Everyone has baggage. Things about themselves they desire to change, but can't. Things they hate about themselves. Things they hide from others, maybe even themselves. For humans, developing themselves past this is often a matter of willpower, strength, and friends. For youkai, the situation is often slightly more complicated.
"Look at how strong she is..." Parsee whispered into Parsee's ear, as the two watched Yuugi haul in another load of fallen trees from above ground. "Don't you wish you were that strong?"
It was true. Parsee wasn't strong, physically or magically. She bit the tip of her thumb, and thunked her head against the second story window.
"And so talented!" The other Parsee spun behind her, with her arms extended wide. "This whoooole house, all on her own! You could never do that."
Parsee clenched her teeth on her thumb. She had to be careful not to draw blood—Yuugi would ask questions... but this was so frustrating. She tapped her forehead against the window again.
For the first few weeks, living with Yuugi was a wonderful experience. Parsee had begun to learn new things, she made new friends—a word she never thought she would get the opportunity to use plurally—and the void in her chest was beginning to slowly fill. But she couldn't deny herself, nor could she deny what made her, her. And that's when her mirror appeared, like it had in the past.
Perhaps "mirror" wasn't the best term to use. It was just a bit taller than Parsee. It's eyes were a bit brighter than Parsee's. Her body was a bit more filled out than Parsee's. Her skin was a bit less flawed than Parsee's. Parsee hated looking at the mirror, because all she could see was what she was not. What she couldn't be.
"Yooo!" Yuugi's voice finally came from downstairs. "Parsee! I'm home!"
The mirror pouted as Parsee strode past her and out the door with her face noticeably brightening. Ever since the mirror appeared, Yuugi became even more of a beacon to Parsee. For some reason, the mirror would never show itself while she was around. Parsee didn't understand why, but she was relieved to have some respite from herself.
"Welcome back!" Parsee greeted as she reached the landing on the first floor. Yuugi ruffled Parsee's hair, and Parsee tried to hide a soft smile. It was like their special greeting, something Yuugi would do every time she came home—and something she never did to anyone else, Parsee noticed. That simple ruffle would always instantly lift the weight on Parsee's heart that the mirror created.
"I got some stuff for us." Yuugi unshouldered her basket and lifted the lid. "Tea, rice, bread, some meat..." Yuugi trailed off for a second and cleared her throat slightly. "Say, uh... could ya make that beef bowl o'yours again tonight?"
"You sure like beef bowl." Parsee gave a sly smile as she took the basket from Yuugi and headed into the kitchen.
"Can't help it." Yuugi flashed her normal bright smile. "I'm an oni, after all."
"Yes, yes," Parsee said as she pulled items out of the basket and placed them in the pantry. "Of course."
"But, man," Yuugi pulled up a seat at the kitchen table and sat into it, leaning back and stretching out her long legs. "Sure is awkward buyin' food in the Human Village. Get the feelin' they still don't like onis too much."
Parsee gave a long hum in response. She didn't know much about the relationship between the oni and humans, but she remembered when the oni moved underground. She listened to them as she hid in the shadows, and what she could pick up made it seem like the two groups were enemies of each other.
"Still clever as hell, though," Yuugi mused, flipping a package between her fingers. "Usin' magic amulets to wrap meat. Keeps the meat fresh and stops it from gettin' on the rest of yer food! Brilliant."
Parsee felt something stir in Yuugi's heart. She turned from the pantry to see Yuugi admiring the packaging with a complicated look on her face. Her smile was as endearing as ever, but her brow was furrowed and her eyes hardened. Parsee didn't like feeling that emotion coming from Yuugi. "Well," Parsee leaned over and grabbed the package from Yuugi, trying to stomp out the flame in her heart, "the humans aren't strong at all. They have to be smart or else they'd all be dead."
Yuugi grinned. "Guess you're right! So when's dinner? I'm starvin' after gettin' all that firewood."
"It'll be done when it's done." Parsee said as she filled a pot with water. "Just be patient."
"Patience isn't an oni's virtue!"
"That's certainly true." Parsee commented, throwing fresh wood in the stove.
"Hey!" Yuugi crossed her arms. "Sounds mean when you say it."
