.
That's right, the oni. What was her name...? Yuugi...? Suddenly, she recalled the end of the night, and grimly realized what the soft warm thing her head resting on was. Parsee sat up quickly, running through places to hide in her head. The cave was quite large, there had to be at least one—
Damn it. Parsee turned slowly. Yuugi was waving with her ever-present grin. Parsee stared.
"You sleep okay?"
Parsee deliberated for a moment, still trying to piece together the details of the previous night and determine what this oni wanted. Eventually, she nodded.
"Good, good!" Yuugi gave a firm pat onto Parsee's shoulder. "I woulda given ya' something else if I knew you were such a lightweight." A silence passed between the two. Parsee's stomach rumbled. She wrapped her arms around her stomach and flushed slightly. Yuugi stood. "I'll get some food!"
"No." Parsee's voice was raspy and she cleared her throat. "I'm fine." She stood and walked behind a large boulder stuffed in the corner of the cave. There, the circle of rocks that was her bed, the bed of mushrooms that were her meals, and the sharpened stick she used to hunt what few creatures lived in the cave. She grabbed the stick and a handful of mushrooms.
"What'cha up to?" Yuugi had followed her, and was leaning with one shoulder against a wall. Always smiling.
"Aren't you nosy." Parsee sighed, shoving the mushrooms in her pocket. "Move."
"From the wall. Move." Parsee demanded as she pulled off her shoes and socks. Yuugi stepped away from the wall and watched the girl curiously. Parsee clenched the stick in her teeth, and began scaling the wall. With practiced movements, she scaled the wall, her hands finding memorized handholds. It was a matter of moments before Yuugi lost sight of her in the darkness of the cave.
Parsee took the stick from her mouth and waited. Watched for a sign and listened intently. She took aim and released the stick into the darkness. There was a wet sound as the stick collided with something, and fell to the ground. Yuugi looked to her feet to see that the small youkai had just impaled a bat.
"You're still here?" Parsee asked as she grabbed her socks. Yuugi was surprised at how fast she had descended. "Could you leave? I'm going to eat."
"Uh, right." Yuugi nodded and turned. As she reached the exit leading to to the Ancient City, something occurred to her. "Hey, what's your na—" Parsee paused seconds from biting off one of the wings. "Shouldn't ya... y'know, cook that?"
"I don't see anything flammable around here, do you?"
Yuugi looked around. Parsee was right, there wasn't a single piece of tinder to be found. It was probably a miracle she even had a stick suitable to hunt with. "Right... so, what's your name?" Yuugi figured it was polite to ask, even if she already knew the answer.
"Parsee Mizuhashi." With that Parsee turned away from the oni and focused on her meal.
Yuugi shrugged and headed back to the City. Did that girl really survive off of bats and mushrooms? That wasn't any way to live. Yuugi steadily formed a plan... but first, she should probably return and make sure her house in the City hadn't collapsed or something.
Parsee floated, staring at the drops of water falling from above. That oni was annoying. Such confidence. It wasn't fair. Parsee sighed. It was about time for lunch, but for some reason, she didn't want to hunt another bat...
Parsee yelped and flapped about, splashing water everywhere. She righted herself in the water and saw Yuugi's smiling, water-drenched face leaning over the pool. "W-What are you doing here?"
Yuugi held out a covered basket. "Bats suck, so I thought I'd bring ya lunch."
"What?" Parsee drew back.
Yuugi stood straight and turned, reaching both arms behind her head and dangling the basket behind her. "If ya'd rather have raw bat, that's okay. I can eat all of this on my own."
"Wait!" Parsee's own voice surprised her, but Yuugi turned back smiling as if she expected that reaction. Parsee felt a bit flustered, and wasn't sure what to say. "I guess," she started after a long moment's silence, "I'm sick of bat."
With that, Yuugi whirled the blanket from the top of the basket and laid it flat in a single motion. Parsee withdrew herself from the pool and began wringing water out of the hem of her dress. "Don't worry about gettin' it wet." Yuugi said as she pulled a bottle and two sake dishes from the basket. "'S not mine."
Parsee hesitated for a moment, but took a spot at one end of the blanket. She made a valiant effort to not feel self-conscious about the growing wet spot underneath her. An appetizing scent rose from the basket, and curiously Parsee peered into it. There was a large metal pot full of steaming meat, and a smaller one full of rice. Yuugi reached for the larger pot.