Parsee gave an open giggle. Yuugi, too, began to laugh warmly. The two made small talk as Parsee began to cook-something she learned she had actual talent in. These were her favorite moments, friendly chatter and doing something that she was good at. Her. Not someone else.
Watching Yuugi eat with the fervor that no other youkai could match filled Parsee with an odd warmth. It was like her heart had just began pumping blood throughout her body, like it had been still her entire life. A feeling of accomplishment flooded her with each meal. Even if a good portion of those meals ended up stuck to Yuugi's face.
"Jeez. Didn't you learn any manners growing up?" Parsee grabbed a piece of beef with her chopsticks.
"Don't speak with your mouth full!" Parsee pointed at Yuugi with the instruments in her hand.
Yuugi's response was eating the beef hanging in between the sticks, and a large smile. While it didn't fill Yuugi with the same kind of warmth, she was just as appreciative of Parsee's cooking. It was good that the girl finally found something that she could excel at, and Yuugi believed that was just the thing Parsee needed to come out of her shell.
Sake helped too, Yuugi noted as she carried a Parsee who had a bit too much to drink up the stairs. Yuugi wasn't sure she would have liked this life, at first... this complacent, quiet life living with but one other person. Parsee seemed happier too, even if the girl had trouble showing it—honestly, Yuugi found her tough outward apperance quite cute.
Though, it was a mask that quickly disappeared once Parsee got a quater way through the bottle. Once drunk, the girl became outgoing and honest, quite opposite to how she was normally. Though, at first, this made Yuugi worry. The first few nights they lived together, Yuugi had carried Parsee to bed and the girl wouldn't let go of her. When Yuugi asked why, the smaller youkai would just remain quiet, wearing a complicated face.
As time passed, Parsee began to tell Yuugi details of her past. The names and descriptions of everyone who had been in her life. Even drunk, she was able to recall them all in vivid detail, to the point where even Yuugi could clearly imagine what they looked like. Parsee then told her that out of everyone she had known, Yuugi had been there the longest.
This struck a chord in Yuugi's heart. Had this girl really been so alone that she was able to remember such detail even though she only knew them for a few months at best? Had she been suffering here all this time while Yuugi partied underground? Yuugi's throat tightened, a powerful guilt strangulating her.
"Hey." Parsee spoke up suddenly, shifting her head against Yuugi's shoulder. She lifted Yuugi's arm up and tapped the shackle on her wrist. "Why d'you wear these?"
"That's..." Yuugi looked away.
"Mm. 'S okay." Parsee let Yuugi's arm go, and rolled on her side, draping her own arm across Yuugi's stomach. "Don't have to tell me if you don't want."
"No, I..." Yuugi swallowed. Parsee had already told Yuugi her past... so wasn't it only fair? It wasn't a story Yuugi liked remembering, let alone telling, but... "A long time ago, before the oni decided to live underground..." Yuugi paused. "We liked to challenge humans . Strength, eating, drinking, racing. A few of them beat us the right way, we liked them." A faint smile crossed her face for a moment before disappearing as quickly as it came. "But most of them tricked us. Used unfair methods to gain victory. Called us monsters."
"Mmm." Parsee nodded against Yuugi's chest.
"A lot of the humans hated us. And one day, an exorcist from a nearby village came and challenged us to a eating contest. Naturally, we all accepted." Yuugi paused again, clutching at a piece of the bed with her free hand. "We all got into place and we began to eat. Pies. Didn't think to ask what was in them."
"So what was innem?"
"Fried beans. Oni can't eat the stuff. Makes us weak. So we were all there, choking and coughing, and the humans start beating us with sticks until we passed out. When we woke up, we were all chained to posts at their shrine. The exorcist was killing us, one by one, saying something about sacrifices. I remember feeling angrier than I've ever felt, breaking the chains that bound me and beating with my bare hands until he was unrecognizable."
"The rest of the oni broke free, and we stormed the village. I... don't remember much of that. The next thing I remember is watching the entire place burn. I kept the shackles to remind me to never trust a human who couldn't beat us fairly. A lot of other oni did the same."