"This heat isn't a problem for the skin of an oni!" Yuugi deftly lifted the pots one after the other without so much as a wince. Were all onis so endurant? What a blessing, to be born to such a naturally strong race. Parsee balled the hem of her dress in her hands and grit her teeth.
Yuugi planted a bowl in front of Parsee. Beef on top of rice with bits of onion sprinkled about. Parsee couldn't remember the last time she had real food, and tried her best to hide her anticipation. She forced herself to pick around the food, pushing it around and examining it before finally taking a piece of meat and sampling it. Sweet, succulent, and most importantly, it didn't taste like blood.
"D'ya like it?" Yuugi asked, a piece of rice sticking to her cheek. Parsee nodded silently.
Weeks passed, and Yuugi came by at least once every day. Parsee learned many things. The difference between Yuugi's sober voice, and Yuugi's drunken voice. That Yuugi's hands are exceptionally rough. Oni culture. The flavor of many types of sake. The names of many, many people from above ground. That it took three days for a bruise on Yuugi's cheek to heal. Parsee found herself dreaming of the oni, and longing for her presence when she was absent.
Parsee hated that. She hated that she let this happen. She hated the emptiness she felt when she was alone, the emptiness she had buried time and time again. It wasn't fair. She knew what was going to happen, and it wasn't fair.
"Y'okay?" Yuugi spoke up after a long silence. "Yer kinda spacin' out."
Parsee slid her knees up to her chin and hugged them tightly. She buried her face in her arms, and in a voice hardly louder than a whisper, she spoke: "I can't stand you." She wasn't entirely sure if Yuugi had even heard her, or why she had suddenly decided to say that in that moment.
"What...?" It wasn't a voice she heard Yuugi use before, and it made her afraid to look up. So she buried her face deeper into herself and the words kept spilling out.
"Who the hell do you think you are, to barge into my life?" She hissed, words full of venom. "I was perfectly fine without you here. I was perfectly fine, but now..." She shrunk, holding her legs closer and trembling. "But now...!"
"Shut up!" Parsee slammed her fists into the dirt beside her and yelled into the ground. "You think you're the first person who's done this? The first person who's gone 'oh, what a poor lonely weak little girl, I'll be her friend'?"
"What are you...?"
"It all ends the same! 'I'm getting married, Parsee!', 'I have to move, Parsee!', 'Demons spirited away my little sister, Parsee!', 'The priest says I shouldn't speak to youkai, Parsee!', 'I have to live my own life, Parsee!', 'Goodbye, Parsee!'"
Yuugi attempted to speak, but the only sound she could summon was a confused choking sound.
"I don't want to hear it anymore! I don't want to hear about your lives that I can't be a part of! I don't want to hear about your cities I will never see! I don't want to hear about the friends I'll never have! And—" Her throat clenched and she shut her eyes hard. In a low volume, she said, "and I don't want your damn pity."
There was an echoing crack. Parsee wasn't sure why she struck out. She knew she couldn't hurt Yuugi. She was shaking, and she didn't know if it was out of anger or fear. Yuugi slowly rubbed her cheek, and the expression that she wore wasn't something Parsee expected to see, or wanted to see. Yuugi's watery eyes made her feel a deep emptiness and regret.
Yuugi nodded slowly, and—without even so much as a glance at Parsee—she stood and walked down the path to the above world, pausing only once at the mouth of the cave.
Parsee curled into a ball. She felt empty, and she hated it.
"Damn it!" Yuugi struck the tree again, the indent in the trunk becoming that much larger, her knuckles bleeding that much more. "Damn it!" She punched again. She couldn't stop. When she stopped, her chest hurt and her eyes began to water and she felt weak. Onis don't cry. Onis don't get sad. Onis don't become fragile. So she kept punching the tree.
"It's okay to feel sad." The small voice that came from behind her could only be Satori's. "I tried to warn you."
"I don't get it." Yuugi punched the tree again, and her arm fell limp. "Why would she...?"
"In her heart, she is only protecting herself."
Yuugi didn't say anything. She slumped forward and her horn hit the tree.
"She... believes that the pain she is feeling now is preferable to what it would have been in the future."
"Is that so...?"
"I cannot see than that, but yes."