Parsee tightened her hold on Yuugi. The rest of the night passed in silence. When Parsee awoke the next morning, Yuugi was already heading out the bedroom door. "Gonna chop today's firewood," she spoke shortly and gave a slight wave before leaving the room, down the stairs and out the front door.
"How dedicated," the mirror spoke from the foot of the bed, not wasting a moment in appearing. "Or is that perhaps... avoidance?" Parsee rolled onto her back and covered her eyes with her forearm. The mirror sneered and continued, "isn't it nice how she can appreciate being alone? You can't do that." It began crawling down the bed and wrapped its arms around Parsee, whispering into her ear. "You don't need to worry though. I'll always be here with you."
Parsee ground her teeth together, her stomach already churning. She wished that Yuugi hadn't left.
The mirror giggled. "Yuugi? She has the respect of aallll those oni down there." It tightened its embrace around Parsee. "She'll never care about you like that."
Parsee's body moved on it's own. In a moment, she was pinning down the mirror, her hands clasping tightly around its throat. Her teeth were clenched and her body shook with shuddering breaths as she closed her hands tighter and tighter. The mirror snickered and laughed, unimpeded by Parsee's hands.
Light flooded the room. Parsee clenched her eyes shut and she felt the body beneath her disappear. When she opened her eyes again, she was alone. For a moment, she wondered what the light was but decided to just be thankful that the mirror was gone. Parsee flattened her hair and went downstairs to make breakfast.
The mirror was already waiting for her in the kitchen, sitting calmly at the table tracing a pattern in the wood with its finger. Parsee held back a frustrated sigh and went to busying herself with the preparation of her meal. "Oni craftsmanship is really something, huh?" The mirror said. "You don't have any talents—"
Parsee slammed down the rice pot on the stove, cutting the mirror off. She didn't want to dignify it with a response, but she knew it was wrong. She had this. She could cook for Yuugi. The mirror looked her over with a sneer, "I'm sure there's someone who can cook better than you. Like that maid." Parsee's grip on the handle of the pan tightened. "She's from some exotic place, right? She can probably make all sorts of food. You can only make a few things. How does that make you feel?"
Parsee clenched her eyes shut.
"You can say it." The mirror giggled. "I already know. Just say it."
Parsee gave a large, shuddering breath. "I won't say it."
The mirror laughed more openly, a wicked grin coming across its face. "Why? What point is there in denying who you are?"
"I'm not that person anymore."
The mirror slid it's arms underneath Parsee's, hugging her around the middle. "Yes, you are." Parsee didn't respond this time, instead turning all of her focus on the food in front of her. She bustled around the kitchen, but the mirror never let go of her middle. It kept its grip, shuffling side to side whenever Parsee needed to move.
As she finished preparing the meal, the front door swung open and the mirror vanished. Even though it felt as if a great weight was lifted from her shoulders, Parsee's knees were still weak and shaking. Yuugi entered holding a stack of chopped wood under one arm, and a folded up newspaper in the other hand. "Yo! Breakfast done?"
Parsee nodded. "What's the paper?"
"Aya delivered it." Yuugi explained as she set down the logs next to the stove. "Said it was thanks for the sake at the last party we had here."
"I see." Parsee grabbed the dishes from the counter and set them at the table. She begun to spoon herself some rice when she noticed Yuugi throwing the paper into the stove's furnace and watching it burn. "Aren't you going to eat?"
"Ah." Yuugi jolted slightly, looking up from the fire with a bashful face and rubbing the back of her neck. "Of course."
The two ate in silence. This alone was enough to make Parsee feel uncomfortable, but even more disturbing was that Yuugi was eating at a pace that could be considered normal. When she finished her meal before the oni, she decided to speak up. "Is something wrong?"
Yuugi stopped poking at her egg with her chopsticks and looked up, slightly surprised. Her brow drew together and her face barely concealed a scowl. "It's nothing."
Parsee flatly stared across the table. Yuugi tugged at the collar of her shirt.
"No, really." She said. "There's just this oni who's been going above ground..."
"An oni?" Parsee asked, folding her arms. "But there's nothing above ground except humans."