Yuugi fell to her knees. She couldn't understand Parsee's pain. She didn't even notice. She felt frustrated and angry, but for some reason she wasn't angry at Parsee. No. She was angry at her situation. It wasn't fair that Parsee was chained to that place. It wasn't fair that Parsee was alone. It wasn't fair that people would abandon her. It wasn't fair she had to survive off of raw bat and mushrooms. And as Yuugi comprehended these things, it frustrated her even more that she hadn't realized them sooner. Hopelessness and lonliness began to fill her heart. Tears trickled from her eyes.
"You're not alone." Satori said.
Something began to pour on Yuugi's head. Something with a sweet aroma that burned her eyes and mouth. "What kinda oni starts cryin' over a thing like this?" Suika hopped down from a nearby tree. "We onis don't cry. We get back up and start punchin' from a different angle, right?"
A different angle. That's right. Yuugi rubbed the tears and alcohol from her eyes and thought. She had to think of something. It wasn't fair for her to sit here and pity herself while Parsee was alone in a cold, damp cave by herself. An idea came to her. She struck the tree again, blasting through the trunk and the tree crashed to the ground.
"Suika, could you get me some carpentry tools from the Shrine's shed?"
"Could you at least ask the owner of the tools?" Reimu asked as she floated down to the earth. Yuugi vaguely wondered why people kept arriving out of nowhere in such a manner.
"Well ya don't mind, do ya?" Yuugi grinned.
Reimu shrugged. "Whatever. I'm not going to be using them any time soon."
"Awesome. Now all I need is to get a favor from Yukari—"
"Hellooooo~" Yukari fell upside-down of a gap.
"...do y'all practice this sort of convient appearin' thing?"
"It's a gift." Yukari giggled. "And I've always wanted one of the Four Devas to owe me a favor."
"I guess I'll owe ya'." Yuugi scratched the back of her head. "Anyway, here's what I'm thinkin'."
How long had it been? For the first few days, Parsee couldn't stomach bat. The taste of blood and raw meat made her sick. She was, slowly, getting used to it again. But she still felt empty. She compared herself to the pool of water she floated in. Cold. Empty. Alone. She sighed.
There was a large rumbling. A crack and crumbling and tiny rocks rained from above. The cracking grew louder and louder, and Parsee realized in shock what was happening. She barely made it out of the pool in time before the large stalactite above it came crashing from above, plugging it entirely. Parsee hated that pool. She hated that stalactite. She hated this cave. But she was still really pissed off, she didn't know why, and that pissed her off even more. She stomped and turned, determined to find something to blame.
There was a building in the cave. No, wait. There was a house in her cave. A two story house, complete with roofing, windows, doors, a chimney, even a little shed on the side filled with chopped wood.
Parsee blinked. Maybe she was hallucinating? She rubbed her head looking for a spot where a rock must have struck her.
The front door opened and a tall, one horned oni wobbled out. "Rough trip." She muttered to herself.
"Oh, heya Parsee. Sorry for the noise."
"Wha... wha... whaaa...?"
"Oh, y'see, the oni back in the City blew up my house in some party. Decided to move somewhere quieter." Yuugi nodded to herself, flashing her normal grin. "Don't gotta protect my stuff here."
Parsee opened her mouth. And closed it again. She repeated this several times before a call of "Yuugi~" from down the cave caused her to turn her head and find a crowd marching into the area. Lead by the short oni, there was a red-white girl with black hair... a black-white with blonde hair... a taller blonde woman behind that one, a kitsune and a nekomata and she began to place names to these people as she realized these were the people Yuugi would tell her about from above ground.
"Yup. Housewarmin' party. Gonna be lotsa sake."
Parsee blinked. All those people. The house. Yuugi. She was dreaming. The stalactite hit her and now she was drowning and this was her fantasy before she died.
"Hey." Yuugi clapped on Parsee's shoulder and stared her down with a suddenly serious face. "I dunno what happened to ya' in the past, but... I'm here for ya, even if you don't want me to be. And all those people? They helped me get here."
Parsee looked back and forth between Yuugi and the group that was almost at the house now. Her heart began racing. Her head was spinning. She was beginning to feel something and she didn't know what it was. Her face felt wet.
"Yuugi..." Parsee choked back a sob. "I..." She sniffed. "You're such a dumb jerk!"
"Hey, that's mean." Yuugi smiled.
Parsee rushed forward and grabbed Yuugi around the middle. "If you leave, I'll hate you forever."
Yuugi patted the top of the small youkai's head. "Don'cha worry about a thing."
Parsee nodded, and that was that.