"Yeah... he apparently fell for a girl up there. Her name's Miyo, accordin' to the article."
Parsee leaned forward slightly rested her arms on the table.
"The guy... Takahashi. I know him. He's always been a bit weird."
"I always thought all oni were weird."
Yuugi let out a small chuckle. "Weird by oni standards. Didn't ever party very hard, y'know?" The oni clapped her hands together. "And that reminds me! Feel like havin' a party tonight? Aya mentionin' sake made me wanna get everyone together."
"I don't mind." Parsee said almost too quickly. The mirror had been wearing her patience down to the breaking point, and a night with a party is a night(and a better part of the next day) without the mirror...
"Hehe, great! I'll go give Suika the message, then."
...well, of course, such a relief would have to come at a price. Yuugi almost immediately stood and excused herself, exiting the house and trotting towards the path to the above ground. Parsee sighed and collected the dishes, the mirror already sitting in Yuugi's seat. "Gee, that was fast." It said with its arms behind its head, resting its feet on the table in a crude mockery of Yuugi's normal relaxation pose. "She must be preeeetty sick of you, leaving to go hang out with Suika so quickly."
Parsee ignored the mirror and ran the plates under hot water, trying to focus on how the heat burned her hands.
"And a party! Man, she probably just wants to drown you out with as much noise and booze as she can."
Through the painful tightening of her heart, Parsee allowed herself to feel a weak sort of confidence. "You only say that because you can't appear when anyone else is around."
The mirror smirked and responded in a flat, cold voice that pierced the very core of Parsee's being. "Oh, I can." Slowly, Parsee turned to face the mirror who regarded her with a vicious smile and a dark glare. "I just don't, because you don't want me to."
The plate slipped out of Parsee's fingers, and she didn't notice the sound of it hitting the bottom of the sink, nor the water that had reached scalding.
"Why do you look so surprised?" The mirror snickered to itself. "Didn't you realize? I'm only here because you want me to be here."
Parsee opened her mouth to respond, but no words came to mind.
"You might want to take your hands out of the water."
Parsee jumped and quickly withdrew her hands from the sink. Her hands tingled and her skin had turned a bright red color.
"You see?" The mirror smiled. "I'm only here to help you." Without another word, it vanished. Parsee stood, mouth agape, the words of the mirror running through her mind over and over again. She busied herself with preparing the den for a party, but she couldn't keep the words out of her thoughts. When Yuugi returned with Suika(and a few crates of alcohol), Parsee was quiet. As people gathered and the room expanded to fit them all, Parsee was in the center of attention with Yuugi, yet she remained oddly withdrawn.
Yuugi began to worry when she noticed that Parsee had been nursing the same dish of sake the entire night. However, before she could bring it up, a drunken Aya was slinging her arm around Yuugi's shoulder. "Yuugi, Yuugi! C'mere, c'mere, I gotta show you this!"
Yuugi gave Parsee a sidelong glance before turning her head to the crow tengu. "Aya, I—."
"No, really." Aya said staring at Yuugi with very sober eyes. "I have somethin' to show ya." She smiled and grabbed Yuugi's hand and lead her out of the den into the much quieter kitchen.
Yuugi sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. "What is it?"
Aya withdrew a single photo from the pocket of her blouse and held it out to Yuugi. Within the photo, Yuugi could clearly see what appeared to be two Parsees. One was choking the other. The one being choked had a face of laughter, and the one on top had a face full of pain and hate. Yuugi looked up from the photo, bewildered.
"I took that this morning." Aya folded her arms and leaned against a counter. "I've heard of this happening before. It happens to certain types of youkai when they deny what makes them who they are."
"The hell does that mean?"
Aya shrugged. "That's all I know. Listen, I only told you this because I don't think that girl can handle it on her own."
Yuugi looked at the photo again. "So what should I...?"
"Talk to her." Aya clapped a hand on Yuugi's shoulder. "You two are close, right? She'll open up to you." The tengu gave a wink and stepped to the kitchen doorway. "Oh. That piece I did on your house today came out really well."
"Good to know." Yuugi muttered.
Aya furrowed her brow and returned to the party.
Yuugi stared at the photo for a few more moments before clicking her tongue and tucking it into the waist of her skirt. She returned to the party herself, to find that Parsee had already excused herself to bed. Yuugi's face drew into a frown.
"Yuuuuugiiiii!" Suika threw her arms around Yuugi's middle. "Don't look so glum! Drink up!"
Suika was holding a sake dish up to Yuugi's face, which Yuugi took without thinking. Yuugi looked from the sake in the dish to the party, and she caught the concerned eyes of Satori staring at her from the corner of the room. Yuugi nodded to the girl slightly, downed the dish in one go, and excused herself as well.
Upstairs, Yuugi found that Parsee had already curled up in bed facing away from the door. She could tell that Parsee was still awake, though she wasn't sure how. Maybe it was how stiff her body looked, or the unevenness of her breaths. Yuugi sat at the edge of the bed and paused for a moment, deliberating on how to act. Should she bring up the photo? Suddenly the item burned at her waist like a bad itch.
Parsee was silent, and Yuugi found it difficult to word what she wanted to ask. She decided to wait until there was less sake in her system, and she lied next to Parsee, throwing one of her arms over the smaller girl. Parsee turned and pressed her forehead against Yuugi's navel. Yuugi smiled slightly and rubbed the girl's back. It was another silent night for the two.
The next morning, Yuugi awoke to find herself alone. This was something that alerted her immediately, as Parsee was usually a late sleeper. She quickly got out of bed—the photograph still itching against her side—and headed downstairs. The sound of running water in the kitchen calmed her a bit.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she could see clearly into the den. Reimu, Aya, and Suika were the only three still remaining from the previous night, all passed out at a table in the middle of the room. She closed the den door and proceeded into the kitchen. Inside, she saw Parsee filling a pot with water.
"Morning." The girl greeted flatly.
Yuugi sighed, scratching at the picture tucked against her waist, as if the itch was an ever-present reminder. She decided to just get it over with. "Parsee, I..." She pulled the picture from her waist and looked it over once again before extending it to Parsee. "Here."
Parsee blinked, looking Yuugi over cautiously before taking the picture from her. It was barely a moment after looking at it before Parsee paled and dropped the photo, backing away from Yuugi into the counter.
"It's okay." Yuugi assured. She stepped forward and tightly hugged the girl. Parsee, for a fleeting moment, wished that she could just explain everything to Yuugi, that Yuugi could somehow make all of her pain disappear forever.
"If I were strong like Yuugi," came a familiar voice in a mocking tone, "I wouldn't be such a useless burden!" Yuugi let go of Parsee, turning to the table behind them. "Right?" The mirror grinned at them sadistically.
"You...!" Yuugi balled her hands into fists and grit her teeth.
"Yuugi's so fearsome!" The mirror continued. "Yuugi's so brave! She's so strong and so beautiful! I wish I was like Yuugi!"
"Shut up!" Yuugi took a step forward.
"See? She hates this side of you as much as you do!" The mirror laughed.
"You're not part of me..." Parsee whispered, looking to the ground.
"Oh?" The mirror tilted its head. "Do you mean to say that you haven't thought of everything I said... before I said it?"
Parsee clenched her teeth together.
"I told you to shut up!" Yuugi advanced towards the smiling mirror with eyes full of anger.
The sound of breaking glass suddenly flooded the room, torches and bottles crashed through the house. The sounds of humans yelling filled the cavern. Yuugi turned towards the kitchen window, fire already spreading from the shards of a broken bottle. She immediately turned and grabbed Parsee's hand—taking no notice that the mirror had already vanished. Yuugi hoisted Parsee into her arms and charged out of the house.
Outside, there was a mob of humans throwing torches and fire bottles at their house, screaming curses and demands.
"Stupid worthless oni!"
"Give me back my Miyo!"
"Return her to us!"
"Go back to Hell!"
Yuugi set Parsee down and turned to enter the house. A large rock struck her in the back of the head.
"Tell us where Miyo is!"
"Take the little one! We can make her talk!"
Little one? Yuugi realized they must have meant Parsee. The mob had already begun advancing as Yuugi looked between Parsee and the flames slowly engulfing the house. She had to go get the others, but she couldn't get to them before the mob got Parsee...
A large Suika burst through the wall followed immediately by a flying Reimu and Aya. "Yuugi, what hap—" Suika didn't get to finish her sentence before she noticed the human mob. Her face darkened into something Yuugi hadn't seen for centuries—something she was hoping to never see again. Suika swelled, becoming a giant. In a booming voice, she yelled "you better run!" before stomping off towards the human mob.
The group, upon seeing the huge oni, immediately took to a retreat back to the above ground, screaming as Suika kept a close chase. Reimu stole a glance at at the burning building. "Dammit." She took flight and bolted after Suika.
Parsee was dumbfounded. Things were happening so fast that she found it hard to believe she wasn't dreaming, though the heat of the flames reminded her that this was indeed real. Her house was burning down.
"Water!" Yuugi gasped. "Where was that water hole?"
Parsee blinked and looked up at Yuugi.
Yuugi grabbed Parsee by the shoulders. "The one we met in! The one you were always hanging out in before!"
Parsee pointed weakly at an obtrusion in the cave's floor, a stalactite that had fallen from the ceiling. Yuugi grabbed a bucket from near the chopping block and rushed over to the rock. She dug her hands into the sides and with a firm pull, she uprooted the entire obstruction, uncovering the water hole. She swung the bucket into pool and rushed back to the house, throwing the water on the building. She repeated this lap again and again in a ridiculous speed.
"This is my fault." Aya whispered, entranced by the flames. "Because I wrote that article, they knew..."
"Aya!" Yuugi yelled as she ran past.
"They knew that the human was with an oni... they knew where you lived..."
"Because I wrote those articles... this is all my fault."
"Aya, snap out of it!" Yuugi smacked the crow tengu across the face. "I need your help!"
"Help?" Aya blinked. "I-I. What... Oh!" She grabbed her maple leaf-shaped fan from her waist and gave it a big swing. Wind howled through the caverns, fanning the flames of the fire, intensifying them even more. "H-Huh?"
Yuugi swore. "Aya, go above ground and find help!" Aya stared for a moment before nodding and taking flight. Yuugi looked at the burning building again. "Damn... I can't put this out alone." She turned and put a hand on Parsee's head, rubbing her hair. "I'm gonna go get the oni to help!" Yuugi looked at the building yet another time. "Those humans are gonna pay." Yuugi sprinted down the other passageway, towards the Underground City.
Parsee watched the house burn. She felt each memory of Yuugi's smiling face, each simple moment spent cooking or chatting, each party, each drink of sake, each friend she had finally made burn away in front of her. The house gave a loud groan over the roar of the fire, and the roof caved in upon itself.
"You see?" Her mirror whispered in her ear. "You're not meant for happiness."
Parsee silently watched the fire. Hours passed, and all that remained of the house was a charred frame and fragments of wood. Yuugi still hadn't returned. She was alone. In a daze, she wandered onto the ruins of the house and fell to her knees. She barely even noticed the still hot remnants burning her legs.
In front of her, clearly visible among the rubble, was a single, half-burned plank. It might have been part of the floor, or maybe a wall... or perhaps a portion of the ceiling, but somehow, this one piece of wood survived the fire. She grabbed it and hugged it tightly to her chest.
"Yuugi is off with the oni. Of course she'd leave you in a time like this." The mirror was squatting in front of Parsee, hugging her knees and smiling distantly. "And the humans are off rallying again, I bet."
Parsee's breath caught in her throat. Her eyes burned and her chest was so tight it was hard to breathe.
"They're gonna kill each other. Right here. There's gonna be a war." The mirror tilted her head to the side and rested it on her arm. "But that doesn't really matter to you, does it? The fighting will go on, and no one will even notice you're here. They hate each other sooooo much, but none of them are gonna notice you. All they see is each other."
Parsee's stomach began churning and her head began to spin. She couldn't stop the tears from flowing. Choked sobs wracked her body.
"How does that make you feel?"
Parsee opened her mouth. The feeling she hated, the part of herself that she tried to throw away... the word slithered out of her mouth like a black, bile-soaked snake. "Jealous."